A Long Swim

Missing Trackpoint Keyboard

Dear Lazyweb:

Is it really impossible to find a full-sized USB keyboard with a built-in trackpoint mouse device but no touchpad?

The logical manufacturer would be IBM/Lenovo; however, the current Lenovo keyboards either provide no built-in pointing device or have both a trackpoint and a touchpad (“UltraNav”). I’ve checked in all the regular places: eBay, Pricewatch, Amazon, Froogle, craigslist, etc., and no one has a keyboard with just a trackpoint. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this simple request.

This eBay auction is the closest I could find. That keyboard is “French Canadian,” which might not matter, but it is also a “SpaceSaver” model with no numeric keypad and is generally more compressed than I need.

On a related note, it is next to impossible to find a Touchstream Keyboard anymore, another brand I was interested in.

I often run into this sort of problem. It undermines my faith in the web as approximating a perfect marketplace.

COPA Unsurprisingly Unconstitutional

The Children’s Online Protection Act, or COPA, requires website operators who provide commercial material that could be “harmful to minors” to verify their users’ age, for example, with a credit card. The statute was immediately challenged as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. A preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law was upheld by the Supreme Court, which remanded the matter for factual development as to whether filters could accomplish the same purpose while interfering less with free speech. (Ironically, the ACLU found itself in the unusual position of arguing for Internet filters in this case.)

It was just about one year ago that the Government sought to enforce a subpoena against Google for records of user queries and URLs stored in Google’s database. The court granted the motion with respect to stored URLs but not queries in Gonzales v. Google. It was never quite clear what the Government would really do with the data or why they pushed so hard to get it after receiving what they needed from other search providers. (The U.S. apparently argued Google’s search results would “add luster” to its analysis).

In any case, the statute has now finally been held unconstitutional. As Ed Felten insightfully points out, unlike in previous instances where courts have struck down Internet speech regulation, in his opinion, Judge Reed did not provide a roadmap for Congress to try yet again to enact a law that would pass First Amendmend muster. Maybe Congress will leave the issue alone for a while:

Two things make the judge’s ruling relatively roadmap-free. First, it is based heavily on factual findings that Congress cannot change — things like the relative effectiveness of filtering and the amount of HTM material that originates overseas beyond the effective reach of U.S. law. (Filtering operates on all material, while COPA’s requirements could have been ignored by many overseas sites.) Second, the alternative it offers requires only voluntary private action, not legislation.

Congress has already passed laws requiring schools and libraries to use content filters, as a condition of getting Federal funding and with certain safeguards that are supposed to protect adult access. The courts have upheld such laws. It’s not clear what more Congress can do. Judge Reed’s filtering alternative is less restrictive because it is voluntary, so that computers that aren’t used by kids, or on which parents have other ways of protecting kids against HTM material, can get unfiltered access. An adult who wants to get HTM material will be able to get it.

Doubtless Congress will make noise about this issue in the upcoming election year. Protecting kids from the nasty Internet is too attractive politically to pass up. Expect hearings to be held and bills to be introduced; but the odds that we’ll get a new law that makes much difference seem pretty low.

Ralph’s World, More Music For “Children”

For those who care about kids…

I recently blogged about TMBG’s marketing genius in releasing “kids’” albums that adults who grew up to TMBG will love and buy. Another good example of kids’ music that you, too, can enjoy is Ralph’s World. It’s not quite as ironic or odd as TMBG, but still a good listen. Check out, for example, the RealAudio clips for Clean-Up (much better than the Barney version!), Baa-Baa Black Sheep, and The Coffee Song.

Speaking of Barney, apparently his music has been used to torture Iraqi detainees.

[Tags]Children’s Music, Music[/Tags]

Chaiyya Chaiyya

A reason to love YouTube: Chaiyya Chaiyya.

[Tags]Bollywood, Youtube[/Tags]

Blizzard 2007

We’re finally having a decent snowstorm!

Blizzard of 2007


Fired for Blogging

Via Universal Hub, retail employee fired for blogging. This is not uncommon, but notable in that the blog had no work-related content nor, apparently, was it done on work time:

Drew started his own personal blog. On it he did not mention Mercenary, did not link to Mercenary, did not sell or offer any products or services that might be construed as competing with Mercenary. It just wasn’t about Mercenary. He didn’t even use his own name.

His boss learned about the blog when coworkers passed around the posting with the adorable photo of his newborn son. His boss then fired Drew by leaving him a voicemail that Drew picked up when he got home from the hospital.

Although my employment law is rusty, I doubt the employee has a colorable claim against his previous employer. (Private employment is generally not subject to any First Amendment protections.) Any change here is going to need to be more cultural than legal. Ten (maybe even five) years from now, I suspect people will wonder what all the fuss was about.

(Some have suggested that the blogger was actually fired for having a baby. If that is true, it likely would be actionable.)

[tags] Blogging, Employment, Free Speech[/tags]

Are Lawyers Important on the Web?

PCWorld provides a list of the 50 most important people on the web. Topping the list, unsurprisingly, are Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin. Other usual suspects include Steve Jobs, Bram Cohen, Jimmy Wales, Bruce Schneier, and Craig Newmark.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t a single practicing attorney on the entire list. The closest they got is Larry Lessig, who is admittedly a lawyer of sorts, but at least in my mind more of an academic. A couple of others appear to be former lawyers.

I’d like to think we lawyers can make enough of a positive difference to be “important.” The optimistic view might be that practicing attorneys need to keep a lower profile on the sorts of issues that attract PCWorld and the like and are thus unlikely to be recognized publicly. The pessimistic view is that the technologists and business people just matter a lot more.

Edit Comments On

I added the edit comments plugin to this blog. After you leave a comment, you’ll have about 12 hours to come back and make changes. Authentication is based on IP address. It’s surprising that so few blogs implement such functionality, given how common it is to leave embarrassing typos or misspelled URLs in comments.

One patch is needed for the plugin to work with the latest WordPress release. Specifically:

$location = add_query_arg('jal_edit_comments', '', $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']);

needs to be changed to:

$location = add_query_arg('jal_edit_comments', FALSE, $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']);

I’m sure this will be added to the mainline source soon. I had to fish the fix out of the 300+ comments on the page for the plugin.

In other “this blog” news, I simplified the sidebar appearance and made all the long lists collapsed by default with CSS. Hopefully it renders well on all browsers. Lately, I’ve come to doubt the utility of “lists in sidebars” at all. Perhaps a person’s latest content preferences (books, film, music) aren’t that interesting after all.

Incidentally, since I made the transition to WordPress, I’ve found it much easier to keep this blog active. Less time spent on administrative issues, and the web-based (rather than ssh–>vim) posting just makes a lot more sense these days. Comment spam is virtually nonexistent. I can get an entry up in five minutes on the train in to work without hassle. WordPress has also greatly reduced server load (perhaps because I had an inefficient blosxom setup). I recommend it.

If you are already a WordPress user, as a public service announcement I’ll repeat the announcement from about two weeks ago: WordPress 2.1.1 may be dangerous:

Long story short: If you downloaded WordPress 2.1.1 within the past 3-4 days, your files may include a security exploit that was added by a cracker, and you should upgrade all of your files to 2.1.2 immediately.

Ken Shan Has A Blog

Ken (Chung-chieh) Shan started a blog this year, apparently running on ikiwiki software.  Ken is one of those people whom you want to have a blog.

The focus seems to be linguistics (generally Ken’s academic field) and “miscellaneous.”

Welcome to the blogosphere, Ken.