I’m stealing the term “definitional elasticity”

As long as it increases tax-receipts revenue, any logic is acceptable. Increasingly, states apply irrational justifications to tax iTunes and other music download services.

In Kentucky and Washington, state law does allow the taxation of computer software. Washington law defines software as “a set of coded instructions designed to cause a computer…to perform a task,” which tax officials have interpreted to include music, movies and e-books.

“We use that same rationale on other types of files, such as music files or video files,” said Gary Davis, the state’s tax information and education manager. “We view them as similar because they cause some action by a piece of hardware to play them.”

Davis recited aloud the definition of computer software from Washington’s tax law and said he believed that data files, like an executable program, cause a computer to “perform a task.” He said, “I think it’s our policy that that’s exactly what a music file does in order to hear it.”

That definitional elasticity has alarmed online retailers, which say states are interpreting tax laws in ways never envisioned by elected officials or the general public. They would rather see the issue decided openly in state legislatures than behind closed doors by tax agencies.

On what basis could any rational human being interpret an mp3 file to be software that causes a computer to perform a task? The only software that causes a computer to perform a task has an .exe extension. That stands for “executable”. It’s a bizarre notion, I understand, but it’s universal. An mp3 file has an .mp3 extension. Click that without an mp3 player on a computer and the computer will do nothing. Absolutely nothing. An mp3 is data used by a program as a set of instructions to create sound waves through computer speakers. Next, I suppose Mr. Davis will determine that a ball rolling down a hill is being propelled by perpetual motion instead of gravity.

Perhaps the music download tax question is valid. I’m all for as little taxation as possible, but I understand that politicians aren’t reasonable people. At least understand that updating legislation is the way to deal with new situations. Loose reinventing of the same language only cheapens the constitutional basis. Instead, understand that the words mean what the words say.

I was much angrier last night

Last night I tried to put a few songs onto my iPod. Unlike every other experience, last night’s attempt became a debacle. iTunes refused to transfer any songs until I’d installed the latest firmware update to my iPod. I downloaded the update (iPod Updater 2006-01-10) and installed it as recommended. Unlike the intended effect, Apple’s update hosed my iPod’s hard drive. Outstanding. Now, not only do I still have to transfer those few songs I’d intended to transfer last night, I have to transfer every song that was already on it since I had to reformat the hard drive to make my iPod work again.

Today’s lesson: Do not install iPod Updater 2006-01-10. It will corrupt your iPod’s hard drive.

I can’t wait to read the new Google searches

Who knew America could offer such overwhelming concern for our culture? Consider:

The Internet’s key oversight agency agreed Tuesday to a one-month delay in approving a new “.xxx” domain name after the U.S. government cited “unprecedented” opposition to a virtual red-light district.

Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, had stopped short of urging its rejection, but he called on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [ICANN] to “ensure the best interests of the Internet community as a whole are fully considered.”

The department received nearly 6,000 letters and e-mails expressing concerns about the impact of pornography on families and children and objecting to setting aside a domain suffix for it, he said.

Wow, 6,000 letters from 300 million Americans. That’s a lot. It’s good to know so many (probably) one group cares so much. And wants the rest of us to understand so little.

Oppose porn? Fine, oppose it. But answer this simple question: why would porn sites convert to ‘.xxx’? That would allow the porn filters to block them with one simple edit to the filter. Ah, but the 6,000 concerned Americans know this, I would think. Perhaps not.

“Pornographers will be given even more opportunities to flood our homes, libraries and society with pornography through the .xxx domain. The .xxx domain will increase, not decrease, porn on the internet,” [Family Research Council] said.

This is a blatant scare tactic. Hide the women and children, the porn is taking over. Except, as I’ve just stated, internet filters exist. Add ‘.xxx’ to the filter criteria and, although the porn has increased, the user’s exposure has not. This isn’t about families being exposed to more porn. If that were the case, the Family Research Council would have no opinion. Instead, it’s about access to porn by willing adults. The FRC essentially spelled this out in its press release.

“Selling hard core pornography on the internet is a violation of federal obscenity law so the Bush Administration is right to oppose the ‘.XXX’ domain. The Bush Administration should not, in any way, be seen to facilitate the porn industry which has been a plague on our society since the establishment of the internet. The ‘.XXX’ domain proposal is an effort to pander to the porn industry and offers nothing but false hope to an American public which wants illegal pornographers prosecuted, not rewarded.

“The ‘.XXX’ domain was never intended to force the porn industry to leave the ‘.com’ domain, which has been a cash cow for pornographers. Indeed, any law attempting to force pornographers to relocate to ‘.XXX’ would be constitutionally suspect and not likely to be effective. Instead, if the ‘.XXX’ domain were established pornographers would keep their lucrative ‘.com’ commercial sites and expand to even more sites on ‘.XXX,’ thus becoming even more of a menace to society. Pornography violates the dignity of the women and men involved, destroys marital bonds, and pollutes the minds of child and adult consumers.

“The Family Research Council supports Attorney General Gonzales’ major new prosecution initiative against the porn industry, announced in May. We are confident of his determination and of his ultimate success. The pornographers, instead of expanding their presence on the internet, would be well advised to get out of business all together right now before they are called to court to answer for their crimes.”

A few quick observations.

— I have no idea if selling hardcore pornography is illegal, but the claim seems dubious, at best. I suspect it has more to do with what the pornography depicts.

— The American public wants “illegal” pornographers prosecuted. What about the legal pornographers? And I suppose those 6,000 letters constitute the American public. And the billions of dollars spent on pornography are clearly stolen from customers.

— Why bother to (unconstitutionally) force pornographers to switch from ‘.com’ if their businesses are illegal? Wouldn’t it make more sense to shut them down and prosecute them? Or is that also constitutionally suspect?

— Who’s to say porn violates the dignity of the women and men involved? I tend to agree, but I acknowledge that as opinion, not fact. If you make a statement like that, prove it.

— If the pornographers are committing crimes right now, how will getting out of the business prevent them from being “called to court to answer for their crimes”? If I embezzle money, but stop before being caught, am I no longer eligible for prosecution?

Technology is robust enough to block the overwhelming majority of porn from Generic Internet User’s computer. Install a firewall and anti-spyware software and, with minimum diligence, porn will not sneak up and expose itself to Generic Internet User. It really is that simple. If Generic Internet User is an ignorant Ludditte, learning how to protect his computer is the solution.

But groups like Family Research Council aren’t interested in that. Without pretending that the threat is scary, overwhelming, and pervasive, they wouldn’t gain sufficient political clout to pursue their true objective of Puritan nanny-statism. Instead of working to show porn consumers how it’s a detriment to a happy, productive life, groups like the FRC seek governmental control over the actions of all. We can have any freedom we want, as long as no one is against it.

Is the idea of freedom and personal responsibility really as dead as it seems?

Aren’t we a fine pair of misfits?

Everyone has probably seen this already, but I’ve never been prouder of the fine residents of the county where I grew up. Behold:

What do you get when you mix record heat, $50 4-year-old iBooks, and a burgeoning back-to-school season? Riot! Folks in Richmond, Virginia piled up at the doors of the Richmond International Raceway to get their hands on one of about 1,000 laptops.

There really isn’t anything to add that this picture. Ok, maybe I can add one thought. These computers were pounded on for four years by middle-schoolers. Like my brother, who sliced a scratch into the monitor because he was bored. But those people should have great luck with their bargains.

The entry where I send my four readers elsewhere

Anyone who reads this site can decipher that I enjoy the writing process. I have a few favorite topics that appear repeatedly, but I’ll write about whatever interests me at the moment. Unfortunately, today I don’t have enough time to focus on news commentary. Instead, allow me to point you to two interesting pieces from around the Internets that fascinate me.

First, from Kip at A Stitch in Haste discusses the idiocy of Congressional Democrats and their new proposal called AmeriSave. This is the basic summary of the program:

AmeriSave Match: Help middle and working-class families achieve retirement security by matching dollar-for-dollar the first $1,000 contributed to an IRA, 401(k), or similar plan. The AmeriSave Match will not involve creating a new type of account; instead, it builds on a successful model of 401(k)s and IRAs by increasing incentives to participate. Individuals would receive their AmeriSave Match after they filed a tax return, at which time the funds would be directed to their 401(k) or other plan.

Kip responds accordingly.

This new matching scheme is apparently meant to deflect from (i.e., continue the absolute obstruction of) private accounts within Social Security.

It is also a total fraud. The matching plan will have little or no impact on national savings. It also, by definition, does nothing to address the Social Security crisis (understandable since Democrats lie by insisting that there is no crisis anyway).

He gives a detailed, point-by-point explanation for why AmeriSave is an idiotic, pandering non-solution. Remember, when the government offers us anything, we’re paying for what’s offered. It’s shameful when politicians treat us as if we’re too stupid to understand this. Unfortunately, I fear they may be right with many, though. (Yes, I’m speaking of the further left liberals, the ones who imagine that socialism is a good idea not yet given a fair chance to succeed.) Either way, read Kip’s post. It’s good and worth the short time investment. (As is the rest of his blog.)

Next, I didn’t write about the scandalous sex included in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This type of issue is important to me, as I care most for the First Amendment and the surrounding free speech/intellectual property implications in today’s society. Unfortunately, politicians saw this non-scandal as a chance to jump up and pretend to lead. (Yes, I’m speaking of you, Senator Clinton.) I’ve read a few news reports, but I already understand the issues. If I’d had the time, I would’ve written about the stupidity surrounding the whole mess. Instead, read Timothy’s take on the topic at The One-Handed Economist. He wrote what I wish I’d written. As a bonus, I laughed out loud. Consider:

I have little to no patience for this kind of crap. Look, if you’re too goddamned stupid to not buy your child a game clearly based on violence, you don’t really have the luxury of demanding that the game company did something “irresponsible”. Hidden content is the bread and butter of gaming, that stuff has been around since the advent of computer games. Those of us familiar with the subject matter call them Easter Eggs.

Furthermore, the goddamn game is called GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS, what did you think it was going to be about? Quiet strolls in the park collecting flowers? How can you not know this stuff, parents? If you refuse to “protect” whatever perceived innocence your precious little children have, then it certainly isn’t my job to do it for you. It also certainly isn’t the governments, and you certainly don’t have the right to ruin fun for everyone else.

Read the whole thing. It’s not just funny, it smacks everyone deserving of a good smack.

As a side point, for what it’s worth, I followed a link to The One-Handed Economist when Timothy defended me in a comment spat at Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine. I use my intellect when I comment on other sites, but not everyone can be expected to follow the same on the Internets. When some kind folks attacked me for not being an ideologue with only sycophantic, partisan intentions, Timothy backed me up. I’ve never met corresponded with him, but I checked out his site and liked it a lot. I recommend it.

Crazy liberal advertising agencies are out of ideas

This afternoon, I received an e-mail from CompUSA advertising an upcoming sale. Consider:

We’re giving you the same discount our own employees get on notebook and desktop computers. Now is the perfect time to upgrade to the machines you’ve been wanting for months.

Friday is my birthday (hint, hint), so the timing is perfect. Yet, couldn’t they put that discount on an iPod&#174, because I already have three two computers and no iPod&#174? That’s not too much to ask, I don’t think.

At least, though, I’d appreciate an original advertising campaign, one not stolen from one two car companies. Thanks.

Profit and Proper aren’t mutually exclusive

There have been many stories of potential identity theft and fraud making the news in recent months. (Here’s one of the most recent, just as an example.) An individual’s ability to protect himself is possible, though this ability seems to fade with each new technological advance. The reach of information is almost beyond comprehension. Yet, there is one tool, however primitive, that can be used: the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

The FACT Act allows consumers to request one free credit report every 12 months. Right, I’m thinking the same thing everyone is. Nice baby step, but when my data can be stolen by a diligent hacker with little more than an internet connection, how am I supposed to protect myself with that? That’s valid, and the consumer information industry should be doing everything it can to protect us police its business model. If it doesn’t… Okay, even if it does, legislation is coming. But we have to start somewhere and the credit report is the simplest method.

Equifax CEO Thomas Chapman doesn’t like this. Consider:

“Our company felt, and still does … that it’s unconstitutional to cause a public company who has a fiduciary responsibility to return profit to shareholders to give away the product,” Chapman said to reporters following a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on Monday [6/27]. “Most of my shareholder group did not think that giving away our product was the American way.”

Chapman was referring to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, which since last December has required credit agencies to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report every 12 months to check for inaccuracies and fraudulent activity. Chapman said that viewing a credit report once a year wouldn’t protect consumers against fraud.

“That’s like turning on the smoke alarm once a year,” he said.

His point is correct but wrong. Once per year is not enough and it won’t really do much to protect fraud. It will, however, allow individuals to see the information sold, at a profit by companies like Equifax, that could affect whether or not they can purchase renter’s insurance, to name an example that erroneously happened to me. So, even though it won’t likely prevent fraud, it can help to clear mistakes. Except, it’s notoriously hard to “encourage” credit reporting agencies to fix mistakes. But Equifax is now motivated to do the right thing for its business model.

Or does it?

To ward off excessive legislation, Chapman supports the idea of tougher industry standards pressuring companies to encrypt data. He suggested that increased funding for enforcement of data-theft laws would help reverse a trend in which few identity thieves are ever prosecuted.

Chapman also discussed the need to educate consumers about monitoring their credit records on a regular basis and being wary of giving out sensitive information. He noted that during a recent visit to a museum with his grandchildren, the cashier asked for his social security number as well as his home address and phone number when he tried to buy tickets with his credit card.

To ward off excessive legislation. May I offer protecting consumers (your supply) as a worthy goal from the beginning rather than only when something goes wrong? Where business fails to protect in accordance with reasonable standards (and even where it protects, but that’s a different rant), government steps in with regulation. Welcome to America in 2005. And if you think a business subject to high profile “disasters” is going to escape extra scrutiny and governmental “care”, you’re smoking something now regulated by interstate commerce, even when it doesn’t cross state lines. As for educating consumers to monitor their credit records on a regular basis, the technology exists, but you didn’t do it because it didn’t improve the bottom line. I seem to believe that’s why Congress, correct solution or not, passed the FACT Act. And it only gets worse from here, especially if you pursue this line of logic instead of catching up to your real starting point. Just a hunch.

(Consider reading No Place to Hide by Robert O’Harrow, Jr. for more insight into many of the issues surrounding information sharing. There are examples relevant to this story. Also, request a free credit report every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com.)

My calendar is broken

As part of my job, I’m responsible for system design. The easiest way to represent these is with flowcharts for the overall process, as well as the interaction of various systems. The de facto standard for flowcharts is Microsoft Visio. Since my project is only in design phase for a short time and the retail price for the standard version is $200, I chose to “try” the Trial Version of Visio for August. (In my former job, my employer provided Visio as a standard workstation installation. Since I’m now paying the bill, it’s not standard.)

When I installed it, I received this message. I wouldn’t normally expect to get into a battle of semantics with Microsoft, but I must when reading their statement that “This copy will expire on August 31, 2004”. Like any reasonable person who knows English, I understood this to mean that I can use the Trial Version until 11:59 pm on August 31st. I was mistaken. When I started Visio on Tuesday, I saw this message. That isn’t what I wanted to see. Microsoft and I agreed that I could use the software through the 31st, but they broke our deal and I’m none too pleased about it.

In the past I’ve been a supporter of Microsoft. I don’t believe that being a monopoly is bad as an objective reality. When a company earns it, it’s free enterprise at its best. Even though Microsoft went too far and strong-armed competitors, I don’t mind a few violations of the rules of competition as long as they don’t mess with the English language. There I have to draw the line.

For my last use of Visio, I created a flowchart to represent the Trial Version evaluation process. Even though I will not purchase Visio, it’s a great product. See for yourself and guess which path I chose at the decision point.

Standing on greener grass

I like to pretend that I have a large cache of faithful readers. In reality, I appreciate both of you, so I’m going to offer a brief summary of what’s gone on lately in my life that has caused me to be away from blogging. There’s a lot more than I can reasonably explain on my lunch hour, so I promise to give more details when time permits. With that warning, here goes…

I didn’t blog much in mid-March because I resigned from my job. My last day was March 19th and I didn’t have time to spare as I concluded the tasks I’d been working on and transitioned my responsibilities leading up to that Friday.

As ready as I was to leave, I had to leave on good terms. I’d been with that company for nearly 6 years, ever since graduating from graduate school in ’98. I had a history and reputation that I didn’t want to tarnish. Besides, I didn’t leave the industry (software consulting) and my specialty is a small community in the federal government. It was inevitable that a few bridges would burn because I broke my “loyalty”, but I tried to be professional about it. I didn’t leave my employer, as much as I chased my new opportunity.

As of yesterday, I’m self-employed. This is a huge step for me because I’ve wanted to do this for many years. I’m no longer on the traditional company treadmill of chasing the ever-elusive carrot. Instead of ignoring my career goals and ambitions to please a boss, I determine which path I take. My only requirement is to deliver to my client(s).

There are, of course, greater challenges involved, such as job security and tax burdens, but the reward is worth the effort. Ignoring the monetary aspects, I’ve moved from beggar to builder. And that’s where I want to be.

I’ll reveal more as time permits, but it’ll be a few days/weeks before I get back into a regular pattern of blogging. I miss it, so I promise I haven’t disappeared. Thanks.

Free games are hard

Tonight, I followed a link that I found at Wil Wheaton Dot Net. If you haven’t seen Homestar Runner, I’m entertained by it, so you might be, as well. After watching a few of the clips, I noticed a link for games. Among the different choices is one based on the Monster Truck clip linked above. The graphics are basic, but I can’t do anything like it, so I’m impressed.

I can’t believe how difficult it is. It’s harder to get the timing of this game than some of the Playstation 2 games I’ve bought. I’ve played it a few times, but it’s harder than I thought it would be. Of course, there’s always the possibility that I just suck.

If you’re interested in playing the game, the link is here.