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Saturday, May 31, 2003
Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand filed a $50M lawsuit because a web site includes her coastal mansion in a aerial view of the California coast. Or maybe it is $90M. Her web site says she loves free speech. That woman is nuts.

The web site shows views of the entire coast, and the pictures were taken in order to document development. It is a fascinating site if you are familiar with the California coast. The site owner is rich, and I don't think that there is any chance he will give in.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
Netscape v. Microsoft
John writes that the court should reject this collusive Microsoft-Netscape settlement. It appears to be making the browser market less competitive, and antitrust law should be trying to make it more competitive.
Tort reform
John reports that Shell Oil is being sued for the RI night club fire, along with the club owners, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., the town of West Warwick, and American Foam Corp. The formula is: accident happens, find deep pockets, sue them all.

At least there are some efforts for tort reform, and some efforts to limit contingency fees. Good.

Spelling bee
John sends the ridiculous words being used to eliminate spelling bee contestants. The only one I recognize is kurtosis, and that is very obscure. Apparently these kids know all the words in the dictionary, so the only way to get a winner is to ask non-dictionary words.
IQ and race
Alex complains about this "racist" article. But it is mostly a rehash of conventional wisdom. The most controversial part is probably the reference to the book IQ and the Wealth of Nations. The article says the book is unreviewed, but you can find some pro and con reviews at the above Amazon.com link. Some of the IQ data does seem surprising, but that just means that it doesn't always match my prejudices. I wonder if the IQ critics have any explanation for the correlation for the correlations in the book.
Philip Morris targets gays
The SJ Mercury News claims to have a big expose' with a story that Philip Morris targeted gays in 1990s. So how did they carry out this insidious plot? All they did was to advertize in a couple of homosexual magazines, and donate to HIV/AIDS groups.

For a followup story, the paper should buy a couple of homosexual magazine, print a list of all the advertizers, and point out that all those advertizers are targeting gays.

George writes:

That's different. Most of those products are commodities like cars, clothes, beverages, etc. Philip Morris sells cigarettes and cigarettes kill people.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Unix copyright
The Unix copyright dispute took an odd twist, as Novell denied that it sold Unix to SCO! SCO was sure enough of its ownership that it sued IBM for shipping Linux that infringes Unix. Strange. Something is fishy here. IBM and Microsoft are paying SCO a lot of money for Unix licenses, and I am sure they wouldn't do it unless they had to. Linux users have also been threatened with patent infringement. My hunch is that SCO has a case that parts of Linux are derived from Unix by people who had privileged access to Unix sources. I say the open source community should play it safe, and use BSD unix. We know it is in the clear, because that has already been litigated.
School news
Now homeschoolers can take online courses, according to this. And kids can just play video games to acquire visual skills. New Yorkers pay $1k just to get advice on finding a school for a 4-year-old.
USA Patriot Act and libraries
SJ Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor has another rant about library privacy. I sent this letter to the editor:
Dan Gillmor (May 28 Business section column) wants to repeal the section of the USA Patriot Act pertaining to libraries, so that the FBI will need a court-order search warrant to get library records. In fact, libraries are not even mentioned in the Act, and the FBI will continue to be able to get those library records even if the entire Act is repealed.

The USA Patriot Act has actually improved my privacy. The Santa Cruz libraries no longer maintain privacy-invading records on me anymore. I am more concerned about nosy County workers who think that they have the right to keep tabs on me, than about FBI agents doing a foreign intelligence investigation.

The paper says they will publish it in the Sunday Business section.

Monday, May 26, 2003
EU Constitution
A draft constitution for the United States of Europe is in the works. The word federal is out. The language is peculiarly vague and weird. Eg:
Article I-9: Fundamental principles

1. The limits of Union competences are governed by the principle of conferral. The use of Union competences is governed by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Astronomy picture
This story has a Hubble space telescope picture of a young planetary nebula with a bizarre jet. Other good astronomy pictures are posted at Astronomy Picture of the Day.

A cool picture from the top of the world is here. You can pan a complete 360 degrees, at the peak of Mt. Everest. Apple QuickTime 5 required.

Here is a picture of the Earth from Mars.

Saturday, May 24, 2003
Licensing of patent practitioners
I just participated in a misc.int-property usenet thread (see also these messages) on the licensing of patent attorneys and agents. Here is a summary.

Patent pracititioners are licensed by the feds (at the US PTO). Those who also have state law licenses are called patent attorneys, and others are called patent agents. As I explained last month, patent law is federal law and it is settled law that patent agents do not need a state law license to practice patent law.

Various patent attorneys in the thread concocted idiotic hair- splitting distinctions for patent agents -- that work-for-hire is ok only if it is part of an employee relationship; that a patentability opinion is ok but an infringement opinion is not; that advice to inventors is ok but only if they agent is hired before an on-sale bar; that validity opinions are ok but only if related to a reexamination proceeding; that ghostwriting infringement opinions is ok if they are signed by a patent lawyer; that recording an assignment is ok but only if a standard form is used; etc.

But none of these distinctions has any basis in statute, regulation, precedent, or common sense. When pressed for details on these distinctions, all anyone can come up with is that some future and hypothetical set of changes to the US statutes, state statutes, regulations, supreme court appointments, etc, might possibly cause a change in the law, and maybe I ought to warn my clients about that. I happen to think that those changes are extremely unlikely.

All states regulate the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). Some states, like Utah, only regulate those who represent others in court. Other states, like Texas, are more aggressive and have even tried to snuff sellers of self-help legal books. No state has attempted to regulate patent agents since a 9-0 US Supreme Court decision forbade it in 1963. California law says that UPL is a crime, but only for people who do not have a state bar license or any other license to practice law. So if California wanted to prosecute a patent agent for UPL, it would have to persuade the feds to disbar the agent, and then prosecute him for what he does after being disbarred.

Lee asked:

So, Roger, do you advise your clients that there is the possibility that the court might give less weight to your infringement opinion than it would to one from a patent attorney? Seems like that's something they should consider, and that you should warn them about.
I don't really play the game of giving opinions just to avoid willful infringement. The times clients have asked me, they were mainly concerned about just getting sued, or getting an injunction against them. I guess if I wanted to give the full set of disclaimers, I'd have to warn that there are others with greater expertise in the technical field, others who went to more prestiguous colleges, others with more court experience, others who have read more CAFC opinions, others with a better track record of predicting judicial outcomes, others with higher IQ or LSAT scores, etc, and those might possibly be able to give opinions that have greater weight with the judge. (I have more disclaimers here.)

Even if some state wanted to regulate some aspect of patent law practice, it would be nearly impossible under existing federal law and precedent. Let's say that a state wanted to regulate writing patent validity legal opinions. A conversation between a client and a patent agent might go as follows:

Client: I need help. I just discovered that my competitor has a potentially troublesome patent, and I need to know whether I have a problem.

Agent: I am just licensed to practice before the USPTO. I could look into the possibility of doing a reexamination for you.

Client: What's that? What does it cost? How does it work?

Agent: First, I'd have to study the patent, the file history, and the prior art, and look for grounds for invalidating the patent. Then I'd write a report on the validity of the patent, as the claims pertain to you and your products. That will cost $1-5k, depending on the complexity. If I conclude that there are grounds for finding the patent to be invalid, you may or may not want to order a USPTO reexamination, depending on various factors that I will explain to you. If you want that, it will cost another $5k.

Client: Sounds good. Go ahead. I'll decide on the next step after I get your report.

This practice is unquestionably legal under federal law, and outside the scope of any possible state regulation. If some state tried to regulate patent agents, then the agents in that state would just market their services in a way that made clear that those services were incident to practice before the USPTO, and cite Sperry v. Florida.

A couple of patent attorneys argued that patent practice before the US PTO would never involve giving an infringement opinion, so it is outside the patent agent's license. There is just no reason that a patent agent would even have to know the Doctrine of Equivalents (DOE), they argue, whereas a DOE analysis is often essential to an infringement opinion.

But that patent attorney argument is clearly false and disingenuous. When an inventor comes to me with an invention, the most important thing is to claim it in such a way that blocks out potential competitors using the same idea. The inventor will ask, "If I get a patent claiming A-B-C, will that stop a competitor from selling X-Y-Z." To answer that question, I have to do an infringement analysis. And yes, it may involve the DOE.

Andy cites this law review article by Shashank Upadhye that points out that under MPEP 708.02, a patent agent sometimes even has to submit an infringement opinion to the US PTO. A patent agent can petition to have a patent application expedited if he provides a detailed analysis showing that there is an infringing product on the market.

This article is another example of arcane and crazy distinctions that patent attorneys sometimes try to draw in order to place obstacles for patent agents. This one says that patent agents can give infringement opinions about pending patents, but not about issued patents! The article has 203 footnotes, but none supporting his theory of limits on patent agents. (It only cites Sperry v. Florida which vacated a state attempt to put limits on patent agents.) The idea that a patent agent would be considered competent to do an infringement analysis of a pending patent for a client, and competent to submit it to a quasi-judicial proceeding at the US PTO, but not competent to do the exact same analysis on an issued patent, is just plain weird. Note that he does not even mention state UPL laws, but is only concerned with competency of the opinion. The guy is an idiot.

George writes:

But that article says, "But it must be very clear, a patent agent cannot opine whether a product infringes an issued patent."
Yeah, I noticed that. The columnist for the business section of the local newspaper opines about issued patents, but trained professionals who are licensed by the US Patent Office cannot?

Such an opinion might easily be reasonably necessary for a patent office prosecution. Eg, an inventor might want to get his own patent and avoid a competitor's patent at the same time. Or patent agent might need to determine whether a reexamination will satisfy the client's needs. Even if I accepted the argument that state regulation is relevant, then the answer would vary from state to state. At any rate, the author gives no support for the statement. Always be suspicious when an author says "clearly" or something similar, because that means that he thinks something ought to be true, but cannot substantiate it.

Friday, May 23, 2003
H-1B scandal
Phyllis reports that Norman Matloff has done an excellent piece of work documenting how the H-1B immigration program has cost many thousands of American jobs. Computer programmers have been particularly hard hit.

In particular, he documents how it was just a myth that there was ever a shortage of computer programmers. Microsoft promoted the myth and lobbied for H-1B increases, but it only hires 2% of the programmers who apply for jobs there, and only 25% of those who are interviewed. If there were really a shortage, then Microsoft would be hiring all qualified applicants. And we'd see large spikes in programmer salaries also. But programmer wages are not high, and programmers are easily hired.

Bob says that foreigners sometimes have rare expertise, and when they immigrate it helps our economy. For example, Enrico Fermi was one of the world's experts in stimulated radioactive decay, and his assistance was crucial in the WWII Manhattan Project.

Sure, we should let in all the Enrico Fermis. But I doubt that even 1% of the H-1B workers have any unique skill or talent. The vast majority just have the ordinary skill of a college graduate who majored in a desirable subject.

Thursday, May 22, 2003
Bad behavior on the net
A spammer testified before the US Senate that AOL sold him their entire email list.

This WSJ story tells about people retaliating on spammers.

A researcher has documented the obnoxious spyware program Gator.

The US Army has a free online video game, but cheaters get a lot of the kills.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Lost Clarence Thomas opinion?
I got a strange email. It could be a hoax. It purports to be a draft opinion by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the Gore v. Bush case in 2000.

The opinion seems to be missing some citations, but I cannot find any fault with it.

George writes:

Thomas says election recounts are illegal. How wacky is that?
He is exactly right. In a close election, repeated recounts are apt to get random errors that can result in the winner changing randomly. Maybe ballots get damages, chads fall off, misconduct occurs, minor rules are debated and changed, etc. If the statute calls for a recount, then it is reasonable. But if the loser asks a judge for a recount just because it might give a different result, then only a mathematically innumerate judge would grant the recount.

I really doubt that Bush will promote Clarence Thomas to Chief Justice when Rehnquist retires, but he really is the best man for the job. He is one of the clearest thinkers on the Court, he has proven wisdom and legal analysis, he has administrative experience, he is well liked, and he is on the Supreme Court now.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
Economist magazine on Bush
Andy sends this Economist article that mentions Phyllis:
GEORGE BUSH's relationship with his business supporters could hardly be more straightforward. Business people give him huge piles of money. In return he cuts their taxes and shreds red tape. But there is nothing straightforward about his dealings with another big part of the Republican Party: its social conservatives. ...

Mr Santorum got a predictable roasting in what conservatives call the liberal media. In fact his remarks merely reflect Republican orthodoxy: the party platform, for example, goes out of its way to define marriage in a way that rules out gay unions. Yet Mr Bush's people hardly rushed to defend their senator. Phyllis Schlafly, who brought down the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, describes the establishment's defence as “limp”. Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, characterises it as “tepid”. ...

The most important decision will involve the Supreme Court. At least one Supreme Court justice may retire in the next year or so. Conservatives see the selection of a new justice as an issue on which they are prepared to break with the president. “We will not put up with another [David] Souter,” says Ms Schlafly, referring to a judge appointed by George Bush senior who has since voted in a liberal manner.

Andy also suggests Phyllis is the woman in the cartoon who is screaming at GW Bush while holding a Bible. I don't know, I've never seen her scream while holding a Bible.

Saturday, May 17, 2003
Immigration site
Andy writes:
I found a superb source of immigration information on the internet, apparently financed by an immigration law firm.

Here is an example of something I had not heard anywhere else, found in the most recent newsletter on the site:

"The Department of Justice announced last week that a federal grand jury in Sacramento has returned an 18-count indictment charging nine persons, including two former employees of the State Department, in connection with a scheme to sell entry visas into the United States. Eight of the nine defendants were arrested at locations in three states. The State Department employees charged are Long N. Lee, 51, and Acey R. Johnson, 32, and the two are married. According to the 130-page complaint, the visa scheme involved the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the State Department employees in exchange for the issuing of visas to various foreign nationals, primarily from Vietnam and India. All nine defendants are charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and to bribe public officials and to commit visa fraud. ..."
There was a similar bust in Si Valley about a year ago. Afterwards, the paper printed sob stories about illegal immigrants who were going to be deported even tho they paid the bribes in good faith. There was heavy political pressure to let the aliens stay. I am not sure what happened.
California nanny state laws
John sends this story about California threatening to pass a law requiring kids to sit in the back seat of a car. I believe that these laws do a lot more harm than good.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
Autism increasing
A new report says that California autism rates are radically increasing. It denies that the increase is caused by immigration, changes in diagnostic procedures, or other obvious explanations.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Assisted suicide
Here is a typical idiotic lawyer rant on the subject:
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Atty. Gen. Ashcroft's attempt to effectively end the practice of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in the Oregon, which has been approved by voters of that state on two occasions: once in 1994, and again in 1997. ...

As a matter of politics, Ashcroft's continued crusade against PAS demonstrates the hypocrisy of a group of far-right ideologues who vigorously claim to support states rights, but apparently only when state voters or legislators agree with their world view. ...

There is no "states rights" issue here. Ashcroft is not trying to end PAS. The federal Controlled Substances Act licenses physicians to prescribe drugs like morphine and cocaine for "legitimate medical purposes" only. Killing people via "assisted suicide" has never been considered a legitimate medical purpose. For thousands of years, physicians have taken the Hippocratic Oath , including a promise not to give lethal drugs. Even today, the major physician organizations oppose PAS. All Ashcroft is threatening to do is to revoke the license to proscribe drugs like morphine, if a physician uses the license to kill someone. Ashcroft is being Hippocratic, not hypocritical.
PSAT grammar error
This Wash Post article says the ETS had to revise some PSAT scores because it said that this statement was grammatically correct:
Toni Morrison's genius enables her to create novels that arise from and express the injustices African Americans have endured.
The tricky part is whether the pronoun "her" is correct.

Liza writes:

I think the complaining teacher is being pedantic.
John writes:
Who here is proud to be a pedant?

In current usage, pedantry (pedant, pedantic) is always negative. It means giving excessive or undue attention to formal rules.

Pedant is to scholar as cult is to church.

Webster's gives this usage example: "One who puts on an air of learning; one who makes a vain display of learning; a pretender to superior knowledge. --Addison."

More definitions:

Characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for book learning and formal rules

Marked by a narrow, often tiresome focus on or display of learning and especially its trivial aspects

An ostentatious and inappropriate display of learning

Under these definitions, I disagree with Liza that the grammar teacher who brought down the PSAT was being merely pedantic. I think the criticism is correct.

I think correct grammar requires that pronouns (he, she, it, etc) and subordinating conjunctions (who, which, that) must unambiguously refer to a single antecedent. The antecedent must be clear from the structure of the sentence; the reader must not be expected to guess from the context which of several possible antecedents is correct.

The grammatical error in the PSAT example is that the sentence structure makes "her" refers to "genius" not "Toni Morrison"

Some amusing comments to this news item were posted here. One poster mentioned that the worst error in the sentence was the omission of "overrated" between "Toni Morrison's" and "genius". Other posters claimed that the following perfectly grammatical sentences disproved the rule asserted by the Maryland teacher and justified the original PSAT sentence:

'A woman's hair is her glory,' says the Bible, and Samuel Johnson, author of the first English dictionary, quoted the phrase approvingly...

A man's home is his castle.

A man's word is his bond.

IMO, those posters are clearly incorrect. The "her" in "A woman's hair is her glory" is the possessive "her" which unambiguously refers to "woman's". But the "her" in the PSAT sentence is the pronoun "her" which can only have a noun as an antecedent, and the only available noun is "genius" not "Toni Morrison."
When I was teaching, yes, I was a pedant.

My dictionary says that "schoolteacher" is the origin of the word, and then gives this definition:

2 a : one who makes a show of knowledge b : one who is unimaginative or who unduly emphasizes minutiae in the presentation or use of knowledge c : a formalist or precisionist in teaching
In most situations, people don't like being lectured on formal rules. But in math or grammar class, it is appropriate!

John uses the word "pedantic" to mean that someone who is pedantic is also incorrect. (I'm not sure if Liza also intended this.) None of the definitions support this meaning, and I think that John is incorrect here.

Yes, I am being pedantic here.

John responds:

Bravo to Roger for his efforts to rehabilitate the original meaning of word pedant, which was at least neutral if not positive.

(Notice I violated my own rules of grammar by allowing "which" to have an ambiguous antecedent in the preceding sentence. Perhaps Liza would say that the only purpose of grammar is to promote clarity and it is clear enough from the context what I meant. IMO, however, the sentence structure itself should unambiguously point to one and only one antecedent.)

Now that we have agreed on the side issue that pedantry can be a good thing, will Roger opine on the main issue? Do you think the correct answer was "E" or "A" - or do you agree with the PSAT's decision to pull the question and raise everybody's score?

Gumma writes:
Liza writes:
You engineers seem fixated on the idea that there can be only one correct answer. Things are not always black and white. I believe ETS should have stuck to its guns - i.e., that "no error" was the correct answer - but since their outside panel of expert grammarians disagreed about the correct answer, it would not have been an improvement to treat "no error" as the wrong answer. ETS's response was more reasonable than to do what Roger suggests. I don't fully understand how they handled the rescoring, but I think justice was done under the circumstances.
Neither article said that there was any disagreement among ETS's outside panel.

If a newspaper article said 1/3=.33, I say that is acceptable and only a pedant would object. But if a math test said:

1. Does this have an error: 1/3=.33 ?
A. rounding error
B. sign error
C. algebra error
D. subtraction error
E. no error

I would say that only (A) is the correct answer.

Likewise, the PSAT sentence had a grammar error, at least according to the rules in some textbooks.

If there is a legitimate academic dispute about whether it is a grammar error, then the only reasonable thing to do would be to give full credit to those who answered either A or E, and mark other answers wrong. This would only change the raw scores of those who answered A. (But might change the percentiles slightly for everyone.)

What ETS did was to effectively penalize those who answered A or E, with A being penalized the most, and give points to those who gave the completely wrong answers of B, C, or D. I think that ETS compounded its error with its bizarre rescoring formula.

John responds:

Who would have guessed or predicted that Liza would be the most lenient member of the family on a fine point of grammar?

Liza objects to the "engineers" trait of seeing the world in "black and white" (i.e., digital) terms, of being "fixated on the idea that there can be only one correct answer."

In her very next sentence, however, Liza insists that there is, indeed, only one correct answer to the PSAT question, namely (E) - no error. Liza says the testmaker should have "stuck to its guns" by insisting that (E) was the only correct answer. (Which strikes me as a very "black and white" attitude!)

In a multiple-choice test, every question should have one and only one correct answer. If the subject matter is such that there is no correct or "best" answer, then it does not belong on a multiple choice test.

No doubt, many old grammar rules are no longer necessary in modern usage. There is a proper time and place for arguing that split infinitives are permissible or that subjunctive verbs are obsolete.

But I agree 100% with Roger and Andy that (1) if the test is on grammar and (2) if the test question squarely raises a well established grammatical rule, however obscure it may be, then fundamental fairness demands giving more points to the student who recognizes the rule than to the student who fails to recognize it.

IMO, the rule at issue here is just as valid as ever. Pronouns (he, she, him, her, it), adjectives (his, her, its) and conjunctions (who, whom, which, that) should always refer unambiguously to a single antecedent.

Ambiguous antecedents are like dangling participles, whose meaning can also be guessed from the context. Would Liza give full credit to a student who failed to recognize a dangling participle? I should hope not!

In a sense, ETS did stick to its guns, because (E) was the only answer that received credit under the rescoring formula. Those who recognized the grammar rule and correctly applied it to the sentence were treated as if they skipped the question.

Liza writes:

Yes, there seems to have been a slight scoring advantage given to those who responded "no error" (still the best answer in the opinion of the ETS staff as well as yours truly), but in view of the diversity of expert opinion some positive adjustment was made for those who responded A (although the newspaper articles have been inconsistent on the exact nature of that adjustment). That is why I say that justice was done under the circumstances.

Of course a multiple-choice test should have one clear right answer. I never argued otherwise. No doubt the ETS will drop the controversial question from future tests. In complaining about the engineer's black-and-white mindset, I was making the point that where through inadvertence a question winds up having more than one arguably correct answer, the ETS should not be duty-bound to treat only one answer as right and all others as equally wrong, as at least one of you seemed to argue earlier.

I ran this PSAT question by all members of my household, 3 of whom received 800s on their verbal SAT I as well as 80s on their verbal and/or writing PSAT. All agreed with me that "no error" was the best answer.

By the way, I don't accept that there is any absolute prohibition on split infinitives, either.

Move on, guys.

The ETS original scoring, and the revised scoring, does treat only one answer as right and all others as equally wrong. Liza is the only one defending ETS.

Andy writes:

Roger and John criticize Liza's position, but they do not defend the original rule itself. Nor do they recognize and criticize the degradation in language reflected in the position of ETS and Liza.

John insists that "Pronouns (he, she, him, her, it), adjectives (his, her, its) and conjunctions (who, whom, which, that) should always refer unambiguously to a single antecedent." But that is ETS' and Liza's position: if unambiguous (and the question was), then it must be correct.

The very point of the challenge to the ETS position is that clarity is a necessary but not sufficient test of grammar. In addition to clarity, logical linguistic consistency is also required for good grammar. But I don't expect John to agree to that! Nor does ETS.

Roger wrote, "What ETS did was to effectively penalize those who answered A or E, with A being penalized the most, and give points to those who gave the completely wrong answers of B, C, or D. I think that ETS compounded its error with its bizarre rescoring formula."

That's not the best description of ETS' ultimate scoring. ETS' revised scoring gives full credit to "E", but does not deduct points for any non-E answer. Accordingly, ETS remains adamant that "E" is the best choice, and that a sentence has proper grammar if unambiguous even though structurally illogical.

I believe the PSAT is used for various honors on a strict percentile basis. So if someone answered A, you might say he did not get points deducted, but that is misleading. He will drop into a lower percentile behind those who answered E, and could lose a scholarship as a result.
Jayson Blair
The NY Times sure doesn't have any credibility on the diversity issue anymore. Jayson Blair was hired and promoted just because he was black, and would have been fired a long time ago if he were white. This same paper editorializes for various laws forcing affirmative action, as if there is no downside to hiring inadequate workers. See this column.
Msft admits iLoo hoax hoax
Msft has admitted that it the iLoo really was a plan, and then it tried to claim that it was a hoax when everyone made fun of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Chickenpox vaccine
Andy testifies against the chickenpox vaccine in New Jersey.
RogBlog bug
John writes:
Did you really post 10 items (some of them suspiciously outdated) on your blog at exactly 11:27:25 today?
Good catch. Glad someone is reading. No, I had a dating bug which I have now corrected.

I use my own blogging software. The way it works is that I write my messages in source files, and the software automatically generates the dates, times, HTML, etc. The correspondence between the messages and the date tags are kept in an external index file. I've been travelling for the last week, and posted from my laptop. But when I returned, I neglected to copy the index file back to my destop computer. So the software thought that those messages were all new.

I am experimenting with a new hit counter. You might notice some minor irregularities until I get it the way I want it.

Msft Palladium
John sends this article with comments by Bill Gates. The objections to Palladium are a little strange:
Some critics and competitors have raised concerns that the technology could be used to reinforce Microsoft's dominance.
The same could be said of just about any computer technology.
Bad 9C opinion on 2A
John sends this Wash Times article on the 9th Circuit federal court of appeals dissenting over the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. Now there is a split in the circuits over the 2A that the Supreme Court will eventually have to resolve. But there are better cases to consider. The various assault weapon bans ought to be unconstitutional, but the issue is muddied by the fact that the ban was primarily directed at mean-looking guns in order to prove that some guns could be banned, and they still allow people to buy guns with similar effectiveness.

A better case for the court might be the DC handgun ban, as it leaves citizens defenseless and there are no distracting federalism issues.

(Note that I do not say "states rights". No conservatives think that the states have a right to keep its citizens unarmed.)

A John Lott op-ed in the same paper says that the main effect of the federal assault weapon ban has been to cut gun show business by about 25%. Gun collectors used to buy a lot of items like bayonnets at gun shows. The gun-banners really want to shut down the gun shows, because (in part) the gun shows sell pro-gun political literature.

George writes:

Gun control advocates want to stop illegal gun sales to criminals at gun shows. They are not trying to stop free speech.
In California, several counties and cities have banned gun shows even tho guns are not sold at those gun shows. They sell holsters, tools, knives, books, survivalism gear, t-shirts, and other gun-related paraphenalia. A number of guns are on display, but usually just demos from local gun stores. The shows are just not that interesting to criminals. Maybe they could buy some ammo there, but ammo is also widely and easily available elsewhere. There is currently a federal case on whether the gun show bans violate the 1A.

John sends this NRO article discussing different strategies for challenging gun laws.

Sunday, May 11, 2003
Do school vouchers work?
This article discusses a dubious study that claimed that voucher work because they raised the test scores of the black students. When the study data was made available to other researchers, serious problems were found.

No big surprise there. A lot of social science studies are proved worthless after independent evaluation of the data. Honest researcher make their data public.

The study is not even measuring whether voucher programs work or not very well. The goal of vouchers is not to have voucher students having higher test scores than non-voucher public school kids.

School vouchers should save money, give parents more freedom of choice, make schools more competitive, and force schools to become more responsive to the needs of their consumers, like other businesses. If vouchers are working right and making the schools competitive, then there should be no obvious difference in test scores between voucher and non-voucher students.

A letter says:

Regarding the revised findings showing negligible effects of school vouchers ("What Some Much-Noted Data Really Showed About Vouchers," On Education column, May 7), it is sobering, for both conservatives and liberals, to see once again that revolutionary educational programs almost never make a significant difference.
It is true that educational reforms rarely improve test scores, but a revolutionary voucher program has not been tried anywhere yet. Somewhere it ought to be tried on a large enough scale that the public schools have to change their policies or face losing students and laying off employees. Then it should be judged as successful if it saves taxpayer money and if the vouchers are sufficiently attractive that people take advantage of the program. Consumers are better judges what they want and need that social scientists.
Hospital seeks Klingon speaker
Oregon nees a Klingon intepreter for the crazy people there. I think that is the lawmakers who want to bother with anything but English who are crazy. Klingon is a fictitious language that was invented for Star Trek fans.

Update: John sends this announcement that public ridicule has forced Oregon to drop its attempts to hire a Klingon.

Update: This article says it was all a joke. Duhh.

Saturday, May 10, 2003
Abolish corporations
Here is a dumb idea from a NY Times op-ed. Abolish limited liability for corporations. It is not enough that fine businesses have been bankrupted by frivolous litigation like asbestos lawsuits, the lawyer lobby wants to bankrupt the stockholders also.

Friday, May 09, 2003
Microsoft Passport
The new Msft Passport bug is an amazing screw-up for Msft. Msft had already agreed to pay big fines for any violation of user privacy. There is more info here.

David Wagner writes:

It's typical. No one should be all that surprised, because it happens all the time. That doesn't excuse it, of course.

And whatever you do, don't think Microsoft is unusual in this respect. The problem is endemic, and many companies are far worse. Though Microsoft has often given the impression that they treat security as a PR problem rather than a technical problem, they've also recently taken some concrete steps to improve code quality that go way beyond what most other companies in this area are doing.

To give another example that comes to mind, do you remember Hotmail's woes back in 1999? They had a major security breach when one of their development machines (which was connected to the Internet) exported a testing interface that allowed anyone to access any account, without needing to know the password. Needless to say, the testing interface was eventually discovered by outsiders, who were then able to read the email of any and all Hotmail users.

Apparently, Hotmail hadn't even bothered to firewall off their development machines from the rest of the world. I'm usually pretty sympathetic when someone's servers gets hacked for no fault of their own, but it's hard to believe a site as high-profile as Hotmail wasn't even using a firewall to seal off access to their internal nets.

For all the fans of privacy certification programs, it's also instructive to note what happened to Hotmail's TRUSTe certification. (Nothing.)

The point is, the state of practice at many sites is often lamentably low. There are also many sites with truly professional and competent security, but the variance is very high, and so we shouldn't be surprised if we continue to hear more stories of major security breaches.

http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9908/30/hotmail.06/ http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9909/13/hotmail.audit.idg/ http://www.truste.com/news/padvisories/users_adv.html http://www.truste.com/news/padvisories/users_findings.html

Thursday, May 08, 2003
John sends this lunar eclipse news. It is a Thursday evening next week. Separately, Mercury and Venus will pass in front of the Sun.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
NRO attacks P2P networks
John sends this idiotic NRO article comparing P2P computer networks to digital communism. It says:
By legalizing Internet file-trading tools, a California court handed a major victory to communism. ...

Some might argue that copyright holders should fend for themselves in the marketplace. Imagine, however, the fate of stores if there were no effective laws against shoplifting: Theft would drive them to bankruptcy.

All the court did was too declare that the USA has no law against generic file-copying tools that have legitimate purposes. It would be communistic for the gubmnt to enforce heavy-handed restrictions on how individuals can commnunicate files.

Furthermore, stores do fend for themselves in stopping shoplifting. Nearly all shoplifting arrests are made by private store personnel, and nearly all anti-shoplifting measures are undertaken by the stores at their own expense. The city police doesn't stand at the entrance keeping out potential shoplifters. The cops only get called in after the store has caught a suspect and detained him. Likewise, the copyright holders shouldn't expect the gubmnt to act as some sort of gatekeeper on the internet preventing all use of P2P networks.

Exposing Bill Bennett
John sends this Slate article that confirms that the casinos exposed Bill Bennett for some ideological purpose. John thinks that it was probably 1 or 2 low-level casino employees making an unauthorized leak. I think that the casinos run a pretty tight operation, and anyone making an unauthorized leak like that might be risking his life. I think that the casinos did it deliberately.

One argument is that the casino's were offended by Bennett's attacks on the spread of legalized gambling. But that doesn't make much sense to me. I would think that the Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos would be all in favor of halting the spread of gambling. Gambling laws are not going to be changed there; but they might lose customers if more casinos open in New York and California.

So why would the casinos rat out a good customer? I don't know. There must be other celebrities who are now nervous about being exposed or blackmailed. I don't see how it could be in the interests of the casinos to destroy their reputation for maintaining customer confidentiality in this way. But I have to assume that the casinos had some business reasons for exposing Bennett.

I don't know why this was a big story. Bennett was a nicotine addict at the time that he was the USA drug czar and argued that using drugs was immoral. Bennett made most of his money off of his Virtues book, but it was rumored to be ghost-written. If the liberal press wanted to make the case that Bennett was a hypocrite, it seems like better evidence was already available.

Update: John sends this article that identifies the 2 casino companies (MGM Mirage and Park Place Entertainment) responsible for the leaks. Company spokesmen were curiously evasive about how the leaks happened.


I am related to the President

According to this geneology page, I share an ancestor with G.W. Bush about 9 generations ago.

Monday, May 05, 2003
Germany protects ants
I have heard of areas in the USA where animal lovers have put in regulations requiring that pests like raccoons be moved to the wilderness instead of killed. This story says Germany has extended the concept to ants!
"People with an ant hill in their garden must under no circumstances resort to the use of poison," said Ant Officer Dieter Kraemer in an interview.

This was a violation of federal nature protection laws and punishable with hefty fines, Kraemer warned.

Instead, those who want to get rid of pesky ants should call the state forestry office and apply to have ant hills dug up and moved to a local forest, he said.

Who was Deep Throat
A Slate columnist speculates again about who was the Deep Throat of Watergate fame. The most obvious explanation was that there was no such person. The story I read somewhere is that Woodward and Bernstein wrote a Watergate book; the publisher rejected it as too dull; and then they invented the Deep Throat character in order to spice up the book.
McCarthy files
The Senator Joe McCarthy haters are out again, saying that newly-released files show how evil he was. Voice of America says that one of its employees committed suicide because he was afraid that McCarthy would ask him to testify about why VoA was not transmitting to the USSR as was the plan. Some others refused to testify, but no one was prosecuted.

The NY Times reveals that McCarthy sometimes dropped witnesses after they proved to be uncooperative or confused in preliminary questioning. This supposedly proves that McCarthy was a bully on a witch hunt.

The BBC says that the documents prove that McCarthy tried to intimidate witnesses by threatening them with jail if they lied under oath. Yes, perjury is a crime.

None of these articles mentions that McCarthy was right about commies working for the government. The articles all make a big point out of saying that he was censured by the Senate, but none say what he was censured for.

Update: M. Stanton Evans reports that he cannot find anyone who can name someone whose life was ruined by a false charge of communism. He says that the VoA suicide was probably unrelated to McCarthy, as that guy would have been a friendly witness.

Lasik failures
John sends this story about how 1 in 10 laser eye surgeries fail and have to be redone. For some horror stories, see http://www.surgicaleyes.org/.

Lasik surgery has a very high success rate in the sense that nearly everyone gets 20/40 vision or better in the daytime. However, a lot of people are unhappy about it for various reasons.

Sunday, May 04, 2003
Calif law mandates encryption
John points to this article saying that a new California law puts some burdens on businesses unless they use encryption to secure confidential customer data. This is good, because businesses have a responsibility to safeguard such data.

One of the complaints about the so-called (proposed) Patriot II Act was that it was going to be a felony to use encryption to commit terrorism. Supposedly that was going to be a disincentive for legitimate businesses who just want to use encryption to protect customer data.

Java is the most popular
This article claims that Java is the most popular programming language, based on indicators like Help Wanted ads. My guess is that there is a lot more code written in C, C++, Basic, and COBOL.

Friday, May 02, 2003
RIAA wins settlement
The students who were sued for running a search engine have settled with the music labels. The poor students had to shut it down and pay up. Too bad. I don't think that the students were doing anything wrong, but couldn't face the legal fight. I guess we need more anonymous search engines. Here is the LA Times story.

Now the NY Times says that the RIAA is planning a covert sabotage campaign. One can only hope that music lovers will resist the tactics of the music label thugs.

Thursday, May 01, 2003
Predicting earthquakes
Some Caltech geophysicists claim that they can predict earthquakes 15 seconds in advance -- except that they need to do 40 seconds of computation on seismic data. But if they can get the epicenter calculation down to 5 seconds, and they can distribute the info in another 5 seconds, then they might be able to give people a 5 second warning.
Real mob hit
NY mafia business can be as wacky as the Sopranos. See this CBS News story.
Bettina Aptheker
John sends this story and comments:
As if Angela Davis wasn't enough -- UCSC has Bettina Aptheker too? This is diversity??
I don't know anything about her. She seems to be some sort of jewish commie lesbian. Here is a 1970 letter that she wrote in support of a bombing of a telephone company. Her main complaint is that the bomb was not sufficient effective to promote the commie revolution that she wants. I don't know how these kooks get to be university professors.

George writes:

Are you suggesting that she is unfit to teach because of her personal religion, politics, or sexual preference?
No, but she teaches a class on Feminism, and I really don't think she separates her personal politics from her teaching. She was also a member of the CPUSA's national committee when she wrote a propaganda book for the KGB about Angela Davis. I am suggesting that anyone who would write the above letter is probably unfit to be a Univ of Calif. prof.