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Month: July 2004

Patents in an open source world

Patents: Newsforge: Patents in an open source world, by Lawrence Rosen (founding partner of Rosenlaw and Einschlag).

Interesting article, but I’m not sure summary point number 2 (‘continue to document our own “prior art” to prevent others from patenting things they weren’t the first to invent’) really helps, when the patent examiners clearly haven’t performed the simplest Google check. I’ve found obvious prior art in 30 seconds, by plugging 3 words from patent claims into Google in the past (and yes, I have a reasonable idea how to read patent claims by now).

Point number 3 is interesting, since it contradicts most other advice I’ve read regarding patent searches: ‘Conduct a reasonably diligent search for patents we might infringe. At least search the portfolios of our major competitors. (This, by the way, is also a great way to make sure we’re aware of important technology advances by our competitors.) Maintain a commercially reasonable balance between doing nothing about patents and being obsessed with reviewing every one of them.’

However, this comment really is interesting and raises something major that I’d never heard of before — users of proprietary software can also face a significant risk from the patent threat. In particular, according to the linked comment, Microsoft licensed some patented technology from a company called Timeline Inc., but the license was not sublicenseable — in other words, it did not grant their customers the rights to fully use the technology! (in fairness to MS, this was established later in court.) Result: href=”″>MS SQL server OEMs and ISVs are now being sued.

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Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Reading: Both jim winstead and Nelson Minar have praised Earth Abides , a 1949 post-apocalyptic novel where ‘all but a handful of people die from a mystery disease’, and the ensuing narrative ‘follows one man’s attempt to rebuild something like a society.’ It seems a tip from original happy mutant Mark Frauenfelder was the pointer for both of ’em.

I’m a huge fan of the genre; I think it’s something about our age group, growing up in the shadow of Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speeches, Threads and (much less terrifying) The Day After.

Given that, it looks like Earth Abides goes straight into the wishlist. However, I should make another couple of reading tips while I’m at it, in the same genre:

First off, Jack London’s short story
The Scarlet Plague (1912) is a clear antecedent to Earth Abides. In this story, too, a plague hits the planet and wipes out most of civilization; an old man talks to children who’ve known nothing but the post-apocalypse period. It’s pretty short and well worth a read.

But my main recommendation is Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore (1984), first book of his Three Calfornias trilogy, and his debut novel.

It takes place in 2047, 60 years after a massive nuclear attack on the US, by Russian infiltrators (pretty dated, eh ;). The narrator is a teenager in a primitive agrarian community on the coast of southern Orange County. His group are farmers, living far away from the previously built-up areas; the people who live amongst those ruins are shunned, and the different tribes meet only occasionally to trade. Disposable butane lighters are a treasured commodity.

He gradually discovers that the US was once a superpower, and that they are now being kept in a virtually stone-age state by outside powers. The interesting factor here is that most sci-fi authors, at this point, would embark on a jingoistic, militaristic armed struggle; it initially seems that’s what’s happening, but Robinson takes a very interesting tack, in his own style, and this really makes the book something special.

(I won’t go too far into it, but if you really want to know and don’t mind spoilers, this site thoroughly spills the beans.)

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Counterfeit Cops

IP: A funny IPR-enforcement-related story from New Scientist (sorry, subscriber-only link):

Just before delegates (to the 28 May ‘Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting’) left Brussels to ponder their future anti-counterfeiting measures, a salutary tale started doing the rounds.

The WCO (World Customs Organization) produces a CD database of the codes needed to identify goods by type so that local customs authorities can collect the appropriate duties. The discs sell for EUR 1000 apiece, but WCO investigators have found that staff at some border posts, which are supposedly the front line in counterfeit detection, are not using the official CDs. Instead – you’ve guessed it – they are buying cut-price pirated copies, complete with crudely photocopied, plainly fake covers and sleeve notes.

Physician, heal thyself!

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Kentucky sez ‘Opt-Out Still Doesn’t Work’

Spam: Some fantastic data in this paper from the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center.

It’s a brief 2-pager detailing the effectiveness of the CAN-SPAM Act in reducing the spam load, using a set of test addresses. The methodology is pretty good.

One point in particular is very important: ‘opting out’ from spam Just Does Not Work. This graph tells the whole story:

After opting out from spams received, the amount of spam received at those ‘opted out’ test addresses actually rose. (This even after CAN-SPAM made such activity explicitly illegal.)

Some other data:

  • obfuscating addresses on web pages is still working; 7.7 times the spam is received if you don’t bother doing so.
  • e-mail harvesting also continues after CAN-SPAM made it illegal.

If anyone needed proof, this shows that spammers are quite happy to break the law; strong enforcement ‘teeth’ are needed for any anti-spam legislation. (UK, take note: the thoroughly useless system whereby spam complaints must be submitted on paper isn’t going to help!)

The Technical Details document also notes something interesting: one test address was set up to test ‘opting out’ of legitimate mass mail from some (unnamed) big websites, and continued to receive ads ‘sometimes months after opting-out’. For shame!

(thx to John Levine for forwarding the links.)

Spam: Michael Radwin on open HTTP redirectors, and in particular noting that Yahoo! have (finally) closed their main one down. One down, several hundred to go ;)

Good history of the exploitation techniques that spammers have been using, too.

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BEST SONG EVER — identified!

Funny: Some of the readership (that’s you, Nishad) may be familiar with BEST SONG EVER.mp3 — it’s an insane, 10-minute workout: one guy ranting at a high pitch in some east-asian language at an incredible speed over some cheesy Casio, hardly taking a breath, punctuated by bizarre 7-Zark-7-style ribbits and squawks. By the end of it, he’s nearly hoarse. It is incredibly bizarre. Turkopop has nothing on this.

Well, it’s origin has been discovered — he’s called E Pak Sa, and the style is called ‘Pansori’. His version is a modern take on this ancient traditional style — ‘While singing, he would imitate the sound of all of the instruments used in the prelude and interlude, and even the sound of the whistle used to gather the tourists.’ From there, he grew in popularity, especially in Japan:

‘Sell-out concerts, myriad television appearances, riots at in-stores, and Japanese teens speaking Korean are all products of E Pak Sa’s impact in Japan. E had infiltrated the popular culture of Japan and paved the way for other Korean artist to do the same.’

And guess what — his Encyclopedia of Pon-Chak album can be listened to online! The YMCA cover — track 2 — is strongly recommended.

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Ross Anderson not quite so cool anymore

Security: Ross Anderson, crypto and security guru extraordinaire, moonlights as — wait for it — a street bagpipe player:

I play the pipes (the Great Highland Bagpipe and the Scottish smallpipes). I played competitively as a teenager, and thereafter paid my way through university by working as a street musician in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.


Only joking. But yes, he really does play the bagpipes. And that submission to the EU’s consultation on the management of copyright and related rights is worth a read, to get an idea of how the new increased enforcement of music copyright has had chilling effects on the viability of the UK’s folk music scene. (found via Karl-Friedrich Lenz.)

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Kiera Knightley

Funny: Kiera Knightley’s photoshop boobjob has been all over the place recently — it’s a pretty extensive reworking. But then, that’s standard practice nowadays…

However, best comment goes to stephendann:

In photo 2, she has the quad damage. The skin colour darkens, the chest expands, the stomach contracts and the character skin is obviously altered so the rest of the players know she’s supercharged. In POTC:King Arthur, it’s a more subtle damage modified than (the) UT2K4 glowing purple bow.


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Great SSH tip, and how to fix a KDE glitch

Unix: via Ted Leung, Adam Rosi-Kessel’s Linux Tips page has some very useful tips, and this one’s great — to avoid
getting SSH connection resets, add the following to your .ssh/config:

    serveraliveinterval 300
    serveralivecountmax 10 

This will insure (jm: sic) that ssh will occasional send an ACK type request every 300 seconds so that the connection doesn’t die.

As a similar tip that took a while to track down — KDE users who’ve upgraded between KDE releases, will probably by now have seen lots of messages like this:

  nameofapp (KIconLoader): WARNING: Icon directory /usr/share/icons/hicolor/
  group 48x48/stock/text not valid.

It took a bit of googling about to find the cure:

  • run in a shell (I cannot find this on any menu): kdebugdialog –fullmode
  • select: debug area: 264 kdecore (KIconLoader)
  • Change the Warning Output to ‘None’
  • select: OK
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DVD pirate’s pitch ends in arrest

Funny: BBC: DVD pirate’s pitch ends in arrest:

A man has been arrested after trying to sell counterfeit DVDs – at a Trading Standards Office.

The man had apparently missed the sign on the office in Beehive Lane, Chelmsford, Essex, and asked if anyone would like to buy pirated films. Staff said they were very interested indeed in what he had to sell, but when he realised where he was he ran off, leaving his wares and £210 in cash.

Police later arrested the man in a supermarket in Chelmsford.

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Hacking Netflix

Movies: Hacking Netflix, via torrez.

Jason Kottke points out a great quote on a Friendster cross-site scripting attack — this great quote: ‘We have a policy that we are not being hacked.’

He also speculates that Google used the GMail invite-network data for whitelisting — but whitelisting based on email address alone is trivially exploitable, so I’d doubt it.

I’m just back from a trip over to Cape Cod to meet family (halfway between here and Ireland, y’see ;) — lots and lots of luvverly lobster and sundry shellfish — and after a 6 day trip, had 5000 spams and a couple of thousand nonspam mails to deal with. Thankfully SpamAssassin dealt with the spams (only about 5 false negatives, no false positives I could spot) — but I’m going to have to do something about that volume of mail. drowning in the stuff. argh.

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