georges' blog

June 6, 2011

Newsflash: Phanfare Sucks Again

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 8:41 pm

This post, Phanfare Update: Sucking Less, Again, contains new developments related to this story.

Phanfare is doing it again, sucking that is.  Three years ago, Phanfare abandoned their lifetime members by moving to a free model like Flickr, Shutterfly, Picassa, and others. They also put the whole thing behind a login, meaning no public galleries.  After several weeks of hearing from outraged users, Phanfare reversed its decision and welcomed back their subscription members including their lifetime members.  When we started using Phanfare, you could purchase an annual subscription for $59 or a lifetime subscription for $299.  $299 was a pretty good chunk of money to throw down on an Internet service, but it was supposed to be for a lifetime.  And it was a pretty good investment, because their annual subscription price has been going up steadily and is now $99 for the premium account.

Well, in 2008, when they moved to the free model they refunded our lifetime subscription in full.  And when they took me back as a lifetime member, they took me back for $299 less the $59 I had paid to SmugMug for an annual subscription. See, I had cancelled my account and moved my galleries to SmugMug. You can read about that whole thing at this other post. So, now they are up to it again. Phanfare has been bought by Carbonite. And Carbonite is not honoring lifetime subscriptions. They also are not refunding our annual subscription. They have converted it to Phanfare credit. So, they have effectively turned my lifetime subscription into a six year subscription that I’ve paid in advance, and I have but three years remaining on it. No offer to refund my subscription so I can take my business elsewhere.

I’m pretty agitated, but I tried to remain civil in my letter to Phanfare’s founder and CEO, Andrew Erlichson. I also avoided making lame threats about unliking them on Facebook, blasting them on Twitter, and emailing and phoning the major tech podcasts and blogs. Here is the letter I just sent to Mr. Erlichson:

Dear Mr. Erlichson,

I have been a Phanfare member for a longtime. I find the service elegant, the desktop client and the iPhone client too. I simply love it. There are few Internet services I like as much as Phanfare. That being the case it was very difficult when in 2008 you changed your business model and dispensed with public galleries, lifetime subscriptions, and as I recall custom domain names. It was painful, frustrating, and fundamentally a breech of trust. Reluctantly, I cancelled my account and went through the less than painless steps to migrate to smugmug. However, you ultimately listened to your users, reinstated public galleries and lifetime memberships, and I gladly came back. Now it seems you are doing it again, only worse.

I have a couple of questions for you:

  1. Will you back-peddle on this decision like in 2008? Because I certainly would prefer you did, and before I go through the work of moving my galleries to another service.
  2. Will you refund my lifetime membership? Three more years does not in any way equate to a lifetime. Also how is it fair that I should pay three years in advance? Let the money sit in my bank account rather than yours. That is, should I even decide to stay with Phanfare for three more years. Phanfare is a considerably different value proposition than it was when I started with it back when an annual subscription was $59.

I have been an evangelist for Phanfare and Carbonite, both at my work as a systems engineer at a major research university, but also among my social network. I really like both brands. However, I find this kind of behavior, this mistreatment of your most loyal customers, intolerable. And its not merely abandoning the lifetime program, but also the ungenerous terms by which you are doing it. I hope you are willing to listen and use your position to fight for your most loyal members with your new Carbonite management. Please, honor what I see as a reciprocal agreement, the lifetime membership program, that is, and you will keep this happy Phanfare and Carbonite customer and advocate and likely many others.

Sincerely,

Kendall George

http://gallery.georges.nu/

What follows is Mr. Erlichsons letter, just for the record. This is not his response to my letter, but the letter he sent to notify lifetime members of the purchase by Carbonite and what is going to happen to our memberships. I’ll post any response I get from him in another post.

Dear Customers,

I am writing to inform you that the Phanfare business has been acquired by Carbonite, the online backup company. When we started Phanfare in 2004, our goal was to create a beautiful, permanent online archive for our photos and videos. Carbonite shares our values, our commitment to data integrity and our attention to customer support. They are also a significantly larger and better-capitalized company. The entire Phanfare team is joining Carbonite including myself.

But there is a wrinkle. Carbonite is not acquiring our lifetime subscriber program, as it does not fit with Carbonite’s disciplined approach to ensuring that all customer storage accounts are associated with annual revenue. We are therefore discontinuing the lifetime program.

Your account has been converted to an annual Premium account and Carbonite has deposited $299.95, your original purchase price, in Phanfare credit into your account.  This credit is good for Phanfare merchandise and annual subscription renewals and will expire if not fully used after three years. You will need to accept Carbonite’s terms of service when you next login to your account.

I am sorry that we have to discontinue the lifetime program, and I am sure you are disappointed, but I am certain that in nearly every way, the sale of the Phanfare business to Carbonite will help us deliver on our commitment to store your photos and videos for life. We sincerely hope that you stay with the Phanfare service as an annual customer so we can continue to serve you.

I want to tell you a bit about Carbonite. Carbonite is a leading provider of online backup solutions for consumers and small and medium sized business.  Our vision and their vision are very much aligned. Carbonite was founded by David Friend, who serves as their CEO. Like me, David loves to communicate and interact directly with customers. I think we have found a great home for Phanfare and I believe that your personal investment in organizing and uploading your photos and videos is even better protected under Carbonite.

You have been with us a long time and we appreciate your ongoing support. We have exciting plans as a combined company as we embark on this new adventure.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me personally if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Andrew Erlichson

aje@phanfare.com

Founder & CEO

Phanfare, Inc.

How To Automatically Turn Off Airport When Ethernet is Plugged In

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 7:24 pm

When I’m at work, I plug in my Ethernet cable and turn off my AirPort wireless network adapter.  This is partly because the wifi in my office is a bit unreliable but also because the wired network is a lot faster.  It’s not a major hassle to do this manually–it’s only two clicks to turn it off or on. Sure, over time that has added up to over a thousand clicks, still no biggie.  But also, sometimes I forget to turn my wireless back on and those few seconds it takes to realize that my wireless is off and turn it on is a mild irritation. It also seems to cause Google Chrome to crash, often. So, cumulatively it adds up to a minor headache. So, I thought I’d automate this.  I am indebted to this post: Auto-disable AirPort when ethernet is active. Most of what you need to make this work you can find in this post, though you might need to drill down into some of the comments. Here I’ve tried to document what I did to get it to work.

First you will need to copy this script into a text document and save it as /Library/Scripts/toggleAirport.sh.

#!/bin/bash

function set_airport {

    new_status=$1

    if [ $new_status = "On" ]; then
	/usr/sbin/networksetup -setairportpower en0 on
	touch /var/tmp/prev_air_on
    else
	/usr/sbin/networksetup -setairportpower en0 off
	if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_air_on" ]; then
	    rm /var/tmp/prev_air_on
	fi
    fi

}

function growl {

    # Checks whether Growl is installed
    if [ -f "/usr/local/bin/growlnotify" ]; then
	/usr/local/bin/growlnotify -m "$1" -a "AirPort Utility.app"
    fi

}

# Set default values
prev_eth_status="Off"
prev_air_status="Off"

eth_status="Off"

# Determine previous ethernet status
# If file prev_eth_on exists, ethernet was active last time we checked
if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_eth_on" ]; then
    prev_eth_status="On"
fi

# Determine same for AirPort status
# File is prev_air_on
if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_air_on" ]; then
    prev_air_status="On"
fi

# Check actual current ethernet status
if [ "`ifconfig en1 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

# Check actual current ethernet status for Display Ethernet
if [ "`ifconfig en3 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

# Check actual current ethernet status for Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter
if [ "`ifconfig en6 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

# And actual current AirPort status
air_status=`/usr/sbin/networksetup -getairportpower en0 | awk '{ print $4 }'`

# If any change has occured. Run external script (if it exists)
if [ "$prev_air_status" != "$air_status" ] || [ "$prev_eth_status" != "$eth_status" ]; then
    if [ -f "./statusChanged.sh" ]; then
	"./statusChanged.sh" "$eth_status" "$air_status" &
    fi
fi

# Determine whether ethernet status changed
if [ "$prev_eth_status" != "$eth_status" ]; then

    if [ "$eth_status" = "On" ]; then
	set_airport "Off"
	growl "Wired network detected. Turning AirPort off."
    else
	set_airport "On"
	growl "No wired network detected. Turning AirPort on."
    fi

# If ethernet did not change
else

    # Check whether AirPort status changed
    # If so it was done manually by user
    if [ "$prev_air_status" != "$air_status" ]; then
	set_airport $air_status

	if [ "$air_status" = "On" ]; then
	    growl "AirPort manually turned on."
	else
	    growl "AirPort manually turned off."
	fi

    fi

fi

# Update ethernet status
if [ "$eth_status" == "On" ]; then
    touch /var/tmp/prev_eth_on
else
    if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_eth_on" ]; then
	rm /var/tmp/prev_eth_on
    fi
fi

exit 0

You will need to make the script executable.  Open Terminal and change the permissions on the script by executing the following command:

chmod 755 /Library/Scripts/toggleAirport.sh

Copy the following xml code into a text document and save as /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.mine.toggleairport.plist

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
  <key>Label</key>
  <string>com.asb.toggleairport</string>
  <key>OnDemand</key>
  <true/>
  <key>ProgramArguments</key>
  <array>
    <string>/Library/Scripts/toggleAirport.sh</string>
  </array>
  <key>WatchPaths</key>
  <array>
    <string>/Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration</string>
  </array>
</dict>
</plist>

You will need to load the plist into your launchctl daemon.  You can do this by opening Terminal and executing the following command:

sudo launchctl load /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.mine.toggleairport.plist

When I first tried this, I would get the error “Dubious ownership on file (skipping)”.  I changed the ownership on the plist to match other launch agents with the following command and the plist loaded properly into launchctl:

sudo chown root:wheel  /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.mine.toggleairport.plist

Now when I unplug my Ethernet cable my AirPort turns on and connects to known networks automatically, and when I plug in an Ethernet cable my AirPort turns off. Magic.

UPDATE: I just upgraded my MacBook Pro and monitor. I now have one of the new thunderbolt displays. These displays have an internal PCI Express network interface, so this script will not work properly when using the display’s network interface.  This interface is ‘en3’ so an additional check for this interface is required.  Simply add the following lines of code:

# Check actual current ethernet status for the Display Adapter
if [ "`ifconfig en3 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

I added these lines after the identical lines of code for ‘en0’.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  The new MacBook Pro’s with retina display do not have a built-in Ethernet port. So, the Airport is en0.  If you are using a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet dongle it appears that the Ethernet port is assigned en1.  You will need to replace en0 with en1 and vice versa in the “toggleAirport.sh” script for this to work, per Daniel’s comment below.  I’m not sure if the Thunderbolt display adapter is universally designated en3, I will update this post when I find out.

ANOTHER UPDATE, 14 September 2012: I just got a new 15″ MBP with retina display and consequently no built in Ethernet. I confirm that the Airport is en0 and the thunderbolt display Ethernet is en1. So, simply swapping the one instance of en0 to en1 and the three instances of en1 to en0 in “toggleAirport.sh” will fix this problem. Make sure the script is executable per above and it will start working as expected, no reboot necessary. I don’t yet have a USB-Ethernet adapter or Thunderbolt-Ethernet adapter, so I don’t know what interface number is assigned for those yet, I’ll report on that when I get my hands on them.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE, 15 April 2015: I’ve had a Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter for a few months now, and like the display adapter it creates another Ethernet interface, in this case en6. I’ve updated the script above and it should work for most people with relatively new MBPs. I still don’t know what interface a USB-Ethernet adapter creates, but the same principle applies, create an if statement to check for that interface. Also, I can’t guarantee that every Mac assigns the Ethernet interfaces in the same order, so you need to check your own work using ifconfig.

March 1, 2011

Feed2JS

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 2:22 pm

I installed Feed2JS on this webserver in about 2 minutes. I actually spent more time writing this little article and inserting the feed below. You can see Feed2JS in action at http://www.georges.nu/feed2js/build.php. It took virtually no configuration. Obviously if you wanted to customized the look, fonts, colors, footer, etc., that can be easily done. What Feed2JS does in short is build some javascript that you can embed in a web page that allows you to insert custom javascript.

Here is a sample feed for my Persons of Interest podcast website:

June 16, 2010

Agnostic v. Nonpartisan

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 7:54 am

I’m tired of people using the expression agnostic when what they really mean is nonpartisan. As an IT professional I hear it often and mostly in this context: “Our product is vendor agnostic, it works with every one.”

I don’t know how this expression became so popular. I wonder who was the first to say it. Doesn’t matter, but maybe we can stop it. It’s just a dumb thing to say. When people say this they sound ignorant–ignorant of the English language anyhow–but for me it spills over to whatever they’re talking about. Funny, because ignorant is what agnostic means. Agnostic means quite literally “I don’t know.” It comes from the Greek /a/ + /gnosis/. Literally /not/ + /knowing/. So, what these people are saying is, “Our technology doesn’t know. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. If your technology works, that’s good for you. But for me, personally, I’m just not committing to anything just yet. I’m just gonna shelve it for now. I’m holding out until I get more compelling evidence.”

Whereas, if what you are trying to say is that our stuff will work with anything, then your stuff is nonpartisan. You aren’t committed to any single vendor or technology–not committed to a party–you will cross party lines, reach across the aisle. There are other words you could use: nondiscriminatory, impartial, unprejudiced… Or you could just say what you mean: that your technology is standards based, or open, or flexible, or has multi-vendor support… However, if you want just a buzz phrase or just like a word that conjures up imagery or is more metaphorical, then I’m gonna have to advocate nonpartisan. It evokes images of Democrats and Republicans working together.

Anyhow, that is pretty much all I had to say about that. Just my little crusade to clean up the English language. I’m not going to get radical here. Not going to be rude. Just know when you say you’re agnostic, it means you’re ignorant. That’s what I’m thinking, even if I don’t say anything.

May 23, 2010

Fixing my MacBook Pro

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 2:27 pm
So, about a week ago the the plug from a set of headphone broke off in my MacBook Pro. Well, it didn’t really seem to break off, but more like the very last bit of the plug just the sort of came unscrewed and came off inside the jack. So, I had about 1/4″ of the plug stuck all the way down inside the jack. There wasn’t enough room and it was too deep to grab with a pair of tweezers or needle nose pliers. I was about to take the whole laptop apart to see if I could get to the jack from another direction, but it didn’t take long to see that I was going to have to completely remove the logic board, and even then it appeared unlikely that it’d be any use. So, after several days of reflection on the situation and a bit of googling, I came upon a solution that sounded better than sending my laptop in for a logic board replacement–a repair unlikely to be covered by my AppleCare. This is what I decided to do…

  1. Take a large paperclip.
  2. Straighten it out.
  3. Wind a bit of electrical tape around it so that it would fit neatly inside the jack, leaving about 1/8″ of the paper clip exposed.
  4. Put a tiny dab of JB Weld on the tip of the paperclip.
  5. Slide the paperclip carefully into the headphone jack, being careful not to touch the insides of the jack with the JB Weld. I stood the laptop up on its side so the paperclip was perfectly vertical inside the jack.
  6. Let set for 6 hours.
  7. Gently pull the clip out with the broken off piece attached.

So that’s what I did, and it worked! Thanks Internet for saving me several hundred dollars and several days sans laptop.

My Special Tool.

My Special Tool.

Setting Up.

Setting Up.

It worked!

It worked!

The little bugger.

Here’s the little bugger that was causing all the trouble.

January 5, 2010

My Dad Was Right

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendall @ 3:56 pm

I never talked with my father about important things. My father was not my confidant, my mentor, my counselor, or my adviser. I have friends who to this day consult with their fathers about important things… what to study, where to work, where to live, who to marry, what to drive, to buy or rent, how to manage their money, how to run their businesses… I could not imagine having this kind of relationship with my father. It was incomprehensible to me. The pieces were not there. There was no interface. No way to plug it in. We didn’t just speak different languages, we were from totally different solar systems. That kind of communication… connection… that kind of relationship.. was inconceivable to me. But, I was envious of these guys. I did not have the relationship with my father that I would have liked. We didn’t have the relationship that I want to have with my kids.

He was not my role model. I think a lot of us don’t want to become like our parents. When we see our parents in the way we look, talk, act… parent our children… well, we don’t like it; we hate it. But for me with my father, I think it was even more acute. I did not want to become like my father in any way. I wanted to actively distinguish myself from him. I wanted to chart a different course for my life than he did for his or would for mine. Actually, that makes it sound like I tried to figure him out. Actually, I didn’t. I actively tried to make decisions without any concern for his opinion in the least. Secretly, deeply I wanted his approval, but was disappointed often enough that I quit trying, utterly.

Don’t misunderstand me. My dad was not a bad guy. Not at all. There are a lot of people with bad dad stories… drugs, alcohol, abuse, abandonment. That is not my story. And I don’t want to give that kind of impression at all. My dad was a good guy. And he was a good dad. It took me too long to realize it. I realize it more and more as time goes on, as I grow older.

My father passed away ten years ago, the day before Christmas Eve 1999. Is it that he is no longer with us, that I have learned to appreciate him more? Is it because he is dead that I don’t have to contend with him any more? Would I appreciate him as much if he were still around? When my father passed away, we were on good terms. We didn’t have any outstanding issues between us. Nothing that was left unsaid. Our accounts were clear, at least as clear as they could have been at the time. I have changed. I have grown over the past ten years. I’ve learned to appreciate where he was coming from. I’ve learned to appreciate where he was coming from on issues… social, religious, political… I still may not agree, but I’ve learned to appreciate and respect his opinion. His point of view, his world view, his life, and experience.

Could we relate as adults now? Or would I still be a kid. On the verge of my fortieth birthday–man, that is hard to believe–but on the verge of my fortieth birthday would he still treat me like a kid? Could we be friends now? Could he be my counselor now?

I say we never talked about important things. That may be hyperbole, but I recall that very often our conversations about important things would end in an argument. I used to be very much at odds with my father about a great many things. And there was no one I could argue with more vigorously than my father. Now I am beginning to realize that my father was right about a lot. In time I may find that he was right about everything.

It started subtly, this notion, this apprehension. It snuck up on me. Surprised me. Last fall, I was working in the yard. We were rearranging our flowerbeds. We had these rose bushes scattered around. They had not been care for well by our house’s previous owners. They were wild and misshapen. We thought we’d clean them up, prune them, and put them all together in one place to make a little rose garden. There was also this pile of rocks on the side of the house that wasn’t doing anything, just collecting dirt and weeds. We transplanted three rose plants to a flower bed in the front of the house, to join one plant that was already there. We laid down some weed control fabric. We cleaned those rocks and covered up the fabric. When we were nearly done, I had a flashback to my childhood home. This rose garden in front of my house bore an uncanny resemblance to the rose garden we had in the front of the house I grew up in. Down to the same kind of rocks. Weird. How had circumstances conspired with my subconscious to make my house become more like the house I grew up in–my dad’s house?

I was talking to my step-mother the other day on the phone. I had to tell her how I was finding that I was becoming more like my dad in surprising ways. I told her that when I got my Oklahoma driver’s license I also registered to vote, as a Democrat. I haven’t been registered as a Democrat since I lived in my dad’s home–before I knew better–before I realized that “Christians were Republicans.” My father was a life long liberal and Democrat. He was also not only a member of the California Teachers Association, but an officer for a number of years. I find that I am now also a strong supporter of organized labor. Capital is organized; labor should have a right to organize. I’m not in a union though–there are unions for state employees, but the university is not unionized. I am, however, entertaining the idea of joining the IWW just out of principle. I may end up being more liberal than my father before long.

My father was a Christian. I am a Christian. So it probably goes without saying that on matters of religion, there were ample opportunities to butt heads. Just one example… My dad would say things like, “You don’t have to go to church to worship God.” I used to think that was just a cop out. He was just lazy and preferred to watch football. Now I think that a lot of people, probably most, would be better off if they’d just stay home. How I arrived at that conclusion I’ll save for another post.

So, I’m becoming like my dad. And that’s alright. I love my dad. I miss my dad. He is with me because he’s in me in good ways.

October 22, 2009

Indoor weather fun….CRAFTS

Filed under: Uncategorized — claudia @ 12:00 pm

http://www.daniellesplace.com/

I like to craft with my kids regularly and for a season I was looking for crafts to do during our house church time. I found lots of free websites with wonderful ideas to inspire me or implement if I was not feeling especially creative. This is one of two websites that I feel is worth the annual cost: http://www.daniellesplace.com/

Check it out for free and search it completely once you have joined.

Enjoy!
Claudia

August 15, 2009

Who do our elected officials work for?

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendall @ 9:54 pm

Two months ago now, a federal court found that Jamie Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed the copyright of 24 songs, and the ruled that she must pay the Recording Industry Association of America $80,000 per song for an amazing total of $1.92 million. I personally was outraged. Not that she was found guilty of copyright infringement–she was guilty–but buy the shear size of this judgment. Understand this was not a criminal trial, but a civil trial–a case brought by the RIAA against Thomas-Rasset.

Anyhow, I was angry that big business could use our laws and court system in this manner–that they could use our courts as a revenue stream–as a means of extorting money from ordinary individuals. I’m sure that current copyright law did not take its present form apart from the influence of the RIAA and others like it (the Motion Pictures Association of America, for example).

So, I thought I’d write my senators and congressman. I wanted to express my outrage. I hoped they’d share my outrage. And I hoped that they’d also recognize that our courts were being misused and our copyright laws–laws that senators and congressmen enacted and amended–were being applied in such outrageous ways.

Well, much to my surprise, I got a response from all three of them. I think I was equally surprised that not a single one of them shared my concerns. And to the man, more or less, said that there was nothing they could do. What?! Aren’t these guys legislators–from the latin for law–and they can’t do anything about laws that are screwed up?

It is hard for me to walk away from this experience thinking that my elected officials actually represent me–that they work for me–and not for lobbyists like the MPAA, the RIAA, and others. If this is the response I get with regard to copyright law, what can I expect with regard to health care reform? Will they care about my interests or will they be looking after the interests of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries–the guys who paid for their campaigns?

Should I also take offense with the subtle condescension as each one, to a greater or lesser degree, tried to educate me in how our government works and the roles of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches. If they think that the people they represent are idiots, then maybe there should be more talk on capitol hill about improving our ailing education system.

Anyhow, this experience hasn’t helped lessen my present cynicism. To be completely fair, at least Senator Inhofe said he would “keep my views in mind” when these kinds of issues come before the senate. However, in my present cynical state, I’m inclined to chalk that up as savvy–you don’t serve for 15 years without learning a thing or two about how to deal with boobs.

I’ve included the text of Congressman Cole and Senator Inhofe’s messages below. This post follows up an earlier post when I responded to Senator Coburn, here. Your feedback is appreciated.

From Congressman Cole:

Dear Mr. George:

Thank you for writing to Congressman Cole regarding Jamie Thomas Rasset.

On behalf of his constituents, Congressman Cole makes inquiries to resolve issues pending before the executive branch of the United States Government for residents of the 4th District of the State of Oklahoma. Since Ms. Thomas-Rasset’s is a resident of Minnesota, this matter would be more appropriately brought to the attention of her Congressional office. Therefore, we have forwarded a copy of your email to Senator Amy Klobuchar for her review and consideration.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any personal concerns at the federal level of government.

Sincerely,

Debe Homer
Office Manager/Case Worker

From Sentor Inhofe:

Dear Mr. George:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset. As your public servant in Washington, it is good to hear from you.

I appreciate your sharing with me your frustrations with the lawsuit initiated by the Recording Industry Association of America, but this is not a matter with which my office can offer assistance. I do not have the authority to interfere with litigation currently being handled in our judicial system.

However, I appreciate knowing your views regarding intellectual property. As you already know, intellectual property identifies a number of legal instruments – including copyrights, patents, and trademarks – that provide innovators with ownership of their creations. Specifically, copyright provides authors with exclusive rights in their writings, visual works and other works of authorship, patents protect inventors of products, processes and other useful inventions, and trademarks protect the symbols used by merchants to identify their goods and services.

Some observers believe that intellectual property rights encourage industry concentration and create barriers to market entry. Others assert that intellectual property law promotes ethical and efficient marketplace behavior, holding that one individual should not be allowed to profit from another’s labor.

As Congress addresses intellectual property rights, I will certainly keep your views in mind. Again, thank you for your correspondence. Your input is valuable to me as I serve you in the United States Senate.

Sincerely,

James M. Inhofe

United States Senator

July 7, 2009

A Dialog with Senator Coburn

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendall @ 5:59 pm

About three weeks ago I was so shocked and dismayed by the $1.92 million judgement against Jamie Thomas-Rasset that I wrote my two senators and my congressman about it. I didn’t save a copy of those messages–though I now wish I had. I didn’t really expect that to go anywhere any way. Essentially what I recall writing was that there is something wrong with our laws and our courts when something like this can happen. I also hoped that my representatives were equally outraged. Well, today, the unexpected happened and I got an actual letter–you know, on paper in an envelope delivered to my mailbox–from Senator Tom Coburn. The delight at receiving the letter from my Senator quickly wore off when I read the contents. Here is the letter in its entirety:

Dear Mr. George,

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the federal trial of Jamie Thomas-
Rasset.

Unfortunately, the difficulties you described in your e-mail regarding Ms.
Thomas-Rasset are legal in nature. Therefore, her situation would fall under the judicial
branch of the federal government, not the legislative branch. The U.S. Constitution
requires a separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches
of government, which means that as U.S. Senator I am not in a position to offer legal
advise[sic] to my constituents, to intervene in matters that involve the judicial branch of the
federal government, or interfere with matters or decisions that are rendered through our
judiciary system. Ms. Thomas-Rasset has been well represented by competent counsel.

I regret that my office was unable to be of more assistance. In the future, should
you require assistance with another matter, please feel free to contact my office.

Sincerely,
Tom Coburn
United States Senator

My opinion of the senator would have been better had he not replied to my initial message at all. Here was my response in its entirety:

Dear Senator Coburn,

First I want to thank you for responding to my initial message regarding the trail of Jamie Thomas-Rasset.

However, I must confess that I am disappointed with the contents of that response. I understand that her case is essentially in the hands of the courts at this point and you have no power to influence the judicial system in that particular case. However, the larger point of my letter to you was that there is something horribly wrong with copyright law as it stands today. When powerful media companies can employ our court system to bring an ordinary citizen to financial ruin and place upon her a life sentence of poverty for something as trivial as file sharing, something is horribly wrong.

It is not my intention to justify the actions of Thomas-Rasset or others like her. Nor do I deny the recording industry’s legitimate claim of infringement and damages. What bothers me about this case is the severity of the judgement. It is completely out of proportion and offends common sense and decency. This woman will be unable to rise above poverty for the remainder of her natural life. The RIAA will have a lien on her earnings until they receive their $1.92 million judgement. This is an amount she will likely never accrue in her entire working life.

The matter which I bring to your attention is that the courts were ruling on copyright law. I should not have to instruct you in these matters, but copyright law was enacted by legislators like you. And it was amended on numerous occasions by legislators like you. And I assure you that I know, without a doubt, that present copyright law did not take its present form free from the influence of lobbies like the RIAA. It is a system the recording industry has helped to create and now uses as a revenue stream.

You are right that the judiciary is responsible for interpreting and applying the law. And I am not arguing that they were wrong in their application of the law in the case of Thomas-Rasset. What I am saying is that there is a problem with the law–a problem that must be addressed–a problem that can and must be corrected by legislators like you.

I cannot agree with your letter and conclude that you are unable to do something about this, about copyright law, that is. I do not want to conclude that you are unwilling to do something about this. That would mean that you are content with a system that favors big business at the expense of ordinary citizens. I understand we are a nation with significant challenges at home and abroad. However, in the midst of these larger issues we should not be willing to neglect justice for individuals like Jamie Thomas-Rasset. I understand the complexity of this issue. I understand the complexity of our times. I would ask you to reconsider your position that you are unable to do anything. It is not beyond the scope of the legislative branch to amend copyright law, the US legislature has done it many times, it is time for you to do it again.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Kendall George
resident of Norman, OK

What do you think? Do I have a point? Am I overreacting? Your feedback on this little interaction with my elected representative is greatly appreciated.

December 19, 2008

Review: The 3G iPhone

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 5:35 pm

One thing I could hardly wait to get my hands on while living abroad was the Apple iPhone. I saw quite a few people using unlocked phones in the Middle East, but I was willing to wait until it was available in the Middle East or until I moved back to the US. It turns out that the latter happened first. In any case. The 3G iPhone hit the market just a couple of months before I moved back the US. I picked one up the second day I got back and have been using it since. I pride myself a bit on being non-partisan when it comes to technology–I am utilitarian. Nowadays, there are generally may tools available to get a job done and there are compelling reasons to use one over another in various situations. In my work I need to use Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Apple’s OSX. I am not an Apple fan-boy. But…

I have been using Windows Mobile-based smart phones for a few years now. These provided what I needed in a smart phone. I used both HP’s iPac and iMate’s Jammin. Besides a mobile phone–duh–and sync-able contacts, I needed Arabic language support, an Arabic-English dictionary, a Bible program, a web browser and some tech tools, like ssh, telnet, and remote desktop. Some of these features were great, like Olive Tree’s Bible program. Others were merely adequate. And some were present but painful to use like web browsing and remote desktop.

The iPhone is not without its own problems. But generally speaking, and I am not exaggerating, the iPhone is simply the coolest thing ever. Ok, I am exaggerating, but it is pretty cool. Thanks to AT&T’s 3G network and adequate memory and processing power on the phone web browsing is not something I do as a last resort. Sure it would be better on a full-sized monitor, but when I am out and about I do not hesitate to check something out on the web with my iPhone. Resizing and moving around pages with the touch screen and gesturing quickly becomes second nature. Also, many sites have developed iPhone formated version of their sites. But there are also iPhone apps developed for many activities that would otherwise be browser-based. I’ve got the WordPress, Facebook, MySpace, and Amazon apps installed so there is no need to navigate to these sites to do these things. I could use some better games, with longer playability… But generally speaking gaming is fun and certainly no worse than with a Windows Mobile handheld. Many games make good use of the accelerometer. The camera takes surprisingly good pictures. Phanfare’s Photon app makes uploading pictures from your iPhone to your Phanfare gallery trivial.

The complaints I have heard about the phone are first related to the phone itself and the operating system–that it drops calls or the quality of calls is poor. I can’t comment on that–I’ve not had any problems in this regard. Secondly, battery life. I have found that the battery life leaves a bit to be desired. But only in comparison to ordinary cell phones. Sure you can get days of battery life with a cell phone, but i pretty much got used to having to charge my phone everyday. That is pretty much what you need to do with the iPhone, plug it in every night. If you do a lot of gaming on your phone, it might not make it all day. The third main complaint is that there is no way to tether your phone such that you can use the modem with your laptop. This is simply untrue. But in the interest of full disclosure, it is not trivial. For what ever reason (meaning AT&T wouldn’t allow it) this application is not available at the App Store. You will need to jailbreak your phone. If you use the QuickPwn app this is a snap. Then you will need to use the Cydia app store to install IPhoneModem. There are confusingly two applications named iPhoneModem–one is free and one cost $10. I had no success with the free version, but the one by Addition seems to work pretty fine, particularly version 2. I am online now, while driving down I-40 on our family road trip from Oklahoma to California. We’re about an hour from Albuquerque.

Anyhow, I’m still lacking full Arabic support. There is a product by Islam4iPhone or some such company. I tried installing it, but so far without success. Also, their site is only in Arabic, which slows me down. But I’m confident this will be coming soon. Arabic support is essentially no different than Hebrew support and there appears to be a pretty strong Israeli community lobbying for Hebrew support. On the Arabic-English dictionary side, Google’s online translator is pretty good. It is free. And it does a lot of other languages too. But without native Arabic support, the words don’t look right, because the letters are not connected.

Anyhow, I don’t intend to be comprehensive here, just want to say, love my iPhone. I highly recommend it. It is getting better everyday. It is about time someone made a smart phone that was fun to use. I will probably try to do some individual app reviews in the days ahead.

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