Stardate 20010328.1550 (On Screen): Experts, bah. There isn't any need for a study here because there's no mystery about what advantage blonde or red hair represents. Darwin discussed the class of advantage very clearly in his book. To be evolutionarily successful, a given zygote has to 1. Survive and 2. Breed. An advantage in breeding is just as much selected for as is one which enhances the chance of survival, and indeed sometimes an advantage in breeding represents a disadvantage in survival. Darwin faced this problem because he had to explain the tail feathers of a peacock, and the answer was obvious: peahens like long tail feathers on a peacock, so long feathers increased the chance of breeding, even though they also slightly harmed the chance of survival.
So it is with hair color. The answer to the question "Why are blondes and red heads only found in Europe?" is equally simple: mutation is random and that happens to be where the mutation happened. But the other question, "Why did the gene spread?" is equally easy to answer: because blonde and red hair is attractive and makes it easier to get a mate, all other things being equal. It's no guarantee, of course, but nothing is a guarantee.
Stardate 20010328.1300 (On Screen): At last! Someone has finally gotten The Message! Richard would be so proud.
Stardate 20010328.1120 (On Screen): For a while now I've been listening, on occasion, to the Linux faithful's crowing about how secure and resistant Linux is and how invulnerable it is to viruses, worms and trojans. So I admit to a bit of schadenfreude about this particular beast. Here's a big wake-up call for the Linux fans: Linux didn't have viruses not because it was invulnerable, but because it wasn't big enough for the virus writers to bother with. (And no operating system can be invulnerable to a trojan.) Now Linux has gotten big time, and as a web server is particularly prominent, and this has now attracted the attention of the bad guys. They obviously don't get paid, and they do their dirty deeds for fame and glory. There's no fame to be had attacking a system which has a small and uninteresting installed base. But Linux is now big enough that it will draw more fire -- so expect to see more of this. A disturbing note: someone has created a dual-mode virus, capable of infecting both Windows and Linux. This particular one has no negative payload; it appears to be a proof-of-concept. But inevitably someone out there will adapt this technology and it will get nastier.
Stardate 20010328.1110 (On Screen): So they're finally getting around to it, giving us the legal tools we need to keep our mailboxes clear. It's not a new observation, but it's nonetheless true that there's a fundamental difference between junk mail and junk email: the sender pays for the expense of delivering junk mail, but the receiver pays for the delivery of junk email. If the sender was paying, it would be free speech. If the receiver pays, it's fraud (IMHO). Still, I don't think that Congress is doing this out of the goodness of its little heart (of which there is a vanishingly small quantity anyway); I think it's because they are experiencing the joys of spam first-hand.
Stardate 20010328.1100 (On Screen): "I have seen the future of commercial TV, and it is low budget." The Captain's been writing again. (Quick, someone take away that man's keyboard.)
Stardate 20010328.1050 (On Screen): "Anything Bill can do, I can do better! I can do anything better than Bill!" So in his endless quest to out-Bill Bill, Larry has decided to build his own mansion. Still, I have to say that his concept of an extended Japanese Garden appeals to me a lot more than le petit manoir Gates. I've been a sucker for Japanese Gardens anyway ever since I first discovered the awesomely beautiful one in Washington Park in Portland Oregon. If you're ever in the city, you must visit it. It was a gift to Portland from Sapporo, Portland's Japanese "sister city", who hired one of the best garden designers in Japan to come to Portland to design it. It is a very peaceful place, it's good for the soul.
Stardate 20010328.1035 (On Screen): I think I understand the distinction here, and the reason for this court decision (which I support). There's a difference between actively seeking out qualified minorities for admission, which is acceptable, and simply taking anyone who happens to be a minority even if they're not qualified simply to achieve the goal of racial diversity, which apparently isn't legally acceptable. To refuse one candidate and take another who is less qualified simply because of skin color is wrong irrespective of what the skin colors are. It's wrong to take a less qualified white candidate over a more qualified black candidate and equally wrong to take a less qualified black candidate over a more qualified white candidate. Quotas are also wrong. Racial diversity is a desirable thing, but so is equality and fairness. Specious discussions of "past inequities" don't change this.
In another related story, the Supreme Court is about to decide another case having to do with racial quotas, and again they'll probably knock them down. In this case it's a law requiring that a certain proportion of federal highway dollars be spent with "minority-owned" businesses.
Discrimination is wrong. Discrimination is always wrong. It is always wrong to pass a law or have a policy which favors one race over any other irrespective of the races. It's wrong to have laws favoring whites, and it's wrong to have laws favoring anyone else. "Whites need not apply" is just as wrong as "Blacks need not apply."
Stardate 20010328.1030 (Crew, this is the captain): I'm trying something a bit different with my formatting, by using a custom font for part of the text. You can download the font I'm using with the link above, but if you don't have it you should still be able to read the "Stardate" text, it just won't look as cool. If anyone has trouble either with or without the font, please let me know. Also, I bought and installed FrontPage 2000 yesterday and that's what I'm now using to create this drivel instead of FPExpress. It's possible that I'll have formatting problems using it, and if so again I'd appreciate hearing about it.
Stardate 20010327.1130 (On Screen): Amazing. The Brits have finally woken to the fact that they've already killed half a million animals and it's had no impact whatever on the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. Even more amazing: they've finally realized that having livestock which you can't export is better than having no livestock at all. But then, if there's intelligent life in Arkansas, perhaps there's hope for London.
Stardate 20010326.1710 (On Screen): I lived in Massachusetts for 12 long years, and never ceased to be amazed at the ability of the people there to cut off their own noses to spite their faces. If NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) was ever the motto of a state, Massachusetts is it. It's the only metropolitan area I've ever seen where the highways get narrower as you get closer to the center of it. I lived in Arlington, NW of Boston, right next to state Route 2. Route 2 is one of the four major highway trunks going radially out from the city. Near where I lived, it was 8 lanes. As you traveled further in towards the city, it shrunk to 4 lanes, and the highway ends at the Cambridge town line and all the traffic from it is dumped onto city streets -- on which you must travel for a further 3 miles before finally reaching Boston. Why? "Home Rule." This sacred principle of law in Massachusetts gives individual townships veto power over public works, and in practice nearly everything else, which happen within their borders. This cannot be overridden by the state legislature, and every square inch of Massachusetts is part of some township. Cambridge didn't want a dirty highway fouling up their pretty city, and decided to wish away all the traffic: after all, if there's no highway then there won't be any cars, right? No, and traffic through that area is horrible every day (even Sunday!).
So I can't say I'm surprised to learn that there's opposition to something as simple as an expansion of Logan Airport. Never mind that a good airport is essential to the commercial health of any city which pretends to be a major player internationally, or that Logan has been overloaded for years. That doesn't matter; what does matter is that jets are dirty, smelly and loud. Can't have that, can we?
Actually, Logan is in a terrible location anyway. Again, it's the only airport in any major city of which I'm aware of which isn't on a significant highway. To get to it by car the only reasonable route is via city streets controlled by traffic lights. (To reach some airports, e.g. San Diego's, you have to drive for as much as a quarter mile on city streets, but the nearest highway to Logan is I-93, and to get to that you have to go through a tunnel under the Charles River. I never drove to Logan; I always took the subway.
But there's a solution, and a really good one. There's a perfect location for a second airport; indeed there's already an airport there. It's the former Hanscom Airforce Base, closed in the early 1990's because it wasn't needed. It's right near the interchange between Route 2 and I-95, readily accessible from most of the north to west parts of the Boston Metro area, and all the land you could possibly need for a modern airport is right there ready to go. It is a beautiful location for an airport.
It's also right in the middle of one of the snazziest areas of "The Hub", and the locals in Lexington, Concord, Lincoln and Bedford don't want loud jets flying over their houses. To open a commercial airport there, to the dramatic benefit of most of the citizens of Massachusetts, would cause some small harm to the people living near it -- and thus their city councils have forbade this from happening, and the state doesn't have the privilege of overriding them.
I'm really glad I don't live in Massachusetts any longer. Terrible place; I was miserable there.
Stardate 20010326.1700 (On Screen): As an example of "appropriate response" I offer this. As strange as it may sound, I'm all for this. It's completely legal for the record companies to use Napster and similar services to monitor the offering and trading of copyrighted works, and to then generate legal action based on it. It's not a violation of constitutional rights and it doesn't violate any other rights in the US of which I'm aware. (In Europe it may violate certain laws having to do with the construction and use of databases, but that has no effect on the US.) It is specifically targeted at those who are breaking Copyright law.
Let's be completely clear about something: wholesale trading of MP3's is not "fair use" in any way, shape or form, and it unquestionably violates copyright. People doing it in a big way are infringing the law and can and should be held legally responsible. Directly tracking those doing this in the way described here is extremely targeted and represents no threat to those of us who are not violating copyright. In particular, it doesn't infringe our "fair use" rights in any way.
Record industry, more of this, please, and less draconian law. Thank you very much.
Stardate 20010326.1645 (On Screen): 2600 Magazine is objecting to the fundamental nature of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as being a violation of the First Amendment provisions relating to free speech and free press -- and darned rights, too. DMCA's provisions preventing distribution of knowledge about cryptography solely on the basis of that cryptography being used in commercial products is far, far too broad. (And attempts to claim that code is not speech is preposterous.) But then right now the software industry is launched on a path where they're trying to claim virtual immunity to any First Amendment protections among their customers, not to mention contract law, fundamental business practice law, and a hell of a lot else.
Even more troubling is a provision of the UCITA (virtually all of which is troubling), which permits a software vendor to require explicit permission from anyone before they publish a review of the software (with the presumption that they'd automatically suppress any negative review). This actually extends to the point of making it illegal for you to say anything negative about a software product in any public forum whatever without their prior permission, including things like publicizing bugs. This is a blatant violation of First Amendment freedoms. It also in effect substantially alters centuries of precedent in libel law that the truth is never libelous. Under UCITA, publishing an unflattering truth about a software product could still lead to lawsuit as "license violation", and truth would be no defense. This is extremely chilling, and no other product or human enterprise is granted this kind of immunity to public criticism. (It hasn't yet been tested in court, but it will be.)
Software piracy is a Bad Thing, and definitely needs to be controlled. But let's make sure we apply appropriate measures that are specifically targeted to that problem, not draconian measures which severely infringe our fundamental freedoms.
Stardate 20010325.1145 (On Screen): It's going to sound really strange for me to say this, but I think that this lawyer shouldn't do what he says. I'm glad Tim McVeigh was convicted, and quite frankly I'm glad he'll be executed. I think his fellow conspirators should also be convicted and probably should also get the death penalty. It was a despicable crime, which deserves the strongest possible punishment.
Still, there's another principle here. The reason that client-lawyer communication is privileged (along with communications with doctors, priests and spouses) is that such communications must be frank. The courts have therefore identified these relationships as being protected under the Fifth Amendment (in the US).
While doctors, lawyers and priests cannot be compelled to reveal such communications legally, they've always had the ability to reveal them voluntarily. But there's a long tradition for all of them of keeping such communications secret not just in court testimony, but from everyone, all the time, because collectively they have to have the reputation of being utterly trustworthy. For me to trust a lawyer, I have to believe that he won't cross me and voluntarily reveal what I'm telling him, no matter how repellent he might find me to be. If a small number of lawyers, or doctors, or priests, do cross their clients and reveal what they're told, the whole profession will be damaged.
We have to balance the potential harm of two specific criminals possibly not getting the punishment they deserve, against the far large certain harm to the entire lawyer-client relationship, and I think the latter is much more important. It's by no means clear that his testimony is essential. McVeigh's claims to sole responsibility won't have been given under oath, and quite frankly his credibility is not too good anyway. And there will still be other evidence. I think it likely that the other two conspirators will be convicted whether this lawyer testifies or not.
This lawyer should have kept his mouth shut and he should not testify. It doesn't matter if McVeigh repudiated him and called him incompetent; he still should keep his former client's secrets no matter how hurt his feelings might be. He should do this for his other clients, and for the clients of all other lawyers.
Stardate 20010325.0900 (On Screen): Oscars, shmoscars. The Razzies are a lot more fun. Congratulations (ahem) to Travolta for winning (ahem) for his monumental (ahem) Battlefield Earth. Let's not repeat the mistake, OK? (For more on this sterling piece of dreck, see this.)
Stardate 20010324.2250 (On Screen via motion detectors): I'm a big fan of Duke Nukem 3D; it's the only 3D shooter I ever got hooked on. None of the others did anything for me, but I've played DN3D countless hours. I don't really know why; some of it was the in-jokes, some of it was that the play was easier perhaps; some of it was the control scheme, and some of it was that it was a science-fiction scenario instead of demons or sword-and-sorcery. Having said that, has Hollywood lost its collective mind? This is the most moronic idea since making a movie about Super Mario Brothers. (At least with Tomb Raider they can rip off Indiana Jones.) What is the story in a Duke Nukem movie going to be about? DN3D never had anything like a back-story; it was all about action and violence. The images in "Episode 2" were stunning, but that's not a story. You can't build a movie entirely out of special effects and action sequences. (Well, maybe you can, but not a good one.)
Stardate 20010324.1320 (On Screen): Who says there's no evidence for evolution? It ain't all fossils, baby. Actually, evolutionary change has been observed many times in the last 150 years. Another example, and one far more serious, is how bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. 70 years ago, the development of the first antibiotic drug (sulfanilamide, not penicillin) was one of the great advances in medical history. It established the concept known as "chemotherapy", the treatment of disease with ingested or injected chemicals. And in the last 70 years countless lives have been saved with these drugs. Now they're starting to become useless; a golden age is coming to an end.
The bacteria are evolving to become resistant to the drugs. This is a clear case of evolutionary response to an environmental change. Bacteria which are sensitive to antibiotics are now far more likely to die than they once were, while those more resistant to those drugs have a substantial advantage. So natural selection is kicking it, exactly as theory says it should, and modern bacteria are increasingly descended from ancestors which were resistant to the drugs.
The good news is that just about the time that the existing antibiotics become completely useless we'll be able to create entirely new and far more specific and potent ones, with genetic engineering. That is, we will unless the paranoid anti-tech activists manage to impose unreasonable restrictions on those tools.
Stardate 20010324.1315 (On Screen): Biological pollution is a major problem. It refers to cases where species from one part of the world are moved to another where their natural ecosystem doesn't exist. Florida has been particularly beset by this, with many native species being destroyed by foreign competitors. Large parts of the Everglades are now infested with the Brazilian Holly tree, which is devilishly hard to kill, and which is not capable of supporting the animal life there. And then there's kudzu.
Still, reading this story about Spartina grass, I have a rueful sense of admiration for the stuff. I suppose it's the natural root-for-the-underdog attitude which is in most Americans. I understand intellectually why this grass is a bad thing, if you like the status quo; yet on an emotional level I find myself rooting for this grass. All it wants to do is to modify its environment to make it more conducive to the growth of grass. Isn't that what humans do?
Stardate 20010323.1715 (On Screen): Also this. While we're on the subject of privacy, another relatively unknown problem is what's called spyware. These are programs which when run will periodically try to get onto the net and tell some parent site what you've been doing. In many cases these are freeware utilities, and often quite good ones. It turns out that the reason they're free is that they're being subsidized by the spyware company. Several of these approach the level of "trojan" because rather than directly reporting, they install a demon which reports whether the utility is being run or not. Indeed, often the demon continues to inhabit your computer even if you uninstall the utility. At least one of these demons was buggy, and a lot of people who think Internet Explorer has gone flaky on them are actually being inflicted by that particular demon.
A good firewall should be exclusive, blocking any access for which it doesn't have an explicit "permit" rule, and such a firewall will stop a lot of this kind of nonsense. Also, if you use Win2K you should do your routine work with a non-administrator account. If you do, then when one of these utilities tries to install the demon it will fail on a privilege violation. (But if you're logged in as administrator, it will succeed. Account privilege is there to protect you, not to bind you.)
Stardate 20010323.1630 (On Screen via long range scanners): Web bugs are one of the less well known insidious ways in which our online privacy is being attacked. Although this takes many forms, the canonical example of it is the single-pixel GIF file, loaded from an alternate server. It's deliberately set to be the same color as the default background, so you can't tell where it is or even that it exists. But, since it's a server request, the server gets to know your IP and also the page from which the request was made (unless you've got software which defeats "referrers"). In other words, no matter where you go, DoubleClick is there waiting for you and gets to know you've been present. It's like they've placed an agent at the majority of the interesting sites on the web, keeping track of who's been there. In not too long a period of time, they can build up a pretty good profile of what kinds of things whoever-it-is at that IP is interested in.
But it gets more interesting. See, if you've got an email program which correctly handles HTML-encoded mail like, say, Outlook Express or Netscape's mail program, then if some advertiser sends you an HTML-encoded spam then the cat is out of the bag. Simply by viewing the mail, without active participation by you (i.e. without your clicking any links) they get to correlate your email address to your IP. What they do is toss a web bug into the email which has a parameter attached to it consisting of the email address to which the spam was sent. Thus when the invisible single-pixel GIF file is retrieved from their server, they get two pieces of information: the IP from which the request is coming and the email address to which the spam was sent which caused the request. Tada! Now they know who you are, and when they see you visiting a lot of sites about Ostriches (or, say, pictures of naked women) they can target their spam accordingly.
It's impossible to defeat this entirely but technological means exist to decrease it a lot. One thing is to not use an email client which is HTML-enabled. Even if you set OE to not send HTML, I'm pretty sure it will still format it on incoming mail. Second is to use a decent firewall and to kill certain addresses. The SOB's doing this can't track you if you never send them a query, if the query is blocked by your firewall. This has other benefits as well; think of it as a particularly draconian form of ad-blocking. I've been doing this for a while, and as a public service I provide this list of IPs and IP ranges which I currently block completely in my firewall.
Stardate 20010323.1600 (On Screen): So, there I was, minding my own business and reading this article. Nodding as I read it (Sue the bastards!) and then I got to the last line: "The suit also asks that civil penalties of US$1,000 per violation, and $3,000 for each violation involving a person 60 or older, be assessed.". Wait a minute: why is it more serious to cheat someone who's 60?
Constitutionally, it's permissible to differentiate children from adults. But the "equal protection" clause of the 14th amendment makes it clear that all adults are equal in the eyes of the law. It's wrong to cheat anyone, and if this retailer has been actively defrauding people then they ought to get their tails sued off (and maybe even be subjected to indictment). But there's no way it's constitutional to fine them more for victims who are 60+ than for those who are 59-. Frankly, it's an insult to the mature -- it suggests that they're not as competent to manage their own affairs as those who are younger but still adult (like, say, someone who's 47).
Stardate 20010323.1300 (On Screen): I guess this is what passes for success in the "New Economy". Red Hat announces that they "only" lost half a million dollars in their most recent quarter, and the market responds by bidding up its stock 15%. Tell me, what would happen to the stock price of Microsoft or Intel or HP or Sun if they announced a quarter in which they lost half a million dollars (or only made half a million)? They'd tank.
Stardate 20010323.1250 (On Screen): This article brings out mixed feelings in me:
Fascination: The technology which was used in preparing for this process was totally state-of-the-art, the best we have. To do these kinds of things, it was necessary to scan the picture in infra-red and ultra-violet, and it wouldn't surprise me if they sometimes use X-rays, too. As little as 30 years ago, they weren't capable of doing this kind of restoration. I'm amazed it's even possible now. (How do you remove a layer of paint without damaging the layer beneath? "Very carefully.")
Admiration: I am completely in awe of both the skill demonstrated by the people restoring this painting, and also by the sheer guts involved in doing it. The result could very easily have been a disaster, destroying a masterwork.
Disgust: Of course, it can be argued that the masterwork was already destroyed by the criminal who painted the clothing, in the first place. I'm not sure I'm capable of expressing how strongly I feel about whoever did it.
Stardate 20010323.1230 (On Screen): It's been argued, I think rightly, that the three most important inventions in history were writing, movable-type printing, and telecommunications. In each case, the result was to massively improve the rate at which information could be disseminated. But there's also a paradox here. One of the lesser known side effects in Europe of the development of movable-type printing was the rise of native languages and the demise of Latin as the "linqua franca" (as it were). When nearly everything written was written by monks, and when they wrote only in Latin, then Latin became de-facto the universal language. But when it became possible to cheaply generate huge amounts of material in such languages as German, Dutch, French and English, then Latin ceased to be important. Eventually even the church gave in and translated the Bible into other languages. The power of movable type printing was that it made it possible to take a book and make large numbers of copies of it, which could be distributed widely. As a technology it spread like wildfire; within the first hundred years millions of books had been printed.
Now telecommunications has gone to the opposite extreme. It presents the paradoxical opportunity to go back to having only one copy of a book -- but making it so that an arbitrarily large number of people can consult that single book. And as a side effect of this, the "global village" is again tending to emphasize a single language, only now it's English. Most of the material on the web is in English (because more than half of the web is in the US), and even web sites in Germany and Russia and Japan often are in English. (There are even web sites in English in France!) There are many sites in other languages, and sometimes they have mirrors in more than one language. But if you really want to utilize the web, you need to know English. Does this spell the doom of the multi-lingual culture which was created by the printing press?
Stardate 20010323.1220 (On Screen): It disturbs me greatly to see so many computer companies trying to alter their products to please the RIAA and MPAA, by trying to institutionalize copy protection. This has appeared in a number of ways recently, such as the proposal to place copy protection mechanisms into hard drives. Now Microsoft is considering adding it to their operating systems.
Who, exactly, is the customer here? Why are these companies trying to make their products less desirable to the people who are spending the money? Why would anyone want to buy a hard drive which prevented them from doing backups or from moving important data to other drives? I simply don't understand the commercial logic here. Anyway, the author of this piece makes a telling point: it's only going to work if it's universal and consistent, and the chances of that are minimal. Still, it's an extremely disturbing trend that the companies participating in this industry are deliberately trying to make their products less useful, from the point of view of their customers. One word, guys: DivX.
Stardate 20010322.0710 (