Bill's Blog

Friday, July 01, 2005

Brainstorming Ban

You've got to wonder if the people at Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Investment (DETI) were meeting at the local pub when they decided to ban Irish civil servants from using the term "brainstorming" as politically incorrect. Since brainstorming is possibly offensive to people with mental disorders, DETI recommends using the term "thought-showers".

This is absolutely ridiculous. People need to grow up and get over themselves. If someone truly and honesty finds the term offensive, that is their problem. If we allow this to continue, it will get to the point very quickly where no one can say anything. I mean, now DETI is going to have to ban the Irish from reading my blog, cause not only did I use "brainstorming", I also implied they were drunks.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

USPTO Needs Reforms

With all the resent court cases and news articles surrounding technology patents, the United States Patent and Trademark Office needs to be gutted and reemed. They need to get some people in there that understand technology and get public feedback on patent applications before they approve them. I am all for inventors and businesses being able to protect their work and their interests, but some of the patents being approved these days are laughable. It is only a matter of time before the USPTO is completely irrelevant because the patents they approve mean nothing.

Some dumb patents (all in the news in the past month):

Here is an press release from The Progress and Freedom Foundation advocating an overhaul of the USPTO. They argue for a test to see if the patent is viable - whether it meets the uniqueness standard. Public review and technology-savvy employees at the USPTO would be nice.

PixelRoller - Upcoming Tech

This is a great new product in the works. Once these guys make some more headway on ironing out the kinks, it should take off.

Basically, the PixelRoller is a Paint roller (like what you use to paint your house) that can print images (one color) on virtually any type of surface. Once they can make this multi-color and design a good user interface, it should allow you to put just about anything on your walls.

Left Behind Video Games

BusinessWire has a story about the release of Left Behind: Eternal Forces (schedule for Christmas or Easter). According the report, LBEF will put gamers into a future New York City after the Rapture, tasked with converting non-believers into believers and joining the fight against the AntiChrist. The makers, Left Behind Games, Inc. claims the game will "present gamers with a deeper level of game play than in other real-time-strategy titles" and "the scenery will also be the most realistic representation of New York City ever seen in a game".

As a fan of the novels, I'll be sure to check this game out when released, but I have doubts to how popular the game will be. Seems a game based on converting non-believers is going to have a limited audience.

Google Maps and Satellite Imagery

Google Maps

I've been having fun lately playing with Google's new map and satellite feature. A map search for directions or whatever you're looking for is pretty much the same whether you use Mapquest, Yahoo Maps, Map24, etc. What Google has above these other services is the switch over to satellite imagery. That's right, type in the address you're looking for, zoom in and click the satellite link and (for most areas) you get an overhead snapshot taken from satellite. As a military brat, I've lived all over. I had fun looking up all my old addresses and seeing if I could pick out the house we lived in.

Three things would make this better (are you listening Google?):
  1. More coverage. Several old addresses and even ones for family and friends, were not available in the zoomed in mode, I had to zoom out to the point you couldn't tell what you were looking at. I know it'll take them some time to build the database of images up to cover the ground.
  2. Remove the Marker. When you search for an address (both on the map and on the satellite) it puts a little marker to denote the address. That's great for centering and getting the image zoomed in. The problem is, you can't get rid of the marker. It is there to stay. If you switch to satellite it covers up the image. I've found a way around this, but its a pain.
  3. Save the images. The way the images load now, the picture is sliced in about 20 pieces (depending on the size of the image and the area I believe). If I want to take and email the photo to someone, I cannot readily do it. I understand why they did this - they don't want you stealing their images and posting them all over the net. Instead you have to email the page link to yourself or someone else.

For some fun, look up your house address and print out the satellite image. See if your significant other can identify what their looking at after you cut the borders away.

"Hackers" in the Media

The Associated Press has an article (linked via Yahoo - I'll get to why I posted Yahoo's version in a minute) out this week about DVD Jon and his recent patch for Google's Video Viewer. I have a number of problems with the whole handling of this.

Before I get into any of my problems, I'll briefly sum up what happened. Google took an Open Source video viewing application and modified it to allow for better functionality and restricting it to only work on videos from their servers. Since the program was written using open code, under the licensing, Google had to release their application along with the code which they did. Jon's patch removed the limitation Google placed in the code, which allows the program to play videos hosted on any server. Per licensing, he released the source code for the patch as well.

Now, onto my problems with this article:

First, is the fact that the tone of the entire article tries to paint what he did as something devious, underhanded, and suspect. I especially like the "Google officials did not immediately return..." line. What he did was not illegal or even wrong. He released code that makes an OPEN SOURCE application more functional. This is what the spirit behind the open source community is all about. Google made the decision to go the open source route and I applaud them for it. I suspect that officials did not comment on the story, because they did not see it as one. The people at Google had to have seen this coming.

Second, the title of the article "Norwegian Hacker Cracks Google Software". According to Wikipedia, Cracking is "the modification of software to remove encoded copy protection" which is generally illegal. Clearly this is not what happened in this case. The title also identifies Jon as a Hacker. The tone of the article seems to imply that they are using the typical, Media-adopted definition of hacker and not the original meaning (see Wikipedia: Hacking). I have no doubt that Jon considers himself a Hacker, but not in the sense that the article intends.

Third, (and this has more to do with Yahoo, than the AP article itself) the article is posted in the "Cybercrime" section of Yahoo News. No crime has been committed here. No lawsuits are being filed (Google would lose any such suit and they know it). Why does this fall under this heading? To drive more attention to the story. This is one of my biggest problems with the media. Why report the news honestly, when with a slight of hand we can get twice as many people to check it out?

I applaud Jon for his work in the Open Source community. He is talented and puts those talents to good use for all of us. His fight for "fair use" rights is also commendable. Keep up the fight, Jon!