Computers Feed

My Computer this Morning: Blue Screen on a PowerMac G5

Arg. And it's still like this after a clean reinstall of the system which did not fix the problem. I also tried many other things which have been of some use in addressing this problem in the past, none of which worked this time.

This computer is Tekserve bound, I think.

blue screen on a PowerMac G5

blue screen on a PowerMac G5

blue screen on a PowerMac G5

UPDATE: Tekserve quotes four business days for the repair; the were tremendously nice and the thing is still under warranty.

Um, and yes, that is Ganesh, the Elephant God riding a mouse, sitting atop my monitor. He is ostensibly the remover of obstacles, a good god to have sitting on a computer, I think.

The Global ONLINE Freedom Act of 2006 (HR 4780)

There are two very different bills with very similar names that are sometimes being discussed interchangeably. Short version: Global ONLINE Freedom Act of 2006 (HR 4780) mostly good; Global INTERNET Freedom Act (HR 4741) lame.

HR 4741 attempts to address the problem of Internet censorship, but its authors seem innocent of the fact that the US is exporting the tools to do the thing the bill's authors want combated.

On  the other hand, HR 4780, on a quick read through, looks pretty good and would sort out a lot of the Google-China type issues, and also seem to me to lay the groundwork for restricting exports of SmartFilter-type stuff, and also some of the most worrisome DRM enforcement tools that may be developed. (Wouldn't it be great to kill DRM by keeping the enforcement tools from being exported from the US into the global market?)

Before leaping into the fray, I want to have HR 4780 explained to me by someone who really knows how to read this sort of thing, but it looks awfully good to me.

Both Rebecca MacKinnon and the EFF have weighed in and have misgivings with the part of the bill specifying that would require US Internet companies to hand over all lists of forbidden words provided to them by "any foreign official of an Internet-restricting country." But I find one passage of Danny O'Brien of the EFF's discussion of what he'd like to see instead at least as problematic as what he intends to replace.

Don't Do Direct Business with Forces of State Oppression

Companies should be prohibited from providing intentional ongoing support and assistance to those who abuse human rights in foreign countries. While many products such as filtering software, Internet monitoring programs and programs to unlock protected data can have multiple uses, American companies should not be actively and knowingly providing services that facilitate censorship or repression.

This is sufficiently vague as to allow for implementation along the lines of a trade embargo in which individuals needing access to US technology to overcome their oppression might be denied it in the name of not doing business with oppressive states.

And MacKinnon remarks,

But we must act in a way that respects the rights of people in other countries as much as we respect our own rights.

These are nice ideals, but I don't see how any kind of Internet filtering technology could be meaningfully restricted without ways of monitoring what was being filtered. My preferred tactic is adding censorware and related technologies to the Munitions List such that their export would require State Department approval, which would be given or not on a case-by-case basis. This would also require a recognition on the part of the US firms creating censorware that it is in a sense a military-type technology and needs to be handled accordingly.

Even if it is not perfect, HR 4780 has a lot to recommend it. Reporters Without Borders apparently supports the bill, and I am tentatively inclined to do likewise. Also, while HR 4780 does not specifically add censorware to the Munitions List, it lays the groundwork for that possibility.

Certainly, we don't need yet another situation in which the US plays global cop, but the bill is aimed mostly at policing our own technology exports in a situation in which we are exporting the tools for dystopia.

Find Out How Your Site Rates on SmartFilter

If you've been wondering how to find out what SmartFilter thinks of your site and the sites you regularly read, here's how to find out what their censors think of you and your reading habits: the SmartFilterWhere URL Checker:

I love the stock-art lady wit the curls in their graphic. What is she finding so fascinating on the screen? Has she perhaps found something they missed in their attempts to sanitize the web?

Secure Computing, Smart Filter, & the Female Breast

MbThis is part of a series on Secure Computing and SmartFilter. The image to the right is via the Got BreastMilk? Project.

Following the New York Times story Popular Web Site Falls Victim to a Content Filter, concerning Secure Computing's product SmartFilter blocking BoingBoing,  I wrote the following letter to Tomo Foote-Lennox, of Secure Computing, who is apparently the guy in charge of deciding what is smut and what isn't. He claims to be a defender of the interests of children:

In an e-mail message to Xeni Jardin, another of Boing Boing's chiefs, Tomo Foote-Lennox, a director of filtering data for Secure Computing, asked why the bloggers were starting a war. "We discussed several ways that you could organize your site so that I could protect the kids and you could distribute all the information you wanted," Mr. Foote-Lennox wrote.

One of the BoingBoing posts that Secure Computing used to justify classifying involved a shot showing a cat attempting to nurse on a woman's breast: Japanese TV show about cat that loves human milk. The image was very blurry and involved less actual nudity than your average shot of an Oscar-night dress. As a very experienced nursing mother, my hunch was that nursing, not an interspecies relationship, nor the expanse of cleavage, was at issue. So I wrote to Secure Computing's Censor-in-Chief to ask about this issue.

Nursing_1Regular readers of this blog are aware that I write with some frequency about breastfeeding issues, and may even be aware that when BBC Radio needed a Representative of American Womanhood to talk about nursing in public, they picked me. I have spent hundreds of hours nursing in public and have nursed on most major airlines and even nursed from the podium while doing public speaking. This is not a political stance, but rather a matter of pure practicality. The BBC pitted me against a man who said over and over that Public nudity is not socially acceptable, in the context of arguing that a nursing mother (Margaret Boyle-White) who refused to stop when confronted by UK police should have been arrested. I was followed on the program by Scottish MP Elaine Smith, who had introduced the bill recently passed at the time of the program making it an offense to stop mothers breastfeeding in public. (Preventing a woman from breastfeeding is already illegal in the State of New York.)

So I wrote the following letter to Foote-Lennox, to try to tease out whether what I suspected was true:

Dear Thom Foote-Lennox:

I am writing to express concern about your remarks concerning BoingBoing in the New York Times. As a long time BoingBoing reader, I am quite certain that it is by no stretch of the imagination a porn site. But I am also a nursing mother, so I am also concerned about what exactly causes you and your company to draw the conclusion the the nursing cat post was porn.

Nursing is not a sexual act. While there exist adults who sexualize children and the activities of children such as nursing, that is not what is going on in that image. The nursing cat seems to me simply a stand-in for a breast pump. Breast engorgement is a real phenomenon and dealing with it is a practical, not a sexual problem.

So what exactly about the nursing cat is sexual?


Kathryn Cramer
Pleasantville, New York

He replied:

We never called it porn.  We have categories for pornography, but we rated this as nudity.  Some of our customers want to limit the viewing of nude pictures in their schools or offices.  We give them the ability to make that choice.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

So a site that, say, depicted public breast feeding would make your list as nudity?


He replied:

Look at our categories on our web site.  Medical diagrams (women nursing cats on television don't count) are rated as nudity if they are explicit, but also as health, educational or consumer information.  Many elementary schools choose to block all nudity, but high schools usually exempt health and education, meaning if it is health or education, you ignore any other category it may have.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

You are aware that in some countries where women are not even allowed to expose their faces in public, it is socially acceptable for women to bare their breasts to feed their infants, yes?


It strikes me when I read his replies that, first of all, my basic intuition is correct. It was exposing the human breast in the context of nursing that was perceived as sexual and inappropriate, not the surreal twist given it by Japanese TV.

Nursey_1When breastfeeding in public for those hundreds of hours (sometimes even in elementary schools [gasp!]; always with at least one child present), I utterly failed to to provide health, educational, and consumer information. Here's voice-over I forgot to give: You know, dear, using breastmillk as eye-drops works as well for clearing up pink-eye as commercial pharmaceuticals! And it works pretty well in clearing up ear infections when used as ear drops as well! I assumed you knew. You did know that, didn't you? Mothers: always remember to educate the public while nursing in public, lest your public nursing be taken as some kind if sexual act!

Secondly: here I am talking to the Internet Censor-in-Chief for the US Military and their overseas contractors and for three countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar), and he has this oddly sexualized idea of breastfeeding. He's just this guy, and he's entitled to his personal quirks, but exactly how did this situation evolve to put him in charge of deciding what is sexual and what is not? What is porn and what is not? What he was giving me was distanced by being a description of how software works, but was really very close to the rantings of that strange little man the BBC pitted me against who just kept repeating "nudity is not socially acceptable."

Combining this with questions about the legitimacy of Secure Computing's claims to have found vast quantities of porn on some sites, I conclude that the awarding of these sweeping contracts to them was really quite premature, even if you accept the idea that the military and three whole countries need their Internet censored (which I don't). What exactly qualifies this guy to evaluate what is and is not nudity, porn, inappropriate, etc.? Did he have some special training? Even Justice Potter Stewart was reduced to trying to define porn by saying "I knowing when I see it." Secure Computing offers much more than a definition: multiple categories of inappropriate material, each with their own definition. So just where does this guy Tomo get off telling the world exactly the manner in which the female breast may and may not be displayed on the Internet?

What I think we have here is censorship practiced as a kind of fetishism: Secure Computing employees read the Internet with a dirty mind and then have their way with it based on what they read into what they see.

Apple Redefines Genius

According to Apple, "genius" is a necessary precondition for someone being able to take an equipment repair order. (So sayeth my local Apple store: I've got a call in to Apple's PR department to ask for confirmation.)

This afternoon, I naïvely set off for the Apple Store with two pieces of broken equipment: a dead wireless mouse which I'd had sitting around for a couple of months and a PowerBook that just recently stopped talking to its keyboard. I learned upon my arrival, to my dismay, that I needed an appointment with the Genius Bar to make a drop-off of two broken pieces of equipment. A friendly fellow immediately signed me up for an appointment, almost two hours away, but suggested I just take a seat and I would be helped a whole lot sooner than that.  Needless to say, a mom who arrives with a three-year-old in tow cannot wait two hours.

When, after 35-minutes, a man was willing to take my repair order, he began immediately to complain about the condition of the wireless mouse I'd brought in. Yes, it was kind of gucky. I use my machine very heavily. He claimed he could tell that somehow liquid must have gotten into the mouse. I have two kids—one of whom had been very good in their store for going on 40 minutes at this point. I would not swear that the mouse had never seen liquid. But some of what he was talking about looked to me like the results of summer humidity if it was anything other than very heavy use. The strong implication was that I was lying about the purchase date of the mouse. The ship date of the computer it came with was 5/11/05. I just use it a lot. (And using it a lot, unfortuantely also meant that I changed the batteries a lot, up until it broke.) I never owned a wireless mouse prior to the arrival of that computer.

After not very long, there ensued the following dialog:

ME (in a loud voice): It does NOT take a genius to take a repair order.
GENIUS™: According to Apple, it does take a genius to take a repair order.
ME (still in a loud voice): That's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

(I did tell GENIUS™ that "this was one for the blog" since this was a completely new one on me!) The GENIUS™ did not take well to this conversational gambit.

The GENIUS™ went to get a manager GENIUS™ and together they tried to bully me into the idea that the mouse should not be covered by warranty with the manager GENIUS™ occasionally making reference to the possibility of calling security if I didn't accept their judgment that the mouse covered by the Apple Care Agreement was not covered by the Apple Care Agreement. (The fact that I came with a blonde toddler must have made me look like an easy mark. Or maybe they didn't believe that a mommy who looked like me could have the computer usage patterns that I do.) I suppose I should point out I am not accustomed to being threatened by customer service people. I don't think that's ever happened to me before.

SO, OK, I'm a really irritated customer who feels she was ripped off on her Apple Care agreement because the local store refused to make good out of pettiness. Can I say anything positive about these people?

Well, yes, actually. Once I managed to get the assembled GENIUSes™ off the subject of what a dirty rotten lousy wireless mouse I'd brought them that couldn't possibly be honored under the warranty I'd paid EXTRA MONEY FOR, let alone under the boilerplate warranty that came with the computer—a subject that they clearly wanted to discuss at great length until long past when my son's school bus was set to arrive—the initial GENIUS™ fixed the keyboard problem with the PowerBook in about 30 seconds: a loose cable inside.

These WERE competent technicians, and competent technicians with some actual people skills. But what the Apple Genius Bar is at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, New York, is a woefully understaffed repair department in which everybody's dirty laundry gets aired in front of all the other customers also waiting their turn. In the hour I spent there, there was no one who came for arcane information available only from highly skilled technicians. There were only tense, angry customers who had waited way far too long for the most basic level of service. There was also the occasional person who wandered in with a piece of equipment, stood around looking tense for ten minutes or so, and then left again when he or she truly understood the full horror of the situation. And I was not the only mom to get borderline hysterical about missing kids at the school bus because of an unexpected wait. A pair of blonde women left shortly after I arrived muttering about needing to do 80 mph up 684 and trying to triage whose kid might not get met at the bus stop. (Not meeting your kid at the bus stop is a very grave mommy offense with dire consequences for mommy's social standing.)

SO. What is to be done? Both the guy I first yelled at, and his boss, who threatened to call security, are people I'd probably even like if I encountered socially. But at the White Plains Apple Store, the Genius Bar concept just ain't happenin'. What should happen is that if the Genius Bar is supposed to be the repair department servicing all those who own Apple equipment, then they need to double the staff. (I don't own an iPod, but my impression from being there for an hour is that iPods break a lot. There was a parade of dead iPods.)

Did Apple make a wise financial decision by making me hang out and nickle-and-diming me on replacing a $40 mouse that goes with a $3,500 computer? Well, no. I'm not going to try to bring the company to its knees by swearing never to buy another Apple. I'm one of their more loyal customers.

But, um, guys: After I did the quick repair drop off, my plan was to blow a couple of hundred bucks in your store buying a badly-needed external hard drive. But between keeping track of my three-year-old, and sitting at the Genius Bar to make sure I was seen as soon as possible, I didn't have time. Sorry.

And oh my God am I glad I managed to revive my G5 myself without recourse to the Apple store—it was out of commission for a week following the blackout. I can't tell you how upset I would have been if I'd hauled my G5 all across the rather large Westchester Mall and up to the 3rd floor where their store was to encounter these terms of service. (And I had such a positive image of the Genius Bar before today!)

Bring the SETI at Home model back home

Grid Project Puts Unused PCs To Good Works

IBM and several of the world's leading scientific and philanthropic groups Tuesday launched a project that would put millions of PCs to work on research problems ranging from Alzheimer's to disaster forecasting.

Dubbed the World Community Grid, the distributed computing-style project would split complex computing chores into millions of pieces, then parse them out to idle personal computers for the heavy lifting. IBM estimated that there are more than 650 million PCs in use worldwide, each a potential participant in the project to harness the power of large numbers of individual computers in a giant "virtual" system.

Asim Khwaja: “The nice thing about computers is that they don’t go into shock."

AsimkwajaA while back I noticed this interesting site called RISE-PAK which I've featured prominently in my sidebar for about a week.  The site provides and gathers demographic, disaster, access, and assistance data and maps on all earthquake affected villages to help coordinate relief efforts. I had the vague impression it was run to of Pakistan, so I was surprised when Harvard Gazette article about RISE-PAK noted that the project was co-founded by a professor, Asim Khwaja, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. That's Khwaja to the right, as shown in the Harvard Gazette.

KSG prof starts earthquake relief Web site

As an urgent call goes out for relief supplies to aid those homeless and hungry from Pakistan's Oct. 8 earthquake, a Kennedy School professor is using cyberspace to get relief supplies where they're most needed. Assistant Professor of Public Policy Asim Khwaja, with collaborators Jishnu Das and Tara Vishwanath from the World Bank and Tahir Andrabi from Pomona College, has rushed to create a Web site that can help coordinate relief efforts. The site, complete with a list of affected villages and satellite maps, aims to ensure that places off of main roads and in other less accessible locations aren't forgotten.

The site,, gathers information from census data, maps, satellite photographs, and other sources together with real-time postings from relief workers, government agencies, and individuals visiting the affected areas. It was created with the help of the World Bank, WOL (Pakistan's largest Internet service provider), and dozens of volunteers in Pakistan.  . . .

"People [relief workers] go to the most accessible areas. They may not realize that right behind the mountaintop there's another 60 homes," Khwaja said. "Our motto is 'no village left behind.'"

RISE-PAK's approach seems to me one of the most sensible on the Internet, in that it is very obvious to me, sitting here in Pleasantville, that people in rural agricultural areas must be having a terrible time. And following the New Orleans experience (also over the Internet), it is morally unacceptable to me that the world might decide that some of those in jeopardy just aren't worth rescuing. (I am also a fan of the Citizen's Foundation's plan, in collaboration with the Institute of Architects Pakistan, to build earthquake-safe housing following the initial relief effort.) So I had been trying to help get out the word.

I called him up. Asim Khwaja is this high-octane fast-talking intellectual who is at the same time deeply compassionate and respectful of the people he's trying to help. He had a good idea fast and acted on it fast. And within that context he was able to visualize a situation in which rescue would not be a luxury reserved for those in urban areas, unavailable to the rural poor.

There's also a nice piece on RISE-PAK in the Harvard Crimson:

Khwaja added that in the wake of a disaster, relief efforts tend to be somewhat disorganized.

“It is like a dartboard. If you blindly throw all the darts at once, you might miss something,” he said. “It doesn’t work. . . . You might get 10 to 20 percent of an area, but who is doing the rest?” . . .

RISE-PAK’s frequently-updated Top 100 Villages list provides information about the location of villages that need help and informs relief workers about exactly what is needed. The website gleans information from a network of villagers, volunteers, and student call center workers in Pakistan.

This kind of technology would have been useful in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when ordinary people wanted to help but didn’t know where to go, Khwaja added.

“You and your friends get together and rent a van, decided to buy some tents and some food. This website can tell you where to go and what to take,” Khwaja said.

Although Khwaja said the effectiveness of the RISE-PAK initiative is still unclear, he thinks that the technology could be used in the event of future disasters.

He said that part of the reason relief efforts are often uncoordinated is because people are in shock.

“The nice thing about computers is that they don’t go into shock,” he said.

By the way . . .

In case you're wondering why we haven't posted more photos of our Canadian travels, and of Westercon in particular, David accidentally spilled orange juice on our Powerbook on our last day in Canada so it is being professionally cleaned. When  we get it back, I can play more with the treaures on its harddrive.

This photo was taken at the Edith Cavell Glacier near Jasper in Alberta.


Cable Confusion

Can anyone tell me why Apple doesn't sell a cable that will connect the DVI port on the back of the new models to the DVI port on the backs of popular models of HDTV? Apple Support's answer to this question of what cable to use boils down to "ask SONY." There are a number of cables available on the web that look like they might by the right one. But they start at $50 and seem not to be available in stores in my local area. I've called a couple of places nearby to see if they have the cable I think I need, and they don't. It seems to me that as a consumer I should not have this problem. I should be able to get reliable advice on which cable is The One, give someone my credit card number, and have it arrive.