Thursday, November 29, 2012

Some Gas in Every Tank and a Lie in every Fuel Gauge [tf charts]

Sort of off topic, but practical, so here you go.

So this morning i get into the car a little late, and notice that my gas fuel gauge has the needle steady riiiight about the 1/4 tank mark.  One way for me is 26 miles, so my brain said "yeah, I should be good."  I mean looking at it physically, 1/4 of a 16 gallon should net me about 115 miles.  But it's not true.  IT'S ALL LLLIIIEEESSSS.  Click the image to see it full sized and legible.

In my gut I knew better.  All the cars I've driven suffer from a similar issue - the gauge drops from full to 3/4 at a very slow rate.  then from 3/4 to 1/4 it plummets like a stone, only to slow down again at the 1/4 mark.  Of course my gut was right.  Over 26 miles 1/4 dropped to 0 and that fun little fuel light went on, luckily enough to get from work to the gas station.

You see this auto builders?  That noise just ain't right.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Great Facebook Copyright Hoax

Look kids, I like helping you out.  I do.  I like giving you reviews on stuff.  I like telling you about cool and nerdy things.  I even like helping to make sure that your digital life is secure and safe.  But sometimes, every once in a while, it's my responsibility to step in and help protect you. Not from viruses or malware.  Not from hacks or security holes.  But from yourselves.

What brings this up tonight are some things I've been seeing on my Facebook feed.  I thought it was debunked and killed around the time of the Facebook IPO only to see it rear its ugly head again a couple of months ago.  And then when it came back, I again thought, foolishly, that it was sufficiently slain and done with.  But social media has a way of enhancing the viral power of internet memes and their dark cousins the hoaxes, where this is the tale of the latter.  This thing spread like wildfire, with users copying and pasting quicker than my news feed could keep up, until I'd had enough and decided to lay it out for you all.  Take a look at the examples below, then stay with me while I tear into them.

Example 1: For those of you who do not understand the reasoning behind this posting, Facebook is now a publicly traded entity. Unless you state otherwise, anyone can infringe on your right to privacy once you post to this site. It is recommended that you and other members post a similar notice as this, or you may copy and paste this version. If you do not post such a statement once, then you are indirectly allowing public use of items such as your photos and the information contained in your status updates.

PRIVACY NOTICE: Warning - any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you do NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information nor any of the content contained herein including, but not limited to my photos, and/or the comments made about my photos or any other "picture" art posted on my profile.

You are hereby notified that you are strictly prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, disseminating, or taking any other action against me with regard to this profile and the contents herein. The foregoing prohibitions also apply to your employee , agent , student or any personnel under your direction or control.

The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law. UCC 1-103 1-308 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITHOUT PREJUDICE

Example 2: In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention).

For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!
(Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws, By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook's direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are recommended to publish a notice like this, or if you prefer, you may copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status updates

This hoax can be seen in a number of status updates on your feed - self contained declarations of independence railing against the Facebook empire, assuming that their recent status update as "publicly traded company" affords them the right to reach out and annex all content as their own.  But that's not all.  All of these status updates cite obscure regulations and criminal codes that have little to no (mostly no) bearing on anything having to do with content posted on Facebook like the UCC and the Rome Statute.  I'll get into that more later on.

But before I do, let me bottom line this for folks that aren't interested in the details (the tl;dr version):

1. This is a hoax.  It was during the IPO, and continues to be now.  Copying and pasting this sort of malarchy or coming up with your own means exactly zero.  Your already-agreed-to Facebook agreement governs this, not status update legalese.  That's right - if you're a Facebook user, you've agreed to the terms before you posted your first bit of whatever on your wall.

2. The UCC does not apply.  Nor does the Rome Statute. and the "Berner Convention?" Not even a real thing.

Bottom Line: There is nothing you can post that stands as a legitimate legal statement or disclaimer, so for the love of all that's holy DON'T BOTHER. You'll just end up making guys like me write stuff like this.  Now then...

The Truth, Part I - The Real Official Agreement

Here's the truth (the first part of it that is).  Yes, Facebook is now a publicly traded entity.  Yes, there are rules that govern the relationship between the company and Facebook users.  But those rules aren't governed by obscure legal documents or international courts.  Those rules, as they always have been, are governed by one thing: the Terms of Service all users agreed to (myself included) when we signed up and became Facebook users.  Don't remember them?  Well sadly that's not surprising.  For some reason terms of service and terms of use aren't things that a lot of people like reading.  Whether it's just because the text is too long or folks are impatient and want to start using the service immediately - for one reason or another in many situations they remain unread.  And all the information you need is in there.  In this instance, you can get to the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibility here:  It's not only Facebook that operates this way - pretty much any software or online service you use has terms of service that must be agreed to before you can complete the signup or install process.  For example I can't log into World of Warcraft after a new install unless I agree to the ToS.  I wasn't able to install this copy of Windows 7 I'm running without agreeing to an End User License Agreement.  It's just the way things work.

Now let's get to the meat of that Facebook statement.  If I take a quick gander at section 2, entitled "Sharing Your Content and Information," the first line spells out Facebook's rights to your content.  It states, and I quote:

 "You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings."

Exceptions naturally exist for content that was already copyrighted by another entity, but the statement's pretty clear.  If you want to control who has access to your information, you should not only stop worrying about just any legal sounding block of text, but stop ignoring both Facebook and the nerds in your life that have always strongly urged that you keep track of your privacy settings.  Personally my privacy settings are for friends only, which means unless I am friends with a particular user, they can't see any content that I post outside of my profile picture and name.  I'm comfortable with that level of public sharing, so that's where I keep them.  Change them to what you're comfortable with. Check those embedded links above to see those sections in detail.

The Truth, Part II - What Doesn't Apply

(Now here's a real disclaimer - I'm not a lawyer and the below is my lay understanding of the cited statutes)

As I mentioned previously, these things are crafted in a flavor of legalese that can convince the everyday user, but would make anyone familiar with law, tech, or both raise an eyebrow.  Let's take a look at what's cited.  First is the UCC.  UCC stands for the Uniform Commercial Code, and the oft-cited section 1-308 of said code was designed to address the idea of reservation of rights when it comes to contract performance in a commercial setting.  It also says that using phrases like "without prejudice" and the like defend individuals in a commercial setting.  For some reason this makes people think that adding it to an agreement gives them legal superpowers.  Without real legal understanding, it could actual cause more harm than good.

Next is the Berner Convention.  That never happened.  The similarly-named Berne Convention was in fact a real thing, and focused on protecting the rights of artistic and literary works.  I'll let you scour through it over at Cornell Law yourself, then you can tell me how it applies here.  Seeing as the FB terms of service is the core binding agreement, I don't think you'll find a way.  The convention basically said that countries will recognize copyrighted works from other countries.

And the Rome Statute? The Rome Statute outlines the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which "shall have the power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern" according to the text.  Check out the statute for yourself.  You'll be hard pressed to find anything applicable.

My Plea to You All

I'd like you to start reading user agreements and license agreements.  They're long and they may be boring, but they will save you a lot of headache in the long run and maybe acclimate you to how software and online services work.  Knowing a little bit more about the systems we use every day is never a bad thing.  On top of that, we should all exercise a little bit more scrutiny and common sense with things like this.  Just because it sounds good doesn't make it true.  If you're unsure of something or it seems hokey, put some Google-Fu on it and look up what it's all about!  If you have any questions about that sort of content, you can always consult your local legal eagle or tech nerd and they can help you understand what it is you're reading.

I also strongly suggest that you like Facebook Site Governance on Facebook.  It helps keep you up to date on proposed rule changes and other news in the Facebook universe. And please check your privacy settings to make sure you're only sharing what you want to who you want.

** UPDATED 01/05/2015 - This nonsense reared its head again on facebook and was reposted.  The link to details on the Rome Statute became outdated, and has been updated to the current United Nations page. **

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Microsoft Sued for Windows 8 Live Tiles, Trollish Behavior Suspected

Love it or hate it, Windows 8 was released last week.  The biggest change Microsoft has ever made to the Windows operating system, it marks a colossal shift in how Microsoft is doing business, banking on the new OS, a fleet of Window 8 and RT powered tablets, and doubling down on access-from-anywhere cloud access via SkyDrive.  Naturally as it occurs with every OS, it didn't come without its criticism as well as its praise from the general public.  There's a bit of a learning curve on using the live tile interface as opposed to the start button driven Windows XP and 7 UI's a lot of users are used to, and though some users love that it turns your computer into a big phone, others complain that it just doesn't work as well.  And while these user reactions to Windows 8 spanned the range of pure praise to pure criticism, there's no one I've spoken to that hated it enough to actually sit down, call their lawyer and file suit.

But of course there's always going to be exceptions to everything.  In this case it's a small technology company called SurfCast up in Maine, who have just filed a patent infringement suit against the Redmond tech giants.  They filed the complaint in Maine on Tuesday, leaving the amount of damages they're suing for left undisclosed.  Now over the years a lot of tech companies have done some, shall we say, questionable things with regards to borrowing ideas from their contemporaries.  So what was it about Windows 8 that drew the ire of SurfCast?

The issue is live tiles, the core of the new interface for the Windows 8 family of products.  SurfCast is claiming that tiles were their invention based on a patent that they have, and they want damages for it.  Immediately upon reading the headlines my nostrils tweaked, kind of sideways like and my face contorted to something... unnatural.  It was a smell I've smelled before.  It smelled like patent troll.

So I checked them out.  You can see their website here.  I know, right? Exactly what you'd expect from someone who invented live tiles - great flow, an intuitive user experience, and scores of content.  All of that is totally there. EXCEPT IT'S THE EXACT OPPOSITE.  It looks like something I could have cobbled together in FrontPage back in high school in the 90's.  Scratch that, even stuff I did as a kid was better.  My point is that even just looking at the website, there's nothing high tech happening here.  The website's main headline is "SurfCast designs Operating System technology and has four issued patents with additional applications pending."  There is nothing on the site pointing to any products - hardware, software or the combination of the two - that SurfCast has ever actually created themselves.  A convenient "Patents" section tells the user what they're really all about.  This furthered my theory on their trollish behavior.

Anyway I digress.  SurfCast's complaint is on the grounds of patent 6,724,403, entitled “system and method for simultaneous display of multiple information sources.” The patent describes a graphical interface arranging "a variety of information sources into a grid of tiles," with each tile refreshing content independent of each other.  The patent was issued to SurfCast in 2004 by the USPTO, and sure, on its face I can see how it sounds familiar to the Microsoft's Windows 8 UI.  But Microsoft does have its own patent, 7,933,632 awarded in 2011, entitled "Tile space user interface for mobile devices."  Both Microsoft and SurfCast reference some of the same patents in their application, but the USPTO determined that Microsoft's was different enough from SurfCast's to give it to them.  Actually drawing on SurfCast's patent as prior art is part of the ammo they're trying to use to extract some cash from the house that Gates built.

Now here's my main problem with all of this.  SurfCast has held this patent and a couple of others in 2004, but they're asking only for damages - money for every supposed infringing product, including Windows Phone 7, Windows 8 and Windows RT.  If they had any means or any intent to manufacture or develop any interface using this technology, oh I don't know, anytime in the last 8 years, then why wouldn't they go for an injunction to sell instead of or in addition to just money?  We saw this exact type of situation unfold in the number of legal skirmishes between Apple and Samsung.  SurfCast clearly didn't have anything they could have sold since 2004, meaning that, in my non-professional opinion, any claim of "harm and injury" on these grounds is ridiculous.

If the claim held any water, where was the lawsuit when Windows Phone 7 came out? The Windows 8 Developer Preview last year?  The Consumer Preview this year?  They waited until the very month that Microsoft released Windows 8, RT, and the Surface hardware.  Sorry SurfCast, Technical Fowl just ain't buying what you're sellin'.  Every shred of evidence tells me that this is nothing more than a troll out for some easy green.

Microsoft's statement to Wired and Ars Technica on the topic was simple: “We are confident we will prove to the court that these claims are without merit and that Microsoft has created a unique user experience.”

Translation: "We are going to mop the floor with these chumps."