Monday, November 3, 2014

Geek Archaeology

Going through the comic collection, getting ready to sell most of it off. My, the things I'm finding. Of course I'm only about 20% through so I don't know what kind of runs I have or even what other individual titles I might still find. A few issues of the Topps X-Files comics, most of the Crisis On Infinite Earths series, Detective Comics #400 in truly flawless condition, Sin City: Lost, Lonely, & Lethal in equally good condition, and a lot of early X-Men. The excavation will continue for quite a while yet.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Good News on Software Patents

The current system of software patents has been criticized by many for years now. Overly broad patents granted based on simplistic descriptions with nothing to back them up have been, in the opinion of many, a bane to real technological innovation for quite a while. I admit that I agree with that view. But then in June of this year the Supreme Court made a ruling concerning software patents. As Vox reports, while that ruling still leaves some questions about software patents up in the air it is already having an affect in lower court decisions concerning software patents. Why some software patents are no longer valid is explained by Timothy B. Lee as follows:
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Patent Office handed out a growing number of what might be called "do it on a computer" patents. These patents take some activity that people have been doing for centuries — say, holding funds in escrow until a transaction is complete — and claim the concept of performing that task with a computer or over the internet. The patents are typically vague about how to perform the task in question. The Supreme Court invalidated a patent like that in its decision this year. The patent claimed the concept of using a computer to hold funds in escrow to reduce the risk that one party would fail to deliver on an agreement. The Supreme Court ruled that the use of a computer did not turn this centuries-old concept into a new invention.
And the impact is already being felt in lower court decisions on software patents.
On July 6, a Delaware trial court rejected a Comcast patent that claimed the concept of a computerized telecommunications system checking with a user before deciding whether to establish a new connection. The court noted that the steps described in the patent could easily be performed by human beings making telephone calls.

On July 8, a New York court invalidated a patent on the concept of using a computer to help users plan meals while achieving dieting goals. The court was unimpressed with the patent holder's argument that some of the details in the patent — such as the use of "picture menus" to choose meals — was sufficient to render it a patentable idea.

On July 17, the Federal Circuit Appeals Court (which is in charge of all patent cases) rejected a patent on the concept of keeping colors synchronized across devices by building a profile that describes the characteristics of each device. The court held that the creation and use of these profiles were merely mental steps that could be done by a human being and were therefore not eligible for patent protection.

On August 26, the Federal Circuit rejected a patent that claimed the concept of running a bingo game on a computer. "Managing the game of bingo consists solely of mental steps which can be carried out by a human using pen and paper," the court ruled. Converting that process into a computer program doesn't lead to a patentable invention.

On August 29, a California court struck down a patent on a method of linking a mortgage line of credit to a checking account. The court said that the generic computer functions mentioned in the patent were not enough to merit protection.

On September 3, a Texas trial court invalidated a patent on the concept of using a computer to convert reward points from one store to another. The court held that the "invention" claimed by the patent "not fundamentally different from the kinds of commonplace financial transactions that were the subjects of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions."

In a second September 3 decision, a Delaware trial court rejected a patent on the concept of an intermediary selectively revealing information about two parties to each other — using a computer. The court noted that it has long been common for corporate headhunters to withhold certain information about an employer from potential employees (and vice versa) until both parties are ready to proceed.

On the same day, the same Delaware court invalidated a patent on the concept of using a computerized system to "upsell" customers who buy one product on other products that might interest them. The court pointed out that upselling is as old as commerce itself. In a final decision the same day, the Federal Circuit appeals court struck down a patent that claimed the concept of using surety bonds to guarantee a transaction — using a computer. The court pointed out that surety bonds have been around since ancient times, and performing this well-known transaction with the help of a computer doesn't turn it into a patentable invention.

On September 4, a California trial court rejected a patent on the concept of using a computer network to ask people to do tasks and then wait for them to do them. The court pointed out that people have done this with telephones for decades, and that doing the same thing over the internet doesn't count as an invention.

On September 11, a Florida court invalidated a patent on the concept of subtracting a small amount of money from each of many payments in order to accumulate a larger sum of money — using a computer. The court noted, these kinds of schemes have been widely known for centuries. For example, the plot of Superman III involved a villain using this kind of scheme to steal from co-workers' paychecks.
I look forward to more patents like the ones in Vox's list being invalidated and hope that companies quit filing them. If you can't show code that takes a unique approach to solving a problem then you shouldn't be granted a software patent in my opinion.

A Problem at Nature Magazine

Ars Technica has an article about something I can only call The Article That Shouldn't Have Been. This article was published in Nature earlier this year about what, if it had been real, would have been a breakthrough in "reprogramming" adult cells to work as stem cells. But the article was quickly discredited. Then the authors retracted it. That wasn't the end of the story, though. The question that then arose was how did it even get published if it was so easily disproved? It recently came to light that the paper was rejected by Cell and Science and Nature's own reviewers were highly critical of it. How it still managed to get published is still an open question. The mystery continues.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Talented Fans of Doctor Who, Part 3

Another one of the creative endeavors mentioned in the Doctor Who special about their world tour to celebrate Peter Capaldi's premier as the Doctor is The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra. A collaboration via the internet of fans from many countries, it is a joy to watch as well as listen to. Here is their 50th Anniversary suite. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

The Talented Fans of Doctor Who, Part 2

Another amazing piece of work done by a fan went viral and was so good that the producers of Doctor Who actually decided to use it for the titles of the show. This article on The AV Club goes into detail concerning how Billy Hanshaw created it and how it became the actual title sequence for the show. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

The Talented Fans of Doctor Who, Part 1

The new Doctor has arrived with much fanfare, including several specials to accompany his arrival. One of the subjects discussed, though not the main thrust of the special, is the creativeness of some of the dedicated fans of the show. This trailer for the Peter Capaldi Doctor created by a fan was one of the examples and it's an amazing piece of work. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Friday, August 22, 2014

This is Not the Jobs Program You Are Looking For

Or at least it isn't the one you should be looking for if you want something with waste approaching a rationally low level of waste. After all, no project undertaken by humans will be perfect. But using massive "defense" projects as job projects is more wasteful than usual. But there's wasteful and then there's two of the most disgraceful excuses for defense programs in existence that have, so far as I can tell, continue to exist and grow solely because of jobs. First up, that favorite that has received tons of bad press, the F-35. It has been featured on 60 Minutes in a relative puff piece, slammed as not really being stealthy in The Daily Beast, had its multiple software glitches pointed out in the IEEE Spectrum (The newsletter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.), and most directly for what I'm pointing out in this post, the Washington post has a column pointing out that the entire problem riddled program shows the complete hypocrisy of anyone who claims to be worried about the deficit even as they push for this program to continue. As pointed out in the Plum Line column:
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to extend American air superiority deep into the 21st century. The F-35 was designed to evade not just enemy fighters, but political accountability as well. Its subcontracts were spread out over 1,300 separate companies in 45 states, ensuring that members of Congress from throughout the land have an interest in keeping the project going. It’s an incredibly poor way to create jobs (depending on how you count, a single job supported by the F-35 costs the taxpayer as much as $8 million). We’ll spend around $400 billion to build the planes — nearly twice what the program was supposed to cost when it began. When this happens, nobody gets punished or held “accountable.” We just keep shoveling taxpayer money into the Lockheed coffers. And that doesn’t count the cost of repairing and maintaining the planes, which could push the cost past $1 trillion over time.
Then comes this gem courtesy of iO9. Something about the idea of spending billions to roll out a missile defense system whose functionality is still highly questionable is a pretty big waste of money as well. Even an L.A. Times article pointing out the success of a test in June included this confidence building section.
Sunday's test carried high stakes for the system, called GMD, which was declared operational a decade ago and has so far cost about $40 billion. A failure could have sharpened skepticism among members of Congress about the missile shield's reliability and cost. Before Sunday, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency had conducted 16 tests of the system's ability to intercept and destroy a target. Eight had ended in failure. Sunday's outcome may ease doubts but is unlikely to dispel them entirely. The test, like all previous ones, was carefully staged: Specialists operating the system knew the target's precise dimensions, expected trajectory, speed and time of launch — information they would not have in combat conditions.
Now, as a science fiction fan, techie and all around lover of cool technological toys I have nothing against amazing defense technology. When it works and when it can actually be deployed at a cost somewhere in the same solar system as the original estimate. But when utter garbage like these projects and the many others that have been foisted off onto the American public over the last few decades in the name not only of defending the country but in the name of jobs that have carefully been distributed to key congressional districts then I don't like them even a little bit. I cannot help but wonder how many bridges, roads, sewer systems, water systems and other vital parts of our national infrastructure could be repaired with that wasted money. There are a lot of things that need to be done in this country and programs that produce far too few jobs for far too much money hurt us, they don't help us. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Friday, June 6, 2014

Proof is Always Good to Find

For years I've read how the best explanation of the origin of the Earth/Moon system is that early in the Earth's existence it was struck by another planet and the Moon was formed from part of the Earth and the other planet, which was named Theia. Now further analysis of rocks from the Moon provide proof of that theory. The people who originally developed the models of that idea of the origins of the Moon have got to be happy about this discovery. No matter how good the models explain something I would imagine the discovery of physical proof to back them up is very satisfying.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Escher Girls Asks Us to Think About the Art

Escher Girls describes itself thusly:

This is a blog to archive and showcase the prevalence of certain ways women are depicted in illustrated pop media, specifically how women are posed, drawn, distorted and/or sexualized out of context, often in ridiculous, impossible or disturbing ways that sacrifice storytelling.

Definitely worth checking out and thinking about.

Obsidian Wings: When Tigers step on tigers

Clueless is as clueless does. I do believe it is utter cluelessness. I sincerely doubt that either Cruz, Lee or the majority of their staffs have any clue as to any environmental issue beyond the "fact" that environmental regulation is a bad thing that cripples the economy.