About Jeremy Bowers

I've got a lot of essays and opinions on this site, and I believe that it is important to know who you are listening to when you read stuff on the Internet. Who am I? Can you trust me?

Background & Computer Competence

I've known ever since I was very young that I was going to go into computing in one way or another. When I was young (early 1980s), my father read the tea leaves correctly and believed that computers were going to be an importent part of the future. In 20/20 hindsight, the trends may seem obvious, but even many in the computer industry weren't really ready to believe how ubiquitous computers would become; I think he did pretty well for the time. He bought a Commodore 64 and a couple of magazine subscriptions, and I was eventually hooked.

What follows is pretty much the standard computer geek story, terminating in a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Computer Science from Michigan State University, and several programming jobs subsequent. For a (necessarily abbreviated) skills list, consult my resume, which by the time you read this is probably out of date yet again; I'm one of those people who tends to pick up skills on a whim. As I write this in summer 2006, I've been seriously looking at Erlang, which isn't yet resume-worthy.

I've been around the computer world for a while, and I've got a pretty finely developed bull-**** detector.

Interest in the Law and the Internet

This detector comes in pretty handy as I covered the intersection of the law and the Internet on my weblog iRights (now iRi). I've been running iRights/iRi since January 2000, and followed and participated in a lot of debates on a lot of issues.

Like most people, I was virtually oblivious to the intellectual property, free-speech, censorship, and other assorted controversies swirling around the internet (other then a small high-school paper), until one day I met a now-defunct program called Third Voice. Third Voice allowed users to leave "notes" on any web page that other Third Voice users could access. If you didn't use Third Voice, you would never know these "notes" were attached to the page. My initial reaction to the software was one of cautious approval. . . the idea certainly has a certain kind of "stick-it-to-the-man" appeal to it.

But my approval quickly soured as I started digging a little deeper into the program. At the time, I was working for Michigan State University's Human Resources department, and just that day had been working on a system that contained potentially sensitive information like Social Security numbers and work attendance patterns. I had just finished working with some moderately complicated client-side Javascript (do you know how hard it was to write Javascript that works in Netscape 3.0, 4.0, and Internet Explorer 4+?), and I was well aware of the capabilities of Javascript in the browser Third Voice was running in. Third Voice had closed the most obvious security flaws (by forbidding users to embed <SCRIPT> tags in their comments), but there were some slightly less obvious holes that I was able to exploit to cause arbitrary script codes to execute, which would allow nearly arbitrary capturing of information entered on the web if people clicked on a "poisoned" note. Which people would and did, as another group who independently discovered another hole found out. (See the Wired article Third Voice Rips Holes in the Web.)

That discovery made me take a second look at the program, and as a result I got my first introduction to the issues surrounding the Internet. As I learned about things like copyright law to further refine my opinion about Third Voice, my interest expanded to include the impact of law on all aspects of the Internet. . . and the eventual inevitable impact of the Internet on the law.

That's why I started iRights. iRights was meant to track news, identify trends, theorize about what's happening, and it's even spun off into a bit of research on ways to communicate on the Internet.

While I still care deeply about these issues, I have stopped writing about them extensively for two reasons. First, I started iRights right at the beginning of the popularization of weblogs, and there were no weblogs tracking those issues. While I'm still not aware of a weblog dedicated to such issues, there are many weblogs where the author takes an interest and it is no longer significant.

Second, I wrote an essay detailing my conclusions about the ethics of communications in the Internet age. This essay contains basically everything I have to say, and I have not felt a need to revise it, except perhaps for style, in the three years since I have published it. I am proud of how well it has stood up to those three years, which is a long time on the internet.

On that note, my weblog posting frequency has dropped. I think this is mostly because I do not like to say the same thing, over and over again. To fill up a blog, you must either post news (which is perfectly well covered), or say the same thing many times with slightly different emphasis. I still post as I feel I have new things to say, and the posts are increasingly taking the form of "how to think", rather than specific thoughts on any given topic.


It's worth pointing out that this is only a slice of my life, and if you are, say, an old high-school or college classmate looking at this site, you should know that what you see here is basically the part of my life that nobody around me is particularly interested in. The same goes for my bio above; it is written to give relevant background about my writings on this site, not as anything remotely resembling a biography. In real life you can go a very long time without hearing me talk about politics or ramble on about how to correctly determine motivations from actions. The TV I watch, the music I listen to, that sort of thing mostly comes out in my real-world life, not here.

On that note, I am unbelievably shitty about following up with old relationships. It is a very deeply ingrained feeling that following up with somebody is an imposition, not something somebody would consider positive. If you are at all interested in contacting me, please feel free to email me, even if you were just somebody who once sat next to me in some class. I am aware that this feeling is irrational, but it is something so deep that it's not likely to change anytime soon.

Jerf.org : About Jeremy Bowers


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