Russel Winder's Website


White House Con Job? Opportunity for EU?

It seems the White House is on a "charm offensive" trying to convince the electorate that they are listening and wanting to follow the direction that the electorate would like them to. See the following: Groklaw, TechDirt, The White House. The key questions seem to be:

  • What are the obstacles to innovation that you see in your community?
  • And what steps can be taken to remove them?

It is unsurprising that the majority of the answers from individuals and small organizations is and will be "the patent system". Very, very few individuals and small organizations have the resources to enter the patents game. Moreover the act of publishing gifts the ideas to the large organizations who have the resource to play the patents game, and worse wilfully ignore patents owned by individuals and small organization in the knowledge that individuals and small organizations do not have the resources to seek relief against contravention of a patent.

The really interesting question is: why is the White House bothering with this sort of programme. It takes up resources, gets people worked up, and is fundamentally a waste of time, since it is clearly obvious that the vested interests, i.e. the large organizations, will not allow change to happen as any change will upset their cosy monopolistic patents game.

Or perhaps there will be a popular uprising, Egypt style, in the USA, throwing aside old, anti-innovation practices leading to a resurgence in the USA innovation rate? Unlikely. The conditions are not right, and the large organizations too well ensconced and with too many tentacles in too many decision-making places.

The real question here then is: will the EU see what is happening, see that all the US pressure to have a US style patent system in Europe and elsewhere is only in the interest of large organizations and kills innovation. If people within the USA are worried about the patents system, and especially the software patents issue, why should the EU and others rush headlong towards that system. Innovation is all that the EU, and indeed the USA, has in a world dominated by production in Asia. Any system that stifles innovation is not in the interest of the EU or USA.

Can this worry about innovation in the USA and EU be used as a way of stopping the march of US pressure for software patents to be enforceable world-wide? Can this be used as a way of removing all the software patent aspects of ACTA? I certainly hope so. Sadly I fear the large organizations will cajole and bully governments into doing what is good for the large organizations. Innovation in EU and USA will be squashed unless it happens within the large organizations. If this transpires then it will likely gift economic power lock, stock and barrel to the Asian economies. Won't it be amusing for the EU and USA governments when the world economies are such that China and India outsource software development to the UK because it is cheaper than using their own people?

Nokia performs hara-kiri

Today we are formally informed of the astoundingly unsurprising news that Nokia will in future only make Windows Phone 7 smartphones - unsurprising of course ever since the appointment of a Microsoft employee as the president and CEO of Nokia.

This tie-up is a potential life-saver for Microsoft in the mobile space, and for Steve Ballmer. Microsoft risked total decimation from the mobile space without some form of strategic action. After all who wants a smartphone running a desktop operating system? Answer: very, very few manufacturers and even fewer customers. Ballmer has tied his future at Microsoft to Microsoft's success in the mobile space, so he desperately needs some success. What better than to hamstring the current number 1 vendor in the space on the assumption that people will continue to buy from that vendor. A very good gamble for Microsoft and Ballmer, since they have almost nothing to lose and masses to gain.

Nokia used to have Symbian as its smartphone platform and then dropped that for Linux when it became clear that Symbian really didn't have much of a future. It first created the Maemo distribution and then dropped that for the MeeGo distribution when courted by Intel. The problem with this situation is that MeeGo isn't out there on phones like the Nokia N900 yet, whereas iPhones and Android phones are out there in increasingly huge numbers. It seems then that MeeGo has missed the boat, it is MeeGone - at least in the mobile phone space, it is never going to catch up with iPhone and Android, and with Nokia dropping it, who will want it? So for Nokia yet another change of operating system, yet another attempt to create a stable eco-system around the Ovi brand.

iPhone and Android have the zeitgeist, they are the fashion, they have the vibrant eco-systems. MeeGo and Windows Phone 7 have no cachet, no eco-system, no traction. There is no future in dumb-phones, where Nokia currently dominates, the margins are too low. Nokia appears to have decided that smartphone desktop machine sameness is the future - it is banking on the sameness of platform to magically spawn a vibrant eco-system. Unless they create a whole new market, they seem destined to fail: they have missed the point about what iPhone and Android have achieved. Nokia seems destined to collapse as a player in the mobile phone space. Nokia's only hope is that Microsoft cannot afford for them to fail. Will we be seeing a Microsoft marketing campaign as ludicrous as their current one about The Cloud?

I now wish I had never bought an N900, and I certainly won't be tempted by a Nokia phone ever again.

Script tag - problem solved

Thanks to Martin Moene for answering my plea for help and enlightening me to a rank stupidity of the script tag, which seems to create random behaviour with random browsers in random contexts if you self close the tag. Everything now works as required as long as the tag is not self closed. Ho hummm...

It also reminds me that almost none of my site passes the W3C validation. I guess I need to do something about that!

Script tag, Firefox and Chrome: Help requested

I have been investigating various different ways of adding Twitter, Facebook, AddThis, etc., features to my website. The standard Twitter connection means adding:

to the page. This seems to work fine for me in Epiphany, Firefox, and Chromium. Using AddThis means adding: to the page. With Epiphany everything seems to work fine. However with Firefox and Chromium the page downloads fine but nothing after this line renders. I have tried all combinations, and repeated, and I can be very confident that this line is causing these browser to not render anything else below it. I am using Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat with Firefox 3.16.13 and Chromium 8.0.552.237. If anyone has any ideas on what is going wrong, I'd be grateful.

Merrill Lynch continue to discriminate

I hate the idea of subtly advertising a company without being given some remuneration for doing so, and of course using the name of the company in a blog is doing exactly that, but I had to comment on this as it makes me so angry. Perhaps this publicity might be sufficiently negative that the company might do something. Or maybe they are so big and unaware that they don't care. What's the problem . . .

If you alight on the Merill Lynch webpage, you are very likely to see this:

Certainly I did using Epiphany and Chrome - OK so not that many people use Epiphany (even though it is the Gnome standard browser) but Chrome, that is seriously mainstream. And look at the version numbers Merril Lynch deign to consider ones to be supported.

Organizations should abandon this discrimination and just use standard HTML. Sex discrimination, age discrimination, race discrimination, etc. are all illegal. Equal opportunity and diversity are mandated. Perhaps a law should be passed to make browser discrimination illegal. After all discrimination such as this has already been ruled unacceptable by the EU and hence must not happen in any of the member states.

Perhaps the people from Google and Opera need to step up to the plate.

RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch

It's not about Big Gardens, it's about a Big Birdwatch in gardens. Any garden, even our minuscule one which is all flagstones and pots. The point is to take an approximate census of birds to see how numbers are changing. They are an indicator of change as well as being wonderful beasties. Taking census of the bird population regularly can show what changes there are and contributed data to ecology. And contributing is fun.

See here.

Join in, you know you want to.

Big Brother Cometh - A Return to Medieval Politics?

_ Obviously, by Big Brother I mean George Orwell's character from his book 1984, not the "reality television" show axed last year by Channel 4. _

The English/UK government (a collection of wealthy and privileged people) is intending to sell off the English woodlands (currently in public ownership) to private individuals (a collection of wealthy and privileged people almost certainly with direct personal connections to members of the English/UK government). This is akin to the land ownership strategy of medieval times. The very few people with wealth and power own everything, including the rest of the people, who are told what they may or may not do. Much like the government of Oceania in George Orwell's book 1984.

So are we headed to a world where freedom, personal choice, even democracy (even though that is basically a farcical political system designed to fool most of the people all of the time) are at risk. Sadly it looks like we are already there, we just haven't acknowledged it yet.

A couple of news items to confirm this:

  1. The Egyptian government are clamping down on use of all communications systems, and especially the Internet, by the populace. For authority on this see any news media in recent days.
  2. Sony have won a temporary restraining order in Sony vs George Holt on terms that are actually impossible for George Holtz to comply with, even if he wanted to - cf. this article on Groklaw.

Add to this ongoing things such as:

  • The massive and increasing use of CCTV in all public streets and elsewhere.
  • Apple's autocratic and iron-fisted control on how iPhones and iPads may and may not be used.
  • Oracle's approach to management of how Java evolves and the ecosystem around it, for example the Hudson/Jenkins situation.
  • The whole patent system, especially software patents, and indeed ACTA.
  • The way in which the DCMA in the USA is being used.
  • The RIAA way of treating people. Soon to come to UK shores if the UK government has its way regarding policing of filesharing by ISPs.

To name just a few. In all cases the ruling elite are imposing more and more on what people may and may not do. Criminal behaviour, anti-social behaviour and terrorism mean that this is a very murky area. Public safety is good for the public. It is also good for the ruling elite as it gives them opportunity to go far beyond that which is needful, so that they may enhance their power and wealth, and control more and more things to a greater and greater extent.

Increasingly we are seeing more and more treatment of the public as cattle to be herded rather than humans to be courted. Politicians call them voters in those places where there is any semblance of democracy. Companies call them consumers or sometimes customers. But increasingly these people are having choice removed from them. I guess it is only time before the democratic systems of Russia (such as it is), UK, USA are dismantled thereby allowing the ruling elite to ignore the views of the general public completely (*). Consumer product companies are very close to being there already.


(*) _ Of course this may be better than the self-delusion we have at the moment, where the public think that being a voter given them some sort of power. (A wonderful piece of con-artistry by the ruling elite: being the ruling elite conning is not a crime as it is for the general public.) _

On Software Patents, ACTA and "Big Money"

_ There is a thread about software patents on the D programming language mailing list (digitalmars-d, cf. http://www.digitalmars.com/NewsGroup.html). I started to write a small reply to one of the emails but it became something I thought I should post as a blog entry, so here it is - well a slightly subedited version of it anyway. _

"Big Money" keeps insisting that the whole patent system is designed to allow people who have inventions but not the resources to exploit them, a route to obtaining remuneration by allowing others to do the exploitation. This has always been a specious argument. Even if it were not, and whatever the original use of letters patent that led to the patent system, this system, especially in the USA, has turned into a business tool for "Big Money" to ensure control of all exploitation is handled by "Big Money". To preserve power in the hands of "Big Money", the patent system has been evolved into a game that only "Big Money" can play, small players are systematically excluded. (Of course, lawyers are the only real winners as they get paid win or lose.)

Where the invention is something that can only be exploited by there being something physical that must be manufactured, then there are arguments that patents are a useful tool. Where the invention is a business process or a software technique (or a user interface technique?), I don't see that patents serves any purpose other than preservation of control over innovation by "Big Money". The exact opposite of the avowed purpose of patents.

I have yet to see how business processes, algorithms, and programming techniques are anything other than ideas or mathematics, and ideas and mathematics are supposed to be not patentable. As far as I am aware the UK Patent Office still does not issue software patents, though the EU Patent Office, seems to have started to try, under pressure from "Big Money" I suspect. (I agree it is easy to blame US companies and ignore the fact that European and Asian companies are part of the cartel when Microsoft, IBM, HP, etc. are the easy names to roll off the tongue, so "Big Money" here is not synonymous with large US corporate.)

Sadly, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) appears to have been somewhat hijacked by US "Big Money", via the US Trade Representative (USTR), as a tool for imposing the US way of patents onto the rest of the world (*). This means software patents will have to be granted everywhere that ACTA applies. No matter how much lobbying the FLOSS community do, I bet "Big Money" will not fail to sieze the opportunity to ram through the whole "software techniques are not ideas or mathematics, they are patentable" philosophy.

Perhaps then the only defence these days, especially in the USA, and sadly if ACTA is signed into place, the rest of the world, is to be a signatory to the Open Invention Network (OIN). However appealing though, even this is just a tool for "Big Money" since only by having significant resources can you actually patent something that you can then magnanimously donate to the OIN patent pool - have you noticed that "Big Money" is very selective about which patents get donated and which don't?

So it seems the only hope for small players to do any innovation, indeed any work, in the software arena, is to be ignorable by "Big Money", i.e. do stuff that doesn't matter or doesn't constitute a threat to "Big Money". Either that or the policitians of the world spontaneously see the light, that they are being herded by "Big Money", and disallow software patents forever.

All in all though it seems the days of the small independent software development organization doing anything innovative are strictly limited.

(*) You might want to follow Simon Phipps - Wild Webmink - on this.

Somno, the Barber of Clapham Junction, Introduces GPars

Paul Grenyer guest edited {CVU} 22(6) January 2011 - {CVU} is one of the journals/magazines (choose the noun you think fits best) published by ACCU; see here - and he asked me if I would like to submit something. GPars, a library of Groovy-based bits and pieces for writing concurrent and parallel software, seemed like an ideal candidate for an article so I put one together and submitted it. It was accepted and published.

The article is founded on a number of versions of simulation-style solutions to the classic "Sleeping Barber" problem - Wikipedia has a page on this here. The idea is to show Actor Model, Communicating Sequential Processes (CSP) and Dataflow Model in action as realized in GPars, to show that these are much nicer models for managing concurrency and parallelism in applications that trying to use shared memory multi-threading (which should probably be treated as anathema in applications programming).

Members of ACCU have all probably got their paper copy of this issue and may even have read my article. Members of ACCU can also access the PDF of the issue via the URL http://accu.org/index.php/journals/c292/. Being a member of ACCU brings many perks!

Fortunately for non-members of ACCU, article authors retain copyright in the material, so I can put a version on this website. You can find it here.

Parallelism can be Groovy - A Session for the BCS Advanced Programming

I had a plan for this session, let us call it Plan A. It involved a structured mix of material involving lots of demonstration of using Groovy, Java and GPars (possibly also some Scala) as well as Python and C++, C and Fortran. Plan A had to be trashed when, in trying out all the demonstrations a couple of days ago, I discovered that the quad-core laptop I had purchased wasn't quad core, it was a dual-core processor pretending to Linux to be quad core. Moral of story: be very careful when you buy a Core i7 machine as to exactly which version of the processor you are being sold.

Cue Plan B. Plan B involved using the quasi-quad core laptop locally, but doing most of the demonstrations on a twin Xeon (effectively 8 core as two 4 cores). This required Internet connectivity. About 12:49 on the day of the talk my ADSL connection started player "silly beggars" and then around 15:13 it failed completely. No access to the 8-core machine from the big wide world. Plan B trashed.

Enter Plan C - hastily put together in the hour prior to leaving to give the presentation - put more emphasis on the issues of hardware architectures, application parallelism, operating system involvement, and the consequences of the Multicore Revolution. A PDF file of the slides for this, which were the ones used in the end, can be found here. However, they are probably only useful if you were at the session!

The presentation was designed for a 1280x800 screen (the size of the laptop), but because the projector couldn't do that resolution, it ended up being shown at 1024x768 which made all the fonts and diagrams come out weirdly. This annoyed me, but members of the audience were happy that the material was still readable. No real change of plan needed then.

The session started, and I didn't go fast enough through the early material. Add to this various questions from the audience, and we started going in directions not in Plan C. Enter Plan D. Or should that be Plan Dynamic - the No Plan. Interactions with the audience evolved the session into something rather different to that which I had anticipated. Nonetheless, when asked, the audience were happy with what was happening. Indeed asked for more.

In the end the session lasted about 175% longer than a usual session, had covered about 55% of what I wanted and had planned to cover, had involved a whole lot of material I hadn't actually planned to cover, didn't do anything like enough in demonstrations, and wasn't at all structured. The end result was a session that was more of a scatter gun firing of issues and questions surrounding programming and applications in the post-multicore period. I did though get across the point that the future is most certainly going to be multi-lingual and that Python/C++ and Java/Groovy will be at the forefront of the drive.

After the session, many people came and said that they had really enjoyed the session even though it had been longer than anticipated and somewhat less structured that one would normally have liked. So all in all Plan Dynamic seems to have resulted in a successful session. It just wasn't the session original advertised.


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