New Site Design

I think you’ll agree: it was time for an overhaul of this site. The layout was getting stale, the navigation menu was completely out of control, and the sheer quantity of content was causing serious bloat. Well, finally, today, I delivered: a completely new layout, a completely new architecture/organization, a handful of new features, and a complete content overhaul. I completely killed a few sections of the site which were either not useful, no longer accurate, or simply a pain. Plus, the whole thing now runs on WordPress.

This site has had an interesting history; it went online in 1997 or so, in a rough form (back then it was hosted on Rice University Unix servers). It made a brief migration to dorm-room-PC hosting, then to a free site for a brief while, then to shared hosting out in the real world. It has been hosted on Apache, IIS, and a half-dozen server daemons most people have never heard of, running on Linux, Unix, and Windows. Its backend has been static, CGI/Perl-based, ASP-based, ASPX-based, CFML-based, and PHP-based. It really has been around. Perhaps the most interesting feature of its evolution is how I’ve edited its contents:

  • vi
  • pico
  • notepad
  • Dreamweaver 3
  • Dreamweaver 4
  • Dreamweaver MX
  • Dreamweaver MX + WordPress
  • Dreamweaver MX + WordPress + various custom tools
  • notepad again (Dreamweaver MX is very poorly behaved) + Dreamweaver MX (as needed) + WordPress + various custom tools
  • notepad++ + Dreamweaver MX (as needed) + WordPress + various custom tools
  • notepad++ + WordPress
  • WordPress

That’s right: I’m using WordPress as a full-fledged CMS, now (I am not using it on the half-dozen pages which never get updated and would have been a pain to try to import because of non-standard layouts). Truth to tell, it couldn’t have happened a moment too soon. Even after the massive cleaning job I just did, this site contains dozens of pages and over 500 blog posts; it has over 100 user comments and gets approximately 200 comment spams per day. In short: I needed to simplify things.

Interesting fact: did you know this blog has been online since April, 2001? Back then, it was fully custom-coded in VB Script. It has come a long way.

Site Maintenance

The site will be undergoing maintenance for the next couple of hours. Things will be completely messed up for a little while, then they should be back up, though possibly less than 100% operational. If you try to check the site between now (4:00 CDT on Sunday) and about 6:00 CDT and have problems, try again later in the evening.

Online Poker: Cheating, Taxes, and the Law

[Editor’s note: this post originally appeared as a stand-alone page on this site; because of a new site structure I am rolling out in the next few days, I am re-posting it on my blog. Another useful resource on this topic is my paper, Tapping the Aquarium: Legal Implications of Advertising for Online Gambling Sites in the United States.]

It’s very questionable whether or not online gambling is legal in the United States – in some states, it is definitely not legal. While online gambling is most likely not a prosecutable federal crime, it is almost certainly prosecutable by most states. Granted, no players have been prosecuted in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Just as importantly, it is not really safe – although there are online “tells”, there is nothing like seeing your opponent across the table; when you gamble online, you may very well be up against any number of types of cheats or even playing a “bot” (computer software) and not realize it. If you’re good, the bots are probably not a problem, but the unreality of the game should concern you. Additionally, you’re giving personal information (like banking account numbers) to people overseas, who are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. authorities and may never have to answer for it if your identity is stolen.

Another problem is that I know of no good – or even reasonable – way to pay taxes on online gambling winnings. Like it or not, they are taxable, so you should pay taxes, but the government says it’s illegal, so how do you report your winnings? Fail to report any winnings over $600, and you are committing tax fraud, a serious crime (most forms of tax frauds are felonies). If you are any good and win a lot of money – say, enough to become a poker pro or even supplement your income by any significant amount – whether or not you choose to report it, the likelihood of getting audited and/or charged with tax fraud and/or some gambling crime gets much higher. Many high-profile online gamblers have gotten by, just fine, so far, but there is no guarantee that this situation will continue.

Still, the biggest concern is (or should be) the hazy legal status of online poker. See, for example, this article on online gambling from CNN. The article failed to note that federal courts, so far, have held that the Wire Wager act only covers sports betting. Still, you can bet that the states and the federal government will find a way to regulate and tax or eliminate entirely online gambling, and soon, and it’s likely that many people will be brought up on charges before that happens. In each of the last few sessions of Congress, bills have been introduced to outlaw online gambling; while the legislators may be struggling with finding the right wording, they are trying to ban online poker playing in the United States. There is a real likelihood that, much like pot-smoking in the ’60s or file-sharing in the ’90s, many unsuspecting online players will suddenly find that their hobby, previously legally “iffy,” but conveniently overlooked, has turned into a legal, personal, and professional liability, overnight. Better safe than sorry, right?

Some good resources on the legality and safety of Internet poker include:

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer; nothing on this page should be construed as legal advice. If you are considering playing poker for real money on the Internet, you should seek legal counsel before doing so.  UPDATE 1/2/2010: While I have been admitted to the Texas bar since writing this post, the disclaimer above still applies. The law regarding online poker is unsettled and complex, and nothing on this page is legal advice. The links in this post likewise do not represent legal advice — they are merely information you may find useful, but I have no control over the content at those links and I do not guarantee the accuracy of that information.

If you suspect you have a gambling problem – or if those close to you think you might – please visit Gambler’s Anonymous.

Obama: When life begins is “above his pay grade”

Obama says the question of when babies obtain human rights is “above his pay grade.” This has to be one of the very most ill-advised things any major candidate has said, thus far in the election cycle. Even aside from the fact that it probably unsettles people throughout the spectrum of opinions on abortion, it’s not very presidential.

For a man who has repeatedly voted on abortion rights bills and spoken out countless times about his opinion of Roe v. Wade and a woman’s “right to choose,” this is a shameful and irresponsible dodge. It can’t possibly be true that he has no opinion – that would make him utterly amoral on the topic, yet he claims to hold moral positions on it. Nor is it true, since he is a legislator now and a would-be President holds a veto power, that it is “above his pay grade.” Were that so, he would have been abusing his office and the public trust each time he voted on an abortion-related bill or opined on the topic on the campaign trail.

So what are we left with? The most shameful kind of dodge: one which masks a strongly held opinion as though it is irrelevant, when it is not; which does so by means of a false humility; which is clearly a sham; and which is employed only because of the circumstances, namely a discussion in a church, despite the fact that the forum was televised; after all, we can’t have booing broadcast to the people.

EDIT: The actual full quote was:

Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade. But let me speak more generally about the issue of abortion. Because this is something, obviously, the country wrestles with. One thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue. And So I think that anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue is not paying attention. So that would be point number one. But Point number two: I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe versus Wade. I come to that conclusion not because I’m pro-abortion but because ultimately I don’t think women make these decisions casually. I think they wrestle with these things in profound ways. In consultation with their pastors or spouses or their doctors or their family members. And so for me, the goal right now should be — and this is where I think we can find common ground — and by the way, I’ve now inserted this into the Democratic Party platform — is: ‘How do we reduce the number of abortions?’ Because the fact is that although we’ve had a president who is opposed to abortions the last eight years, abortions have not gone down.

More good coverage at Get Religion.