2009 and the Decade 2000s: Crappy Old Year!

Well, everyone reading this knows what happened.
Overall, it was a crappy year in a crappy decade, globally.
I had a lot of great times and a few bad times, but I eagerly anticipate 2010!


The Psystar Saga

A lot of buzz has been going around on tech websites about Apple v. Psystar, so I wanted to shed a little light on it too.
The issue is that Apple is accusing the independent company Psystar for putting Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware. Basically, Psystar is officially selling Hackintoshes. Apple is claiming that by doing so, Psystar is committing copyright infringement and violating Apple's EULA for Mac OS X.
There are basically 2 conflicting reports.
If Psystar, as some have been saying, was copying Mac OS X and installing these copies on multiple machines, then (as much as it pains me to say it, in this case, given current copyright law) that's wrong as it infringes on Apple's copyright.
If, on the other hand, as other people are saying, Psystar was purchasing legitimate copies of Mac OS X and installing a single purchased copy on a single machine, why is this wrong? For one thing, this doesn't even infringe on copyright. In fact, recent copyright laws have specifically said that this sort of legitimate installation on other hardware is not infringing on copyright.
That leaves the EULA. The court should then be asking, is such a provision (preventing installation on "unauthorized hardware") even legal? Heck, even Microsoft (traditionally no paragon of open computing) lets people install a copy of Windows on any hardware they want, as long as that is only done once per copy.
Let's see how this whole thing plays out.


Movie Reviews: Mongol, Up

I will be reviewing 2 movies today that I watched recently: "Mongol" and "Up", in that order.

"Mongol" was great. I thought it was a nice touch that all the dialogue was in Mongolian (or so I think). It gives the whole film a more authentic feel; even better is the fact that all of the actors are from that part of the world (i.e. the actors aren't Caucasian with makeup, etc.). I also thought it was interesting how the whole movie focused only on Temujin's (Genghis Khan's given name) early years; these events aren't as well known to Western audiences, so it's a great service to Mongolian history. The film effects were great (it had a sort of old-style color feel), while the action was, well, action-y.

"Up" was also great. Most of the movie was standard Disney/Pixar fare (floating away in a house, landing on a magical island), but the first few minutes really made the movie special, because their more mature content is not typical of a Pixar kids' movie. The movie opens with the elderly protagonist Carl Fredricksen (in his childhood years) meeting and falling in love with a female fellow fan (Ellie) of the famed (but later discredited) explorer Charles Muntz. The next few minutes shows a silent (save for the great instrumental background music) montage of clips from their married life, starting with their marriage and ending with Ellie's death. The scene of Ellie's death is a touching moment in itself (and unusually somber for a Disney film), but what I found more moving and dark was the point of their marriage when, after buying a crib and other assorted items for a newborn baby, the doctor tells Ellie and Carl that Ellie is infertile (the scene is shown, though no words are spoken, but this is very strongly implied). I think what also really made this movie great was Carl going back to the picture of Ellie in remembrance, and then at the end, finally letting go of the house (which, magically, falls right next to the waterfall on the magical island). The rest of the movie wasn't really that special, but the whole movie really came out to be more than the sum of the individual scenes.


Happy Winter Holidays!

I will be going with family and friends to visit a Broadway show and then a friend's house.
I wish you all a very happy, fun, and safe holiday season!


FOLLOW-UP: A Few Loose Ends - 2009 October 2

The original post was on a bunch of different things, but this follow-up will only cover Representative Alan Grayson's ruckus.
A few different news outlets are reporting that Alan Grayson is asking for the arrest and imprisonment of one of his critics.
The issue stems from the fact that while the critic in question maintains (or something like that) a website called "My Congressman is Nuts", the critic is not actually in Alan Grayson's district.
Grayson has asked Eric Holder to jail this critic just because of that (she has misrepresented her district on her personal website).
I would not condone such misrepresentation myself, but what?
He's asking the Attorney General of the US to arrest a critic for a small misrepresentation?
What's more telling (and ironic) is that this same critic calls him out (rightfully so) for acting childish as a Representative in DC.
It's a self-fulfilling prophecy! Shame on you, Grayson!
To be honest, I would be happy (even though he's a Democrat) if he was voted out of office in 2010. I would prefer it be through the Democratic primaries, but if it happens in the general election (i.e. by a Republican), so be it.


Bravo Mozilla!

For Firefox 3.5 is now the most popular web browser globally! Kudos!
It just goes to show that well-developed and well-marketed OSS solutions will work.
'Nuff said.


On Console Games, Corporate Tech Lobbies, and the MPAA

I found 3 articles that piqued my interest, so I wanted to talk about them all in this post. As a result, this post may get rather long, so consider yourself warned. Be patient; it'll be fine.

This article (Ben Hardwidge, bit-tech.net) proposes, counter to the numerous death knells of PC gaming, that console gaming will be the first to die.
I agree with the premise and the numbers. All of the console manufacturers are bleeding money, mainly from their current console divisions. What is most telling is that the best selling console for each month of the last few years has been the PS2 (not the PS3); while the PS3 has been the loser (saleswise) of every month since its introduction (I think).
From my own perspective, I find console gaming not to be very fun unless other people are over. I have a PS2, but again, I only play with other friends. The same goes for these friends who have newer systems like the XBox360 (and XBox Live). PC gaming is simply more conducive to single player gaming than consoles are. That's why I'm not getting a new system of any kind to "keep up"; it'll be a waste.

The next article (Robert Silberman, Economic Times - India Times) deals with Microsoft against copyright infringers.
Microsoft brought its case against 4 infringers to Delhi in order to wield more influence on the decision; it simultaneously harassed the defendants even though they were still innocent.
In response, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Microsoft, having offices in the respective cities of the defendants, had to bring the cases there. Furthermore, the company had to compensate these defendants as well as pay other fines for misconduct.
In an era where more and more politicians are bought off by large companies and Microsoft goes virtually unchallenged in the US, it's nice to see a judge like this stand up against Microsoft.

The final article talks about Hollywood's record revenues for 2009.
I think the article hits the nail on the head in every way.
Despite the repeated whining by the MPAA about the industry being torn to pieces by piracy, the truth is that this myth is being torn to pieces by these numbers.
What's even more outrageous is that an industry executive of some sort tried to spin it in a negative light, calling it the "only" bright spot of the year while trying to maintain the myth of dark times for Hollywood because of piracy.
The last part of the article is right too. While the movie can be downloaded off of the Internet, they aren't really an adequate substitute for a real [possibly at-home, on-TV] theater experience. What downloading the movie then does is expose others to the movie, making them want to watch the real deal in the theater or rent/buy it on DVD. This is also true of music, when music recordings are distributed freely, live concert sales (the big revenue maker for the artist, much bigger than record sales) shoot up.
It basically proves that all the media industries and lobbies are after with copyright is total control over their works, not protection of any kind for the artists.


The Twisted Minds of Media Companies

I call it twisted because you will come to the exact same conclusion.
A lot of online news outlets have been reporting on a proposed WIPO treaty that would allow cross-border sharing of books that are made in formats accessible to blind and other visually-impaired people. This treaty is being opposed by several media lobbies from several companies "on principle"; that is, they oppose it because they believe it fundamentally undermines the "right" principle of always extending copyright terms, limiting the market's options, and taking away as many rights as possible.
This is truly sickening. The media companies and their lobbies have really gotten on the wrong side of the argument here.
The issue is that these companies feel like by allowing cross-border exchange of books and such meant for blind people, copyright restrictions are somehow undermined.
Won't allowing this only increase their market? If Britain had an oversupply of books for the blind and had to burn it (media companies' way) or sell it to blind people in Ireland (proposed treaty's way), wouldn't the latter only increase the market share of the companies?
I think it's truly pathetic to what low levels these companies have fallen. It's just another example of how copyright isn't to protect the original authors (this treaty can only help the authors), it's only to allow the big publishers and such to progressively take more rights away in the name of the "authors".
Since when were these "rights" (which are just rights to take away readers' rights) of "authors" (really just the big publishers) greater than the rights of blind people to read? Wouldn't this sort of action be illegal under the US ADA (1990)?
Good grief. These actions are so maddeningly inane and childish that I don't even know what to say anymore.


FOLLOW-UP: Thank you, Microsoft

Thank you even more, Microsoft.
Not only has Microsoft recognized the GPL violations in the code for its Windows 7 USB/DVD manager, it has even fixed them (Emil Protalinski, Ars Technica) by releasing them under the GPL.
Not only does this mean that Microsoft actually care about OSS (even a little bit), it cares enough that it thinks the GPL will withstand the tests of the courts.
Thank you some more, Microsoft, for de facto legitimizing the GPL.


Why "Cure" an Asset?

A new article (Chris Tachibana, MSNBC) has investigated into tech companies hiring medium- to high-functioning people with autism/Asperger's Syndrome. These people do stuff like assembly, data entry, and other computer tasks. It's better than the current grocery store job they may have, and it's perfectly suited to their skill set: they are able and willing to do long, repetitive tasks quickly, and they can catch mistakes far easier than other people.
In short, these companies see an asset rather than a liability in these people's conditions.
It's something a lot of more vocal autism advocates (most of them autistics themselves) are trying to convince people of; such people have long thought of autism as a liability and a mental illness, while such autism advocates have argued that autism is an asset and simply a different mental makeup no better or worse than the "standard" brain (i.e. autism is not an "illness").
Many months ago, there was an article in Wired magazine about this topic: higher-functioning autistics (autism is a spectrum condition, after all) who have become much more vocal about how they are treated because of advances like the Internet, portable computers, and tools like webcams and text-to-speech synthesizers.
On the contrary, many other autism advocacy groups like Autism Speaks advocate a "cure" for autism, calling it a "preventable tragedy".
Now, I understand that there are still many low-functioning autistics who cannot do anything without assistance and cannot communicate at all even with the help of technology do not fall in the category of autistics I am talking about in the context of working at tech companies.
My other problems with the organization Autism Speaks are numerous. For one, it seems to regard every autistic person from the outset as a lost cause after birth, explaining the need for a "cure" to end "preventable tragedies". As shown from the autistics working at tech companies, the autistic vlogger/advocate Amanda Baggs, and the mid-level autistic neuroscientist-advocate Michelle Dawson (who has more than 1 paper to her name concerning the diagnosis of autism and the testing of autistics' intelligence), this is patently absurd. Furthermore, the people being hired by these companies are as low as the lower-middle end of the autistic spectrum, so these people aren't just those rare autistic savants.
Also, Autism Speaks seems to solely focus on childhood autism (to the detriment of adult autistics) and speaks of a supposed "autism pandemic". The problem with this reasoning is that while autism may have increased slightly in proportion to the population over the decades, as the diagnoses of autism have only come about in the last few decades (previously, autistics were likely labeled "mute" and sent to insane asylums), the diagnosis of autism in children has exploded as a result. The only pandemic is in the diagnosis, and to add to this, a few parents are now saying that their children who were previously diagnosed as autistic were actually misdiagnosed. Due to parental fears of autism, this has probably been a driving factor for overdiagnosis of autism.
Finally, why does Autism Speaks want to "cure" an asset? I'll leave that to you, the readers.


Athletes as Role Models?

This is a question that often comes up in classrooms, but has more recently (and publicly) come up in news services in light of the Tiger Woods accident+affair incident. The questions are whether athletes are acceptable role models and whether it is fair to scrutinize their private failings like we do politicians.
I disagree with both (positive) assertions.
In short, Tiger Woods mysteriously crashed his SUV in the middle of the night and, while explaining this away, admitted to an extramarital affair.
The following is of course biased by who I am, for those of you who know me and have seen me. I won't get into that.
I don't think athletes should be held in the popular media as role models for our children.
Now, some of you are saying, "But who will kids look up to now? Their gonna look up to athletes no matter what."
I don't.
They don't have to either.
I think half the problem is that we live in a culture that values physical stature, strength, and beauty above all else. Unless the kids have some natural or early acquired physical talent, why should this be imposed on them? In many Asian cultures (even today), the braniacs and top researchers, rather than the top athletes, are revered. Obviously, those countries recognize that sports broadcasts are entertainment for the general public, while the researchers, academics, and other "nerds" are the ones advancing society (except for the few great athletes who do choose to make a highly positive contribution to the community).
For goodness' sake, I look up to Stephen Hawking. Well, maybe that's just me, but I do know of plenty of people who looked up to such academics rather than athletes as role models. It's fine if a kid looks up to an athlete, but why must the media push it on everyone?
I also disagree with the idea that athletes should be scrutinized as closely as Tiger Woods was for his failings.
I'm OK with it happening to politicians. They are public citizens.
Tiger Woods is a private citizen. He is entitled to his privacy, unless things other people he has communicated with (i.e. his lover) leak out at that person's discretion.
That said, the press was really overzealous in getting him to talk. Considering all of the more serious events (bombing in Russia, etc.) that have happened recently, it's safe to say that the media is dysfunctional (that's why I'm here :P (just kidding)).
Folks, it is only in the best interests of the media (to report on personal failings as they come) for people to look up to athletes as role models.

Microsoft is Now a Legal Monopoly in Germany

As it seems, the German government is setting up a hotline for (Windows) computer users' malware issues.
This. Is. Bad.
In a continent (the EU) that is wary of monopolies and has taking strict measures against Microsoft to reduce their monopoly status (e.g. make a "browser ballot" in a Windows installation to allow users to choose their preferred browser(s) (and the order must be random (i.e. IE cannot be the top choice each time))), this is a huge, terrible reversal.
Many posts talking about this describe this as just a subsidy for Microsoft to produce shoddy code and not improve upon it (as the government will cover that cost, essentially).
That's not the biggest problem.
Let me be clear: the German government is basically legalizing Microsoft's monopoly.
Now there will be almost no incentive to get products other than those of Microsoft, as the government will always help the users and Microsoft will reap the (larger) profits (and no longer bear the burden of fixing code).
Why, oh Germany, why?
If you happen to live in Germany, tell your elected officials to repeal this bill.
Microsoft has for the longest time been a de facto monopoly, but never in my memory have I heard of this sort of official government support for Microsoft's monopoly. This basically flies in the face of everything free-market.
Please, stop the madness.


Autofailblog: Lexuses Unintentionally Accelerating

This isn't "ha-ha"-funny like the pictures on Failblog; in fact, it is rather depressing, but the word needs to be spread.
For the last few months (or maybe longer), vehicles sold under the Toyota and Lexus nameplates have suffered improper installation of floormats. This may not sound like a big deal at first, except that they are on the driver's side. This means that they can often latch on to the accelerator and press it down, causing the vehicle to accelerate uncontrollably (i.e. the brakes won't do anything). Quite a few Toyota and Lexus owners have died from these occurrence.
However, the following is truly tragic.
It seems like one person, 3 days before he died from this occurrence, noticed it in his car and reported it to his dealership. However, his problem got lost on the way to upper management. No one really did anything about it. I think he owned a Lexus ES 350 (midsize sedan), while the dealers threw in floormats from the Lexus LS 570 (fullsize SUV) improperly on top of the existing floormats. That's 3 strikes: wrong floor mats, wrong placement, and placement on top of existing floormats, further increasing the possibility of unintended acceleration.
For this, he died, 3 days later.
If you or your family owns a Lexus or Toyota, please have it checked out thoroughly (and nag them about it if necessary - they are supposed to be the world-class dealers after all!) if that has not already been done. If you or people you know are planning to buy a Toyota or Lexus, please do not do so for a while. The model years date back to 1997, so it's a pretty extensive set of cases.
Toyota and Lexus are not infallible. For all that, Audi had a similar issue ("unintended acceleration") in the 1980s which ruined their reputation for about 15 years (i.e. until then, sales never rose to pre-issue levels). Here, they are quite fallible. Spread the word!
[UPDATE: It seems like the NHTSA is deciding on whether to recall recent (2006-2007) Toyota Corollas and Matrixes (not "Matrices") due to a large number of complaints about unintended stalling. It's yet another reason not to buy a Toyota (for a while now, at least).]


Linux in "Mainstream" Tech Articles

[Thanks to blogger Glyn Moody for quoting the WSJ article about open development.]
Yes, Linux gets a lot of good press in, well, the OSS media. That's only to be expected. However, things get a lot more mixed in the mainstream tech media. These outlets are for laypeople and thus basically only focus on Microsoft products and their implementations.
For example, this article (Jason Notte, TheStreet) talks about netbooks versus laptops. When it talks about how far netbooks have come, it refers to Linux in a disparaging way, calling the original Linux-equipped netbooks "toys".
Now, it is more likely that the netbooks themselves (in terms of the hardware) were toys. However, it is entirely possible that this site was calling Linux a "toy" OS.
This is patently absurd, but I won't list all the reasons (servers, Internet, phones, media) why. That's for another day. I will say that there still are a significant number of (new) netbooks sold with Linux, and their sellers do admit that the return rate for their netbooks does not vary with the OS selection.
Again, the bias against Linux is a bit more debatable based on the wording.
This article, from the WSJ, however, is a lot more obviously against open development. The article does not explicitly take a side, as it is a news piece rather than an opinion piece, but the article's word choice makes it clear what the opinion of the WSJ editors on this is.
To summarize, a company making a robotic brain called the Arduino is open-sourcing the hardware with no restrictions and putting up the processes and specs on the Internet.
Yes, the article may also use the word "peculiar" (when referring to the open-source business) because it really is peculiar to the average reader, but it's probably also because the model runs directly counter to the closed nature of the WSJ's (and News Corp's) own business model.
Furthermore, rather than simply call derivatives of the original work "copies" or some other neutral work, the article calls them "knock-offs". This connotes illegality of copying (despite surrounding words maintaining the legality of this, which is true) and inferiority of the copy no matter what. It suggests that imitators can never possibly innovate past the capability of the original innovator.
Of course, the original founder makes note of his first-mover advantage, saying that when imitators are spreading copies of his products, he is already at work for the next generation of hardware. This is great and it shows that he is willing to continually innovate rather than be lazy and take a monopoly to continue to profit; he also genuinely cares about letting others collaborate in the process, enough so that he open-sourced the hardware anyway.
Maybe I'm just overreacting to the natural curiosity and skepticism at the open-source business model by those unfamiliar with it, but these were just my initial thoughts on the subject matter anyway.


Recommendation Communication Issues

I'm starting to have doubts about the coach of our school's Science Bowl team, of which I am a member.
For one thing, she doesn't really seem to be that enthusiastic about us practicing. She has, for whatever reason, started ending practices at 3:15pm (rather than the 3:45pm typical of the last 2 years). She probably has a lot on her plate, but she never says so when asked to explain this change.
Yesterday there was supposed to be a practice. The day before that, I told her that myself and another student would be doing the Continental Math League, so we would be about half an hour late. She was agreeable with this and promised to continue practice. However, by the time we got there (exactly when we said we would), no one was inside the room, which was locked. When I asked her about it this morning, she did say that the other students were a bit impatient and decided to go ahead and leave for their other clubs. However, when I reminded her about myself and the other student coming late, she said that 2 days before (when I first mentioned it) I never mentioned the other student coming/being late.
Wait, what?
I've asked her to write me a recommendation for the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC. She kindly agreed to do so. She sent the recommendation out a day before the deadline for postmarking it, which is fine. Oddly, though, it got sent to my house rather than to the university. Yesterday, I told her about it, so she said to bring the material in a new envelope without my address (added as a supplement) so that she could resend it.
Today, when I brought it to her, she was irked that I took out the material from the original envelope and put it in the new one. She decided to break the seal just to make sure I hadn't tampered with the recommendation letter, then resealed it with tape.
For one thing, what would I have to gain from even reading (much less modifying) the letter? (She said, "I hope you enjoyed what you read." Wait, what?)
For another, she basically totally contradicted what she had said the previous day.
It seems that she has some rather serious communication issues (both on the speaking and listening ends), or maybe she isn't really thinking about what she says to me or what I say to her.