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December 14, 2006

Talk about chilling effects!

From a FAQ on a new Internet-hosted service I've been tinkering with:

Q34. Why can't I open or collaborate with music and video files?
A. There are many copyright-related issues when it comes to music/ video files, and we felt that allowing users to collaborate on, or share, such files would perhaps cause copyright or DRM (Digital Rights Management) violations if those users were not the actual copyright holders of the content they were sharing/ collaborating on. This entire topic is a legal minefield, and at this point we're sidestepping the entire mess by simply disallowing opening/ collaboration/ sharing of music and video files. After all, you wouldn't want mysterious organizations like the RIAA, MPAA and MAFIAA after you, would you? While we may allow this at some time in the future, for now, we're sorry, but you cannot open, share or collaborate on music/ video files. original link

Wow. "You wouldn't want mysterious organizations..." is cutting-edge new services are self-censoring. Can someone come up with a catchy phrase for this mess? The War On Culture? The War On Getting-Things-Done? The War On Thought-Crime? Oh, getting ahead of myself...

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December 13, 2006

The case of the missing contact data.....

After frustration over the years about their earlier spam-your-contacts policies, I finally warmed up to Plaxo earlier this year. They had finally started making a Mac sync product, that worked directly with the built-in Address Book application. I'd been using Address Book for the last several years, so I was excited to be able to take advantage of Plaxo's sync/automatic address book updating/etc. features with my existing contact store.

All was fine for several months. I updated several contacts with more current information after Plaxo discovered they had Plaxo accounts - this is one of their nicer features. A few weeks ago I noticed that scanr had a business card feature, and that it could be connected to Plaxo. Neat! Snap a phone-cam photo (or, in my case, use your digital cam to take the shots) of your business cards, then send the pics to bc@scanr.com. Scanr does the recognition, sends the updates to Plaxo, who actually sync in changes to existing contacts, as well as adding new content for new contacts. Wonderful! The Plaxo<->Mac sync means that, from sending the photo by e-mail, you don't have to do anything to get business cards into your Address Book. Handy, fast, surprisingly accurate.

Well, except when Plaxo becomes a liability. Yesterday I was sending an e-mail when my mail client froze up on contact lookup. Weird. So, I open up Address Book to see what's going on. Huh, it's blank. No contacts. Not the usual 601 contacts, 0. That's odd, I didn't remember deleting all my contacts. I figured I could just go to Plaxo and re-sync back all my contacts... until, to my shock, I find that Plaxo is already empty, too. That's not good.

Longer story short: Plaxo seems to have actually been at fault. When I restore my Address Book backup from a few weeks back, it lives for a few minutes, until the mad-Plaxo-demon takes over and removes all my contacts again. Some kind of friendly sync you've got there, er, I mean, "sink".

When I contacted Plaxo support, they were nice enough to tell me I had a ton of contacts in my "Trash". Which, of course, is only accessible from their Premium account. Huh. You delete my data, then charge me to get it back? Sounds like a bad data-ransom scheme.

Something's very wrong at Plaxo. I hope that they fix this problem, and start treating customers' data like the gold that it is - that which they must preserve, above all else, to satisfy their customers. I'll update this post if they offer me any sort of remedy. In the mean time, if you have Plaxo, I might suggest you turn off "Auto Sync", and make a backup of your data before you hit the manual sync button.

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December 10, 2006

Lies, damned lies, and big-business funded think-tanks.

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore points out that it's difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it. So true this is.

Imagine if one of the largest tobacco companies was heavily funding a "Tobacco is a healthy habit" think-tank. These people spent money on advertising, hired lots of "experts" to tell the public that tobacco was fine. Further, if anyone ever manages to find negative consequences of tobacco, so, cancer, they immediately blame it on "existing health conditions", despite strong evidence of a correlation between tobacco use and cancer. Now, someone in the government, perhaps tired of trying to find ways of funding public health, which is more expensive because of the number of tobacco-induced cancers being treated on tax-payer dollars, tries to get this "think-tank" shut down. Possibly by just asking the tobacco companies to stop funding them. The tobacco industry, or sock puppets on their behalf, are immediately up in arms at this attempt to squelch the "little guy" with the entirely reasonable contrary opinion. There are two sides to the story, of course, and both can be reasonably heard.

Now, we've been through this in this country, and the tobacco industry has taken its licks. Thank goodness for eventual corporate responsibility.

Unfortunately, this kind of tactic still passes in other industries.

Recently, Senators Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Snowe (R-Maine) wrote a letter to Exxon, strongly asking them to stop their "obfuscation agenda", in the name of funding passed to such slimy think tanks as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (see some of their work here). Now, the Wall Street Journal was nice enough to rebut the letter in an article called The Global Warming Gag Order. Among other things, they say that those supporting climate reform are “so afraid of debate that they want Exxon to stop financing a doughty band of dissenters who can barely get their name in the paper". Big bully senators should leave alone "think tanks" with no real scientific support on their side. Huh. It'll be ok, though, because Carbon Dioxide is "life" (see the link above from CEI).

Sometimes, we need to prevent people from continuing to propagate lies in the name of "discussion". No one is arguing that these people have a case, we're just trying to stop the runaway propaganda that's so easy to absorb. I'm not saying we should deny anyone the right to free speech, but, when these people can buy their way into the collective intellect, we should be wary. Exxon should take the high road on this one, and walk away from their "obfuscation agenda", before someone successfully points out the cancer their product is giving to the earth.

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