Archive for March, 2007

Faster Patent Application Reviews

Posted on March 29th, 2007 in Politics and Law | No Comments »

The US Patent and Trademark Office recently stated in a press release that their accelerated patent application review process is working. Obviously, this has to be good news for helping to manage the massive number of patent applications that are received each year by the USPTO. Putting some of the responsibility of the prior art search explicitly in the court of the applicant is probably a good way to do this. Most places already do a somewhat extensive prior art search in constructing their patents anyhow.

I do have some concerns. Chief among those is the simple fact that faster patent application reviews have important implications to future patent reforms that would allow the US to switch from a First-to-Invent standard to a First-to-File standard, which most of the world already follows. If there are two tracks for filing for a patent and one requires more work prior to filing, then it would seemingly be advantageous to file with the slower application review that requires less work prior to filing.

Another concern I have is that explicitly adding to the work that an applicant must do to use the faster filing process likely adds directly to the cost to the inventor to file. Patents are not inexpensive as they are now. Making applicants responsible for prior art searches would mean that patent lawyers can ask for even more money. This could squeeze smaller companies who depend greatly on getting a few key patents granted.

UNC fails to make the Final Four

Posted on March 26th, 2007 in Life, Sports | No Comments »

I’m not sure if UNC collapsed or if Georgetown rallied really well, but regardless of the method, the outcome is the same: the Tar Heels failed to make their 17th Final Four. I really didn’t think they would lose a fast paced game that favors their style, but they couldn’t close out regulation and just didn’t hit any shots in OT until the game was already lost. I suppose I don’t mind the loss considering they won the national championship in 2005, but when college basketball teams change as much as they do from year to year it is a shame that they couldn’t capitalize on the really excellent team they had.

I hesitate to mention this because it’s not directly related to the team, but the UNC student, Jason Ray, died in the hospital. Ray played Rameses, the Tar Heel mascot and was hit by a car while in New Jersey for the NCAA Tournament.

I know that things like this happen all the time and only some of them make the news. Usually this happens when it’s someone famous or under strange circumstances. I think about the people I knew that died when I was in high school, how much I’ve changed and grown since then and how much life they had in front of them.

So while it is unfortunate that UNC didn’t make the Final Four, I have found myself not as upset as I thought I would be. There are certainly bigger things in life. Plus, with the Colts winning the Superbowl this year, how could I really complain?

The Perception of Risk

Posted on March 23rd, 2007 in Computer Security, Life, Politics and Law, Technology | No Comments »

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Over spring break I went to San Francisco to be a tourist. I know that as a computer engineer or software engineer I would likely be visiting San Francisco several times over the course of my career, but there are so many touristy things to see and do there that I am sure it would be disappointing to be in San Francisco for a conference and not be able to do any of them.

It was in this mindset that I went to visit. Of course, the day before I got there San Francisco experienced a magnitude 4.2 earthquake. Having something like this happen put it into perspective for me that I really don’t know much about what I would do if they had an earthquake while I was there. As a tourist, it’s probably not really worth planning too much in that department. The chance that the next big earthquake will happen while you are there is very low.

However, if I were to consider moving to an area that is known to suffer from a particular natural disaster, it would be prudent to plan for the natural disasters that are common in the area. Growing up in Indiana, we learned about what to do in case of a tornado. There were tornado drills in school. We saw it on the news with some regularity. It was a part of our lives. I feel comfortable that I know how to best protect myself in a building when there’s a tornado in the area, but I’m not nearly as well versed with earthquakes.

Of course, that’s pretty much the case with most Americans. I remember reading this Time magazine article back when it came out, but the combination of the earthquake right before the trip and the fact that it was mentioned on Bruce Schneier’s blog brought the concept back to the forefront of my thoughts. I really recommend the Time article, but if you are at all interested in computer security or security issues in general, I really recommend Schneier’s essay on the psychology of security.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any of the advertisements in this campaign, but I really love the idea. There are so many things to like about it, particularly in light of the Time article. Americans and people in general really aren’t good at planning for natural disasters. It’s such a great investment idea for so many reasons. Most of the time the preparation is very similar regardless of what kind of disaster you’re preparing for, but people just don’t do it.

Anyhow, to move full circle, the picture I have included in this post is a good view of some of the construction efforts they have going on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge to make it ‘earthquake-proof.’ Obviously, this is a cultural landmark as well as an important bridge, but it’s nice to see that the folks in charge are investing in what time will likely prove to be an extremely worthwhile investment. Anyone who reads Bruce Schneier’s blog will see that this may be a more rare occurrence than the average person would hope.

NFL and the DMCA

Posted on March 23rd, 2007 in Politics and Law, Technology | No Comments »

I don’t believe that I’ve commented on the DMCA here before. Mostly, my positions are already well covered in other places. However, Dave brought to my attention a case that is particularly interesting.

Basically, a law professor posted a clip from an NFL broadcast on YouTube. The NFL took steps to have it removed under the DMCA, but in the process may have ended up violating the DMCA.

This, I think, is pretty close to the ultimate irony. It’s also a great example of both how important copyright law is and how muddled it has become over the last 10 years, particularly with the DMCA. YouTube has been the target of a huge number of lawsuits. It will continue to be targeted so long as the situation with copyrights and the DMCA clears up.

Picture Gallery

Posted on March 18th, 2007 in Website News | No Comments »

As you may have noticed, I have added a picture gallery to this site. It is very easy to use and I hope that it will help me to add relevant pictures to my posts where they are helpful.

For those interested in the technical details, I added Gallery2 and the WPG2 plugin to WordPress. I have made a few changes to the style when viewing pictures, but it’s not quite as perfect as I would like, but it’s definitely usable.

Tasting the AmeriCone Dream

Posted on March 18th, 2007 in Life, Politics and Law | 1 Comment »

* WPG2 CANNOT LOCATE GALLERY2 ITEM BY *The AmeriCone Dream has come to Raleigh! I mentioned the new Ben and Jerry’s flavor in a previous post, and now that I have actually tasted it I thought it would be appropriate to provide some feedback to those of you who are unlucky enough to not be able to find it.

First, for those in Raleigh, you can get this flavor at the Ben and Jerry’s store in the North Hills mall. You can probably find more stores on the No Fact Zone. If you are going to the North Hills mall, the Ben and Jerry’s is right by the theater next the the Starbucks.

Now, the taste itself is impressive. For those who don’t know, AmeriCone Dream is vanilla ice cream with fudge covered waffle cone pieces and a swirl of caramel. I’m more of a fan of chocolate ice creams, but this is some really good stuff. It’s got a strong vanilla flavor, but the balance of the caramel and fudge helps keep it interesting. It’s kind of like getting a chocolate chip waffle cone without the drippy mess. Outstanding.

Privacy as the new Generation Gap

Posted on March 17th, 2007 in Life, Politics and Law | No Comments »

I recently read a very good article on nymag.com about the privacy as the new generation gap. Although the article focuses on the generation gap aspect of the privacy debate, probably the most interesting thing about this article to me is that it makes a very strong case for the viewpoint that no one has any privacy anyhow, which was most famously summed up by Scott McNealy. In short, the article challenges the assumption that privacy, specifically online privacy, is important. This is a basic assumption that I have held virtually unquestioned in my own mind, and the article made me think about it.

It’s an extreme viewpoint to take, particularly because of the issues raised by the need for political protection of things like free speech. Certainly, it can be a utopian ideal if you take it far enough. For example, the lack of privacy could cause everyone to generally behave better and be more understanding of one another. Reputation becomes king in this environment. Your conscience keeps you in check when you know that everything will end up online. The reverse is also true. When everything ends up online you can spot things that are truly abnormal behavior for someone.

The problem with this utopian ideal is similar to that of Communism. The reason communism is flawed is that everyone is greedy to some extent and there’s always something to covet. The argument that privacy has been outdated or is somehow not necessary seems similarly flawed. Everyone has something they don’t want to share with the world, whether they know what it is right now or not. There’s always someone shameless enough to be unaffected by their own conscience or by threats to their reputation.

Perhaps if you are thick skinned, it won’t matter on a personal level, but in the arena of politics, being thick skinned isn’t enough. It might be easy to think about the Internet as this great equalizing environment, but it is also a bit of a misnomer. The utopian view of a world without privacy depends greatly on free speech and universal equality. These are things which are not guaranteed rights and it is possible that they could be taken away at some point in the future.

Regardless, the article brings up a great point and makes me think. In my mind, I keep going back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence as an example. The whole event becomes a sort of a chicken and egg problem. The Declaration of Independence might have only been possible because of the privacy afforded those who were plotting against the King, but it might have simply never been necessary if everyone’s private lives were displayed for all the world to see.