Squashed like a bug without a trial

A recent Houston Chronicle story details the plight of Scott Yeager. In 2002 Scott was indicted in the wake of the downfall of Enron, where he worked up until the company’s demise.

Scott’s message is pretty simple, direct, and no-nonsense: you don’t have to be guilty to have the government ruin your life. Quotes like this from the article say it all:

[H]e’s had his civil rights curtailed—not allowed to own a gun or visit his grandson in Canada, required most months to report to the federal probation department.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to destroy your life. People need to understand there is no down side for them,” he said of the prosecutors who filed the Enron cases.

and later:

“I was told I might get five years if I would make up lies about people or I could fight this and to go prison for life if I lose,” Yeager said.

and perhaps most damning of all:

“I don’t know … your upbringing, your sense of justice, honesty. It was counter to what I was taught my whole life. I’m an American patriot. This is my country,” Yeager said.

He said he knew the odds were against him but he refused to lie to get a deal.

Despite some of my prior life experiences, I have little sympathy for those who have committed egreious crimes, such as most of those who participated in the fraud surrounding the now-defunct Enron Corporation. However, at the same time, it disgusts me that just being accused of a crime is enough to ruin someone’s life the way Scott’s has been ruined.

There should be some way to hold prosecutors accountable for proceeding this far with cases that wind up not having merit. Otherwise, they’ll continue to wreck lives that don’t deserve it. The unjustly accused deserve more than a “sorry, we screwed up, you’re free to go now.”

I don’t care what anyone else says. Mark my words: Scott Yeager is a hero for those who face unjust accusations by a so-called “justice system” which often fails to dispense justice and sometimes isn’t much of a system.

Shining light on abuse of copyright for censorship

ReadWriteWeb recently reported on the EFF’s launching of its Takedown Hall of Shame. One of the most notable parts of this site-within-a-site is that there is a specific guide to YouTube video removals. (Aside: yes, I noticed the EFF is yet another organziation that insists upon using the loaded term “intellectual property” and maybe they are unaware of why it is so bad).

It’s sad that we even need something like this. Copyright is not inherently evil; as originally implemented, the Statute of Anne accomplished a quite noble goal when originally passed back in 1710. However, somehow, someway, we as a society (and it’s not just the US anymore, but most of the world) have gone from a reasonable, single 14-year term to what is a nominally limited term that in reality, may as well be perpetuity (70 years from the author’s death, 95 years from publication, 120 years from creation).

In addition, the entire concept of fair use has gone out the window. I wrote a bit about the NFL’s heavy-handed abuse of copyright back on 2009 January 15. (It’s been almost ten months, long enough for the next NFL season to have started, and nobody ever sent me a URL of a video of this play that is still online.) This is a clear example of fair use, about as clear as they get. And yet, YouTube yanks it because the NFL says “that’s copyrighted.”

I could go on and on. It’s time we move to restore copyright to some modicum of sanity: fourteen years, plus a fourteen year renewal, and then public domain. We also need more exceptions to allow for the preservation of works that would otherwise just disappear due to decay of the media onto which they are recorded.

Otherwise, we have something intended to encourage innovation, but which in fact discourages and destroy it. We don’t need that, and it’s time to wake up and realize that’s where we are headed. Don’t believe me? Patents are already being abused this way against computer software.

The evil Side(wiki) of Google

It took me a while to get to this one (most of a month), but I finally did. And I’m wishing I had dropped a few things to get to it sooner.

A recent Talkbiz.com blog entry details the dark side of Google’s new Sidewiki application. This real life example is perhaps the most shocking abuse of a technology with Google’s name on it ever recorded (and yes, this quote is a bit long):

A gentleman I know is a really hard working guy, who’s busted his butt for more hours in a day than I ever want to work, for years, to provide a good living for his wife and daughter. I mean, 14 hours a day in the long term, building a business that’s based on providing value to his customers.

This guy has a medical condition that results in one eye pointing off at an angle that’s not even with the other. The picture he uses on some sites makes this obvious.

Some ignorant, malicious, psychopathic, deranged, bored, sadistic bastard of a man-child (sorry, but that’s the most polite description I can use and still convey the merest surface of my contempt) used that as the basis for a “wiki-note” implying that this guy was a pedophile.

On Sidewiki, right next to the guy’s own business web site.

If there’s any lie a person can tell online that warrants having a 6-inch hole put in them that the sun will shine through, that’s the one.

This… mindless, soulless, stupid creature told that lie for nothing more than his own amusement. Because his victim has one eye that didn’t track right in a photograph.

Google got rid of that one pretty quickly, but how much will their response time slow down as the service grows?

Lessons to be learned from this:

  • I would opt all of my domains out of Sidewiki were such a thing possible.

  • That not being possible (yet), I believe my readers are intelligent enough to realize that Sidewiki is a separate site which I do not control.

  • Since this was written, it’s now possible to use a bookmarklet to view Sidewiki entries. So, at least you don’t actually need to install Google’s toolbar and thus agree to the obnoxious EULA. That said, I still may not be aware of some or even most Sidewiki comments. I may soon take advantage of the comment from the site owner which stays on top. (Though, I shudder at the implication that indeed, in order to do even this, one must have a Google account and register the Web site with Google. This really should be opt-out at minimum, and it should not require the creation of a Google account to do so.)

To be fair, the bookmarklet does make it a bit more obvious that the comments are not hosted on the same site. Google needs to make this clearer to the toolbar users of Sidewiki. It’s one thing to allow someone to post comments about other sites; it’s another entirely to not make it obvious the comments are in fact on a third party site. I don’t think Google is the first to implement something like this, but Google’s implementation is clearly the most dangerous of all.

The article goes on to express grave, perhaps deserved, concern that Google Wave will fuel widespread adoption of Sidewiki. The only reason I am remotely excited about Google Wave is that I have been told this will not remain proprietary to Google, that one can set up their own Wave server instead of using Google’s. Of course, this may be like Microsoft telling us that .NET is cross-platform, when the reality is it’s completely portable across any OS Microsoft makes, and if one wants .NET for anything else one must port it themselves. But, that’s another rant for another day.

I’d like to think Google is a little less evil than Microsoft or Apple, if only because the thought of a truly evil Google is terrifying. I’m not sure how much benefit of the doubt is left.

Don’t lose your marbles after reading this

This is completely different from the stuff I usually post about. Normally I’d just Twitter these, but this one’s too good to be lost in the middle of the thousands of Twitter updates I’ve posted.

I was doing some research on early calculators, and I found first a YouTube video, then a Web site describing a marble-based binary adding machine.

The video is just over three and one-half minutes and is a rather thorough demonstration of the machine the author built (which can tally results up to 63 or six bits), including an intentional overflow.

To say I was awe-struck is an understatement. This is probably one of the ultimate geek toys.