Patent as invention stifling

I read this post over at Techdirt with some curiosity. The interesting part, to me, isn't the case itself, but rather that the judge implicitly recognized that patents actually stifle innovation (if only for "short times").

I've been moving more and more over the past few years to feeling that the entire patent system is useless. It started with the realization that there is no societal benefit to software and business method patents (where an idea, rather than an implementation, is patented), but more and more I'm feeling like there is no benefit to any patents.

And the "short time" bit? Well, if the judge feels that twenty years is a short time, then I would posit that he hasn't been paying much attention to how quickly technology is moving forward these days.


When will they think?

All this stuerm und drang about this (proposed) muslim community center near ground zero is really irritating to me, on several levels. First of all, given how severe their shortage of funds is, it'll probably never happen.

Second, why is it such a big deal to have a mosque two blocks from ground zero, whereas the one that's been four blocks away for the last forty or so years (yes, it predates the twin towers) is ok.

Third, and most importantly, why are people so anxious to start up a holy war? Did we really learn nothing from the Crusades and the Inquisition?

If you really want to ensure an endless supply of terrorists, demonstrations saying that putting up a mosque in the US is unacceptable is probably the single best way to do it. (It's a tough call between that and invading islamic countries, but given that we've already made that mistake (twice!), I think I'd have to call this the most efficient.) Making a holy war out of it will radicalize significant elements of the muslim population, so that it isn't just a few extremists.

This sort of incredibly short-sighted thinking just really gets my goat, even ignoring how hateful the entire operation is.

The one thing I will say is that I was pleasantly surprised that the various Fox News hosts were not in lock-step in pushing this hatred. At least a few of them stepped back, and said, "This is ridiculous. We can't change the very basis on which this country was founded." I wish all of them had said something along those lines, but it was at least encouraging to see a few of them do so.

Update: Some support for what I said.


PCH'ing it

Getting back to our California trip, I mentioned that we landed in San Fran. We spent a day there, getting our bearings, mostly. We had a very nice dinner with some friends that night (and our daughter slept through the whole thing, so we could have an adult conversation throughout. As I said, nice!) at a place called Crustacean near Nob Hill.

I don't know the geography too well; maybe that's considered to be in Nob Hill. Regardless, a nice neighborhood and excellent food. Dungeness crab and garlic noodles. Mmm, mmm.

Anyway, let myself get a bit sidetracked; I actually wanted to talk about some amusement earlier that day, then our side-trip down to Monterey.

The amusement earlier was in driving up to San Fran from the airport. I saw a billboard that was talking about travel to Reno and Tahoe, which isn't too interesting, but first I only saw it out of the corner of my eye. For a second, I saw the words 'see @renotahoe', but my mind missed the first 'o', which left my brain screaming, "They can't advertise that in California". Then I looked back, and saw what I had missed.

Incidentally, this does bring up one other thing that traveling tends to remind me about. Billboards along highways. Our Philly trip a couple of months ago reminded me of the same thing.

101 just south of San Fran was much like I-95 going through Philly. Just absolutely littered with billboards. Really freakin' ugly, and annoying, to boot. Being in the DC area, we just don't have those. You rarely see them at all, and never on the interstates. It's so much nicer.

I'm sure some people will want to shove their mouth in about this point, and start babbling on the economic efficiency of being able to use the space that way, and I get it. But there's still a cost being paid when you do use the space, and I much prefer not to pay that cost.

Anyway, the other thing I wanted to talk about was the drive down to Monterey a day later. I wanted to take the PCH all the way, but I missed the exit from 101 as we were heading out of town, so we were forced to take the route my wife had gotten from Google. And fortunately I asked for it when I did; we almost missed her turn as well. Actually, thinking about it, I think we did miss her turn as well, but that by only a few hundred yards so we were able to make a U-turn at the next exit and double back to it.

That road (Rt 17?) took us through Los Gatos (which has a gorgeous reservoir; I didn't notice in time to stop for pictures, though, alas) and then past the power station at Moss Landing on the PCH and into Monterey.

I don't know why I think of that area as being flat; I really should know better, but I still picture it in my head as table-land. You know, like most of the midwest. Boy, it sure isn't. It's just up, and down, and up, and down again. I like hilly country, so I enjoyed it, but it still felt strange.

Anyway, as I said, the drive down, particularly once we got past the congestion where we initially met the PCH, was gorgeous. Occasionally, it was even breath-taking. I had my camera, and I wanted to stop every few minutes for pictures. We didn't, but we did stop a few times. And I was really happy about the frequent stopping points for taking pictures.

I'll get back to Monterey itself tomorrow (hopefully).



My in-laws bought my daughter a Chinese book a while ago that had the story of Cinderella in it. Although she couldn't say the name for a while (she just said, "'Bella"), she really enjoyed listening to it.

Finally, I went and got the movie for her, and we watched it over the weekend. It surprised me greatly, but I didn't recognize any of it (other than the story itself, of course).

A number of things struck me about it. One, and I'm sure I must have heard this before, somewhere: it's downright anti-feminist. "Just be nice, and wish for the best, and a Prince will sweep you off your feet, and carry you to happiness." Not really a nice message, other than the 'being nice' part. Nothing about doing something to actively improve your lot in life. "Just sit back, and someone will wave a magic wand, and your life will become grand". That's just total bollucks. It might not be impossible, but the likelihood is so small that it's downright stupid to live your life that way.

Two, there's no actual character growth in the story. Cinderella ends the same way she started, just in different circumstances.

Three, the stepmother was downright evil, and stupid, at that. She didn't even do a good job pushing for her daughters' advancement. When she figured out who Cinderella was, she really should have been nice to her. Even if Cinderella was going to snag the top prize, being around the royal court (which could happen if Cinderella forgave her past indignities, and which wouldn't happen with the way the actual movie turned out) would put her daughters in the way of other nobles.

I was looking for the original story just before writing this, and had thought it came from the Brothers Grimm's collection. But it wasn't there (other than a reference to the character in Mother Holle), so I followed up on the credit in the movie to Charles Perrault.

I was curious because I'd heard that the original was much bloodier (a friend, many years ago, described one of the stepsisters cutting off her heel to try to fit into the slipper, but being given away by the blood), and a little more involuted (the prince spreading pitch on the stairs to keep her from getting away; I think I got this idea from Sondheim's Into the Woods). Also, it seemed likely that the Chinese book was based on the Disney story, rather than the original. Certainly so, if those items I mentioned were there.

In any event, the original wasn't bloody, and the Chinese book probably was based on Disney, rather than Perrault. But the differences between the 17th and 20th centuries are certainly interesting. The father remaining alive, for instance. The stepmother being pretty much a non-character. The creation of relationship with the animals. The compression of the meeting of Cinderella and the Prince into one evening. The lack of re-appearance of the fairy godmother. The stepsisters not being quite as willfully cruel, but merely uncaring. And, as made a lot of sense to me when I mentioned the stepmother's stupidity, Cinderella's charity toward those stepsisters at the end.

I'm kind of curious about how it was reviewed when it first came out. I should dig up the New Yorker, and see what it says (and man, I shouldn't have bought that new, should I?).

Going Afar

My wife and I take very few vacations. When a friend was having a wedding in California a few weeks ago, we decided to take the opportunity to make a week out of it, and see some places out there that we'd never been.

The trip started to get interesting as soon as we went to check our bag (believe me, you're not going to be able to travel with a toddler without checking a bag). We got there, and we told that our bag was 19lbs over, and we needed to dump some stuff, or pay a $90 surcharge.

That surcharge being fairly ridiculous, and my wife having luckily thrown an extra bag into the suitcase, we pulled that bag out, and threw a bunch of things in it. After a couple of minutes, we had the big bag down to the maximum weight. We told him the extra bag was mine, checked that as well, and went on our way to the gate. When we got there, we checked our car seat (you can rent them along with your car, but they're way too expensive to rent for more than a day or two) and stroller, and got on the plane.

My point in bringing this up is just to point out how ridiculous the rules are. We ended up checking in probably about 100 lbs of stuff, plus another 20-30 lbs of carry-on luggage (we filled our quota there as well), without additional fees. And yes, we had a similar, but not quite as ridiculous, situation on the way back (them diapers are heavy). Oh, and that doesn't count the toddler herself, who's a bit more than 20 lbs as well (and was a lap-baby, so she didn't need her own ticket). The one way in which we weren't pushing it was that we aren't really heavy, ourselves.

I'm not sure how they should change the rules, but they seem pretty arbitrary. Checking two bags instead of one, in particular, is quite silly. Maybe they could help there by associating a bag with more than one person, and allowing it to go over one person's limit if so associated?

In any event, traveling with a toddler is certainly an adventure. This was our second time carrying our daughter on a plane, and the amount of stuff you end up needing to carry is really absurd. Happily, though, we got to San Fran without incident, although not without adventure. On final approach, we found ourselves frightfully close to another plane. Thankfully, there are two parallel runways, and we were going into different runways, but man that was close. Looking at Google Maps, they appear to be about 200m apart, and we landed only a second or two behind the other plane. That might not sound that close, but I can assure you, unless you fly into SFO on a regular basis, you do not normally find yourself that close to another plane while in the air.

I asked my dad about it afterwards (he was a pilot for many years), and he said that the pilots need to be certified for that, and they need to have slightly better-than-standard equipment onboard to land there.

I think I'll cut this here, and talk about more of the trip in separate posts.


Finally Leaving?

Obama announced today that all combat troops are going to be out of Iraq by the end of the month (ie: on schedule).

This really shouldn't be a big deal, but I'm fairly excited about it.

Finally, an explicit acknowledgment that nothing good is going to come out of staying. Of course, there's a lot of support troops still there for quite a while. And who knows how long sizable numbers of contractors (excuse me, "security guards") will stay.

As I said, it shouldn't be a big deal. But it is.

Of course, the downside potential problem is that if the pull-out doesn't continue on schedule, then we lose even more credibility with those in the middle east who are worried that we're never going anywhere. And that we went in just for oil. And that we're going to keep it.

That would be the melting pot of potential terrorist recruits. We really don't want to give them reason to remove the "potential" from the description of themselves.

I wonder how many politicians recognize (and care about; I'm sure at least some of them don't care) that last problem. I'd bet that it's a very small number (microscopic within the GOP, I'm sure). I'm also sure that Lieberman would not be among those seeing it.