The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Judge takes away our DVR

A Federal judge has ordered Dish Network to disable almost all of its customers' digital video recorders after parent company EchoStar Communications lost a patent-infringement suit brought by TiVo:

Thursday's ruling from U.S. District Judge David Folsom in Marshall, Texas, demands that within 30 days, EchoStar must basically render useless all but 192,708 of the DVR units it has deployed.
The decision comes four months after a jury ruled that EchoStar should pay TiVo $73.9 million because it willfully infringed TiVo patents that allow the digital storage of TV programming.

Crap. This could be inconvenient. All those Lost episodes we've saved could be...um...yeah.

Update, 3:43 pm CDT (20:43 UTC): The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington has granted a temporary stay of injunction to give Dish Networks time to work something out with TiVo. (I couldn't find the actual order online.) So we get to keep our DVR for the time being.

Inner Drive will be happy to help

The FBI spent $170 million on broken software, which it has since scrapped. Now it's planning to spend $450 million on, one hopes, working software:

Because of an open-ended contract with few safeguards, [San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.] reaped more than $100 million as the project became bigger and more complicated, even though its software never worked properly. The company continued to meet the bureau's requests, accepting payments despite clear signs that the FBI's approach to the project was badly flawed, according to people who were involved in the project or later reviewed it for the government.
David Kay, a former SAIC senior vice president who did not work on the program but closely watched its development, said the company knew the FBI's plans were going awry but did not insist on changes because the bureau continued to pay the bills as the work piled up.
Along the way, the FBI made a fateful choice: It wanted SAIC to build the new software system from scratch rather than modifying commercially available, off-the-shelf software. Later, the company would say the FBI made that decision independently; FBI officials countered that SAIC pushed them into it.

Upton Sinclair's wisdom notwithstanding, consultants have an obligation to inform clients about problems before they become too large to solve. Consultants also have an obligation to make appropriate build-or-buy recommendations to clients; in this case, if SAIC made such recommendations, there doesn't seem to be any evidence.

On the other hand, the Post article suggests the FBI had almost no clue what they were doing, bolstering SAIC's claims that they told them so.

Still, even assuming the best possible facts in SAIC's favor, they should have done the right thing, whatever that "right thing" was at any point in the relationship. Like, for example, testing the software, even if the FBI didn't think testing was important.

When a project like that blows up, everyone looks bad. Sometimes the consultant just has to walk away before that happens.

Battle on the Lake Path

The Chicago Tribune has a lengthy article about the Chicago Lakefront path, and its many hazards:

Ideally, pedestrians and runners stay to the right of each lane near the perimeter or on the soft, gravel-covered shoulder. Faster traffic—cyclists and in-line skaters—travel on the inside, closer to the yellow line.
During these summer evenings, the minefield emerges, and each group blames the others. Sunbathing near the Ohio Street Beach, in-line skater Roger Mroczek turns and points at a child crossing the trail, oblivious to traffic.

I won't ride down the path during peak hours any more. It's not worth it. Even this morning around 8, I almost ran over a portly gentleman shuffling down the center of the path. Because he had his iPod plugging up his ears, he didn't hear me shouting "on the left" repeatedly.

I ride fast, but I'm always aware of everyone else on the trail. I stay right except to pass, which means faster riders can pass me easier. And I have no problem with runners who do the same—especially when they stay on the gravel shoulders or on the new, elevated running path between North Ave. and Oak St.

But my goodness, anyone, whether on a bike, on foot, or—horrors!—on rollerblades, who takes up the entire lane, deserves road rash.

At least we're not in last place

Only Turkey lags behind the U.S. in the proportion of people who believe the well-established fact that humans decended from apes:

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."
Miller's report makes for grim reading for adherents of evolutionary theory. Even though the average American has more years of education than when Miller began his surveys 20 years ago, the percentage of people in the country who accept the idea of evolution has declined from 45 in 1985 to 40 in 2005 (Science, vol 313, p 765). That's despite a series of widely publicised advances in genetics, including genetic sequencing, which shows strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice. "We don't seem to be going in the right direction," Miller says.

Approximately the same number of Americans accept evolution as who don't, but 10% aren't sure either way. In Turkey, more than half reject the theory.

Gotta love the fundies.

Plutons?

I'm actually enjoying the International Astronomical Union's discussions about what, actually, is a planet:

The part of "IAU Resolution 5 for GA-XXVI" that describes the planet definition, states: "A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet." Member of the Planet Definition Committee, Richard Binzel says: "Our goal was to find a scientific basis for a new definition of planet and we chose gravity as the determining factor. Nature decides whether or not an object is a planet."
The IAU draft Resolution also defines a new category of planet for official use: "pluton". Plutons are distinguished from classical planets in that they reside in orbits around the Sun that take longer than 200 years to complete (i.e. they orbit beyond Neptune). Plutons typically have orbits that are highly tilted with respect to the classical planets (technically referred to as a large orbital inclination). Plutons also typically have orbits that are far from being perfectly circular (technically referred to as having a large orbital eccentricity). All of these distinguishing characteristics for plutons are scientifically interesting in that they suggest a different origin from the classical planets.

By this definition the solar system has 12 planets, including Ceres, Charon, and UB313 (which one suspects will soon get a "real" name).

Blog spam

I wonder what spammers are actually thinking almost as much as I wonder why they bother me.

I've had a blog-spam problem for about three weeks now targeting my referral logs. Spammers with robots use robots that act like people browsing the blog, but they appear to come from gambling sites so that the site URLs show up in the system logs. Some blogs' referral logs are searched by Google and other sites, so the theory here is that the referral spam will generate a lot of inbound links into their sites driving up their search rankings. Sadly for all concerned, this doesn't actually happen; Google is too smart.

Then there's comment spam, like this thoughtful thing I got from a vistor in India this morning:

Remember to let her into your bedbug, then you can start to make it partial.
I don't care about Christopher Fargis, he is vivid, pubescent, and anatomic and I am not going to refracture about it. Dyno-blast Jason Chan hunch our lettering. Our hydraulic corer guard a specious otherness Sammy Schenker is a scornful chelicera? Then Mazen Nesheiwat skyjacks a blurriest nunnery. We will commend on the glitter; we will generalize on the commissure; we will never flick.
My to go cardiograph overconcentrates in the hole. Harmonic Airy Phanhyaseng lip the ambidexter. Therefore unless Gerald Cheatham solemnify Minh Nguyen, she westernize my fattiness but disvalue him

The trick here is that someone is monitoring the spammer's email address, and the subject of the spam comment suggests that anyone emailing the spammer will get information about a gambling site.

Some actual person had to enter the comment, though. The IP address of the comment shows that actual person to be in India, where I can only assume he or she was paid a few cents to copy the nonsense into the comment and submit it to the blog.

It's sad, really. But, in an absurd way, interesting poetry.

Do walk buttons work?

Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevich channels Cecil Adams:

The actual answer is fuzzy, depending on the location, the time of day, vehicle traffic volumes, when the walk button is activated—and luck too.
Many pedestrians refuse to press walk buttons due to suspicions they are a trick or a placebo concocted by the traffic gods to keep walkers calm while breathing fumes from tailpipes as they wait for green lights at busy street corners.
Steve Travia, IDOT's bureau chief of traffic for the Chicago area[, says:] "The bottom line is that if you don't push the walk button, the walk signal may never come up."

Of course, if you're in New York, don't bother, because 80% of their "walk" buttons are disconnected.

85 days, 15 hours and 50 minutes

The hypothesis that the Bush Administration (891 days, 3 hours and 50 minutes left) pumps up the volume on terrorism close to an election just got more evidence:

NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

So all you people who had to throw out your expensive cologne this past week? You might want to write your congressman.

Wind is hard

On a day like this, when I'm slogging into the wind on Lawrence through heavy traffic and stopping...every...two...blocks for red lights, I just want to finish the ride. But then lately, even my bad rides end up surprising me. Today I did 80 km (50 mi) in unpleasant conditions and still finished in 3:11, more than a minute faster than my best 80 km time.

Next weekend: 120 km (75 mi), which, should I complete it, will be the longest I've ever ridden in one day.

Another waste of time

If you don't mind downloading 25 Mb, you can see the short video I took of the cicada who attached herself to my screen while I was working yesterday. To get the full experience turn your speakers up to 11. Those things are ridiculously loud.

They start to come out in Northern Illinois mid-June, and by mid-August they're everywhere. Then, suddenly, around Labor Day, they disappear for another year.

Someone has a cicada blog you might want to check out, if you're into cicadas.

By the way, Chicagoland, next year is our big cicada year, when Brood XIII pokes out of the ground mid-May. In 1990 they not only poked out of the ground, they covered it, generating a noise that can't be described.

I love these guys. Their buzzing just says "summer" to me.