Et tu, Google?

And Google joins the “you carry our phone in your pocket, but we still own it” club:

CNet reports on Google’s decision to nix a tethering application for its G1 phone from the Android Market. I can only wonder if this is the first in a series of arbitrary moves similar to those Apple has made.

I am almost as suspicious of Google with regard to Android as I am of Apple and its iPhone. Whether intentionally or not, Google is misleading people by advertising its use of Linux, the kernel, in Android. However, from what I have read, Android is not a GNU variant. The SDK also contains non-free software; Google also makes heavy use of the term “open source” and I believe this is an attempt to deceive in light of the presence of non-free software in the SDK.

Note these section of the EULA for the Android SDK:

3.2 You agree that Google or third parties own all legal right, title and interest in and to the SDK, including any Intellectual Property Rights that subsist in the SDK. “Intellectual Property Rights” means any and all rights under patent law, copyright law, trade secret law, trademark law, and any and all other proprietary rights. Google reserves all rights not expressly granted to you.

3.3 Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not copy (except for backup purposes), modify, adapt, redistribute, decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, or create derivative works of the SDK or any part of the SDK. Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not load any part of the SDK onto a mobile handset or any other hardware device except a personal computer, combine any part of the SDK with other software, or distribute any software or device incorporating a part of the SDK.

This looks an awful lot like it came straight out of a Microsoft or Apple EULA to me with merely a search-and-replace in the first line.

The potential for confusion surrounding Google’s use of the term “Linux” here is is a great example of the dangers of incorrectly using “Linux” to refer to the entire operating system instead of just the kernel. It is also a great example of why one must read carefully to ensure that a given software release is in fact free software lock, stock, and barrel and not to just treat “open source” as magic words. Given that Google packages non-free software with the SDK, I believe it best to treat the entire Android operating system as non-free.

The moral of the story? Don’t be fooled: on a broader scale, Android is just like the iPhone OS. If one uses an Android phone, one is trusting Google, a company that has had its share of criticism on more than one occasion.

“Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.” –The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

An absolutely, positively, idiotic abuse of copyright

Just when you think you’ve seen every copyright-related stupidity in the book, here comes another. A Real Doozie, if I’ve ever seen one.

Judge Richard Posner has proposed a radical idea to expand copyright law yet again, to bar linking to copyrighted newspaper stories. The idea is to keep the cash cows mooing for large, commercial news-gathering operations like Reuters, AP, UPI, etc.

Dan Kennedy of the Guardian also wrote an excellent piece about this proposal, and I share Dan’s gratitude that the judge expressed his opinion on copyright from somewhere besides the bench.

Yeah, this idea of Posner’s is one triply radical idea–radically dubious, radically short-sighted, and radically heavy-handed. If something must be done to prop up the declining “old school” news agencies, expanding copyright in such an arbitrary fashion is definitely not the way to do it.

Without linking, the World Wide Web isn’t much of a web anymore. If there was a time to say linking should fall under copyright restrictions–and that’s a mighty big if–that time was somewhere from 1987 up to about 1992, when hypertext either had yet to find its way on the Internet or had been there maybe a year or two.

To make such a huge change now is a mistake. Restricting linking under the guise of copyright makes as much sense as short-sighted as the DAT and audio CD-R taxes the RIAA fought for and got. Which is to say, none at all.

Judge Posner suggests economics are the driving force behind the falling readership of newspapers in print:

News, as well the other information found in newspapers, is available online for nothing, including at the websites of the newspapers themselves, who thus are giving away content. The fact that online viewing is rising as print circulation is falling indicates a shift of consumers from the paid to the free medium. The economic downturn has doubtless accelerated the trend, but economic recovery is unlikely to reverse it. To repeat my earlier point, many of the people who have switched under economic pressure to the free medium may find themselves as happy or happier and hence will not switch back when their financial condition improves.

Not surprisingly, I vehemently disagree. Economics aside, three things are notable about printed newspapers:

  • Newspaper can be clumsy and messy in certain situations;
  • Newspaper and ink have gotten much more expensive over the last two decades;
  • Guessing demand is a huge problem; a waste problem if too many copies are printed on a given day, a disgruntled reader problem if too few are printed.

The rising costs of both killed the Houston Post in the pre-Internet era (the remaining Houston newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, bought the Post’s assets including the archives).

In 1995 when the Post failed, both Houston papers and USA Today were selling for US$0.50 per copy during the week. Today, both the Chronicle and USA Today in paper form sell for twice that (US$1.00). The Chronicle has almost doubled its Sunday paper price from US$1.00 to US$1.75 over about the same time frame.

I believe the days of news stories being printed on paper to be numbered and quickly drawing to an end. Ten years from now, I doubt even alternative weekly newspapers like the Houston Press will be distributed in print.

A.J. Liebling’s famous quote “Freedom of the press is limited to those that own one” has taken on a whole new meaning in the nearly half a century after his death in 1963. Today, anyone can get started with a Web site for a very small amount of money, sometimes as little as US$0.25 (on, where incidentally this blog is currently hosted). If one finds themselves without two quarters to rub together after smashing the piggybank, one can even set up a blog on sites like for free and move it to a Web host of one’s choosing later.

I envision the future “newspaper” being available either exclusively on the Web, perhaps being funded on a sliding-scale subscription basis or even the honor system. The reporters of the future? They may be paid by the story out of subscription funds. Or, for smaller sites, they may be amateurs who maintain or contribute to a news site primarily as a hobby.

This could well be anathema to Posner, who observes earlier in his post:

Moreover, while in many industries a reduction in output need not entail any reduction in the quality of the product, in newspaper it does entail a reduction in quality. Most of the costs of a newspaper are fixed costs, that is, costs invariant to output–for they are journalists’ salaries.

I believe salaried journalists will likely be a distant memory in about a decade as well. Most copywriters are paid by the story, sometimes based on length.

Now, the actual word “newspaper”? I’m pretty sure in some form, it will stick around. People refer to “taping” or “filming” something, in the era where it’s more likely a digital video camera is recording onto DVD, hard disk, or flash-memory-based media (e.g. SD or CompactFlash). Even today, WordPress or Drupal themes often make reference to a “newspaper” layout. It’ll be a couple of decades before we have to tell the kids what newspapers were and how they got their name.

We no longer live in an era where one must buy a printing press to get one’s word out. This is the digital age, and the Web server now sits in the same throne that printing press once occupied as king.

Sexism, alive and well in 2009

This is probably the one topic I have needed to write about ever since starting this blog, but for some reason have been too caught up in other current events to do justice to. The topic is sexism. Particularly, sexism against men, and the double standard by which sexism is measured depending on which gender it is against.

What brought on the urge to write this? This tweet on Twitter by one of my friends on Twitter, Jason Armstrong: “so I like feminine drinks. Whatev.” My response, I dare say, was me at my best: “hey, alcohol is alcohol.” That response provides one small glimpse–okay, maybe more than just a glimpse–into my viewpoint, but it runs deeper than that.

This would be just another ephemeral exchange on Twitter were it not for Jason’s prior blog post, where he is writing about which I will quote in part:

I’m just not a “macho” kind of guy and in fact I have a strong dislike for machismo. Although I’ve been in the Army and a police officer, I am an emotional person. I’m a sensitive person. I’ll cry at a movie.

I remember the first time I read this post, particularly this part which I identified quite a bit with. It is quite frustrating that men are expected not to show emotion, and I see this as just the tip of a sexist iceberg.

I originally planned for the “feminine drink” reference to just be the introduction, but I will say here in as many words: the entire concept of “feminine drinks” or “women’s cocktails” is something I find rather silly. For the record, I defy any self-described “macho man” to down five pink ladies within an hour (or any so-called “feminine” drink of his choice) and pass a field sobriety test.

Some years ago when watching Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (back when we had HBO as part of our satellite TV package) I once ran across a story similar to this one detailed in a New York Times article about a case where Title IX was used to get a boy on a girl’s field hockey team. (Title IX refers to one of the Education Amendments of 1972, guaranteeing equal participation in Federally funded education programs regardless of gender, and is the legislation which is essentially responsible for organized scholastic female athletics as we know them today.) Now, I agree in principle with what happened here; Title IX should work both ways. The tone of one comment in the article, “He’ll be playing varsity soon… That means a girl will have to sit down,” is something I take just a bit of exception to.

With those kind of comments, how far have we really come as a society? What would happen to the parent of a boy on the boy’s football team with a girl who made the team thanks to Title IX were that parent to say “She’ll be playing varsity soon, that means my son might be sitting down?” That parent would probably face some rather sharp criticism, Especially if it were a father in question; he’d be the target of so many “male chauvinist pig” comments he may as well go buy a pig costume and get used to saying “oink oink” at the next football game. Yet it’s completely acceptable for the parent of a female athlete to make the same types of comments against a boy. Why? It sure as hell shouldn’t be. It makes no sense at all.

We, as a society, have mostly ignored even the possibility of anti-male sexism. In fact, I believe most people reading this would not know that such a thing could exist, and that sexism by default refers to anti-female comments. Such an assumption cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged. Sexism goes both ways.

I’ll cite a particularly insidious example that I have some experience with: the repackaging of personal care products with a “for men” label. I have no real issue with this, but often it’s the same product, just sold at a higher price. Most notably, this is true of skin care products and hair color. I have no idea where I originally came across this, but I do remember it being noted once men’s hair color and women’s hair color are the same product, sold at the same price, except the product for men contains a much smaller amount of actual hair color. The skin care products are the same way: similar products tended to be priced higher when packaged “for men” during my last observation. Sometimes the product made “for men” is in fact a different product, but in general I feel the difference in price is disproportionate.

One of the stronger manifestations of anti-male sexism was the ridicule that the late Michael Jackson endured due to his vitiligo and the makeup used and plastic surgery he underwent, in an attempt to attempt to look somewhat normal. Women take advantage of both makeup and plastic surgery and it’s not the least bit unusual. Why would it be such a big deal that someone, particularly someone with the high profile that Michael Jackson had, to just want to look somewhat normal?

To be fair about it, during the peak of Jackson’s fame, there were little to no “street-grade” color cosmetics aimed either at a unisex or male demographic. (By “street-grade” I mean products intended for daily wear, as opposed to performance makeup used for stage, TV, or film, which is emphatically not intended for daily wear.) Today, of course, we do have color cosmetics (makeup) specifically marketed to men. Often, they aren’t labelled quite the same way, and are rarely if ever referred to as “makeup” outright. The usual descriptive labels of foundation, concealer, blush, bronzer, etc. are cast aside for alternative and supposed “macho man friendly” terminology such as “complexion enhancer” or “beard cover.” At least the very existence of these products acknowledges that there’s nothing wrong with men wanting to look their best. When the availability of these products was much narrower, I remember stumbling across an article in a prominent men’s Web site (I want to say it was specifically the Web site of a prominent men’s magazine but unfortunately cannot find the article now) that once said something along the lines of “men should not wear makeup, period.” This is flagrant sexism and I would expect better of a major magazine. (And yes, I would find it equally unacceptable coming from Glamour, Allure, Marie Claire, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, etc.)

Another example is the infamous shirt design with the inscription “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.” I realize this is a bit old and well documented at Wikipedia already, but it is still very relevant. (I only found out about the shirts and controversy recently.) What happens if we turn this around and sell shirts to guys saying “girls are dumb, throw rocks at them?” All of a sudden, we have accusations of male chauvinism and sexism running wild. From this the only reasonable conclusion is that the original is sexist as well. To conclude otherwise sets a double standard or validates that sexism is only sexism when directed at women.

Even clothing styles have somewhat of a sexist slant. Women fought for the right to wear pants and shirts similar to those worn by men, not entirely on functional grounds, and finally won acceptance a few decades ago. Yet the options for men have remained relatively the same over the years. Companies like Utilikilts which make “utility kilts” are still the exception, and the concept of “legless shorts” for men still has yet to catch on.

However, even this is far from the most horrendous example. We hear all the time about female genital mutilation, to the point that I have doubts the term “female circumcision” is seen as acceptable now. Contrast this with its male counterpart. “Male circumcision” to the average person is redundant; “circumcision” by itself has been assumed to apply to males assuming the context does not imply otherwise. Male genital mutilation (circumcision) came into being as the result of a flawed medical study, and continues to be practiced today despite the fact the complication risks outweigh any benefits. Why is it acceptable to mutilate the genitals of males and only males? What is wrong with this picture?

Of course, I have only scratched the surface. Do I think it’s just plain wrong that we as a society apparently use machismo as an excuse to allow sexism against men to remain unchecked? Absolutely. This differs a bit from an active dislike of that machismo in and of itself, though I have a slight distaste for that as well, it is far from a complete aversion.

Pirate hunting, Russian style

Ananova reports on perhaps the most bizarre vacation idea yet: intentionally attracting the attention of pirates (real pirates, as in criminals of the high seas), armed with high-powered weapons. As quoted from the article:

Wealthy punters pay £3,500 per day to patrol the most dangerous waters in the world hoping to be attacked by raiders.

When attacked, they retaliate with grenade launchers, machine guns and rocket launchers, reports Austrian business paper Wirtschaftsblatt.

Passengers, who can pay an extra £5 a day for an AK-47 machine gun and £7 for 100 rounds of ammo, are also protected by a squad of ex special forces troops.

(Exchange rates at time of writing: £1 = approx. US$1.65 = approx. €1.18)

Not surprisingly, there’s some opposition. Since these are international waters, only the international maritime laws would apply. There appear to be no such laws restricting the arming of a ship against potential pirates, only against the actual acts of piracy themselves.

I personally take a dim view of those who engage in a career of theft on the high seas; as I have written previously, I don’t take the abuse of the term “pirate” to apply to one who violates copyright law lightly. The people who choose to steal and murder on the high seas for a living deserve to meet a bullet or two (or five, or ten, or a hundred) from an AK-47. Some Russian company has found people willing to pay for the privilege. Big surprise.

That said, this is truly a vacation for those who enjoy living dangerously. But, it’s not a vacation I’ll be taking anytime soon. For now, I intend to limit my living dangerously to skydiving when the budget allows, and driving around Houston (and any other large cities I may visit) when it doesn’t.