Escher Meets The Flower Show, Little Elves, and W3C on Patents

BBC: How does Dyson make water go uphill? A very cool hack from a Dyson engineer for the Chelsea Flower Show — an M. C. Escher-influenced water feature which gives the illusion that the water is flowing uphill.

A set of four glass ramps positioned in a square clearly show water travelling up each of them before it pours off the top, only to start again at the bottom of the next ramp.

It is a sight which defies logic, and has become probably the most memorable image of this year’s show.

Mr Dyson says his inspiration was a drawing by the Dutch artist MC Escher (he of Gothic palaces where soldiers are eternally walking upstairs, and of patterns where birds turn into fish).

Privacy: Danny forwards this post which discusses what the poster calls the ‘little elves’ problem. Very good point and contains this great real-world example:

Peter Wright in ‘Spycatcher’ … describes one of the problems arising out of the Berlin Tunnel Operation thus: ‘So much raw intelligence was flowing out from the East that it was literally swamping the resources available to transcribe (and translate) and analyse it. MI6 had a special transcription center set up in Earl’s Court, but they were still transcribing material seven years later when they discovered that George Blake had betrayed the Tunnel to the Russians from the outset’.

Funnily enough, I have the same problem — a lack of processing power to deal with the raw incoming volume — with my spamtraps from time to time. Now I can describe it in terms of ‘little elves’.

Patents: W3C announce patent policy. They’ve decided on Royalty-Free as a requirement, good news. TimBL’s comments on the decision:

Many participants in the original development of the Web knew that they might have sought patents on the work they contributed to W3C, and that they might have tried to secure exclusive access to these innovations or charge licensing fees for their use. However, those who contributed to building the Web in its first decade made the business decision that they, and the entire world, would benefit most by contributing to standards that could be implemented ubiquitously, without royalty payments.

This decision on the W3C Patent Policy coincides almost exactly with the tenth anniversary of CERN’s decision to provide unencumbered access to the basic Web protocols and software developed there, even before the creation of W3C. In fact, the success of technical work at the World Wide Web Consortium depended significantly on that decision by CERN. The decision to base the Web on royalty-free standards from the beginning has been vital to its success until now. The open platform of royalty-free standards enabled software companies to profit by selling new products with powerful features, enabled e-commerce companies to profit from services that on this foundation, and brought social benefits in the non-commercial realm beyond simple economic valuation. By adopting this Patent Policy with its commitment to royalty-free standards for the future, we are laying the foundation for another decade of technical innovation, economic growth, and social advancement.

Quite. I remember seeing Mosaic for the first time — my first thought was ‘wow, it’s like those commercial hypertext systems, but it’s free’. Initially, the free-ness was a lot more important than the network transparency it also offered.

There had already been several commercial hypertext systems, with expensive licensing terms. I’d only ever seen them bundled with other products (like the AIX documentation viewer) or used in kiosk systems.

They pretty much foundered when HTTP and HTML became available. But there’s no question to my mind that if CERN had made HTTP/HTML a commercial, licensed, or royalty-paying proposition, we wouldn’t even be talking about the web (or should I say the ‘WWW’?) nowadays.

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