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TODAY'S TOPIC: OPEN SOURCE VS. THEFT
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See our Oct. 10 2009 issue for an in-depth discussion of Open Source software. Open Source programs are often quite compatible with commercial software: a word processing program such as the free OpenOffice Writer is generally compatible with Micro$oft Word that, together with the other programs in Micro$oft Office, can cost up to $400. There are also Open Source HTML, audio, photo and video editors, accounting software, compilers, Web browsers, email programs... you name it.

Some "power users," however, are like one of my clients who had just finished his job as a corporation president, and tried out OpenOffice but simply could not get OO Writer to do some of the special tricks that he had learned to do with MS Word, so he reverted to Micro$oft and installed MS Office on his new PC. But many people don't have hundreds of dollars to spend on commercial software. Only three or four (plus Windows, of course) out of sixty or so total programs installed on my computer are commercial software that I paid money for — and I'm able to work productively all day using mostly Open Source and other freeware programs.

The "Open Source" concept is that the source code is made freely available so that independent programmers can check it for "bugs" and improve it. This doesn't mean, however, as some people think, that it's more prone to having "bugs" or even malware inserted: the Open Source peer review process strictly limit what code goes into the distributed product. Commercial companies are also free to add their own new features and functions to Open Source software, and then market the resulting package, but they are ethically and legally bound by the original copyright to state that the base code is Open Source.

Some people also confuse Open Source software with shareware. Open Source is free for personal or business use, in the belief that general-purpose programs should not cost you an arm and a leg, but the programmers who develop Open Source software in their spare time often work professionally developing special-purpose commercial programs, and expect to be paid for that work. Similarly, shareware is usually limited to a 30-day trial period, and after these 30 days the program should be paid for. Some people, though, will "crack" the code and distribute their "cracks" on the Internet - this is theft of intellectual property, and is illegal.


THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
Children are unpredictible: you never know what inconsistency they will catch you in next.


Closely related to this software theft is another form of theft of intellectual property: plagiarism. With the spread of the Internet, it is quite easy to find essays, theses and dissertations on virtually any subject. And this creates a huge temptation for students who are less than gifted writers - why not simply copy something from the 'Net, put your name on it and turn it in to the instructor? Many students in Russia, including my own students, do this, and mine are shocked, even offended, when I give them a big, fat zero for "their" assignment, even when I remind them of the course requirements that explain that written assignments must be their own work, how to properly quote and footnote, and have a specific warning that plagiarism will result in a zero for the assignment. It's very easy for instructors to recognize an abrupt improvement in writing style, and then do a quick Internet search to locate the real source. I've received such assignments that consisted of more than 90% undocumented "borrowings."

Another example of theft of information is technology espionage: in the article Putin Boasts New Jet Fighter Better Than U.S. Plane former-KGB-spy Putin boasts that their new fifth-generation T-50 jet plane beats the U.S. F-22 Raptor. What the article fails to mention is that the Russians stole four terabytes of data from top secret computer files of the U.S. contractors who built the F-22, and it shows: the Russian T-50 looks almost identical to the U.S. F-22. Also, the F-22 has been in service now for 14 years, and starting this year is being phased out of service in favor of its replacement that is four to eight times better in various aspects of combat. Copying is quite obvious, and always puts you behind the original!

Still another example of theft of intellectual property: Piracy Still Looms Over WTO Bid. In this article we see that the major roadblock to Russia joining the World Trade Organization is its failure to implement its promise in 2006 to stop the piracy of software, music, books, pharmaceuticals and more. And then there's the latest spy scandal: Spies Like Us: The Russian Suspects' Unremarkable Lives - ten Russian spies posing as "ordinary Americans" (one of the couples could afford a home in Cambridge, MA next to Harvard Square, fly around the world, and yet not have a real regular job). Unremarkable Lives??

Today we in the U.S. celebrate Independence Day, "liberty and justice for all." We may be appalled by theft of intellectual property motivated by the false belief of socialism that "evil capitalist corporations" deserve to be robbed because they "exploit the poor." Sadly, though, what began as a striving for religious liberty and respect for private property in the New World has devolved first into a secularized striving for excellence, then into seeking to fulfil any and all desires: to make as much money as possible, to take whatever you can get your hands on, to eat and drink as much as you want of anything you want, and to sleep with anyone you want. The United States we left 20 years ago has changed radically: today it is much more like Russia, where there is little concept of private property and even less concept of intellectual property. The welfare "entitlement mentality" teaches people that they have rights to free food, housing and health care, and little or no responsibility to contribute to the welfare of society. But it gets lots of votes!


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Bashing BP graphicTest! Test! Test! That's precisely what I should have done before sending out our previous issue. It appeared to me that everything would work OK... in theory, at least. But as Yogi Berra once said, "In theory there's no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is." So I ended up sending it three times to get it right. Overconfidence is dangerous: "After all," I thought to myself, "This is just a simple email, and I'm a crackerjack programmer who has written many programs that worked correctly the first time, so why worry?" Hah! Murphy's Law says: "Things go wrong when you least expect it, and at the worst possible time." That's why you should worry, and always test!

See "Bashing BP (For Doing Exactly What Government Led Them to Do)" by Matthew J. Novak, PhD - a scientist discovers government regulations and statistics showing how Congress under President Clinton passed laws giving oil companies royalty rebate incentives of 250% on oil and 500% on natural gas for drilling in the deepest vs. shallower waters in the Gulf off Louisiana, and limited their liability to $75 million. Only when the "failsafe" blowout preventer failed did we begin to realize that there was no way it could have been tested for all possible failures at that depth... without creating the same kind of disaster we have today. Overconfidence in human ability and blind faith in technology have led us to this impasse.


Read the article "How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks" to learn how to adjust your computer's wireless settings if you want to connect to a public Wi-Fi network in a cafe, library, airport, etc. Keep in mind, though, that your computer is inherently more prone to being "hacked" over any Wi-Fi network, even your home or business network. If possible, it's safest for your security and your health to use a "wired" Ethernet cable connection to the Internet rather than wireless.


The goal of our CN.Net-News is to share information that we think you'll find helpful as you wrestle with that little monster on your desk, your computer. And we aim to present this information from a Christian worldview. Thanks for your time!

Yours truly,

"Dr. Bob the CompuNerd"

RobertD HoskEN
See the "nerd" in my name? (It helps if you're a little dyslexic!)
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