Dirty Cougar tricks

I have no personal beef with the University of Houston or any of its past or present faculty or students. In fact at one point I had considered attending UH as a student. However, deceptive and unethical tactics such as those uncovered by Texas Watchdog regarding UH’s purchase of the Rice University radio station KTRU have me questioning a lot about the university which most prominently bears the name of my hometown.

This quote from an e-mail by Erik Langer of Public Radio Capital, which represents UH in the purchase of KTRU from Rice, comes across as rather damning (note in particular the italicized sentence):

We recognize that Rice is going to have a hard time generating a complete list of assets without some of the station personnel’s input, and we agree that tipping off some of those individuals may not be advisable. … We request that Rice provide a cover story for an independent 3rd party engineering consultant, to be chosen by UH, to perform an inspection of the transmitter building, transmitter equipment, transmission line, tower and antennae. Rice should actually hire the consultant we specify, so there will be no question as to the source of the inspection, which of course will have to be coordinated with the station engineer somehow. Rice can use any reason it chooses, some of which can include change of insurance, inventory needs, or any other plausible explanation. UH will reimburse Rice for the cost of the inspection.

So, not only is UH asking Rice to do their dirty work for them, they are actually encouraging Rice to lie to its students and staff about the real reason these engineering consultants are poking around the KTRU building.

Not surprisingly, now that the cat is out of the bag, students and alumni at both UH and Rice are quite unhappy. And for good reason. The ethics and morality of  UH’s actions, either directly or through third parties, fall way short of what I would expect from an organization with “Houston” in its name. We as a community would be better off if both UH and Rice had been more open and actually listened to students, alumni, and faculty about the case for KTRU changing hands. Trying to “sneak it by” only breeds mistrust and resentment.

As it stands now, staff at many university or college radio stations across the country will likely be second-guessing the real reason engineering consultants are poking around their studio. They’ll be remembering the KTRU debacle and the dirty Cougar tricks that have now been exposed. On one hand, it is good that they will have learned from history, as those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. On the other, it’s a real shame that this is how we as a community learn who we can really trust, and who we cannot.

Ethics tests and public relations professionals

Stumbled across this little gem today, and the cynic in me got a good chuckle or three out of it, so I had to share.

Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog reports that according to a study conducted by Penn State led by Renita Coleman, professionals in public relations (PR) do not deserve their often questionable reputation and actually score higher on ethics test than those in certain other professions.

As much as I’d like to believe this, the research is based on performance on a test which poses a set of situations that require the use of ethical judgment. The test shows that PR people did comparatively well on a test. But we all know the final exam is not given in a sterile classroom and proctored by a teaching assistant. No, the final exam is given in real life. Not only in the PR professional’s interactions with clients, but also in interactions with others outside of working hours.

Sometimes the most accurate exams, especially regarding ethics, are pop quizzes. I’ve learned that one from personal experience. The story itself could even be considered a good “garden variety” example of PR spin, for PR people, by PR people. But I think it’s ultimately up to my readers to answer that for themselves.

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”

Hopping off the proprietary game console train, revisited

Ars Technica reports on Sony’s new release of the PSP Go, and once again I’m glad I quit doing proprietary game consoles.

This one is particularly disheartening, as I felt like Sony was the one decent console manufacturer remaining. Sony’s apparent plan, with the release of the PSP Go, becomes more obvious: take yet another option away from the customer.

The move comes as a consequence of moving to a digital delivery model. Instead of buying a disc (UMD) with the game on it, Sony will soon be making titles available only as a download, DRM-locked to the individual console. In other words, something you can’t just sell back to GameStop when you’re done playing with it.

The article, as written, states that right now, titles will continue to be made available as both physical media and downloads. Put another way, Sony knows how fast to turn up the heat to boil the frog. Don’t be surprised when the option to buy some new titles as UMD simply does not exist.