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Microsoft does right

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 7, 2003
(Issue 2145, Fix it Yourself)

Anyone who's read this column before – oh, say once – knows that praise for Microsoft is pretty darn rare in this space. A quarter-century of watching Bill Gates' empire bully, intimidate and sometimes just plain cheat its way to the top has instilled a certain cynicism toward the world's first, and largest, software company.

But a recent decision by Microsoft – apparently by Bill Gates himself – to invest nearly a half-million dollars and counting into fighting online child pornography deserves widespread notice and praise.

According to a recent news report, a Canadian police detective approached the company's Canadian subsidiary for assistance in tracking online child pornographers.

In a subsequent interview with Reuters, Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie said that many child porn investigators are deeply disturbed by the images and videos they have to watch in order to catalog the evidence and build the case against the sick bastards who produce and/or purchase it. We're talking hardened cops ending up on a shrink's couch because they can't cope with the stuff they've had to look at in the course of their jobs.

The detective in question said the age of the victims has been steadily dropping of late, with children as young as 3 and 4 now being abused on-camera.

Stepping up

Gates is a father, although his status as a human being would have been enough, and so when this was brought to his attention, he stepped up and directed Microsoft Canada to start developing software for these investigators – at no cost to them.

Microsoft has focused its considerable array of talent on developing software that can automate much of the tracking of child pornography – so that the detectives will not have look at every individual image in order to build a case that will stand up in court.

That's a hell of an effort by Microsoft, and one we all ought to be grateful for.

Streisand lawsuit lingers

Barbara Streisand's lawsuit against the California Coastal Records Project is still alive – unfortunately. Some months back, we wrote how Streisand sued the Project for "invasion of privacy" because her coastal property was included on the Project's web site.

Of course, what Streisand doesn't point out is that just about every parcel of land along California's coast is included. That's the point of the Project – to have high-resolution overhead photographs of the entire coast so that Californians (who, after all, own the entire coast, unlike in most states) can decide how to protect it. The only portions of the coast not yet photographed and put online are a few restricted military bases – Vandenberg Air Force Base, North Island Naval Air Station, Marine Corps Camp Pendleton – and even they aren't as entirely off-limits as Streisand wants her mansion to be.

The owners of the site filed a countersuit under California's Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legislation – arguing that Streisand's lawsuit was seeking to stifle public discussion of a legitimate public issue (coastal preservation). The SLAPP testimony was heard in July, the and the judge promised to issue a ruling on whether he would dismiss Streisand's suit in August. Yet in mid-October, there is still no decision.

And Streisand still hasn't apologized for "Yentl."

Journalism and blogs

Last year, when the blog phenomenon first took off, I wrote a column saying that while blogs were interesting and had their place, they were no substitute for real journalism – getting out in the community and reporting and the various goings on.

The point was reinforced recently from the other side of the equation when the Sacramento Bee began editing columnist Dan Weintraub's supposed blog on the Bee's website.

Seeing how "blog" is short for "web log," and that a blog is – by nearly every definition I've run across – supposed to be a spontaneous medium, how can you edit something and still call it a blog?

I asked that very question in an e-mail to the Bee's ombudsman, and in reply, was told that it was a "good question" – not a particularly enlightening response.

Didn't hear back from Weintraub, either – but after being publicly upbraided for having politically indelicate opinions (he'd suggested in the blog that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamente had played his Latino heritage to propel himself politically – and it was when Hispanic groups complained to the paper that the decision to edit the "blog" was made), he can be excused for lying low.

As for the Bee's decision to now pre-approve Weintraub's online space while still marketing it as a blog?

Well, blogs are blogs and journalism is journalism, and never the twain shall meet.