The Hacker’s Definition Of Freedom Of Information

In this community we seem to have struck a curious balance on this subject. By and large the user base seems pretty sensible. Occasionally a so-called “FOI” bulletin board system pops up and thrives for a few months on the spark of notoriety, and then wonders what to do when the novelty dies off.

I occasionally have to laugh at the description of these boards as being related to the freedom of information (I usually associate the FOI abbreviation with the FOI Act regarding disclosure of official records). They come on strong and wave the First Amendment in front of everyone, when in fact few BBSes operate strictly as an outlet for the First Amendment. No matter which BBS you’re on, there’s something you can get in hot water for saying. For the most part, restraint comes from the users, who know what is expected of them…but I don’t think you could take a BBS or a service like AOL to court for violating your First Amendment rights. Therefore, “freedom of information” is a very selective term when it comes to this medium, and is hardly an accurate one.

One of the problems I have with the peddling of such information [viruses] is that I can’t see very much good coming of it. Sure, there may be one in a hundred who’s interested in studying a virus to learn how to defeat it, but that is a rare case. I’ve already seen it cited in this dicsussion, in fact, and I don’t think it’s a good enough reason to keep viruses stored on a BBS, even if they are labeled as such. More often they are used to no good end whatsoever. There was an incident in the past three or four years here where an individual acquired a number of stored viruses and apparently boasted to someone that he was going to use them to damage a competing user’s BBS. This seems to me a very good reason NOT to put such material on a BBS.

Another thought – the Center for Disease Control stores several deep-frozen specimens of highly hazardous viruses and bacteria in their facility in Atlanta. Should we allow anyone who wishes it to acquire such material, or the means to cultivate it? Sure, there’s a big difference between life and death and loss of data, but with data storage becoming an almost ubiquitous means of doing everything from conducting business to storing vitally important hospital records, the distinction between life/death and loss of data grows thinner with every day. If someone wishes to access viruses, either biological or technological, let them study hard and become a part of the organizations in whom authority and trust to do so has been vested.

To take lesser measures would be irresponsible to society.

.

This rather preachy little explosion was originally an e-mail response to a bulletin board system user’s request for information regarding viruses. I’m happy to report that after reading my perhaps too-scathing reply to him, the user in question withdrew his request.

More Smut? Morse Mutt!

Announcer: You’ve been writing. You’ve been calling. You’ve picked up your pens, picked up your phones and finally picked the used contraceptives up off the floor to tell us what YOU want to hear! Well, we’re about to give it to you. Mr. Marvin G. Pervert writes to us from Room 11-B at Our Lady Of The Mispronounced Surname mental hospital:

Marvin: Dear friends. I would like to hear more smut on your program. Sincerely, Marvin G. Pervert. P.S. I very much enjoyed the flowers and the inflatible George C. Scott life-size doll —

SFX: the tape goes into fast-forward momentarily and then – click!

Announcer: Well, Marvin, since we selected your letter at random from thousands of postal morsels we collected after our ’68 VW minibus demolished the mailbox on the corner, we’re going to grant you YOUR wish on the air! You want more smut? Here it is!

SFX: heroic music begins

Mr. Melodrama: He was abandoned by his parents’ owners and wound up in the pound, his days numbered and his number almost up. But he was adopted by a sporadically flatulent ham radio fanatic who taught him not only to pollute the air, but to sieze it for himself. And now, he’s the top dog. He’s…MORSE MUTT!

Dog: Ruf ruf ruf. Wooof wooof wooof! Ruf ruf ruf.

SFX: in background, dog continues barking messages in morse code

Mr. Melodrama: Bridging the communication gap between the species and crusading for the right of every dog to get an FCC license! It’s MORSE MUTT…coming soon to a frequency near you!

The Virtual Reality Show!

As we’re aware, the newly-hatched Fort Smith Hometown TV channel is sorely in need of some original, innovative programming to balance out the mix of shows already airing. Well, we’ve got an entirely unique answer, something that is both humorous and…well, unusual.

First, let’s look at our idea for a promotional spot, probably just a 30 second affair but photographed as professionally as possible, as if this project really is breaking ground which, though the general public wouldn’t want to be standing on the ground in question when it is broken, should be presented as if it were important and vital to the survival of western civilization. This promo pretty much explains the entire concept of the show, but we’ll spell it out for you in big letters shortly afterward just in case you lack either a sense of humor or just a brain.

We open on a first-person perspective, a spectacular cinematic scene. The camera’s vantage point soars through the clouds (stock footage). Dark shapes form in the distance and then rapidly grow to fill the screen. They are large, easy-to-read letters, reading WHAT IS THE VIRTUAL REALITY SHOW?

Cut to a living room where a woman is sitting on her exer-cycle, with the “What is the Virtual Reality Show?” display on the TV set in front of her exer-cycle. She could be dazzlingly beautiful and sexy, or she could simply be a female resident of Fort Smith. She takes an impossibly enormous swig of Gatorade and gives the camera a smoldering stare, breathing “I watch the Virtual Reality Show on my exer-cycle” in a husky voice that should send chills racing through the nervous system of any men watching or listening (or, for that matter, any women watching or listening who happen to enjoy that sort of thing). The woman continues to give the camera that heart-stopping look and unleashes a belch that rattles the senses and causes some hearing damage to small animals.

Next, cut to another stunningly gorgeous lady on a ski-machine, her room arranged in much the same fashion as the previous shot, right down to the TV with the “Virtual Reality” screen. “I watch the Virtual Reality Show while I’m on my ski-machine,” the woman growls.

We now go to a fat, flabby man struggling to keep up with his treadmill (once again, situated in front of a television with the “Virtual Reality” logo on screen). He sputters, “I watch…the…Virtual Reality Show…while… while…” and then he slips and falls.

Cut quickly now to yet another bombshell, this time on a rowing machine in front of – you guessed it – a TV displaying “What is Virtual Reality Show?” She rows furiously as an authoritative and absolutely dead-serious announcer’s voice is heard: “Yes, it’s the Virtual Reality Show, a video vacation for those who need a little scenery for their morning workout!”

Very briefly, a shot of a fully grown adult man in blue pajamas with a red beach towel tied round his neck. He’s also wearing a World War II pilot’s cap and flight goggles, and is laying flat out on top of a coffee table in front of his “Virtual Reality”-displaying TV set with his arms stretched out in front of him, Superman-style. A fan atop his TV blows into his face at top speed, sending the cape flying. He’s obviously euphoric about doing this kind of thing and says “Wheeeeeeeee!” gleefully. This shot should be VERY quick, just long enough for the man to say “Wheeeeeeee!” (and do so gleefully).

Cut back to the clouds and “What is the Virtual Reality Show?” title. The title then breaks into tiny pieces, and the scene fades briefly to white. A quick fade from white into a different scene, such as a first-person drive down the interstate, or a first-person drive through a neighborhood in Fort Smith or something similarly domestic. Over this scene, the words THE VIRTUAL REALITY SHOW, Every Saturday Morning At 8 a.m. (or “Every Saturday Morning at 8 p.m.” if you really want the bastards to sit up and think for once) appear, with valiant, cheery, heroic-type music. The scene then shifts to a first-person perspective ride into a train tunnel. The headlight of an approaching train appears (simulated with the help of the ubiquitous Video Toaster) and becomes larger and larger, until there’s a bone-jarring crash and static appears briefly and fades out.

The concept of the Virtual Reality Show? Fairly simple, actually. A wild assortment of first-person camera shots of any kind. And the show will involve various members of the community, for we’ll rely on them to send us the kind of footage needed for the Virtual Reality Show. They could sit on the front end of a motorboat zipping across the Arkansas River, install a camera in a race car during a match at one of the otherwise useless raceways in the area, hike through the woods with the camera rolling, or perhaps take a canoe trip over the edge of Niagara Falls with camcorder in hand – the only vital element is a long stretch of steady first-person footage. Just get your exer-cycle, treadmill, ski-machine or Superman cape, and we’ll provide the scenery for your morning exercise!

The scene will change every three or four minutes via any number of odd transitions. Sudden blasts of light, or just a dissolve (which normally manages to not happen as one is driving down the highway), or perhaps that burst of wild colors that you get when ejecting a 3/4″ videotape while it’s playing. Some custom-shot scenes could also periodically pop up: a high-speed drive during which the “vehicle” appears to run down children, nuns, and Ken Rank; a reckless crash through a large plate-glass window which a couple of guys were trying to safely move across a street; stock medical footage of a trip down the mighty esophagus or other orifaces; crossing a tightrope at the circus and knocking a clown off, crushing his fingers as you go over them (this could cause the ski machine people some difficult existential traumas, however, as they try to sort out how they crossed a tightrope on skis); a sudden cut to a dizzying, vertigo inducing roller coaster ride; the aforementioned simulated train collision; stock footage from storm chasers driving alongside a tornado; attaching a camera to a bungee cord and dropping it off the Garrison Avenue bridge or the First National Bank building downtown; the trench scene from Star Wars (or better yet, the speeder bike forest sequence from Return of the Jedi); the first-person moon rover films from the later Apollo missions…the possibilities are endless, and, in many instances, pointless. But who’s keeping score?

The opening of each show would be a generic introduction, only shot once or twice. It would feature a very dignified, distinguished-looking, tuxedo-clad gentleman saying to the camera, “Welcome to the Virtual Reality Show.” Then the camera would appear to mow him down at top speed as a transition to the first bit of first-person footage. If need be, this same host can reappear at the end of each show (again, a generic shot), covered with tire tracks and basically looking as if he’s just been run over, to groan “Thank you for watching the Virtual Reality Show, and be sure to tune in tomorrow!”

If we can’t get William Shatner or Leslie Nielsen to do the opening remarks, I would recommend someone with a sense of humor, or perhaps just a resident of Fort Smith who can squeeze into a tux.

History Never Repeats…

There may be an increasing trend in the way history’s taught in our country today, and it disturbs me. I took a course in my senior year of high school at Northside called “contemporary American affairs,” taught by Larry Jones (a true rarity – not only is the man unafraid to air his opinions, but either in spite of that or because of it, he’s liked by almost all of his students). Jones’s teaching method included, as do many instructors’ styles, interjecting little snippets of his own views here and there, but in the end, he gave his students the raw facts and implored them not just to follow his lead or that of any other teacher, but instead, to work it out for themselves. He’d do this with any event: Korea, Vietnam, Woodstock, Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, Reagan’s era, why thirtysomething was on the air so long – the list goes on. Not all teachers do this; some regurgitate the book verbatim (and take it from someone three years out of high school – textbooks do have their own underlying opinions and biases). Others sidestep complex issues that have a potential for debate. (We had some fantastic shouting matches when I was in Jones’ class, and I almost wish I was a year younger so I could’ve been there to see the debates on Desert Storm…)

I think the fact that someone doesn’t know the date of the bombing of Pearl Harbor may point to a growing timidness in America’s schools to face complicated historical happenings of the past. This may be due to the political correctness syndrome, or perhaps could be attributed to the fact that we’re just now realizing that some of these events are still having repercussions today, such as the uproar during the Pearl Harbor anniversary about George Bush demanding an official apology from the Japanese government for its actions in 1941. History cannot be relegated to “ancient” status. We can’t ignore the past half-century because we’re still being affected by recent history. Even “ancient” history is controversial – aren’t we now hearing something of a furore about whether Columbus was a great explorer or the first of many destroyers? History can’t just be locked away until it is safe to deal with.

So, here’s what I propose to any educators that may be lurking out there, wondering how to tackle complex events in public schools. I feel that public schools’ handling of history gives one the impression that the school system is accountable to the public. Though this is true to an extent, perhaps in matters of teaching history, the school system should be impartial to the public, not bowing to pressure from any special interest or political correctness. Too often, my teachers cushioned the blow of a staggering body count or a corrupt political coup with the news that it’s all been sorted out by now, it’s all ancient history. That’s not true, nor will it ever be. Give the students precise dates and places. Give them facts, figures, names. Let them figure it out for themselves. Let them read the body count for themselves and consider the implications. To victims of wars in recent history, the dates and locations are not forgotten because they saw the actual events. The closest students in America’s public schools can get to that traumatic experience is to find out for themselves how many people were killed, who killed them, what reasons were given at the time, and what happened next. Explain it to them. But don’t tell them it’s all right and it won’t surface again. (Personally, I’d tell them that it could indeed happen again if they don’t learn history’s lessons today, but that’s just my view.) Perhaps, if the past sinks into the consciousness of history students of the present, history – as well as current events – will hit that much closer to home. As it is, it all seems so dreamlike, as pictures in a book, “something that happened before we were born.” If citizens of this country learn, in their youth, to think for themselves and watch the events taking place around them, that “something” won’t happen again before we die.

End of tirade. Wow…it makes me feel so poetic, so long-winded…almost makes me feel like running for office or something.

Naaah.

Car Article

Picture yourself gliding over the open highway in a new Mazda, there’s not much like it. Especially not when a deer leaps out in front of you, and you throw on the brakes to avoid pummeling Bambi and spin out, which is fine until you see an eighteen-wheeler tearing down the road in your general direction. This is the point at which drivers find out what their zero-to-sixty time really is, and discover that they can achieve it rather quickly when needed. The only problem with 60mph is that stop sign, and while you were too busy noticing that truck you just outdistanced, the police tend to sit straight up, toss their doughnuts in the back seat, and take off after you.

“But officer,” you protest after the cops pull you over, “I was trying to slow down!”

“Son,” says the policeman, “if I was gonna yank your body outta this shiny new car here and started whammin’ on it, and you told me to stop, would you want me to slow down or stop??!?”

This, you thought, was a good point to remember – just as the eighteen-wheeler zooms is by, doing at least 70. It could have been worse, but you’ll find find that out next weekend when you back into your brick mailbox at 6:00am on your way to work and then into a Jaguar on your way home.

Wrecks always have an unnerving effect on the driver because, with the possible exception of accidentally launching the entire nuclear arsenal of North America, there’s no feeling quite like that of hitting someone else’s car.

(Originally written for the Northside High School 1989-90 Yearbook)