Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Naked Law (a very good website for technology related court rulings throughout the world) reports the following:

"The US Supreme Court today unanimously ruled that file sharing networks can be held liable for software infringement by their users. The decision is a blow to P2P sites such as Grokster and Morpheus – they had sought to rely on the earlier Betamax case which protected video recorder manufacturers from legal action for copyright infringement, and which is often cited as showing that a manufacturer cannot be liable where its products are used to infringe copyright if they also have legitimate potential uses. This view looks set to change…"

Just yesterday, Julie (who is studying for the bar) proposed an interesting legal scenario which threw me for a loop: say you've got a guy named Bob. Bob buys a laser. Out of the box, the laser is little more than a lightbulb.. it is not capable of doing any damage. Bob, being an evil genius, twinks the laser to increase its power. While testing these modifications, Bob accidentally fires the newly twinked laser at his neighbor's house, blowing it to smithereens.

Who is liable? Common sense says Bob, right? After all, he's the mad scientist! But no... torts law actually holds the manufacturer of the LASER respsonsible, since it was their product that did the damage! Crazy huh? Seems to me by that logic, companies that make guns could be held responsible for murders committed with their products, but somehow this isn't the case (perhaps somebody with legal knowhow can explain this to me?).

Whatever the case, similar logic has now been applied to these P2P file sharing sites, who now can be held responsible if copyrighted material crosses their network. My biggest problem with this is that I have absolutely no idea how the maker of the software would be able to prevent this sort of thing from happenning!

And what about open source stuff? What if somebody gets ahold of the code base to one of these P2P apps and twinks it, like Bob with his laser? Does that mean the original manufacturer is still responsible?

Now, the Supreme Court says the problem with Grokster was not the technology... it was the way the technology was presented. The ruling goes on to say that "dual-use technology" that does not "itself engage in unauthorized copying" is fine... only things that are "almost exclusively" used for copyright infringement are against the law.

To that, I say... huh? This is murky territory at best. Law like this sucks because this distinction cannot help but be arbitrary! Take Limewire, for example.. this is something that could be a very useful tool, but guess what... it's used for downloading music. It is not presented as a music pirating tool, but I'd be shocked if it wasn't used almost exclusively for illegal downloads.

All most of us can really do is wait for the smoke to clear... and to wait for more test cases, since it is the cases that come after the initial ruling that determine whether or not something is going to stick. I'm sure we won't have to wait long.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Weekend in Review

I finally got outside and played my first tennis of the summer on Friday. I picked up a lot of bad habits last year on the court that I'm trying to correct, which is difficult because it basically means I'm hitting the reset button. I'm trying to learn a real forehand as opposed to gripping the racquet with two hands on every swing (in case you can't tell, my fundamentals leave something to be desired). Hit a couple of good shots, but there's a lot of work to do... in the end, Julie pummelled me soundly.

Saturday Jules and and I went to the riverfront for lunch and then did a little shopping. We went to the movies (mostly for the AC), and the debate was whether to watch Batman again (which we knew was awesome), or go see Star Wars (which Julie hadn't seen, but which I had and didn't like). We decided on Star Wars, and I did my best to reopen my mind.

After a second viewing, I think it's fair to say that this movie sucks... but maybe it's not the absolute disaster I thought it was. Let's just call it "terrible" and not "unholy demon spawn".

I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at the track. I think one of the reasons I like the track so much is how relaxed everything is between races. I love listening to the conversations of the older folks talking about this horse and that horse, and there's plenty of baseball talk to be had there as well. I imagine the amount of statistics involved in horse racing is what attracts so many baseball fans.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cool Free Webapps

A coworker was kind enough to loan me Joel on Software, a collection of writings by the guy who keeps a blog by the same name. If you're a developer, it makes for very interesting reading... if not, it makes for a very nice paperweight.

In one of the articles, Joel worries over the influx of web applications, since it means a departure from locally installed, rich client applications. He worries that too many developers are trying to webify everything, and it is going to lead to lower quality applications.

I'm of the opinion that the rich client app isn't really going anywhere anytime soon (and Microsoft is banking on this).. the tools the average joe uses to connect to the net are simply not secure enough or fast enough to do things like word processing with any degree of reliability, and people are always going to want certain things kept locally on their desktops. Joel may be correct in his generalization about developer mentality, but the market tends to weed out those things which just don't work very well.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of really cool stuff that is freely available completely over the web (Blogger is one of them). Clever developers are finding new and interesting ways to get tricky with their Javascript and fake the speed of rich client applications.

My top 3 favorite free web tools (not counting Blogger):

1) Gmail - If you're a business owner and need to have complex control over inbound and outbound email, this isn't going to work for you. But if you're the average email user, you absolutely cannot beat Gmail. The interface is exceedingly slick (like you'd expect from the clever folks at Google), and it completely changed the way I read and keep track of email. Gmail doesn't really do anything new: conversation threads, labels instead of folders... these are all things that have been done before. But they are all implemented so well that I abandoned by Yahoo account mere minutes after fooling with Gmail.

2) del.icio.us - At first glance, this may seem sort of pointless... why would I want to put all my bookmarks on the web? You obviously have not experienced the joy of del.icio.us. Now, all your bookmarks are in a centralized, always accessible place. You can get to the same bookmarks no matter where you go. "Great", you think, "that's the entire point of a webapp." Yes, but del.icio.us does more than this... by associating labels with your bookmarks, it is easy to organize them by categories. The app is smart... it suggests appropriate labels based on the page AND labels you have already used before! The Javascript alone is an exercise in user friendliness.

3) Tada - This is a free part of a larger application called "Basecamp" (from the makers of Backpack). Basically this thing is a todo list programmed in nifty Javascript. I was only recently introduced to this by a coworker, and it's so ridiculously simple that it's brilliant.. I am currently using it to organize my work tasks in a way that is much more intuitive than Outlook's horrific Task List.

The common thread in all these apps is that they're simple. An application doesn't have to be fancy to be good... in fact, the best ones do one thing and do it exceedingly well. Gmail is by far the most complex and robust (every now and again I still learn a new keyboard shortcut), but in the end they're all cool because they're so darned simple.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Family Matters

I had a whirlwind overnight trip last weekend to Nashville for my cousin Kathleen's wedding (congratulations to her and Derek). It was really nice of her to invite me, especially since I haven't seen anybody on that side of the family in close to a decade.

Close to a decade... that's a long time. I've been sorting through my thoughts on the experience since I got home. It was great to see everyone (including some new cousins I hadn't ever met), but it was also a little odd. How do you approach a family member you haven't seen in ten years? "Hey, how've you been holding up the last decade?"

I've gotten a little better at large social functions the last several years, but I'm not sure anything could've prepared me for this. There's just so much I don't know about my extended family, and the task of getting to know them again seems incredibly daunting.

At any rate, the reception featured these little cocktail burgers I hadn't ever seen before. Neat.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Batman At Last

There are two types of Batman: there's Batman in blue, running around with Robin, making silly quips and fighting cartoony villains. Then there's the Dark Knight, Batman in black, a vigilante who often comes close to crossing the line between himself and the criminals he fights.

Batman Begins is, finally, Batman in black.

This movie gets everything right. The screenplay is based on Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, so right away you know it's going to be dark and edgy (Miller also wrote Sin City). It's directed by Christopher Nolan, responsible for Memento and Insomnia, so you know it will be trippy and a little strange. And it stars Christian Bale, a guy that is not afraid to make bold decisions even when he is in BAD films.

The movie flat out rocks. The movie is also a bit scary at points: there are a few scenes when we see Batman from the perspective of the criminals, and it doesn't look like a lot of fun. In addition, one of the villains featured in this movie is the Scarecrow, and he is a perfect outlet for Nolan's trippy tendencies.

Wimpy little kids will get scared by this movie... but everybody else will enjoy it.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Championship

At least 20,103 Philadelphia hockey fans saw a Philadelphia team win a championship on Friday night.

The Philadelphia Phantoms beat the Chicago Wolves 5-2 in game four of the AHL Calder Cup championship to complete a four game sweep and win the title.

I sure hope somebody outside of the Wachovia Center noticed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust

One year and three plot rewrites later, another successful D&D campaign is laid to rest.

I just finished up my weekly D&D game with my friends, and with the last session of another long game (this one set in Eberron) come the familiar mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I'm glad I'll have some time off from the work and writing/plotting required to host a weekly D&D session. It'll be nice to PLAY again for awhile, since two of my friends will be picking up the mantle of DM and alternating turns in the seat. No more will I have to handle the curveballs and plot rewrites that happen when a character does something completely unexpected and blows up everything I had planned.

On the other hand, I know that in a couple of months I'll get the itch again. I love playing D&D, don't get me wrong... but I like being behind the DM screen even better. D&D is collaborative storytelling at its best: the players help you make the story as good as it is, and I'm lucky to play with so many friends that I know well (this was the fourth campaign I've run in the last several years, and I've been playing with these guys since college). But in the end, it is the DM's show... and the game will either be great, or totally suck based on the work and thought the DM puts into it.

All good stories have to end, and this one was no exception. But just as reaching the last page of a book or the final scene of a film can leave you with a little sense of loss, so can ending a campaign that has been running as long as this one.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Song of Ice and Fire

In very exciting news, I just discovered on George R. R. Martin's website that the fourth book in his Song of Ice and Fire series has, at long last, been completed.

It's been a few years since I read A Storm of Swords (book 3 for the uninitiated) for the first time, and a lot of folks were starting to wonder if Martin would ever get Feast for Crows (book 4) finished. He explains some of his decisions for this book on the website, and I'll be very interested to see how it all pans out.

The first three books (Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, and Storm of Swords respectively) are, for my money, the best written fantasy novels since Tolkien basically invented the genre with The Lord of the Rings. If you haven't read them yet, you're really missing out on some of the best writing last decade has to offer.

Livin' Large

Since my last post, I've done the following:

- Eaten a pile of sushi I made for myself
- Won $150 by finishing 19th out of 470 in an online poker tournament
- Went to the racetrack and had a grand old time with Julie and a bunch of old men
- Watched the Arena Football playoffs and thought about upgrading my Soul season tickets
- Gone to a BBQ

That adds up to pretty good times.

I just passed my one year anniversary at my place of employment, and I almost can't believe how much my life has changed since then. I still play D&D on a weekly basis and I still am lucky enough to date a great girl, but beyond that almost EVERYTHING about my life has changed.

The source of changes pretty consistently came back to one thing: money. Money can't buy happiness, that's for sure... but it can certainly PREVENT you from happiness. Ever since I got this particular job, I haven't ever had to worry about picking up extra shifts at the end of the month or whether or not the bills are going to get paid. I'm still really really careful with my money... mostly through force of habit because things were tight for so long... but I don't need to do any advanced math anymore to see if I can afford to go to the movies on the weekend. I'm not going to be buying a yacht anytime soon, but it is absolutely incredible how much less stress there is in my life just because I don't need to worry about rent money.

What's next for me? I don't know. But if I'm even half as lucky over the next year as I've been this last year, I should be in pretty good shape.