My Wife Has a Weblog

I’ve had a weblog for four or five years. My daughter has had one for about a year (also equal to the entirety of her life). It’s finally come time—my wife has a a weblog. It is appropriately titled Women and Children First. She’s just finding her blogger voice, so it may take some time to gain momentum.

Anyone who knew Rachele six years ago (around the time we met) would have been shocked at the time to hear that she would one day be a blogger. Back then, her entire relationship to the Internet was mediated through a “My Mail Station” device (that apparently has since been purchased by Earthlink and now has disappeared entirely). These days, she runs Debian Sarge, Evolution, Firefox, etc.. And now WordPress.

My friend Jesse and his cohorts have also started a new blog entitled Tikirobot. From what I can tell so far, it’s similar in style to boingboing but written by people I know. It is also nonduplicative of boingboing content.

Flash Mobs and Fight Club

Anyone who enjoyed Fight Club should read the entire five parts of My Crowd, Or, Phase 5: A report from the inventor of the flash mob from this month’s Harper’s Magazine, which, fortunately, is online unlike much of Harper’s content.

This was one of the most enjoyable and relevant pieces I’ve read in Harper’s in quite a while. I was beginning to think that Harper’s was, as a friend characterized it, “for people who don’t read blogs,” but this piece proves the magazine can still be relevant.

Ed Felten on Network Discrimination

Ed Felten is writing an excellent series of series of blog entries on network discrimination (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), focusing on the nuts and bolts of how Internet Service Providers can (and do) discriminate between network traffic they like for various reasons (commercial, legal, etc.), and network traffic they do not like. Today’s entry focuses on encryption. Felten points out something that had never occurred to me: even if the user encrypts network traffic so that the ISP can’t see what he’s doing (or even tell the traffic in question apart from the standard website traffic), the ISP can still implement methods that selectively prefer certain types of traffic over others:

But the ISP may have a different and more effective strategy. If the ISP wants to hamper a particular application, and there is a way to manipulate the user’s traffic that affects that application much more than it does other applications, then the ISP has a way to punish the targeted application. Recall my previous discussion of how VoIP is especially sensitive to jitter (unpredictable changes in delay), but most other applications can tolerate jitter without much trouble. If the ISP imposes jitter on all of the user.s packets, the result will be a big problem for VoIP apps, but not much impact on other apps.

So it turns out that even using a VPN, and encrypting everything in sight, isn’t necessarily enough to shield a user from network discrimination. Discrimination can work in subtle ways.

randomplay 0.52 released

It’s been a while since I announced a release of randomplay, my command-line ‘itch a scratch’ music player. It is most useful for maintaining a random shuffle over many sessions—for example, I use it to make sure I don’t ever hear the same song in any three month period.

This new version features the much sought ‘back a song’ keybinding. It also announces the “random weight” preference of the current song as it plays.

In Defense of the Statute of Limitations

There’s a big push in Massachusetts to eliminate the 15 year statute of limitations on child sexual abuse (that runs from the child’s sixteenth birthday)—for example, this Boston Globe article and editorial. Eliminating a criminal statute of limitations is generally a popular cause—after all, the only people negatively impacted would be criminals, and they don’t form much of a lobbying constituency, right?

These articles rarely provide the full reasoning behind statutes of limitations, however. If they address the issue at all, they cite the difficulty of getting a fair trial many years after the events at issue occurred, as in the Globe editorial.

There is a more compelling reason, I think, to preserve the statute of limitations: scarce resources. As with my position on the death penalty, I believe this issue should ultimately be decided pragmatically based on real experience. Prosecutors are terribly overworked. When I represented some indigent criminal defendants, the prosecutors were uniformly younger than me and had no idea what their cases were about until about 30 seconds before they were called to argue (especially in bail hearings). It was all they could do to not drop their two-foot-high stack of files (each representing a criminal case) on their way in and out of the courtroom.

Every case requires resources. Police resources to investigate; prosecutorial and judicial resources to try; and ultimately prison resources if the defendant is convicted. While I understand the need to address past injustices, it seems to me far more important to address current injustices. For every trial relating to sex abuse that may have occurred 25 years ago, there are certainly as many abusers commiting crimes today. If the sex abuser from 25 years ago is still dangerous, he has likely committed more recent crimes for which he could be convicted.

With current funding levels, it is absolutely impossible to pursue every crime committed. Even if we quadrupled funding for the criminal justice system, we are still going to be unable to do a good job catching and convicted all the bad guys. There are at least 250 recent unsolved murders in Boston currently. Necessarily, a choice to pursue sex crimes from 20 years ago is a choice not to pursue something else.

All policy decisions involve trade-offs. Just about everyone is in favor of reducing or eliminating crime and child sex crimes in particular. We can agree on that, but it doesn’t answer the key question of how you do it. Despite the injustice in letting people get away with crimes committed many years ago, it’s a worse injustice to have inadequate resources to deal with crimes committed today.

You Get What You Pay For

I’ve never been able to get my DVD burner on my Thinkpad X40 to work properly. I usually have to ruin five or six DVD-R’s before I get a successful burn, and even then the result doesn’t necessarily work.

I’ve always gotten 5 or 10 cent DVD-Rs from the cheapest source I can find on pricewatch or froogle. Today, I decided to go to Staples and buy some “name brand” (well, Staples brand) DVD-Rs.

I’ve burned three so far and they each work perfectly. They cost about 50 cents each, but since I had to throw away 80% of the cheaper DVD-Rs, I actually end up ahead. Way ahead if you count the value of my time.

The web is really good at finding the cheapest anything, but I’m noticing more and more often that buying the cheapest of a particular item on the web, even for a “commodity” product like DVD-Rs, often turns out to be not all that cheap. What I would really like is a more automated system to find the cheapest anything that doesn’t suck.

Nowhere to Go in Downtown Boston

Earlier this week, my cousin, who is a medical resident in New York City, came to visit my office in Downtown Boston after work. After giving him a quick tour of my office, we thought we’d chat over a cup of coffee. I’m not aware of any locally-owned downtown cafés or coffee shops, so we thought we’d have to settle for a Starbucks. The Starbucks across the street from my office, however, had just closed at 6pm. Although I’d been to the Peet’s Coffee around the corner dozens of times, it wasn’t until I actually tried to go there with my cousin that I realized that they don’t have any seating. We attempted to go to five other similar venues, and they were all either closed or without seating (including an Au Bon Pain right near Downtown Crossing that just has a walk-up counter).

Finally, we settled for a Dunkin’ Donuts that had two tables and was open for another half hour. The staff were busy mopping up and listening to a loud radio that was half-tuned to pure FM static.

I realize Downtown Boston isn’t the most residential area, but aren’t there other people who want to meet up after work at some place other than a bar? Isn’t this supposed to be a world class city? What about all the luxury condominiums that have been built recently in walking distance to the financial district… is it all a fiction?

It’s times like this that I have to admit feelings of New York envy.