politics, civil rights, intellectual property, science, capitalism, and foo

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February 28, 2002
Federal Data Quality Act

An article from the Washington Times penned by Patrick Michaels from of the Cato Institute points out two very interesting new D.C. developments. First, is a new piece of legislation that requires that scientific studies that are used to support legislation are required to conform to private practice scientific quality standards. The second is policy and legislation from the Clinton/Gore era that underpin current climate impact legislation as the climate models used are no better at predicting temperatures in the US than a purely random data sample.

On another note, readers may start to assume that I am a neo-conservative from the recent articles posted. It's not true as best I can tell as I label myself a neo-lib. My thoughts on the drug war, choice, and anti-trust policy are definitely not conservative...

Posted by hoffmang at 08:07 PM

February 27, 2002
Hollings Marches Out The SSSCA

You can read my rant below about DRM, but if you are not familiar with the issue check out this wired story about the SSSCA. The basic concept is that Hollings wants to pass a law that requires DRM to be built into all interactive digital devices.

Of course, this is basically prior restraint of free speech which is a First Amendment no-no. Fair use has always been the tool that the court has looked to to resolve the natural tension between Article I Section 8 of the Constitution and the First Amendment which of course was passed more recently. Systems like this have only the purpose of gutting fair use as piracy will always continue around the edges without effective enforcement. Plus, DRM is such a wonderful way to alienate your customers and restrain technology innovation.

Posted by hoffmang at 11:39 PM

February 26, 2002
EMusic is PC Magazine's Editor's Pick

PC Magazine has named EMusic its Editor's Pick for best legal downloadable music service. The overview article and EMusic specific review are available online. EMusic received 4 out of a possible 5 stars which I would have to agree with. EMusic's only real issue is breadth of music selection. As a founder, I still lament the lack of download management as well. Hopefully there are major changes coming soon to both areas.

I'm just really proud of my team and all who helped EMusic get to this point.

Posted by hoffmang at 09:48 PM

The Treo Arrived

After a long wait and much consternation over a Fedex delivery snafu, I now hold my Treo in my hand. This is absolutely the most fabulous piece of technology that I have laid my hands on in a long time.

This device is well thought out. Jeff and Donna have added refinements all around to the PDA components that just make so much sense. A simple example is the much improved calculator that does everything from financial calculations to volume conversions and metric to sae conversions.

The phone is very nicely executed. I am very picky about sound quality, and though the Treo has slightly less tone quality than my wonderful StarTac that I had kept solely due to its tone quality, it is more than adequate. I also do not feel nearly as dorky as I thought I might using the entire device as a flip phone instead of with the included ear bud. SMS is now really easy to use both in phone to phone, email to phone, and phone to email modes. No longer does one have to know the magic voodoo to send email using SMS off of the phone.

I have not yet tried the dial up IP access as I need to call my provider and get them to turn data communications on, but set up was certainly easy. The interesting thing to me is that I will barely need this holdover until GPRS as SMS messaging will solve most of my wireless needs. Web apps are really going to be the only reason I really need to dial up, but having full send/receive access to my primary email account is going to be very sweet. Plus, 2.5G and a software upgrade sometime this summer means surfing the web and checking email from my Treo at 128Kbps. I can hardly wait.

As I told my wife, this is the device I have been begging for for the last 5 years.

Posted by hoffmang at 09:43 PM

RSA Public Keys Weaker Than Expected

Slashdot has an entry detailing a new computational method to factor large prime numbers which are the science behind the security of the RSA algorithm. Estimates are that key sizes less than or equal to 2048 bits are much cheaper to break than expected and folks should head toward 4092 bits. This is interesting because 2048 was estimated to withstand attack through about 2030 and instead it sounds like a nation state may be able to compromise it within 3 years.

Posted by hoffmang at 11:34 AM

The Digital Rights Future (NOT)

So, I guess it is time for the copyright rant. Forbes has a story on the future of online music that they title The Digital Rights Future. After 4+ years of hearing the conventional wisdom that DRM is so clearly the way of the future that it most be the divine right of intellectual property owners to have it in the first place, I'm just sick.

It will never work. Well, to sound less like an absolutist, it will not work for non time dependent content. For those that understand the crypto, there is a protocol for key exchange that could make things like access to DirecTV costly enough to the individual trying to defeat it so as to render defeating it virtually worthless, but for pre-recorded content and duplication of any content to which a user can get one time access, DRM will never work. The fundamental reason is that there is no core science that allows matter or energy to be observed by humans in such a way that a human can not make a duplicate. Maybe some strange quantum effect will work, but then the real wackiness of quantum is about our interaction in direct observation in the first place. For the layman, you can't yet make something that is both accessible and inaccessible at the same time.

The bigger issue is the general public policy that DRM and laws that support DRM rely upon. Basically, the issue comes down to the legal theory of prior restraint. When you buy a good old fashioned pulp and ink book, there is no prior restraint on your ability to copy it. You as a citizen are considered innocent until proven guilty as far as copyright infringement is concerned. If however, it comes to light that you have copied it, and you can not rely on a fair use defense, then you are guilty of a crime, misdemeanor, or civil penalties. The original spirit of copyright embodied in the Constitution was that most people are honest, but those that were not could suffer some very severe consequences for being dishonest. Now Hollywood has pushed for a paradigm that assumes all copying and even most using for that matter is going to be done in an illegal way or could be done in an illegal way, so everyone should suffer restrictions to stop the minority who infringe. Funny that this policy in practice seems to largely be causing the balance of innocent to guilty to flip against the copyright owners...

There has been a mantra from the copyright maximalists that if the technology caused the problem, the technology should fix the problem. The next breath always includes DRM. The sad part is that the lawyers who make this statement - and almost all of the folks who set direction and policy for the copyright owners are lawyers - know just enough to be dangerous to themselves. Instead of trying to create a farcical piece of technology named DRM which amounts to little more than smoke and mirrors on a technological level, they should be leveraging the natural compression of time and distance that technology has created to use automated internet crawlers and databases to create large scale copyright enforcement using existing laws (anyone see any parallels to the firearms issues here?) Enforcement, however, seems too politically distasteful. Most of the intellectual property owners are to scared and too greedy, as greed begins where their fear ends and vice versa, to make a non DRM, inexpensively priced, legitimate service available to customers. Such a system is both a moral and political prerequisite to wide spread digital copyright enforcement against the direct infringers. EMusic is as close as anyone gets, and that's because the intellectual property owners didn't start or mature it.

Before I get an email about the big brother world I'm proposing, I want to make sure that the obvious is pointed out. The only people who will show up in said database or said enforcement action are those people who are making copyrighted material available without permission of the copyright holder. Right now, illegally publishing high quality, full length copyrighted works on the web, usenet, IRC, Gnutella, Kazaa, etc. is without risk to the publisher. Simply adding that risk while having a legitimate outlet for customer demands for intellectual property in liberal digital delivery systems will virtually end all of the risks to intellectual property in the digital age.

I actually have been making some inquiries of Congressmen on how one might implement a copyright speeding ticket whereby these enforcement systems would have a process that would allow the issuing of an infraction for the first two or three minor copyright offenses that had a fine in the neighborhood of $100 attached to the ticket. If the same person got more than two or three, then the criminal statues from the 1997 No Electronic Theft Act might take effect.

The Music Industry is the first intellectual property sector to have to fully face the "DRM dilemma" due to the small amount of data encompassed in the average enjoyable blob of data it creates. With just a few tech folks, some balanced lawyers sending DMCA notices, and an inexpensive downloadable music offering in unencrypted MP3 format, online music will become a multibillion dollar business and change the headlines from "Shipments Down 10.3% This Year" to "Happy Customers Laud Ease and Convenience of Legitimate Online Music."

Its so darn simple that it is just sad.

Posted by hoffmang at 01:59 AM

February 24, 2002
Gun Control in Britain

Glenn Reynolds has a very good blog entry including a link to a story on the increase in crime in Britain since the banning of handguns there and a link and excerpt from a Briton writing about the situation from his perspective.

Posted by hoffmang at 12:35 PM

February 23, 2002
Older American History

James Bennett has a very interesting piece that asks, "Has America come to this position because it is an exceptional nation, or is this American exceptionalism really just a particular instance of a wider phenomenon of which America is only the most visible part?"

The most interesting points Bennett makes are about the historical influences on the founding fathers themselves. He points out that the founding fathers were drafting the documents of our nation, not with a myopic view of a grand new experiment, completely without grounding in traditions, but in the shadow of both the revolution of 1776 and the English Civil War and the Revolution of 1688 as it lay about as far in the past as the U.S. Civil War lies in our past.

With this in mind, it places that much more emphasis on the fact that the Constitution and the other founding documents are about furtherance of a long history and memory of things learned the hard way. When the embattled amendments to the Bill of Rights - 2nd, 4th, 5th - come under fire there is often not a realization that our ancestors learned that their governments made up of more of our ancestors caused severe problems without these checks. Many who follow the law know of our English Common Law tradition, but I find this view of history refreshing as it reminds that the myth of the American fishbowl experiment is just a myth. Even though that myth may have very practical psychological usefulness in our founding story, looking past that myth to analysis of lessons learned seems extremely informative.

Per normale, thanks to Instapundit for the original link.

Posted by hoffmang at 11:08 PM

February 21, 2002
.Com book hits close to home

My wife went by the library and checked out A Field Guide to the Yettie by Sam Sifton. This is a rather humorous attempt to quantify the Silicon Valley geek culture circa early 2000. Granted it is dated in some sense, but it does take April 2000 into consideration - which in a somewhat related note I noticed that P.J. O'Rourke's new book CEO of the Sofa treats well as well. The reviews on Amazon look like a bunch of said Valley folks being a little whiny about the whole mess. I personally think it nails me almost too perfectly. I guess I easily fit some of these stereotypes. No matter - my wife couldn't stop laughing...

Posted by hoffmang at 11:48 PM

Reason - Panic Attacks

If one article sums up perfectly what I have felt on airlines, in the media, and reading gun laws since September 12, 2001 it is this piece in Reason by Jesse Walker. Quoting:

The most important parallel between the current scare and a moral panic may be the loosest. Some panics dissolve quickly, leaving no institutional legacy. But others are frozen into law, even if the initial fears that inspired them quickly fade. Even minor panics can leave a legal imprint. The late-�80s frenzy over freeway shootings, in which a small handful of unrelated incidents were mistaken for an emerging trend, faded quickly when the Road Warrior-style bloodbath failed to arrive. Even so, California passed three freeway violence bills, ranging from a mild measure beefing up the highway patrol to a law adding five years to convicted freeway shooters� sentences.


Violent crime, too, has inspired several panics, with public worries suddenly focusing on a threat that is relatively rare (such as serial murder) or a weapon that criminals rarely use (such as the guns carelessly lumped together as "assault weapons"). The first group of fears has inspired many laws; from the 1930s to the �50s, for example, many states passed "sexual psychopath" legislation. As the criminologist Edwin Sutherland noted at the time, there was no correlation between which jurisdictions rushed such bills into law and which jurisdictions saw an actual increase in such crimes. More recently, it�s doubtful that carjacking would be a federal offense were it not for the exaggerated attention it received in the early �90s.

The second group of fears, of course, has unleashed several waves of arbitrary gun control legislation. Assault weapon laws, for example, did not prohibit guns based on their destructive power; comparably powerful weapons remained legal. Nor did they ban models that were misused especially frequently; the affected guns actually accounted for less than half a percent of American homicides and an even smaller percentage of all gun crimes. They were banned because they looked scary.


An awful lot of the new and proposed "security" measures will do little or nothing to improve Americans� security. It�s now clear, for example, that intelligence agencies received several scattered signals of the impending attacks. Their failure to foresee the atrocities seems to have stemmed not from limits on their surveillance powers but from dysfunctional bureaucratic relations that kept them from connecting the data into a coherent picture. Nor is there good reason to believe that a federal airport security force will be more competent than the private guards formerly in place. What�s important is the security incentives the airports face, not whether the people hired to stand guard are public employees.


At times like this, actual effectiveness may not be the first thing on every decision maker�s mind. It takes time, and a certain amount of creativity, to make effective changes in airport security; meanwhile, the government and the airlines still have to go through the motions of doing something about the threat. So they toss on useless regulations, presumably on the theory that the illusion of security will be reassuring, and that rules that are especially intrusive and rigid -- that is, more noticeable -- will heighten the illusion. This isn�t protection; it�s a protective ritual.

Just read the whole thing... Thanks to Instapundit for the link in the first place.

Posted by hoffmang at 11:18 PM

February 20, 2002
Rave Paraphernalia Can't Be Banned

U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous has ruled that the U.S. Attorney can not ban glow sticks, pacifiers and such from rave parties in Louisiana. This report found via Overlawyered.com which is linked on the right.

Update 2/21/02: Instapundit adds that the U.S. Attorney in question resigned due to the poor judgement involved in attempting prosecuting this one in the first place.

Posted by hoffmang at 09:20 PM

February 19, 2002
Supreme Court to review Copyright Length

The Supreme Court granted Certiorari in Eldred v. Ashcroft. This case is a challenge to the most recent copyright extension passed by congress. This case hinges around the question of wether the "limited time" referred to in the Constitution's grant to congress of securing copyright "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." The D.C. Circuit court of appeals ruled 2 to 1 that the congress could lengthen the duration of copyright unlimitedly as long as each increment was for a limited time. The dissent in the Court of Appeals stated that lengthening the duration of copyright did nothing to promote the useful arts and thus the Article 1 Section 8 had to be read that the total duration of a copyright has to be for a limited time. It seems to me that a rational definition of limited time must be shorter than the lifespan of the average American.

Posted by hoffmang at 01:05 PM

February 18, 2002
Gunshots and Airplanes

As the topic of guns on aircraft has become a more common conversation piece these days, I happened across this interesting article about fuselage penetration, decompression, and the true risks on board aircraft. Most of this is being talked about in the realm of arming pilots, but a passenger security about face has to become part of the public debate. Terrorists like soft targets, and I would much prefer that our air travellers become much harder...

Posted by hoffmang at 04:21 AM

February 17, 2002
Two Cartoons for Sunday

So there are two web toons worth checking out from this week. First is the second installment from Odd Todd. This is about being Valentineless.. The second is a great Bush Cheney cartoon from BushCartoon.com. George and Dick are Bo and Luke - Bill Clinton is Boss Hog and Gore is Roscoe P. Coltrane... An instant classic.

Update: Odd Todd took down his valentines cartoon in favor of his old standby -- which is still funny.

Posted by hoffmang at 06:14 PM

February 15, 2002
Thanks to Brett

Thanks to Brett T. this blog is now ad free. Once he gets one posted I will have to return the favor.

Posted by hoffmang at 07:37 PM

February 14, 2002
Valentines Observation

If you are a guy and you haven't been to a lingerie shop recently its probably time. I noticed a very frightening trend. First let me say that my shopping there was to remind my valentine and wife that, yes pregnancy will pass. As such I wanted to get her some nice lace underwear. I was amazed at how hard it was.

The fundamental problem is that it seems the buyers at both Macy's and Victoria's Secret have decided that every woman on the planet needs bust enhancement from their undergarments. My wife certainly does not. Come to think about almost all of my friend's wives and fiancees have no need for wonder or lift and its not due to a plastic surgeon. Also, all of my women friends are thin, healthy, normal women who would likely look bizarre in something that "added." Maybe I'm in a strange control group but arguing against the grain that my male friends are just incredibly lucky is that all of my friends, both men and women, generally broke the grading curve at elite universities.

I couldn't even find something at Victoria's Secret and hence my wander through Macy's. It also wasn't like there were a bunch of empty racks where the "normal" bras should have been. This situation is a very interesting comment on American female body image as I know that most of these shops are not marketed for male shoppers. I would venture to guess that most men are like me and when they see bras that need nothing more to hold them up, they give up worried that fitting is going to be harder than putting together the "some assembly required" toys on Christmas Eve... Has our society just decided that everyone needs augmentation?

Posted by hoffmang at 04:53 PM

February 12, 2002
Proposed Legislation to Change Stock Option Accounting

It looks like FASB is at it again. This column by Bambi Francisco at CBS Marketwatch talks of Senator Levin (D-Mich) and Senator McCain (R-Ariz) introducing legislation to change the accounting of stock options such that they will be a bottom line compensation expense.

Though I certainly see the argument, I have two huge problems with this. First, accounting for options as an expense totally ignores the downside of stock options which is dilution. Companies end up taking a real cash expense by going out into the market and repurchasing shares or using derivatives to reduce that dilution and subsequent hit to EPS. The larger and more important issue in my mind is that it continues to push GAAP accounting further from the only reality that matters - Free Cash Flow... Pro-Forma results are going to be forced on tech companies even more than they already are. At least the in process R&D issues as against purchase accounting are finally resolved in a decent manner. Don't let me get started on the opportunistic timing of this political move however...

Posted by hoffmang at 05:02 PM

Waiting for Treo

I know it is old news now, but I have to admit to fervent anticipation of my new Handspring Treo which became available Monday. I had my order in by 7:40AM PST Monday morning...

Posted by hoffmang at 04:51 PM

2nd Amendment in the 9th Circuit

This weekend, I did some reading about the 2nd Amendment. I had noticed that Kasler v. Lokyer was silent on second amendment issues. I did some more digging and found that the last major case in the 9th Circuit that touched on the 2nd Amendment was Fresno Rifle And Pistol Club, Inc. v. Van De Kamp decided in 1992. In that case the appellate panel which was Schroeder, Leavy and Rymer relied on United States v. Cruikshank and Presser v. Illinois to determine that Supreme Court precedent was that the 2nd Amendment only restrained the Federal and not the states. All of these opinions can be found at this excellent website.

Interestingly, in Presser the court stated

    It is undoubtedly true that all citizens capable of bearing arms constitute the reserved military force or reserve militia of the United States as well as of the States, and in view of this prerogative of the general government, as well as of its general powers, the States cannot, even laying the constitutional provision in question out of view, prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms, so as to deprive the United States of their rightful resource for maintaining the public security, and disable the people from performing their duty to the general government. But, as already stated, we think it clear that the sections under consideration do not have this effect.

In the final sentence of this paragraph, the Court was affirming that Illinois did have the right to regulate wether its citizens could form an additional, non state sponsored militia proper.

What I find most interesting about my reading is that there must be some strategic issue which holds the gun rights lobby back from a Supreme Court appeal. I didn't find evidence that a certiorari was denied, but I haven't looked too hard yet. There is a fundamental question in my mind about wether there is some political issue around the current Supreme Court justices that really makes the gun lobby wish to wait before going for Supreme Court precedent. It may also be that Fresno had structural flaws. I am very interested in hearing folks opinions. Of course this all may turn on wether the 2nd should apply to the states through the 14th or not. It certainly seems that if the 1st and fourth do, the 2nd should. Also, I have not yet put my hands on the plaintiff briefs for Fresno Rifle as the appellate group refers to their historical brief relating to Reconstruction which may lend credence to the legislative intent of the 14th to apply the 2nd to the states.

Update: While looking for any evidence of certiorari being denied, I ran across this interesting quote in Staples v. United States by Clarence Thomas, "In contrast to the selling of dangerous drugs at issue in Balint or the possession of hand grenades considered in Freed, private ownership of guns in this country has enjoyed a long tradition of being entirely lawful conduct." The case was about wether the U.S. had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Staples knew that the weapon he thought was a semi-auto was actually modified to shoot full auto. The court ruled that the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew.

Posted by hoffmang at 03:00 PM

Switching to blogger

Well, with things changing in my life, I decided that administering a full slashcode implementation was a bit more than I needed. As such, www.hoffmang.com will soon be redirecting to here. That way I can focus my admin energies on pictures and such from my own server. I hopefully will update this site more than I ended up updating my own.

My old slashcode archives should make thier way up here shortly...

Posted by hoffmang at 12:26 PM

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