Media consumption

Family vacations are a perfect time for media consumption. Here’s what I was into:

Complete Digital Photography, by Ben Long. Borrowed and skimmed a copy, planning to buy. It’s fabulous. Lots of detailed explanation of how digital cameras and photo editing software works. If you’re baffled by terms like “color management” and “alpha channels”, this book will make you happy.

Strip Tease, by Carl Hiaasen. Fun, light vacation reading. Hiaasen is my default vacation author. They made the book into a movie a few years ago.

A1A, by Jimmy Buffett. Bob and Mike and I had this playing in the car on the drive up to Mineral King. Been a long time since I listened to Buffett. It was like coming home. “Life is just a tire swing…” is still twanging in my head.

No, really, I do have a life outside the confines of my computer screen. Case in point. Yesterday we spent the better part of the day looking for whales out in the seas beyond Boston harbor. We saw two humpbacks! Our guide was pretty floored. Apparently this is a rare occurrence in recent years.

After the whale watch we took the kids—several families were involved here—for ice cream at Quincy Market. Sun shining, musicians playing…it was a beautiful day.

Shifting ownerships

Two posts today about property:

Philip Greenspun: “Look around you at stuff that you believe to be public property. Very likely it will soon be given away to America’s largest corporations and consequently their stock will go up even if they don’t innovate.”

Brad Choate: “So long…and good riddance. United States Patent No. 4,558,302 expires today. Better known as the LZW patent. This is the technology behind the common GIF file.”

If this kind of stuff gets your goat up, take a look at the Reclaim the Public Domain petition.

The wrong target

Our congressfolk are talking again about targetting PCs that are used for illegally trading in copyrighted material.

Dave’s take: “…if I have an MP3 audio recording of a speech I made and recorded with my own equipment, and publish it on my own server, Mr Hatch’s robot might conclude I was a pirate and destroy my recording and possibly my computer.”

What Dave and the congressfolk overlook is that the lion’s share of illegal file swapping takes place on compromised machines. The serious file swappers realize that it is not in their interest to share files on machines that can easily be traced back to them. So they troll the net looking for insecure machines, particularly insecure machines with big hard drives and fast outbound bandwidth. When they find such a machine, they break in on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, when the machine’s owner is likely to be out of the office. Then they set up an FTP server and tell their friends about it in an impromptu IRC chat room. Everyone goes happily about their swapping and clears out by 8am Monday morning.

How do I know this? My Windows development machine at MIT was compromised twice in the space of two months. Both times a copy of Serv-U had been set up and loaded with gigabytes of movie files. MIT’s network security team was gracious enough to alert me to the problem so that I could back up my data before wiping and re-installing.

Now consider who the search and destroy tactics would hurt. It wouldn’t be guys like Dave with only a handful of files on their server. Nor would it would be the serious file swappers who know better than to proffer their wares through their cable modem connection. The computers getting clobbered would be those of unsuspecting university employees and office workers.

ebaY continued

My first ebaY auction closed on Sunday. The “winner” sent a polite email with his ship-to address and a request to specify the shipping cost, for which he was responsible under the terms of the sale. I knew that the item weighed about ten pounds, which was enough to get a reasonable estimate from the U.S. Postal Service and United Parcel Service sites. I had no idea how much it would cost to stuff the item in a box with packing peanuts. I estimated five dollars.

On Wednesday I received a cashier’s check in the mail from the buyer.

Today I shipped the package from a “UPS Store” that until very recently was a Mailboxes ETC. The boxing cost turned out to be ten dollars instead of five. Not a huge deal. The guy at the desk said that, had I called, he would have told me the cost over the phone. This was the only way to get the boxing cost, it didn’t appear anywhere on the UPS web site. Ah, yes. The phone, how quaint.

So…so far, so good with selling on ebaY. I emailed the buyer the UPS tracking number this afternoon. Hopefully he will enjoy his purchase. I guess I’ll move on to the collection of DSL and cable modems that is now collecting dust in my garage as a result of switching Internet providers several times over the last few years.