Week in Review for 1/18/2009

No news show this evening due to the constraints of my schedule (and what feels like the beginnings of a cold). Instead, I spent a bit more time on the news links for this week.

Quick News Links

  • Culture more responsible for bad software than simple programmer error
    Alex Wolfe at Infoweek considers the meaning behind the year’s top programming mistake lists. I think he makes a good, if tired point, about ensuring programmers are versed in the classics. I don’t agree that agile or OO is part of the problem, more that they are often used as excuses to relax the discipline that should otherwise be present.
  • Some net anti-censorship tools also sell user data
    Hal Roberts at the Berkman center discovered many VPN providers used by dissidents and activists advertising that they sell user data. A bit shocking but he also points out that even with an open source, peer-to-peer solution you are trusting strangers to protect your speech and identity. I’ve talked about the security breaks on Tor, in particular which also highlights you don’t need to be a peer or provider to uncover identities.
  • Dvorak thinks the 30 year old spreadsheet is root of all modern ills
    Typical Dvorak, stretching a tenuous point beyond all recognition. Technology didn’t create this problem, people did. I have no doubt the culture of maximizing profits with the thinnest rationalizations well pre-dates the creation of Visicalc. He also too easily discounts all of the good that computerized analysis has brought about which I think still makes the tool worthwhile despite what he considers its abuses.
  • Doc Searls on DTV transition
    I had a bad feeling about digital television, Searls provides the concrete info to back that. In short, the technology seems to be ill conceived for reasons of business and politics and as usual it is the consumer who will suffer as a consequence.
  • iTunes DRM-free files contain personal info
    Slashdot has picked up Nate Lanxon’s CNet story in the wake of Apple announcing they are dropping DRM for the entire music catalog. Back in 2007, though, the EFF did some excellent sleuthing to first uncover this issue. So this is not news except for the fact that Apple has done nothing in response to the original findings.
  • NY supreme court rules the state can tax online sales
    Download Squad’s Brand Linder explains how New York original used advertising affiliates to stand in for bricks and mortar stores for purposes of making Amazon taxable by the state. The state’s Supreme Court has now upheld that interpretation. Linder also reminds us we are supposed to be reporting online sales tax as individuals, New York has simply shifting the burden back onto the retailer, as with traditional stores. This will either serve as a model for other states or the online retailers will adjust to route around it.
  • Multiplayer Zork, in a browser, coming soon
    Tantalizing details from Cory and the fine folks at Boing Boing Offworld, their new-ish game blog, about an MMO developer, Jolt, planning a Zork MMO. It won’t be the game itself, as some have reported, but will use the setting of the Great Underground Empire. It also apparently will be totally browser based but scant details beyond that. Based on what little we know, it sure seems like a childhood dream realized.
  • QT now available under LGPL
    Ryan Paul at Ars has some good details about the licensing history of Qt, that its dual license raised barriers to commercial development that the change to LGPL now erases. He also points out another change that I think is just as important, that the development model for Qt is also being opened up and made more transparent. With KDE 4.2 pending at the end of the month, it looks like a good time for Qt/KDE development.
  • SC seeking to outlaw profanity
    Slashdot has a link to the draft bill. It doesn’t look like this is limited to online speech and I am surprised it is classifying profanity as a felony. I would be surprised if this passed muster as constitutional. People may not like public profanity but I don’t think it qualifies as a limit on free speech in the same way defamation does.
  • Next Ubuntu version boots blindingly fast
    I have seen a few sites pick up this Softpedia story. Most of the boot time speed up is being attributed to the new ext4 filesystem released with new versions of the Linux kernel. Ubuntu isn’t targeting ext4 as the default filesystem until their 9/10 (October of this year) release but it will be available as an option to anyone with a hand built kernel or in a manual partition choice in the installer for Ubuntu’s April, 9.04,release.
  • Wikipedia upgrading servers in anticipation of increase in digitalmedia
    Jon Brodkin at NetworkWorld writes about the details of the server upgrades, made possible by donations and discounts offered by Sun during Wikmedia’s recent fund raising effort. Wikimedia CTO, Vibber, seems committed to improving the multimedia aspects of the free encyclopedia project which makes sense for a project that more closely follows the norms of network and technology usage than its traditional counterparts.
  • Google opening and abandoning some projects
    Google’s own emphasis is on porting projects to newer platforms and focusing development efforts. There is no mention in the official posting about the recent layoffs as a motivation, though the outright dropping of Dodgeball seems to better fit with that reason than with ports and focus.
  • Google belt tightening leading to projects going dark
    Ars’ David Chartier has some more information on the belt tightening at Google though the search giant’s communication still is focusing on re-organization rather than downsizing. Admittedly, the count of employees potentially being let go is quite small and the company has reiterated it is still actively hiring, despite cuts in its external and internal recruitingresources.
  • Reformed adware programmer talks about his prior work
    Via BB Gadgets, this interview covers the abuses of EULAs and shady dealings as well as humanizing one person’s role in adware. As the man says himself, “It really showed me the power ofgradualism.”
  • Breathylzer source code ruling upheld
    I think if this could be parleyed into a wider rule in this jurisdiction about government systems being open, that would be a great incremental step towards solving other problems, like electronic voting. There is a big gulf, though, between this case and any sort of broader applicability. As others have pointed out, there is going to be an uncomfortable adjustment by the vendors who rely on trade secret when selling into the government though I like the take of the Slashdot piece, that where incumbents won’t go, there is an opportunity for a newcompetitor.
  • FCC’s Martin has officially resigned
    According to the PC Magazine article, some expected Martin might stay on as just a commissioner. His resignation precludes that, now, and apparently he already has a private sector job, no doubt quite cushy, already lined up. I don’t recall if Aspen is actively involved in lobbying so hard to say what effect they have had on Martin’s tenure and will have on the next likely FCC chief, Genachowski.
  • EFF asks for public’s help in freeing mobile devices from the DMCA
    EFF is launching a new site, FreeYourPhone.org, to collect signatures on a petition and individual’s stories about irritating barriers to owner override on cell phones. The project will submit those stories to the Copyright Office to aid in its DMCA exemption petition for cell phone unlocking.
  • Debian installer for Android released
    This project seems to be following in the footsteps of the iPhoneDev folks who make unlocking an iPhone so easy. Slashdot also points out that the Debian installer apparently doesn’t clobber the Android stack so G1 users can have the best of both. I hope these fine folks target the Palm Pre once that is released, too.
  • Song writer, performer copyright disparity
    Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge has a very thoughtful consideration of why copyright terms in the UK should not be extended, drawing on an analysis of granting public performance rights. For public performance, he doesn’t suggest an answer but uses it to explore the contours of the question which do lead to a tenable position for rejecting term extension.
  • Three time infringer booted from YouTube
    Anderson writes on Ars about Kevin Lee who has been using YouTube to post film clips then fully realized video essays for what seems pretty clear to be purposes of criticism, a traditional fair use. What really struck me is that one the previous takedowns before this last one resulting in his booting, Lee had been clearly working to make the fair use nature of his work moreclear.
  • Service to back up your life stream
    This ReadWriteWeb piece resonates with what Vaskin was saying in Part 3 of my recent 2008 Year End Roundtable. A backup service like this is also a good hedge against service shutdowns and other problems that may arise until we can hold service providers to a landlord-like standard as some are starting to suggest.
  • Wireless networking using visible light
    A bit of breathless reporting by SCTimes. I am hugely skeptical, spotting the gotchas about visible light not penetrating walls and the inventor still needing to solve interference problems. How is this better than WiFi, again? The bit about the obvious stopping of visible light by optically opaque materials providing extra security is priceless. Really this seems a bit scammish trading on the currency of optical fiber by proposing to do it one better by eliminating the need for the fiber. Its silly, really, when you think about it.
  • New release of Mozilla’s ubiquity
    Ryan Paul of Ars Technica details what is new in this release. I had uninstalled the prior release to trouble shoot some start up problems I was having with Firefox. Since this release is claiming some performance and stability improvements, I may give it another try.
  • Stimulus bill contains open access provision for broadband portion
    Slashdot has a link to the draft and to a CNet piece that teases out the open access condition democrats are attempting to tie to money for broadband access. Unfortunately, the conditions for open access, a laudable goal, are vague which means they are likely to be hotly contested by all parties.

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