Ontological conundrums: When is a thing a thing, and when is it something else?

A little while ago I posted a meditative review of Christopher Kelty’s book Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software.

Some amusing issues have arisen over who holds copyright to the review; issues that are especially amusing, nay, borderline ironic, since they reflect the very subject matter of Kelty’s book in a kind of recursive way, and recursion itself is a theme of the book too-also.

Which copyright ambiguity reminds me of something similar that happened when I put my latest novella The Pains up on the web under a Creative Commons license and came face to face with the ontological uncertainty about just what constitutes a “book” in the digital age.

Which further reminded me of my fascination with ontological uncertainty about what constitutes a self in general. This “what is a self” topic is a central theme of each of my three books; furthermore, if you consider the three books together as one work (as I do ), with three constituent parts each of which is written by a different “John Sundman” who implicitly or explicitly refutes the authenticity of other two John Sundmans, then the subject of the work as a whole (which I call “Mind over Matter”) is “What constitutes a thing-in-itself in an impermanent universe?”.

So you see? Isn’t it profound? Or as my Irish grandmother Nana would have said, “there now”.

Below the fold: observations on an unwritten book review with future-retroactive copyright power, the “is-ness” of The Pains, and the mutual plausible deniability of John F.X Sundman, John Compton Sundman, John Damien Sundman, with wry commentary on their internecine squabbling by me, one jrs.

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What's New?

People are often pretty good at walking into a room they are familiar with, and instantly knowing what has changed. That’s pretty useful for 3D operations team rooms. But what if things have been “redecorated” — moved around for better functionality without changes to the important content? What if the user has been away for a long time? If the user isn’t visually oriented? What if the “user” is an external computer system? <%image(20090629-rss-forums.jpg|363|472|Firefox RSS feed of some of my forums.)%>

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Fairpoint Flare Up, Next Net Neutrality Flare Up Or Another Misunderstanding?

I am seeing in a few places such as App Rising and Slashdot that Fairpoint is planing to force subscribers to use its webmail portal even if they get Yahoo, MSN, or AOL email. This would, of course, be a major violation of the FCC’s “Four Freedoms” by preventing users from accessing the legal content or services they want to access. Which makes me somewhat skeptical that this is actually what Fairpoint intends.

For those just tuning in, Fairpoint acquired most of Verizon’s high-cost rural systems in Maine, NH and VT. Leaving aside the underlying logic and value of the deal to the various parties and local subscribers, the critical point is that Fairpoint will complete its take over of these systems and cease operating them as part of the VZ network on January 31, 2009.

What started the current rumor about Fairpoint’s plans is this article in the Rutlan, VT Herald detailing changes for local subscribers. In particular, the article notes that as a result of the change, users will get Fairpoint.net addresses rather than Verizon.net addresses, and will need to reconfigure their mail clients to pull mail from Fairpoint rather than VZ. Then comes this quote:

Web-based e-mail users can continue to access their e-mail at the Verizon Web site until Feb. 6. After that date, Fastiggi said users will need to log on to www.MyFairPoint.net. Customers then click on Web mail and type in their existing user name@myfairpoint.net and existing password.

AOL, Yahoo! and MSN subscribers will continue to have access to content but will no longer be able to access their e-mail through the third party Web site. Instead, Yahoo! and other third party e-mail will be accessed directly at the MyFairPoint.net portal.

Most folks are reading this as saying that Fairpoint plans to require all users of these services to use the Fairpoint mail portal. But I notice that these are all companies that have various sorts of co-branding agreements with Verizon. This suggests a different interpretation.

Right now, as I understand it, if you are a Verizon-Yahoo customer (or other third party customer) than you have certain access privileges that integrate email to either Verizon or the third-party email service seemlessly. Our VZ-Yahoo customer logs into mail at either VZ or Yahoo’s portal and sees all mail addressed either to xxxx@verizon.net or xxxx@yahoo.com. I should stress that as I am not a VZ subscriber, I am not entirely clear on the details. But it boils down to the fact that VZ has negotiated certain application deals to make itself more attractive and that these deals are seemless to the subscriber. Fairpoint, obviously, does not have these thrid party deals.

What I think the article is trying to say is that whetver special value-add services you got from being a VZ-AOL or VZ-MSN or VZ-Yahoo subscriber, these disappear when Fairpoint takes over on January 31. Rather than have an integrated mail platform for both email addresses, you will need to go to AOL.com and go to their mail portal, which will provide only the mail addressed to xxx@aol.com, and go to the Fairpoint web portal separately to get your email addressed to xxxx@fairpoint.net. But Fairpoint is not planing on interfering with you going to AOL.com and using their website to read your email.

This explanation would make much more sense than the idea that Fairpoint will force you to read any third party email through the Fairpoint web portal. For one thing, it really doesn’t make sense to force all email users to give up their web-based third party emails to use Fairpoint. Nor does it make sense that they would give you access to the entire third party website except their email portal. They could, but why do it? Finally, given what happened to Comcast when they interfered with applications in a much more subtle way that was arguably linked to network management, I can’t imagine what would prompt Fairpoint to court an FCC complaint — especially when state regulators had previously voiced concern about Fairpoint’s ability to provide broadband service for local subcribers.

In any event, I await clarification before going ballistic or engaging in another round of breathless “network neutrality violation” stories. If I’m right and this is just a notice that Fairpoint cannot honor deals made between Verizon and third-party service providers, all well and good. If it is Fairpoint for some reason trying to force customers to abandon third-party email providers and use only Fairpoint, then we have another NN complaint and, most likely, a user revolt and angry letters from various members of Congress and state officials.

Stay tuned . . . .

Infected major Websites spreading malware via Internet Explorer security holes

Normally, I figure that people will hear about these sorts of things on other sites, but I figured that this was important enough to post it up here. According to ZDNet, malicious hackers have compromised several “major websites.” They didn’t deface these sites with the usual “1 0wNez joo, biatch!” (forgive my poor leet speak). Rather, they installed their own software to take advantage of Internet Explorer’s unpatched security holes to install software on visitor’s PCs. The owners of the sites are apparently unaware of the fact that they are infecting their visitors, and visitors are probably complacent that they only visit “reputable” sites and have nothing to fear from spyware.

If you’re reading this using Internet Explorer (on Windows, at least), please, go download the latest version of Mozilla (or their up-and-coming new browser, Firefox). It’s free, and it’s a much more useful browser than IE, nevermind the fact that it doesn’t have the known gaping security holes that IE does. It’s also a supported application under constant development, unlike Internet Explorer.

(Updated: It appears that the problem will only affect users of Internet Explorer 6, not earlier versions. According to Microsoft, if you have installed WIndows XP service Pack 2 Beta (which 99% of you haven’t, I’d guess) then you’re safe as well.)

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