joegratz.net

September 29, 2003

Michael Robertson Upsets Microsoft Yet Again

First, it was the MP3.com Beam-It service, which the record labels sued into oblivion (but which I used while it lasted, and which was extremely well-done). Then, it was Lindows, sued unsuccessfully by Microsoft for trademark infringement.

Now, Michael Robertson’s new outfit has received a nastygram from Microsoft. And I think Microsoft is in the right.

MSFreePC.com offers a streamlined way for users to submit claims for their share of the billion-dollar Microsoft California settlement. Users are told that they can get up to $100 in free merchandise for filing a settlement claim and assigning their settlement rights to the company. If they just happen to have purchased the one configuration of software, for use in California, that gets them the maximum $100 settlement amount, the site claims that they will receive a free PC while supplies last. No documentation is required for these claims, so anyone can file a fraudulent claim with little chance of getting caught.

All claimants receive free downloads of Lindows software, but no physical product. The 10,000 free PCs don’t get shipped until the settlement administrator disburses the settlement money, which won’t be for nearly a year. Of course, users aren’t told of this delay until after they’ve electronically signed a power of attorney document authorizing Lindows.com to file for and cash their settlement check.

It’s a brilliant scheme, really. Lindows.com takes almost no downside risk. If they don’t get paid, they just seeded the market with a bunch of their software, and they never have to ship the free PCs. If they do get paid, they ship 10,000 machines that retail for $150 for $100 each. There’s probably no loss there, but I’d expect they’re counting on more than 10,000 $100 claims, and any settlement money received beyond the cost of 10,000 cheap machines is pure profit. The marginal cost of each copy of Lindows distributed is close to zero; if we add in the network effect value of the distribution, the net cost may be negative.

“So,” you ask, “Why do we care? This is a wealth transfer from Microsoft to Michael Robertson, and he does cool entrepreneurial things and innovates with his money. There’s no waste here. Most of these people would never have filed claims if it weren’t for the site, so they’re not really losing anything.”

Trouble is, two-thirds of the leftover settlement money, if any, goes to California public schools. Is society better off, for example, if Michael Robertson gets $1,000,000 or if the schools get $666,666 and Microsoft gets $333,333?

Dean’s Digital Dream Team

The Dean campaign has appointed the first members of the Net Advisory Net, an advisory group on internet issues. And the Dean folks have once again surprised me with their cluefulness. So clueful, in fact, that one of the advisors is David Weinberger, he of the Cluetrain Manifesto and the World of Ends. The other members so far are Hal Abelson, Laura Breeden, Lawrence Lessig, Bob Lucky, Dewayne Hendricks, Joi Ito, David Reed, and Richard Rowe.

September 28, 2003

Machiavelli’s Revenge

The Defense Intelligence Agency has confirmed the applicability of the Machiavelli passage I quoted in March: We shouldn’t have believed the Iraqi exiles, and in doing so we “incurred a fruitless expense.”

Concerts

My friend Ellen was in town for the past week; I showed her the town. We went to some great concerts:

  • Haley Bonar. We saw her at the 400 Bar the first night Ellen was in town. She writes smart, incisive character-sketch songs, with the same heart but none of the “Ah, me” angst of the best confessional songwriters. There was a good interview with her in the last issue of Pulse.
  • Damien Rice. We saw him at the Fine Line last Wednesday. First of all, I’d never been there, and I really liked the club. Most striking was the astoundingly good sound system. I saw a laptop at the Front-of-House mix desk running real-time analysis software, which is always a good sign. These guys really care about the sound, and it showed. It helped that the FOH engineers for both acts were top-notch. Oh, and the music. Damien Rice writes brilliant songs, and he puts on a great show. There was a very interesting article in Friday’s Guardian about his ambivalent attitude toward fame. I hope he’ll get used to it; his upcoming UK tour has sold out already. The highlight of the concert was after the encores, when he invited the opening act on stage with his band for a half-hour jam session on Prince and Dylan tunes. It was obvious that everyone onstage was having a great time, just enjoying playing music together, the audience irrelevant. It was wonderful, and sadly rare.

  • Pedestrian. They opened for Damien Rice, and I liked them a lot — sort of Coldplay-esque, but more Californian. The most interesting part was the way the guitarist used a digital guitar pedal to build loops, allowing overdubbed guitar lines to be played by one musician, live. Damien Rice did the same thing with an auxiliary microphone clipped to his mic stand. It allowed a lot of studio tricks to be performed live, without resorting to click track-based prerecorded backing. Very cool.

September 24, 2003

Kiddie Lit

The Onion has this report on the murder of Idaville Police Detective Encyclopedia Brown. That brought back some good memories. As a kid, I loved the Encyclopedia Brown books, to the point of wheedling galley proofs of forthcoming books in the series from local booksellers. I think this may be responsible, in part, for my later trivia geekery.

September 20, 2003

Minneapolis Mob #4

Minneapolis Mob #4 took place this evening. It went extremely well. Along a two-block stretch of sidewalk in Uptown, on both sides of the street, the shadowy cabal of Mob organizers had chalked various activities. Starting at the bus station across from the library, a mob of about 60-75 people moved south, obeying the chalked directions. At the bus station, at exactly 6:58, the mob began to skip south on Hennepin Avenue. At every corner, the mob found a new instruction:

  • Talk like a pirate. (In observance, one presumes, of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, also observed by my friend Adam.)
  • Evil Laugh.
  • Point at cars. (This one was particularly good for reactions.)
  • Meow.
  • Bark like a dog.
  • Everybody Conga! (This was the most fun — a huge conga line on the sidewalk, stratching from the Uptown theater to Chino Latino.)
  • Yodel.
  • 15 Jumping Jacks.

The last activity had the entire mob counting the jumping jacks loudly in unison . . . then walking away nonchalantly in all directions after yelling, “Fifteen!”.

I brought some newbies. They liked it. Even though the fad has peaked, this was a lot of fun, and I think flash mobs may still have a bit of life left.

September 19, 2003

Pickle Varieties

In honor of the 71-year-old grandpa recently sued by the RIAA, from Jim Willcox of StarPolish:

Dur·wood pick·le n. A predicament brought about through generosity, e.g., to be caught speeding while driving one’s wife to the hospital.

“I let my granddaughter use my computer, and now I’m in a Durwood pickle.”

The appropriate response to finding oneself in a Durwood pickle is, of course, to shout, “Dadgum it!”

Legal Job Search Gone Horribly Wrong

Thank God I’m not this hard up for a job. This Tulane 3L’s interview request letter is in the form of a cringe-inducingly over-the-top complaint. Around page three, I really wanted this guy to get a job, if only so that I could stop reading.

It was a similar experience to watching Ho Im scroll by for the 400th time — 2Ls, you know what I’m talking about.

September 18, 2003

Patrick Park

This article in the City Pages about Patrick Park‘s recent concert at First Avenue describes my reaction to him pretty well: the concert was thrilling and moving and felt new. Go buy his record.

September 17, 2003

VeriSign breaks the DNS

VeriSign has broken the DNS. The Department of Commerce has a contract with them that allows them to run the .com and .net domains, and they’re taking advantage of it to sell search engine placement on nonexistent domains. This breaks various important parts of how DNS servers behave, and has wreaked some havoc on certain spam-prevention mechanisms. UserFriendly has a good strip on the subject.

Worse, when I type in a nonexistent domain name, I get forwarded to SiteFinder, which has some potentially objectionable terms of service. I don’t accept the agreement. I never want to go to that site again. I emailed them. They told me not only that I can’t opt out of the DNS wildcard (not surprising; it’s not really technically possible) but that I can’t opt out of the terms of service.

So I wanted to talk to someone about this. But they wouldn’t give me a phone number. Apparently they’ve decided (smartly, but annoyingly) that they will handle all inquiries on this issue via email.

I hope and presume that hell will be raised over this with both ICANN and the Department of Commerce; I’m doing what I can. This is totally unacceptable behavior by the company chosen to be steward of the DNS.

UPDATE: As one would expect, this has driven DNS expert Paul Vixie to apoplexy. He has issued an “emergency patch” to BIND, the most popular DNS server software, that blocks VeriSign’s fake responses.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times has this article on the situation.

UPDATE 3, 4 October 2003: Following threats of litigation from ICANN, VeriSign has agreed to discontinue the service, at least temporarily.

Disclaimer Haiku:
West wind seems to say,
"This is not legal advice;
I'm not your lawyer."

(And if you're a client with whom I have a preexisting attorney-client relationship, this still isn't legal advice.)

In case you're wondering, this blog is also not intended as advertising, as a representation of anything but my personal opinion, or as an offer of representation.

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