Monthly Archives: January 2003

A Modest Proposal

Last week’s supreme court decision upholding the right of the Congress to extend the “limited” term of a copyright indefinitely was a huge blow to the public domain. Under this law, nothing will enter the public domain in the United States until at least 2019. Ponder that one for a few minutes.

This week, though, a respected international news magazine comes out with a proposal so radically different from the status quo that it’s shocking. The Economist proposes a 14 year copyright term, renewable once. [via Lessig Blog]

Computer Science Wisdom

I know that a number of my readers are computer scientists, either by training or by practice, so I thought I would throw this your way. I was combing through the trove of EWDs that I mentioned to you last week, and I found this one: “The Programming Task Considered as an Intellectual Challenge.” It was written in 1969, but it still seems very fresh and applicable to much of modern programming. It appears to have been written as a speech, but the bibliographic data which I have available gives no clue as to where it was delivered.

In spite of their tremendous influence on nearly every activity, whenever they are called to assist, it is my considered opinion that we underestimate the computer’s significance for our culture as long as we only view them in their capacity of tools that can be used. In the long run that may turn out to be but a ripple on the surface of our culture. They have taught us much more: they have taught us that programming any non-trivial performance is really very difficult and I expect a much more profound influence from the advent of that automatic computer in its capacity of a formidable intellectual challenge which is unequalled in the history of mankind.

Master Key Vulnerability

An interesting article this morning in the NY Times (free registration required). A computer security expert at AT&T has applied techniques from computer security to good old-fashioned locks. What he found was that if you have any key from a building with a master key system, then you can easily create a master key for the whole building.

Kindof scary since I both live and work in buildings with a master key system. Apparently locksmiths have known about this attack for years, but no one has ever published on it before.

Personal Knowledge Publishing

This article contains lots of great ideas for understanding how a weblog can fit into the life of a researcher.

One of the coolest things I learned, though, was about Edsger W. Dijkstra. If you don’t know the name, Dijkstra was a famous computer scientist who died last year. Anyway, in the course of reading the article linked above about personal knowledge publishing, I discovered that throughout his career Dijkstra circulated a series of technical notes, trip reports, and observations to his collegues around the world. He called these missives EWDs, and he numbered them consecutively. Many of them were later turned into published papers, though there is much in the EWDs that was never published. Dijkstra’s manuscripts have now been collected and are available online. What a fascinating resource, and what a model of participation in the research community. I am in awe.

New Chronicle Article

Well, the cover story in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education is about the UAW. Lucky for you, it’s free.

First, the good. I think the Chronicle got the right story this time. The story is not “UAW defeated at Cornell.” The story is “What is the roll of the UAW in higher education?” This article at least makes a passing attempt at answering that question, even if I’m not thrilled with the way that they answered it.

I was pleased to see that the reporter found a CASE dissenter, who was willing to propose that CASE (the Cornell Association of Student Employees, the group who attempted to unionize Cornell grad students) drop the UAW and try to unionize only TAs. Since CASE has shown no interest in talking to the opposition about what they could do to improve their next campaign, I’ll put it out here for public consumption: If CASE dropped the UAW and unionized only TAs, then they would win their representation election in a heartbeat. And I, for one, wouldn’t oppose them.

Finally, I was happy to see the quote from a former UAW regional director saying, basically, that the union leaders didn’t really give a damn about Cornell, that they were much more concerned about autoworkers. That will make a fine poster if the UAW tries again at Cornell.

Now, the bad. First, the article repeatedly mentions Jackie Janesk, an undergraduate who wrote a report on the UAW loss at Cornell for a class she was taking. I think Ms. Janesk worked hard on her paper; she certainly did a lot of research. But, I think her conclusions were seriously flawed. CASE tried very hard to argue that the UAW was a good fit for grad students, they just didn’t do it very effectively.

Second, the article seems to hop onto the “unionization is inevitable” and “Cornell is just a pothole” bandwagons. That’s been the UAW’s spin from the moment that the election results were announced. If the ballot boxes are ever unsealed, then I think the UAW will have one or two more potholes to deal with…

Finally, I wasn’t thrilled to see our concerns repeatedly lumped into the “standard anti-union tactics” bin. This completely misses the point that the opposition at Cornell wasn’t led by “the management” nor were we fed lines by the administration. The opposition was a group of students who were unhappy with elements of the proposed union. If our detractors would stop deluding themselves then they would realize that under different circumstances many of the leaders of At What Cost? would have supported a union – or at least not actively opposed it. I guess that’s my biggest compaint; the article seems to completely buy the UAW spin.

Oh well. I’ll be gone from Cornell before the UAW can return to Cornell, so I’ll stick to dissertation writing and let the pundits say what they will.

Blowing My Mind

Ever since I posted that last entry, I’ve been thinking of ever-cooler applications of Voice-over-IP technology. Here’s the best one I’ve come up with: You take a Pocket PC Phone Edition (or an equivalent Palm OS device with built-in cell phone), and you add an 802.11 card and software for Voice-over-IP. When you’re at your home or office, it uses the Voice-over-IP and the 802.11 card to provide voice and data services via your broadband internet service. When you’re on the road, you get your voice and data via the cellular system. At the moment, you would still need two phone numbers to pull off this trick, but someone’s bound to offer this service with a single number soon… And service should be cheaper than the current cellular plans since you will often be using a network connection that you’ve already paid for. The hardware is there; the software can’t be far behind.