Outstanding!: January 2009 Archives


January 26, 2009

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has introduced the Camera Phone Predator Act that would require camera phones to emit an audible indication whenever a picture is taken:
Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone.

(a) Requirement- Beginning 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, any mobile phone containing a digital camera that is manufactured for sale in the United States shall sound a tone or other sound audible within a reasonable radius of the phone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera in such phone. A mobile phone manufactured after such date shall not be equipped with a means of disabling or silencing such tone or sound.
(b) Enforcement by Consumer Product Safety Commission- The requirement in subsection (a) shall be treated as a consumer product safety standard promulgated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission under section 7 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2056). A violation of subsection (a) shall be enforced by the Commission under section 19 of such Act (15 U.S.C. 2068).

OK, so the value proposition for this is something like "protects children (think of the children!) from surreptitious photography". Except that it doesn't, because the bill doesn't apply to non-camera phones, which can be made just as small as camera phones, so if you're willing to plonk down $150 or so for a compact camera, you can evade this restriction and get much higher quality pictures. So, we need to sharpen the value proposition somewhat, to something like "protects children from surreptitious photography by people without digital cameras."

And of course, despite the "no disabling" provision, it's not like the tone is an essential function of the camera like the sound of a physical shutter release, it's just a speaker. So, unless you're going to totally redesign the phone, the miscreants can just open the phone, disable the speaker, and go to town. It's true this does render your phone useless as a phone, but seeing as used Motorola Razrs (remember, you don't need to connect it to the network) go for $30 or so on eBay, this isn't much of a problem. We need to revise the value proposition yet again to something like "protects children from surreptitious photography by people without digital cameras or who don't have $30 and a screwdriver."

Actually, it's even worse than that, since newer camera phones will do video recording, it's going to be pretty unacceptable to have it making an annoying noise the whole time it's being used. So, now we've got something like "protects children from surreptitious photography by people without digital cameras or who don't have $30 and a screwdriver, and whose camera phones don't take video." And let's not even talk about people who are willing to replace the software on their phones.

Other than that, this seems like a great idea.

Acknowledgement: I borrowed this argument technique from Allan Schiffman.


January 14, 2009

As I mentioned earlier, the IETF managed to pass copyright terms that more or less precluded the preparation of revisions of any existing standard. Opinions differ about whether this was understood before it was passed, (see the comments on the linked post), but it seems clear that many IETFers didn't understand the implications of the new requirements when they were published. As far as I can tell, potential submissions fall into three categories:

  • Documents which contain all new text and which can be safely submitted.
  • Documents which contain at least some old text but the new contributors aren't paying attention and submit them anyway.
  • Documents which contain at least some old text and are being held because they can't be safely submitted.

In principle, there might be a fourth category: documents which contain old text but where the contributors have obtained licenses from all the copyright holders. Unfortunately, the form that the IETF meant to provide for this purpose is, uh, broken so you're kind of on your own, unless, that is, you can convince people to sign a blank signature page. I'm not aware of any documents that fall into this category, but maybe there are some. In any case, I know a number of authors who are holding back documents because they don't believe they can obtain the necessary rights.

The current state of play is that the IETF Trustees have proposed some new boilerplate that will go onto submissions that more or less disclaims the 5378 rights grants. Unfortunately, the current text is inadequate and it's not clear when new text will be posted, let alone approved. IETF San Francisco (March) may turn out to be pretty interesting.


January 8, 2009

I recently had to send my Macbook Air in for repair and as a precaution I burned most of my data off the hard drive. Of course, when it came back I wanted to restore some but not all of my data. I have Time Machine backups, but since I actually only want some of the data and I want new versions of the software, I decided to treat this as a new machine install. Naturally, I figured I could just use iTunes to sync my data off my iPhone. In principle this should work fine. In practice, not so much.

The first problem I had when I plugged things in and pressed sync is that iTunes decided not to actually copy my calendar, contacts, etc. off. After a few minutes I remembered that you have to actually frob some button in a dialog for each of these. Once I had that figured out I tried to sync it again and after asking me if I realized that I was massively changing the data on my computer (which, remember, knows nothing at this point) it just popped up the useless progress bar and spun. And spun. For hours. I tried this a few times with the same results. At this point I figured I had been bitten by the dreaded slow iPhone sync, and was all ready to start trolling my disk for crash files to delete, slaughter a rubber chicken, etc. when somehow I noticed that hiding under all my other windows was a dialog saying "hey, you know you're replacing the contacts list on your computer with the one on your iPhone, right". Clicking that dialog made everything proceed in a few seconds. Remind me again why that dialog isn't modal? The spinning progress bar isn't exactly the UI indicator you would ordinarily use to indicate that I needed to click on some button. For that matter, why do I need to click this dialog at all? I just installed the operating system: why wouldn't I want to copy stuff off my phone onto my totally empty calendar and contact list?


January 7, 2009

Pete Lindstrom points to an article about what went wrong with Twitter. The short story: one of the admins had a weak password and Twitter has no limited try lockout on their system, so the attacker was able to mount an online dictionary attack. He wasn't even trying to crack an admin account; he just got lucky. Outstanding!

UPDATE: Fixed Pete's name. I'd thinkoed it...