Jun 022022

So the other day, I was reading about this maritime legal concept, “general average“: the idea that when parts of a ship or its cargo are sacrificed to save the rest, all cargo owners share the loss.

The concept makes sense, since sailors cannot (and should not) try to pick and choose when it comes to deciding what they save or toss overboard; they should focus on saving as much of the ship and its cargo as possible.

What astonished me is that the roots of this legal concept, which, incidentally, also represents the foundation of the modern concept of insurance, go all the way back to the code of Hammurabi, almost 4000 years ago.

It’s at moments like that that I realize that our magnificent civilization, our Magna Civitas as it was called in Walter M. Miller Jr’s unforgettable A Canticle for Leibowitz, is really much older than we often think.

 Posted by at 6:49 pm
Nov 272017

Recently, I was looking at the registration of sci-hub.io in light of a recent US court decision, and the well-known Russian pirate site hosting illicit copies of millions of scientific papers was still working fine.

Not anymore. That address appears to have been taken down, but an alternative seems to be working fine:

$ nslookup sci-hub.bg

** server can't find sci-hub.bg: NXDOMAIN

$ nslookup sci-hub.bz

Non-authoritative answer:
Name: sci-hub.bz
Name: sci-hub.bz

Wonder how long before they take the .bz address down, too.

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Nov 092017

Sci-Hub is a Russian Web site that contains pirated copies of millions of research papers.

Given that many of these papers are hidden behind hefty paywalls, it is no surprise that Sci-Hub has proven popular among researchers, especially independent researchers or researchers in third world countries, whose institutions cannot afford huge journal subscription fees.

Journal publishers do provide a service (at least those few journals that still take these tasks seriously) as they go through a reasonably well-managed peer review process and also perform quality copy editing. But… the bulk of the value comes not from these services, but from the research paper authors and the unpaid peer reviewers. In short, these publishers take our services for free (worse yet, often there are publication charges!) and then charge us again for the privilege to read what we wrote. No wonder that even in the generally law-abiding scientific community there is very little sympathy for journal publishers.

Nonetheless, publishers are fighting back, and the American Chemical Society just won a case that might make it a lot harder to access Sci-Hub from the US in the future. For what it’s worth, it hasn’t happened yet, or maybe we are immune in Canada:

$ dig +short sci-hub.io
$ traceroute sci-hub.io
 9 ( 46.916 ms 44.267 ms 66.828 ms
10 ( 31.017 ms 29.719 ms 29.301 ms

I don’t know, but to me it looks as just another case of using the legal system to defend a badly broken, outdated, untenable business model.

 Posted by at 9:04 am
Aug 062015

Signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is delayed again, and perhaps that is a Good Thing.

Unlike many protesters, I am not against a broad trade deal in principle. Free trade can be a good thing for all involved. And frankly, if the dairy or the auto sector has issues with the TPP (these, reportedly, were among the main obstacles) they have their armies of lobbyists to hash it out with politicians.

However, there is another aspect of the TPP that I find deeply troubling: its leaked provisions about intellectual property, specifically copyright.

Canada modernized its copyright legislation recently. The result is far from perfect, but at least it was a result that followed extensive debate and public consultation. The TPP threatens to introduce Draconian new copyright measures, negotiated in secrecy, and upsetting the balance, however imperfect, that was achieved by the current copyright law.

For this reason alone, I argue that the TPP must be rejected. Trade is a good thing, but if the price of trade is further criminalization of everyday behavior (like, ripping a legally purchased DVD to a hard drive for easy viewing, or heaven forbid, breaking a badly designed digital lock to facilitate legal, fair use of a work) then I say bugger off, stuff your deal where the Sun doesn’t shine.

One reason why I am seriously contemplating (for the first time in my life!) voting NDP in the upcoming election is precisely this: the Conservatives obviously like the TPP, and I don’t think the Liberals have the guts to do anything about it. The NDP might… or maybe not, but they are the best hope that there is.

 Posted by at 8:18 pm
Nov 142014

Kim Lane Scheppele is a professor of sociology and international affairs at Princeton University. She is also an expert on constitutional law in Hungary. Her writings frequently appeared in publications such as The New York Times.

A few days ago, Dr. Scheppele gave a video interview to an English-language Hungarian newspaper, the Budapest Beacon. In the interview, she explains how, in her opinion, Hungary can no longer be considered a constitutional democracy: how the system of checks and balances has been gutted and a constitution more resembling the country’s 1949 Stalinist constitution than the supposedly “communist” 1989 constitution it was intended to replace, was enacted unilaterally by a ruling party enjoying a two-thirds parliamentary supermajority.

Dr. Scheppele is not some liberal hack. She is an internationally renowned scholar. Her opinions are not arbitrary. Unfortunately, I do not expect to see meaningful change to happen anytime soon in the country of my birth, and I don’t think anything Dr. Scheppele says can alter this sad fact.

 Posted by at 8:24 pm
Aug 242013

InspireSpring2013_Page_01I advise my good friends in the United Kingdom and perhaps in Australia to pause and think before clicking on the following link:


The link is to a blog site that is dedicated to discussions about the public’s right to access information. Specifically, to a blog entry that discusses the latest issue of Al Qaeda’s “open source terrorism” magazine, INSPIRE. They also provide an archive of present and past issues of INSPIRE.

And herein lies the problem. Apparently in the UK, and perhaps also in Australia, mere possession of INSPIRE is a crime, regardless of the reason.

Having grown up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, I find this deeply troubling.

 Posted by at 12:08 pm
Jul 172013

Browsing the Web this morning, I ran across a reference to a Judge A. Sherman Christensen, also known as the “sheep case” judge, who tried a case in 1955 when Utah ranchers sued the federal government for the death of much of their livestock due to radioacive fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests conducted in Nevada.

Christensen, relying on evidence offered by government expert witnesses, ruled against the ranchers.

Astonishingly, 23 years later Christensen set aside his own judgment, having become convinced that fraud was committed in his courtroom by the Federal government.

Even more astonishingly, an appeals court rejected Christensen’s findings. The ranchers never had a chance. Neither did their sheep.

 Posted by at 4:58 pm
May 252013

As I was watching the news unfold about the gruesome court case of an Ottawa husband who is accused of first abusing and then torturing his wife to death by scalding her and then denying her medical treatment, I was reminded of an award-winning Hungarian commercial about spousal abuse.


There are uncanny similarities between some of the details of the Hutt case and this commercial.

 Posted by at 11:54 am
Apr 192013

Minutes ago, a tweet from the Boston Police Department: “Suspect in custody. Officers sweeping the area. Stand by for further info.”

If true: if these two were indeed the clowns who committed mass murder on Monday, then congratulations are in order. They may have shut down a major metropolis for a day, but the result was worth it. This was not a shutting-the-barn-door-after-the-horses-left overreaction, but appropriate action in light of the fact that an extremely dangerous clown with explosives was on the loose. If I lived in Boston, I’d seriously consider intercepting a random off-duty police officer and inviting him for a beer.

An interesting side note, though, about how information flows (or doesn’t flow) in the 21st century: despite the massive media presence and the non-stop breathless reporting, in the end Anderson Cooper broke the news by reading the above tweet from the Boston Police Department. Not sure what it says about the freedom of the press and the authorities’ ability to control the message in this day and age.

 Posted by at 8:58 pm
Feb 252013

moneySo, well, I don’t wish to jump on a politically motivated populist bandwagon over what, in the big scheme of things, is just (very) small change but still, let me try to get this straight.

Apparently, if I defraud the Canadian government to the tune of a hundred thousand dollars and I am dumb enough to get caught, all I have to say is “oops, I made a mistake”, offer to repay the funds I stole, and all is forgiven.

If only the world worked this way. Except that, well, it does, at least if you are a Canadian senator, like the honorable (?) Mike Duffy. Claiming that it was just an accounting mistake (the forms were apparently too complicated) Mr. Duffy not only offered to repay the $100,000 (give or take) that he stole, he now has the audacity to call the attention surrounding his case a “distraction” that interferes with the important work he is doing for his “home province”, Prince Edward Island, where he hasn’t lived in many decades.

No, Mr. Duffy, it’s not a distraction. It means simply that you tried to steal our money and you got caught. And what you did, embezzling the government to the tune of a hundred grand, is something that would land most of us ordinary mortals in jail for a significant amount of time as common criminals.

 Posted by at 3:41 pm
Feb 212013

I have been password protecting my smartphone ever since I got one, and more recently, now that Android supports encryption, I took advantage of that feature as well.

The reason is simple: if my phone ever gets stolen, I wouldn’t want my data to fall into the wrong hands. But, it appears, there is now another good reason: it seems that at least in Ontario, if your phone is password protected, police need a search warrant before they can legitimately access its contents.

Privacy prevailed… at least this time.

 Posted by at 3:21 pm
Feb 092013

Kafka was a Jew. No, I am not trying to engage in anti-Semitic racial stereotypes. It’s just that this is the only way I can make sense of the Kafkaesque event that happened to an Israeli student in Tel Aviv the other day.

Namely that city workers appeared next to her legally parked vehicle, painted disabled parking signage under her car, and then had the car towed.

And when she complained, they called her a liar. Fortunately, the building across the street had security cameras that recorded everything. If only such cameras had been commonplace in Kafka’s time.

 Posted by at 7:44 pm
Jan 162013

mancardI dislike stereotypes, regardless of the target. I especially dislike stereotyping people or ideas with which I disagree. Stereotypes do not promote understanding; they promote hatred and miscomprehension, the inability see the real nature of the other side, obscuring it with a meaningless caricature.

The idea that “gun nuts buy guns to compensate for their unmanliness” is one such stupid stereotype.

Or so I thought until today. Until I learned that the famed Bushmaster rifle, the one that was used to mow down children in Newtown, was in fact advertised with the concept of a “Man Card”, which can be revoked if you like, say, a kitten better than a gun, but can be reclaimed if you buy a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle.

No, I didn’t make this up and I don’t think CNN did either.

The Constitution of the United States of America contains a Second Amendment that guarantees the right to bear arms, in the context of forming a well-regulated militia. Some argue that this is part of America’s spectacularly successful system of political checks and balances, a “last resort” if you wish. Some argue that it is an obsolete leftover from revolutionary times, or worse yet, a relic of slavery when state militias were used to round up escaped slaves and states about to join a freshly minted Union were concerned that the right to maintain such militias will be taken away. Whatever the reason, I am pretty damn sure that none of the Founding Fathers, be they slaveholders or abolitionists, peaceful hunters or revolutionaries, ever conceived the idea that one day the Second Amendment will be used to issue “Man Cards”.


 Posted by at 10:54 pm
Dec 312012

google-indiaFor a while today, Google India had a solitary candle on its start page. It was in memory of the “Delhi braveheart”, also called Damini (lightning in Hindi) by some. She was the 23-year old woman who was brutally raped and sodomized on a bus in New Delhi. Her identity remains undisclosed for now for legal reasons; some argue that she should be named in order to properly honor her in death, others suggest that the power of her legacy is amplified by the fact that her identity is not known.

Either way… what happened to her is sickening and unconscionable. The details are too brutal even to think about. It is difficult to comprehend that there are males on this planet who think of women not as soulmates, companions for life or mothers of their children, but as objects to be brutally abused and then discarded, left to die in a ditch.

I am opposed to the death penalty on principle but I will not shed a single tear if these six animals are executed. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I’d probably torture them to death if it were up to me. But then… two wrongs do not make a right. Nothing will bring Damini back to life. So perhaps instead of thinking about retribution, we should think about preventing future attacks of this nature. Communicating the idea that there is nothing “macho” about treating a woman like a used blow-up doll might be a good beginning.

 Posted by at 8:15 pm
Oct 292012

I use PayPal a lot. I initially started using the service for eBay purchases, but since, I’ve used it to sell calculators, to receive payments from advertisers, even to send money to family. I generally like PayPal. Indeed, I always considered them one of the “good guys”. After all, isn’t it PayPal’s very founder, Elon Musk, who seems to have single-handedly established the era of commercial spaceflight with his SpaceX venture?

But now PayPal is notifying me of a policy update. A policy update that is specifically designed to prevent users from using the court system. Yes, you can opt out, but you can only do so in a manner that is made intentionally difficult:

“You can choose to reject this Agreement to Arbitrate (“opt out”) by mailing us a written opt-out notice (“Opt-Out Notice”).  For new PayPal users, the Opt-Out Notice must be postmarked no later than 30 Days after the date you accept the User Agreement for the first time.  If you are already a current PayPal user and previously accepted the User Agreement prior to the introduction of this Agreement to Arbitrate, the Opt-Out Notice must be postmarked no later than December 1, 2012. You must mail the Opt-Out Notice to PayPal, Inc., Attn: Litigation Department, 2211 North First Street, San Jose, CA 95131. “

Yes, you need to use snail mail. Yes, the world’s leading digital payments company apparently lacks the ability to process an opt-out request electronically.

Of course what it really is about is that they are counting on you and me not making the effort to put a stamp on an envelope.

Which indeed I won’t. I never tried to sue PayPal in the past, nor do I have plans to do so in the future. And I will still use their services.

But, I no longer consider them one of the “good guys”.

 Posted by at 8:55 am
Oct 162012

The news today is that hackers associated with the Anonymous group have found the identity of the pedophile who blackmailed BC teenager Amanda Todd into suicide. My immediate reaction was probably not unusual: Good, I thought, I hope the creep gets what he deserves.

But then… how do we know that Anonymous is right? What if they made a mistake? Isn’t this why we have a system of courts and judges instead of vigilante justice?

Indeed, it turns out that the same YouTube account that was used to post details on the alleged pedophile today posted another video yesterday in which they suggested that Amanda Todd isn’t even real. Their “proof”? A Facebook group dedicated to Amanda Todd that was created weeks before her death. One YouTube commenter used rather direct language to indicate his disapproval: “Are you a fucking idiot? The title of a Facebook page can be changed by the admin at ANY TIME. This means that a page made in June with an unrelated title like ‘Anonymous is fucking gay’ can be changed after Amanda Todd’s death to say ‘R.I.P Amanda’. ”

The wheels of the justice system grind frustratingly slowly at times, but if this YouTube video represents the quality of the investigation conducted by Anonymous, then I still prefer to wait for the courts rather than see a raging mob go after the wrong person.

 Posted by at 10:15 am
Sep 232012

Protesters at the US Consulate in Toronto yesterday demanded that American authorities do something about the infamous anti-Islam video, the Innocence of Muslims. They held up signs claiming that “free speech does not mean disrespecting any prophet”, among other things.

But, my friends, that is EXACTLY what free speech is. It is precisely the right to disrespect, even insult if I wish, God, Yahweh, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Ra, Moses, and every other living or imaginary prophet, deity, political or religious leader. Even using crude or obscene language and bad humor, if that happens to suit my fancy.

Do you want to know what hate speech is? Why, it’s easy: holding up (not to mention handing to 4-year olds to hold up) signs that demand the beheading of people as it happened the other day in Australia:

No, I am not ready to join the ranks of Islamophobes worried about the coming Caliphate, but I still categorically reject these Islamist attempts to limit the right to free speech in Western societies and the implied or, in this case, explicit threats. As an immigrant myself, I think I have the right to say something that might appear a tad more distasteful if uttered by persons born here in Canada: if you don’t like it here, you are free to leave.

Perhaps go to Pakistan. After all, that fine country’s Minister of Railways thinks that offering a $100,000 bounty for the head of the filmmaker is the right thing to do. How enlightened and civilized. I am sure people who think about free speech like these protesters do would fit right in.

 Posted by at 8:44 am
Aug 202012

I tend to sympathize with Julian Assange and Wikileaks. That said, the facts may not necessarily be on Mr. Assange’s side, according to an excellent New Statesman article. In particular, the article asserts that he is less likely to be extradited to the United States from Sweden than from the United Kingdom. The author also makes a very good point about Ecuador’s presumed commitment to freedom of the press: the country is about to extradite a blogger who sought asylum there in 2008, Alexander Barankov to, of all places, Belarus, where he may face the death penalty. I also wonder if we are going to see Wikileaks publish Ecuadorian secret documents now. My guess is… not anytime soon.

 Posted by at 11:14 pm
Aug 162012

In the fall of 1956, after Soviet forces crushed Hungary’s anti-Communist revolution, cardinal József Mindszenty sought refuge inside the American embassy in Budapest, where he remained for the next 15 years.

Not even the Communists claimed the right to withdraw the diplomatic status of those embassy grounds or threatened to storm the embassy to arrest Mindszenty.

I am not particularly impressed by Julian Assange’s narcissism, nor by the latest shenanigans of Wikileaks, including the production of a fake newspaper editorial. But the notion that the United Kingdom might use force to remove Mr. Assange from Ecuadorian embassy grounds is just unthinkable. If this threat was meant to impress and intimidate, well, it didn’t seem to work very well, did it? If they were serious about it, I think Mr. Cameron might need to have his head examined.

 Posted by at 8:34 am
Aug 082012

I am reading with astonishment an article in IEEE Spectrum on the origins of DOS. The author, a self-proclaimed expert on software intellectual property analysis, describes his attempt at a forensic comparison of early versions of MS-DOS and CP/M, to prove or disprove once and for all the allegation that MS-DOS was a result of theft.

But I find the article poorly researched, and also a thinly veiled attempt to plug the author’s company and analysis tools. Childish comparisons of identifier names and code fragments… really? The issue was never verbatim copying but the extent to which QDOS (which is the operating system Microsoft purchased and renamed) was derived from CP/M. It is clear that it was heavily influenced by CP/M, just as CP/M was heavily influenced by its predecessors, including operating systems written for the PDP-11. Does this constitute infringement? I certainly do not believe so. Indeed, something very similar (albeit more formal) occurred a little later, when the first IBM-compatible “clones” hit the market, and companies like American Megatrends, Award and Phoenix created binary-compatible versions of the IBM PC BIOS using “clean room” reverse engineering.

Some online commenters went so far as to ascribe ulterior motives to the author and question his sincerity. I think that is uncalled for. However, I do believe that this article should not have been published in its present form. At the very least, the author should have been advised by competent editors to tone down the plugs; to do a little bit more research on the topic; and to shift the emphasis from meaningless code comparisons to an analysis of the functional similarities between the two operating systems, the possible origin of these similarities, and the question of whether or not they might constitute infringement (and the extent to which the law may have changed, if at all, in this regard between 1982 and 2012).

 Posted by at 5:40 pm