Widely blogged, but still damned good news

A significant portion of the PATRIOT Act has been declared unconstitutional:

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, in the first decision against a surveillance portion of the act, ruled for the American Civil Liberties Union in its challenge against what it called “unchecked power” by the FBI to demand confidential customer records from communication companies, such as Internet service providers or telephone companies. Marrero, stating that “democracy abhors undue secrecy,” found that the law violates constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable searches. He said it also violated free speech rights by barring those who received FBI demands from disclosing they had to turn over records. Because of this gag order, the ACLU initially had to file its suit against the Department of Justice under seal to avoid penalties for violation of the surveillance laws.

So much for the right to disagree

An Army Reservist who wrote an essay for a conservative antiwar site called “Why We Cannot Win” now faces official charges of disloyalty which may carry up to a 20 year sentence. While it’s true that members of the military are bound by some rules that do not apply to the public at large, it also seems likely that simply expressing an opinion contrary to official US doctrine should remain protected speech. Even if he’s acquitted, it’s a sure bet they’ve ruined his career.

Nice. Way to encourage democracy and freedom!

Further evidence of societal collapse

A goddamn HDTV in a FRIDGE, for the love of Mike On Saturday, I saw this in a suburban Best Buy whilst I waited for the rain to lighten enough to make I-45 something other than a deathtrap.

Yes, it’s a bad camphone shot (the T610 is many things, but “good camera” is not one of them). However, you should be able to see that:

  • It’s a nice, stainless steel fridge; and
  • it’s got a fucking TELEVISION in it.

What you probably cannot see is that it’s actually an HDTV. Who buys this shit? Are they reproducing? Christ.

Dept. of Who’s Smarter

Jon Stewart appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show last month, and during the show O’Reilly repeatedly referred to Stewart’s Daily Show audience as “stoned slackers.” The folks at Comedy Central took exception, so they had a bit of research done.

As it happens — according to Neilsen Media Research — Stewart’s audience is more educated than O’Reilly’s, which presumably surprises no one other than O’Reilly. Heh.

September Resolution

I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night. I will not drink with Australians until 4 in the morning on a Monday night.

At least, not until the next time that bastard comes to town. Nice to see ya, Andy.

As it turns out, that’s not illegal in San Francisco

That fair city’s forces of prudishness (both of them) were dealt a setback last week in their efforts to stop the “Naked Yoga Guy” from doing, well, yoga in the buff at Fisherman’s Wharf:

“Simply being naked on the street is not a crime in San Francisco,” said Debbie Mesloh, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

This reminds us of a particularly apt Venn diagram, reproduced below:


p style=”text-align: center;”> Sjoberg Venn diagram about pants.

(Diagram from this piece by Lore Sjoberg at the now-defunct Brunching Shuttlecocks humor site.)

More on the RNC’s difficult relationship with “truth”

Atrios has an image of the wildly inflammatory and downright untruthful mass mailing the RNC sent out in two battleground states.

The Republican Party acknowledged yesterday sending mass mailings to residents of two states warning that “liberals” seek to ban the Bible. It said the mailings were part of its effort to mobilize religious voters for President Bush. The mailings include images of the Bible labeled “banned” and of a gay marriage proposal labeled “allowed.” A mailing to Arkansas residents warns: “This will be Arkansas if you don’t vote.” A similar mailing was sent to West Virginians.

A vote for GWB is an endorsement of tactics like these.

A small example of, potentially, why Bush doesn’t run on issues

At a school in Eden Prairie, a teacher arranged for a “mock election” at a parent/teacher/student meeting:

He read where each of the candidates stood on the main issues of the campaign. He didnĂ•t say who was who… just “this is what candidate one says, this is what candidate two says”. The kids made tally marks about each thing they agreed with from each candidate. Then the kids voted on the issues. Four kids voted for Bush. 26 kids voted for Kerry. … most of the kids who voted for John Kerry were greatly upset by it. They booed the results of their vote. They were upset that they had voted for the “wrong guy”. The teacher went on to say that he assured the kids that the election was not yet over, and that there still might be many issues where they would agree with George W. Bush, and maybe when they tried again later, they would end up voting for him. The parents looked relieved as well. . . The gears that had begun to grind uncomfortably in their heads smoothed out and they relaxed. We moved on to talk about other things, and everyone was happy.

Yeah, best not to actually THINK about what your candidate might do. Just vote. Right, George?

Three years, thousands of detentions, and how many convictions?

John Ashcroft has run roughshod over the Bill of Rights for three years now, claiming all the while he was chasing legitimate criminal convictions. Guess how many he’s gotten.

Yup. Zero. Here we were thinking the debate was liberty vs. security, and here we discover no actual convictions have happened — i.e., not one of those detained, lawfully or unlawfully, by the DoJ has been found guilty of anything. Kinda makes you wonder about that particular trade-off, doesn’t it?

Remember Yaser Hamdi?

He was one of the American citizens detained indefinitely, without counsel or charge, on the grounds that he was an “enemy combatant” and therefore not subject to the rights of the accused as we enshrine them here. See, he was SO DANGEROUS that they had to hold him in secret and not allow him to address the evidence against him.

Right. He’s being released in a deal wherein he must (a) renounce his US Citizenship and (b) leave the US for Saudi Arabia.

I’m sorry, but What. The. Fuck?

The agreement to free Yaser Esam Hamdi represents a stunning reversal for the Bush administration, which argued for more than two years that the former Taliban fighter was potentially so dangerous that he had to be detained indefinitely in solitary confinement with no access to counsel and no right to trial.

It will be interesting to hear how Hamdi characterizes his ordeal once he’s free to talk. Terrorist or not, I’m not happy with the DOJ’s actions here, and this deal seems custom-tailored to save face in the wake of several rulings putting them in their place. As it happens, the Constitution is, you know, LAW and all.

In which we tease the afflicted

We expect Mr Coyote to become slightly less strident in the near future, because we have it on good authority that he’s (a) about half drunk because (b) he got a pretty sweet job offer today. So there’s that.

Two from Fred

Slacktivist has two fine posts this morning:

  • No DD-214, no job. A DD-214 documents the circumstances under which an individual left the military. Fred notes “I am not interested in the typographical capabilities of the IBM Executive Model D typewriter . . . I want to see the man’s DD-214.”
  • Careless committees. Here Mr. Clark notes the sad state of environmental legislation in general — and the Endangered Species Act in particular — under this administration, but also includes this gem: “The British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, the story goes, was asked by a clergyman what we might learn about God from studying the creation. Haldane replied that, ‘He has an inordinate fondness for beetles.'” Gotta love that.

Something you likely won’t see much of in the mainstream media

But CNN covered it, albeit briefly and without substantial comment. Over at Tom Tomorrow’s site, Bob Harris writes about seeing the coverage of a US attack killing a working journalist on camera, supposedly because the reporter was too close to a disabled American vehicle. There’s a bit more coverage through Tom’s post, or directly here; there’s a CNN transcript here.

Bob goes on to note precisely what behavior like this is likely to produce. Hint: it ain’t stable democracies in the middle east.

Curiously, they don’t even bother to mention fuel economy

The excellent HowStuffWorks.com folks have a bit up about the Bugatti Veyron, a million-dollar supercar to end all supercars. A few fun facts:

  • It boasts a W-16 engine that produces 1,001 horsepower.
  • It’s good for 250MPH.
  • 0 to 60? THREE seconds.
  • 14 seconds is a pretty good quarter mile time; in 14 seconds, this car is going 180MPH, and has left the quarter quite a ways back.

It’s good to know that these things exist. The article doesn’t mention a curious fact I know to be true of other Bugattis: they run on aviation fuel, not regular gas. The folks who used to clean my car had one on the lot a couple years ago, and the owner gave us the tour; it was essentially a track toy, but the aviation gas wrinkle meant that when he took it to Dallas, for example, he had to either trailer it or caravan with a truck full of fuel.

That’s the sort of thing that makes my air-cooled German pile of foolishness look practical, I tell you. It may burn oil and require absurd maintenance, but at least I don’t have to go to airports for gas.

Why Sun Still Doesn’t Get It

In this article, Sun Chief Technology Evangelist Simon Phipps states that the subscription model is a “necessary trend for Open Source Deployers.” I disagree, at least where the JDS is concerned.

Phipp’s key analogy is that of a newspaper:

The model Sun is developing for giving customers the benefits they need using open source is illustrated well by Sun’s Java Desktop System (JDS). JDS comprises many software elements drawn from a wide range of open source communities. To understand what’s happening, let’s consider the newspaper industry. Newspapers haven’t been killed off by the Internet (at least, not yet!). The reason for this is that when we buy a newspaper, we’re not buying the news. These days the news is free (gratis) – we can go online and read news feeds from organizations like Reuters or the Associated Press, or original reporting from an organization like the BBC. When I buy a newspaper like ‘USA Today’ or ‘The Independent’, I am actually buying an editorial style. The editor-in-chief for the newspaper sets the outlook, and then the editors and other staff select the news stories, phrase the reports, position them in the publication and perform the lay-out in support of that editorial outlook. If I go online to get the news, I have to do the work of selecting and filtering the news, and I may not always be aware of the biases of the source I am using. To get an aggregation of the news I want delivered in a style that helps me and with biases I understand, I subscribe to a newspaper. JDS is just like this. Almost all the elements that comprise it – the Mozilla browser, the Evolution mail and calendar client, the StarOffice document productivity suite, the underlying GNU/Linux operating system they depend on, the Gnome desktop environment they use and much more – come from open source communities. You could go get all those parts yourself – they are all available gratis. But then you’d have to integrate them yourself, support them yourself, and accept joint liability for their use of ideas yourself. Instead, Sun acts like the editor-in-chief of the JDS ‘publication’. Staff select the software components to include and exclude, work to integrate them, contribute to each of the open source communities to improve their compatibility and completeness. Sun packages and delivers the final publication, offers support and updates, fixes security exposures, offers indemnity and generally joins the communities so you don’t have to. You don’t buy the software from Sun – instead you subscribe to the editorial outlook. Sun’s editorial view is to deliver high function, ease of use, data format and networking compatibility, low migration cost, re-use of existing hardware, escape from Windows viruses and security risks and minimal retraining. If that’s an editorial outlook that fits your corporate needs, you’d do well to subscribe.

The problem with this notion is that the newspaper itself — with its editorial outlook intact — exists online for free as well; online news seekers aren’t limited to raw feeds with unknown biases. If I want, I can read the Washington Post in its entirety — or the Washington Times, if I prefer my news with a Moonie bent. In fact, most papers are available free online, though many require registration. What we buy with a newspaper is portability, which isn’t that germane to the subject Phipps really wants to discuss.

The notion of JDS as a known aggregator is sort of buyable, but there are distinct drawbacks to working with someone else’s idea of how these pieces should work together. Unhooking them to change the configuration will require nontrivial work, so the time you spend using someone else’s aggregate may be false economy. PAYING Sun in the long run for this desktop may be a way to get into FOSS quickly, but ultimately you’ll want more control, and you’ll go to a homegrown solution. And because you can’t really escape having SOME IT at your enterprise grows, eventually it’ll make more sense to develop your own build in house and stop paying Sun every month.

This is analagous to the hosting situation of a new firm, for example. Right now, say newcompany.com lives at Hostcentric on a server they provisioned and built to their spec. It has most of what we wqnt on it, but in a configuration that isn’t optimum for adaptation or tool migration — if, say, we wanted to change our mail system to authenticate to LDAP, for example. When we start wanting to do fancy things, we’ll need to build our own server so we can (a) pick the tools we want to use instead of the ones Hostcentric likes (b) control the way these tools interoperate.

Sun has a big challenge ahead: it needs to define why it still exists. High bus usage applications where their tightly coupled hardware/software solution shines are a tiny portion of the market they formerly dominated; there’s no longer a need for most applications to go to such high-end, proprietary hardware. For example, last year I led a team building a music marketing site that now supports 150,000 registered users and 3MM hits a day. In runs on two Intel boxes (one runs Apache; the other runs Postgres). They’re beefy boxes with RAID and lots of RAM, but they cost a fraction of what it used to take to support that kind of application, and that means most of Sun’s market has gone the way of all flesh.

What does Sun have? They have Java, but monetizing that would be difficult at best. They have Solaris, which may be the last man standing in the proprietary Unix world, but Linux is closing fast, and being the last survivor of a dying breed still makes you a dying breed. The JDS is an interesting idea, but isn’t that compelling, I don’t think, if you look more carefully at the way it purports to work. We get a Linux machine with free tools installed, and we pay Sun to manage it for us? Um, why? How much? First, Linux boxen require dramatically less “management” once running than do Windows machines. Second, why would we want to entrust any outside entity with the stability of our machines? In a small organization without any IT support, I can see a degree of appeal here (again, like the Hostcentric situation), but any sort of ongoing and growing enterprise will likely be better served by assembling a “drive image” internally and distributing it in much the same way Windows is managed now. Sun is adding a financial “load” here without clear value-add, at least from this geek’s point of view, and adds an external point of failure besides.

So how do you make money in open source? There are lots of ways, but chief among them are probably service model businesses (somebody’s always got to know how to make things work together no matter who made the software) and open-source-based projects like Apple’s OS X (built on FreeBSD), Tivo (which runs Linux), and a thousand other tools built with free or open source cores. Trouble is, I’m not sure how Sun can make that jump. JDS is an attempt, I suppose, to product-ize a service (that is, managing your Linux desktops). The problem with this is that I have a hard time imagining they’ll be able to charge enough, or be able to get enough customers, to make it play for them. They need a LOT of revenue to avoid being a niche player, and I don’t think this is the source. I’m not counting them out yet, but I wouldn’t buy the stock, and I sure wouldn’t trust my company’s desktops to a firm whose business model seems on the way out the door.