Colin Kaepernick and the anthem

Before Friday night’s NFL preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, it was pretty much the usual routine. The “usual routine” before most football games is to play the national anthem, and etiquette and custom in the United States dictates that those physically able to stand for the playing of the national anthem do so. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand. So much for the usual routine.

This story on contains Colin’s explanation for his refusal to stand for the anthem:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

His team, the San Francisco 49ers, appears to stand by Colin amidst the controversy:

The 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick’s decision: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

The article goes on to quote a statement released by the NFL,

I am disappoined that there exist circumstances which made Colin’s action of refusing to stand for the anthem something he felt necessary to do. I know he is not the first to do so, but I would like to think with the nation’s minds on football, and this story appearing in places where the relatively large football fan base is looking, that people will finally start talking about this issue.

We have a real problem with racism and racial inequality in this country, and it needs to be addressed. As I said in a recent instant messaging conversation with a friend, I try to be proud to be part of this country, but there are things people do, some of which get international press, that often make that difficult. That said, the freedoms in this country include freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which include things like burning the flag, not standing for the anthem, and not reciting the pledge.

(Quick aside: I personally have no problem standing for the anthem or reciting most of the pledge. Being an atheist, I will remain silent for about 2-3 seconds after “one nation” and pick it up again with “indivisible.” The pledge was written by a minister, who left out the words relating to a deity on purpose. They were added later, by Congress. But that’s another topic for another post…)

Is it a bit ironic that the freedoms guaranteed by the country for which the flag and anthem stand for, include burning that flag and sitting for that anthem in protest? Maybe. But people like Colin don’t protest like that without a good reason. Rather than write him off as unpatriotic, people should look into what kind of statement Colin is trying to make.

Some things just don’t belong in an operating system; this is one of them

What the hell were they under the influence of when they came up with this crazy idea? Am I in the Twilight Zone?

This article on TorrentFreak discusses a report published by the organizations Black Market Watch and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, about ending online copyright infringement in Sweden. The report itself is in what would appear to be Swedish (guessing since it’s about Sweden, though I can only say for sure it’s not in English). What they suggest honestly reeks of George Orwell’s dystopian future: have copyright infringing content blocked at the operating system level.

There are so many problems with this suggestion, so I’m only going to address the most obvious one I see. With copyright comes something called fair use, known outside the US as fair dealing but which is essentially the same concept. Basically, fair use means there are some purposes for which it is allowed to use copyrighted material without having to get the permission of the copyright holder. I am not sure how something in the operating system is going to be able to tell the difference between unlawful infringement and fair use. My guess is that it probably won’t, and will interfere with perfectly legal uses of copyrighted material.

Another big issue has to do with the very basic foundations of computing, and what makes computers and related technology so useful. I have been using computers since elementary school, back when the requirement in Texas for computer literacy class was one semester in middle school. (Now, the requirement is not for a separate class, but that all classes at all grade levels incorporate some form of what is now called technological literacy. This is completely different and shows the difference between technology in the late 1980s versus technology in the mid-2010s; it is quite a stark contrast.)

What made computers so useful then, is that the computer did exactly what one told it to. For the most part, this is still the case, though in more recent times there have been attempts of varying success in eroding this. Examples include things like scanners or copiers refusing to make copies of currency or other documents which pattern-match a list of prohibited items. Sometimes the restriction is on the software running on the computer versus the actual scanner firmware (in the case of scanners), so it’s easy to work around if desired. I haven’t checked lately but it is possible newer scanners may have the restriction in the scanner itself, which to me would fit right in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Another case is DVD copy protection, which is also relatively easy to circumvent. The major obstacle here is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which makes it a crime to do so, albeit one which is rarely if ever enforced against someone who just wants to watch a DVD on a PC running GNU/Linux without having to spend more money on a properly “blessed” DVD player or non-free DVD playing software. Most of the same applies to Blu-Ray (and HD DVD) copy protection, though it’s a bit more robust given that it came out after the US government relaxed regulations on cryptography export (in 1996, when the first DVD players hit the market, it was difficult if not impossible to export any encryption systems which used keys longer than 40 bits, which even at the time was laughably small).

There’s also an edge case which may seem far-fetched, but may well become real and a very real problem: what if someone’s original work gets mis-detected as copyright infringing by this system, due to a hash collision or something similar? It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem, given stories like the one about Fox appropriating a clip of someone playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System version of Double Dribble. Fox used the clip in Family Guy, then had the original taken off of YouTube due to a copyright infringement claim, possibly through automated means. Now, what if the clip in question is, say, an original computer animation, and an automated system which is part of the computer’s operating system decides to block it (or even outright erase it) based on a similar content matching system after a TV network uses it? If it were my work, I’d be pretty damn pissed off. Wouldn’t you? Worse, that same operating system module could decide to erase it from my backups if I were to try to restore it.

No. Just plain no. We, the computing public, have a right to have computers free from such an absolutely insane and idiotic system. I acknowledge that copyright as it exists today has deviated far from its original purpose, and may even be considered broken, but this is no way to fix it. In fact, this breaks it even more.

The end of an era: Dwight Silverman signs off from reporting on tech

It’s time for something completely different. I’m going to take time out and shift gears completely from my usual modus operandi, and show some gratitude for someone who has definitely left his mark on technology reporting, particularly in Houston. I do realize this is somewhat late, but a lot of things got in the way of me posting this closer to the time of the event.

Dwight Silverman recently posted his final entry to TechBlog entitled, appropriately enough, “So long, and thanks for all the tech” (also in the style of Monty Python). With that post, Dwight ends nearly three decades of reporting on technology, in deference to his recently accepted position as Senior Web Producer for Premium Products, still at the Houston Chronicle.

As someone who has been an avid computer user since about the same time Dwight started reporting (if not a year or three earlier), allow me to offer a perspective of just how much has changed since Dwight started reporting in the mid-1980s. (He does not name an exact year, but since this is 2016 and he refers to “nearly 30 years” I’m going to guess it was the latter half of 1986.)

At that time, the IBM PC clone market was barely getting started, and it was still fairly likely that people were using the original IBM PC. Yeah, I know it probably sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie to some of you, but IBM used to actually make desktop computers (they wouldn’t sell off that business to Lenovo until 2005). Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released in 1985, but wouldn’t become the least bit dominant for close to a decade, with the dominant operating system on “PC compatible” computers remaining MS-DOS through at least the end of the decade. (Actually, Windows relied on MS-DOS until the release of Windows 95, and the first consumer version to be a true standalone operating system was Windows XP, but to most people the Windows environment fulfilled the role of operating system even if technically layered on top of MS-DOS.)

The mid-1980s were also the era in which the GNU Project was just barely getting started, with the incorporation of the Free Software Foundation occuring on 1985 October 4, just over three decades ago. The GNU operating system wouldn’t be anywhere near complete for some time; in 1992, Linus Torvalds released version 0.12 of Linux, the kernel, under the GPL, which allowed the first GNU variant operating systems comprised entirely of free software (GNU/Linux). BSD (Berkeley System Distribution) Unix wouldn’t be released under its eponymous license until 1994 due to a lawsuit from AT&T‘s Unix System Laboratories.

The dominant digital storage media of the mid-1980s were floppy disks; our first PC compatible computer in 1990 had both 5¼” and 3½” drives, with the latter becoming dominant by the mid-1990s until the effective end-of-life of the floppy disk medium around 2010 or so (we wouldn’t have CD-ROM drives until the mid-1990s and they wouldn’t dominate until close to the turn of the century). Public access to the Internet was still a few years away (to arrive in 1993).

In their place, we had analog modems which connected over phone lines, on which some ran electronic bulletin board systems (BBSes) and amateur communications networks such as FidoNet. My first modem ran at a whopping 2400 bits per second (I was a bit of a late adopter; the first widespread modems ran at 300 bps with 1200 bps coming in shortly thereafter). Large downloads (such as BBS software, like TAG or Maximus) would often take most of an hour or in some cases, over an hour or even multiple hours at 2400 bps (later I would get a 28.8k modem which would ease the pain of large downloads significantly). These same analog modems would be how most of the first home Internet users would connect, and before the end of the analog modem era, the technology was pushed to its limit: 33.6 kilobits per second, and then 53 kilobits per second over digitally-originated lines (“56K” speed, though the FCC never approved the output power necessary to allow a download speed of 56 kilobits per second).

I could go on and on waxing nostalgic (I could probably write a horror novel about things like debugging IRQ conflicts), and maybe I’ll do some more of that in a later post. Sometimes even I can’t believe the progress that technology has made. I’m known as one of the most “technology literate” people in my family, and even I am not able to keep up with all of the latest developments.

Dwight’s reporting will be dearly missed, but I am confident he will still be able to help the Houston Chronicle remain successful working at his new job there.

In closing, there are eight posts on this blog where I have mentioned or linked back to TechBlog. I present the list primarily as a further testament of Dwight’s impact as a reporter (i.e. even this blog won’t quite be the same going forward).