Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The BlackBerry Story

I'm something of a gadget luddite. I hate cell-phones, so you won't be seeing me carting around a BlackBerry any time soon. What does interest me is the story of the patent lawsuit surrounding the gadget. And quite a tale it is. There are lessons for lawyers and businessmen throughout, but to me the bigger picture of the application of patents in the computer age is summed up toward the end:

"'There's a tremendous amount of innovation and hard work that goes into taking an idea and realizing it and then making it into a product,' Mr. Lazaridis [alleged BlackBerry innovator] says defiantly. 'There are 16 million lines of code in BlackBerry. Sixteen million. It's hard to imagine 16 million lines of code. They all have to work in harmony and perfection to make this thing do its job. Are you trying to tell me that one little concept is more important than another little concept, and that it didn't take man-years and man-years of effort to make all that stuff work?'"

You see: computer software is just math. It doesn't matter if you use geometry, a unit circle, or complex numbers to derive the sine function. The end result is the same number.

The Comming End of Home Theater Innovation

Here's another example in the continuing efforts to make consumers pay for every second they spend viewing, listening, or otherwise being exposed to entertainment. This time it's the end of being able to build a home theatre PC yourself.

They Want to Raise Our Chocolate Ration

If George Orwell's 1984 isn't reality yet, it's simply due to lack of coordination. Some congressional staffers are sure doing their best to present the newspeak though.

THIS is the New Media

And it's different from the old media. Weblogs aren't usually about being journalists (though they can be); they are about being people. And people tend to be as alike as they are different. Even in Syria.

The world continues to shrink as we come closer and closer to fixing that whole Tower of Babel situation. The spread of ideas can be two-way. Globalism isn't always bad. And no country's people should be judged by the actions of a minority, no matter how vocal they become.

I just wish it was easier.

Too Odd Not to Post

The idea of transsexuals getting two ID cards is just too wacky to pass by. I don't know if this is bureaucracy gone nuts or the perfect solution to a problem that never needed to be solved. I suppose if it were both the symmetry would be complete...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Politics vs. Science

Once again it appears that the Bush administration is attempting to suppress scientific viewpoints that disagree with their policies. No matter where you fall on the global warming debate, I would hope that getting scientifically accurate facts to inform your opinion would be considered a good thing. Apparently that's not true for the current crop of vote gatherers.

I've linked through the Science Blog instead of directly to the NYT article due to the registration requirements of the latter.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Potentially Great News

If you are afraid of the avian flu, there may be hope. A vaccine has been produced that appears to be completely effective in early animal tests. And it's even easier to make than other types of flu vaccines. Could this spell the end to the avian flu pandemic before it begins?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Monster Inc.s

[Edited to get my comparison to the right order of magnitude. Post-workday braindead moment, sorry about that.]

When you buy something for a sum that most companies would love to see as their profit for a year, it makes headlines. Of course, it's not actual money, but a stock deal. Pixar has long been the best thing Disney had going (and its lineage dates back to Star Wars). Will being brought under the giant corporate umbrella of The Mouse be the end, or a new beginning?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dropping a Network

The powers behind the WB network and UPN are giving up their own and combining. The programming on both networks combined should allow them to populate a full week, which they currently can not do. The only reason it matters to me is Veronica Mars, which is possibly my favorite show on TV at the moment, competing with Battlestar Galactica. Oddly enough, Lucy Lawless is a guest star on both show. I don't know why, but thems the breaks.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Another Reason I Shouldn't Get an HD TV

As if the potential wallet decimation weren't enough, it seems the high def movies coming next year aren't going to be much of a reason to get an HD TV.

Hey, all you big "entertainment" corporations! Yeah, I'm talking to you! I pay for the stuff I want to keep. So does everyone else I know. You want to stop piracy, go after the big pirates that hurt you. You want to stop piracy, stop grubbing for every potential penny you can get. Give me a five dollar CD, and I can impulse buy a stack of 'em for a song here or there. You hated the VCR and it made you tons of money. Now you hate digital technology, but DVD sales have done enough to revive canceled shows and to get people to actually pay you for rerun fodder. The only thing you are doing by adding layer after layer of acronyms is making it harder for consumers to enjoy what you are selling. At some point, it really is going to be easier to get the high quality copy off the internet than it will be to come up with a compliant stack of devices.

Reporting on the Reporting

Apparently all journalists aren't complacent about the sorry state of reporting coming out of Iraq. As dangerous a job as it can be, isn't that all the more reason to find the real facts of the situation? Don't the reporters realize that, to paraphrase an old proverb, one car bomb is news but one every day for a year is a statistic? You don't ignore the latest one, you just add it to the tally and get on the the real news that we need to have to make informed decisions at the polls.

More TV Exec Stupidity

So, you've got a big name star and a big hole to fill in your schedule. Roll out the promotional machine! The only thing they didn't have was an interesting show... Oops.

Civil Crankyness

Recent eminent domain rulings have prompted an unusual response from some citizens. While I would like to think that such tactics will work, only the voters can say for sure. Even so, I don't have much confidence that many people even know what eminent domain is, let alone what it could cost them.

Almost, but not Quite

I'm not a huge fan of the current administration. Neither is this man. I started off wondering if he had somehow gotten more information that I have to make his judgements. From the article, it doesn't seem so. He levels a very credible claim of jailing without charge or recourse. He has a record of service and a pretty decent argument behind him. Unfortunately, Mr. Belafonte undermines his own argument by trotting out the tired case that Bush did not win the 2001 election. Perhaps some people weren't paying attention, but Bush is in his second term. The '01 election is very, very old news. And as for Iraq not aggressing (to borrow Belafonte's dubious verb), we were brought into the conflict to aid Kuwait, and in the process of enforcing U.N. mandates our planes were repeatedly targeted and fired on. For years.

Certainly Not a Gentleman

So, if these antics had been done by a professed straight man, would the reaction be a bit different?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

It Won't Be Like Aliens, Really

It looks like China is going to attempt to be the first country to get a working fusion reactor going. This sounds like hype to me (especially considering I trust Chinese media sources even less that the American and British ones). On the other hand, if someone does get to fusion plant going, it can only be good for the rest of us. Assuming it works.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Bout of Actual Journalism on Wiretapping

Robert Cringley of PBS has a very well done article on the history and laws involved in the wiretapping issue. It is nice to finally see this stuff be put into the proper context instead of the usual parroting of spokesman-spouted hyperbole.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Prolonging a Pointless Debate

I come down squarely on the "it is not science" side of the intelligent design debate. Anything that requires saying something is just too complicated to figure out to me not only isn't science, it is anti-science. When matter and antimatter collide, they annihilate each other, converting all their mass into energy. When science and anti-science get together, they spawn endless, pointless debate thus robbing the universe of energy.

For those that still care I present a couple of reasonable salvos. In the left corner wearing his newspaper columns and writing credentials we have fellow G'boro resident Orson Scott Card. In the right corner flying the colors of a web site with a history of actual journalism, we have John Timmer.

While you ponder and debate, I believe I will go see if Lost manages to regain any of its first season glory, or if it remains mired in pointlessness. One of us is probably wasting their time...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Watching the Watchers

It seems the NSA has been eager to have overly broad investigations for a while now. In other spying news, the first lawsuit rolls in. Because if nothing else, lawyers spawn laws which require lawyers to figure out. And finally for today, it appears that Iran's get out of jail free threat worked. At least on some people.

Sometimes There is a Fine Line

Now I've posted a couple of articles about religious nuttiness recently, and this could well be another. Unlike the purely political or wholly self-serving wackos I have mentioned so far, this wacko might have a point. Even if it is buried in overly flowery language that attributes perhaps too much personality to a generally indifferent natural world. (God didn't make us build a coastal city below sea level.)

The Post that Should Have Happened Yesterday

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."

"...and I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man."

A small sampling from a great man who's birthday most of us didn't celebrate yesterday. (Those are some of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., for those that don't already know it.)

Here's to all the dreamers.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Watching the Wording

The subject of the article in question is another space probe containing plutonium as fuel. The subject of this post is one sentence in the article stating that the radiothermal generator sticks out of the probe "like a gun on a tank." Clever bit of word play that. It has all the implications of death and destruction of a military vehicle's gun barrel while avoiding any of that sticky need for accuracy that reporters are supposed to have since it's just a colorful analogy.

Attempting to Apply Leverage

Iran is threatening that keeping them from doing nuclear research will lead to higher oil prices than it otherwise might. This is a perfect example of why every effort must be made to make our country energy self-sufficient.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Job That Requires Patience and Precision

Seven years, nearly three billion miles, and returning with a cargo that will amount to around a teaspoon of dust. Congrats folks, time to get to work on the analysis.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Trial Balloon Sighting?

It has been a slow couple of days on the news front. Everything seems to be more of the same. An interview with the First Lady did turn up some interesting comments, however. I don't know if this is a planned testing of the waters or not. Though I am inclined to think that Mrs. Bush is simply voicing an opinion, she did say that her family had been in politics for a long time.

I've been predicting a Hillary Clinton vs. Condoleeza Rice presidential race in '08 for over a year now (based on nothing but gut feeling). Rice may not want to run now, but if her party needs her, and if she appeared to have a decent shot at being both the first female and the first african-American president... As with so many things, time will tell.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Today's Quotation

From a declaration by several Central American foreign ministers, as reported by the BBC: "Migrants, regardless of their migratory status, are not and should not be treated like criminals."

Uh huh.

Let me see if I have this straight. Just because someone is breaking the law, they shouldn't be treated as a criminal. Now I won't bring up the possibility that the governments of certain countries have a vested interest in keeping money produced in the U.S. flowing into their coffers. That would be a distraction, we are talking about a group of people doing something that is illegal. Perhaps it's my public school education, but I'm pretty sure that if you are doing something illegal then you are a criminal by definition.

Remember What DEFCON Stands For?

So Iran has broken the seals on the UN closed nuclear facilities. Iran assures us that they have nothing but good intentions. Naturally they immediately demonstrate how trustworthy they are by reneging earlier promises.

In unrelated news, President Bush assured reporters today that the U.S. had several spare cans of whup-arse should they be needed. He also stated that with the tension still running high in Iraq, a quick joy ride through the desert for some straightforward destruction could be just what the troops need to improve morale.

I probably made that last bit up. He really only discussed it with Dick and Condie...

OK, I made that up too. As far as I know.

The Stars Like Dust

Actually, it's stars and dust in these images. Orbital telescopes are nifty, but it would be nice to have one on the far side of the moon.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Games and Violence

Another study has been done reporting to show that violent video games lead to violent people. What it actually shows is that exposure to violent images reduces the reaction to violent images. Whee. The critics of the conclusion were kindly given a paragraph down toward the bottom of the article.

Look you guys, stop coming up with specious conclusions about video games OK? Will watching Battlestar Galactica lead to me talking to a tall, blonde woman that no one else can see? OK, that's possibly a bad example, but let's just say that I love the Half-Life series, so you don't want to make me angry...

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Watching the Watchers

It looks like the wiretapping story will be a slow burn. That's fine by me. Less media fatigue that way. The NSA head isn't concerned. The people seem to be.

Today's Quotation

What we've got here is a failure to communicate. --Cool Hand Luke

One of the Side Risks of Avian Flu

With danger comes fear. Even when the danger is slight, the fear may not be. It's a cautionary tale for the future. Especially the potential future where a flu pandemic begins. Panic will be one of the greatest enemies in that battle.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Speaking of Religious Nut Jobs

Talk about bending backward to see what you want to see. It's two thousand and fracking six, and some people are still living in the dark ages.

I Really Shouldn't Give Him Any Notice But...

People like Pat Robertson are giving Christians a bad name. I urge you to please not take anything he says as representative of Christians or mainstream Christian beliefs. And Pat, watch out for stray lightning.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

News Flash

Apparently, the media isn't doing a very good job right now. As we used to say in the '80's: well duh.

Trees down! TREES DOWN!

Another Fox property beloved by fans may get a resurrection. Family Guy got a new lease on TV life, Firefly begat Serenity, and now there is a chance for the return of Futurama. The story perpetuates the five season myth; there were only four production seasons. Fox stretched it out to five broadcast seasons by continually preempting the show with sports and other events. It was then that I started referring to the 7 PM Sunday evening hour as the Futurama Death Slot.
So my question is: how many times will this happen to shows before the networks get a clue? Arrested Development may or may not be get to another network, but the handwriting is on the wall. The times are changing.

Trucks and SUVs vs. Cars

Once upon a time I regularly read Physics Today. I even understood a good one quarter to one third of the articles. Those days are long past, but it was nice to see an approachable article on the physics of car crashes show up on the radar today. Keep in mind this is a peer reviewed journal on the subject of Physics, so the tone is a bit dryer than your typical Scientific American article, but there is good stuff in there. The reason it hit the 'net is this quote: "The evidence is compelling that body-on-frame light trucks cannot[sic] safely coexist with passenger cars under existing conditions." There is more to the article[PDF].

Coyotes in the City

It appears that contrary to popular belief, the animals that inspired everyone's favorite road runner chaser can do just fine in cities. And they are helping to control the booming Canada goose population.

Raising My Blood Pressure

Today's discussion question: What is more annoying, having someone lie to you about an appointment time when you are expecting it (like every time you visit a doctor), or having someone lie about an appointment time when you are not expecting it (service people usually; cable, plumber, etc.)?

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

One Dangerous Idea Among Many

I am barely skimming the list of dangerous ideas posted in response to edge.org's question. Some of the responses are better than others, and some are more interesting to me than others. Haim Harari's however, stands out so far. I wish I could provide a direct link, but the pages aren't set up like that. It's on the second page toward the bottom.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Headline Hunting

Over on scienceblog we have the choice, "Cannibalism eats away at researchers." It's about prion disease transmission if I'm understanding it properly...

Following Up on the Cute

OK, so scientists are studying cute. There's a joke in there about studying things that you aren't, but I'm not going there. Besides I knew a couple of cute scientists-in-training back in the day.

And I don't think manatees are cute. Pitiful, yes. Cute, no.

Watching the Watchers

Today's political story is one that we will be hearing about for months. What can you say about what could be a massive conspiracy haul? How about faster, pussycat; kill; kill?

You should probably take my predictions with a grain of salt though. It appears that my last prediction of a story that was going to be big (the wiretapping issue) has fallen out of the headlines.

Update: Then again maybe it isn't completely gone yet. And yes, Lincon is still the greatest President America has produced.

Business is Killing Innovation

Because I am a working computer programmer, I have to limit what I say publicly on the subject of patents. I'll just link a Business Week article on the subject and declare it interesting.

It's not the Size That Matters, it's the Resolution

For quite a long time I have had an image in my head of a hustler sitting in a spaceport browsing the headlines on the inside of his mirrored glasses while watching through the information for his next mark to step off a flight.

People are working on the public spaceports, and it appears others are working on the info-shades as well. Yes, they look better than that in my head.

Monday, January 2, 2006

Things We Learned Last Year

There are some things on the list that I really didn't need to know. My favorite entry is that The Very Hungry Caterpillar has sold one copy every minute since its publication in 1969.

Today's Quotation

"...when it comes to technology, government doesn't really know what it is doing." --Robert X. Cringely in his Dec. 22nd I, Cringely column.