Water Water Everywhere

Hydrologists use a concept called a “100 year flood,” which describes an event with a recurrence interval of 1% per year, or an event with a probability of occuring once every 100 years.  One  could use other recurrence intervals, such as a “10 year flood,” with a ten percent probability of occurring each year.  I first encountered the terms as a real estate lawyer looking at survey plans.  Anytime a client bought or developed land anywhere near water the surveyors would note the location of the 100 year flood plain.

I’ve been thinking of these concepts because summer 2008 has brought more violent thunderstorms and more rain to the northeast than I can remember.  I’m not suggesting the rainfall approaches 100 year storm levels, only that rainfall since summer’s advent is notably above normal.  The Maine dock is my yardstick.  Using it to measure water levels is tricky because I install it each spring and remove it each fall.  Its elevation is always relative to the level of the lake.  Other fixed points, like the end of the dock installation ramp, tell me that the lake is unusually high for July 31.  The dock tells me that the lake is about nine inches higher than it was when I installed the dock in early June.  I install it with the bottom edge just touching the water.  In a normal summer by the end of July there would be 4-6″ of clearance between the bottom of the dock and lake–enough for the dogs to swim underneath.

Not this summer. 


With Security at Risk, A Push to Patch the Web in today’s NY Times reminded me about OpenDNS, a free domain name system service.  The article, which deals with a serious security flaw discovered in the operation of the domain name system earlier this year by Dan Kaminsky, an Internet security expert, notes that individuals and small businesses can protect themselves from the flaw by using OpenDNS.   I configured my home network router for OpenDNS a few years ago and never thought about it again.  The router failed six months ago and, reading this article this morning, I realized I never changed the default server settings on the new router to use OpenDNS.  Making and implementing the changes took just a few minutes.  The OpenDNS site provides simple instructions for configuring popular routers and changing DNS settings in Macs, PCs, and other devices.  Take five minutes and do it.

Google v Cuil, Round 1

There’s news today about Cuil–pronounced “cool”–a new search engine created by former Google techies.  Based on my comparison so far I’m not ready to replace “google that” with “cuil that” in my lexicon.  I searched <david randall blog> with both Google and Cuil.  Google returned “A Foolish Consistency” as its fourth item–a surprising result, actually.  There are many David Randalls out there and I didn’t expect anything close to the top ten.  Cuil didn’t list this blog in the top ten and, when I clicked on the additional pages links, I received the message that it found no results for my search.  That just ain’t so.  I also searched for <PDF creator open source>, to add a PDF printer to this computer I’m using in Maine.  Google’s first item was the SourceForge page for PDF Creator, exactly what I’m looking for.   Cuil returned one link, to Open Source Licenses by Category, which did not include direct links to any PDF creation programs.  Two searches is not statisfically significant data pool and I’ll continue to compare the two.  Don’t set off the fireworks yet.

Supply/Demand Imbalance

“Fuel Subsidies Overseas Take a Toll on U.S.” in today’s NY Times underscores the complex relationship between global fuel prices, economic activity, and government fuel subsidies in developing nations.  If China, Indonesia, and India stopped subsidizing the cost of diesel fuel, gasoline, and kerosene their prices would drop, as would economic activity that provides markets for U.S. goods and services.  Eliminating or materially reducing fuel subsidies would wreak political havoc in those countries but is necessary to balance supply and demand.  No easy fix here.

Deploying wikis

Terrific front-page story in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) titled In “Afghanistan, Getting to Know the Neighbors is Half the Battle” which describes the crucial role of combat troops in getting to know, and being able to work with, local leaders and tribal factions.  It begins:

After 15 months in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Chris Kolenda figures he knows hundreds of village elders and leaders. He knows their names, their faces, their tribes, subtribes and clans. In many cases, he knows who stole whose water, who killed whose father, and who hates whom.  A lengthy combat tour has left Lt. Col. Kolenda as much sociologist as soldier. That will make him a tough act to follow when he and his men, the First Squadron of the 91st Cavalry Regiment, pack their duffels and turn over their battlefield to another Army unit over the next week or so.

It goes on to discuss the importance and difficulty of attaining successful transition.  What prompted me to post about the story was mention of one of the tools the Army uses to help new troops and commanders get up to speed–Wiki-Afghan.  “It looks just like Wikipedia, except it’s all about Afghanistan and much of it is classified. There are upwards of 10,000 articles, and any authorized soldier can click on an entry and add new information.”  I’ve often bashed Wikipedia but do think that wikis can be great tools.  The returning troops have developed a wealth of knowledge that incoming troops can use to minimize repetition of mistakes and improve the chances of their mission’s success.  A wiki is perfect for capturing and refining that knowledge.

Wikis should be used in more academic projects.  They would fit well with the School of Management’s team-oriented curriculum.

eBay Wins One

A few weeks ago a French court ordered eBay to pay about $60 million in damages to Louis Vuitton and other manufacturers of luxury bags, finding that eBay failed to take adequate steps to prevent sales of counterfeit merchandise on its site.  This week a U.S. court handed eBay a victory in a similar lawsuit brought by Tiffany and Company, holding under U.S. law that eBay had no obligation to prevent sale of counterfeit trademarked goods.  The court said “to the extent that eBay may have possessed general knowledge of infringement and dilution by sellers on its Web site, eBay did not possess knowledge or a reason to know of specific instances of trademark infringement or dilution as required under the law.”

The contrary results under European and U.S. law reflect the profound changes in Internet law over the past decade.  When I started to teach Internet law in 2001 the popular wisdom held the Internet was beyond the reach of national law, that it existed in some extra-legal dimension subject to its own unique forces.   No more.  Internet businesses must, like trans-national brick-and-mortar companies before them, decide how to structure operations to meet the unique legal environment of each country in which it operates.

My Bike Travels On

I returned from my bike trip (see here and here) almost a month ago.  Veloce Bicycles in Portland (excellent store)  packed our bikes and FedEx delivered them to my house last week–except for mine.  I was in Maine when FedEx arrived and didn’t learn my bike was missing until Monday morning.  The tracking data showed the bike arrived at the FedEx Portland facility on July 2, and then nothing save a cryptic note it was being returned to Veloce.  FedEx did not return it to Veloce and could not tell me where it was.  Finally, after three days of calls (on a 1-10 scale with 10 high, I am pleased to report my testiness didn’t get higher than 3.5) I found myself on the phone with a woman from the FedEx facility in Connecticut.  My bike got as far east as Willington, CT–so close!–before label problems stopped its progress.  My bike case had two labels, a delivery waybill inside a FedEx pouch (if you’ve used them you know these pouches grip like grim death) and an ID label completely covered and taped to the case with overlapping strips of 2″-wide clear plastic shipping tape.  Somehow both labels fell off.  Hard to fathom, since they were attached to the case in different spots that would not be subject to the same abrasive forces simultaneously, but that’s FedEx’s story and they’re sticking to it.  Because FedEx didn’t know where to deliver the bike case or who to call they sent it to their national lost and found–in Salt Lake City, 2/3 of the way back to Portland.  Must be one big building.  There FedEx located my errant bike last night.  It starts eastward today.  Some bike.  It didn’t even send a postcard of Temple Square.

Bat Week

In Maine the other day I opened the door to my workshop.  It’s a homemade barn-style door that hangs from galvanized rollers inside an eight-foot long galvanized track.  As I slid the door aside something flew from behind it, past my head, and out over the door.  “Weird place for a bird’s nest” I thought, with little room between the outside door and screen.  As I looked for straw, twigs, or other signs of a nest something again flew close to my head and lit atop the sliding door.  It paused momentarily, then tucked its leathery wings to its side and sinously crawled over the top of the door, its tiny muscles and bones flexing and reaching under its skin.  No bird, this, but a bat.  I angled the door away from the workshop for a better look.  The bat was at the top, closest to the wall, so close that I feared squishing it if I let the door hang normally.  I propped the door away from the house to give my new friend time to consider its options.  Shortly the bat crawled into a narrow recess in the door, no doubt the same refuge from which I disturbed it.  Years ago I mounted a bat house on a tree at the edge of the woods.  I followed the directions to the letter as to the bat house’s location, orientation to the sun, height above the ground, and color.  As far as I can tell it is still bat-free.  Now without trying I’d provided a bat habitat that followed none of the rules and rolled back and forth, to boot.  I decided I could try co-existing with my workshop bat but it settled the issue by moving on.  A week later the bat has not returned.

Not to say I’ve been bat-less.  That same day I took a twilight swim as the sun dropped below the horizon.  The sunset was spectacular, the lake reflecting blood-red light that spanned the western sky.  The lake was calm.  I floated on my back in the deepening dark when I noticed winged shapes flitting and darting erratically above.  Raising my head I saw a dozen or so bats hunting insects over the lake.  I perched on a submerged rock to watch.  The bats swooped, abruptly changed direction, flew low over the lake and spiraled 20 feet in the air.  Watching any one bat in particular was impossible.  I couldn’t keep track of their movements.  Occasionally a bat would fly straight at my head, coming as close as a foot, only to veer aside when it realized I was not on the menu.  Their mid-air agility is wondrous.

I’ve returned to this spot at twilight a number of times, watching the aeriel show from shore.  The complex, zany flight patterns continue to fascinate, as does the bats’ utter silence.  Their wings make no sound as they zig and zag.

No Posts If Sunny

Are summer sunshine, air temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s, cooling breezes, and refreshing lake water the enemies of blog posts?  In my case, seeing that I’ve been in Maine for a week without even thinking of writing a post, the answer must be yes.

eBay Liable for Counterfeits

A French court ordered eBay to pay Louis Vuitton and other makers of luxury bags €38.6 (variously reported as $60.8 and $63.2 million) in damages for sales of counterfeit handbags on the website, the largest damage award eBay has incurred in connection with its quality-assurance practices.  The court ruled eBay did not employ adequate measures to prevent the sale of fake bags.  eBay announced it will appeal the decision.  The New York Times reports that the decision “is unlikely to have a drastic effect on the way eBay conducts business because it has already made changes to police its site for counterfeit goods.”  eBay noted that it employs over 2,000 people to deal with sales of counterfeit goods and that it cuts of 95% of fraudulent sales before they occur.  Of course with millions of ongoing active sales at any moment, there remains considerable potential for fraud.