What Time Is It?

Daylight savings time is at an end. For most of us, this means that it’s time to set your clocks back an hour. For Indiana, it means that it’s time to rearrange our lives so we can leave the clocks alone. New times for TV shows, radio shows, out-of-state meetings, etc.

So remember, everyone: Indianapolis is now on the same time as New York, even though it’s been on the same time as Chicago all summer.

Boy, am I glad we’re not doing this anymore.

Lying About the Law

Our dear daughter is in volleyball this year, and at today’s practice, the coach distributed team pictures. They’re good pictures, with the usual team and individual shots. But on the envelope, this:

Did you know? Professional photographs are protected by copyright laws. It is illegal to scan or reproduce Lifetouch portraits. If you need additional prints, please use this reorder form. Thank you for respecting our work.

As I understand the law (and, I should warn you, I’m no lawyer), this is wrong, and a little reflection will make this obvious. Scanners and copiers are everywhere. I’ve seen scanners on sale for less than $20, and those all-in-one scanner-copier-printer-fax copyright violation factories are big sellers. They even put copiers in libraries, right next to piles of books that are nearly all “protected by copyright laws” too. And yet, all those librarians manage to stay out of jail for contributory copyright infringement, somehow. Is the FBI hitting the chain electronics stores yet, looking for suspicious OfficeJet buyers?

While the doctrine of “fair use” has been taking a beating in recent years, what with the recording industry suing grandmas who never owned computers for song swapping on the Internet months after their funerals, it’s still the law of the land. Most personal uses of copyrighted material fall under it, which is why it’s legal to tape TV shows on a VCR, copy encyclopedia pages and magazine articles in libraries, and sing “Happy Birthday” at your kid’s birthday party. If Lifetouch was right, all of those things would also be illegal.

The idea behind the scam is to increase the cost of scanning via a little fear, and encourage people to order the pictures “legally” to avoid the risk of the Copyright Police raiding their houses mid-scan.

Of course, they will have to increase the cost of scanning a lot more to cover the inconvenience of ordering from this outfit. Check out their company web site. See any online ordering link? Nope. The only way to order more pictures is to write on the back of the envelope the pictures came in and send it snail-mail to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Too bad my dad (who inspired my daughter to try volleyball after taking her to an Illinois volleyball game last year) can’t order any pictures without a magic envelope. I guess we’ll just have to scan in a few to send to him over E-mail.

I wonder which approach would make them more money: lying to their customers to scare them into ordering, or making it as easy as possible to order?

UPDATE (2005-10-20): It’s been pointed out to me in the comments that I’ve been vague at best about Lifetouch’s rights, and about fair use. First of all, Lifetouch does have a valid copyright in those pictures. Second, while fair use covers many purposes for copying a picture, it doesn’t cover them all. My example about scanning a picture and sending it to Dad may be illegal, depending on the financial harm done and a lot of other factors (see a lawyer for details). My point was not that it was legal, but that it was easy, and that lots of people will ignore the threats in the envelope if ordering prints is too much of a pain.

Cyberstalking

You’ve probably been avoiding it. Heck, I probably would. But the comments on the George Jones deception post really have gotten me into a bother.

I suppose I need to stop arguing with trolls. They’re beyond convincing, or are just being cynical. And I suppose I need to have more faith that most people will see the trolls for what they are: stalkers.

Having made their point several times over, why else would they continue to play their games? Is it really so bad that someone say something nice about Charlene Blake, that they have to insult people’s intelligence and otherwise make snide remarks for the crime?

(Oh, and I love the loud disclaimers about how the discussion is such a waste of their time. If only they had acted like they believed it, and just left!)

But what did it for me was this post by “callsemhowiseesem”:

…if you expect respect, show the same in return.

Of course, I have not hesitated to show the same respect I have been shown. Better, even, since I have backed up my “respect” with evidence. If you throw mud, don’t cry over getting dirty.

(Sensitive I may be, but stupid I am not. That’s why comments are disabled now on all Toyota and Charlene Blake-related posts, including this one.)

Yes, the LSB Has Value

Ulrich Drepper slams on the LSB, suggesting that binary compatibility is a red herring and that the LSB is incompetent.

I think it best to respond to the substance of the allegations here. To do that, you’ve got to filter out the ad hominem slurs (“…they buy into the advertisement of the people who have monetary benefits from the existence of the specification, they don’t do any research, and they generally don’t understand ABI issues.”), ego (“After they added the 100+ reports I sent and those others sent the test suite is a somewhat good reflection of who a Linux implementation should behave…”), and contradictions (even though the LSB people are incompetent, their experience shows that their goal is unattainable; one would think you need to try with competent people before deciding that something is impossible).

So what are you left with?

  • Test suites have bugs, even embarassing ones. Are we supposed to be surprised by this? Yes, part of the thread test bug Drepper highlights is pretty stupid. But who can claim to have never written stupid code? Certainly not I, and certainly not Drepper.
  • The tests are incomplete. This is both because of incomplete specifications and bugs, which cause discrepancies from the specs. By this logic, software testing is also useless for the same reasons. In the cases where the tests are right, can we not depend on them? “Useful” need not imply “perfection”, as all users of glibc today can testify.
  • Waivers are signs of incompatibility. Drepper’s complaint: “The result of all this is that you can have a program which is certified for LSBv3 which doesn’t run on all LSBv3 certified systems, depending on whether the LSB environment worked around the broken test or not.” But software vendors can easily retrieve a complete list of waivers, which allows vendors to anticipate what discrepancies they’re likely to encounter. Vendors may be ignorant of the issues, but that is hardly the LSB’s fault.
  • Having separate runtime environments for LSB issues is bad. First of all, Drepper seems to think that people doing separate LSB runtimes (like me) are doing it to work around LSB test problems. In Debian, however, 100% of the bugs I work around with the dynamic linker are bugs in Debian, not bugs in the tests, and only one of those bugs is not a glibc bug. Second, if the separate LSB runtime environment is complete, why should it matter that it’s different from the default, as long as it follows LSB behavior?

As a final point, I would look at Drepper’s recommendations for a replacement of the LSB: source specifications, and identical binaries whenever ABI compatibility is an issue. He doesn’t answer the question of whose binaries those should be, probably because he’s happy with the current de facto answer: the binaries provided by his employer, Red Hat. No doubt he would prefer a world without competition, but should the rest of us?

(Seen via Slashdot.)

Installers

Joey Hess is happy to see us using debian-installer for the DCC Core, and speculates about whether Progeny will be moving away from Anaconda.

First of all, I certainly hope we can make useful contributions to d-i. As a first effort, the long-stalled debian-installer module for picax (started at DebConf 4) is now in good shape, and was what we used to build DCC 3.0 PR1. And I can honestly say that d-i has, so far, exceeded our expectations.

On the other hand, there’s no reason why we can’t have more than one installer for Debian. FAI has been around for a long time, after all. Some people like Anaconda’s UI better than d-i’s, and probably will continue to even after d-i goes graphical. As long as people want it, there’s no reason why Anaconda for Debian should die off.

Tragedy and Promise

I’ve been a little silent lately, because it seems that there isn’t much to write that trumps the suffering people are enduring in the South right now. That, and I’m going through a difficult time myself, which I may or may not post more about later.

In the midst of bad news, though, you can get some good.

I went to a wedding on Saturday. It was a very uplifting wedding, even enough to lift my spirits; as Tami could tell you, that can sometimes be quite a job. During the wedding, the best man’s wife delivered their child (not at the wedding, obviously), with no problems to speak of. And at the reception, my brother called to let me know he was engaged, to a wonderful woman he met after moving to North Carolina. Tidings of good news, even if most of it didn’t really concern me, has a way of putting life in perspective.

It seems that the news of the hour centers around someone getting blamed for incompetence in their handling of the Katrina aftermath. Not surprisingly, the targets of criticism could all have been predicted a month ago, with Democrats yelling at the White House and Republicans castigating the Democratic governor of Louisiana and mayor of New Orleans. Unfortunately, both sides seem to have too much material to draw from.

Some of the criticisms have been good, in that they have pointed at specific problems that we can do something about. The rest have been, well, damaging. Not to their intended targets–real damage to those people won’t be seen until the after-action reports come out months from now–but to all of us, and most importantly to the people who are suffering. Firing Michael Brown or impeaching Kathleen Blanco may make us feel good now, but will the additional command-and-control confusion save lives? Not likely.

My brother wanted to propose to his girlfriend at a lighthouse on a small bit of land off the Carolina shore, but there’s a new hurricane in the Atlantic, and it’s there. He could have thrown a fit and blamed the boat captain for interfering with his best-laid plans, but he didn’t. Instead, he proposed on the beach, and everything worked out well despite the circumstances. It may be callous to compare a minor setback for a romantic scenario to the deaths of many thousands, but it is no less so than to press our leaders to pay attention to their reputations instead of the people that are still dying. Maybe we in the chattering classes need to learn a little flexibility, and a little perspective.

The Deception of George Jones

As I mentioned, my post on the Toyota problem had attracted the attention of a dissident, who was quite strident in his support of Toyota. I had hoped that he would bring some real evidence to the table, but alas, what little evidence he had was delivered among profanity and insults. I’ve had to remove a few of his posts to keep the tone civil, but have otherwise let him be.

But yesterday, the dissident (one George Jones, apparently from Canada) took a step too far, and impersonated the author of a critical petition, claiming her work was all a fake.

The comments are still there; I have no intention of removing the evidence of this person’s vileness. But I did contact the target of the fraud, Charlene Blake, who was happy to pass on information regarding the petition and the extraordinary harassment campaign she’s endured.

Jeff, I went briefly to check this George Jones….can’t post now….BUT……he is LYING! I have NEVER added one name to the petition, nor have I signed the petition more than ONCE….the first one! You have someone committing libel on your site!

Also, some more interesting information: the petition signatures Jones asserts were fake turned out to be, in fact, fake. But not in the way you might expect:

My petition has had many (see all the “deleted” lines) attacks from the SAME individuals who job it is to STOP me. They have not succeeded, however.

Get that? They tried to fill the petition with bogus signatures, and then cite the very deletions as evidence that the petition is bogus. Here’s an example of one such deleted “signature” she forwarded to me:

MORE PHONY NAMES!! COMPLETE FAKERY HERE!!!! GUESS WHAT? CHARLENE BLAKE HAS RETURNED FROM THE TRIP TO FLORIDA AND HAS STARTED POSTING PHONY NAMES AGAIN. NOTHING WAS HEARD OVER THE HOLIDAY UNTIL YESTERDAY, AND NOW THE CHARADE STARTS UP AGAIN. AFTER NO ACTIVITY FOR ONE ENTIRE WEEK, NAMES START APPEARING TWO AT A TIME. WHO DO YOU THINK WE ARE CHARLENE BLAKE—YOUR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS???

This appears to be one battle in a long war against Ms. Blake, in several car forums.

Now, I have nothing against Toyota. As I mentioned before, as long as you know what you’re getting into, Toyota vehicles can be a great choice. No one’s perfect, and Toyota certainly has done better in this regard than some. (I note, with glee, that Ms. Blake cut her teeth on Chrysler before taking on Toyota; if only she could have helped me with my trouble-mobile!) I don’t necessarily endorse everything Charlene Blake has ever done, or claim that Toyota is never the victim of deception perpetrated by dishonest customers.

But harassment as a response? That’s dirty pool. And when my own blog is used as a conduit of some of that harassment, I get downright angry. Maybe Ms. Blake is the one at fault on all those other car boards and petitions, but I know what happened here, and I know who I’m inclined to believe based on both personal experience and past performance.

And what’s worse, these people are meddling in affairs that are none of their business to try and prevent others from getting restitution from harm done to them. If these owners are trying to defraud Toyota, do we really think poor, hapless Toyota is doomed without net.trolls to come to their rescue? Certainly not! And what if the net.trolls are wrong, and they are helping a company defraud innocent private citizens who lost good money over lemons? It would almost be better to learn that the trolls are paid company shills–motivated by mere greed–than to consider that these people did it for the sheer depraved, sadistic pleasure of hurting people.

For this post only, I’m modifying the comment policy. Anyone–anyone at all–posting here with even the slightest hint of slander against me, Ms. Blake, or anyone else will find their comment text deleted and their identity exposed to the best of my ability. Don’t like it? Post on your own blog, with whatever comment policy you can stomach. This is what happens when people use my site to perpetrate vileness. And further comments will be disabled on the original post.

UPDATE (2005-10-10): Well, that was fun. I suppose I’ve underestimated the tenacity of the “Charlene-Blake-Is-The-Devil” cult. Playtime’s over, kids; time to stalk Ms. Blake somewhere else.

Reorganization and Performance

Just talked with Ian. It never really has made a lot of sense for me to have separate categories for Debian and Progeny Platform stuff, so the Progeny Platform category is going away, with all its posts moving to Debian. I think only the Progeny aggregator uses it (and it’s changing very soon), so this probably doesn’t matter much, but I do intend to eliminate the category soon.

Also, it’s become clear to me that I need to optimize Apache, as it’s had a tendency to overwhelm my little server. If you’ve noticed the spotty uptime, that’s why. Hopefully, that will get fixed soon as well.

LSB Dynamic Linker Available

It’s now available, and mostly works. There are two source packages and four binary packages available here and here.

One source package builds the dynamic linker itself, as well as the fixed libc. The other fixes a bug in PAM; the pam_unix module returns success instead of the proper error under some circumstances. See Debian bug 323982 for the details. If necessary, the package could be itself patched, but as I’m focused on Debian stable’s LSB compatibility, I’m assuming that there will be resistance to the idea of patching stable in this way.

With these packages installed on top, nearly all of Debian’s LSB problems are resolved. Some exceptions may be found in this post.

Intruder Alert

Well, I dropped off the net for a short while. What happened? I got hacked, that’s what.

So, this is a brand-new installation of WordPress on a brand-new installation of Debian 3.1. The old hard drive is still around for forensics and careful restoration work. So far, I see no sign that the hacker got any farther than my hosted box, which is good.

Not everything is back yet. I hosted a friend’s site, which is still down; hopefully, I’ll get that working quick. Things may be a little strange. If you notice anything, leave me a comment.

Long Time No Blog

It’s been a busy month. The conference in Finland was great, although the connectivity was less so. Since then, we’ve done a family camping vacation, and I had a little scare regarding the security of my systems. (False alarm, as far as I can tell, and I did check very thoroughly.)

Some random updates:

Some commenters were concerned about my Samsung Yepp’s compatibility with Ogg Vorbis. Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to compare my player’s Ogg compatibility with an iRiver a co-worker owned; he had been disappointed in his player and had several songs that did not play on his player. All of them played fine on mine on the Yepp. That should hopefully alleviate some of those concerns.

Someone named George Jones has been trading invective with me regarding the online petition over the Toyota oil sludge problem. I’ve been asking him a few pointed questions he refuses to answer; we’ll see if he ever gets around to that. In the meantime, I’ve joined OdyClub, an online community for the Honda Odyssey, and have learned a lot of good things, including the surprising amount of respect the Toyota minivan gets from Odyssey fans. I’m still happy with the decision we made, however.

Progress has continued on the LSB dynamic linker. I hope to be able to release some real results soon.

Off To Finland

[eo] Mi voja─Łos en Finnlandon por "DebConf 5".

Tomorrow I take off for Helsinki, Finland, to attend DebConf 5, a conference for Debian developers. I should be very well-connected, but on a slightly different schedule due to the time difference, and definitely will be very busy if past DebConf conferences are any indication.

If I have time, I’ll post a little on what’s going on.

The Quest Is Over

(2006-01-31: Picture of slate 2005 Honda Odyssey EX removed.)

Ours is even the same color as the picture. My beautiful wife deserves the credit for that good choice.

For the record, I never went back to the Toyota dealer. I was informed of a special deal on Mazda and Honda vans, and made my move after test-driving the Mazda, so I never got a chance to go back.

Sometimes, missed opportunities today are the price for past mistakes. On the other hand, as I mentioned, someone close to me is a big Toyota fan, so I will mention for his sake that Toyota does have an excellent reputation otherwise, and that you should do your own homework and make your own decisions.

From our perspective, we’ve made our decision, and are quite pleased so far. More later; it’s time for a drive!

“A Flag Has To Be Worth Torching”

Mark Steyn:

I’m a Canadian and one day, during the Kosovo war, I switched on the TV and there were some fellows jumping up and down in Belgrade burning the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Big deal, seen it a million times. But then to my astonishment, some of those excitable Serbs produced a Maple Leaf from somewhere and started torching that. Don’t ask me why — we had a small contribution to the Kosovo bombing campaign but evidently it was enough to arouse the ire of Slobo’s boys. I’ve never been so proud to be Canadian in years. I turned the sound up to see if they were yelling ”Death to the Little Satan!” But you can’t have everything.

I tend to oppose regulation against flag-burning. I understand why this issue trips some triggers; most people don’t, I think, outside of the ranks with military experience or an acquaintance with American history beyond what the public schools teach. And I can’t quite get beyond the hypocrisy: burning a flag is protected speech, but telling radio listeners why they should vote for you isn’t?

Still, I tend to prefer to err on the side of liberty on this issue. Mark’s essay highlights two advantages of legal flag-burning. First, it’s definitely an act which makes someone’s position on a lot of things clear; don’t you appreciate knowing? Second, being reviled by evil people is honorable, not shameful.

(Via Don Sensing.)

Property Rights and Judicial Activism

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its verdict in Kelo vs. City of New London, finding that the city had the right to condemn homes and force their sale so the land can be used by a private developer to build an office park, hotel, and health club.

I don’t think the Supreme Court has done anything in recent memory that is as universally reviled.

See Todd Zywicki, Cafe Hayek, and Don Sensing for typical reactions.

The case has even generated interesting discussions at work. Strong Democrats were singing the praises of Justices Scalia and Thomas, while more conservative types were advising moderation towards criticism of Justices Stevens and Ginsburg.

Personally, I agree with the critics. This is perhaps the worst Supreme Court act in recent memory.

UPDATE (2005-06-25): Ann Althouse has an interesting, well-argued dissenting view.

Don’t Get Mall Gift Cards

It seems that the site has become Consumer Alert Central recently. I hope this doesn’t become a trend; consumer watchdogs tend to get harassed, and I’d vastly prefer to have good consumer experiences.

Anyway, yesterday was Tami’s birthday. Among other things, I got her a Simon Mall gift card, something she had suggested herself. It was easy to get, and would enable an afternoon of hassle-free shopping for her. Of course, as you’ve probably figured out, this was not exactly the experience she had.

With most gift cards we’ve used, you can use up the card easily. At the final swipe, the available balance is subtracted from your total bill, and you’re given the opportunity to pay the rest some other way. With Simon’s cards, though, if the bill is greater than the available balance, the entire purchase is simply declined. To use the card up, you have to know the exact balance left on the card, and tell the cashier to charge only that amount to the card.

Most of the stores at the mall seemed to know this little dance well. They even offered to call in for Tami and check her balance–after warning her that the call came with a fee. This was too much for her, and she decided to complain after carefully spending every penny on the card. The mall representative denied that there was a fee, despite the reports from the stores. She, supposedly, had never heard of a fee. And, wouldn’t you know it, there doesn’t seem to be a fee at the present time, as this fee schedule makes clear.

This tripped Tami’s weirdness detector. Why would the stores lie about the fees? Something wasn’t right. A quick Web search confirmed that things, indeed, weren’t as they seemed.

The fees and expirations on Simon’s gift cards have earned it several lawsuits from state attorneys general, including Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. At least one online report about the lawsuits reveals the fee the store clerks were referring to: a 50 cent fee on checking the current balance. I won’t say that the mall rep was lying–she might just be new, and unaware–but it’s a bit shady on Simon’s part to imply that the store clerks were lying. And when vendors play such games, I don’t generally need direct evidence to conclude that something’s not right.

Now, to Simon’s credit, they aren’t hiding any of the fees they currently charge. I was aware of the fees that are the subject of the lawsuits when I bought the card. On the other hand, I wasn’t aware of the hassle associated with using the card, which seems designed to ensure that some available balance is left on the card. Combined with the expiration date and the other fees, that looks dishonest to me.

Really, I couldn’t care less about the fees by themselves. But the obstacles they erect to getting your money out of the card is a different matter. I won’t be buying any more of these cards, and I suggest you not buy them either–especially if you’re buying us a gift.

The Making of Another Criminal

A self-described music industry defender takes the plunge into illegal downloading, and explains exactly why:

If, with the resources of an entire industry of full-time workers and decades of catalogs and data and precedent, you serve music listeners less well than listeners and their hacked-together tech kludges serve each other, then you are defeated by your own market forces, and by your own market.

Father’s Day: Losing Kids and Music Hardware

So Father’s Day is almost over. For me, it’s been over; since the main task for today was to get rid of one of my kids (for the week at Scout camp), we decided to have our fun a day early.

The kids got me a nice present: a gift certificate to Fry’s Electronics, the legendary California geek shop, which recently opened a store a few miles away. (To my knowledge, it’s the only one in Indiana.) The gifts were immediately put to productive use: buying a digital music player and associated paraphernalia.

I’m a bit weird. So, in keeping, my top feature for a music player was support for the Ogg Vorbis audio format. (If you really want to know why, ask.) Of the piles of inexpensive flash players at Fry’s, only two player families could claim the feature: iRiver’s 700 series players and Samsung’s Yepp series. Based on a recommendation by a sales guy, I picked the Samsung YP-MT6V, a 256MB flash player that’s a little smaller than a salt shaker. Based on the weekend’s use, I highly recommend it.

Unfortunately, the Fry’s sales prowness didn’t extend to the little FM transmitter I bought so I could listen to the Samsung in the car. The Belkin TuneCast was recommended, and actually looks well-made. Unfortunately, it has trouble putting out a quality signal that can reach my standard car antenna from the front seat; contributing to the problem is that it only has four station settings within a very narrow band, making it difficult to avoid bleedover. This one’s going back tomorrow, along with the third-party ink cartridge that made my printer very unhappy.

A New Approach to the LSB (part 2)

For background, read part 1. This post is going to get a bit technical, so if the first part made your eyes gloss over, you might want to skip this part.

So our goal is to provide an LSB-compatible environment for LSB programs, and an environment compatible with Debian 3.1 for the rest. It seems that we can’t do this using the same system libraries and programs, so we need to use different ones. But how do we convince one environment or the other to load when we need them, and not to load when we don’t?

The key is the dynamic linker: that magic code that finds the shared libraries for the programs we run and puts them all together so the program can find them. It turns out that the LSB insists on having its own dynamic linker, separate from the rest of the system; runtime environments can’t be LSB-compliant without them, and programs can’t be LSB-compliant unless they use the special LSB linker. The linker doesn’t have to act any different from the normal one, so standard procedure is to symlink the regular dynamic linker to the name the LSB requires.

But the possibility has always been there to use an entirely different linker for LSB programs than for non-LSB programs, and even to use different linkers for different LSB versions. So, the solution is obvious: instead of symlinking the standard linker, we provide a slightly modified linker for LSB programs.

What do we mean by “slightly modified”? One possibility: cutting-edge versions of libraries could be stored in a separate location on the system, where no regular application will see them. Our LSB linker could then prefer libraries from the special paths to the normal ones. Another: programs which must run differently under the LSB can be compiled differently and live in their own special location, which are preferred to the normal location when run in the LSB context.

So far, this is vaporware. I’m still wrestling with the source code to glibc to see how difficult it would be to do this. Once done, however, LSB compliance and compatibility with Debian might no longer be conflicting goals.