December 2003 Archives

You've got a legal visa, but we're still going to deport you.

"When the superpower of the world, the country that lauds freedom and democracy is the one that's causing this injustice to a person who has gone through the system perfectly legally and has done nothing wrong and yet their response is the exact same as to a felon, obviously we're distraught."

Homeland Security employee Trevor Hughes's fiancée was arbitrarily deported back to her Stuttgart home because Atlanta border control thought she might violate her visa and try and settle permanently. They stripped her of her diamond engagement ring, left her for 20 hours without food, often in a blank cell, and thanks to the unchecked vagaries of an extra-judicial officer, she may never get back into the States again. Her crime fault? Probably, either being German, or being born in Pakistan. But we'll never know, because none of the authorities concerned are willing to talk about this.

That's the rant summary. Now read the original article (via Boing Boing).

Diebold voting systems skewed?

No way to double-check, as there's no paper trail.

From a comment on (let me know if there's a more primary source) comes an analysis of the California gubernatorial election, breaking down total number of votes vs. votes in counties where Diebold equipment was used. The figures look like this (note that not all candidates were counted):

Candidate Cast in Diebold counties State total % of the total votes cast.
All 1,403,375 7,842,630 17.89%
Schwarzenegger 581,145 3,552,787 16.36%
Bustamante 447,008 2,379,740 18.78%
McClintock 186,923 979,234 19.08%
Camejo 39,199 207,270 18.9%
Huffington 7,498 42,131 17.79%
Ueberoth 3365 21378 15.74%
Flynt 2384 15010 15.88%
Coleman 1869 12443 15.02%
Simon 1351 7648 17.66%
Palmieri 2542 3717 68.3%
Louie 598 3198 18.7%
Kunzman 1957 2133 91.75%
Roscoe 325 1941 16.7%
Sprague 1026 1576 65.10%
Macaluso 592 1504 39.36%
Price 477 1011 47.18%
Quinn 220 433 50.8%
Martorana 165 420 39.28%
Gosse 60 419 14.3%

Now, the Diebold equipment is new, and there are bound to be a few glitches in a new product, especially when it's being used for a purpose it wasn't designed for - an election featuring 130-odd candidates when you expect at most 10. So that's why you have logs and a paper trail, so you can work out what went wrong. Right?

Incidentally, if there are faults in the Diebold system that can result in pathologically wrong results for small candidates, for edge cases, what's to say that there aren't also wrong results for some parts of the electorate of major candidates?

The US happy to negotiate with Al Qaeda

By invading Iraq.

Right at the end of a Washington Post article about how the US administration is no longer talking about weapons of mass destruction (possibly because they haven't found any of them):

[Walter Russell Mead, member of the Council on Foreign Relations] and other analysts noted that the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia is a core grievance of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization. Hussein's overthrow has enabled the United States to close down its operations at the Prince Sultan Air Base south of Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

Is this the new US policy on terrorists - to take the wind out of their sails by giving them what they want?

Top-posting vs. bottom-posting - or - Microsoft Outlook vs. The Right ThingTM

"A. Because it breaks the logical order of conversation. Q. Why is top posting bad?" The quote above is from David Walters, on the UK IT industry mailing list uknot, and it's a very good example of the standard...

"A. Because it breaks the logical order of conversation.
Q. Why is top posting bad?"

The quote above is from David Walters, on the UK IT industry mailing list uknot, and it's a very good example of the standard arguments against top-posting: it's witty, accurate, condescending, and does nothing to solve the problem.

In the same way that HTML email isn't intrinsically evil, I can't honestly see great moral differences between typing your reply before the original email (top-posting), and typing it after the quoted email (bottom-posting). In the good old days before the September that never ended, everyone bottom-posted; now there are two ways of doing things, thanks to Microsoft Outlook (and similar programs) letting loads more people send email. The question is, how do we reconcile them?

Often I'll get hideous monstrosities of top-posted emails like the following (ironically snipped to avoid you having to scroll for ages):

Sam, can you do something about this?

From: client <email address>
Subject: Re: whatever the subject was
(some more headers)

Yes, but I still have this problem.

Look, are you going to fix it or not?

On 23rd July 2002 you wrote:
> On 21st July 2003 you wrote:
> > I've got this problem
> > It goes something like this
> You're foolish. We tell you not to do this. It's your fault
> --
> stupidly long corporate signature that
> goes on for ages
> (as in, much longer than these three lines)

stupidly long corporate signature that
goes on for ages
(as in, much longer than these three lines)

This email is, clearly, a mess. That huge signature is repeated twice for no reason, it becomes difficult to work out who said what, if you read from top to bottom you see messages that, chronologically, occured in a different order (4, 3, 1, 2) - yuck. There's no easy visual way to determine, from quoting levels, how many removes from the original poster any given section is. Often, when I get these sorts of emails, I end up reformatting in top-posting order, getting rid of cruft, just so I can understand what's going on.

Bottom-posting proponents encourage people to do this at every level, so any time you get an email, all the salient points of the previous email are in the proper order, and the cruft has been stripped out. The idea is that you're being polite to your correspondent, and I like this attitude; I try to do this myself, but there are two problems. a) it takes time and effort; and b) beyond the obvious, "cruft" is subjective. Top-posting (and, typically, the corresponding lack of editing) often mean that you get the entire email exchange history, which can be invaluable for someone entering the conversation at mid-point. Once you've waded through the 10-line corporate signatures...

We need to understand that the old guard use email differently from more recent arrivals on the Internet, and rather than bitching about newbies being stupid, we need to work out how to educate and understand. Bottom-posting is useful for in-depth, point-by-point rebuttals involving many people; top-posting is appropriate for casual chat where people don't need to refer to previous posts because they remember them. My mother top-posts, and I can't honestly say that she's wrong.

While we await the result of this Internet version of the Great Vowel Shift, there are some things we can do to minimise annoyance.

First off: those two huge signature blocks. It should be trivial to strip those completely, or, if in a particularly anal corporate environment, only include that hulking montrosity of legalese once. This isn't hard.

Secondly: the main problem with the above mail is that top- and bottom-posting are used in the same conversation, and two quoting methods are using: different levels of indentation with chevrons (>), and explicit forwarding without quoting. It shouldn't be hard to build tools in an email client that can harmonise messages to either top- or bottom-posting, in which case the problem goes away.

I'm sure there are others - in a world where we have Google, it shouldn't be difficult to automatically correct attributions ("You wrote" beomes "Joe Bloggs wrote") if the email client realises this conversation is being opened up to a third party. So, readers, bug the people who write your email client and demand that they add easy-to-write features that make your life better.

Error beep for file sharers

I have a Madonna clip that is legit (under fair use) and is work-safe. No, it's not the first 15 seconds of Holiday.

You probably know about Madonna's attempts to frustrate file-sharers by uploading apparently genuine MP3s of her new album to Kazaa and other file-sharing clients, which in fact contained looped samples of her saying "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

(Never mind that, according to some - and I've lost the links but you can probably find them - by doing so she was diluting the value of the Madonna trademark.)

Well, some people have been constructing random drum-loop-and-messing mp3s of the said Madonna phrase - pretty much the audio equivalent of whatever b3ta gets up to on any given Friday. All I can say is: you missed a bit.

I can provide to you, purely for information, the last bit of "Act of contrition" off the "Like a Prayer" album as an AIFF (if you want better quality, you can rip it yourself). I think, personally, that it would serve admirably as a system beep, but what do I know?

(For audio-deprived people: it says "What do you mean, it's not in the computer?" in a harsh, overly-US voice, and, remarkably for Madonna, is work-safe.)

The House of Lords debates spam

They dislike it, but civilly.

It's mostly about implementing an EU(*) resolution on banning spam, but I do like the introductory phrase:

My Lords, will the Minister explain how it is that an inedible tinned food that lasted for ever and was supplied to those on active service can become an unsolicited e-mail, bearing in mind that some of us wish to be protected from having an e-mail?

I do like the suggestion that the Noble Lord (MPs are Honorable Gentlemen or Right Honorable Gentlemen, depending on how old and/or worthy they are) suggested that he'd rather avoid all of this pesky email nonsense altogether.

As Charlie comments, "we now have an answer to the very important question of whether the denizens of the House of Lords are familiar with Monty Python."

*: I haven't done the reading into whether this is an EC (European Commission - the pan-European Brussels people) or an EU (European Union Council of Ministers - national governments agreeing on things) decision. People who care more about an old news story can do so.

World tour of stupidity, tyranny and fear

The Israeli military thinks that if you struggle to not serve in the army, you're showing the qualities of a soldier, so you can't be a conscientious objector because you're not really a pacifist. Meanwhile, the US won't approve anything other than pro-war journalists, will take over their equipment anyway, and will bomb independent journalists if they say things it doesn't like.

Bunch of stuff in from the blogs, most of it bad.

The Guardian reports reports that Benyamin Netanyahu's nephew is facing a full court martial, because he refuses to server in the army. Israel has compulsory military service, and the only reason the Israeli military recognise for being a conscientious objector is being ultra-orthodox. According to them, a soldier is one who fights against adversity; Mr Ben-Artzi is waging a struggle against joining the army; therefore, he demonstrates the quality of a solder, so cannot possibly be a pacifist. It's almost Catch-22 in its absurdity. Thanks to Yoz for the link.

Meanwhile, Andrew Conway has a number of links on Bush's increasing stranglehold on the US media. In a nutshell: US newspapers have a fixation on being "balanced" and "papers of record", so if they have a story critical of the government, they need a government response, or they won't run it. So the government decides not to comment, and thus kills the story. Oh, and the Pentagon plans on not accrediting journalists who are doubtful about the war, controlling journalists' satellite phone and other methods of getting information out of Iraq, and bombing independant methods of transmission if they're being used to transmit information it doesn't like. And it's not too fussed if it bombs journalists while it's at it.

Meanwhile, via the comments in a previous entry, comes a savage indictment of the herd mentality of the US news media: they're so afraid of having their credentials withdrawn that they submit supine, pre-approved questions to scripted news conferences, and Bush ignores the ones he doesn't particularly like anyway. Feh.