Mediapost Cyberbullying 101 – “Everyone’s Doing It”

Mediapost published an essay on cyberbullying – “Cyberbullying has suddenly entered into popular consciousness.” So it’s a new phenomenon, right? Nope, it’s been around as long as electronic communications made it possible. It just wasn’t as visible since there were fewer channels of communications, plus if someone acted up you could get them thrown off. Now, in a global Internet, there is plenty of places to hide and plenty of eyeballs for venom – you just gotta know where to look.

Fun Friday – Homer’s Illiad to be “Improved” for Silicon Valley

Well, given the egos in Silicon Valley, it comes as no surprise that a press release like this would appear. It was so inaccurate that the Wall Street Journal got fooled and then had to reverse themselves and say Bill Joy is not a “venture partner” after all. Steve Lohr of the NY Times commented “yes, I was amused by the selective and heroic description of Bill and open source.” Of course, the NY Times wasn’t taken in like the WSJ, were they (press gloating allowed).

What next? Perhaps a new version of Homer’s Illiad, but with Bill Joy as “Achilles” (now why is he sulking in his tent this time? did he finish that book yet?), Michael Moritz as “Zeus” of course (since he makes even Steve Jobs tremble, and that isn’t easy), and of course the beauteous and coveted “Helen” played by Bill Gates, with Larry Ellison as his ambitious and calculating understudy “Eve” (oh, how did “All About Larry” get into the script?). Umm, maybe I’ll skip the premiere.

My personal favorite is how Bill Joy invented the open source OS way back in 1982. Now, I may be a bit hazy about this – I was at Berkeley then after all – but I’m pretty sure I’m married to the Bill who invented the BSD open source OS and my Bill isn’t the Bill who also worked on BSD sockets at Berkeley (and that Bill isn’t nearly as sexy as my Bill).

I’m also pretty sure everyone had to sign source license agreements and follow all that other nasty compliance rigamorole, plus pay a lot to AT&T / Bell Labs (prior – Western Electric) for the privilege of working on a commercial BSD Unix like we had to pay at Symmetric Computer Systems in the 1980’s. In fact, didn’t Sun only get out from under those nasty AT&T / USL royalties in the mid-90’s (with a buyout)? Gee, I don’t know why anybody cared about Linux or 386BSD in the 1990’s if BSD was already open, and why Sun and everybody else signed those nasty license agreements with AT&T in the 1980’s, or why AT&T / USL sued Berkeley in 1992. Do you?

But it got me to thinking – who did really invent the open source OS? We’ve got a lot of choices, ranging from Andy Tanenbaum to Dennis Ritchie, so go ahead and choose right now Who is the Father of the Open Source OS?

Uh, Do You Think They’ll Suspect Something If We Call It “Big Brother”?

The Pentagon’s TIA (Total Information Awareness) super-secret spy-on-Americans program headed by John Poindexter of Iran-Contra infamy was a big deal a few years ago – until Congress killed it. Turned out Americans didn’t like the idea of their own government spying on them without cause, and even 9/11 didn’t change their minds.

Robert O’Harrow Jr of the Washington Post has written an interesting book postulating that TIA would have probably succeeded if they hadn’t chosen such lousy names like “Total Information Awareness” and a “creepy all-seeing eye for a logo”.

One of the things O’Harrow illustrates is the set of shadowy business alliances TIA formed with personal data reporting companies such as Acxiom, ChoicePoint and Seisint. While O’Harrow focusses on how this information could be misused, his implicit assumption is that this information is correct but private.

But the likelihood of the information being accurate and hence actionable is not very high – certainly not high enough to deny someone a home or a job without the right of appeal and seeing the evidence. These reporting agencies do not verify information submitted, as anyone who has had bad data on their credit report can attest. However, there is no penalty for these companies supplying inaccurate information, even if such false information results in a loss of a job, rejection for credit, or even false arrest!

Americans are extremely ignorant of how the nexus of information is woven throughout their lives and caps how far they can go (where you can live, where you can work, what school your kids can atttend, …), but one thing I hear consistently from people is how astonished they are when they discover they are a victim of false information supplied by a company that “appears” of veracity. Even correcting an error on a simple credit report is the responsibility of the consumer – even if they have had no notice that such information exists, because these companies are under no obligation to provide it (except in certain states where yearly “free credit reports” are mandatory, and even then the consumer must request one). Also, credit reports are only one piece of the puzzle – employers, colleges and universities, government agencies, and financial agencies increasingly rely on these companies to make / break decisions.

I hope more people will start to educate themselves on this subject. It’s a lot harder to do so after you are blackballed.

Fun Friday – Huygens Probe Has Landed Successfully!

The Huygens probe has landed successfully on Saturn’s moon Titan. Congratulations are in order to the European Space Agency (ESA) who built Huygens and to NASA who launched, and delivered Huygens via the Cassini orbiter. Huygens is now in communication with Cassini orbiter for later transmission to Earth.

Huygens landed and is transmitting telemetry! So it didn’t land hard, fortunately. But what do you think it landed on? Mud? Liquid? Rock? Or an unfortunate Titanian?

TCO, Firefox, Open Source, and the Release Engineering Blues

Getting Dan Kusnetzky, Program Vice President, System Software, Enterprise Computing Group, at IDC to sit a minute and talk isn’t easy. He’s usually putting on the frequent flyer miles for corporate executives all over the country. But sometimes you just need to grab a cup of coffee between the Apple confab and exec fests (I keep thinking Mini Mac like MiniMe in Austin Powers, or like a small Big Mac- not Mac Mini like the marketing folk want. Do you think anyone noticed how easy it was to swap the name before they decided on it?)

We continued a discussion begun with a Boston Globe quote of Dan’s on firefox and open source software – “‘A number of things are causing people to give open source a look. One is the security problems that are almost a daily concern in Windows. . . . There’s also the cachet. Some people think it’s cool to tell their friends, ‘I’m using Linux.” On this both Dan and I agree. He’s right homing in on security as an issue (I’m using firefox myself), and I guess it’s cool, even though we first launched an open source BSD OS years ago (remember – was the first), so firefox is just a good tool to me – not a religion.

Spotlight on Hidden Physicists

One of the pleasures of keeping up with your alumni obligations is that you can find out what other people are doing. Sigma Pi Sigma, the National Physics Honor Society, publishes Radiations Magazine, a bi-yearly discussion of issue relevent to the physics community. And one of their nicest features is their Spotlight on “Hidden Physicsts”. You see, not everyone who has a physics degree goes into research, so it’s nice to make a connection. For example, I didn’t know that Sun’s Assistant General Council Marilyn Glaubensklee had a physics degree, but there she is right next to a writeup on me. Small world, isn’t it.