Archive for September, 2009
Craig Newmark put up a good article on his blog about Julius Genachowski’s position on net neutrality. I wrote a short article on it two days ago. Thanks, Craig, for mentioning OpenInternet.gov, where everyone can learn more about the issue. The full speech at the Brookings Institution is also available on OpenInternet.gov. The Internet, of course, is a world-wide resource, and not just a US institution, but the FCC regulates network operators in the US and the backbone connections that support huge portions of the net today, and what the FCC does on this issue is critical here as well as an example for the rest of the world.
Sometimes as tech fans and geeks we just assume that technology we invent will be used fairly and for the good of all. When I was inventing online learning (after a half dozen others had done it earlier—LOL) in the 1970s, I assumed that we were all working toward a common goal – making life and learning better and easier for everyone. Always surprises me when someone gains a patent on something like the process of pretest-prescribe-posttest, which we had been doing since at least the 1970s (and perhaps since B. F. Skinner experimented with computer-based teaching machines in 1954.
But the point is that unless we scrupulously protect open and even-handed access to the Internet, and don’t allow anyone to corner the net and deny us access unless we pay more, we could end up with the same kinds of fees we now see for our telephone service (it hasn’t gotten cheaper for me in all the years I’ve had phones—it seems to go up every time I change providers). Take a look at Genachowski’s talk and you’ll see why I think there’s greater hope now for the net.
 Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
Craig Newmark is Founder and Customer Support Rep for Craig’s List.
Please stay aware of this issue – network neutrality means that you, the Internet user, have access to all online content with the same priority. It means that the carriers — both those who provide backbone services and those who deliver content to your doorstep — must not block certain types, or certain origins, of content that is lawfully provided to you.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke about this [Wall Street Journal report] at the Brookings Institution earlier this week. He proposes that all carriers, including wireless carriers who handle data traffic, should have to carry traffic without regard to what its content is or who is providing that content. The new provision in his proposal is that wireless carriers would have to carry voice-over-IP traffic as well as other kinds of data, which brings very cheap voice communications to mobile devices – much cheaper than the rates now charged for mobile voice calls.
It’s been a few years since I saw Bill Dan in action, delicately balancing rock on rock on rock at Crissy Field. And then I noticed his absence. A year or so later, I spotted him on the street one afternoon (near my home) and asked if he was still balancing, and (my recollection is that) he said the National Park Service had asked him not to balance rocks (at Crissy Field) for “insurance” reasons, but that he was teaching “classes” in rock balancing. Don’t know what he is doing today, but his work had certainly become one of those things that you’d visit Crissy Field just to see in action. [the photo is from Bill Dan’s blog.]
Bill’s blog holds a gallery of really inspired balanced-rock sculptures that you have to see to believe.
Bill’s work inspired Aaron [in the photo, 2005] and me (a few years ago) to create some balanced-rock sculptures in the High Sierras. This was a ton of fun!
The trick in our case was to use granitic rocks that contained lots of hard particles – rather than the “pointy end” of a rock being a needle-sharp point, it is actually a whole bunch of flinty points, and you know that since 3 points define a plane, this makes it easy to find a way to balance each rock on to of its supporting partner below it. You find the center of gravity of a rock by hefting it, then you roll it around until you can get that center of gravity above the point (which is pointing down) and you gently set that point on the supporting rock below. Some delicate shifting, and walaa(!) you have added another rock to the growing sculpture.
It surprised me that I could build sculptures that would hold up even in the face of strong winds. I left a couple of these towers standing while I went away on a day hike and they were still there when I returned. Lots of fun – try it yourself.
You heard it right – I’m talking about defending yourself against <spooky music> … patents! This has become the game of the day.
The Allied Security Trust acquires patents that might at a future date be used to attack companies using Linux. Open Invention Network announced recently that it had bought 22 patents that AST had acquired Microsoft Corporation. Once OIN acquires a patent, they release it for use by others.
Some years ago I realized that since the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) was allowing patents on business processes and software, it was only a matter of time until everything that I do every day when writing programs, would be patented and I would no longer be able to write and sell programs without infringing someone else’s intellectual property. (It would probably be OK to write a program if I kept it secret, but as soon as I try to sell it – kaboom! – the long arm of the law would come down on me.)
In fact, I was an expert witness a few years ago, in a case where a company had patented one of the most basic and key processes related to something that we do every day. Basically if you 1) look at a process and measure it; 2) decide on the basis of measurement what you want to fix or change; and 3) then fix only the things that were wrong… they you would be violating this patent. Holy moly! This is so fundamental you would think it couldn’t be patented. But it was.
And believe it or not, the two companies involved in the dispute settled the case before it went to trial. For tens of millions of dollars. In my opinion, the patent should never have been issued because the fundamental work had been done by someone else in 1973 (not by the person who held the patent). But it had been patented.
The trouble is that even if the patent should never have been granted, it is often more costly to defend yourself, or to get the patent overturned, than it is to settle and pay a ”ransom” to the people who have the patent.
Can you image what the Linux world of open source software would be like if an unscrupulous company — and particularly one which doesn’t actually have any business other than going after people who violate their copyrights — were to patent the basic processes of Linux and then sue everyone to stop them from utilizing the processes?
The business of AST and OIN is to protect us from these nightmares.