Archive for the 'Rant' Category

A Quick DMCA Note

Friday, April 5th, 2013

I just read an interesting article on Google and DMCA takedown notices.

OpenNMS was recently the victim of a bogus takedown notice. While that has been resolved (hats off to Google for dealing with 20 million of these things per month), I thought it funny that, when you typed in “OpenNMS data collection how-to” in a Google search, there was a link at the bottom explaining that one link had been removed as the result of a DMCA action, but it included a link to the original complaint that included the links involved.

So it was still possible to find the link – it just took a little extra work.

This just further illustrates the silliness of this stupid law. Without that link, we wouldn’t have been able to showcase how F5 Networks and their shoddy lawyers improperly included four OpenNMS related links in their takedown notice, so if this new action results in even less transparency, it may become impossible to right such abuses.

If our elected representatives would spend less time worrying about silly things and focus on laws like this that cause real damage to productivity, perhaps the economy would correct itself.

Phone Unlocking

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Okay, I just scanned through my Google Reader feed (adios, Reader, I’ll miss ya) and found yet another rant about unlocking phones and I just can’t keep silent. My guess is that this won’t be one of my better posts, so you might as well go and check out xkcd. It’s always a hoot.

In the US at least, when you buy a phone you can often get it at a greatly discounted price if you buy it “locked” to a particular carrier’s network. The debate is whether or not one can legally unlock a phone without the carrier’s permission.

Now, it has always been illegal to unlock a phone while it is “under contract”. This has nothing to do with copyright law and everything to do with contract law. These days most carriers will unlock your phone once it is out of the time span of your agreement. The 3GS I use while overseas was happily unlocked by AT&T since its contract was over.

However, there are people providing software to unlock your phone without the carrier’s permission. This is usually done to circumvent the contract so that one can get a great deal on a phone yet use it on another network. This doesn’t make much sense to do in order to switch to another network full time as you are still under contract to make payments to the original carrier, but it can save a bunch of money if you travel overseas a lot and want to use your same phone yet not get raped by high mobile data fees.

The carriers are trying to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – as flawed a piece of legislation as there ever was – to block this software.

Since the DMCA deals with copyright, the administration of the law falls on the Librarian of Congress. They can issue exemptions to the DMCA, and for the last three years unlocking phones has enjoyed this exemption. This year the exemption was not renewed, and so it is now possible for the carriers to pursue legal action against people and companies involved in unlocking phones.

NOTE: This has nothing, zero, nada, zilch to do with “rooting” a device or installing different software on it, which is still legal.

This has caused a bunch of moral outrage, including a petition to get the White House involved.

I think it’s crap.

You want to sign a petition? Sign one to get the DMCA thrown out. When a huge company like F5 Networks can issue a letter to Google that results in the removal of legitimate webpages, like several dealing with the OpenNMS project, and costs me time and effort to try and get it reversed – that should be illegal. Heck, phone unlocking isn’t even a copyright issue so I doubt a court test would hold up, but abuse of the DMCA with junk such as this should be illegal.

You want to sign a petition? Sign one to get carriers to remove the “no class action” clause from their contracts. Since they all do it, it’s collusion, and there is no place in the market one can turn to that allows consumers to have any real recourse when the carriers do something stupid. If the phone unlocking hubbub was about requiring carriers to unlock out of contract phones, I could get behind it, but as far as I know, they do that already.

But if you just want to get out of your legal obligations to save a few bucks, cry me a river. When the Librarian originally granted the exemption, consumers had few options in getting either unlocked phones or getting off-contract phones unlocked. This has changed and the decision to remove the exemption is a good one.

I am especially unhappy when I see people in the Free and Open software movement unlocking their phones early. Enough people already associate free software advocates with software pirates that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Don’t like a contract? Don’t sign it.

But I truly wish we could remove the DMCA and replace it with something less insane. That’s a petition I’ll sign.

Hat tip: This great article on what’s really going on.

Intuit Payroll Hell

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Okay, so I was all excited that we were opening an office in Georgia. Over the years we have had employees in other states outside of North Carolina (Ohio, Massachusetts and Georgia) but since we never had an actual office presence in those states, they officially worked out of the NC office, and so I withheld NC taxes and unemployment for them and they filed NC tax returns as out of state workers.

Now that we have an actual office in Georgia, I thought I’d better start withholding GA taxes and unemployment. So I contacted my payroll provider to make this happen.

I have been using Quickbooks on the Mac for bookkeeping for many years now, and their preferred payroll provider was a company called Paycycle. I liked Paycycle and never had much trouble with them, but several years ago they were purchased by Intuit and things have gone downhill.

When I contacted Intuit about adding the new state (which used to be pretty easy under Paycycle) I was told I would need to upgrade my service, basically doubling my cost. Considering the time I would have to spend in switching to another provider, I agreed to the change.

Thus began my descent into Payroll Hell.

The moment they switched my service, my Payroll To Do list filled up with seven years worth of tasks requesting me to enter in state tax information, not only for NC but for OH, MA and GA. As I was heading out at the time for a three week trip to Europe, I didn’t think much of it and figured I could fix it with a phone call when I got back.

I should have found the time.

The night that payroll was due for January, I was in London. Usually the payroll process takes less than five minutes, but this time it wouldn’t complete, with the system throwing a very unhelpful error message. I was lucky that the hotel had decent Internet access, so I was able to contact Intuit support on-line and after about two hours they managed to get the system to allow me to run payroll.

That is when I found out that even though they doubled my fees, they were not going to electronically file my state taxes (sigh).

When I returned to the US I made getting the payroll system fixed a priority. So I called Intuit support again and thought that my request, to simply set the state taxes history to start on 1 January, was a simple one.

I was wrong.

After spending another two hours on the phone, I was told that the only way I could get the system back to normal would be to enter in values for state taxes going back to 2006, for all four states.

Not happening. I told they guy to just put the system back to where it was before, and he said he couldn’t do that as the service would now be “Basic” and not include electronic filing of Federal taxes. Again, all of these different levels of service obviously point to the Intuit influence, as Paycycle was pretty much a devotee of the Apple method of simplicity.

I told the guy to forget it, and I would find another solution.

My first stop was the Bank of America site. I’ve been a client of theirs for decades, but it turns out that their payroll solution is provided by Intuit. No way I was going down that path again, but I did notice that it was considerably cheaper to get it through BofA and that electronic filing of state taxes was included. Another way that long term clients like myself were getting screwed.

When I look for vendors, I like to visit the list of OpenNMS Group customers. It turns out that ADP is a client. Now it is ADP Dealer Services and not the ADP division that would provide my payroll, but I like patronizing companies that patronize us, so I signed up. Our February payroll should be handled by them.

Today I called Intuit to cancel my service. The representative pointed me to a section on the web page where, after logging in, I could cancel the service. So I dutifully filled out the little exit interview, clicked submit and …

It generated an error asking me to fill out the interview I just filled out.

(sigh)

Another call to Intuit, another 30 minutes or so on hold, and I’m told that I have to clear the state tax “to do” items, the very reason I’m canceling the service, before I could cancel the service.

I’m afraid I went a little non-linear.

After my rant, I sat on hold for ten more minutes until I could speak with a supervisor. She was able to cancel my account. My goodness, maybe they should put her on the front lines.

Anyway, just wanted to post my experience in case any of my three readers was considering using Intuit Payroll services. In a word, don’t.

OpenNMS, F5 and Bogus DMCA Notices

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

I don’t know much about the network infrastructure company F5. I know some of our users have their gear, and I’ve heard positive things about it, but one place where F5 fails is in its legal department.

It was pointed out to me today that four pages hosted on the opennms.org website were named in a DMCA Copyright Complaint to Google. The complaint states:

These URL pages submitted contain questions taken without authorisation from their owners and holders (F5.com) which are Examination Questions from tests by which Trainees of F5 are able to become qualifed support technicians for F5 products. F5 itself writes on these Training questions:

F5 offers instructor-led courses that provide a hands-on learning environment, real-world problem-solving activities, and immediate constructive feedback. Our courses follow an aggressive schedule of accelerated lessons covering many of our application delivery networking products.

It further states:

SWORN STATEMENTS

I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

The information in this notification is accurate, and I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

This, to use a complicated legal term, is complete crap, at least with respect to the referenced links on our website, and it makes me angry that this kind of sloppy research is allowed to pass just because F5 has a lot more money than our little project (and apparently uses it to hire lazy legal help).

I don’t really have an opinion on the original complaint. It does appear that most of the links do point to web-based study sites which may have lifted questions from F5 tests. It is a long tradition to provide study questions for exams, but if they did actually source those questions from F5 copywritten material without permission I think F5 has a valid issue.

What I strongly disagree with is that our project is grouped into that list when it is quite obvious that none of those links references F5 material. Heck, one link is to an IRC log that only contains the characters “F5″ as part of a hex string.

I’m not too worried about it. The notice was not aimed at us, and Google would be stupid to de-index those pages (at the moment it appears they haven’t). What worries me is this trend where large companies use vague laws like the DMCA coupled with lazy legal work to bully others.

UPDATE: It does appear that Google has de-indexed those pages. Luckily, they have an easy form you can fill out to file a counter-notice, which I have done. I got an e-mail verifying receipt, but with a notice that it may take some time, but I’ll keep updating this post with the status.

Lands’ End, You Are Dead to Me.

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

[UPDATE: Lands' End contacted me and went to great links to rectify the situation, so be sure to click through to the link if you decide to read this.]

I can’t stress how important computer systems are to today’s business world. Here is an example of a company who is doing it wrong and one who is doing it right.

For years I’ve used LandsEnd Business Outfitters for our OpenNMS polos. The shirts are high quality, the ordering process is simple and on the occasion that I do need help, a human picks up in three rings and solves my problem with that one call.

Then, they “upgraded their system”. Now, my orders don’t get processed, when I call I sit in queue for a half hour (thank goodness for speaker phones) and when I do get to speak to a human, they don’t have any visibility into the order process so they can’t tell me a valid status. Then they make stuff up, like “well, your order was placed a month ago so it should be shipping by the end of the week”. When the end of the week comes and goes and it doesn’t ship, I have to repeat the process.

To add insult to injury, they are offering people who place orders now free logos. The order I canceled this morning was for nearly US$3000, over US$500 of which was logo fees. If I restarted the process now it probably wouldn’t take a month and I’d save a ton of money, but if I had remained “loyal” it would cost me. Did they offer some sort of concession due to the delay? No, so I’m looking to switch companies (perhaps Brand Fuel – anyone have a suggestion?).

Contrast this with Amazon. Amazon consistently under promises and over delivers, which two day orders arriving in one, and offering one day Saturday delivery in some places.

Recently I had to place orders on amazon.co.uk and amazon.de. Not only did my US login work on those sites, all of my account information was also available. Heck, even their “Prime” shipping service worked for me in Germany. The order I placed on the German site was done totally in German, which I don’t speak, yet the process was so similar to what I experience on the US site that it took me the same amount of time to process the order.

Guess who gets to keep me as a customer?