March virtually in Tiananmen Square today

[For ITF readers who haven’t seen this on Wetmachine.]

In conjunction with Reporters without Borders, the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising firm is hosting a virtual demonstration Web event today to protest the imprisonment of more than 60 cyber-dissidents worldwide, and the thousands of jammed or blocked Web sites.

It’s a sort of sub-2D affair, in which you can’t communicate with other protestors or leave your permanent mark, although they do ask for your name.

Self-destruction of a monster?

My cable company seems to be self-destructing. We can only hope.

Recently I wrote about my cableco cutting off my service, and not turning it back on until I answered questions about my and my wife’s social security numbers and download habits.

Last Monday I called to complain that despite the premium I was paying for 3Mb/s service, I was getting 300 Kb/s downloads and worse. They responded by cutting me off completely. I’ll spare you the dialog, but you can just substitute any page from Franz Kafka or Lewis Carroll. A guy came on Wednesday to replace my cable modem and splitter, and it appeared in his immediate testing to yield close to the expected 3000 Kb/s.

Over the next few days I found that I only got that speed immediately after rebooting the cable-modem. After a few minutes, it would drop to 1500, 600, 300, 150, and finally 30 Kb/s. Slower than an acoustic modem from before my children were born. All through the rest of the week, I would reboot, and watch as the speed fell off.

Charter stopped taking my calls altogether. They just hung up on me over and over again.

After one of these calls we ordered DSL from our local phone company. The modem arrived Friday. I plugged it in and it worked! 3.5 to 4 Mb/s. And it has stayed that way ever since. I’ve been trying to get my mail and Webpages copied off from Charter, but they won’t let me log in.

Since then, I’ve discovered two things I didn’t know or pay any attention to when things just worked:

  • Charter Communications is run by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. What an asshole.
  • Despite increasing their revenue from saps like me by more than 10% over this quarter last year, they announced this week that they’re losing even more money than ever, and their stock lost nearly 20% of it’s value. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving group.
  • This war brought to you by the RIAA

    This morning my Internet service was out. Usually, I call and get either a recorded message saying that there’s an outage in my area and that technicians have been dispatched, or a I get a voice menu that talks me through resetting my modem. They don’t let you talk to an actual person until you do this.

    But today, I got right through to a person. He asked for my social security number, my wife’s social security number, and what I used the Internet for. I was specifically asked what I downloaded. After several more minutes of monkeying around, the putative technician (who must have recieved his degree from a Blackwater USA training camp), told me that “it was broken” and they’d send someone out next Tuesday. After several minutes of screaming at him, and then my wife screaming at him (the big guns), the service was back on.

    Could this possibly be anything other than Homeland Security outsourcing the RIAA’s bidding to the telecom operators? It sounds absurd, but the weird thing is — we already they know that this has happened. There’s no question of “can this happen”, only a question of what happened here in this case.

    Caveat Hacktor

    I just saw the delightful high-quality site on core computer algorithms Hacker’s Delight. I was startled by the following notice about the corresponding book:

    “After the first printing, an errata file was started. The publisher did not incorporate this into the second printing. For the third printing, he made all the corrections known up to that point in time. For the fourth and fifth printings, the publisher subcontracted the production work, and accidentally gave the subcontractor the files for the first printing. The sixth printing corrects all the errors known up to when it was printed (November 2006). Therefore, the best copy to obtain is the sixth printing, and the second best is the third printing.”

    Good grief. This is the kind of thing that makes airplanes fall out of the sky — or my bank say “oops.” As an engineer, I have long been aware of how much stuff out there is truly not designed, transcribed, or built correctly, but this little example gives a nice compact summary to my unvoiced horrified sputtering. I wonder if more direct and immediate Internet technology (like Wikipedia and maybe Sophie) will help.


    I’ve admitted that I didn’t immediately get the point of the One Laptop Per Child project, but now I’m now very excited about the ideas behind this non-profit effort to build a $100 mesh-network computer to be owned by children in the developing world. This essay captures a lot of what I feel and wonder about it, including some fears of dystopian unexpected consequences.

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    To the Thief Who Has Stolen My Sign

    [Next week’s election includes an amendment to the Wisconsin state consitiution. The amendment excludes homosexuals from whatever protection they might otherwise have, in that it prohibits the legislature from granting any civil union or other benefits except for couples defined on the basis of gender. Specifically, each couple is prescribed to be one man and one woman.

    A friend asked me to put up a small sign that reads “A fair Wisconsin votes No …on the civil union ban.” Two days later, the sign had been stolen from my lawn on a non-through street.

    I’ve replaced the sign, and attached the following letter.

    I welcome comments and improvements, as I think I might share this letter with others, the local papers, etc.]

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    You've Got Mail!

    I’m sure getting a lot of junk mail lately. In the war between spammers and spam filters, the spammers are winning. I remember Paul Graham speaking five or six years ago at the AI lab about his ideas for Bayesian spam filters. I don’t think there was a single person in the room who didn’t think, “But why don’t the spammers just send their message in an image?” Well, pretty much all mail clients and many institutional filter’s have implemented Paul’s ideas anyway. It worked for a good while, but now of course the bad guys are sending pictures. I feel that I’m missing something important in not understanding why it has taken them so long.

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    Hat's-off to Ken (and treats on the tube)

    I’ve written before about my belief that we’re inexorably entering — and some of us resisting — a paradigm shift in how humans think of information, imagination, creativity, freedom, and non-real property. So I was unexpectedly delighted to receive this letter to all of the university’s Division of Information Technology staff, from our new (heh heh) interim CIO, Ken Frazier. (Below the fold.)

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