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Open Source/2

IBM recently announced that it would discontinue support for its once-flagship operating system, OS/2, beginning in late 2006. Developed in the 1980s during an early alliance with Microsoft, OS/2 eventually became OS/2 Warp and had some success during the ’90s, particularly in the server market. But its desktop counterpart failed to take off, and IBM eventually ceded victory to Microsoft. IBM is now urging OS/2 users to switch to Linux, which it supports. Switch to Linux? If only it were that easy. Though gone from the spotlight, OS/2 continues to run on servers around the globe, especially on those linked to ATMs. Accordingly, there remains an active community of OS/2 users, many of whom believe that OS/2 is superior to more popular alternatives in some areas (e.g., security, file system). Emblematic of this support is a petition recently signed by nearly 10,000 OS/2 users, urging IBM to make OS/2 open source.

The problem? In addition to the fact that IBM initially co-developed OS/2 with Microsoft, the operating system contains thousands of lines of code owned by third parties, so unraveling the intellectual property rights would be daunting. But loyal OS/2 users feel that, if nothing else, releasing even portions of the code would yield a useful educational resource. Whether that means learning what to do or what not to do when building an operating system is open for debate.

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Anti-spam Activism … or Vigilantism?

By now it’s clear that current legislation enacted to crack down on spam is ineffective by itself. We also need sound technological solutions to the spam problem. Much work is being done on this front. Spam-filtering tools have become ubiquitous, and promising new innovations such as SMTP Path Analysis, which uses IP information in the message header to determine the legitimacy of e-mail messages, are expanding our arsenal in the anti-spam war.

But for those who believe in taking more drastic measures, there is Blue Frog. Currently a free anti-spam solution offered by Blue Security, Blue Frog works by inviting users to add their e-mail addresses to a “do not spam” list. For each person added to the list, several fake e-mail addresses are created, resulting in a “honey pot” that lures spammers. Spammers who send messages to those addresses are first warned to cease doing so. If the warnings are ignored, the software triggers each user on the list to send a complaint to the URL contained in the spam. Thousands of simultaneous complaints will cripple the spammer’s Web server. Honest community activism? Illegal denial of service? We’ll let you decide. Slippery terrain, indeed.


Ride, Robot, Ride

Don’t say you didn’t see it coming. The latest generation of robotic technology has finally arrived: robotic camel jockeys. Oh, you’re not from the United Arab Emirates? Well, let us fill you in. Camel racing, an ancient and, according to one UAE official, “indispensable” spectator sport (i.e., lots of wagering), has long been met with derision by human rights activists who criticize the sport for allowing young children to participate. They further allege that the child camel jockeys, sometimes as young as 4 years old, have been kidnapped and deliberately starved to make them as lean and mean as possible.

An answer to the critics came from a Swiss company contracted to build humanoid robots that are set to take the place of their imperiled child predecessors. The robots “sit” near the rear of the camel (post-hump) and balance with short, mechanical legs. They hold the reins with mechanical arms and hands. What might disappoint robotics enthusiasts is that these robot jockeys are not entirely autonomous; they are operated from the sidelines via remote control. This is just the beginning, though, and who knows whether more autonomous models eventually will make their way onto the sandy tracks.

No comment yet from the U.S. horse racing community, whose jockeys have been similarly criticized for having to endure grueling privations to make weight. Churchill Downs, look out!



Originally published in Queue vol. 3, no. 7
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