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Patents Communications IBM

IBM Patents Changing Color of E-Mail Text 132

Posted by timothy
from the how-very-precious dept.
theodp writes "Last week, the USPTO granted IBM a patent for its 'System and method for comprehensive automatic color customization in an email message based on cultural perspective.' So what exactly did the four Big Blue inventors come up with? IBM explains: 'For example, an email created in the US in red font to indicate urgency or emphasis might be mapped to a more appropriate color (e.g., blue or black) for sending to Korea.' IBM took advantage of the USPTO's Accelerated Examination Program to fast-track the patent's approval. BTW, if you missed the 2006 press release, IBM boasted it was 'holding itself to a higher standard than any law requires because it's urgent that patent quality is improved.'"
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IBM Patents Changing Color of E-Mail Text

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  • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Saturday May 16, 2009 @04:45PM (#27981443)

    Thanks to slashdot for highlighting one of the many great ideas that Big Blue has brought to our meager existences. It's things like color fonts in email that really put a smile on my face every day. I'm glad slashdot posts stories like this to remind us of who's behind some of the great ideas we use every day.

    To celebrate this remarkable achievement I am going to send all my emails today using a Big Blue font.

  • . . . except that nobody will be able to read this post anyways, as that IBM thingie will present this text as "white on white."

    • hmmm, aren't those fat multi-color pens and multi-color typewriter ribbon evidence of prior art?

      hope they don't find out about using carbon paper (CC = carbon copy) to transfer a copy of the letter you're typing onto another document or i'll have to pay insane royalties each time i forward those dumb internet chain letters i send to over 9000 of my friends!!

      /fat freddy sez [wikimedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        hmmm, aren't those fat multi-color pens and multi-color typewriter ribbon evidence of prior art?

        This should be modded +1 Funny, because there is no way that this post can be serious. Writing a letter with a multi-color pens gives you a letter with multiple colors. When you send it to people with different cultural backgrounds, the colors of your letter don't automatically change so that they have the same cultural meaning for your recipients as they do for you. Maybe such a pen exists in the world of Harry

        • by tepples (727027)

          Writing a letter with a multi-color pens gives you a letter with multiple colors. When you send it to people with different cultural backgrounds, the colors of your letter don't automatically change so that they have the same cultural meaning for your recipients as they do for you. Maybe such a pen exists in the world of Harry Potter. But in the real world, this doesn't come even close to prior art that anticipates this invention.

          But is Cascading Style Sheets prior art? You serve one stylesheet for web browsers set to Korean and another for web browsers set to a Latin-script language.

          • by mokus000 (1491841)

            If that's the mechanism they're trying to patent, then finding prior art shouldn't be too hard. On the other hand, if it isn't, then you're free to do exactly that without risk of violating the patent.

            (Assuming my understanding of patents is correct...)

      • "hmmm, aren't those fat multi-color pens and multi-color typewriter ribbon evidence of prior art?"
        Only if you somehow have magical ink that changes color depending on the country it is in.

  • But... wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bazman (4849) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @04:46PM (#27981457) Journal

    Can't we just tag the text with some kind of semantic markup, and then use some kind of "sheet of styles" that relate the markup to the appearance? Sound familiar?

    • by sopssa (1498795)

      Perfect idea! I just *want* more of those emails embedded inside bloat html for no reason!

      But more on it, if you want to implement it on the normal text view, there's millions of email clients you would need to get to support it. And as far as HTML email goes, No Thanks.

      • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Saturday May 16, 2009 @05:01PM (#27981595)

        Perfect idea! I just *want* more of those emails embedded inside bloat html for no reason!

        <x-html>
        <!x-stuff-for-pete base="" src="" id="0" charset=""><DIV></DIV><w:fonts> <w:defaultFonts w:h-ansi="Times New Roman" w:cs="Times New Roman"/> </w:fonts> <w:docPr/> <w:body> <wx:sect> <w:p> <w:pPr/> <w:r> <w:rFonts w:h-ansi="Helvetica" w:cs="Helvetica"/>
        <w:t>I agree.</w:t> </w:r> </w:p> <w:pgSz w:w="12240" w:h="15840"/> <w:pgMar w:top="1440" w:right="1440" w:bottom="1440" w:left="1440"/> </w:sectPr> </wx:sect> </w:body>

        • by Iluvatar (89773)

          Dude, that's the spirit -- you should be a Chief Data Architect at IBM! :-))

          "It'll Be Messy" :-)

      • Come on! In these times, this argument is completely and utterly outdated. And besides: The spammers do not care anyway.

        No why not use HTML as it was intended: To mark-up hypertext.
        You know, it's actually a cool and useful technology.

        And there is not a single real-world e-mail client I know that still can't do basic HTML. Where do you live? in the 80s?
        We techies usually aren't so conservative. So why here?

        Examples for which HTML is good:

        • Emphasizing elements.
        • Properly embedding links.
        • Properly embedding those
        • Re:But... wait... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by sopssa (1498795) <sopssa@email.com> on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:42PM (#27982279) Journal

          I prefer plain text because its 100x more secure than HTML with how its rendered. Theres various exploitable software and even drive-by-download exploits, and then you can use hotlinked images to track who reads emails (and spam them even more).

          Yes, my email client supports html emails. It even has it enabled by default. But because of that, I changed it to show text version to me before and just when I click it will show me the html version

          • Hmm... Sure it adds some complexity. And complexity can add bugs. (But does not have to.)

            But it is well worth it. Same as UTF-8.

            If you fear exploitability then I ask you: Do you run Windows? A browser? A instant-messaging-client? (They transmit HTML too.)
            A file sharing program? (Those things are always scanned for exploits. All the time.)
            Do you use cracks off of sites like astalavista, gamecopyworld, or straigt out of the p2p nets?

            If you at all do any of those things, then I think it's pretty much irrelevan

          • Yes, my email client supports html emails. It even has it enabled by default. But because of that, I changed it to show text version to me before and just when I click it will show me the html version

            I think you mean . . .

            a.) html ALWAYS OFF by default
            b.) show SOURCE CODE when you click

            Oh nevermind...

        • Slashdot is the only site I know that fails hard at UTF-8.

          This is intentional. Slashdot is in English, and English requires no characters outside Latin-1 plus the € character. Slashdot used to allow more characters, but that was turned off on purpose due to abuse [slashdot.org].

          • The problem is since they switched to the new ajax interface they even fail at stuff from latin1 (at least if entered directly, a handfull of html entities for latin1 stuff work).

            • at least if entered directly, a handfull of html entities for latin1 stuff work

              The one that pisses me off most frequently is the &deg entity. I really don't see how using these entities can constitute abuse, especially given the crap (e.g. GNAA) that Slashcode intentionally lets through.
          • That abuse post is kind of clever

            The subject was

            1.2.3 &#8238;(lufthgisnI ,5:erocS)

            U+8238 is combining cyrillic millions, it flips the text direction from that point on the line on.

            Now when posted it was modded Offtopic, but what you see is

            1.2.3 (cipotffO, 1-:erocS) (Score:5, Insightful)

          • Well, how about having real quotes. And a real dash character. Or an ellipsis character. Or math symbols. Etc, etc, etc. I have them all on my keyboard. This has not much to do with language. And besides: Whether you want it or not, this is an international site. With international names of persons, places, and so on.

            Abuse is a fuckin' stupid excuse for laziness and incompetence. UTF-8 is implemented very properly by now. And you still can filter out the few characters that should not be allowed (<, LTR

            • by tepples (727027)

              Well, how about having real quotes. And a real dash character. Or an ellipsis character. Or math symbols. Etc, etc, etc. I have them all on my keyboard. This has not much to do with language.

              What did Slashdot staff say when you asked to whitelist these characters or their classes? Or have they not been returning your e-mails?

              There are even tools to filter UTF-8 by character class. So you could just allow certain classes without a problem.

              How do you know Slashdot isn't already using that and just filtering out the classes that you want to use?

        • by jakykong (1474957)
          And... Why HTML is bad (on its own):

          - Odd e-mail situations. I often access my e-mail over SSH when I'm at school. It takes extra work to get past the HTML, even when used for legitimate purposes, when accessing e-mail in less common ways.

          - Spam fighting. I know from firsthand experience that stripping e-mails of HTML significantly increases the accuracy of statistical filters (like bogofilter, my preferred spam-fighting tool). The conclusion I draw from this is that HTML messes with statistics. HTML is oft
          • - Odd e-mail situations. I often access my e-mail over SSH when I'm at school. It takes extra work to get past the HTML, even when used for legitimate purposes, when accessing e-mail in less common ways.
            You mean to say you school doesn't have a web mail? Heck we had web mail back in my undergrad a decade ago, if your college is that antiquated you can always forward your email to a gmail account then you have a good web mail client ability to view HTML. You excuse is just saying HEY LOOK AT ME I KNOW HOW TO

        • by donaldm (919619)

          And there is not a single real-world e-mail client I know that still can't do basic HTML. Where do you live? in the 80s? We techies usually aren't so conservative. So why here?

          You know that are some people that still use simple mailers such as alpine, mutt and even "mail" to name a few and they can do their job in many ways quicker and more efficiently than people who use other so called more sophisticated mailers. The problem is many people resort to using coloured fonts and pretty pictures and forget about how to actually use their language to communicate.

    • We already do. The tags look like:

      Priority: urgent

      And then the receiving mail client displays it appropriately for the given locale/user.

      In other words, prior art.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Theaetetus (590071)

      Sound familiar?

      Sure, sounds familiar. But that's not how IBM is doing it in this patent. Try reading it - they don't require any tags to be added to the text, or some "sheet of styles" to relate "markup" to anything. So, while your solution sounds quite familiar, it has nothing to do with this patent.

  • nice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) <sopssa@email.com> on Saturday May 16, 2009 @04:47PM (#27981461) Journal

    IMO this isn't such an bad way to do it. Might even be patent worthly as noone is doing it.

    I myself really dislike stupid red fonts in emails or whatever *urgent* messages. I understand it by words anyways and it just makes me feel offended. But if its just cultural differences, then good job IBM.

  • how do they came up with ideas like that? I'd love to sit on those meetings..
    • I wonder why they think it's worth spending money patenting stuff like that. Even if you do get the patent, who is going to bother using that idea? Much less pay for using it.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      That's not how it works. What happens is that lower-level management is told to be on the look-out for any new functionality that programmers and engineers make, no matter how small, and forward it to a group that then scans the changes for patentability.
      So a coder decides it would be nifty if the X-Face in e-mail automatically gets displayed in the address book too, and adds five lines of code to do just that. And then a completely different department sees his manager's report, and decides to patent it.

      • by okooolo (1372815)
        but patents like that are worthless, so what's the point? why bother patenting something that's clearly is not gonna hold up in any court?
        • by mokus000 (1491841)

          Patent pissing contests?

        • by Halo1 (136547)

          but patents like that are worthless, so what's the point? why bother patenting something that's clearly is not gonna hold up in any court?

          Because every patent they collect can be added to their balance sheet (so they get better credit ratings, potentially higher stock value, etc). Of course, these patents are third-rate derivative assets whose value has little or no basis in reality, and at one point or another the patent bubble will burst. After all, as the financial markets recently discovered: you can't keep selling and trading hot air only based on valuations from accountants' and lawyers' wet dreams.

        • by brasselv (1471265)

          Patent wars.
          The more patents you have, no matter how silly, the more you can credibly threat other organizations on a variety of legal and non-legal matters.
          Like, "Dear Megacompetitor, so you don't want to settle for XMIO on topic Y? Let's see... have you ever used any color in your emails? How about if we sue you for that?"

          • by okooolo (1372815)
            Well it seems to me that if a large, well known company like IBM would loose a lot of credibility if it tried to enforce pointless patents like that, so I'm not sure how much of a legal threat those patents could be ..
      • by mdf356 (774923)

        That's not how it works. I should know, I have about 7 patents IBM paid to work through the system and I sat on the patent review board for my group in Austin for over a year.

        There's a place to submit ideas online. Most of the ideas have never actually been implemented. The review board decides if we're sure that there's prior art (err on the side of caution), and whether it is implementable. If so, we send it off to someone else to do a real prior art search. If that comes back okay then lawyers get i

    • Thats the problem, its in the last 20minutes that somebody would have pointed out, "HEY, you guys realize i was just kidding right", but because of they cut of the last 20min the boss never realizes!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jthill (303417)
      I decided long ago that they're intentionally mocking the USPTO. Seriously.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16, 2009 @04:49PM (#27981487)

    But who would see colour anyway? Is this another Windows thing?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They should've patented a system to translate emails from British to English and vice-versa, so that words like "color" get spelled with extra "u"s on British systems and without them on normal systems.

      Would've been a much better patent.

      • Don't most people use the new Uninifieud Engluish spellings of colouur and alumininiuum, rather than the American specifics like color/aluminum or the British specificis like colour/aluminium?

    • by donaldm (919619)

      But who would see colour anyway? Is this another Windows thing?

      Not everyone actually uses Microsoft Exchange so what may display correctly in MS Exchange may not display correctly in other mailers. After all it is rather pointless to spend that time composing an email with colours, fonts and pretty pictures when the person to whom you are sending can't see them.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds interesting. A lot of Slashdot postings regarding patents attract comments about how it has already been done or is obvious. Just to keep things in perspective, here is the (only) claim from the patent:

    A method for customizing color in an email message based on cultural perspective of each email recipient comprising the steps of: determining at least one existing color used in an email message; analyzing at least one of a domain name or user information for each recipient of the email message to dete

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by j-stroy (640921)
      some of my favorite typefaces are black.
      • I've always liked Courier White. E.g. look at this text

        Far more readable, than regular Courier don't you think?

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Ok, so you can submarine patent the obvious by DOING IT BADLY.

      It all makes sense now...

    • Don't worry, making it too easy to color every message in red is just an artifact of the Lotus Notes horrible UI [eproductivity.com]. Thankfully, other email systems don't have that problem, so I don't think anyone is going to want to steal/use (or even see the value in) that sloppy patented workaround.

      In any case, kudos to IBM Korea for speaking up on this issue. As an American, I'm just as annoyed by IBM's Lotus Notes user interface. I'm just sad that IBM's management sees this as an isolated cultural issue, and not as a mo

  • This seems like a perfectly reasonable, new idea. It's not "changing color of email text"... it's automatically understanding the meaning of the colors and adjusting them appropriately for each recipient.

    Why is it that so many people on Slashdot seem to think that all patents are bad?

    • by presidenteloco (659168) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @05:16PM (#27981693)

      Because most of them would take most competent software engineers about 5 minutes to think up themselves if presented with the problem that the patent claims to be a solution to.

      The programmatic solution is often obvious from a routine logical analysis of the problem and its domain, and standard modelling techniques.

      The examiners seem not to be able to have a proper idea of non-obviousness (to a practitioner in the field), when it comes to software patents.

      This causes areas of software work to be unreasonably closed off to any reasonable creative developer, and that's just a pain in the ass. So we basically say, look, if I could have thought of that without breaking a sweat just by using the standard analysis and coding techniques of the trade, then I'm pretty much going to ignore the "patent" on it, aren't I.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by EvanED (569694)

        Because most of them would take most competent software engineers about 5 minutes to think up themselves if presented with the problem that the patent claims to be a solution to.

        Sometimes, though, figuring out what the problem is, or even that there is a problem in the first place, is decidedly non-trivial.

        I'm not nearly as anti-patent as most people around here are, and this patent is borderline at best IMO, but I do think it falls into this category.

        • by GigsVT (208848)

          I don't think we should be allowing patents based on the novelty of the problem rather than the novelty of the invention to solve it.

          • by EvanED (569694)

            The novelty of the problem IS part of the novelty of the solution though.

            • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:25PM (#27982173)
              But its also preventing the problem, imagined or not, from being solved. I believe that if software patents are allowed (and I believe that they shouldn't be allowed, but for arguments sake lets say they are allowed) then the patented idea needs to be in software produced by the company within 3 months of the patent being filed. If not then the patent is automatically voided.

              How many of you think this will actually be used? It won't be, it however, does prevent me from making a program to solve this "problem".
          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Why not? Many, many inventions solve problems people didn't realize they had and change the world. In fact, the best inventions often do.

            People who've never had a hot shower don't know what they're missing. People who rode horses everywhere didn't see the need for cars. People who like to shop didn't see the problem being solved by the internet.

            You don't invent things just to be novel, you invent things to solve problems. The implementation does not need to be complex, the invention merely has to be no

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Theaetetus (590071)

        The examiners seem not to be able to have a proper idea of non-obviousness (to a practitioner in the field), when it comes to software patents.

        So, are you a practitioner in the field of patent law with a proper idea of the legal requirements of 35 U.S.C. 103, or are you a practitioner in the field of software programming, with a proper idea of "obvious", as defined by Webster's or the OED?

        My guess is it's the latter rather than the former, and you're criticizing the patent examiners of - oh, gosh - following the law.

      • by readin (838620)
        Why we think all or almost all s/w patents are bad: Because most of them would take most competent software engineers about 5 minutes to think up themselves if presented with the problem that the patent claims to be a solution to.

        Agreed. It seems that the patents are being granted to people for thinking of problems rather than for thinking of solutions.
    • by mikael (484)

      Because many are really defensive patents. They are not original in any way, but to issue a challenge to any one of them would cost several years worth of litigation. These are purely defensive - if someone sues, the company will just counter-sue.

      • The problem with that is that you end up with a small number of big companies owning patents which end up covering everything. If a patent war starts, they end up cross licensing.

        Then if a new company tries to join the market they end up getting obliterated. So defensive patents tend to act as a barrier to new entrants, at least in the US. Of course outside the US it doesn't tend to work like that. Still if you want to see your stuff in the US you need to negotiate a fee.

    • Actually, the person or thing performing the method steps doesn't have to understand the meanings of the colors. The database can present that mapping info to them, and the mapping could have also been provided by a third party (e.g., the recipient or sender of the e-mail).

      As for the summary being flamebait, it's regular practice here to complain about a patent without reading the claims first.

  • As an ex IBM'er this is pretty typical - IBM blankets technology with patents and many of them are not too terribly good or valid. Others are truly emerging things worthy of patent.

    Several of my patents while working for them I said "well this really isn't a new thing" but they had me file anyway. Go figure.

  • by skywire (469351) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @05:03PM (#27981599)

    I know when I'm emailing my Korean friends, I always switch from the default black to black when I really want get their attention.

  • For the detection of differences in things.

    I am pretty sure that trumps their patent.

    Royalties!!!

  • I invented a new way to fold the toilet paper that let the user's hands without any traces of shit. Should I patent something too ?

    Full of sh*t.
  • BTW, the Petition To Make Special [uspto.gov] that IBM exploited to expedite the color-my-world patent's approval is also used to speed up patent apps for inventions that improve the quality of the environment, contribute to the development or conservation of energy resources, contribute to countering terrorism, or relate to recombinant DNA, superconductivity, HIV/AIDS, or cancer.

    • There are other requirements for an accelerated examination petition to be approved. For example, they have to provide their own search report (which is then supplemented by the examiner's search), and they have to point out where there is support under 35 USC 112, first paragraph, in the specification for all elements of the claim. They also have to pay a fee.

      The "hot topic" rule for making an application special doesn't require a fee and only requires that the claims are directed to one of those special

    • But I had an idea for email that changes color based on what's going on with the Homeland Security Advisory System:

      • SEVERE- Severe risk of terrorist attacks
      • HIGH- High risk of terrorist attacks
      • ELEVATED- Significant risk of terrorist attacks
      • GUARDED- General risk of terrorist attacks
      • LOW- Time to be curiously apathetic everybody!

      It would just be embedded in the footer- think like a Hello Kitty kind of thing, where she gets upset and stomps her foot around whenever there's a significant possibility that thousand

  • Seriously, I'm color blind. I'm rather oblivious to the meaning of different colors in different cultures to begin with. One thought I had, if I ever make a Faux pas with another culture based on mis-interpretation of what a color means, can I now blame it all on software? :)
    • by Looke (260398)
      It could be be an advantage for the colour blind, too. If text is tagged "important" instead of "red" or "bold", then it can render blue for koreans and bold for colour blinds. This means you cannot blame it on software anymore; you should have clicked the "important" button, not what you thought was "red".
  • So, IBM has patented something as trivial as checking the domain name of the recipient and then using str_replace() to change text colors. Does this mean forums that use a combination of regex+str_replace() to change text colors now violate an IBM patent? That's ridiculous.
  • #include lets_patent_patents.h

  • Differences like "Being Blue" in English means being sad, but "Being Blue" in German means being drunk?

    Does that mean the "Big Blue" is now sad AND drunk?

    Or does it mean that IBM is now known as the "Big Mauve" in some countries?

  • and thus unpatentable.
  • by the pickle (261584) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:29PM (#27982687) Homepage

    Does this mean we can expect IBM to start suing anyone who uses HTML-formatted e-mail? Because I think that would probably be a good thing.

    p

  • I think I am going to patent the reaction others give after you sneeze...like, "Gazundteit" or "Bless You". I'll make a mint.
    • I want to patent the process of applying for a patent. Then, I'll make a mint in licensing!

      I'm not greedy... after my first billion I'll start rejecting all patent process licensing requests and we should start to see a decline in stupid patents.

      --
      I drank what?

  • I'm going to license IBM's technology and then expand it for use with color blind users and people who only receive plain text e-mail.
  • I think most people think of IBM as a computer hardware, software or services company like they think of Google as a search engine. Well, Google is really an advertising company and IBM is really in intellectual property company. I suspect that if you roll back the cover, you'll find that employees have to invent, patent, publish, in order to advance their careers. The cultural need to do this is why they'll never succeed at rolling back the number of patents being filed.

    So now I'll go back to working o

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @11:47PM (#27984101) Journal
    This story makes me feel blue.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is the root cause, and is the case I suspect in many corporations.

    At IBM, you get something like $500 USD for a filed patent, something like that again if it's accepted, plus internal "points" which give you additional bonuses after a certain number of patents have been reached.

    In addition, promotions to higher levels are significantly helped by displaying a large number of patents.

    Finally, I wouldn't be surprised if the lawyers that decide whether to file or not a given patent proposal also get more b

  • Include with each IBM software DVD... (yeah I hear ya about the bloat) some killer ganja (no problem so far) laced with rocket fuel and elephant tranq (whoop whoop problem), and tell the user to take a hit and hold it for 15 seconds, before thrashing the pop3 server.

    Alternatively, if IBM wanted the user to save money, the user could huff paint, (MEK)methyl ethyl keytone, or whipped cream while smoking parsley and sativa.

    I've also noticed if you get punched hard enough, you can see colors for awhile, perhaps

  • My VT100 monitor automatically turns my email, and everything else for that matter, a cool shade of amber.

  • CSS (Score:3, Informative)

    by mwvdlee (775178) on Sunday May 17, 2009 @03:07AM (#27984951) Homepage

    IBM re-invented CSS.
    This is exactly the thing CSS was created for; visual mark-up based on semantics.
    A few tags around the urgent bits and your own little localized CSS should do the trick.

  • That's fine until someone sends an email that says something to the effect of:

    "My changes below in blue..."

    And then proceeds to mark up an email, in blue, which is changed to some localized color other than blue.

    More interesting would be if it localized gestures and actions. For example, if I say:

    *throws you the middle finger* .. and it's read by someone in another culture, it should translate it to the appropriate gesture for their culture (such as *touches inde

  • It is worth noting here that Dave Kappos, head patent guy at IBM, may well be the next director of the USPTO.
    http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2009/05/dave-kappos-as-next-pto-director.html [patentlyo.com]

  • Is called HTML email & Javascript.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec

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