paulmurray.net
Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald

I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist

E-mail me: pmurray [at] despammed.com

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Thursday, November 28, 2002
Why Kissinger? A co-worker walked by me late yesterday afternoon and said something like, "Why did it have to be Kissinger?" I knew exactly what he meant, and I had to agree. (In case you missed it, Bush named Kissinger to head what is supposed to be an independent investigation into the 9/11/01 attacks.)

The answer, of course, is that Kissinger is a safe choice. The Bush Administration didn't want an independent investigation, but that was a losing argument, so they agreed to one and picked someone who won't rock the boat to lead it. Christopher Hitchens is positively incensed about Kissinger's involvement.



Big Content still doesn't get it. Fox's Peter Chernin spoke at the Comdex computer show to plead Hollywood's case. "I propose that we do so in order to combat the rash of stealing that currently and seriously threatens us both," he said, "Because of all the things that unify technology and media companies, we have nothing more urgently in common than the escalating theft of our products."

Jonathan Peterson has created a detailed deconstruction of Chernin's speech:
[It] is so full of false truths and misstatements that I've spent much of the weekend breaking it down. At a very fundamental level, the Big Content companies don't understand the revolution that is happening in the digital media realm. They still see us as consumers only capable of digesting their offerings and handing over money. They really don't seem to understand that the reason we are buying PCs, video cameras, digital cameras, broadband connections and the like is that we want to create and share our creations. The quality of "amateur" content is exploding at the same time that Big Media companies are going through one of their all-time lows in music and television creativity. No wonder we're spending more time with our PCs that we are with our TVs.

(via Dan Gillmor)



Wednesday, November 27, 2002
But what was Carol Brady's maiden name? NYT has an interesting article about how searches conducted at Google can provide unique insights and reflect what's going on in popular culture.
Google is taking snapshots of its users' minds and aggregating them. Like a flipbook that emerges when successive images are strung together, the logged data tell a story....

Despite its geographic and ethnic diversity, the world is spending much of its time thinking about the same things. Country to country, region to region, day to day and even minute to minute, the same topic areas bubble to the top: celebrities, current events, products and computer downloads.

"It's amazing how similar people are all over the world based on what they are searching for," said Greg Rae, one of three members of Google's logs team, which is responsible for building, storing and protecting the data record.

Google tallies up these things and presents them in the Google Zeitgeist. The predictive value is intriguing. (This all started when someone noticed that the number of searches for "Britney Spears" was declining.) The most interesting question, of course, is what can/will Google do with this information? They aren't telling.



Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Not that there's anything wrong with that. TiVo, Amazon, Netflix, and other services predict what you will like based upon what you buy, watch, etc. Hilarity ensues when they jump to an inaccurate conclusion -- unless it happens to you, anyway.
Mr. Iwanyk, 32 years old, first suspected that his TiVo thought he was gay, since it inexplicably kept recording programs with gay themes. A film studio executive in Los Angeles and the self-described "straightest guy on earth," he tried to tame TiVo's gay fixation by recording war movies and other "guy stuff."

"The problem was, I overcompensated," he says. "It started giving me documentaries on Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Eichmann. It stopped thinking I was gay and decided I was a crazy guy reminiscing about the Third Reich."



Sunday, November 24, 2002
Sore winners. Meet the people who will be helping the Bush Administration pick judges for the next two years, and the ideas thay have in mind.



Islamic justice and other oxymorons. This may be one of the most enraging and depressing articles I have read in a long time. It's about sharia, the strict Islamic code of justice practiced in some parts of Nigeria (the same country where an upcoming beauty pageant sparked riots that killed more than a hundred people). I'm sorry, but this is insanity. The logic it employs may have made sense 1500 years ago, but now it's simply horrifying.



Friday, November 22, 2002
Creeping copyright. An excellent commentary about the problem of creeping copyright.
We now have an exact replica of the medieval Stationers' Company, which controlled the English copyrights, only its names today are Disney, Bertelsmann, and AOL Time Warner. The big media companies, holding the copyrights of dead authors, have said, in effect, that Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton were wrong and that we should go back to the aristocratic system of hereditary ownership, granting copyrights in perpetuity. To effect this result, they've liberally greased the palms of Congressmen in the form of campaign contributions and it's worked.



Male laptop users beware. If this story hadn't first appeared in the Lancet (roughly the British equivalent of the New England Journal of Medicine or Journal of the AMA), I would write it off as an urban legend.



Ill-gotten booty. In case you're not angry enough about spammers, read about one of the most successful ones: Alan Ralsky.



Thursday, November 21, 2002
Whatever happened to... Very interesting front page article in Wednesday's WSJ where a reporter traces what became of a bully he who made life miserable for him in grade school. Read it and see how you react...



Photoshop this. Think you're a shrewd judge of what's real and what's not? Take the Hoax Photo Test. When you're done, take a few minutes and explore the rest of the Museum of Hoaxes site -- it's cool.



Monday, November 18, 2002
The plague gets worse. Every time I think that spam can't possibly get worse, it does. I just went to check my Hotmail account, and it said my mailbox was full -- which didn't seem possible, since it was only about half full (~1.0 Mb) yesterday. Then I checked the spam folder and found:

- one message which was 429k in size, and
- 45 copies of the same 3k message

We really need to try reining this in with some Federal laws.

11/20 Update: Today I had two copies of what appeared to be an identical message... 249k and 250k, respectively. When did spammers start resorting to such huge messages?



Mixed metaphor. Apparently Internet metaphors die hard. Check out this silly example: "'The bandwidth of our portfolio is unsurpassed in the industry,' says David Whittaker, GM's vehicle line executive for premium mid-luxury vehicles." What would have been wrong with saying "the breadth of our portfolio"?



Friday, November 15, 2002
Free advice. Like everyone else lately, I have a suggestion for the Democratic Party: get the traditional Republican constituents to turn on each other.

That's what happened yesterday when abortion opponents stopped a bankruptcy revision bill that financial companies have been pushing hard for. (It contained a provision from Sen. Schumer designed to keep abortion opponents from escaping financial damages by filing bankruptcy.) This morning, the House stripped the abortion language out of the bill and passed it, but this, plus the timing, seems to ensure that the Senate will reject it.



I feel so much better now. I missed the irony when writing my previous post that the government's proposed new massive computer database to track everything we do is being run by... a convicted felon.



Meet one of the people everyone hates. Another profile of a spammer, this one from the WSJ.



Thursday, November 14, 2002
Bill Gates: Linux is four times more dangerous than HIV. It sounds like a headline from The Onion, but it's a actually a provocative article from the IT news site The Register. It's been hard to escape this week's PR round celebrating Gates giving $100 million to India over 10 years to fight HIV. But Microsoft is spending $421 million over three years to fend off the open-source Linux operating system.



9/11 brings 1984. William Safire is not exactly a raving nut case. So when (building upon these reports from the NYT and Washington Post) he worries about the proposed Homeland Security Act destroying our privacy, I suggest you pay attention:
If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance and you have the supersnoop's dream: a "Total Information Awareness" about every U.S. citizen.

This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.

(Yes, that John Poindexter.)

Dan Gillmor points out the following non-answer from a White House spokesman during today's briefing with reporters:
Q: John Poindexter is coming up with a program to computerize data
through the Defense Department which would require commercial
transactions like bank deposits, websites, along with government
information -- that would be driver's license, documents of that
nature -- there are critics, including William Safire, who are saying
this goes beyond the USA Patriotic Act, that this is not -- this is
Orwellian, if you would. Is there any response to the critics --
certain sense that the standard has change in terms of privacy that
Americans have for the sake of national security?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I've seen the report you're talking about. I've not
been informed about any of the information. I think you need to direct
your question to the Pentagon.

Q: Does the President support total information awareness through data mining?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I've seen the reports, but I think you need to talk to
the Pentagon. This is a question related to something that the
Pentagon may be looking at, so I would refer you to the Pentagon.
That's what I have at this point.



What your cable company doesn't want you to know. From Business Week: "Consumers could be saving money by selecting their premium channels a la carte, but don't expect to hear it from your cable outfit."



Spot the logical flaw. Karl Rove was speaking at a forum at the University of Utah (where he declared that the nation is becoming more Republican, incidentally) when the subject of Iraq came up. As the NYT reports:
In the question-and-answer session, a woman politely asked Mr. Rove if the administration was concerned over the possibility that 200,000 innocent Iraqis might die in an American-led invasion.

Mr. Rove responded, "I'm more concerned about the 3,000 who died on 9/11."

The problem with this answer -- aside from its ugly implication that innocent Americans are over 66 times more important than innocent Iraqis -- is that it suggests the two are linked, that Iraqi casualties will directly result from our 9/11 casualities. They might, I guess, but only due to politics and not by their own causation.

The Bush Administration has presented zero evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11, but they continue to use it as an argument for going after Iraq. It's dishonest. Why more people aren't calling them on it is beyond me.



Wednesday, November 13, 2002
We don't have to abide by etiquette. I received a spam from a company trying to push some music-sharing service (which is hardly news), but check out the footer:
Anti-spam note: Spam sucks, but we're a new company. The nice folks at NeoPlanet are letting us use this list. We need to get the word out, and we apologize if this message royally ticked you off.

Oh, thanks, that makes it all better. How many other situations do they apply this pathetic excuse to? "Not paying our bills sucks, but we're a new company." There's a special place in Internet hell for these schmucks.

And hey, a special thanks to the folks at NeoPlanet for giving out my e-mail address. I've sent them a terse note demanding that they remove me from their database.



Monday, November 04, 2002
I usually just read a magazine. I'm all for celebrating historical trivia, but this is a bit much.



Don't drink the water. I'm not talking about when you reach foreign countries, I'm taking about on the airplane.



Sunday, November 03, 2002
When ROM burners are outlawed, only outlaws will have ROM burners. Truth or satire? You make the call: "The RIAA is lobbying for vendors of CD-RW drives to conduct background checks and require a 3 day waiting period before the drive can be sold."




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