30 June 2007

BinHex 4.0 Error Message

So my closest friend in this state (aside from my spouse, of course) happens to be a minister. He emailed me a copy of his sermon that he's delivering tomorrow, and when I attempted to open it, I got an error: "Must be converted to BinHex4.0."

After a little research I established the following: that BinHex4.0 is an old Mac OS convention for binary files, and I needed a plug-in to read it. After some searching I found a freeware plugin that I installed. To save myself some effort, just follow the link below and you'll see the instructions. After installation, you need to reboot the computer for it to work. When you have a file that appears in unreadable Martian, you close it, rightclick the file, and select the "Decode" option (see figure). It creates a decoded file instantly.
RELEVANT LINKS: Funduc Software Decode Shell Extension;

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28 June 2007

A Digression on Returns to Factor

It is not necessarily so that the income that goes to a factor of production—e.g., labor—is proportionate to that factor's contribution to productivity. First, let's consider the extreme case of a monopoly.

Click image to enlarge

The shaded rust-colored area represents the rents captured by the monopolist from the consumer
This is an extreme case, but the difference between the extreme of a monopoly and more common cases of oligopoly (such as price leadership) is not immense. Notice the demand curve for the product is the same as the demand curve for the firm. The curved red line is the marginal cost (MC) curve. The dashed blue line is the marginal revenue (MR) curve; it represents the additional revenue brought in by increasing sales by one more unit.

A few parenthetical notes about the chart: first, I started out with the simplest scenario, in which demand is a linear function of price. In real life, most products have a somewhat concave curve. Second, the point where MC is lowest is chosen arbitrarily. MC may conceivably be downward sloping for the entire range of the graph. For nontrivial examples of a monopoly, though, there's usually a tendency for MC to be rising because of the cost of administration. The shaded represents surplus captured from the consumer by the monopolist (explained). It's the reason classical economists are opposed to monopolies: not because they resent the transfer of wealth, although that's a problem, but the dead weight loss of reduced production and higher costs for all.

Now, let's look at a diagram illustrating factor markets:
Here, labor demand is convex because the same firm is facing a production function in which capital can be substituted for labor. When prices are high, then not only are customers restricted by budget, they have the option of replacing labor with equipment. Likewise, the supply curve is usually understood to become much less elastic as wages rise. Put another way, as wages and hours rise, leisure becomes more valuable to workers as well. Of course, these things are dependent on many things, such as the demand curves for many products, the exposure to foreign markets, and so on. But here, we're using the simple assumption that the demand curves for products are straight & diagonal, and that it's not difficult for managers to substitute capital for labor.

Now, what happens to the demand for labor in a monosonoid firm?
The shaded rust-colored area represents producer surplus captured by the monopsonist from the employee. Note that labor demand for the firm is determined (as before) by the firm's production function, which reflects demand for its products.
Here, there's only one firm with a demand for a specialized type of labor; the most familiar real-life examples are regions. Since the monopsonoid's market dominance is felt in the input market, we would expect to see a deflection from the supply curve. The monopsonoid firm experiences a supply that represents the entire factor market, so when it increases its number of workers, it experiences an increase in marginal wages. This will affect its optimal hiring decision. Hence, it will consider its marginal unit labor cost, which is "inside of" the labor supply curve. It will hire based on the intersection of its internal "demand" for labor (blue line) and the marginal unit labor cost curve. As always, the supply curve will determine wage costs.

The logical extreme is the monopoloid-monopsonoid firm. Again, such an entity is not likely to be seen its pure form, but would illustrate the intermediate-and-plausible case of the oligoloid-oligopsonoid (or segmented) firm, in a market with few participant firms. Here, the concave violet curve reflects the marginal product of labor. For the same reason that the demand for labor was convex, the marginal product declines slowly at first because small amounts of labor can supplement, or replace, a large amount of capital. As L grows, though, the downward slope of the solid violet line reflects the downward slope of the blue demand curve for the product being produced. Moreover, the marginal productivity of labor declines as the amount increases.
The rust-colored area now includes surplus captured from both consumers (above the point lcsegmented) and from the workers (below).
Reflecting the same rationale as the monopoloid firm, we see how the marginal revenue product declines faster yet. Hence, wages are still determined by the solid labor supply curve, but the firm will prefer to cut off further hiring when labor costs lc reach the level lcsegmented. Above the point lcsegmented, the surplus captured is consumer surplus.

Again, while it is true that a genuine double-m firm is rare, and applies to cases like company towns or haciendas, it's not drastically different from the condition in which a market is dominated by a few large firms. As we can see, there will be significant underemployment of labor, which means that employees will be cherry-picked for productivity, and yet this same underemployment (with its high marginal productivity for labor) will mean a low share of GDP for labor as well. Another point to remember is that this applies to other factors as well; for example, materials (especially from former colonies) and energy inputs.

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10 June 2007

Computing & Children

I'd like to make a personal digression today. My wife and I are expecting our first child; we're starting rather late in life, and of course we're anxious about being good parents. I'm the youngest of five children, and my siblings all have two children apiece. So J. is coming into the world with eight cousins. We've been scattered to the corners of the North American landmass since I was in college, and I've always been pretty shy around my siblings. So gatherings are pretty awkward. But thankfully my wife, L., is extremely well-adjusted socially and a great bodyguard.

K. is the hyper-functional older sister; she's a college professor in Canada, and before that she was a developer at a Silicon Valley startup. She was on her way back from a professional visit to Seattle and stopped by for about three hours this Saturday. To my relief, I wasn't really called upon to say anything. K. spoke nonstop for about three hours, with occasional stimulus from L. At one point, L. left for a bathroom visit, and K. turned to me, asked me a question, and interrupted me before I had completed a sentence. I was relieved, actually, even though she was busy criticizing what she surmised I would have said had I been allowed to say it. Having a personal relationship with someone who is paid hundreds of dollars per hour to speak is inherently difficult.

Much as I would have liked to deconstruct K.'s three-hour summary of parenting advice, however, it must be said that it all seemed quite sound to me. One thing that surprised me was her aversion to the modern fashion of trying to immerse children in activities; K.'s always seemed to show stunning celerity in taking up pursuits, something mercifully mitigated by motherhood. Worse yet is the idea of steeping children in computer technology. (For this idea taken to a pathological extreme, see this site advertising computer camps). K. was horrified by daycare centers with computers for games. When she remonstrated with the staff about it, they protested that the children needed to learn basic computer skills early. K., who used to be a developer, reports that her own son easily overtook her in basic computer usage skills by age 5. By 2020, when he enters the job market or university, anything mentioned on this blog will be as obsolete as George Washington's wooden dentures. K. half-facetiously discussed wanting to sabotage the computer when no one was looking, to save the children from a bleak future of virtual reality. (What a perfectly dystopian—and apt—description!)

And now, I thought I'd interject a sentiment that's been gnawing in my soul for a long time. Here it is, from James Howard Kunstler:

I think the eminent Jungian psychologist James Hillman is right when he asserts that, despite all our lip-service to "family values," Americans actually hate their children. In suburbia, where most Americans now live, children can't use an everyday environment that has been constructed solely for the convenience of motorists — at least not without the assistance of Soccer Mom. By the way, in arranging things this way, we manage to deprive children of a terribly important stage of their development: the period between, say, eight and fifteen when they need to a acquire a sense of their personal sovereignty and how it operates within the context of the everyday environment.

Children over seven years old need more than a safe place to ride their bikes. They need at least as much as adults. They need places to shop. They need honorable gathering places — not just the scraps left over from the commercial developers, the berms and parking lots. They need cultural institutions, libraries, theaters, museums. And they need access to all these things on their own without the assistance of Soccer Mom. As things stand today, the public realm for children in suburbia is the psychotic principality of TV. Instead of seeing the full spectrum of society in normal operation (including honorably occupied adults who are not their parents) all they get are the antics of Marilyn Manson, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Beavis and Butthead. These are their models for adulthood.

One of the more insidious ideas of the Electronic Age is the notion that the virtual is an adequate substitute for the authentic. A virtual pet is as good as a puppy. A virtual friend on the internet is as good as a real friend. A group of hobbyists constitutes a "community. This idea is false. The artificial public realm of TV is not an adequate substitute for authentic civic life, and at some level most people who are not completely insane recognize this. For instance, where adults are concerned, an emotional involvement with soap opera characters is not the same as having relationships with real people in the real world — though I daresay there are plenty of adults in this country who might be confused about this today. That's how psychotic our culture has become. And, of course, Barney the Dinosaur is a poor excuse for a childhood chum. He's not even a very good artificial imaginary companion. He isn't equal to the average child's innate imaginative ability (which is precisely why Barney is so sickening to intelligent parents.)

In my next post, I'd like to give this idea a little more attention.
ADDITIONAL READING: "On Beauty and Being Just" (PDF), Elaine Scarry; "Virtual is No Refuge From the Real," James Howard Kunstler;

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08 June 2007

The Curmudgeon's Fallacy

The belief that any preventive measure used to minimize risk of a catastrophe will be offset by increased human fecklessness. Put another way, the curmudgeon's fallacy maintains that items such as safety equipment or regulations will have almost no net impact on safety or health, since people will simply become more feckless. The curmudgeon's fallacy actually may be applied more broadly; it is not restricted to measures intended to improve safety and health. Essentially, the curmudgeon's fallacy applies to any social goal whatever.

The weak form of the curmudgeon's fallacy is (being the weak form) less of a fallacy. It holds that constraints and safety measures imposed externally (such as traffic safety laws) will have little or no net impact on safety, since people will merely assume they are protected. Similarly, people with health insurance will be more careless with their health, people with airbags will drive more carelessly, people with legal protections against fraud or false advertising will be more easily duped.

In this sense, the assumption is not so much a fallacy when it is understood as a critique of policy measures. It is valid to say that people might respond to a protective measure by being less cautious about that particular risk. In some cases, such as unwanted pregnancies, it's probably true that massively relaxed social sanctions against extramarital pregnancies have indeed increased their frequency. However, this involves a confusion of changing consequences with changing motivations. Today, few people believe extramarital pregnancies are so awful that it would be sensible to execute unwed mothers. More on that, below.

In its strong form, the curmudgeon fallacy believes measures taken by oneself to prevent a catastrophe are as futile as those imposed from outside. For example, when I was younger I used to find healthy-living enthusiasts utterly tiresome and silly, and (privately) ridiculed the fact that they were usually sickly, joyless people. After decades of living and observing, I understand that people usually take up such lifestyles, as I did, in response to specific problems: changing metabolisms, risks of heart disease, incipient obesity, and so forth. Usually, people with congenital health problems run into this concern immediately. I would wait until I looked in the mirror and gagged at what I saw.

The strong-form curmudgeon's fallacy is more related to a contempt for the illusion of effective action. Eating greasy hamburgers with a mountain of fries and a milkshake is actually a very pleasant activity; it's natural to resent the voice that tells one to switch to rice crackers and steamed asparagus. It's natural to sneer that we're all going to die anyway. However, this is another fallacy: that a result is inconsequential if it doesn't last forever. Murder merely hastens the inevitable, but we still regard it as a horrible crime. Democratic institutions are going to disintegrate into despotic ones, some day, but that doesn't mean they're worthless while they last.

More directly, the strong-form curmudgeon's fallacy maintains that self-imposed safety restraints are really a failure to accept the weak-form version of the fallacy. To illustrate this point, suppose somebody reads an article that says that using sunscreen greatly reduces the risk of skin cancer. So she starts wearing the proper SPF sunscreen whenever she's outdoors. In effect, she's acting as if there was some law that required her to do this, even though no such law exists and would be extremely difficult to enforce anyway. She's internalized the expert advice. We assume here that she will abandon alternative precautions, like avoiding exposure to direct sunshine altogether. The strong form appears to reflect a global assumption that new precautions, such as use of sunscreen or cars with airbags, does not reflect caution by the adopter, but displaces caution--even when the person taking the precaution is doing so precisely because she is cautious.

The curmudgeon's fallacy can be expressed in the language of mathematics. Let Pd be the probability of a disaster (e.g., a fatal auto accident). Pc is the probability of a crisis occurring, such as a car accident (which may or may not be fatal); Pl is the probability of that crisis being lethal.
Pd = Pc x Pl; Pd >> 1
In order to suffer a fatal car accident (Pd), one has to have been in an accident (Pc) that is lethal (Pl). Now, suppose we install airbags in cars, reducing Pl. If Pc remains the same as before, Pd will go down. According to the curmudgeon fallacy, that is absolutely out of the question. Indeed,
meaning that the unintended consequence (ΔPc/Pc) is necessarily greater than the thing affected by human will, and
it is necessarily of opposite sign.

According to the curmudgeon's fallacy, it makes no difference if it is Pc or Pl that is consciously altered; if a legal measure were contrived to reduce Pc instead, causing accidents to be less likely, then accidents would become more lethal. Public policy will invariably increase Pd. At the very least, if by some miracle, the number of fatalities per passenger is demonstrably reduced, then some other awful thing must have happened.

In some cases, it is true that unintended consequences do indeed have the opposite sign and sometimes they do exceed the intended effect. Moreover, as the curmudgeon is the first to point out, there are orthogonal consequences as well. Too many regulations will interfere with each other or suppress productive activity. Safety regulations often do have perverse incentives on behavior or personal health choices. This has led to the introduction of game theory to the analysis of public policy. However, it is most rash to insist that it's always the case. This is why the expectation of large countervailing consequences is a good critique but a poor ideology.

Typically, when conservative older men congregate, examples of the curmudgeon's fallacy tend to receive a cordial hearing. The common myth is that airbags tended to make drivers so much more careless that they offset the increment in safety (example). Of course, the authors use the example of the seatbelt:
This surprising result has triggered a number of studies, most of which have come to similar conclusions. In fact, no jurisdiction that has passed a seat belt law has shown evidence of a reduction in road accident deaths. To explore this odd but highly robust finding, experimenters asked volunteers to drive five horsepower go-karts with and without seat belts. They found that those wearing seat belts drove their karts faster. While this does not prove that car drivers do the same, it points in that direction.

A similar study was done with real drivers on public roads. When subjects who normally did not wear seat belts were asked to do so, they were observed to drive faster, followed more closely, and braked later. Statistics from the United States indicate that as more and more states required seat belt use, the percentage of drivers and passengers killed in their seat belts increased.

The cliche that seat belts save lives is true in the lab and on paper, and it's true if driver behavior does not change. But behavior does change.
Of course, if the share of motorists wearing seatbelts increases sharply, the share of motorists killed in accidents wearing seatbelts will also increase, simply because there will always be accidents that would have killed the motorist anyway. Likewise, the author cites a test that shows that motorists responded to wearing seatbelts by driving faster, braking later, and following other vehicles more closely. The author cites no actual study, which leads me to suspect the auto industry commissioned these studies (since the auto industry has long opposed any form of health or safety regulation of its products).

A careful reading of the literature reveals that the author is assuming his readers have a poor understanding of statistical inference. In order to test something like homeostatic responses to safety regulations, one has to use regression analysis with hypothesis testing to confirm or deny the null hypothesis (viz., that seatbelts have no effect on driving behavior). The study involved can then use a Wald Test on that particular null hypothesis, which means they can confirm that while safety equipment has a low predictive value on behavior, it may be part of a battery of predictive factors that do.

Yet, elsewhere, where the author cites a study (?) that fails to prove that seatbelts had a year-on-year reduction of traffic fatalities, the null hypothesis would be that seatbelt laws had no detectable effect on traffic fatalities. Since a law usually has a slow impact on behavior, this is an inevitable result. Over a period of four years, the p-value (i.e., the robustness of the coefficient) for seatbelt laws on traffic fatalities would necessarily be quite small.

However, law enforcement officials, private sector insurance carriers, and medical personnel at hospitals reliably warn motorists to wear seatbelts. From year to year, there is a distinct downward trend in traffic fatalities per passenger mile; this is slightly surprising given increases in road congestion, especially at hours late into the night. Cars have undergone numerous waves of safety-enhancing technology modifications besides seatbelts; these modifications have been adopted in many countries, reflecting agreement across ideological regimes. Additionally, there are long-term changes in attitudes about pedestrians that have nothing to do with increased motorist protection and everything to do with suburbanization of the population.

In other words, the author of the article inserted very different standards for testing behavioral homeostasis and for testing regulatory effectiveness; the standard for homeostasis could be set very low, perhaps by allowing a Wald Test; whereas, for regulatory effectiveness, the standard of rigor was markedly lower—the p-value of laws had to be less than 0.05, a nearly impossible standard in public policy research. Laws have a lagged effect on behavior, and auto safety is very complex; since any hypothesis testing may have included autocorrelation effects, dummy variables for many other explanatory variables (like jurisdictions), and a counting parameter for the passage of time, it's almost inevitable that the coefficient on seatbelt laws could be reduced to something quite small.

Finally, the essay leaves open the question, was the unintended consequence greater than the intended effect? Since the tendency has been for traffic fatalities to go down, and since private sector initiatives as well as governmental ones work the same way, it seems clear that the curmudgeon's premise has failed. Traffic regulations may have made drivers more dangerous, but the increased recklessness of modern drivers combined with greater congestion, has not sufficed to offset the aggregate effect of safety equipment and traffic regulations. Even the essay cited had to insert the weasel words, "fatality rates do not decrease as expected." They decreased, but he has some straw man out there of what was "expected" by activists.

Environmental regulations often come under attack as well; for example, using the flimsiest empirical foundations of all (the case of one [1] listed species), one of the posts at Freakonomics claims that the Endangered Species Act incentivizes property owners to destroy all of the listed specimens on their property lest development on their property be restricted. Of course, that's about all there is to Freakanomics: arguments that any public choice will have countervailing effects, QED, public choice is always bad and must be dismissed in all times and all places.

I never dared to be radical when young for fear it would make me conservative when old.—"Precaution," Robert Frost 1936
The curmudgeon's fallacy is that paradox of paradoxes: a precaution against precaution. A man I know well and much respect was addicted to the fallacy and used it reliably, since he was so well-endowed with natural caution and a singularly robust constitution. Once I mentioned how scandalized I was, reading Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, about the stupendous infant mortality of 18th century Europe. He replied that he was not so sure infant mortality was such a bad thing, and insisted that I explain why I thought it was. It was a curious quirk of his character that his ideology had no part in his behavior, and he was of all men one of the most tender and generous, even though such brutal ideas flourished in his head.

At the back of the curmudgeon's fallacy is a sense that the lifelong struggle to preserve life has been a fool's errand; and in the waning years, as excellence seems to fade, there's a regret that no distinction was made between fit life and unworthy life. The curmudgeon usually lacks the will and barbarism to follow this through; but he also develops an imbalanced preference for his own "gut" prejudices over the research and formal testing of experts. At the back of this mistrust is a sense that the professional pursuit of safety, peace, and prosperity has merely spawned weakness and dependency, and that what the world really needs is a good, long epidemic to weed out the weak. As for me—I am not Lycurgus, nor was meant to be.

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07 June 2007

Employers failing to train underskilled IT workers

This story in Computerworld (NZ) caught my eye. It's about IT professionals in the UK, but it certainly conforms to my experience in the USA.

Learning and skills council E-Skills UK figures show that skills shortages among companies that are recruiting IT staff are at a two-year low of 6%. But the same proportion of employers also reported skills gaps among their existing professional IT staff in the last quarter of 2006, the latest issue of E-Skills UK's ICT Inquiry report says. The gaps centre on business-related and other nontechnical skills, "which implies that employers are taking on sub-skilled staff and doing little to up skill them following their recruitment", the report warns.

[See footnote below for info on skills shortage measuring—JRM]

Please note information on skills shortages come from employer surveys; there's no customer satisfaction survey I'm aware of to measure skills among service populations.

The Register, an UK-based publication, reports that the main problem is skills levels among senior government officials in IT functions, rather the opposite of the generalization in Computerworld. But a further examination reveals the connection: IT recruiters tend to hire experienced staff, but that staff has few business skills. On the other hand, civil servants in the increasingly IT-intensive British government tend to lack understanding of technology issues. In the reports cited by both articles, a "gap" is much-noted, rather like a communications crevasse between business management and IT professionals.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of skills shortages (and measuring them numerically), I recommend a visit to the website of National Statistics (UK). There one may find "Skills shortages" (PDF), by Mari Lind Frogner (2002).
The Employers Skill Survey (ESS) provides two definitions of lack of skills. The first is skills shortages, defined as recruitment difficulties caused specifically by a shortage of individuals with the required skills in the accessible labour market. Alternatively, there are skill gaps which are deficiencies in the skills of an employer’s existing workforce, both at the individual level and overall, which prevent the firm from achieving its business objectives. Skill gaps can be defined in two ways: a broad definition includes all establishments that reported that at least some of their staff lacked full proficiency; a narrow measure includes only those establishments where a significant proportion of the workforce was reported lacking full proficiency.
[Emphasis added—JRM]
The skills shortage is sort of like a reverse-unemployment statistic; it reflects a shortage of available employees owing to inadequate skills. Usually it is expressed as a number of employees desired, but unavailable. When it is expressed as a percentage, it is the shortage divided by employment in that sector.


02 June 2007

Microsoft Information Rights Management (IRM)

A manager at my work writes me to ask if there is a way to restrict access to an MS Excel workbook so that viewers may not print the document. Readers probably know this can be done in Acrobat PDF writer, but that's not a real solution.

(An important caveat, incidentally, is that any protection/restriction that disallows printing, but allows copying and pasting, is obviously unsatisfactory. Acrobat allows both, but in many cases I've noticed document owners forget to prevent copying.)

Strictly speaking, the short answer is "no." A scrutiny of the protection and security options for both Excel and Word demonstrate that, while the latest releases allow "fine-grained" protection, they don't restrict printing. ("Fine-grained" means fine distinctions can be made; in this context, that we can protect a range of cells from some users, and another range from another, etc.) But no such control over permissions exists.

Here's a view of the security options (Tools/Options/Security):

Yes, yes, there I've got Protection highlighted but suppose I pick Options.

Nothing. So let's check Protection and chose "Allow Users to Edit Ranges":

Just for thoroughness I thought I should include a screen capture of the "protect sheet" menu.

Well, it's just not there. There's no control over printing rights, and I suspect the reason is that Excel has a highly integrated system of macros. Disable text copying, and you have a lot of code overhead to disallow a lot of macros... Disallow printing without disallowing text copy, and you've got an utterly useless system of document security.

There is help, though. This is called "Information Rights Management," and it's a plug-in from Microsoft.

Information Rights Management (IRM) allows individuals and administrators to specify access permissions to documents, workbooks, and presentations. This helps prevent sensitive information from being printed, forwarded, or copied by unauthorized people. After permission for a file has been restricted by using IRM, the access and usage restrictions are enforced no matter where the information is, because the permission to a file is stored in the document file itself.
IRM can be used to protect MS Word, MS Excel, and MS Powerpoint files.

In order to use IRM, you have to have another plug-in, Windows Rights Management Services (RMS) Client Service Pack 1. This is bundled with MS Windows Vista (not that I would recommend getting Vista, but that's another story). For the installation of RMS on other versions of Windows, instructions are to be found here.

Basically, RMS is a client program that works over a company network. That means that you have to have the protected file stored on a server (which is running IRM), whereas the access-ee is going to be viewing the document from a client running RMS. Then, when the access-ee attempts to open the Word/Excel/Powerpoint file with the restricted permission, she must connect to the server and download a use-license which says what level of access she has to the file. The author of the document can modify access permissions using a dialog box like this one:

After changes are made, the author saves the document and the new permissions are in force.

The New Zealand e-Government commissioned a study of the technology (PDF), which is interesting because it describes the technology and its effectiveness. It's quite thorough, to the extent of barring access to screen captures on restricted documents (the reviewer resorted to photographing the computer monitor!). The reviewing team also tested IRM using Redhat Linux clients. The study is exceptionally through, running to 87 pages, and the testing team established that the IRM does appear to perform as designed and advertised. But:
[...] The limitations and risks of using the technology need to be carefully considered before it is adopted into mainstream use in Government. The current implementation is still unproven and may have significant flaws or vulnerabilities; the IRM technology solution highly integrates the adopting organisation into the Microsoft technology and operational frameworks; and it appears to be generally limited to sharing documents within the content-producer’s organisation. IRM does appear to be Microsoft’s first step into a largely untapped market, that of providing the technology for consumers to process commercial content such as movies, music and electronic books.
That was four years ago. What's happened since then?

Naturally, at least one other company has gotten into the act: Hewlett-Packard. HP doesn't exactly compete with MS IRM; rather, it offers a product called ProtectTools E-mail Release Manager (ERM) that is supposed to enhance IRM for e-mails and possibly for non-MS Office files. Aside from that, surprisingly little. Articles posted by MS or affiliated tech manuals do not mention any additional functionality. On the upside, this suggests that IRM was not so immature a technology that it required a lot of patches. On the downside, it's received very little attention. But most of that appears to be positive.

UPDATE: "Government wary of 'trusted computing'" Computerworld, New Zealand, 21 May, 2007.

The point of this article is that document recovery management (DRM) technologies are bound to be controversial when implemented. Apparently there's a concern that MS IRM may one of those DRM's that "phones home" to MS whenever it's used, which has some significance because of Operation Shamrock. Another concern is, conversely, that the IRM may push or subvert New Zealand's public laws on transparency.
The fear is that by allowing protections that are enforced by an outside party (such as a computer or software vendor) to act on documents that are in government agencies’ possession, agencies could lose a measure of control over these documents. They could find, for example, that they can’t copy, store, retrieve or print documents as they wish — or as government policy and practice requires..
I think this is an inherent problem of digital government.
SOURCES: "New Office locks down documents," CNet Review, September 2, 2003; "Information Rights Management in the 2007 Microsoft Office system," MS Office Online; "Enabling Information Protection in Microsoft Office 2003 with Rights Management Services and Information Rights Management, " MS Technical White Paper, December 1, 2003;
"Review of Microsoft Information Rights Management,"Jay Garden, e-government, December 1, 2003;

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