The strong arm of Google AdSense

I’ve been using Google AdSense on my sites for quite some time. One of the largest of those sites is CSFBL, my online baseball game.

Google shut down that site’s access to AdSense because of the following statement on the “Support Us” page:

You’ve all seen the ads throughout the site. Please support CSFBL by supporting these advertisers!

They stated that such a statement “contained language that encouraged clicking on ads”. I could see if I said, “Click on the ads on this site to make us money” — but that’s not what I said. After all, I’ve heard radio ads (promoting radio advertising) state, “Support this station by supporting its advertisers.”

Perhaps I should say, “Please visit the companies that advertise on this site, but please don’t click on their ads for fear that such clicks will be deemed invalid.”

I could argue, but why bother — I won’t win, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to complain here, remove the one line of text from the Web page, and get on with things. Which is exactly what I’m doing. 🙂

Microsoft patents an on-screen pause button

On December 6, 2005, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued Patent #6,973,669 to Microsoft. The patent is for “Pausing television programming in response to selection of hypertext link.”

Here is the crux of the patent’s claim:

In an interactive television system … a method for pausing the display of a television program that is displayed at the television system in response to a selection of a hyperlink that is displayed with the television program…

In other words, an on-screen pause button that you click on to pause, and subsequently resume, the program.

Where does this fail the patent test (useful, novel, non-obvious)?

  • It’s potentially useful, though I’d say a remote control with a pause button is many orders of magnitude more useful than clicking on a hyperlink.
  • It’s marginally novel — VCRs have been displaying on-screen pause indicators for years. The only difference is clicking on an on-screen hyperlink instead of a (more user-friendly) pause button.
  • It’s definitely not non-obvious. How simple of a thought is it to move the pause button from a remote control to a video display? For years, we’ve had remote controls with touch-screen displays. For years, we’ve had computer media players with pause buttons that you can click on. For years, we’ve had touch-screen computers (allowing you to touch on that on-screen pause button in your media player). This is a very obvious implementation of a pause button, and definitely fails the non-obvious test.

One other problem with the patent is that it misuses the term “hyperlink.” A hyperlink, by definition, is “a link from a hypertext file to another location or file; typically activated by clicking on a highlighted word or icon at a particular location on the screen” (dictionary.com). A clickable word or icon which performs an action is not, by definition, a hyperlink. Of course, if Microsoft’s patent application talked about an “on-screen button” instead of an “on-screen hyperlink” it still wouldn’t change the fact that this claim is obvious.

SETI as security risk, and ET hackers

As reported on SlashDot:

As reported in the Guardian, Carrigan frets that alien radio signals could pose a security risk.

The threat of this is as realistic as the 1996 movie Independence Day, where Jeff Goldblum uploaded a virus to the alien mothership from an Apple PowerBook.

Why is it so difficult for one species to submit a technology virus to another, relatively unknown, species? Well, consider. We know nothing of their technology. We know nothign of their programming languages, code methodologies, or hardware/software. We know nothing of their communication methods — wireless, wired, etc. — and even if we knew what frequencies were used, it would be incredibly difficult to figure out what the sequence of 0’s and 1’s meant. Not to mention the fact that, even if we got past all that, we would know little about their security systems and, in turn, ways to thwart them.

Is it remotely possible? Yes. Considering infinite time and infinite events, anything can happen. But that’s hardly a reason to be concerned.

The best analogy I can give to this threat is this: What is the possibility that, upon finding a book filled with mysterious symbols that seem to follow a rough pattern of organization and, on occasion, repetition, but are otherwise totally mysterious, be translated into readable English? Sure, we can figure out Egyptian heiroglyphics, but we’re the same species, with similar cultures and language structures, and future languages developed from this historic language. We can figure out how some animals communicate by studying their behavior and language in natural and controlled environments — things we have no opportunity to do with ETs, especially those locusts who want to brutalize our planet (until Goldblum saves the day).

Top 20 geek books (and three of my own)

A post on the Guardian’s Technology blog, entitled Top 20 geek novels — the results (and highlighted by Slashdot), indicates the results of a whopping 132-person survey to find the most popular geek novels.

Knowing that any 132-person survey is rather unscientific at best, looking through the list of 20 books, I realize that I’ve read seven of them, making me 35% geek, using a straight scoring system of 5% per book read. However, if you weigh things based on the ranking of the book (I read the top three books, and five of the top eight), I’d be 45% geek, using a reverse point system (where reading the first book counts as “20”, and reading the last book counts as “1”).

Needless to say, I guess I’m between 1/3 and 1/2 geek. Fine by me — I thought it would be somewhat higher.

As for the list itself, I’m kind of surprised that no Star Trek or Star Wars book was in the list (at least none that I noticed). Then again, I never read a book from either genre, and I have no desire to, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised.

Three books that should be on the list (but are not), according to my personal opinion, follow. If you’re a geek, take it with a grain of salt (remember I’m between 1/3 and 1/2 geek).

  1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Simply the best book ever written.
  2. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. The most intense “horror” book ever written. Also a pretty darn good movie starring David Soul.
  3. Animal Farm by George Orwell. The only book you can read in two hours that you will remember for a lifetime.

If you haven’t read any of those, make reading them a priority. You’ll be glad you did.

Digital File Check: Disabling file sharing, thanks to record companies

C|Net’s News.com recently reported that three trade organizations representing record and movie companies released a program called Digital File Check, a so-called “powerful scanning engine that allows you to search your computer for installed file-sharing programmes , as well as media files.” That quote is directly from the home page, as is the grammatically-incorrect space before the comma.

Since I like being a victim, I decided to run this on my laptop, which was recently overhauled as a result of a hard drive crash. Here’s some interesting information on the overall experience.

  • The Digital File Check (DFC) Web site is written mostly in Flash. It is also configured to scale to window size, so peole with desktop resolutions of 800×600 will have a difficult time reading the blurry text without zooming in. Whoever designed this site needs to take some hints from usability expert Jakob Nielsen.
  • Nowhere on the DFC Web site does it say it only works on the Windows operating system. Glad to know they have no problem with file-sharing Mac and Linux users.
  • Inexplicably, you are required to enter a password when installing the application, in order to “stop unauthorized users from trying to run this program without your permission.” I thought they’d want people to run this program as often as possible.

I chose the password “jerk”. The default password recovery question is, “What is your favorite movie?” I also used the work “jerk”. Too bad passwords must be six characters long, so I changed everything to “thejerk”. Continuing, the installation finishes fine, so I fire up the program, type in “thejerk,” and get to the main window.

Going for total system hosing, I tell the program to do a full file search. After a few minutes, I’m told I have 0 file-sharing software, 0 videos, 6 music files, and 14,000 images (exactly 14,000).

A little wizard tells me it’ll automatically remove my file-sharing software if I click on the ‘next’ button, even though I don’t have any. Confused, I click ‘next’ anyway, wondering how a program can remove something I don’t have.

With the excitement to be gained by uninstalling things not installed, I click next, hoping for total system meltdown. No luck; the program(me), obviously concerned that the user does not read what’s on the screen, warns me again that it’s about to remove software that doesn’t exist on my computer.

Sadly, clicking ‘finish’ didn’t reformat my hard drive in an attempt to remove the nonexistant. However, I’m still curious as to what those 14,000 (exactly 14,000) images are, so I go to the “Music, image, and video files” area.

This is clearly a very useful tool, if you are interested in seeing a list of every image on your hard drive, including those installed by evil programs such as Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Visual Studio, OpenOffice, and the demon of all demons, the Recycle Bin. No formats are ignored — I have JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and TGA files identified.

By the way, the program simply looks for any file with a <dot><extension> in the filename — anywhere in the file name. I know this because I created two files on my desktop, one named thejerk.gif and another named thejerk.gif.txt. Both were empty files (0 bytes). Excellent false positive matches by DFC.

Overall, this is the most impressive piece of useless software I’ve ever seen. I’ll give an update after I install it on my home PC, which is chock-full of legal music files (from my own CD collection) and legal images (taken from my own digital camera). I can hardly wait.