Blosxom to WordPress

I finally completed a longstanding project converting this blog from Blosxom to WordPress. Five years ago when I transitioned from a self-coded blog to blosxom, I loved the low tech “hackable” nature of Blosxom. Unfortunately, it hasn’t scaled well. I can imagine using WordPress five years from now, but the Blosxom filesystem-only style organization just won’t hold up.

At some point soon while it’s still fresh in my memory I will document the transition. Since nearly every Blosxom user has a unique set of quirks, each transition will have its own special problems.

I’ve made every effort to preserve permalinks from the old blog, but I’m not sure they all made it over. If you are looking for something and can’t find it, please drop me a line.

I also suspect that my most recent entries will repeat themselves for everyone who subscribes to this RSS feed. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Airport Snooping

I’ve always wondered why ill-intentioned hackers don’t set up fake free WiFi hotspots in public places like airports to collect passwords and other personal information. As it turns out, they do:

Authentium did an in-depth survey of the ad hoc networks found at O’Hare, visiting on three different occasions. It found more than 20 ad hoc networks each time, with 80% of them advertising free Wi-Fi access. The company also found that many of the networks were displaying fake or misleading MAC addresses, a clear sign that they were bent on mischief.

The Computerworld article focuses on the dangers of associating with ad-hoc (peer-to-peer) wireless networks and provides a number of tips for Windows users to avoid unintentionally connecting to an ad-hoc network.

It seems to me just a matter of time, though, before malicious agents set up “real” (infrastructure-mode) access points in public places to collect such data. In fact, based on the airport study above, I would be shocked if it weren’t already happening. Numerous trivial variations could be very difficult to detect for the average user: for example, someone could set up a WiFi access point advertising itself as a T-Mobile HotSpot, and copy the T-Mobile web interface. If they wanted to be especially crafty, they could sit outside a Starbucks (or other known T-Mobile HotSpot) and simply use a different channel than the existing hot spot. Even a sophisticated user might have trouble telling the difference.

The lesson is that you need to expect that all network traffic is insecure if not encrypted and signed at both ends. Although even in that case there are possible man-in-the-middle attacks, at least we have a cryptographic certificate/certificate authority infrastructure to mitigate the risk. (That sort of attack is also a bit more difficult to pull off, thus perhaps deterring the simplest “script-kiddie” type attackers.)

Castigating Cully

Last week I decried a senior Pentagon official’s attack on lawyers providing pro bono representation to Guantánamo detainees. I suggested that villifying the partners of some of the largest firms in the country was probably not the wisest political move, and was likely to backfire.

As it turns out, it appears I was right. See the editorial in this week’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly:

…Headlines in print and online were unanimous: “Why Cully Stimson Is Wrong.” “The rightwing assault on the legal system.” “Cully Stimson Should Pick Up His Medal of Freedom and Go Home.” “Law deans respond to unethical Bush lawyer.”

And perhaps the most eloquent rebuke of all came from Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried. In an op-ed that ran in the Wall Street Journal, Fried declared that “Stimson showed ignorance and malice in deploring the pro bono representation of Guantanamo detainees by lawyers in some of the nation’s leading law firms.”

The former Supreme Judicial Court justice continued: “It is no surprise that firms … on Mr. Stimson’s hit list are among the most sought-after by law school graduates, and retain the loyalty and enthusiasm of their partners. They offer their lawyers the profession at its best, and help assure that the rule of law is not just a slogan but a satisfying way of life.”

…What could have been a disaster for the bar turned into an all-out celebration of what lawyers do.

Near-Death Experiences

Via the Frontal Cortex (my favorite recently and accidentally discovered blog1), on the cultural relativity of near-death experiences:

Many Africans interpret near-death experiences as somewhat evil, a bad omen or a sign that they were somehow “bewitched.”

Among 400 Japanese NDErs that participated in a study, many reported seeing long, dark rivers and beautiful flowers, two common symbols that frequently appear as images in Japanese art.

East Indians sometimes see Heaven as a giant bureaucracy, and frequently report being sent back because of clerical errors.

Americans and Brits often say they are sent back for love or in order to perform a job or task.

Natives of Micronesia often visualize Heaven as a large, brightly lit American city with loud, noisy cars and tall buildings.

I’m not sure what’s worse — returning from death to rectify the inadvertent omission of a certificate of service on a motion for leave to file a reply brief in excess of the ten-page limit (maybe I should have picked a different profession) or getting additional time on Earth because the powers-that-be failed to complete a 27B/6. I really prefer the beautiful flowers, but it’s probably too late for that.

1Is there a term of art for such blogs? E.g., a blog discovered from an unrelated Google search that turns out to be worth adding to the blogroll.

Quotes on Signs

Does anyone have any idea why this phenomenon is so common? What is the hidden message implied by the quotation marks? A nudge and a wink?

Captured (by cell phone) at Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida.

Streaming Netflix

Via DRM Watch, Netflix to Offer Streaming Movies Online. My initial reaction: eh.

Netflix’s streaming service will differ from existing online movie services like those from Amazon, Movielink, and Apple iTunes. Those services offer rentals of movies for a fixed time period (e.g., 24 hours) or downloads-to-own, known in Hollywood jargon as ESL for Electronic Sell-Through. In contrast, Netflix will let users pick from a catalog of available films and let users watch any of them for up to a fixed number of hours per month, according to their subscriber level, such as six hours per month for entry-level subscribers. The service will launch with a catalog of about 1,000 titles, the same number as are available on Movielink’s rental service.

The video delivery scheme that Netflix is using is a streaming-only technology that senses the user’s Internet bandwidth and adjusts the video quality accordingly; thus it is analogous to RealNetworks’s Rhapsody music service.

Limiting the catalog to 1,000 titles undermines Netflix’s key selling point: enormous selection and a long-tail business model. I could probably find those same 1,000 titles at any Blockbuster Video. So all I’m saving is a trip down the street? In return, I get something I can only watch on my computer (with Windows) for a limited number of hours? Apparently, if I want to watch the same scene a few times, or with the director’s commentary (is that even available?), I’m using up my six hours per month.Even cable movies-on-demand is a better service.

Don’t get me wrong — I love Netflix as a DVDs-by-mail service. I also think the Netflix web interface and collaborative filter is pretty great, although the third-party Netflix Queue Manager Bookmarklet is a definite improvement. Based on this initial announcement, I can’t think of a single reason why I would prefer the online streaming version of Netflix. Usually I have the foresight to figure out what I want to say 24 hours in advance (the delivery time for Netflix-by-mail) and having three DVDs at once gives me sufficient options in case I’m unsure. Ultimately, I suspect Netflix just wants to send the message that it’s in the Internet-delivery market, which ultimately of course will decimate its existing business model. I just wish it had a more impressive first offering.

iPhone Annotation

Excellent little annotation on the Trademark Blog regarding the iPhone trademark dust-up. Schwimmer concludes:


Lawyer Bashing: Bad Politics?

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon has gone on the offensive against the pro bono attorneys representing Guantánamo detainees. Although there is a lot to criticize in U.S. detainee policy, these attacks represent a new low:

The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

The same point appeared Friday on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, where Robert L. Pollock, a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, cited the list of law firms and quoted an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying, “Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.”

In his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name more than a dozen of the firms listed on the 14-page report provided to Ms. Crowley, describing them as “the major law firms in this country.” He said, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

Perhaps the worst part is the following statement, which as best I can tell has no basis in truth:

When asked in the radio interview who was paying for the legal representation, Mr. Stimson replied: “It’s not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they’re doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are; others are receiving moneys from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.”

Deval Patrick, the recently-elected governor of Massachusetts, endured similar attacks for his work representing criminal defendants. Fortunately, that strategy backfired and Patrick was elected in a landslide.

Although others in the administration have attempted to distance themselves from Stimson’s comments (including the Attorney General), the suggestion that large corporate clients should boycott these attorneys as punishment for representing detainees remains disgusting. The right to counsel is not a political issue. You could hold the unlikely belief that each and every Guantánamo detainee is a confirmed terrorist and still advocate for fair treatment. These attacks represent a new brand of McCarthyism. I hope that this strategy is as unsuccessful nationally as it was in Massachusetts.

It strikes me that attacking the partners of some of the largest firms in the country is also bad political strategy. These attorneys are the type of people who may be major campaign donors and well-connected in both parties. I would think twice before attempting to vilify them. They are unlikely to drop their representation (and might be ethically barred from doing so) in light of these statements. If anything, I suspect their determination to ensure the detainees are accorded due process will intensify.

Update: speculates that this may be an intentional good cop/bad cop strategy.

Language Acquisition

One fascinating experience in parenthood is witnessing language acquisition. My daughter is just over twenty-one months old, and recently hit an asymptote in language development. One of my favorite phenomena probably has a name, although I don’t know what it is. When she wants to be carried, she says, “carry you?” If she wants me to sit next to her while she falls asleep, she says, “sit next to you?” Likewise, “pick you up?” And so on. On the one hand, she’s really getting it. On the other, there still seems to be a missing parsing module.

Although I minored in linguistics, we almost never studied anything having to do with “real” language. The department was virtually 100% Chomskyan, and we spent much of our time trying to figure out what the heck the Minimalist Program was.

As it turns out, the Minimalist Program did nothing to prepare me for the experience of watching my daughter acquire language.

Silent Copyright

Via the Trademark Blog, My Cage — digitally generated silence for cellphone:

My Cage (Silence for Cellphone) dispenses with performer, piano and auditorium, instead utilizing a continuous stream of silence produced on a computer, and compressed to ringtone format.

While noting that Mr. Keats doesn’t have a cellphone of his own, and may be less-than-qualified to make global pronouncements about them, the CEO of the company that distributes the ringtone believes that “My Cage” may be a platinum hit. “People want a respite,” he says, “and not everybody has the time or money to go to a spa. The virtues of silence are unsung.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Keats is careful not to take credit for silence in general, and hopes that people will bootleg his creation, just as he was inspired by John Cage. Mr. Cage, who died in 1992, could not be reached for comment.

I hope the IP professors in the crowd are preparing a hypothetical for the next round of exams.