Less spam in your diet?

Under new rules approved today by the Federal Trade Commision (FTC), it just got a lot harder being a telemarketer. (Or at least it will if the FTC can get congressional approval to implement the new rules, but since the head of the FTC is quoted as saying that the new rules have “strong” support in Congress, I’m optimistic.)

As a bonus, the new FTC rules would even phase out a loophole found in many states’ do-no-call lists, one that says that the lists do not apply to companies with which a person had previously established contact or already had an existing relationship with; such companies would only be allowed to call “for a limited time” once the new rules were in place.

Not surprisingly, the Direct Marketing Association and their cronies are already up in arms about the new rules, but they can go f*ck themselves for all I care.

Twenty-seven states (including Texas) already have some form of do-not-call list in place, but a national one would be just spiffy.

Score one for the good guys

For the uninitiated, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a controversial bit of legislation passed by Congress a couple of years ago, supposedly designed to provide copyright protection in the newfangled world of the Internet. In actuality, it’s a draconian bit of legislation, ram-rodded through Congress by the entertainment industry (more accurately, the $$$ of the entertainment industry) to protect their monopolistic interests at the expense of users’ rights. Taken at face value, the DMCA provides more copyright protection in cyberspace than is afforded in the “real world”, yet its backers see nothing wrong with this. And the vast majority of the American public has been too preoccupied (and a bit too dense) to notice.

Well, good news, folks: the DMCA just got smacked around a little. In a much-publicized case brought against a Russian software company, where the DMCA was brandished as the weapon of choice by the prosecution, the jury for the case returned a verdict of not guilty. This case has been considered a test of the limits of the DMCA’s powers, and the loss by its backers may not bode well for future legal successes. Darn.

A telling (perhaps?) snippet from the article:

Some lawyers speculated that the jury might have been rendering an opinion on the law itself, as well as on the strict legality of ElcomSoft’s activities.

“The jury has the flexibility to think about (ElcomSoft’s motives) and essentially nullify the law if they think it is overreaching[…]”

Which it is (overreaching, I mean). Glad someone else noticed, though.

Stearman Seven Four One Bravo Juliet

My wife is really cool—have I ever mentioned that?

For Valentine’s Day last year, she got me a gift certificate. Not an ordinary gift certificate, mind you, but a certificate for a ride in an open-air biplane, courtesy of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison.

Today was the day for my ride. A first (and completely logical) thought would be “Riding in an open-air plane in mid-December? Are you freakin’ nuts?” And I’d be hard pressed to argue with you, except that I’d procrastinated for months to schedule my flight (gee, go figure) and this may be one of the few free weekends that the both of us would have between now and Valentine’s Day 2003 (when the gift certy would expire). But the flying gods took pity on me—this afternoon found us in 67 (!) degree weather with bright, sunny skies.

So at a little past 1:00 this afternoon, I went out to meet the pilot, Kevin. His flight assistant, Mike, strapped the parachute on me, gave me a quick set of instructions on how to abandon the plane if called upon to do so (yikes), and helped me into the front seat of my ride—a two-seater Boeing Aviation Stearman (call letters N741BJ), a biplane used by the Navy as a trainer during WW II. At the end of the preflight, Mike asked if I got airsick, to which I responded no… but he handed me a plastic airsick bag anyway. “Just in case”, he said. A quick overview of the takeoff procedures by Kevin later, we were on our way to the runway. (As we taxied out to the runway, he was steering the plane in a series of S-curves. He said that this was necessary because since the biplane’s nose was so high, this was the only way he could see forward, weaving back and forth to see what was in front of him.)

The first thing that was kinda weird/cool was the takeoff. Now I’ve flown a hundred times but almost always in a big, lumbering jet that needs a couple thousand feet of concrete to get airborne. Not the Stearman—we were cleared for takeoff, the engine was revved up, and not more than a hundred feet down the runway later, we were off the ground. It’s hard to describe the feeling at takeoff—you’re going so slowly (again, compared to a passenger jet liner) that you almost feel less like you’re taking off than just floating into the air. Kevin climbed up to our cruising altitude (around 2500 feet), and we headed north towards Lake Lewisville.

Flying is cool—I love it to death. Flying at 2500 feet in an open-air plane is so far beyond cool, it’s ridiculous. As we flying along at maybe 100 mph, Kevin’s pointing out things about the plane and on the ground to me, all the while with me going “This is so cool.”. Once we reached the north end of the lake, he asked if I wanted him to perform a couple of simple aerial manouvers, to which I responded “HELL YES!” (well, actually, I think it was more like “Absolutely!”, but the first one’s more accurate…) My favorite one was what he called a “lazy eight”: First you dive for a bit to pick up some speed. You then turn the nose up and climb, and just as you reach the peak of your climb, you nose the plane over to the left. (Because you’re moving so slowly, it feels like you’ve come to a dead stop and are just pivoting sideways around the left wing. Very cool.) You then dive for a bit, pull up again, then nose over to the right at the peak, thus completing the figure eight. (And no, I did not get airsick.) He did one other thing that was pretty neat: He pointed the plane into the headwind, then cut back on the throttle until the air speed indicator showed we were moving at less than 55 mph. It felt like (and looked like) we had stopped in mid-air and were just floating 2000 feet or so above Highway 380. Again, very cool.

About 20 minutes or so into the flight, however, he had to utter the words “I hate to tell you this, but it’s about time for us to head back in…” And about ten minutes later, we touched down at Addison Airport. (The landing itself was neat: Again because of the plane’s high nose, he basically landed the plane at an angle—that is, the nose of the plane was kinda cocked off to one side, though the plane itself was moving straight ahead.) A few minutes after that, I was unstrapped from my seat and climbed out the plane, back to terra firma.

I’m not sure if I’ve used the word “cool” enough, so I’ll close with this: My wife is really cool—or have I already mentioned that?

(I have some pictures from the flight; I’ll post them as soon as I get them developed.)

Start of a new era

From a university that likes to hold on to its traditions, I wasn’t sure that the powers-that-be at Texas A&M had it in them to do what was probably necessary, if not popular. But the rumors are finally true: A&M fired longtime head coach R.C. Slocum on Monday.

Slocum leaves A&M with a 123-47-2 overall record. Since joining the Big 12 in ’96, A&M under Slocum was 55-32 (34-22 in conference play)—but if you toss out the ’98 season (an aberration?), the record falls to 44-29, including a very mediocre 27-21 conference record. In fact, of those 123 wins, 34 of them—more than a quarter of the total—came against SWC doormats Rice, SMU, and TCU and SWC/Big 12 doormat Baylor. But over the same time span, he was only 24-27 against Colorado, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech—A&M’s “peers” in conference play—including a 4-12 mark against Texas and Tech over the past 8 seasons.

His supporters will point to the 11 postseason bowl games that A&M has been to under Slocum. But the Aggies won only 3 of those games.

His supporters will point to the clean program that he ran and the way he looked after his players on and off the field. And frankly, I have very little to rebut that, other than to point out that he was sometimes quick to blame these same kids for a loss—as the head coach, he should have known that the buck starts and stops with him, but I am hard pressed to ever recall him taking the blame for a loss.

In this day and age, I question whether any other “big time” university would have given a head coach this much time to prove (re-prove?) his mettle. And I guarantee you that A&M showed more patience and loyalty towards Slocum than he did towards his annual carousel of assistant coaches.

For the record, R.C. Slocum was a fine representative of Texas A&M. He was a great defensive coach and a great recruiter. But in the end, he simply wasn’t a great head coach—a good one, but not a great one. (And most certainly not a “legendary” one, as at least one media outlet has described him. Well-respected? Yes. Highly thought of? Yup. Legendary? Puh-leeze. As soon as he’s even thought of being mentioned in the same breath as the Bear Bryants of the world, then maybe we can even begin to think about using that word.)