[x]Blackmoor Vituperative

Wednesday, 2005-12-28

Domestic spying

Filed under: Society — bblackmoor @ 12:28

As the year was drawing to a close, we picked up our New York Times and learned that the Bush administration has been fighting terrorism by intercepting communications in America without warrants. It was worrisome on its face, but in justifying their actions, officials have made a bad situation much worse: Administration lawyers and the president himself have tortured the Constitution and extracted a suspension of the separation of powers.

It was not a shock to learn that shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct intercepts of international phone calls to and from the United States. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act permits the government to gather the foreign communications of people in the U.S. — without a warrant if quick action is important. But the law requires that, within 72 hours, investigators must go to a special secret court for a retroactive warrant.

The USA Patriot Act permits some exceptions to its general rules about warrants for wiretaps and searches, including a 15-day exception for searches in time of war. And there may be a controlling legal authority in the Sept. 14, 2001, congressional resolution that authorized the president to go after terrorists and use all necessary and appropriate force. It was not a declaration of war in a constitutional sense, but it may have been close enough for government work.

Certainly, there was an emergency need after the Sept. 11 attacks to sweep up as much information as possible about the chances of another terrorist attack. But a 72-hour emergency or a 15-day emergency doesn’t last four years.

(from Barron’s Online, Unwarranted Executive Power, emphasis mine)

The government of a free society does not spy on its citiens. In fact, one of the hallmarks of a corrupt government is that they do spy on, track, and otherwise monitor their citizens. But do not for a moment think that the President is the only villain in this drama. Rather than upholding the Constitution and their oaths of office, Senate lawmakers agreed to a six-month extension of the USA “Patriot” Act’s unConstitutional police powers, supposedly so that the Senate will have more time to negotiate civil rights safeguards in the new year.

The government’s unConstitutional power to seize a company’s sensitive customer data without being subject to traditional standards of judicial review was one of the most controversial issues that federal lawmakers grappled with last year, but that did not stop the Senate from permitting this travesty to continue.

It will get worse before it gets better — if it gets better, which is no certain thing.

Tuesday, 2005-12-27

Where in Dante’s Hell are you?

Filed under: General — bblackmoor @ 22:27

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished me to the Sixth Level of Hell – The City of Dis!
Here is how I matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful) Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Moderate
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Moderate
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very High
Level 7 (Violent) High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Moderate
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Low

Take the Dante’s Divine Comedy Inferno Test

OpenOffice.org 2.01

Filed under: Technology — bblackmoor @ 14:21

OpenOffice.org

Eight weeks after 2.0, our first update remedies minor bugs and brings new features. For example, it is now possible to disable and hide particular application settings, which comes in handy for central administration in networks. Plus, a new keyboard shortcut permits the user to return to a saved cursor position. The bullets and numbering feature has been expanded, and a new mail merge feature is available.

(from OpenOffice.org)

OpenOffice 2.01 also offers improved compatibility with obsolete office suites, such as Microsoft Office. Check it out.

Saturday, 2005-12-24

Open letter to Cavalier Telephone

Filed under: General — bblackmoor @ 15:23

I want a full refund for everything I have ever paid or am scheduled to pay to Cavalier Telephone.

Roughly six weeks ago, I switched from Cox Digital Telephone to Cavalier Telephone. On the date the telephone transition was to take effect, my phone went dead. I called Cavalier, and was told it would be a week before they could restore my dial tone. A week later, I had a dial tone.

A few days later, my phone went dead. I called Cavalier, and was told it would be a few days before they could restore my dial tone. A few days later, I had a dial tone.

The next week, my phone went dead again. I called Cavalier, and was told it would be a few days before they could restore my dial tone. A few days later, I had a dial tone.

A week later (mid-December), my phone went dead yet again. I called Cavalier, and was told it would be January before they could restore my dial tone.

Today, about a week from the last time I called, I called to complain about still not having a dial tone, and to find out how to check the voice mail for this non-working phone line. I was put on hold 25 minutes, and then was told that I needed to go outside and poke around my telephone network interface to see what kind of technician you needed to send.

My phone worked just fine until you people got involved. Before Cavalier: had a phone. After Cavalier: no phone. you figure out the reason why. I am not here to fix your mistakes.

On top of this, the phone number you people gave me for the voice mail, 757-248-4098, is “not in service at this time” — I guess they have Cavalier phone service, too!

I called you people back to check to see if this was the correct number, or if the voice mail number would be online again any time soon, and this time the person on the phone kept demanding my Social Security number before she would answer my question. As you are well aware, the SSN is not a secure way of verifying a person’s identity, and it is a privacy violation to ask for it. Besides which, what difference does it make who I am, if all I want is information about the voice mail number? I told “Natasha” this, and she hung up on me.

Cavalier Telephone is the worst phone service in the world.

I am switching back to Cox Digital Telephone. I want a full refund for everything I have ever paid or am scheduled to pay to Cavalier Telephone.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 2005-12-21

Venture Bros. news

Filed under: Television — bblackmoor @ 00:10

Bad news first: The release date for The Venture Bros. Season One DVD has been postponed. Not sure of the exact date yet, but it will be out around the time of the second season’s premiere (but still before it), that they might better cross-promote one another. Apologies for the unintentional misinformation in previous journal entries, and to those who’ve expressed a real eagerness to get their hands on a copy.

Good news: In what I suppose is fast becoming an annual holiday tradition for us, we’ve once again teamed up with IGN/Filmforce and concocted another aural stocking stuffer for you all to enjoy (and cringe at when The Monarch hits–or doesn’t hit–the high notes). Merry Christmas, everyone.

(from Publick Nuisance, It’s That Time Again…)

This is great, great news (other than the DVD being delayed). In other interesting Venture Bros. news, the original pilot will be airing on Cartoon Network around Christmas, which is pretty primitive by the standards set by the first season, but it’s still fun to watch. Also, IGN has two “Holiday Havoc” MP3s from the Venture Bros. gang, one from last year and one from this year. Check them out:

The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend sing Little Drummer Boy

The Monarch and henchmen 21 & 24 sing the Christmas blues

I love Christmas. As Dr. Orpheus would say (and did say, in “A Very Venture Christmas”), the whole affair is about as real as “Kwanzaa”, or the Wookies’ “Life Day”, but I find it charming. πŸ™‚

Thursday, 2005-12-15

City Of Heroes, Forum Of Villains

Filed under: Gaming — bblackmoor @ 15:13

Well, the bloom is off the rose. After a month, I am tired of City Of Heroes. You know, the box says it’s a “role-playing game”, but calling a computer a game a “role-playing game” is like calling soy juice “milk”. It just isn’t. As a computer game, it’s okay, but I can’t see playing this month after month like some people do. I’d rather play Knights Of The Old Republic over and over again (and KOTOR is a great game, but it’s not a role-playing game, either).

I am still impressed by the character creator, despite its deficiencies.[1] [2] [3] I will hold off cancelling the account for a while so I can crank out a few dozen character illustrations. I wish I could access the character design screen without having to actually log into a server. Or, even better, I wish I had access to a brilliant 3D artist who’d do all of my character designs for free. πŸ™‚

On a side note, I have to say that the City Of Heroes official message forum is the most aggressively hostile online community I have ever seen, and I have seen some real doozies in my time. I have a theory about that. The same people who publish City Of Heroes also publish a game called City Of Villains, and the same message forum is used for both games (yes, it’s confusing and stupid to do that, but that’s how it is). In City Of Villains, the player (through her onscreen avatar) robs, kidnaps, and murders people, and is rewarded in the game for being successful at these crimes. There is no pretense of using evil against evil, as you find in games like Bloodrayne — you’re simply evil.

I have to wonder: does a game like City Of Villains attract hostile, obnoxious people, or does it create them? Many of the hostile, obnoxious people on the City Of Heroes forum have been there since long before City Of Villains was released. Were they always like that, or did they get worse once they started playing a game where they spend all day robbing, kidnapping, and killing innocent civilians? There’s a psychology paper in there, for the person willing to do the research.

Chronicles of Yawnia

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 11:35

Susan and I saw a few movies last weekend. One of those was “The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe“. Or, as Susan calls it, “… Narnia …”.

Wow, what a dull movie. Unappealing, dough-faced English children go to a fantasy land, where they do nothing of any particular significance while various fantasy creatures fight around them. Along the way they meet a CGI lion (very impresssive, as CGI lions go), which also does nothing of any significance. In fact, the one act which seems to have significance at the time is later shown to have been a ruse, completely removing any significance it had. I won’t give away what little plot the movie has by revealing what that faux-signifiant act is, but you’ll notice it when it happens, because two of the dough-faced children cry about it for twenty minutes or so.

The film has three high points. One is Tilda Swinton as the White Queen. Tilda Swinton is good in everything (or nearly everything — even she could not bring redeeming value to The Beach). It’s a pity that she did not have a decent wardrobe: she was a woman in a bucket for most of the movie. The second high point is Maugrim, the wolf who is the head of the White Queen’s secret police. He was the most sympathetic character in the movie, showing much more personality and charm than any of the human actors. The third high point is the White Queen’s dwarf henchman, Ginarrbrik, played by Kiran Shah (not to be confused with Deep Roy of Oompa Loompa fame). Ginarrbrik contributed a sense of fun and malice that was otherwise noticeably lacking in this humorless milquetoast of a film.

Another movie we saw last weekend was “Aeon Flux“, a movie adaptation of a cartoon that apeared on MTV way back when they used to show music videos. Susan and I are of divided opinions on Aeon Flux. She enjoyed the plot, liked the costumes, and found it fun to watch. I thought the dialog was stilted, the direction was uneven, the costumes were bland, and I did not think that Charlize Theron made a very convincing femme fatale (although I normally like her a great deal, and have ever since she appeared in Two Days In The Valley).

Finally, there is the most recent Harry Potter vehicle, “Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire“. As always, the special effects are lovely, and the supporting cast is superb. Now if only there was a sympathetic protagonist or a sensible plot. Warning: I am about to spoil the plot of Goblet Of Fire. But if you have been following Harry’s adventures in previous movies, the plot should be obvious. So here it is: the entire thing, from beginning to end, is just a ridiculously convoluted scheme to get a few drops of Harry’s blood, and then kill him. It’s a plot that even Dr. Evil would consider too intricate. Many, many times during the movie, the forces of Voldemort could simply, as Scott Evil would say, “kill him right now”. But they don’t, and we get dragged along in their absurd Rube Goldberg plot device until the bitter end.

Aside from the weak plot, there is the issue of the main characters. Hermione, once so smart and adorable, has become dull and stupid. Ron, the wisecracking friend, has become an irritating boor. And Harry, poor simple Harry, is just Forrest Gump with a wand. He’s a pawn from beginning to end, and nothing that happens is due to any particular bravery or wisdom on his part. And on top of that, he is snotty to his friends and rude to his date for the school dance, lacking even the simple-minded good nature of the Tom Hanks character. The only really sympathetic character in the movie is, as usual, a villain.

Personally, I’d suggest waiting for DVD for Aeon Flux and Goblet Of Fire, and waiting for King Kong instead of seeing “… Narnia …”.

Thursday, 2005-12-08

WotC releases free 1st Edition D&D modules

Filed under: Gaming — bblackmoor @ 14:49

WotC has re-released the first two classic AD&D adventures of the S-Series in new D&D 3.5 editions, both free. These are:

  • S1 – Tomb of Horrors by E. Gary Gygax (Update version by Bruce Cordell)
  • S2 – White Plume Mountain by Lawrence Schick (Update version by Andy Collins, Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, and James Wyatt)

Please note that these are 3.5 re-issues of the original AD&D adventures, not the later AD&D 2nd Edition products, “Return to the Tomb of Horrors” and “Return to White Plume Mountain.”

These aren’t simple conversion sheets, but rather full products in PDF format. All of the art also can be downloaded separately, although it is included in the PDFs. Here’s the download info:

Wednesday, 2005-12-07

Preserving digital information

Filed under: Society,Technology — bblackmoor @ 10:26

It took two centuries to fill the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with more than 29 million books and periodicals, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 57 million manuscripts. Today it takes about 15 minutes for the world to churn out an equivalent amount of new digital information. It does so about 100 times every day, for a grand total of five exabytes annually. That’s an amount equal to all the words ever spoken by humans, according to Roy Williams, who heads the Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena.

While this stunning proliferation of information underscores the ease with which we can create digital data, our capacity to make all these bits accessible in 200 or even 20 years remains a work in progress.

[ . . . ]

Like most difficult challenges, data preservation is really a mix of the simple and the complex challenges. At one end of the preservation continuum is a simple item, like an ASCII text document. Preserve the data by keeping the file on current media and provide some way to view it and you’re pretty much done. We’ll call this the “save the bits” approach.

At the other end lie the harder cases, like these:

A compiled software program written in a custom-built programming language for which neither the language documentation nor the compiler has survived.

A complex geospatial data set developed for the U.S. Geological Survey in a proprietary system made by a company that went out of business 20 years ago.

A Hollywood movie created with state-of-the-art encryption to prevent piracy, for which the decryption keys were lost.

For these three items, we don’t hold out much hope of being able to preserve the content forever. For the software program and the geospatial data set, the digital archeologists of the future probably won’t have enough information about how the software and data set were created or the language they were created inβ€”no Rosetta Stone, as it were, to translate the bits from lost languages to modern ones.

As for that encrypted movie, our archeologists might have read old reviews that raved about the special effects in Sin City, but this cinematic achievement will remain locked away until someone pays a lot of money to a master of ancient cryptology to crack the key.

Fortunately, many content types fall between these difficult cases and ASCII text. Usually, saving the bits using standard, well-documented data, video, and image formats, such as XML, MPEG, and TIFF, gets you halfway to an enduring digital archive. Put another way, the goal is to avoid formats that require proprietary software, such as AutoCAD or QuarkXPress, to play or render the data.

(from Spectrum Online, Eternal Bits: How can we preserve digital files and save our collective memory?)

Go read the whole article. It’s interesting stuff.

Tuesday, 2005-12-06

Sony gets sued

Filed under: Intellectual Property,Music — bblackmoor @ 18:12

From the moment I learned about the illegal hacking of customers’ computers by Sony, I have been calling and writing my legislators to urge them to initiate legal action against the company.

Well, it looks like the ball has started rolling.

According to eWeek, Sony’s legal problems have begun, and hopefully they will continue for quite a while.

“The allegation that Sony has incorporated open-source software into its purportedly proprietary software in a manner inconsistent with the Open Source General Public License, if established, would create a nice irony,” said Simon J. Frankel, an IP (intellectual property) attorney and partner with Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin LLP in San Francisco.

“The entire purpose of open-source software is to make broadly useful software available for all to build on. For Sony to take such software and incorporate it into software that it claims as proprietary would be contrary to the entire spirit of open source,” Frankel said.

“The improper use of GPL software by Sony could be the basis of a claim for violation of the GPL, which could prevent Sony from utilizing the rootkit program to the extent that it includes GPL software and, if a proper party were definable, could even subject Sony to damages claims under the license and copyright principles,” said Michael R. Graham, IP attorney and partner with Marshall, Gerstein & Borun LLP, a Chicago-based law firm specializing in IP.

Not long after that, the lawsuits bagan. The first suit came from the EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation), but it was soon followed by a suit from the state of Texas.

“On a very basic level of product liability law, if Sony is distributing a product that causes damage to consumers, then it may well be held liable,” Frankel said.

“There also appears to be a particular Texas statute that may make Sony liable for distributing spyware to consumers’ computers. This potential legal liability only piles on to the tremendous public relations snafu caused by Sony’s media player,” Frankel added.

(from eWeek, Sony’s Rootkit DRM Raises Legal Red Flags)

Way to go, Texas! Time for Virginia to step up to the plate.

Indeed, one way or another, thanks to its use and licensing of XCP DRM, Sony may be in for quite a legal shipwreck.

By all the gods of music and video, let’s hope so.

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