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October, 2013:

It’s a Long Way from Antigua via Amphioxus

Something occurred to me this morning, regarding the whole business of the li’l teeny island of Antigua setting up a legal pirate’s marketplace of Other People’s Stuff: Dare you to get it out of there.

I looked and did not find any current indication of how much bandwidth connects Antigua (or lord knows, Barbuda) to anywhere else. (Five-year-old data here.) So picture it with me: The day after the island’s government launches a dollar store for digital content (or licenses three dozen pirate wannabees to do it themselves) everybody in creation storms down there to get Windows 7 or the Five Gazillion Pack of ebooks for the price of an Egg McMuffin. What happens next?


Really: Nothing. The island’s Internet connection, no matter how good it is, goes belly-up from the stampede.

Now, don’t bother reminding me that Antigua was doing a fine business in online gambling, and to do that they needed a decent connection to the world. Sure. But how much bandwidth do you need to place bets or play what amounts to animated board games? The big deal in pirated content these days is movie and TV rips, and those are ginormous compared to anything you’d see on a gambling site. Individual ebooks or music tracks could move reasonably well, assuming everybody didn’t go there at once. Which they will. However, even a relatively small number of people downloading the last forty episodes of How I Met Your Mother would bring whatever Antigua considered a backbone to its knees. An amphioxus has more backbone than a squid. But just about anything has more backbone than an amphioxus.

I wonder if anyone will set up a seedbox host provider there. Torrent like hell 24/7 with all the other seedboxes, and then take a year to download it all back home.

Not likely. All this leads me to conclude that Big Media isn’t making a great deal of noise about this because they already know it won’t work. Some handful of people might fly there with a fat laptop and encrypt a terabyte of TV shows to make it look like unused hard disk space. On the other hand, people coming back from Antigua with a laptop and no tan will be looked at very carefully by US customs.

So there’s less here than meets the eye. It’ll still be interesting to watch, and I reserve the right to be completely wrong. Bandwidth physics is one helluva harsh mistress.

Pirates of the Caribbean, V2.0

I originally thought it was a hoax when I heard about it this past January. It sure sounded like one. But it’s for real: The World Trade Organization has given the otherwise unexceptional Caribbean nation of Antigua permission to sell US copyrighted content, without any payment to copyright owners.


It’s revenge, people. Antigua was making a pretty good living in online casinos until 2001, when the US outlawed online gambling. What was a $2.4B annual business dropped by two thirds. (Apparently, two thirds of the world’s stupidity lies within US borders.) I’d be temped to say that nothing of value was lost, which may have been true unless you were Antigua. So Antigua went to the WTO asking for compensation for the loss. The WTO gave them all American copyrights, free of charge. There’s a $21M cap on the annual take, but as best I can tell, no time limit on the grant. Basically, Antigua can sell anything copyrighted in the US at all.

This is the plot of a comic novel. It reminds me of nothing more than The Mouse That Roared, which was a 1959 sendup of nuclear weapons politics. A US firm creates a clone of the signature wine of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, which is a nanoscopic country somewhere in Europe, probably bordering San Marino on one side and Liechtenstein on the other. The Duchy goes for the throat and declares war on the US, expecting to lose and make up for lost wine revenues in foreign aid. Instead, the country accidently captures the horrible Q-Bomb from a secret lab (with a bumbling crew of Robin Hoodish bowmen) and the US surrenders.

Except that this time, it’s real. Buried in my notes on possible novels is something I called TC Pirates in Paradise that dates back to 2006. A disgruntled engineer slips something extra into his company’s “smart” wall-wart product: a powerline networking system that sets up a hidden filesharing node every time it’s plugged into the wall. Nobody notices at first. He leaves the company, and nothing happens until a billion file-sharing wall warts have been sold into the wild. Then he reveals the secret, and all hell breaks loose.

Ok, not my best idea, and people would get annoyed at me for making fun of piracy. But man, this could be a marvelous high-tech farce with a title like Pirates of the Retail Channel. The whole business was made possible by a loophole in WTO rules that allows intellectual property to be used in punitive trade settlements. The glass on your irony meter will shatter explosively when you realize that the treaties that allow this are the same treaties that US copyright interests pushed for years ago and occasionally use against other countries. If those guys didn’t know what a “petard” was before, they’re sure as hell reaching for the dictionary now.

Antigua didn’t create its own online casinos. It licensed other people to create them, and took a cut of the profits. One wonders if they’re going to license Pirate Bay clones and do the same thing. Certain issues are unclear, primarily whether they’ll be able to strip DRM. On the other hand, who would stop them? (They could just download pre-stripped copies from Usenet and sell them.) What sort of prices are we going to see? Would they dare to become the Five Below of online commerce? Windows 7 for $5? And how soon before DRM-stripped items would show up on the rest of the pirate ecosystem? Is it any wonder that Adobe is giving up on selling boxed software?

No, I don’t approve. But man, I giggled. Politics is its own punishment, as the US copyright lobby is figuring out about now. If Rockhound57 and HockWards need to flee the country, well, Antigua would be the logical place to go.

Popcorn anybody? Let’s watch.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

New Photo of John T. Frye


Reader George Cohn sent me a photo of John T. Frye that I had not seen before. It’s from the May, 1948 issue of Radio News, which contained the second installment of his very long-running “Mac’s Service Shop” column. Assuming the photo was recent when published, Frye would have been 38.

For those who don’t recognize his name, John T. Frye was the author of the Carl & Jerry educational stories from Popular Electronics, “Phone Phunnies” from QST, and a whole metric passel of other things in other places, including two books on tube-era radio servicing that from what I can tell have passed into the public domain. See my article on Frye and his creations Carl & Jerry. I republished all 119 stories in five books several years ago (plus one new storyI wrote myself, and another one from the late George Ewing WA8WTE) and they’re still selling. Frye was a paraplegic who never walked, and how he did what he did in his life is one of the great success stories of disabled people who just didn’t let anything get them down. Legs? We don’t need no steenking legs!

When XP’s svchost.exe Takes 100% of the CPU

I have computers the way some people have mice (those other mice, with legs) and two days ago, a couple of them went nuts. Carol’s SX280 went to 100% CPU usage and roaring fans, and when I turned it on, a second machine (an older SX270) did the same thing. Rebooting changed nothing, though it took a minute or so after reboot for the problem to reappear, which allowed me to do some hasty troubleshooting.

Meanwhile, my quadcore purred along without incident. All three machines use XP SP3, and all three are set for auotmatic updates. I pulled an older SX270 off the shelf that I knew was still at XP SP2 and hooked it up on the bench. Nothing so far. I booted into Windows 7 on my GX620 (it ordinarily runs Mint) and have not seen anything out of the ordinary.

The module sucking all those cycles is the instance of svchost.exe that runs all of the miscellanous Windows machinery, including updates. Hmmmmm.

This is not a new problem; in fact, this rang some bells so old the cloud of dust took an hour to settle. As long ago as 2004, people have reported svchost.exe suddenly taking the whole CPU. Quite a few reports indicated that the culprit was the Windows Update automatic updates client, wuauclt.exe. I turned off automatic updates on the misbehaving machines, rebooted again, and the problem went away.

That’s only a partial solution, of course. And the problem is evidently still with us. In the comments to that post, a user suggested this command series as a fix:

  1. net stop “Automatic Updates”
  2. del /f /s /q %windir%\SoftwareDistribution\*.*
  3. net start “Automatic Updates”
  4. wuauclt.exe /detectnow

In essence, you disable automatic updates, delete all the files from the subdirectory where wuauclt.exe keeps its logs and other data files (you can’t do this if automatic updates is running), restart automatic updates, and then force an immediate check for updates. This worked, and I dusted my hands together in triumph.

Alas, yesterday noonish, both machines again went nuts. Both are scheduled for replacement, so I just let them run. After about two hours of screaming fans, svchost.exe let go of the CPU, and everything returned to normal. In the meantime, my quadcore and that creaky old SP2 machine have shown no symptoms.

I still don’t know precisely what’s going on, but it’s almost certainly some kind of bug in automatic updates. (I’ve scanned all machines for malware and found nothing.) XP updates end next April 1, and by that time I’ll have replaced the two wonky machines with much newer Win7 boxes. (One is already on order.) In the meantime, I’d be curious to hear if anyone reading this has seen the same issue. I expected to see a flurry of online reports and found nothing, right up to a couple of minutes ago. So maybe Carol and I just got to the top of the XP karma fairy’s little list. Still looking, and certainly open to suggestions.

A Venerable Old Con

I got the email below this morning. It’s similar to messages of this sort that I receive regularly, with the single difference that I know the supposed sender. I say “supposed” because I know damned well it didn’t come from her. Here’s the text, minus identifying characteristics:

Good morning,
I Hope you get this on time, I made a trip to UKRAINE and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and personal effects therein. The embassy has just issued me a temporary passport but I have to pay for a ticket and settle my hotel bills with the Manager.

I have made contact with my bank but it would take me 3-5 working days to access funds in my account, the bad news is my flight will be leaving very soon but i am having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let me leave until i settle the bills, I need your help/LOAN financially and I promise to make the refund once i get back home, you are my last resort and hope, Please let me know if i can count on you and i need you to keep checking your email because it’s the only way i can reach you.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Ms. Real Person
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

This con has been around forever and most people have heard of it, but in case you haven’t, beware. Everything in the contact info is real except for the email address, which will not put you in touch with Ms. Real Person, but the scammer. I checked with Ms. Real Person and she had not yet heard that she was being used in the scam. It’s possible that the mass mailing used many scraped contact blocks to avoid popping up immediately on scam reporting sites.

Scams appealing to greed (i.e, 419/Spanish Prisoner) are way down here, and scams like this appealing to goodheartedness are on the upswing. I’d be curious to see if the same is true for all of you.

Odd Lots

  • Anger makes you stupid. Politics makes you angry. Do the math. (Thanks to Bob Trembley for the link.)
  • Running across George O. Smith’s books while redistributing titles on one of my shelves led me to look for the most powerful vacuum tube ever produced commercially. This was the understated Eimac 8974, which contains its own vacuum pump and could hurl out two million watts in Class C. QROOOOOOOOO! You can’t drive a truck into it, but you’ll need a truck to move it. And once you get it home, your first problem will be finding 600 amps to heat the filament.
  • Winter’s coming early to the West: We hit a record low here for this date yesterday night: 26 degrees. Two feet of snow fell in parts of the Dakotas, with some unofficial reports (like this one, in the appropriately named Deadwood, SD) of as much as four feet.
  • The Farmer’s Almanic is predicting a truly bitchy winter this year. (Note that this is not The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is less sanguine.) We’ve noticed that the squirrels here are busting their nuts eating acorns, which is at least as good a predictor.
  • Speaking of brrrrrr: Recent research fingers the Llopango volcano in Ecuador as the triggering event of the severe global cooling of 535-536, which finished off the Western Empire via crop failures and the Plague of Justinian. It was a truly titanic eruption, hitting 6.9 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index and thus a peer of the gigapuissant Tambora. After that, well, there was nothing much to do except have the Dark Ages.
  • More scary robots. Four legs seems optimal for this sort of creature, which seems to be designed to carry cargo over bad terrain. It’s pretty clear to me that drones with machine guns make better manshunyoggers.
  • Most people don’t have a gut sense for what “ephemera” means, but if you want a sampling of the weirdest examples ever seen (as well as many cool and sometimes beautiful ones) prepare to spend some time on it. Don’t miss Part 2.
  • Which led me to Found in Mom’s Basement, a compendium of vintage ads. Some weird, some peculiar, some creepy, much Seventies. “Guess Whose Mother Used Downy?” Mort Drucker’s tampon ads. Read the archives!
  • How to deal with the highest of all high-class problems, albeit the one you’re least likely to face. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • One of the siller analyses I’ve seen recently. Then again, it may be the case that geeks are about culture and nerds are about ideas. I actually thought that nerds were what they called us in the Seventies and geeks are what they call us now.
  • From the Brutal Truth In Labeling Department. I’m in.

It’s a Zoo Out Here

Yesterday afternoon I walked down to the mailbox to see if the held mail notice was still in it. Just as I slammed the mailbox door, an adult black bear rounded the corner of Stanwell and Langdale, and ambled down the middle of the sidewalk, straight at me. It was fat as bears go, granted that this is the time of year for bears to be fat. Fat or not, what impressed me was that it saw me and didn’t stop ambling. On it came. Forty feet. Thirty feet. Twenty-five feet. There the bear paused, still in the middle of the sidewalk. This was closer than I’d ever been to a black bear without lots of iron between us, and way closer than I’d prefer to be. My first thought was to look for cubs. Not the time of year for that, and nothing in view. My second thought proceeded from my training as a fiction writer: What does this character want? No clue. My third thought was to start backing up, slowly. I’m thin. The bear was fat. It was about 100 feet to my front door. I started doing the math.

After I backed up ten or fifteen feet, the bear ambled across our neighbors’ gravel landscaping and galomphed down into the gully between our houses, where there is a galvanized iron pipe under Stanwell carrying runoff from farther up the mountain. It’s gotten a lot of use this (wet) summer, and was still trickling a little. The bear hunkered down and started lapping water from the open end of the pipe.

I had gotten between a bear and what it wanted, which probably isn’t a good idea. At least the bear was courteous enough to wait for me to figure that out.

Today’s animal stories don’t end there, Uncle Lar. No indeedy. On Tuesday, a skunk got into Jimi Henton’s back yard. Jimi boards the Pack when we travel (we bought three of them from her, in fact, so they’re basically family) and the four of them much enjoy the luxury of having a back yard where they can run around in circles. Aero likes to bark at animals that he sees, generally out the kitchen nook window. Here was one of a sort he doesn’t see often, and he headed off at a gallop to protect his breeder and his pack from the interloper. Shortly afterward, Jimi smelled skunk in the house. She has a doggie door into the back yard and assumed the worst. But no, it was skunk by proxy. By the time she cornered Aero in her living room the whole house reeked.

Four baths and all sorts of exotic remedies later, he still smells a little. But here’s a tip for the skunklorn: Take off the dog’s collar. Much of the smell that remained was in the leather, which is now double-bagged in the big garage trash can.

Oh, and earlier today I saw nine deer right across the street, eating the grass. This is one reason we didn’t plant grass.

Tonight I will grill a good steak in honor of the animal kingdom. I will grill it from my main deck, which lacks stairs and is 23 feet above the ground. If I see any of my animal friends down in the gully, I will wave, hold up the steak, and say, Don’t push your luck.

37 Years of Joyful Determination

Wedding Rice Thrown - 500 Wide.jpg

Carol and I just got back from Chicago last night, after twelve out-of-breath days largely spent marrying off our older nephew Brian. Done! More on this later; it was a wedding like no other. I’ll post pictures when pictures start trickling in. (The photo above is another couple you may know, dodging a mixture of rice and punch-card chad.)

Brian and his lady Alexis are now at the beach on an island on the opposite side of the planet, and Carol and I are still cheering for them. They’re not our children, of course, not precisely (Brian is Carol’s godson) but we’re very proud of them for a great many things. Among these are a sense we see in them that marriage can work, and a determination to make it work that we recognized instantly. We recognized it instantly because that determination lies at the very heart of our own lives together.

Thirty-seven years ago today, Carol and I took that determination and made it explicit: We would stand beside one another no matter what. Marriage is friendship sanctified, and we had been working hard on our friendship for seven years by then. It’s difficult to describe how much deeper and stronger our friendship is now. The best we can do is let our friendship stand on its merits. Time shatters what cannot hold, and perfects what cannot be broken. You’ve seen us, spoken with us, worked with us, and celebrated with us. I think you all know which way Time has taken us.

For Brian and Ali and all the rest of you who have chosen the path of marriage, we offer our encouragement and our applause, in the hope that Time will grant you all that it has granted us, and more.