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Mortality and Venality

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  • Kurt Cagle <kurt@kurtcagle.net>
    **************************** Kurt Cagle s Metaphorical Web **************************** Wednesday, November 20, 2002 http://www.kurtcagle.net
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9, 2003
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      Kurt Cagle's
      Metaphorical Web
      Wednesday, November 20, 2002

      This has been a rough week for me. It began with a trip from Seattle
      to Illinois, in order to see my dying grandfather and let him see his
      great-granddaughters one last time. I learned from this trip several
      things, not least of which being that combining two year olds and
      cross-country flights (especially ones with layovers) is a bad idea. I
      discovered that dying comes when people give up all hope, that the
      worst thing in the world is to be an alert mind trapped in a dying
      body, and when you leave the question on your lip is almost invariably
      "Did I live the world a better place than I found it?"
      Upon our flight back my youngest daughter started throwing up, we
      thought at first from the airplane flight (which HAD been
      extraordinarily bumpy) but later changed our prognosis to flu,
      especially when my elder daughter (age nine and a half), my wife, and
      I also got it. This was nasty stuff. The first day involved heaving
      one's guts out (which became almost a comic marathon of bowls and
      washing of sheets and frazzled nerves). The second day saw the
      recipients of this particular bug unable to stay awake for more that
      thirty seconds at a stretch. I was in a Starbucks when that particular
      fate hit me, and they were kind enough to let me sleep in one of their
      comfy chairs next to the fire, because I would have been dangerous
      I had thought, after a restless night where I was actually beginning
      to feel better that I was over it, when disaster apparently struck, at
      about 3:30 in the morning. I woke to racing pains shooting up and down
      my arm, my back and chest aching fiercely, my brow bathed in sweat. My
      father-in-law is a cardiologist ... I knew exactly what these symptoms
      portended. Thirty minutes later I was stripped down to a gown which
      opens in the back, four sets of tubes connecting to blood thinners and
      saline solutions at the local hospital. The cardiologist on staff said
      that it could be several things, but at the top of his list sat
      cardiac infarction ... a heart attack.
      I think there comes a time in all people's lives when they realize
      deep down that they are mortal. This isn't the rational awareness of
      mortality, the fact that yes all beings die, the realization from the
      dead goldfish or rabbit or cat when you are a child that yes, even
      people die. I think that morning, as I listened to the cardiologist's
      strong recommendation that I get an angiogram and possibly angioplasty
      if the diagnosis turned up positive, that the awareness hit home, on a
      primal, terrifying level, that I would die. It may not be tomorrow, it
      may not even be several years yet, but the rational suddenly became
      emotional, became intrinsic to me, that the most precious thing that I
      own is my own time, because nothing, not riches, not power, nothing
      can replace the time that I have lost.
      The angiogram turned out negative. As I lay in sedated bemusement I
      watched radioactive dyes course through the veins around my heart,
      then into the chambers of the heart itself. Nowhere was there
      blockage, nowhere a bulge indicating blood backing up around a clogged
      passageway. Perhaps the thinners had done their trick. Perhaps, and
      indeed I suspect to be the case, the flu had inflamed the tissues of
      the heart itself, creating destabilization in the flows. I had been
      granted a reprieve, but not a full pardon.
      This column is usually about technology issues, but I feel that this
      needed to be said. Your life is important, more important than a body
      of code or a standard or a new way of thinking. These latter things
      will give immortality to your ideas for others, but only you – your
      experiences, your beliefs, your hopes, your fears – only you will be
      able to live your life. Make it worthwhile, so that at the end of that
      long day heading into night you can say that you did leave the world a
      better place than when you arrived.
      Postscript: As I was writing this column, mortality struck again,
      though in this case, on a national level. On Saturday, the 1st of
      February, the space shuttle Columbia apparently lost a critical
      section of shielding while making a navigational turn at 200,000 feet,
      and shortly thereafter turned into a fireball, instantly killing all
      seven astronauts on board and scattering remains of the first true
      shuttle of the fleet over seven states. For the astronauts, there was
      no reprieve, only the knowledge afterwards by those remaining that
      their end must have been quick. It was a wretchedly beautiful and
      horrible thing to watch, the fireball appearing in the lenses of
      videographers like a brilliant shining four pointed comet as it
      descended to Earth, an eerie echo to the badge that this particular
      mission crew wore.
      I grieve for the people who died and their families, and hope that
      what they embodied, the spirit of adventurousness and exploration, of
      pushing the boundaries for the sake of knowledge and understanding,
      will not die with them. Blessed be.
      Venality, Inc.
      I am, or rather my company Cagle Communication is, a member of the
      Washington Software Alliance, a consortium of software companies in
      Washington State that provide a common front for negotiation laws
      favorable to software development. I am also probably one of the few
      presidents of a WSA company that is also a member of the AFL-CIO,
      through the National Writer's Union, but that's neither here nor there.
      The WSA is also sort of an informal associate to the Software Business
      Association, a lobbying organization that has most recently begun to
      seem increasingly like the thugs with names like Guido the Spleen who
      would go to restaurants, grocery stories and the like in the 1930s and
      would offer to "protect" them from someone setting fire to their
      building at night, or beating up their proprietors as they headed home.
      It was perhaps for this reason (I was listed in the WSA guide?) that I
      received a letter on formal letterhead from the BSA, headquartered in
      the other Washington. Apparently, they have decided that their first
      extortion attempts from last February being such a success, the BSA
      has now decided to expand their coverage to many other cities with a
      second campaign modelled on the first.
      The letter indicated that Kirkland, my current home, was one of a
      number of cities that were currently being investigated by the BSA for
      the use of pirated or illegally obtained software, and that as a
      business in the computer industry it would be in my best interest to
      license any software that I currently am using (with a special "grace
      period" exemption should I do so by a certain date). After that the
      letter brought up the fact that violations of such software licenses
      were now punishable by law under the DMCA and other actions, with
      damages potentially in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
      Of course, never stated in this was whether or not the BSA in fact has
      any authority itself in performing such audits, or whether it coerces
      police departments or even the FBI to do so in its behalf. In either
      case this is a very disturbing sign from a civil liberties standpoint,
      the first implying that the BSA has some quasi-legal standing to
      violate at least the Fourth Amendment, the latter implying that the
      BSA has enough money and political clout to divert public servants to
      do what is essentially the work of private industry in the first place
      (securing their software in a preventable method). It is possible (and
      hopefully for now probable) that the BSA does not in fact have the
      authority to do either one of these things explicitly, but by using
      hard-arm tactics, it appears to others that they do. At one point this
      devolves into the second, I do not know, but I worry the day is not
      far off it is not already here.
      For the record, I run Linux on both my home office server and my
      laptop box, though I do have a Windows partition in the laptop that I
      use for some development work. The move to Linux in both cases was
      originally made in response to the first campaign – I felt that I did
      not like being treated like a criminal for using an operating system,
      which I keep legally clean as a matter of principal. The choice at the
      time was a rough one ... I was working with Microsoft Windows 2000 and
      IIS on my server, and migrating to Linux on what was essentially the
      family computer (though that has since changed) was initially
      difficult for someone who didn't have a strong Unix background.
      For me it was a matter of both principal and money. The tools that
      were in those Linux distros for doing certain things as a writer or
      developer weren't great, but they did the job, and as I became more
      proficient with them I discovered they were better than I thought on
      first impression (and they have also improved dramatically). Certain
      tools, such as Open Office, make perfect sense for a small shop to do
      any number of actions – I actually do most of my professional writing,
      as well as this blog, on Open Office unless I specifically have a
      client that requires a Microsoft feature that isn't found otherwise
      (mainly having to do with scripting). In the lean times that marked
      last year, every dollar counted, and having these tools available for
      the cost of the Linux distro (or a web download) made more sense than
      buying a new upgrade to the tools that I had bought a few years before.
      The strong-arm tactics used by the BSA may net them a number of
      companies that decide that the risks and productivity loss from an
      audit could be devastating, even if they had clean systems. However,
      this to me spells out the biggest problem with the compliance campaign
      – in most cases companies do not steal software, though they may put
      the same system or application that they legally purchased on more
      than one machine. The question I would ask here is that whether this
      latter action is in fact unethical (though it can easily be made
      illegal with the right amount of grease in the courts).
      Much of the success of Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop stems from
      the fact that when people purchase the software, they may have ended
      up putting it onto a number of machines. They spent the several
      hundred dollars for the initial applications – in essence paying for
      the template that made it possible to run the applications on their
      machines. Once they have the template, buying a second copy becomes a
      legal decision, not a pragmatic one – you cannot install Office
      without the initial CD and key, but once you have both of these
      things, there's nothing to keep you from installing these on multiple
      machines ... technically. Ironically, though, people understand that
      copying the template to a different medium and passing around (or
      selling) that template is a criminal act; in essence the medium (the
      CD) acts as a mechanism to push the intellectual properties (IP)
      issues back into the realm of physical object transactions. We're
      still feeling our way around the IP realm, but we have a codex of law
      governing the disposition of physical objects that goes back centuries.
      Microsoft in particular has faltered of late because they became
      greedy. As a major backer of the BSA, Microsoft is especially
      interested in insuring that the degree of copying of their core
      bread-winning software is reduced, and with the use of web services
      they have the capability to do just that. Ironically, however, the
      effect of the anti-copying campaigns may be backfiring, because there
      is no distinction in the minds of Microsoft lawyers between the
      template and the code use itself. It is not stopping the blatant
      thieves; the ones who make tens of thousands of copies of Windows or
      Word with special hacked keys so that they can sell the application in
      the streets of Beijing. Instead, it is targeting those people who make
      at least a subconscious distinction between instances of code and the
      template media upon which the installation of that code depends.
      Put this into perspective. If you had four computers in your home, and
      you bought a copy of Microsoft Office in 1997, in all likelihood you
      would have installed it on all four computers (three desktop machines
      and a laptop) without thinking much about it – all for a cost of about
      $500. Today, because of the limitations on copying, you'd need to buy
      three copies of Office (you do get a bye for the laptop, so long as
      you have a least one desktop system that's also using the software)
      ... That means that you'd have to spend $1500. The former is painful
      but affordable, the latter, especially since you already have spent
      the money for the media in the first place, is extravagent.
      Given this, what do you do? Your options are pretty limited. You can
      cough up the money, with the thought that the legal fees would come to
      more; this is the coercive model that the SBA is trying to instill.
      You can try to put the application on different machines, keeping only
      one machine on the Internet at any given time. This is impractical.
      You can go to Kazaa and download a pirated copy of Office, risky more
      for the possibility of virus contamination – this is unethical,
      because in this case you didn't even buy the template.
      Finally, you can explore alternatives, such as OpenOffice or Star
      Office – in other words, move to the Open Source camp. These
      alternatives are not necessarily free in and of themselves (I actually
      have paid for Star Office in the past, though the current version I
      have shipped with the distro), but because you're in essence buying
      the template outright rather than renting it, you can put it on all
      four machines for the cost of the package, which for Star Office
      retail runs about $70. The argument of $1500 vs. $70 is compelling,
      especially with the added risk of running afoul of the SBA if you
      don't manage to keep licenses completely up to date on the (much) more
      costly side.
      There is of course another facet to the SBA's presumptious and perhaps
      illegal "audits". Such an audit can also be used to determine the
      degree of "subversive" software that you have in a given company,
      which can in turn be used to target you for marketing court presses
      and, to a lesser degree, may also be used as a tool that SBA members
      can use to disrupt your business. Simply by knowing the software that
      you have available also makes it possible to create at least a
      snapshot of where a company is in the development process of a
      product, information which can be quite valuable if an SBA member is
      in the same vertical market.
      A company that needs to resort to legal tactics, coercion, and
      intimidation rather than innovation and meeting the needs of their
      customers is also one that is likely to be beset by hubris and
      corruption. They act as a drag upon the market, stifle innovation
      (including the innovation that they feed upon), and push a level of
      homogenization that reduces choice for customers. The actions of the
      BSA are not asimilar to those of RIAA and MPAA, trade organizations
      that represent a handful of very large companies that are also facing
      real competition after too many years of being complacent, and that
      are responding with legal instruments rather than attempts at
      innovation. In the short run, they may win a number of significant
      battles, but ultimately the harder they fight, the more they alienate
      their customers, and the faster the migration to alternative ways of
      dealing with media occurs.
      Code Next Time
      I've normally tried including a block of code in each of these blogs.
      I was actually about 80% of the way through a lovely piece on Xforms
      when the hard drive on my laptop finally gave up the ghost after three
      years of heavy abuse. I had fortunately backed up recently (about a
      week before) because I had been thinking of replacing the drive anyone
      ... alas, I happened to write the code after this last back up. I'll
      try to include it the next time around.

      -- Kurt Cagle is the author of fourteen books and a few hundred
      articles on web technologies, multimedia and XML. Starting shortly
      (I've just secured the name), these blogs will be available for
      general consumption at http://www.metaphoricalweb.com , a site that
      I'll be using to pull together my articles, books, and ideas into a
      single general repository, including a Q&A section. Until then, you
      can subscribe to this newsletter by sending an email to
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