New Terror Laws are used against Common Criminals

Nobody says that criminals shouldn’t be prosecuted. But things should be kept in perspective. Here’s one example from the article, and there are more:

A North Carolina county prosecutor charged a man accused of running a methamphetamine lab with breaking a new state law barring the manufacture of chemical weapons. If convicted, Martin Dwayne Miller could get 12 years to life in prison for a crime that usually brings about six months.

“Officials say…” – new title for the New York Times

The New York Times has been critizised many times before for not providing objective reporting, and for being a tool for various interest groups, especially official ones. That has little to do with conspiracy – after all, somebody has to pay the bill, and the bill payers (advertisers) are getting bigger and more intertwined with politics, and they all have their own agendas. But here we’re talking about government influence, at that should raise a red flag much more than corporate influence. Sadly enough, the press is going along with it – so much about the freedom of the press.

Copyright revisited

The initial idea behind copyright was to accept concessions from all parties involved – authors, publishers, the public – so that everybody would be better off in the end. From the Economist editorial:

The alternative is to return to the original purpose of copyright, something no national legislature has yet been willing to do. Copyright was originally the grant of a temporary government-supported monopoly on copying a work, not a property right. Its sole purpose was to encourage the circulation of ideas by giving creators and publishers a short-term incentive to disseminate their work. Over the past 50 years, as a result of heavy lobbying by content industries, copyright has grown to such ludicrous proportions that it now often inhibits rather than promotes the circulation of ideas, leaving thousands of old movies, records and books languishing behind a legal barrier. Starting from scratch today, no rational, disinterested lawmaker would agree to copyrights that extend to 70 years after an author’s death, now the norm in the developed world.

Bought CD? Get money back!

The settlement pays up to $20, depending on how many sign up, and you don’t even need a receipt. There is a good FAQ about the lawsuit. A few tidbits: The defendants have to pay roughly $70 million in cash, and $67 million in products. Of course, they have denied all allegations of wrongdoing. Defendants include Virgin, Time Warner, Tower Records, Bertelsmann, Sony and many others – pretty much every label.

Thanks to David Claiborne for this information!

Philip S. Khoury on the Middle East

Khourny started off putting the Middle East in numbers. Thereby, he cited a UN Arab Human Development report (2002) that pointed out the major deficiencies in the region. That sounded familiar to me, and I recall that the Economist had some good coverage of this report as well. However, when he started to provide some of the background of the region, I certainly learned a lot of new stuff. After world war I, the Ottoman Empire broke apart, and colonial powers – France, England – moved in. So far, so good. What I didn’t know is what these colonial powers left behind: They spent the time during their rule training police, military and secret service, and left behind an intelligence system that is holding up to this day, and which made it easy for ruthless dictators to stay in power. While focussing on police, the colonial powers neglected especially the educational sector, and illiterary rates are still worryingly high.

Another highly interesting tidbit is the behavior of the west after Middle Eastern Countries gained independence, especially the behavior of the USA. “The Arabs never quite understood the USA’s obsession with the USSR and communism, while the USA never understood the Arab’s obsession with Israel.” These misunderstandings had fatal consequences, as they helped create people like Osama bin Laden, as well as the Palestinian Infitada. Of course there are many more influences, but these misunderstandings certainly helped shape the region.

Getting back to the present situation, Professor Khoury suggested two actions:

(1) Let’s not go to war with Iraq, at least not for now. Khoury certainly acknowledged Saddam Hussein to be a ruthless leader, but one with a clear objective: Political survival. As we see right now, he is doing everything to avoid a war. Describing the instabilities that resulted from other wars (e.g. Dessert Storm in 1991), Khoury indicated that this is the last thing we need right now. Hussein is predictable enough to deal with him later.

(2) Stabilize the Israel-Palestinian situation – as one source of resentment in the region he cited the USA’s unwillingness to get involved in this conflict – and who can blame the administration, after Clinton’s failed efforts? But this is a conflict which has an impact on the whole region, and we already feel the implications. How to get involved? He supported a Palestinian state, and acknowledged that the size of the problem is already beyond what the US can do. So he suggested a UN peacekeeping effort, essentially “placing UN peacekeepers along the Israel – Palestinian border, as a buffer between Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli military.” Yes, it’s dangerous and risky, but so is the world we’re living in right now.

Impressions from SD East

Exhibition Floor
Noteworthy participants were Perforce (which I use at work for configuration management), Cutter (I once purchased their J2EE application server report), Parasoft (they make software test tools, the best known one being JTest), Quantum Books (an excellent tech book store 100 yards from where I work – I am their best customer), and mySql (that’s the database driving this site).

Project Jxta: The Next Generation of Networking – Garry Seidman
I was lucky enough to run into Garry Seidman, who would speak about Jxta Wednesday morning. But this way I got a personalized presentation. Despite the name, Jxta has nothing to do with Java. Jxta is a new network protocol that can run on top of everything from TCP/IP to Bluetooth to 802.11b (WiFi). There were great promises about it in the context of self-organizing hardware clusters, but this is still many years away.

Mapping Objects to Relational Databases – Scott Ambler
At almost all places I worked throughout my career, I used object oriented programming languages (mostly Java) to talk to relational databases. Scott discussed possible object – table mappings, and their individual trade-offs. His strongly supported tools that do the dirty work: persistent layer tools, caches, etc. Technologies out there are EJB (he seemed fond of CMP 2), Data Objects, and some others – I have to do some research. His biggest pet peeve was that the data people (DB Admins) and developers don’t understand each other, and don’t communicate well. Another pet peeve was coupling, and that we have far too much coupling in most enterprise systems (in the form of hand-knitted SQL). Using mapping tools can do a lot good here. Another interesting topic was “data refactoring”. He urged people to consider changing legacy schemas if possible, rather than to try to work around them. Reasoning: A bad schema will never go away – it will only get worse. Along the same lines, he encouraged people not to spent too much time initially on the data model, and then to stick to it. This is essentially working with a legacy schema, where there is really no need to do so. Be flexible and consider changing the data model. However, he also stressed the importance of Unit tests in this context. Without unit tests, this kind of “data refactoring” is next to impossible.

The Future of Open End-to-End Software Systems – James Gosling
This was mainly a fun event. James Gosling is one of the original Java architects, and he’s also the original author of Emacs. It was more of a visionary talk, and he was a lot of fun to listen to.

The Pragmatic Project Manager – Johanna Rothman
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this session, but it was terrific. It was a birds-of-a-feather session – which means that is was a moderated open discussion. Topics ranged from requirements gathering (“lock marketing people and project managers and engineers in a room, until they have requirements acceptable to everyone! This can take days, and requires senior management buy-in”) and time estimation (“we calculate with a 4-day week”), to the nitty-gritty, like discussing actual methodologies (“critical path” approach, where all the buffer time is put at the end of the project, worked very well for a number of people). I was impressed by an example Johanna brought up from 1990. The architect enforced the “Test-First” design, where first the unit tests were written against a “sceleton” architecture, before any code was produced. This was a 100,000 line C project. They delivered on time, and the customer didn’t find any bugs for the first five years! (after that Johanna lost track of that project.) Johanna also stressed the importance of conciously picking a lifecycle model for the project (waterfall, spiral, incremental, agil, rup, code+fix). Her point was that except code+fix, there is no “right” or “wrong” approach, only better and worse. But without conciously picking, things are more likely to go wrong. Another point she stressed was the value of refactoring. She successfully performed the following with five different teams (at different companies): Towards the last third of the project, she forced the teams for a whole week to stop implementing new features. Instead, they were supposed to refactor the code in teams. Monday they were sceptical, Wednesday they were restless, Thursday they hated her for not letting them work on new stuff. However, by Friday they loved her. In all cases, the architecture got significantly simplified, the code base shrank by 10% or more, because finally the engineers understood the problem completely – at the time they started coding, the didn’t. For somebody who has never done this, this may sound like a waste of time. But at the end of the week, none of the engineers thought that, because with the improved architecture, new features were easier to implement than before. In addition, refactoring cut down testing time significantly – cleaner architecture means less exceptional cases, which means significantly less bugs.

First woldwide press freedom index published

Germany landed on place 7, which is not too surprising. Italy (40th) is the embaressment of Europe, and it’s no wonder that Turkey has a hard time joining the EU, considering that it landed on place 99.

The Oslo Accords

The violence between Israel and Palestine is disturbing. If you are interested in history and you have some time, check out the Oslo accords from 1994. It’s actually not that long, and very insightful reading.

Yahoo == SPAM

I used to like Yahoo a lot – many good services conveniently bundled together. But ever since the dot-com bubble burst, they are getting worse and worse, trying to shove advertisement and marketing down your throat in a more and more obnoxious manner.

Their latest thing: Without telling you, they sign users up for all kind of marketing messages including postal mail and telemarketing!!! Sure, you can disable the preferences, but what is this good if you don’t know it’s there?