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I wuz robbed

Today I was in a hurry, walking down to my local subway station, the 16th and Mission BART, and, as usual when I'm too late to take Valencia, this took me past the cluster of drug-dealers who hang out on my corner, in the north Mission. I was wearing the groovy MiG goggles I'd bought last month in London at the Camden Market and have been using as shades, and this big drug dealer cornered me and started harassing me to try them on. Then he started rambling about what he does for a living, just talking a load of really boring rounder horseshit that probably sounds good and Elmore Leonardy when you say it to yourself in your head but just sounds banal and incoherent when you're standing on a corner.

He's a big guy and so I "let" him try on my shades. Then it transpires that he wants me to buy drugs from him in exchange for my goggles. I explain that I'm not in the market for drugs, but he won't give back my shades and he's talking more bullshit. Finally I say, "So, you're robbing me, right?" and more bullshit ensues. I repeat the question a couple times, then walk off.

I'm really pissed. Really, really pissed. I really liked those goggles and clearly this guy decided he wanted to just fuck with me for the hell of it. Short of flying to London, I can't replace them, ever. (Update: an alert reader pointed out a mail-order site, so I've replaced them)

I could go to the cops, but here's the thing: if I do, he'll know who did it and he might shoot me.

If I don't go to the cops, though, I am going to walk past this guy twice a day for the rest of my tenure in this apartment and he's going to know that I'm a soft touch and I'm bound to be in for more harassment.

This corner is visible from a nearby police station -- cops who park their cars there can easily and continuously see the swarms of crack, heroin and grass dealers who congregate on my corner. It sure doesn't feel like reporting a petty robbery is going to make a difference.

I asked the advice of two transit cops whom I ran into on BART. They said that cops see busting the dealers in the north Mission as a futile exercise, since the system just dumps them back out on the street. They recommended writing to the SF District Attorney's office, just let him know that there's political will to do something about this.

This is the kind of thing that drives me completely nuts about San Francisco. There is visible corruption, felony crimes, and human degradation everywhere, far more so than any other city I've been to in North America or Europe (excluding Naples). There are people squatting and taking dumps, there are streets whose sidewalks are lined with tents and whose gutters are lined with sealed, fermenting 40 oz. malt liquor bottles filled with urine deposited by tent-dwellers who don't want to live in their own piss. Everywhere you go in the city, you step through drifts of discarded pipes, needles, condoms.

The taxes here are extraordinary -- comparable to Ontario, certainly -- but the evidence of government spending is nowhere to be seen, from the potholes to the prostitutes, from the limping transit to the visible and desperate pervasive poverty.

OK, I'm ranting here. Getting robbed -- even getting robbed in such a minor and meaningless way -- sucks, and it rattles you and makes you bitter and angry. This crap makes me want to move, if not back to Toronto then at least to some yuppies-and-dogs neighborhood like Noe Valley or Pacific Heights, where my rent will be even more extortionate (you would not believe how much money I pay for my tiny apartment in my filthy, dangerous, feces-strewn neighborhood).

OK. I'll stop now. Thanks for reading.

Update: a few hours later.

Let me clarify here that I'm not advocating any kind of round-em-up-and-ship-em-off policy. I am no great fan of the penal system, the war on some drugs, nor am I unaware of the social factors that give rise to the problems in my neighborhood.

But there are damned few places where these problems are this visible and dramatic. I don't have a solution, but I do know that other cities in this state, country and continent don't suffer to this degree. There must be a lesson in one of them.

There are many things to love about SF and about the Mission. First and foremost, there's the EFF, as good a reason to stay here as any I can imagine -- working for the EFF is a dream come true, and the benefits thereof far outweigh the problems of this neighborhood.

There's the concentration of amazing, witty, intelligent, thoughtful and technically literate people in the Bay Area. On a good day, SF is a geek's Shangri-La, with excellent nerd and art culture on every corner.

There's the vibrancy of the Mission, the vast majority of good people who are running small businesses, making merry and who greet me with a smile when I walk past.

Getting robbed makes you bitter. If I could have stepped around this guy, I would have, but I couldn't and I ended up getting robbed. I've written to the SF District Attorney's office to point out the drug-dealers on my corner and their seeming truce with law enforcement. There's a great sushi joint, Country Station Sushi, right on the corner where I was robbed. The family that runs it are world-champion taiko drummers, and I feel for them, feel for their struggling business that is effectively barricaded by the dealers on the corner. It's not fair.

I don't have a solution, but it doesn't seem like the city can go on like this. Link Discuss

OPENdj: Swarming streamer for Linux

Another swarming streamer, OPENdj, is also free and GPLed and runs under GNU/Linux. Grandiose prediction for a Sunday: swarming will standardize on a protocol in the next three-five years, abeit one with many implentations. Link Discuss (via /.)

Hollywood asks Congress for Letters of Marque

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif has called for a bill that would create a "safe harbor" for rights-holders who want to attack P2P networks to "protect" their works. A safe harbor is a checklist of qualifications that will guarantee you immunity from prosecution. An ISP that does x, y and z can't be prosecuted for secondary infringement under the DMCA's safe harbor.

Berman is asking Congress for a safe harbor for RIAA and MPAA attacks on P2P systems. At first, this actually seemed slightly reasonable to me. Berman says that his bill won't allow rights-holders to damage individual or ISP computers, and he says the kind of thing they're planning is flooding the network with bad rips, spoofy meta-data (mislabelling tracks) and so on. Hey, that's already a problem in the wild in P2P networks, so what's the big deal, right?

There's something fishy here. Bad meta-data and bad rips are not criminal acts. There's no need for a safe harbor to protect the labels if they want to put up Gnutella hosts with 20,000,000 bad tracks (there're already Christian groups that put up inspirational/chiding images with names that suggest that the files contain porn, and so put their material directly into sinners' hands).

Why does Big Content need a safe harbor for something that's not a criminal act? Safe harbors only exist to protect people who are engaged in an activity that would otherwise be illegal. When Hollywood seeks a safe harbor for its attacks on the Internet, you know that what it's really asking for are Letters of Marque -- a license to engage in criminal vigilantism.

So either Berman's blowing smoke or he's not telling the whole story. You don't need a safe harbor to protect yourself from bad metadata. Watch out for the text of the bill when it gets introduced -- 90 percent of its social harm is lurking below the surface. Link Discuss

Rob Flickenger explains WiFi

Rob "Community Wireless Networks" Flickenger has written an excellent primer on, well, community wireless networking for PC Magazine. He covers all the basics of technology and social phenomena, and imparts some of the vibrance of community networking, too.
The captive portal provides Web site redirection, which you may have encountered when surfing the Web from hotels that provide DSL access to rooms. When the Wi-Fi card in your laptop associates with the access point and you try to open a Web site, you are redirected to an introduction page that identifies the network and invites you to log on (sometimes after paying a nominal fee for access). Once cleared with the authentication service, you are redirected to the site requested.

The hot spot has its place in any community network project because it is relatively simple to set up and provides immediate benefits. For little more than the price of the hardware, homes and businesses can use the wireless network to access a high-speed DSL line (or other appropriate network connection), sharing its cost. Sponsors can charge competitive fees for Internet access to help offset the cost of operations.

The hot spot has one critical limitation: You can set it up only where high-speed Internet access is already available. What if you want to extend network access outside of DSL and cable range, or you want to bridge two networks together but can't afford a dedicated telco line?

Link Discuss (via 802.11b Networking News)

Swarming MP3 streamer -- never run out of bandwidth again!

Streamer is a swarming MP3 streamer. Every listener to a Streamer Internet radio station relays for other users, so that you can never run out of bandwidth -- think of Onion Networks' and Blue Falcon Networks' technology, except that this is free and GPLed. I wish that the CBC would adopt this for their Internet radio streams, which are 99 percent busied-out and have a lot of rebuffering problems. I've got tons of upstream bandwidth in San Francisco, so I could handily relay CBC Toronto for other Bay Areans who wanted to listen to it, giving everyone a faster connection and saving money for CBC besides. Link /.)

Minor-league hockey-team for sale on eBay

The Anchorage Aces, a bankrupt minor-league hockey team, is up for sale on eBay.
Within hours of its second listing, the minor league team had received four offers on the Internet auction site, including a $2 million offer.

The West Coast Hockey League franchise filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month. The team is more than $2 million in debt and owes more than 100 creditors. Last season, the Aces finished with a league-worst 19-44 record.

Link Discuss

Wham-O, we hardly knew ye

RIP, Arthur (Spud) Melin, inventor of the Frisbee and the Hula-Hoop.
"No sensation has ever swept the country like the Hula Hoop," author Richard Johnson wrote in his book American Fads. "(It) remains the standard against which all national crazes are measured."

Melin and Knerr started with slingshots and named their mail-order company after the sound a slingshot made when its projectile struck a target. They branched into other sporting goods, including pellet guns, crossbows and daggers.

They added toys in 1955, when building inspector Fred Morrison sold them a plastic flying disc he had developed after watching Yale University students toss pie tins. Wham-O began selling the disc they called the Pluto Platter two years later before modifying it and renaming it the Frisbee.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Amanda!)

Lab Notes

Nanotube pistons, tangible interfaces, and the invention of the mouse... all in my latest issue of Lab Notes: Research from the UC Berkeley College of Engineering! Link Discuss

Surrealflorality

Fellow wunderkammer-keeper Denise Czaja sent me this link to ultra-surreal flower prints by Dr. John Robert Thornton (circa 18th century). As Denise says, "the painting style of the flowers reminds me of Mark Ryden!" Link Discuss (Thanks, Denise!)

Silence is intellectual property

John Cage's 4'33", a lengthy silent track on composition from one of his avant-garde albums performances (thanks, Mark), constitutes an original work for copyright purposes. This means that other composers who include silent tracks have made a derivative work from Cage's silence. Cage's representatives have served producer Mike Batt with a legal nastygram asserting that he infringed on Cage's copyright with his 60-second silent track on the latest Planets album.
As my mother said when I told her, 'which part of the silence are they claiming you nicked?'.
Link Discuss (via MeFi)

Beware of falling cows

Austrian driver nearly killed by a cow that fell 15' off an overpass just as the car was passing through it. Cow does not survive. Link Discuss (Thanks, Gary!)

An international TV guide for public radio

Kevin Kelly (not this Kevin Kelly, this Kevin Kelly) wrote to tell us about the site he maintains at PublicRadioFan.com. Kevin's site has a massive and comprehensive guide to audio on hundreds of public radio sites around the world, with direct links to the audio streams, program home-pages and station sites. You can search by programming type, time and location. A little XML-RPC-fu and this could be the basis for a globe-spanning public-radio TiVo. Link Discuss (Thanks, Kevin!)

Propaganda posters remixed for the war on terror

Amazing and inflammatory gallery of remixed wartime propaganda posters. I chose this one in honor of Canada Day. Link Discuss (Thanks, Mark!)

Programming language pr0n


It all started with Raverporn's photo of two young women in lingerie, one spanking the other with an O'Reilly perl book. Joey, a legendary perl-hater, struck back with a photo of his own butt getting whacked with a Lisp book that Dan left behind when he moved to SF and went to work for the Vipul's Razor crowd. Now, Coderman adds his own contribution: a savage C++ book spanking. If only my HyperCard books weren't three thousand miles distant, I'd add my own contribution to the canon, yes I would. Link (perl), Link (Lisp), Link (C++) Discuss (via Ben Hammersley)

Telemarketer saves life

A hiker stranded in the Andes thought he would die, but then his cellular rang. It was a telemarketer calling to get him to top up his pre-paid plan. The telemarketer got emergency services on the line and called the hiker at regular intervals to make sure he didn't lose consciousness from hypothermia. When the hiker's battery died, he put it in the snow to cool it off and it came back to life. The article doesn't say why he didn't just call 911 to begin with. Link Discuss