Is new technology in sports cheating?

While browsing recently I happened to find a very insightful article about sports and technology. Several major sports are referenced including golf, swimming, and tennis.

Of particular note is a quote from Martina Navartilova:

To me, using “illegal” equipment is the same as cheating with performance-enhancing drugs.

Or, put another way, cheating is cheating, whether with drugs or equipment. Navartilova’s reference to what would happen if we allowed major league baseball players to use graphite bats really brings it home. The technology is there, but allowing it would completely change the sport. Heck, we may as well not call it baseball anymore; it would make more sense to just rename the sport “Gone Home Run” because that’s what it would become.

Make no mistake about it: I am a fan of technological advances. I have posted on Twitter at least once how little I will miss CRT-based monitors, film, and magnetic tape-based media. (That could probably be extended to magnetic floppy disks as well.) There is, however, a very thin line between new world records set by performance of the athlete(s), and a new world record set simply because the technology which allowed it has only now become viable.

I don’t follow every sport; however, I do understand what Gary Hall Jr. is saying when he refers to times in swimming being measured in hundredths of a second, because races and world records used to be decided by those kind of time margins. When new world records in swimming are set by a difference of whole seconds in the past four years, you can’t tell me that it’s just the athletes that made it happen.

Is there really a difference between beating a world record by four seconds with steroids, or beating a world record by four seconds with a new swimsuit that simply didn’t exist five years ago?

Microsoft vs. ODF: arrogance on display

I sure picked a great day to read Groklaw. The featured topic today is Microsoft’s attempt to make ODF look bad, using the time-honored FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) techniques.

This article refers back to another article highlighting the awful ODF support in Microsoft Office 2007.2 (aka 2007 SP2). which also quotes an article by Rob Weir. Even for Microsoft, this is pretty damned egregious:

The new entry to the mix is Microsoft Office 2007 SP2, which has added integrated ODF support. Unfortunately this support did not fare well in my tests. The problem appears to be how it treats spreadsheet formulas in ODF documents. When reading an ODF document, Excel SP2 silently strips out formulas. What is left is the last value that cell had, when previously saved.

Sheesh. I write only a minimal amount of software, but I do enough testing to catch First Class Foul-Ups like this. Continuing on:

This can cause subtle and not so subtle errors and data loss. […] In general, SP2 converts an ODF spreadsheet into a mere “table of numbers” and any calculation logic is lost.

In the other direction, when writing out spreadsheets in ODF format, Excel 2007 SP2 does include spreadsheet formulas but places them into an Excel namespace. This namespace is not what OpenOffice and other ODF applications use. It is not the ODF 1.2 namespace. It isn’t even the OOXML namespace. I have no idea what it is or what it means. Not every ODF application checks the namespace of formulas when loading documents, but the ones that do reject the SP2 documents altogether. And the ones that do not check the namespace try and fail to load a formula since it is syntactically different than what they expected. The applications essentially display a corrupted document that is shows neither the formula nor the value correctly.

In other words, instead of doing what the standard says, Microsoft makes up their own completely different thing and expects the rest of the world to play along and “fix” previously working (standards-compliant) software to interoperate.

Note to Microsoft: This is not how standards work. Frankly, if you don’t intend to support ODF properly, you may as well not support it at all. What your product writes isn’t ODF. When your product reads ODF, it silently discards important parts of the data. (Yes, the formulas in spreadsheets are important. That’s the whole purpose of a spreadsheet program! Otherwise we may as well be using pencil, paper, and calculators.)

The Groklaw article goes on to highlight the failure of Microsoft to properly implement password protection. I personally tend not to use format-specific encryption features in favor of more general solutions such as OpenPGP-compliant encryption, but this is important nonetheless, as (quoting Jomar Silva, as quoted in Groklaw):

I would really like to find a good technical explanation for this, since the encryption and password protection are fully specified in ODF 1.0/1.1 (item 17.3 of the specification), and they are using existing algorithms, very familiar to any developer.

The grizzled veterans of computing will remember Microsoft mucking up MS-DOS to not run Lotus 1-2-3 properly, crippling Windows 3.1 to crash under DR-DOS, and other similar sins. More recently Microsoft states in their end-user license agreement (EULA) for Office that the user is only licensed to run Office under a genuine copy of Microsoft Windows. That is, if you are running Office under Wine, ReactOS, or any similar Windows-compatible replacement code, you are in violation of the license agreement.

The Groklaw article goes on to reveal part of a Microsoft internal memo discovered during antitrust litigation:

Our mission is to establish Microsoft’s platforms as the de facto standards throughout the computer industry…. Working behind the scenes to orchestrate “independent” praise of our technology, and damnation of the enemy’s, is a key evangelism function during the Slog. “Independent” analyst’s report should be issued, praising your technology and damning the competitors (or ignoring them). “Independent” consultants should write columns and articles, give conference presentations and moderate stacked panels, all on our behalf (and setting them up as experts in the new technology, available for just $200/hour). “Independent” academic sources should be cultivated and quoted (and research money granted). “Independent” courseware providers should start profiting from their early involvement in our technology. Every possible source of leverage should be sought and turned to our advantage.

I have mentioned before the “stacked panel”. Panel discussions naturally favor alliances of relatively weak partners[…]. Thus we find ourselves outnumbered in almost every “naturally occurring” panel debate.

The key to stacking a panel is being able to choose the moderator. Most conference organizers allow the moderator to select [the] panel, so if you can pick the moderator, you win. […]you have to get the moderator to agree to having only “independent ISVs” on the panel. No one from Microsoft or any other formal backer of the competing technologies would be allowed -just ISVs who have to use this stuff in the “real world.” Sounds marvellously independent doesn’t it? In feet, it allows us to stack the panel with ISVs that back our cause. Thus, the “independent” panel ends up telling the audience that our technology beats the others hands down. Get the press to cover this panel, and you’ve got a major win on your hands.

This is the kind of marketing and publicity that gets people to say things like “damn marketers” and much nastier things I won’t repeat here. In short, this is Fraud. Yes, with a capital F.

My response to the author of this memo: If you find yourselves outnumbered because nobody backs your proprietary standard, doesn’t that alone tell you something? Nobody wants to be locked into what Microsoft says, at Microsoft’s prices, upgrading when Microsoft says it’s time. The rest of the world has spoken: they want their freedom. That’s why we have ODF, HTML, CSS, JPEG, PNG, Ogg, Vorbis, FLAC, Theora, Speex, the GNU operating system (commonly deployed as the GNU/Linux variant), and OpenBSD.

Were an individual software author to try this type of shenanigans, that author would be branded a sociopath, and rightfully so. Wake up and listen to the masses, Microsoft. Interoperability doesn’t mean “write it so only Microsoft products can read it.”

Longer mealtime, smaller waistline?

Recently on Twitter (from @MyFitFoods who passed it on from someone else with protected updates) I found a chart which compares time spent eating to the national obesity rate. Now while the criteria used to define obesity may be a bit controversial (it’s a simple, no frills, percentage of the population with a BMI over 30) I think it’s good enough to get an idea of the overall trend.

It’s probably not realistic to expect a perfect trend line with a graph like this, and thus I’m not surprised that there are dots all over the place. Canada, Korea, Japan, Poland, Italy, and all three Scandanavian countries in the survey (Finland, Sweden, and Norway) are all below the trend line, while Mexico, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey are above it. The rest of the countries are either on or close to the trend line.

The US does not fit neatly at all into the trend with a sky-high obesity rate of around 34%. But it is obvious that the graph is trying to show that more time one spends at the table, the less likely one is to become obese.

The stark contrast between the US and Canada is puzzling. The US actually averages slightly longer meals than Canada, yet has the highest obesity rate on the entire chart.

I would be interested in seeing a graph sorted by profession. In my current day job (courier) I rarely have time to actually sit down for even a full half-hour lunch. There are days where I do what I know I really shouldn’t and just grab a bag of chips from the nearest convenience store, where usually the closest thing to a meal is a rather expensive bag of beef jerky (also a frequent “meal” of mine). Not surprisingly, even though I don’t consider myself “obese” it’s possible I would fit the controversial criterion used in this study. (I have no idea what my BMI is, but I’m around 5’11” (180 cm) and weighed in the range of 240 pounds (109 kg) last time I checked.)

This is one reason I want to move on to something else, where I can truly set my own schedule and take meal breaks as long as I want. Really, who doesn’t?

The exposure of a weasel, part 3

There is yet more to the fraud uncovered in the previous two posts. Searching on the number “866-951-1406” given as the number to call to cancel brings up a whole slew of results. It turns out that jasongetsrich.com is only one “front” for this operation. Other domains include:

  • joshmadecash.com
  • marysmoneyblog.com
  • scottsmoneyblog.com (no longer online)
  • yourmyspaceguy.com
  • kevingotchecks.com
  • mattsfastmoney.com

These were all I was able to uncover.

In the process, I uncovered a mile-long trail of unhappy customers, searching on either the phone number or “google treasure chest scam”:

This is not exhaustive, of course. Notice the name has been changed a few times, but the phone number has been kept the same.

Some people also feel misled that this is somehow sponsored or endorsed by Google, because of the similar logo being used. I would not be surprised to see legal action from Google in the near future regarding trademark dilution.

Feel free to reply with comments on this post about any information you have. I plan to make this series of posts the most exhaustive and thorough repudation of this (group of) fraudulent weasel(s) on the World Wide Web.

The exposure of a weasel, part 2

Recap: In our last episode, I had just revealed how Jason Hoeffer used an offsite Javascript link to fool naive potential customers into thinking he was from the same city they were living in.

I continued posing as a potential customer, and clicked the “click here” link that purports to be available for only the $2.95 shipping. Having my previous skepticism thoroughly validated, I carefully looked at the terms and conditions. I was not surprised at what I found:

Upon submitting a request for Membership, a Member ID and Password are assigned to you and can be used to gain access to googletreasurechest.com. The initial shipping and handling charge of one dollars and ninety seven cents, includes the google treasure chest kit as well as seven days worth of access to the online directories and training. After seven days, if you choose not to cancel, you will be billed your first monthly membership fee of seventy two dollars and twenty one cents for the membership fee for the googletreasurechest.com membership.

Okay, the initial shipping and handling charge as listed here is a dollar lower. Someone forgot to update the T&C document with the new one. So a week later you get hit for $72.21, spelled out in words to make it much less obvious.

Membership fees will be charged to the credit card used by you to complete the transaction. You have also unlocked a fourteen-day trial and twenty one-day trial to the Fraud SafeLockID and GrantSpring for just $38.84 and $24.87 a month thereafter (shows as “SafeLockID” and “GrantSpring”) should you choose not to cancel.

These bring the total up to $135.92 if you don’t cancel in time.

Prior charges for all programs are non-refundable but bonus subscriptions can be cancelled and future charges stopped at any time by calling toll-free 866.951.1406 Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm. All offers come with a monthly newsletter.

Translation: Not only are we going to bilk you for almost $140, we’re going to spam you.

Skipping down further:

We handle all charge backs and reversals as potential cases of fraudulent use of our services and/or theft of services.

The nerve! The hypocrisy! The absolute, unmitigated audacity! After luring people in with what is arguably fraud itself, Jason Hoeffer turns around and says “if you ask for a chargeback, you’re a fraudster.”

After this, I decided the privacy policy was only worth a quick skim. I uncovered this little gem:

THE COMPANY MAY SELL OR TRANSFER INDIVIDUAL INFORMATION TO AFFILIATES OR THIRD-PARTIES FOR ANY PURPOSE IN COMPANY’S SOLE DISCRETION.

That speaks for itself.

More to come…