Sunday, December 26, 2010

Analog Update II

I've taken a breather from trying to develop an Analog database in "Open Office", made a quick (well really not so quick) MS Access version of the database.  Prior posts on my slow progress here.  Still faced with a steep learning curve for Open Office's database "Base".  Haven't even gotten to MySQL or PHP yet.  The MS Access version has been updated through the March 2011 edition, except for the March 20011 cover art.

If you have MS Access, I can provide a copy of the database.  Leave a message on the Analog readers forum. You would need to specify what version of MS Access that you have. The data was imported from an Excel spreadsheet developed by Dave Baranyi through the use of a dumb program. That means no error detection or correction. Obviously there will be data correction issues.  If you find any errors let me know. (I tend to have a lot of typos.)

Additionally, there are over 900 issues of Analog.  Consequently a lot of data is "missing", such as cover art, editorials, and the alternate view simply because the data has not yet been entered.  Gets boring entering data.  There is also the issue of the availability of old issues to verify the data.  Overtime, this data can be slowly added to the database.

Below is the opening screen. To the right there are a set of buttons that allow you provide a variety of search and editing tasks. (Click on the images to see them better.)

When you double click on an author, all stories written by that author Pop-Up.  In this case Richard Lovett.  The thirteenth name down.

You can also search for a story or an author based on a partial string. In the picture below, all stories that have the string "solar" in their title are displayed.

One thing to realize, is that much of the information is already available on the Internet, so pursuing a standalone database, as I am doing, is somewhat duplicative. Below is an image from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

If someone has the ability to provide a central download site that would be beneficial.  Then everyone would have access to the most recent version. In theory, I won't be pursing upgrading the database in MS Access except for adding new data. Learning Base has been frustratingly slow. Also I have not even gotten to MySQL yet.  At least the MS Access version will serve as a temporary solution.  In the meantime I hope that you will be able to enjoy and utilize the MS Access version.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Julian Assange & Forbes Magazine

Andy Greenberg of Forbes Magazine writes: "Admire Assange or revile him, he is the prophet of a coming age of involuntary transparency. ... What do large companies think of the threat? If they’re terrified, they’re not saying. None would talk to us. Nor would the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ...  How can an American corporation respond to a Wiki attack? Lawsuits won’t work: ... The best protection? With a dash of irony Icelandic Wiki­Leaks staffer Kristinn Hrafnsson suggests that companies change their ways to avoid targeting. “They should resist the temptation to enter into corruption,” he says."  (emphasis added)

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Staples, Intuit, PayPal, Ebay, Best Buy, Comcast, Bank of America and numerous others - clean-up your act.  If you want employee and consumer loyalty you must earn it.  The free-market is not about ripping the consumer off to make short-term profits.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quantative Easing Revealed - It's an Episode of the Twilight Zone

This video is hilarious. It's a bit long, digresses some, and I don't know if the negative references to Goldman Sachs are correct or not. But it does reiterate one of my concerns, which is that the FED is not letting the economy correct through deflation. (Approximately 38 seconds into the video)

In terms of deflation, the video successfully spoofs Bernanke's quantitative easing, dumping money into the economy, as a means of promoting employment growth. The evidence, I believe, is clear that quantitative easing is NOT creating employment. The issue is that people are not buying. If people do not buy, private industry has no incentive to create jobs. So all the programs and tax credits to business for job creation are a waste of the taxpayers money. As one of the video characters pointed-out our economy is an episode of the Twilight Zone.

UPDATE: Since posting I ran across this article in Forbes: "Bernanke Wants A $10 Three-Piece Chicken Meal" by Rich Karlgaard.  Essentially it reiterates that the FED is pushing inflation. And as the video above points out inflation will hurt those in the lower income and without jobs.  Steve Forbes also has an editorial: "Why Ben Is Addicted To Failure"

Corporate Condescension

One of the irritants that we seem to have to deal with every day are disingenuous corporate "offers".  These offers are couched in verbiage to make it seem that they are doing you a favor.  The letter closes with "The power is yours,"  This letter also contains the proclamation "Rule the Air" as if you had a choice in making the rules or gasp, negotiating the terms of the so-called "contract".  (Click on the image to see it better.)

What is particularly galling about this "offer" is that Verizon is proposing to assist you in "conquering your overages".  The solution is simple, Verizon could simply stop charging you for overages!  Bank of America also offers a similar ridiculous service. So if these companies can change the "terms of agreement" at will and at any time, it is a no brainier for them to simply stop charging for overages, especially if you have been a good customer.

The Verizon letter above may not be an Enron or a Collateralized Debt Obligation, nevertheless it is another small indicator that corporations feel no ethical restraint in misleading their customers to get undeserved dollars. For more on Verizon's and other companies dishonest business practices click here.  If a company is not willing to be honest with you, why should you be honest with them?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pfizer - A Fiefdom for Corporate Managers?

Jeffrey B. Kindler, the now former CEO of Pfizer, had a sudden case of "retirement".  Previously I wrote that Pfizer needed to fire Kindler.  Under Kindler's so-called leadership the stock of Pfizer has been in a long term decline and the dividend was cut. The New York Times notes that "shareholders lost about 20 percent of their investment during his four-and-a-half-year tenure." So, while the stockholders suffered, Kindler was awarded bonuses for his "brilliant" leadership. Its a sad case of corporate greed when management destroys the value of a widow/orphan stock that many people depend on for their retirement income. Finally, a dim light-bulb must have been turned on resulting in the Pfizer Board becoming motivated to do something. As the Times notes "... it’s far too early to judge whether he jumped or was pushed." Either way, it is a good piece of news for the shareholders.

Regretfully, Kindler gets a paid "vacation". The Times writes "Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, said in a regulatory filing on Thursday that it had agreed to give Jeffrey B. Kindler a $4.5 million severance payment after his sudden retirement on Sunday as chairman and chief executive." Perhaps the most irksome aspect of his departure is that Kindler gets "... $3.2 million cash bonus for 2010 and $1.8 million under an incentive plan ..." for destroying shareholder value.

PS: We own shares of Pfizer.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lieberman Resurrects McCarthyism???

WikiLeaks and Assange are currently the news of the day.  In fact the news today was overwhelming to digest. Especially in regards to freedom of speech, due process, and what actually would constitute a criminal offense.  TechDirt sample. And "Does Wikileaks Have a First Amendment Case Against Joe Lieberman?" by Ryan Radia and "Some thoughts on Cablegate" by Jerry Brito from the Technology Liberation Front.

What caught my attention today was a New York Times article where "In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman suggested that the U.S. Department of Justice should charge Julian Assange with espionage and said that federal prosecutors should conduct a "very intensive inquiry" into the question of whether or not news organizations had committed a crime by publishing leaked documents obtained and distributed by WikiLeaks. ... According to a transcript of the interview, Mr. Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, was asked by the Fox anchor Jenna Lee, "are other media outlets that have posted what WikiLeaks has put out there also culpable in this, and could be charged with something?"" (emphasis added).  Besides the strong suggestion for a criminal investigation, several companies such as and PayPal (a despicable company) have been strong armed into shunning WikiLeaks. Ryan Radia wrote: "Amazon’s decision to terminate Wikileaks came less than 24 hours after Amazon received a phone call from Senate Homeland Security Committee staff (at the behest of Sen. Joe Lieberman) inquiring about the firm’s relationship with Wikileaks." The Times even reports that "Columbia University warned students who hope to one day work as American diplomats to avoid posting any public comments about the recently leaked cables on the Web."

Like soap hurtful opera gossip, carefully constructed language is being created to intimidate the American people and to manipulate the truth.  Furthermore trumped up sex charges against on Assange are being manufactured.  Seems that Lieberman may be fanning the flames of false outrage to define Assange as an "enemy of the state" and  as a means of resurrecting McCarthyism. Wikipedia writes "McCarthyism is a term used to describe the making of accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence.  ... During the post–World War II era of McCarthyism, many thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies." If this crescendo continues we may soon see the reconstitution of the House Un-American Activities Committee as the Senate Un-American Activities Committee.

As an interesting aside, Glenn Beck in his show today expressed his belief that Assange is the victim of trumped-up charges.  Of course from Glenn Beck's perspective, Assange is actually a victim of some progressive left wing plot! Well at least Beck still has the capacity to understand a set-up.  A much better, no holds, case was made by Judge Napolitano who expressly stated that the Government is after Assange and that the US government, like the old USSR, is looking for evidence to persecute prosecute Assange. Judge Napolitano's presentation, I assume, will soon appear as a podcast.

To conclude, Ron Paul recently stated 'When Truth Becomes Treason We're In Big Trouble'.

Glenn Beck Gets Net-Neutrality Wrong

A big news item for today is that Senator Lieberman is essentially resurrecting McCarthyism, this quickie casual observation concerns a remark that Glenn Beck made on his show today.  Glenn was making his usual conspiracy theory diatribe against left wing progressives.  In doing so, Glenn mentioned that net-neutrality was the being promoted by the "left" as a means of censoring the news. So wrong.

It is the "right" wing corporate interests (such as the RIAA) and other content producers who seek to prevent the implementation of net-neutrality so that they can censor (manage) the flow of information.

US Copyright Czar: Expect More Domain Censorship.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friedman on the State of the Nation

Amazing the New York Times actually has a good opinion piece. Since I rag on the Times, I might as well give them a little bit of credit. Actually the credit belongs to Thomas Friedman who wrote "From WikiChina", an opinion piece from the perspective of a hypothetical Chinese diplomat who has been outed by a WikiLeaker. Mr. Friedman has captured the essence of the state of the nation. Related tidbits in Casual Observations.

The following perceptive points are from Mr. Friedman's acting as WikiLeaker exposing the private cables from a hypothetical Chinese diplomat.

"There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics."

"Americans just had what they call an “election.” Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other (all from businesses they are supposed to be regulating) so he could tell bigger lies on TV more often about the other guy before the other guy could do it to him. This leaves us relieved. It means America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent." (emphasis added)

"The ambassador recently took what the Americans call a fast train — the Acela — from Washington to New York City. Our bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin would have made the trip in 90 minutes. His took three hours — and it was on time!" (emphasis added)

"Along the way the ambassador used his cellphone to call his embassy office, and in one hour he experienced 12 dropped calls — again, we are not making this up. We have a joke in the embassy: “When someone calls you from China today it sounds like they are next door. And when someone calls you from next door in America, it sounds like they are calling from China!”"

" ... America will lack the military means to challenge us anywhere else, particularly on North Korea, where our lunatic friends continue to yank America’s chain every six months so that the Americans have to come and beg us to calm things down."

" ... as we use our $2.3 trillion in reserves to quietly buy up U.S. factories."

The most germane quote: "But the Americans are oblivious. They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how “exceptional” they are." (emphasis added) Reminds me of the amazingly perceptive line from the 2004 movie The Incredibles: "How can anyone be special if everyone is special?" It time for our elected and corporate leaders to wake up and run the US.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Casual Observations on Military Equipment/Deployment

A festering concern that I have had for many years is the development and use by the US military of extremely expensive high tech military equipment.  There is no doubt that sophisticated state of the art equipment is nifty, but is it appropriate?

An undeniably truth is that military operations result in destruction and require sustainability. The use of expensive sophisticated high tech equipment runs counter to that undeniable truth.  An "old" black humor joke was that such a war would only last 15 minutes since much of the equipment would cease to function due to an inability to maintain it since many of the technicians would be dead and replacement parts would be unavailable. Furthermore, there is the issue of cost.  Wipe-out one of our aircraft carriers and our Nation will be bankrupt.

We may have technological superiority over terrorists, but if hostilities were to break-out with opponents that have a degree of technology (such as North Korea or Iran) we may only get 15 minutes of shock and awe, but continued action may not be sustainable. If not sustainable, Vietnam would serve as an example that technological superiority cannot guarantee victory. But then again, these countries could ultimately prove to be as "hollow" as Iraq was to a traditional attack. Would China protect North Korea? I don't know.

Here are my casual thoughts concerning the design and deployment of military equipment:
  1. expendable
  2. rapidly reproduced
  3. easily maintained
  4. cheap
As two asides: Point Defense, as an anti-terrorist measure, is ineffectual and ludicrous.  The use of drones is an excellent use of equipment.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Freedom to Tinker

One of my major concerns with the US corporate trends today is eliminating the concept of "sale".  By that I mean that when corporations "sell" you a product, especially electronic products, they claim that they are only licensing you the use of that product.  Not only that, but they also claim, to have post "sale" control over how the purchaser may use the product.  Basically, this an extension of the theory that so-called "intellectual property" gives the product creator exclusive control. From my point of view, this is garbage, when you sell a product you transfer ownership of the product to the purchaser.

As one illustration of leasing and post sale control, Mike Masnick wrote: "Jailbreaking Your iPhone? Legal! Jailbreaking Your Xbox? 3 Years In Jail!". In that article Mike writes: "First, let's take a step back, and realize just how ridiculous this situation is. If you buy a piece of electronic equipment, should you ever deserve jailtime for then modifying it? With most things you buy, you have every right to then make changes to it. Yet, when it comes to gaming consoles, suddenly that can get you jailtime. The culprit? Of course, it's the ever-present DMCA, and its anti-circumvention clause, which lets any device maker put in some "technological protection measures," and suddenly it's illegal to modify what you thought you legally owned."

The New York Times, however, still seems to anxious promote the concept that tinkering with  electronics is somehow wrong. Very similar to the theme of old horror movies that there are some things that man is not meant to know.  Today the Times wrote a very troubling "man is not meant to know" story. In "With Kinect Controller, Hackers Take Liberties" the Times writes "Mr. Kreylos is part of a crowd of programmers, roboticists and tinkerers who are getting the Kinect to do things it was not really meant to do."(emphasis added). The obvious implication, experimenting with something you bought to find out what its capabilities are is something the common person should NOT be able to do? Seems a bit arrogant of the Times.

The Times goes on to write: "Companies respond to this kind of experimentation with their products in different ways — and Microsoft has had two very different responses since the Kinect was released on Nov. 4. It initially made vague threats about working with law enforcement to stop “product tampering.”  But by last week, it was embracing the benevolent hackers." (emphasis added).  So you buy a product and experiment with it, you are now deemed a miscreant for using the product in an unauthorized manner? Exactly were does a company obtain the power to tell you how you may use your product?  Well at least Microsoft seems to have finally comprehended that maybe the innovation offered by the experimenter might be positive.

The title of this Times puff piece caries a derogatory implication "Hackers Take Liberties".  This article could just as easily been titled "Microsoft Embraces Innovative Uses of the Kinect Controller by Garage Experimenters".  A bit long and not very catchy for a headline, but I hope you get point.

At least the Time's also gratuitously writes: "Microsoft and other companies would be wise to keep an eye on this kind of outside innovation and consider wrapping some of the creative advances into future products, said Loren Johnson, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan who follows digital media and consumer electronics. ....  But other companies whose products have been popular targets for tinkering have actively encouraged it. One example is iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba, a small robotic vacuum cleaner. That product was so popular with robotics enthusiasts that the company began selling the iRobot Create, a programmable machine with no dusting capabilities."

Companies when they "sell" a product no longer retain an ownership privilege.  Consequently, companies should not have a post sale capability to prohibit innovation. If we want an economy and society that can benefit by innovation, we need the freedom to tinker.

PS: There is a website "Freedom to Tinker".

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Burn, baby, burn

Coming from someone who has never held a mortgage, and whose financial life was the height of complication when I had a couple revolving CDs that kept escaping me, the idea that people have allowed transactions to get as complicated as this is astounding. A chart created by Dan Enstrom shows the complex, convoluted, redundant process that is his mortgage as it becomes something called a security.
I realize that I have never taken accounting classes or passed the series seven test, but I did pass AP Biology (more or less) and I think that when it is easier to track genetic mutation and perform DNA tests than it is to comprehensively explain a mortgage (Or your taxes, or the fine print on credit cards, or why the government is allowed to print money on a whim, or why the electoral college exists at all) then it is clearly time to work toward streamlining the system.And by streamlining, I don't mean introducing new paperwork to have one's mortgage "fast-tracked" or automatic cc-ing of documents to various organizations -- I mean hack and slash blitzkrieg wherein the structure is rebuilt with third graders as primary comprehensibility consultants. When we don't understand how our money works, how can we be expected to use it wisely? Why are we surprised by the recent foreclosure confusion?

Things that are allowed to be complicated for no reason?
Music videos by OK GO.
(For best results click the video. Embedded version cuts off right side a bit.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Analog Update

I have been able to link the cover art to the magazine issue.  This is the spreadsheet that Dave Baranyi developed and which I have imported into BASE, which is part of "Open Office". Please be aware that this project is still very incomplete.  At the rate I am going it will be quite a while before I am finished.

You may also be interested in my post here, which gets into one of those little itty bitty technical irritations. Combo Box - Display Multiple Columns

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chinese Wrests Supercomputer Title From U.S.

I never expected to be remarking on China, but the news still keeps on coming. The US is noted as being a technological powerhouse, so it is difficult to make the case that the US is "Losing It". But each insistence of another country surpassing the US in some sort of technological aspect is an indicator. The title for this post comes from the New York Times article: "Chinese Wrests Supercomputer Title From U.S." The Times writes: "A Chinese scientific research center has built the fastest supercomputer ever made, replacing the United States as maker of the swiftest machine, and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower."

To be consistent with the the theme of my prior posts concerning the coming brain-drain for so-called US "intellectual property"; the Times notes that: "And typically, research centers with large supercomputers are magnets for top scientific talent, adding significance to the presence of the machines well beyond just cranking through calculations."

The Times even notes the disturbing use of "proprietary" technology. "The United States has plans in place to make much faster machines out of proprietary components and to advance the software used by these systems so that they are easy for researchers to use. But those computers remain years away, and for now, China is king". (emphasis added) I even believe that the introduction of HDTV to the American consumer was purposely "delayed" by the content producers for several years to develop a DRM (proprietary) standard. HDTV technology existed and could have been deployed but was purposely withheld. The use of proprietary technology is a distraction from furthering technological progress.

I never meant to write this much concerning China, but the news is out. I hope that our Congress people are paying attention.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

China and US Fiscal Responsibility

The New York Times today carried "Chinese Telecom Giant in Push for U.S. Market". This article is also similar to the article: "What China Seeks in Chesapeake Shale Deal". In each of these articles, the Times raises the issue of national security: "Some in Congress and the national security establishment fear that Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese military might allow China to tamper with American communications gear." and "China’s $2.2 billion investment Chesapeake Energy involves a potential transfer of technology and intellectual knowledge to Beijing that some people in Washington may find uncomfortable, and that unease could trip up the deal." My concern is that our Congress people do not seem to make the connection that deficit spending is a national security issue.

If our Congress people find the transfer of US technology to Beijing to be potentially uncomfortable, balance the budget. What do our politicians expect China to due with our IOUs? As the Time's articles indicate, China will be buying US assets. And we have given China that money through deficit spending. According to the China Daily, China's holdings of treasury bonds rose slightly to $846.7 billion in July after two months of declines, the US Department of Treasury reported on Thursday."

Balancing the US budget in economic tough times is not simply a question of employment, it is also a national security issue. Time for our politicians to recognize this linkage and to act in a fiscally responsible manner.

PS: Protectionism is not the answer. US corporations buy foreign corporations and Chinese corporations should have the same entitlement.

Monday, October 25, 2010

China "We Own You, You Work for Us Now"

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has an extremely impressive ad.  It shows a Chinese professor conducting a class in 2030 reviewing before his students why the US civilization failed.  Link to Video Here.   Citizens Against Government Waste writes:
"On October 21, 2010, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) unveiled a national ad addressing our country’s spending addiction, the dangers of relentless deficits, and the corrosive nature of our national debt.
This new ad, which features a chilling look at one potential future scenario if America continues on its current destructive fiscal trajectory, is a 2010 homage to “The Deficit Trials,” a 1986 ad that was produced by W.R. Grace & Co.  For those who were able to view it, the ad caused a sensation; it was considered so controversial at the time that the networks refused to run it. "
The add pretty much carries the same production values and emotional punch of Apple's 1984 add introducing the Macintosh computer.  Link to Video Here.

Prior to seeing the add, I did not know about Citizens Against Government Waste , so I can't say whether it is good or bad organization. Regretfully, I can't even claim that Citizens Against Government Waste got it's idea from me, but it does point to a growing cacophony acknowledging that we are headed down an unsustainable path.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Verbal Hypocrisy

The recent firing of Juan Williams by NPR once again illustrates an astonishing dichotomy between what people say and what they actually do. The liberal left advocates free speech, yet they seem to be fall all over themselves in shouting down (censoring) anyone they deem to be expressing "right-wing" sentiments.  Olbermann Slams O'Reilly For 'View' Comments: 'Bigot And Islamophobe'. Court throws out Streisand's invasion of privacy lawsuit.  So much for freedom of speech.

So that I am "fair and balanced", the "right-wing" claims to be the champion of the free market and to insist that the free market will blossom if the government will only get out of the way and stop all that onerous regulation.  Seems that the "right-wing" unabashedly views freedom as a license to steal.  Witness the rise of the ponzi like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO) and the subsequent foreclosure crises. Not to mention disingenuously embracing regulations such as Copyright Term Extension Act and the Bayh–Dole Act.  I guess actually making money through real entrepreneurial work is to old-fashioned.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hand Writing on the Wall

A pleasant surprise from TechDirt noting that China is getting on-board with so-called intellectual property. TechDirt, in the article, "Once Again, Be Careful What You Wish For: China Learning To Use Other Country's Patent Systems" writes: 
"For years and years, US executives, politicians and diplomats have been berating China for "not respecting intellectual property." And, all along, we keep warning that those same folks are not going to like it if China actually did what they're asking it to do. ... Just wait until American companies, whose execs complained about China "not respecting intellectual property," start getting sued in East Texas for violating Huawei's patents."
I recently wrote on this developing issue "China and Chesapeake Energy - A Precursor to the Demise of the US?".  The US may be "top dog" for now, but constructing "bulkheads" (ACTA) to prevent the erosion of US intellectual property will eventually be self-defeating. Bulkheads in the long-run eventually succumb to natural forces. This will become a lesson in being careful of what you ask for.

Monday, October 11, 2010

China and Chesapeake Energy - A Precursor to the Demise of the US?

The New York Times carried this article today: "What China Seeks in Chesapeake Shale Deal". According to the article: "China’s $2.2 billion investment in the Texas oil patch may be small, but the deal with Chesapeake Energy involves a potential transfer of technology and intellectual knowledge to Beijing that some people in Washington may find uncomfortable, and that unease could trip up the deal." This deal, in of itself may not be a big deal; but it could be interpreted as one cut of many future cuts to come leading to the demise of the US. Death by a thousand cuts.

The Times, in asking itself the rhetorical why of this deal, writes: "Part of the reason is that it is simply a way to recycle its stockpile of hundreds of billions of dollars into an asset class other than United States Treasury securities." Though the Times uses the euphemism "recycle", the reality is that our deficit spending is allowing other countries to acquire the financial strength to purchase US businesses by using our own IOUs (treasury securities).  Will our entire country end-up being owned by foreign companies and foreign countries as we spend ourselves into oblivion with money we don't have?

The Times also writes: "But the main reason for this particular deal seems to be the transfer of lucrative shale drilling technology that China has been seeking in its bid to exploit its own shale reserves." While this may be politically unpalatable, the Times overlooked the deeper implications.  The US has been pushing for ever stronger protections for so-called intellectual property.  One example of this process for promoting stronger protections is the international "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement" (ACTA) which is currently in the process of being negotiated. The problem, in terms of a death by a thousand cuts, is that as foreign countries and foreign corporations in acquiring US assets will also be acquiring so-called US intellectual property, such as shale drilling technologies.  Also, as one commentator noted in a prior New York Times article, that foreign countries will soon be developing their own so-called intellectual property.  The US, by demanding strong protections for so-called intellectual property, will eventually be shooting itself in the foot as the foreign countries mimic US protection measures.  Seems that the US Trade Representative is not concerned with the repercussions that could occur should we lose our technological edge.

Deficit spending by the US is not simply a means of stimulating the economy, it also concerns the issuing IOUs that eventually have to be paid.  Those holding the IOUs can then use those IOUs to buy US companies. China's $2.2 billion dollar investement in Chesapeake Energy may only be a beginning.  A journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step. (Lao-tzu)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

No Pay, No Spray? - Nanny State Limits

Today Fox news carried an interesting segment No Pay, No Spray? (link to video works, but no video), concerning the case where fighter fighters let a house burn because a $75 fee was not paid.  Now Fox News is not "Fair and Balanced" as they claim.  In fact their tease to the upcoming video segment  alluded to the typical rant of the evil government bureaucracy running amok because a trivial $75.00 was not paid.  I was quite pleasantly surprised when the segment got underway that it turned out not be an anti-government rant.

The panelists quickly dismissed  this as case of supposed government irresponsibility and placed the responsibility on the homeowner for failing to pay.  In fact the panelists even went further equating this with the breaking news that banks can't even prove that the mortgagees in foreclosure owe them money.  So what was the connection of the foreclosure crises to the burning house? Why should anyone act responsibly by paying their bills/taxes when society bails them out for being irresponsible. Congratulations to Fox News for getting the implications of this story correct.

The cartoon below came from Against Monopoly, and seems quite appropriate. If you don't want to pay your obligations for services provided by the government.  Be prepared to do it yourself. (Click on the image to see it better.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Verizon Wireless to Pay Millions in Refunds

Two stories, seemingly unrelated, illustrate how our free-market principles have been corrupted and polarized. David Pogue working in cooperation with the New York Times has exposed a disingenuous business practice by Verizon .  To summarize the issue, Edward Wyatt wrote: "In the last three years, the F.C.C. has received hundreds of complaints from Verizon Wireless customers who said they were charged for data use or Web access at times when their phones were not in use or when they mistakenly pushed a button that activated the phone’s Web browser."  David quotes Verizon: " Approximately 15 million customers who did not have data plans were billed for data sessions on their phones that they did not initiate,” the company said on Sunday."  Evidently, this scam has been going on for sometime.

This incident, once again raises the specter that these companies are purposely implementing underhanded "things" to separate the consumer from their money. Think of it this way, Verizon is a technologically sophisticated company selling very sophisticated smart phones.  So given all the technological expertise at their disposal, Verizon should be able to design a simple "safety switch" to prevent these "accidental" charges. The fact that they have not implies that the management of Verizon is purposefully and willfully promoting disingenuous business practices.

Concerning the second story. Adam Thierer of the Technology Liberation Front wrote an article: Problems in Public Utility Paradise, Part 14: Muni Wi-fi Postmortem. Sadly this article is simply another typical diatribe lambasting attempts by Municipalities to provide their citizens with Wi-Fi services. The theme of the Technology Liberation Front is "... the tech policy blog dedicated to keeping politicians' hands off the 'net and everything else related to technology." So what has this got to do with Verizon?

Verizon, as well as many other technology companies have been caught doing underhanded activities that are injurious to their customers. When companies pursue these strategies and piss-off enough people, regulations happen.  Furthermore, if companies truly want a free-market free of regulations; they need to realize that freedom also means responsibility. 

Unfortunately, many of the posts on the Technology Liberation Front are postured to vilify government without questioning the business practices of the private sector.  It's time for the Technology Liberation Front to look into the mirror  for some serious self-reflection concerning who is responsible for the ills in the American economy. If the Technology Liberation Front is truly championing the concept of keeping the politicians away, I would expect some of the commentators to expose bad corporate behavior and demand that the corporations clean-up their business practices.  It is a sad commentary on American culture when freedom is considered a right to steal and blogs supposedly defending the free-market, such as the Technology Liberation Front remain silent.  For a site based on Libertarian principles, this seems very un-Libertarian

As for me, if a company can't accept responsibility for the freedoms they enjoy, regulate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Concept of "Sale" is Under Attack II

Adding fuel to the fire, TechDirt reports that: "Home Buyers Only Finding Out About Resale Fees When It's Too Late".  TechDirt writes that there is a "growing practice of adding a "resale fee" to homes, that give developers a copyright-like extended control over a piece of your house long after the house has been sold."

My daughter also sent me this very good quote from Mister Jalopy on the right of the consumer to do what they want with the products that they have bought.

Empowering consumers to be able to repair, rebuild, reuse and reinvent the products they invest in is at the core of Mr. J’s philosophy. As part of the Maker’s Bill of Rights (link) article in Make: Magazine, Jalopy declared, “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” Asserting that an individual should be able to open, repair and modify the products that they buy, the Maker’s Bill of Rights gave a clear voice to the Maker Movement’s frustration with increasingly disposable products that lock out consumers.

“Innovation does not stop at the end of the assembly line. Companies should think of customers as collaborators and reap the benefits of building a community of fierce advocates. There is significant economic incentive to connect with customers beyond consuming. Companies can create legendary brands that people care about and build products that customers will praise and defend,” states Jalopy. “Innovation should be shared.” (emphasis added)

I previously discussed how sellers are now increasingly using wording gimmicks such as "leasing" and "renting" as a means of depriving consumers of their right to owning the products that they have purchased in "The Concept of "Sale" is Under Attack".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Biased Testing

My daughter sent me a  humorous Onion video spoofing the "flaws" of testing claimed by special interest groups that the standardized tests are somehow biased against them.
In the Know: Are tests biased against students who ....?  Enjoy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Concept of "Sale" is Under Attack

For the past two years I have been pointing out that the concept of "sale" is being eroded. Basically, companies have been claiming that the products they "sell" you are really only licensed to you. Unfortunately, a recent court decision seems to have bolstered that concept. The court held in Vernor v. Autodesk (PDF) "that the terms of an end-user licensing agreement, or EULA, can change the sale of commercial software into a mere license, in this case a license that prohibits users from reselling their copy of the software".  Today, both CNET and the Technology Liberation Front carried the story: "The end of software ownership--and why to smile" by Larry Downes. Well, I am not smiling.

For a website that is ostensibly based on Libertarian principles, the appearance of this article is particularly disturbing.  Mr. Downes makes this very surprising and unbelievable assertion: "replacing the regime of ownership with one of rental.  And, perhaps more controversially still, I try to make the case that such a dramatic change is in fact not, as most commentators of the decision have concluded, a terrible loss for consumers but a liberating victory."  It would appear that Mr. Downes is asserting that the average citizen does not have a right to property.  With that in mind, why should I be grateful that my right to own something is being taken away by a corporation?  With this line of reasoning, I should also be grateful to the government should they pass a law that requires that I  must eat "healthy food" and that I can't buy a big Mac. Seems like Mr. Downes is advocating a "Nanny State".

Beyond the simple right to property, there are other concerns:
  1. No mention is made in the "End of  Software Ownership" of the consumer as possessing any rights what-so-ever. When one rents an apartment, the landlord is obligated to keep it in a livable conditions. Existing EULA's basically say, if it doesn't work, too bad. Not only that but the EULA's also grant companies the ability to change the rules post-sale (after-the-fact). So you buy (rent) a product and the next day the cost just doubled as expressed in a new freshly posted EULA that you never saw. You don't accept, well your license is terminated.
  2. The upgrade cycle. Companies can now reach into YOUR computer to "brick" or turn-off stuff at their whim. So if XYX company unilaterally declares a perfectly good program obsolete they can turn it off. The customer has virtually no recourse? Intuit is a good example of this strategy.  At least in the "old" days you could use your software until it really broke or became obsolete.
  3. You pay for something, the company says Oops we've had a change of heart and they remove the content without your permission.  Remember the removal of Orwell books from the Kindle. Due process for the consumer, you must be joking.
  4.  In the "End of  Software Ownership" the statement is made that software rapidly becomes worthless. Well, it that is true - why should a company care about retaining ownership? If a product is worthless to the consumer then it is also worthless to the company. If a product is worthless, companies shouldn't care who owns it. In fact, Mr. Downes should be advocating that it be in the public domain so that the user community can determine when a product is truly "obsolete". To state that companies determine when a product is "obsolete" is arrogant and counter to the concept of the free market. In the free market, a product is obsolete when the consumers no longer desire to use it.
In fact the "End of  Software Ownership" seems like a precursor to new form of Communism. Instead of the State owning all the property, only corporations will have the right to own property. Welcome to the new workers consumers paradise.

Friday, September 17, 2010

American Ingenuity - What it Costs Us

The news recently broke that the HDCP Master Key had been decoded. TechDirt writes today that "Intel Confirms HDCP Master Key Is Out". Freedom to Tinker came out with a companion piece: "Understanding the HDCP Master Key Leak". A question naturally arises concerning what breaking the HDCP means in terms of breaking HDCP American ingenuity. The simple answer, one person was innovative enough to either crack it or get a copy of it.

But there is a deeper question.  American industry loves to proclaim how ingenious it is, look we're giving you HDTV!!!  True, but examine the cost to the consumer. As a quick example, TechDirt wrote: "Avatar Blu-Ray Customers Not Enjoying Their DRM-Crippled Discs" which demonstrated one instance of the new innovative technology not working. In the case of the New York Times wrote: "Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle". Which demonstrate the ability of a company post-sale to reach into your hardware and remove content at the company's whim. Thought you bought it; guess again.

The common theme? The implementation of American "innovation" is costing the American consumer their freedoms.  Furthermore, companies in their quest to pursue "innovation" have even gone to the Congressional supermarket to obtain laws that criminalize consumer activities that would not add to the corporate revenue stream.

Think of this, the content industry bought laws, they worked with many engineers to develop the HDCP standard, and they had to coerce manufactures worldwide to modify equipment to comply with and implement HDCP. The implementation of HDCP as an "innovative" technology took a long time, took a lot of effort, and cost a lot. So if American industry is innovative and can successfully deploy a universal DRM strategy world wide why won't it design a simple universal power adapter or a simple universal ink cartridge?  

Given time, every DRM scheme eventually fails. Now that HDCP has failed. The investment in time, money, and manpower in HDCP could have been invested in something productive such as universal power adapters and universal ink cartridges that would have been a win-win situation for both the companies and the consumer.  But it seems that companies are not interested in using innovation in a win-win manner.  Better to have an angry customer because Avatar won't play than to have a happy customer who can buy any printer cartridge. To bad.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Demise of the Free-Market?

Bluntly, Obama's economic policy is Bread and Circuses for the masses to buy votes.  There is a greater question concerning presidential economic policies that go back beyond beyond Obama. Specifically, are these policies distorting the free-market?  The answer is YES.

The old Soviet Union had a planned economy.  One of the criticisms of the planned economy for the USSR was that it overproduced certain items, underproduced other items, and did not really respond to consumer needs.

Obama recently gave a couple of speeches on his economic agenda.  Principally he speaks of "creating jobs". That is somewhat of an oxymoron in the sense that the President does not directly create jobs, that is the responsibility of the private sector.  So of course what he is really talking about are creating policies and favorable tax conditions that would encourage private industry to hire people.  But that really begs a very serious question, why would a company hire people if customers are not buying?  After all companies are not noted for altruism and the high unemployment rate is reflective of that.  Of course the argument goes that people hired will go out and buy. But what will they buy?

Recently CNBC had an interview with Michael Jackson the CEO of AutoNation and I believe the CEO of KB Homes, Jeff Mezger. Both CEOa noted that their respective companies had benefited from the "stimulus" programs to promote the buying of houses and cars. Now that the stimulus program has ended, sales have fallen.  Clearly continued sales were unsustainable, so the "stimulus" achieved was a short uptick in sales that cannibalized future sales. The collapse of the US housing market (2008) and the consequent near meltdown of our financial system are further indications that the free-market was not fully functional. While the US may not have a central bureaucrat defining production goals, we do have egregious programs that stimulate the production and sale of certain items that would not normally be bought, just like in the old USSR.

Like the infomercials, wait there is more! Obama's and Bush's economic policies were also flawed for another fundamental reason.  Note that virtually all the incentives are going to businesses to encourage them to do something. It may appear reasonable, but it neglects that the free-market is based on the consumer voting with their dollars. By voting with their dollars they determine what is produced.  Companies then respond by hiring people to full fill that consumption need. Therefore, if we are to have an operational free market, incentives which allow the consumer to retain more money - such as the elimination of payroll withholding - would be the appropriate form of incentivizing the economy.  (Please note that I am opposed to any subsidies and that this type of activity could be considered a subsidy.)

The  US economy is now planned similar to the old USSR.  One of the criticisms of a planned economy is that it overproduces certain items, underproduces other items, and does not really respond to consumer needs. Obama's so-called "stimulus" effort does nothing to encourage the consumer to go out and vote with their dollars.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where is the ACLU on Intellectual Property?

For a long time I have wonder about the apparent silence of the ACLU on so-called intellectual property.  Recently, TechDirt noted that the ACLU joined in on a lawsuit: "ACLU Suing Homeland Security Over Laptop Searches... Even Though Other Cases Have All Failed".  Once again my interest was aroused, since it would seem that the deprivation of civil liberties by the content industry would be a no-brainier for an ACLU lawsuit. A quick look at the ACLU's Technology and Liberty issue webpage didn't disclose much.  Based on a casual review of their website it would seem that the ACLU is focused more on social justice for segments of society rather than the protection of civil liberties for every member of society.  Fortunately we have the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Nevertheless, it would be good if the ACLU were to recognize how patent/copyright law are being increasingly used as vehicles to deprive people of their civil liberties.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Happened to Honesty?

Today the Washington Post revealed that the House ethics committee formally unveiled charges against Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.). But this post is not about the ethical lapses of Rangel, but about the growing lapses in honest marketing, specifically Time-Warner. Cable.  Both Rangel and Time-Warner Cable demonstrate that those in power have little regard for ethical behavior.

In this case, we received a brochure from Time-Warner Cable informing us of a free Showtime preview.  The glossy we are your friend brochure had some instruction on how to locate the channel.  When I tried those instructions, I could not find the channel.  So I decided to call customer service - surely they would know what channel the free showing would be on. Well, I was greeted to a recorded message informing me of a 20 minute wait time.  I had a cordless phone, so I was able to do other things while holding. As I listened to the recording, over, and  over, I developed the list below. This is only a short list of an even longer list.
  1. Time-Warner claimed that customer service was one of their top priorities.  So why would I have to wait 20+ minutes to get customer service.
  2. Time-Warner advertised how they offered movies before they hit certain stores.  Of course Time-Warner does not mention that they entered into agreements with these stores so that the stores would delay the rental of certain movies. Seems like restraint of trade, not the free-market at work.
  3. The most irritating part of the experience was the remote control  Who would think that the remote control would be purposely programmed to be "difficult". In searching for the free preview I scrolled through some of the premium channels.  It turns out that if you are in the remote's program guide and are on a premium channel you can not exit back to your program! With the free channels you can simply press "exit" and get back to your program.  With the premium channels you have to get back to the guide (step 1), then use the program guide to find a free channel (step 2), then when you find a free channel you can then exit the guide (step3), but to return to the channel that you were previously watching you have to find it again (four steps in all)! Unbelievable
  4. Time-Warner claims blazing fast internet speed, but they have never clearly articulated what you are actually getting. Time-Warner also advertises that for some extra $$$ you can get power boost.  I seem to remember that this was part of our subscription, but I really can't remember.  Nevertheless, I am left with a suspicious feeling - me being a conspiracy type - that the service may have been initially offered, then silently discontinued; and now being offered as an extra feature that you have to pay for.  Unfortunately, I don't know whether that is the case or not.  But after Comcast's boondoggle of "traffic shaping" you have to wonder.
 After listening to the endless stream of sales pitches the customer service representative finally answered.  He was very helpful and after fumbling a few times finally figured out what channel we needed.  The customer service guy did a great job, but it also illustrates how poorly implemented marketing strategies that are quite disingenuous in nature create customer ill will and actually cost companies money.

When our political leaders (Rangel) and our corporate leaders (Time -Warner) act soley out of their self-interest it sets a bad example. If they do not feel constrained to act in an ethical manner, then why should the general population?  Anarchy anyone?  Individually, these examples, within the context of the whole US economy, may not seem significant; but when you add in spectacular failures such as Enron and Lehman Brothers you have to wonder where honesty went.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Continued Quest by Corporations to Criminalize Behavior They Do not Like II

The New York Times through Computerworld reports: Apple Loses Bid to Criminalize iPhone Jailbreaking. Yet another example of how corporations are attempting to continue to criminalize behavior that they deem reduces their profit margins.  I guess competition will no longer be based on making the best product for the consumer.  Use the product in the "wrong" manner, do not pass go - go directly to jail.  So much for the free-market.  Furthermore, how is it that corporations have been able to "buy" this type of legislation.  Also when you buy a product you acquire a property right to use that product as you see fit (within certain reasonable limitations of course).  So if you want to monkey around with it, why should that be considered a criminal activity?

Gregg Keizer of Computerworld wrote: "Apple lost its bid today to criminalize "jailbreaking," the practice of hacking an iPhone to install unauthorized apps on the smartphone, according to a decision by the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress."

In related news, TechDirt reported: Motorola Does Openness Wrong; Bricks Your Droid X If You Tamper Mike Masnick wrote: "Part of the key selling point of the whole concept of Android-based smartphones was that they were open to tinkering. Apparently, Motorola thinks somewhat differently about that. paperbag was the first of a whole bunch of you to point to variations on the story that Motorola has put a thing called "eFuse" on the Droid X which will effectively brick your phone if you try to mess with the software."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dell and the Dark Side

Why is Dell still in business? Today I had to sit in on one of those long boring meetings where you can barely stay awake. We had to bring our laptop computers to this session. We use Dell computers at work. I had not plugged my computer in, so I went to borrow the plug from my neighbor's computer. Absolute shock, the power plugs were different! Unbelievable, so not only does Dell use non-standard power plugs but they even use different plugs between their computer models. There is simply no excuse for using non-standard power plugs for consumer electronics.

Another plaintive cry of pain: Why? Why? Why??? Power cord hell!

Recently I ran across this New York Times article: "Suit Over Faulty Computers Highlights Dell’s Decline".

Update: Soon after posting, I received an email informing me that Forbes ran the following: "Server giant Dell is warning its customers that a handful of motherboards were shipped with embedded spyware."

Another Update: Dell to Pay $100 Million Settlement. The Times reports: "“Dell manipulated its accounting over an extended period to project financial results that the company wished it had achieved but could not,” said Christopher Conte, associate director of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division, in a statement announcing the settlement.". It is never ceases to amaze me how a company that sells non-standard parts and uses "innovative" accounting can stay in business. It is also a sad reflection of what a US corporation should be.

I have never bought a Dell because when Dell was a relatively new company I ran across some posts that were very scary, Dell did not use standard power supplies. If you were to replace a Dell power supply, not knowing that fact, you would potentially destroy your computer. Fortunately, the internet has a long memory. "Warning! Dell PC owners read this before replacing your powersupply".

In an unrelated story, "Motorola Does Openness Wrong; Bricks Your Droid X If You Tamper".

The free-market is a wonderful concept. In theory the products that are produced serve the customer, but it seems that some companies in their quest for profits bastardize our economic system for their self interest, in the case of this post - non-standard power cords. Financial "freedom" nearly destroyed our financial system. Many people lament the loss of our manufacturing capability, but here you see companies purposely pursuing self-serving strategies that are ultimately destructive. If companies refuse to make components that obviously should be standard, regulate them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

European Diaspora II

In my prior post "European Diaspora", I raised the concept that populations displace other populations. In real terms, that Western Europeans were being forced to move West as access to the East was "blocked" by aggressive populations, such as the Turks.

Since the original post, it occurred to me; Where did the Turks come from? Wikipedia to the rescue! Wikipedia has several articles concerning this topic. One "Genetic Origins of the Turkish People" appears inconclusive citing both a strong native Anatolian presence and "that Central Asians have made a 30% genetic contribution."

Another Wikipedia article, "Turkish Diaspora", writes "The main migration of Turkish people to Anatolia occurred at the same time of Turkic migration between the 6th and 11th centuries (the Early Middle Ages), when they spread across most of Central Asia and into Europe and the Middle East. The Seljuk Turks (Selçuk Türkleri) were the first Turkish power to arrive in the 11th century as conquerors, who proceeded to gradually conquer the land of existing Byzantine Empire. In the following centuries the local population began to be assimilated from the emerging Turkic migrants. Over time, as word spread regarding the victory of the Turks in Anatolia, more Turkic migrants began to intermingle with the local inhabitants, which helped to bolster the Turkish-speaking population."

Of particular importance to the narrative above is the Battle of Manzikert. In this particular battle, August 26, 1071, the Seljuq Turk forces led by Alp Arslan inflicted a decisive defeat to the Byzantine forces. According to the article this allowed the mass movement of Turks into Anatolia. By 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks's, eventually culminating in the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

Battle of Hattin (July 4, 1187) (though 120 years later) was similar to the Battle of Manzikert in its outcome, that these Muslim victories opened the door for continued Muslim expansion. In the Battle of Hattin Muslim armies under Saladin captured or killed the vast majority of the Crusader forces severely crippling the ability of Christians to hold onto the Holy Land. Jerusalem fell to Saladin on October 2, 1187. The Muslims eventually conquered the rest of the middle east.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

European Diaspora

Few people think in terms of Columbus's voyages to the "New World" as the beginning of a European diaspora. It's much more interesting and romantic for historians to portray Columbus as an enterprising merchantman seeking new trade routes to new lands and bringing the benefits of European culture. But there is an alternative viewpoint; that Columbus was really an early "refugee". Of course that tends to go counter to what we are normally taught.

At a fundamental level, western Europe at the time of Columbus was weak. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Muslim's. Muslim expansion into Eastern Europe continued unabated until July September 1683 with the Battle of Vienna. Besides the Muslim expansion, there was the Mongol Empire. The Mongol Empire dissolved dissolved in 1368, but the Grand Duchy of Moscow apparently did not gain full independence until 1480.

If one thinks of population movements in terms of "pressure", the New World was a "vacuum" of virgin relatively unpopulated areas ripe for settlement. Eastern Europe however possessed hostile aggressive expanding civilizations that "pushed" Europeans west. For example, the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620. But 1620 also saw the defeat of the Poles by the Muslims at the Battle of Tutora. Given this situation, the logical approach for Europeans seeking a better life would be to move west.

What specifically prompts this post, is a "60 Minutes" video interview with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. While this is an interview of today, it's significance is that Western Europe continues to ignore the continued multi-century ethnic cleansing of Christians from formally Christian areas. This is one of the few times that a major news program has acknowledged this piece of "neglected" history. In that video Bartholomew laments that Western Europe has abandoned the Christians in Turkey and that the Christian population continues to decline (move out).

As another example of the decline in a Christian population because of out-migration, you also may be interested in the video Tiabe, the last Christian town remaining in the Holy Land (Palestine). I have also brought up the European diaspora here.

On the topic of balanced news from major news sources (such as the Washington Post and the New York Times); when Easter roles around the news media routinely provides front page coverage on the Roman Catholics celebrating Easter, but have you seen any articles on Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian Christians celebrating Easter?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Microsoft retires Windows 2000, Windows XP SP2

Microsoft has retired Windows 2000 and Windows XP SP2. Rob Pegoraro has a nice write-up in the Washington Post covering this. My concern isn't with Microsoft retiring these programs, but with an implication that seldom gets attention.

No product, especially software lives forever. Someday it becomes obsolete, so when a company discontinues support for a product those who want to continue using the product should be entitled to receive a FINAL CD. Also nothing wrong with the company charging a nominal fee for that final CD.

In discontinuing a product, the company has abandoned the product. With that abandonment in mind, the product should fall immediately into the public domain so that the user community, it it wishes to, can maintain the software. The users payed to acquire the software and hardware so they have a legitimate property right to continue to use it. There simply is no reason why software and hardware has to be figuratively tossed into the trash because a company declares it "obsolete" while it can still perform useful work. That constitutes an economic "waste" to both society and the individual. With the free-market, let the user community decide when a product no longer meets their needs and should be migrated to the dump.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grigori Perelman and Intellectual Property

Grigori Perelman, a Russian Mathematician, was awarded one million dollars and turned it down according to the Washington Post. The Post writes: "Three months ago, a famously impoverished Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman was awarded the prestigious $1 million Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize for his groundbreaking work -- having solved a problem of three-dimensional geometry that had resisted scores of brilliant mathematicians since 1904. ... Thursday, the institute announced that Perelman, known equally for his brilliance and his eccentricities, formally and finally turned down the award and the money. He didn't deserve it, he told a Russian news service, because he was following a mathematical path set by another." (emphasis added).

It wasn't until I started reading reader comments on this article that there was a strong link to the copyright/patent debate. Those in favor of "strong" copyright assert that it is necessary to foster creativity. Obviously that is not true since people were creative before copyright/patent law ever existed. But that is not my point with this post, several readers commented that the motivating force for Grigori Perelman was his love of mathematics. So many of the readers immediately perceived that this creativity was not about the money or otherwise making some form of intellectual property claim.

Furthermore the Post notes that "Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman isn't the first one to turn down a substantial prize for personal reasons. Take look at some other figures who have turned down large sums and rewards to maintain their integrity."

The Continued Quest by Corporations to Criminalize Behavior They Do not Like

Soon after posting "Federal Rules on Campus File Sharing Kick in Today" I ran across the posting on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Ticketmaster's Terms of Service Cannot Make You a Criminal". The link between the two posts is the continued erosion of personal liberties through the criminalization of activities deemed inappropriate by various corporate interests. In theory we are a free market economy, I guess not. It's unfortunate that the government seems to acquiesce to the corporate demands for ever greater criminalization.

In its posting on Ticketmaster the EFF writes: "The four defendants in this case are the operators of Wiseguys Tickets, Inc., a ticket-reselling service. In its indictment, the government claims the four purchased tickets from Ticketmaster by automated means, violating Ticketmaster's terms of service and therefore the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)." (emphasis added). "... under the government's theory, websites could put the power of criminal law behind their own terms of service to create severe obstacles for their competitors," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann.

Besides the obvious injustice of corporations attempting criminalize unappreciated behavior there is the little fact that virtually every terms-of-service "contract" on the internet is subject to change without notice. A partial quote of Ticketmaster terms-of-service from the EFF Amicus Brief, "By accessing, browsing, or using this website, you acknowledge that you have read, understood, and agree to be bound by these Terms. We may update these Terms at any time, without notice to you. Each time you access this website, you agree to be bound by the Terms then in effect." Great loophole for retroactively deciding to define something criminal after-the-fact.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Time Warner Joins the Dark Side

Well Time-Warner has just joined Staples, Verizon, and Intuit in my wall of shame. In this case Time-Warner proclaims that as a valued customer that they will continue to offer me a Price Lock Guarantee. As is typical with these so-called contracts, the only obligation is on the customer to pay. Time Warner, however, reserves to itself the right to discontinue any service at any time. In theory, Time-Warner could cut me off from all services and still charge me. (Click on the text to see it better) I learned of this from Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog "Tales of misguided customer service". Soon after reading I received my own personal invitation to sign my life away. To be fair to Time-Warner, I do not have any complaints about their service. Also Time-Warner need some flexibility as does the subscriber. Nevertheless, it points to corporations abusing the English language and making promises that upon inspection are empty. Of course I can't resist using Time-Warner's non-nonsensical motto: "The Power of You"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Federal Rules on Campus File Sharing Kick in Today

CNET today reported that "Federal rules on campus file sharing kick in today". The quick take, this is simply another law that incrementally assaults our civil liberties in the name of fighting a "war", in this case the war against piracy. This law would seem to violate at least three fundamental principles.

One is due process, if the finger of blame is pointed at you, you are guilty by default and can be immediately disciplined. Think your innocent, well you will have to prove it.

Second, "wiretapping". People seem to get all vocal and hysterical about wiretapping and the need for little bureaucratic details such as a search warrant. However, when it comes to an overt invasion of privacy for the purposes of fighting piracy there is a sudden attack of laryngitis not to mention the apparent use of Valium. Search warrant, none needed.

Third, this law essentially forces universities to act as a private police force for the sole benefit of the content industry. Technically, infringement is supposed to be a civil matter, but it has been turned into a criminal matter that includes forcing universities to protect the revenue stream of the content industry. This is perfectly illustrated by: "The greatest constraint on your future liberties may come not from government but from corporate legal departments laboring to protect by force what can no longer be protected by practical efficiency or general social consent." Thanks to Thanks to William Stepp at Against Monopoly for finding the quote below from John Perry Barlow.

Imagine this onerous hypothetical example. An RIAA executive taps you on the shoulder and demands that you break into the house that he is pointing to, that you search the house for unauthorized content, if you find it that you bring it to him. Search warrant? None needed. So how can he force you to break and enter someone else's house to "protect" his property that you have no interest in? If you refuse, you go to jail. Doesn't sound legal, but given today's trends it seems we are headed that way.

You may also be interest in:
"New rules bring online piracy fight to US campuses"
"Universities Struggling To Deal With Law Requiring Them To Fight File Sharing"
"The Next Generation Of Anti-Piracy Legislation Goes To School"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Casual Observations on Bliski

On June 28, 2010 the US Supreme Court finally issued its long awaited Bilski (BILSKI ET AL. v. KAPPOS,) decision. Like many I was hoping that the Court would put an end to patents on business methods and software. Alas, they did not. The Court simply restricted its decision to rejecting Bilki's patent application "for a claimed invention that explains how commodities buyers and sellers in the energy market can protect, or hedge, against the risk of price changes" as being too abstract. On the greater question of whether business methods or software can be patented, the Court essentially deferred that decision to a later day.

Like many I was very interest in reading what others had to say. I was quickly amazed at the diversity of headlines. So the headlines, in a limited way, became a mini-story.

Washington Post: "Supreme Court relaxes limits on innovations that can be patented"
New York Times: "Justices Take Broad View of Business Method Patents"

The two headlines above, as the stories themselves proved to be, are deceptive. The Washington Post for example inaccurately wrote "The Supreme Court on Monday loosened the limits on the kinds of inventions that are eligible for patent protection in a case that was closely watched for its impacts on innovation. "

Surprisingly, the New York Times Bits section had this headline: Bilski Ruling: The Patent Wars Untouched. Congratulations to Bits' Steve Lohr who wrote: "The court issued its much-anticipated ruling in the big patent case — Bilski and Warsaw v. Kappos — and it was anything but a landmark decision."

Los Angeles Times even got it right: "Supreme Court rules that patent of hedging weather-related risk cannot be granted". Jesse Holland wrote: "The Supreme Court on Monday refused to weigh in on whether software, online-shopping techniques and medical diagnostic tests can be patented, saying only that inventors' request for protection of a method of hedging weather-related risk in energy prices cannot be granted."

Its always interesting to see how various newspapers report the same story. Especially in the case where each reporter has the case before them. Biases clearly weigh in.

While the Bilski decision essentially proved to be a non-decision for eliminating the ability to patent business methods or software, the attempt by Bilski to obtain a patent points to some very troubling and growing trends in patent law. Like copyright law, the courts have been pressured into granting ever greater monopoly power to the patent holders. Up until the 1998 Federal Circuit State Street decision, patent applications for business methods and software were routinely rejected. Unfortunately, exposing the "land grab" of those seeking ever stronger patent rights seems to get overlooked in the popular press.

Perhaps the most onerous aspect of the patent "land grab" is that those who seek business method patents are not seeking a patent on a particular "object", but on the entire concept of that object.

Let's use the starter motor of a car as an example. There are many types of starter motors. It would also be safe to say that each manufacturer of a starter motor probably has patents on those motors. Nevertheless, they are each able to manufacture a starter motor. However, if we apply the concept of business method, the patent ends up no longer being restricted to the object that you are producing but to the entire concept of "starter motor". What that means is that only the patent holder would have a right to manufacture starter motors. Everyone else would have to get permission from the patent holder. How about that for monopoly power!

As an example of this aggrandizing process Acacia Technologies received a patent for sending and receiving of streaming audio and video over the Internet. The Electronic Frontier Foundation busted the Acacia Technologies patent. The EFF noted a: "Laughably broad patent would cover everything from online distribution of home movies to scanned documents and MP3s"

While Bilki decision did not address the big picture concerning inappropriately granting patents, it did at least, in this one case, slow the march towards ever greater absurd patents.