So my real estate agent wants to send me a listing agreement to sign.
He asks me if I have a fax machine.
Well, sort of. I have a fax modem, and I have a printer. So yeah, he could
send me a fax, I could print it out, sign it, scan it back in and send it back to him. Forgetting for a moment that we don't actually own a scanner ($100 at CompUSA or somesuch place, I guess), this still offends my sensibilities in any number of ways, whether we want to talk about the annoyance of switching our phone line thus having to arrange for him to send it at a particular time, the horrible low fax resolution, the unreadable garbage likely to result from the double print->scan translation, etc...
And of course we both have email addresses, so I'm thinking it's 2003 now, he almost certainly has this thing on-line in some form, Word file, PDF, HTML, plain text, doesn't matter, I figure I'm the one with the CS degree, I can deal with anything
, right? I mention the possible formats and say, "You could just email me one of those; much
better than a fax..." He'll see what he can do.
He sends me a
WTF is a
file? It's Google Time!
I get bunches of hits.
Among other things it appears the Close Combat (some ancient game) folks made up an archive file format
. An awfully strange choice for a real estate agency. Then again, this guy's on AOL so who knows what weird-ass cobbled-together stuff they have? And it does seem to be designed for arbitrary files; download the corresponding unarchive utility and run it. Complete garbage. Ok that wasn't it.
Find lots of references to 'tar zfx'. Try that. More garbage. Not it either.
Somewhere down page 8 of the hits, I come across references to 'winforms transaction files' that use the extension
. I check out the winforms.com
site. Big logo for the California Association of Realtors. Oho. Paydirt. Does the California Association of Realtors have its own fucking proprietary file format?
In any case, it seems they have a viewer available for free download. Try it out. I find myself looking at a listing agreement. Dingdingdingding...
Okay, now all I have to do is find some way to slap a signature on it and send it back. Trivial if I could just get the form out as HTML or Postscript.
I run my mouse over it to try to select text out of it. Nothing happens. I can scroll the window, page forward and backwards, but that's it. There's also a
button. And nothing
Well all right, I'm apparently allowed to create little yellow "sticky notes" with arbitrary text on them and paste them in places on the form, but that's really not the Right Thing, here.
Okay, so it's just a viewer. Maybe the full product lets you do stuff.
Hmm. Full product is something like $500/year (available by subscription only). Bleah.
Oh hey, they've got a user manual on-line. Let's see if that says anything useful. Nothing on file formats in the index (surprise). Then I start reading random sections.
"Use of strike-out text is illegal in some jurisdictions and prohibited in winforms 2000."
In fact, rather a lot of things are "prohibited" in winforms 2000. Nothing at all about how to select any of the boiler plate text (though they're quite clear about how modifying it is "prohibited") ---heaven forbid you get one of this things and want to discuss particular clauses with your realtor; I guess you just have to have good touchtyping skills.
"Editing *.ini files in WINForms without authorization or specific instructions is considered tampering and WILL render WINForms program inoperable."
"Printing of blank forms is prohibited."
What the fucking fuck? Evidently the full product is only slightly less braindead than the viewer.
These people are control freaks. It's not enough that there's a copyright notice on the form itself, they have to do everything they can to physically prevent you from getting at the form itself, and if this impairs usability of their product, too bad. Never mind that the real point of this kind of software is being able to keep the form data in a db, easily move it around, interoperate with Outlook and whatever else you might care about. Blank forms are basically useless in this world; they may as well be free. Or, more to the point, if I really wanted zillion of copies of the blank forms, it would be a simple enough matter to make up some data, print out a form, apply whiteout, fire up the photocopier and then sell them on E-bay or something.
Never mind that the cost of maintaining the text on the forms should already have been covered by the subscription fees that the realtors pay to the CAR for the right to use the forms. Figure this is something that's a fixed cost. Imagine what it would be like if the IRS charged for its forms. "But if we can own the forms too, then we make more money. And we can, so we will." And now this one company has the entire real-estate business over a barrel (it appears 30 some-odd states are using some variant of this product). Pretty sweet deal for them, I guess.
Hmm. The viewer has a
File->Settings->Printers->Add New Printer
install "Apple Color Laserwriter"
(or any printer that takes/needs PostScript directly)
(print to file) port
Hey wow, we now have perfectly good Level 3 PostScript. All I have to do is remove the
from the end.
It's not even obfuscated in any way. Not that this would matter for what I want to do, but the text is all there and I could arbitrarily mess with it if I really wanted to.
Insert signature bitmap. Run ghostview. Convert to .PDF. Email it back.
And of course, even though I'm a valid client of a registered CAR member using the form in an entirely legitimate manner (I am
allowed to sign it, right?), I'm betting this still
makes me a criminal according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because I've "circumvented access controls".
It is of course also
illegal to tell people
how to circumvent access controls. Meaning I shouldn't have told you how to install a virtual Postscript printer to print to a file on Win2k. Or maybe that part's okay, and it's just that I shouldn't have suggested that it might work. Wheee...
The fun part is that you can be a criminal, too. All you have to do is link to this. Or so says the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
. (Lucky for us, we're 9th Circuit here).
I think I need to start giving some serious money to the EFF