On walkabout in life and technology

Understanding ACTA

Lets see if I understand ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement:

THEM: It’s purpose is to create a legal standard for global intellectual property rights enforcement.
US: Sounds good, it’s all so confusing, consistency may be nice.

THEM: The WTO already has 153 countries signed up to TRIPS which is a legal standard for global intellectual property rights enforcement, ACTA overrides it.
US: Mmmbokaaay, do we need a new deal then?

THEM: It was negotiated by a small group of countries, excluding most countries, governments, trade organizations and any public forums.
US: Negotiated? Excluding most players? Not good.

THEM: It overrides other countries laws and legal systems, forcing them to follow ACTA or lose safe harbor trade protections.
US: Can they do that? Seems they can!

THEM: It was done in secret, even to the point that talking about ACTA was a secret.
US: This is not Fight Club! A secret law. That affects us. WTF?

THEM: We only know about it because if Wikileaks.
US: Phew.

THEM: It has been signed by the USA.
US: Wish we had been consulted first, this is a democracy you know.

THEM: The USA has banned the release of this agreement under National Security laws, which means us poor citizens are subject to laws that we cannot find out about. All Freedom of Information Act requests for this document have been denied.
US: Triple WTF? In what alternate universe does a ripped CD or a fake Gucci bag affect National Security?

THEM: It enables countries to search personal baggage, personal computers, iPods and phones without cause for infringing materials, and to then punish people via fines or confiscation without recourse.
US: What about privacy, human rights, international law, freedom? Could it get any worse!

THEM: It requires countries to share all information related to searches and seizures on private citizens.
US: It just got worse!

THEM: ACTA does not require probable cause to perform a search.
US: What? No rights! Nooooo!

THEM: ACTA does not define what an infringing item is.
US: No definitions! So anything could be claimed as infringing, by anyone, anytime? Great, I hereby claim all iPads to be infringing. Oh, and chocolate too, it may be a fake Cadbury’s.

THEM: ACTA does not explain how border guards are supposed to know the difference between legal and infringing goods.
US: No way! They have to guess? That’s an ugly handbag, lets fine her!

THEM: ACTA does not provide any protection that the search will be restricted to infringing items (they can read your communications under ACTA which is currently and patently illegal under tons of international and national laws, then prosecute you on what they find).
US: That’s bat-shit crazy! It even overrides the USA’s 5th amendment rights? And the USA Government signed it!

THEM: ACTA allows these searches to be performed at the ISP level as well, not just at borders, so it’s global SOPA.
US: Beyond insane! So Slovenia can search my ISP in New York and fine me because they need the cash?

THEM: ACTA offers no due process for notification, charge, or response.
US: Oh, add icing on this shitcake!

From 16–18 June 2010, a conference was held at the Washington College of Law, attended by "over 90 academics, practitioners and public interest organizations from six continents". Their conclusions were published on 23 June 2010 on the American University Washington College of Law website. They found "that the terms of the publicly released draft of ACTA threaten numerous public interests, including every concern specifically disclaimed by negotiators." A group of 75+ law professors has signed a letter to President Obama demanding a host of changes to the agreement. The letter alleges that no meaningful transparency has been in evidence.

We stopped SOPA and PIPA, but it may be too late to stop ACTA.

Hiltmonism - Operations by Exception

If we define operations as “a piece of organized and concerted activity involving a number of people”, then all businesses consist of a lot of operations. Back offices, accounting groups, processing units, operations departments, call them what you may, there are departments and departments of operations.

In the Automate or Die Hiltmonism, I pointed out the need to automate as much of your process flow as you can. This means tackling operations, its hordes of people, its arcane processes, its political hierarchy and its bureaucratic inertia.

This painful area of business is also where technology really shines if done right. Operations are usually rote, rule based and data intensive, everything that software is good at. Automating operations reduces errors, frees up people to work on value-add processes, improves the flexibility and nimbleness of a business and enables you to pump much more work through the process quicker and using fewer resources.

But operations is also a very messy business, most because it is human based and operations evolve, they are rarely discussed or designed. There are always exceptions to every rule, conventions that are not followed, special cases and odd duck flows that are the result of long ago conversations that still seem necessary to those who perform these tasks. Getting operations people to even agree what the 90% is takes time, patience and an ability to stay on topic.

But, as a developer, if you do get the 90%, then you can automate it. 90% increase in throughput, 90% decrease in errors, 90% less hassle is sure better than none.

So what about the remaining 10%?

You run Operations by Exception.

For the 10% of operations that don’t fit the usual operations flow, catch them early, fail and bust out an exception that explains clearly what is unusual. Pop a list of these on a screen send out an alert. Then let the people deal with it.

Operations staff, instead of having to execute the operations themselves, can now ignore everything but the exceptions. Their workload drops to looking to see if there are any new exceptions to deal with, and then dealing with them, and then moving on to the next one.

Running operations by exception relieves the burden and stresses on staff, reduces tediousness, increases the amount of fun challenging work they do, and ensures that any exceptions are given their full attention and that they get resolved. It allows businesses to grow and expand without much increase in people’s workload, headcount or error rates.

Write operations software that automates 90% of cases, and produces clear exception reports for the remaining 10%. Add components to track and close exceptions, turn it into a game if you must, and get a whole lot more operations done with less.

Bread Crumbs in Day One

I switched over to Day One for journaling at the start of the year on a lark, and its become a core part of my process.

Here are three things I do with it:

1. Bread crumb blog posts

I have updated the Octopress rake file for new_post to also bread crumb the new post in Day One (and launch Byword for editing).

Place this at the end of the :new_post task (see below for details on the LogToDayOne.rb script)

  # Log to Day One and open it for editing
  %x{~/scripts/LogtoDayOne.rb "@blog #{title}"}
  %x{open "#{filename}"}

The first line runs the LogToDayOne.rb passing in the blog title. The second line opens the generated markdown file using the default editor (of course Byword is it).

Here it is in Day One:

2. Log all commits

I have created a shell macro to log all git commits such that the project and commit message is also logged to Day One.

In .bash_profile:

function gca(){
  ~/scripts/LogtoDayOne.rb "@${path##*/} $msg"
  git commit -am "$msg"

Now all I do is type gca "The commit message" and its both logged to Day One and saved in git.

Here it is in Day One:

3. Use the annoying reminders

I have enabled the reminders function in Day One so that 3 times a day, an annoying gray box comes up asking me to journal something. So I do. And its been totally worth it. There is always something to note, something to remember, something to write about. Even though I have only been doing this a month, I can already see a clear journal of my activities in Day One.

The script

Logging commits was not my idea. I got the LogToDayOne.rb script from Brett Terpstra in Logging with Day One, Geek Style - and removed the dependency on chronic since I do not need it and it was conflicting with the RVM in Octopress. I though it was so cool, I added the blog bread crumb myself in Octopress.

The result

As a result of these, I have a comprehensive journal of what happened each day over and above my project and coding notes.

Anyone else got some cool scripts for Day One? I’d love it to become more like Momento for the Mac.

Developers, a Love Story

By @macdrifter, Developers, A Love Story.

While browsing my Application folder on my Mac, I noticed something. I have a fondness for some apps that I rarely use. I’m just glad that I own them. I may not use them all but I feel good about the money I’ve spent.

I second the motion.

A Spellchecker Used to Be a Major Feat of Software Engineering

A classic by James Hague entitled A Spellchecker Used to Be a Major Feat of Software Engineering.

Writing a spellchecker in the mid-1980s was a hard problem. Programmers came up with some impressive data compression methods in response to the spellchecker challenge. Likewise there were some very clever data structures for quickly finding words in a compressed dictionary. This was a problem that could take months of focused effort to work out a solution to.

Reminded me of when I used to program with disk, CPU and memory constraints back before I had gray hair. And how much our tools have progressed since then.

See Also: Things That Turbo Pascal is Smaller Than - it was my first CS language at university.

Make a Better Product

Rich Siegel, of BBEdit fame, in his blog article Bar Sopa, makes the right point on piracy:

A good way to do this is to make a product for which more people want to pay a fair price than who are willing to steal it.


Take the money you would have spent on fighting piracy and use it to make a better product and/or service. Making more laws is not the answer.

Software Is Eating the World

Marc Andreessen, writing in the WSJ Why Software Is Eating The World, writes:

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures.

The best evidence of Software eating the world, one that I think he missed, is that the Phone component on an iPhone or Android device is an app, just another piece of software!

Stop SOPA and PIPA, a Personal Request

This blog exists due to the confluence of a few cool things

  • Freedom of Speech
  • The Internet being a free and open platform that interconnects us all
  • Me, having something to say and share
  • You, having the option and the ability to read my writing

In this blog I can express my opinions, emotions, teach, joke, and write about anything. You can find me in your browser or search engine. Confluence.

With SOPA and PIPA in place, this blog would probably disappear very quickly. Either

  • I will censor myself, not express my true opinion, or just not cover an important topic because I will be afraid that some random person may disagree and have me shut down. No more teaching, no more valid opinions that disagree with Big Brother.
  • Some random person will shut me down because, well, they don’t need a reason. They may claim infringement, but do not have to prove it. “Who shall I take down today?”, muses Big Brother.
  • Or, my ISP will be shut down because another blog on the same server got taken down and mine was collateral damage.

The worst part about it is that under SOPA and PIPA, I get no notification, no warning and have no way to respond without spending thousands in legal fees. The censor needs no reason to shut me down, but I need to somehow prove that no reason exists.

Guilty until proven innocent.

I think that is wrong. I trust you do too.

Please call your congressman and get these bills killed.

Ironically, under SOPA and PIPA, I probably cannot even ask you to do this.

Hollywood Accounting and SOPA

Hollywood Accounting refers to the opaque accounting practices used by the film, video and music industry to hyper-inflate expenditures such that their products never make any profits so they can then screw artists out of fees and royalties due to them. See a friendlier definition in wikipedia.

Basically by the terms of my contract, if a set on a WB movie burns down in Botswana, they can charge it against B5's profits.

Michael Strazynski Writer & Producer of Babylon 5

Three points:

  • These are the people behind SOPA, PIPA, DRM and region encoding. The same people claiming that their losses are bigger than the Wall Street bailout, while never providing any evidence or proof. And said fictional evidence is even more fictional because its Hollywood Accounting fiction.
  • These are the same people claiming that ‘piracy’ (downloads) are worse than terrorism, because these ‘pirates’ are taking money out of the pockets of real artists. Yet these are the exact companies that are supposed to be paying real artists their royalties and are not doing so because their Hollywood Accounting practices declare that there is no money available.
  • Its tax time in the USA, how can I get me some of that (joke)

The way I read it, whether or not I buy their films, videos, or music, the artists get the same amount of money. Zero, zot, nada, bupkis, none. But if I use, refer to, mention, have playing in the background, or post anything from these films, videos or music, I and the poor bastard that hosts the thing I post are treated as criminals. That is Hollywood Accounting.

UPDATE: My point, Hollywood Accounting is creating the fiction that copyright infringement is hurting real people and that SOPA and PIPA are needed to protect these people. Yet they get nothing, whether or not copyright is infringed or not, whether or not SOPA or PIPA exist, they still get nothing!

Google's Schmidt Solution to Android

Following on to my earlier post on How Google Failed to Fix the Mobile Market, Jamie Lendino writes in Hey, Google: Here’s What Fragmentation Means in PCMag:

Schmidt's solution—that "if you don't like it, you can buy the phone from someone else"—doesn't work when you're locked in a two-year contract, when there are over 300,000 apps in Android Market to test, and when a phone vendor goes back on its promise to provide an OS upgrade. How could you possibly know beforehand what's going to happen?

Um, actually, if you buy an Android phone from a US carrier, you will get crapware, bloatware, a horrible custom interface, unremovable carrier apps and no upgrades on an ancient version of Android. Now you know.