September 2011 Archives

iPhoto vs SWYP

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“See What You Print.”

Brilliant.

Why doesn’t iPhoto make printing this easy?

A lot of hubbub has been made of Netflix’s decision to spin off its disc-in-the-mail service. The reason I kept using Netflix even after the price increase was the complementary combination of (1) “whatever I might want to watch so long as I can wait for it” and (2) “some of whatever I might want to watch if I want to watch it instantly”.

Since these are no longer bundled with each other, I now feel free to shop around for my instant streaming service. As for discs by mail? I’ll shop for them, too, maybe at the local Redbox.

I don’t think Netflix is worried about the latter, but I’d guess they’re not expecting the former.

Obama: “The odds of me being reelected are much higher than the odds of me being elected in the first place.”

In related news, the odds of his using a possessive with a gerund? Exactly zero.

The problem with Obama’s math is the underlying assumption that the government has to spend money that it doesn’t have in the first place. It’s maddening to watch this man repeat Act I: Promise big spending, then go look for money between the couch cushions.

Who ends up happy with that kind of nonsensical approach?

Maybe you don’t choose to believe Rick Perry’s assertion that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme—even though he is technically correct—because he’s a politician.

So let’s ask Nobel laureate Milton Friedman what he thinks. Mr. Friedman titled this article on Social Security, “The Biggest Ponzi Scheme on Earth”…

in 1999.

If you don’t trust the dictionary and a Nobel Prize-winning economist, then you truly have your head buried… Let’s just say it’s buried in the sand, shall we?

And then let’s ask Why do you care in the first place? Why are the Republican candidates jumping all over each other to defend the “good name” of Social Security? Why are Democrats doing the same? Who cares?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Similarly, when I step in a pile of dog poo (or, more likely, run it over with a mower), I’m not confused by fancy names like “Social Security” or “a compact between the generations.”

It’s still a Ponzi scheme. Period.

Along with all the other liberal ilk of his kind, John Gruber cherry picks this quote from The Economist:

The Economist on Texas governor Rick Perry’s crackpot claim that Social Security “is a Ponzi scheme”:

No Ponzi scheme in the history of the world has ever lasted 75 years.

Just because no other Ponzi scheme has lasted 75 years doesn’t make Social Security any less of a Ponzi scheme. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck1 (before the liberal mainstream media redefines “duck,” of course2), then it is a duck, no matter how old it is.

Besides, who really cares if anybody calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme? Does that change the fact that Social Security is an insolvent, underfunded mess?


1 By all definitions of “Ponzi scheme” I can find, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Check out the wikipedia entry, for example. Or this, from the SEC:

A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors. Ponzi scheme organizers often solicit new investors by promising to invest funds in opportunities claimed to generate high returns with little or no risk.

What’s not a Ponzi scheme about Social Security?

2 Here, for example. It is interesting that few of the items in the Mother Jones Makes Up Its Own Definition for “Ponzi Scheme” Venn diagram in that article appear in the real definitions of Ponzi scheme.

A year ago, I asked my dad the following:

You remember December 7, 1941, right? It’s your generation’s 9/11.

When were people able or allowed to “be happy” on Dec. 7? How many years? Was it the end of WWII? Or something else?

What I meant, of course, is not “Can we celebrate 9/11 and be happy about it?” but rather, “Do we really have to be so gloomy on this day? Can someone celebrate their birthday if it happens to be 9/11?”

And I was genuinely interested in what happened over the years after Pearl Harbor, how the nation’s psyche dealt with the tragedy of his day. I thought it might shed some light on how our nation’s psyche should or could deal with the tragedy of this day. I felt then, and still do now, that for some reason we are being led to be unhappy on this day, especially this particular year.

I wondered why.

Here’s his response, more appropriate now than ever:

Hmmmm. You have made me think. So the first thing I thunk of was I had better go down the hall for a cup of coffee. Now I have it and I still have to think a bit.

I was nine years old when Pearl Harbor happened and, I suppose, in the fourth grade. So what was happening around me didn’t register like 9/11 would have for you. It did register, but in the same way as major events register for many people: they can remember where they were and what they were doing at the time the learned of the event. I have several such recollections, although on some I don’t have the date exact: Pearl Harbor, FDR’s death (playing in the back yard, April 1945—the 18th maybe), Japan’s surrender (Camp Allen mess hall, August 1945—12th), Kennedy’s assassination (teaching a programming course for honors freshman engineering students at Purdue, date foggy), 9/11 (right here).

As a nine-year-old, I was not aware of the storm of war in Europe or in Asia. Hitler’s invasion of Poland would not have registered on a then seven-year-old. So Pearl Harbor was obviously in my mind a big event but I did not see a big picture. FDR’s and the Congress’ declaration of war was also big, but again, I would have had no big picture.

Another facet of this is how we got news. There was no TV. We got news from the newspaper and the radio. Many folks got their news in one or two half-hour doses from the radio, one at noon and one around supper time. And not on the weekends, of course. So we were not continually bombarded with what today passes for “news.” We got the big picture. A battle raging here, a ship sunk there, a victory over the Axis somewhere, and so on.

News did become local at times when a “local boy” was killed in the war. But even that was not in my life much more than a story in the local Daily Peoples Press.

Are you thinking, Is he ever going to get to an answer? OK, right here! We were not led to be unhappy. Pearl Harbor Day, “a day that shall live in infamy,” was certainly noted each year. But during the Second World War we had other things to think about. That day in 1942 would have had little positive news. By that day in 1943, things were looking better, we might beat those Axis guys. By 1944, we had landed in Europe and were moving ahead (the Battle of the Bulge was bad news yet to come). We were moving in on Japan, island by island. Of course, by 1945, the war was over.

I do not remember gloom associated with Pearl Harbor Day. It was marked as a memorial both to the act and to the beginning of the U.S. entry into the war and all that that meant. Pearl Harbor the place became the physical memorial.

I am aware of the date each year and which anniversary it is. What often comes to mind during that brief awareness is a picture, a mental picture, not a real one. I am lying on the living room floor at 2-something East Mill Street, Owatonna, reading the Sunday funnies in color. I am still dressed for church and dinner (maybe in knickers and long stockings), which are over. The rug is a dark pattern. I see myself with my chin resting on my hands, my elbows on the floor, my legs bent at the knees to put my feet in the air. Now why that picture, I sure don’t know! But I know I read that way sometimes.

So the simple answer to your question is that to be “happy” was not a decision to be concerned with. We noted the day and went about our business or school or play and we didn’t get reminded from every direction what happened that day with graphic pictures replayed countless times accompanied by breathless commentary.

Oh, and note that 9/11 has no meaning at all to any of our grandchildren.

Gee, that was fun and I still have about half my coffee left!

Love, Dad

Now, a year after he replied, I know exactly what’s in store for Sunday, September 11th, 2011. It’s going to be a day filled with remembrance, certainly. But as he so aptly pointed out to me, we both think we will be led to be unhappy, though he came to that conclusion a year ago. It will be a day filled with “breathless commentary” and “graphic pictures replayed countless times.” And I don’t think that’s the way it should be.

I don’t need a crystal ball to know what will happen as I sit here writing this two days prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the tenth anniversary of another day which will very much live in infamy. No, I have the TV. It’s being hyped regularly as a full day of programming—such an apropos word, don’t you think? And that’s probably what makes me sad more than anything else. Instead of getting a well-deserved breath of relief, a catharsis, we’re going to relive that day, minute-by-minute, over and over.

Being bombarded by “what today passes for news” is not how progress is made. This is not how we heal. Sometimes the doctor orders quiet, respite, and rest. We won’t get that this year.

I learned from my Dad in his E-mail that much of the way they healed from Pearl Harbor was by celebrating the victories that followed. So, too, could we be celebrating the demise of various bad guys who orchestrated the events of a decade ago. It should be OK to celebrate the successes our country has had on the battlefield. We went to war, and we accomplished many of the goals we set out to accomplish. We could mark these events as turning points, times at which we could say, That’s done now. Times when we could recognize that we can move forward.

Instead, these accomplishments will be minimized in the nation’s dialog two days from now. We’re being instructed to be accepting of the bad guys’ anger and to try to understand their viewpoint and to recognize that blah blah blah. Maybe that’s a good idea, but some other day, perhaps? This day isn’t about them. It’s about us. Or, U.S., really. How can we move forward if the very events which might provide some traction are the very events which are being pushed aside?

We also move forward by sharing tears with and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with those who lost co-workers, friends, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children, parents…. Instead, we will memorialize the events of September 11, 2001, with the aggrandizement of politicians, some of whose political lives hadn’t even started a decade ago. These are not the people the public wants to commiserate with. These are not the people whose grief should be shared. These are not the people we want to reach out and hug. So instead of sharing grief with the people who may desperately need to share, we and they are not being given a much-needed opportunity to move forward, to heal.

For many, this day and all which have yet to come will be days filled with tragedy and sadness—there’s no getting past that fact. Those who lost someone close to them or were injured as a result of the events of 9/11 or as a result of the ensuing wars will never be the same. It is for their sake and the sake of the rest of the country that I hope and pray that we will learn from this year as an example of how not to mark the anniversary of a tragedy.

We should learn so that we can heal.

On Software Patents

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Mother Nature is a royal pain to work with, but hold that thought for just a moment.

I started drafting this entry with a huge treatise on how our patent system got to be where it is, with software patents making a tremendous mess. After about 1,000 words, I realized that I was wasting my time and yours—I wasn’t telling you anything you probably already didn’t know, so the novelty (ahem) and usefulness (ahem, ahem) of the post was lost. We are where we are, and it’s a wreck.

Instead I ask: What is it that makes a software patent so darned bad and other patents (“Method of Swinging on a Swing” notwithstanding) so good?

After much thought and consideration, I realized that the crux of the matter can be summarized by (Lookout! Language alert!): “Mother Nature is a bitch.”

To me, inventing something and implementing something worthy of patenting should be inherently difficult because the rules you’re working against are real, hard and fast rules—until you find a way to break them, that is. Though software itself is not easy (Have you ever tried writing a simple database? It’s harder than it looks…) it does not have the restrictions surrounding it that Mother Nature imposes on the physical world. Amazon’s famous “1-Click” patent, for example, doesn’t offer a solution in the real world that Mother Nature herself is struggling against. The laws of physics, chemistry and biology are not challenged in the remotest way by this patent.

Indeed, in the Canadian examination of 1-Click, the Patent Commissioner cited in her rejection a Canadian case, Lawson, as cited in by Wilson J. in Shell Oil at page 555:

An art or operation is an act or series of acts performed by some physical agent upon some physical object and producing in such object some change either of character or condition…It is concrete in that it consists in the application of physical agents to physical objects and then is apparent to the senses in connection with some tangible object or instrument.

Ah, so something that is tangible, and not virtual seems to be worthy of patenting according to this examiner. The European Patent Convention, Article 52, agrees, saying

(1) European patents shall be granted for any inventions which are susceptible of industrial application, which are new and which involve an inventive step.

(2) The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions within the meaning of paragraph 1: (a) discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods; (b) aesthetic creations; (c) schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers; (d) presentations of information.

In short, at least two other jurisdictions think the abstract shouldn’t be patentable, and yet here we have just that: a patent which doesn’t do anything in the “real world.” This patent and all of its ilk feel wrong to me because there aren’t any laws of nature in the abstract, virtual world of computer bits and bytes. There aren’t any restrictions on what you can and can’t do—you have seen The Matrix, haven’t you? There’s just no challenge in accepting a click and making a transaction.

So should software patents be granted? No, simply because the limits imposed upon them are nonexistent.

But… are there special cases for software patents which should be granted? Well… sorta’, but they bend the rules of Mother Nature, so they aren’t purely software. For example, the MP3 patents demonstrate technology which reconstructs music and other sounds in such a way as to break the theorems of Shannon and Nyquist, both players for Mother Nature’s team. (Although strictly speaking, we only perceive that the rules are being broken, but again, it’s something that is, in a manner of speaking, tangible.) Even lossless compression algorithms deserve patents because they push Mother Nature’s buttons, the physical result of these being reduced consumption of storage or bandwidth.

This type of patent, though, is a tricky gray area, and one worthy of the courts and worthy of the time and effort that patent examiners put into their caseloads. If we kept their work clear of ludicrous patents such as this one for the linked list, then perhaps they would have time to examine these situations which are not quite as clear-cut.

The bottom line for me is that if I can’t patent a mathematical formula (nobody can), but I can patent a device which implements the formula in such a way as to be “apparent to the senses in connection with some tangible object or instrument,” then I don’t believe that software which does nothing tangible should be patentable, either.

Because Mother Nature is one tough cookie, and I should get some props when I crumble that cookie.

Three snow days already, and we haven’t even started school for the year yet.

Kinda’ weird, no?

I just love it when the rich say “Tax me more!” I say to the government, “Just do it…

“…and keep your filthy, liberal tax-and-spend hands off the income of the hard-working Americans whose joint incomes are $250,000, whose student loans aren’t tax deductible, whose careers just started in their 30’s, whose 80-hour weeks are required to run their small businesses, whose payroll taxes are being squandered on subsidies for useless airports instead of being used for their retirements, and whose retirement investments depend on worthless AA+ T-bills or the only-slightly-less-evil randomness of the stock market.”

Or, better yet, quit yapping and write the checks, and keep the government out of it.