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Comment Re: Require that patents be defended (Score 2) 134

Then you just write it in fancy sounding bullshit, and pass it off as a unique invention -- and the morons at the patent office, whose only real criteria is if the checks clear, will rubber stamp it and suddenly you have a patent.

To a great degree this is actually true. The patent officers don't care about the checks that much, though. It just creates a lot of work for them when they reject a patent claim and the lawyers of the people applying for the patent, i.e. prosecuting (that's the technical term) it prove them wrong and get their rejections overturned. It also shows badly on the record of the patent officer if their rejections tend to not hold up. The lawyers usually have more resources and motivation to make the patent pass through. So, the patent clerks tend to take the path of least resistance, i.e. approving the patents after doing their due diligence. Patent officers have a pre defined set of databases(including scientific journals, previous patents, etc) that they look through for prior art, and they don't look outside of that set (for example on Google) to find out if an idea is original. There is a fair amount of screening that goes into granting a patent for sure, and they don't just stamp anything. But they will stamp anything as long as their asses are covered. And they are really tiny asses that don't need a whole lot of cover.

Now when you bring up a case in court to invalidate somebody else's patent, that's when your lawyers will do all the google searches and thorough research to show that the invention was publicly known before the patent was granted. This research would go in front of a judge who will most likely rule in favor of whoever hired the bigger guns.

The problem with ideas in software (as opposed to, say, chemistry) is that they are generated far too quickly and anonymously to be included in formal databases and journals, even though they may be publicly known. I'll give you a rough example. Around the year 1998, you could use a plugin in Winamp called Geiss that showed trippy visualizations of music. Before that plugin (correct me if I'm wrong), music visualization was mostly just fancy waveforms. Apple lifted this idea wholesale and made it part of iTunes in 2001. Sony patented this idea in 2009. Poor Mr. Geiss got diddly squat for his invention, even though millions or even billions have probably used it till date, and his idea got patented more than a decade after conception. Such is the state of affairs: big tech companies go out and patent ideas that they learn from the general public. If the idea's implementation takes off, the patent provides them security, and if it doesn't, it's a bargaining chip to gouge money from anyone that tries to use the idea.

Regarding the patenting of ideas versus inventions, in theory you can only patent inventions, but the definition of what constitutes an invention is very lax, especially for software, and you don't have to go and show a working proof of concept to a patent officer. If the patent application describes the software in enough detail so as to allow an average programmer to develop it based on just the description, it's good enough to qualify. In other words, you can pretty much patent a piece of software at the requirements and architecture stage.

Comment Old School Advertising (Score 1) 1838

This may come a little bit from left field and won't get upvoted much, but I really hope whiplash et al get to read this. Why is it that the #1 news source and forum for scientists and engineers, etc gets sold for chump change to the highest bidder? Profitability. For some reason, a me-too job site (Dice) makes a lot more money than good old Slashdot. The new management team has got to do what it takes to keep Slashdot profitable for their own sake and for the sake of this community we've got brewing for decades now. Two more sales like this one and Slashdot will be practically dead. The feature set has been rich enough to keep so many of us hooked to the site for years and that is not where the problem lies. Yes, you need to do something about Unicode and the quality of submissions here, but on the whole the content and features of this site are fine the way they are. You just need some more continuous improvement and keeping up with the times (i.e. Reddit). What slashdot needs is more ways to make revenue without appearing to have sold out. The problem with this site is that even though there are lots of visitors, there aren't as many ads sold because most of the people who come here are technologically adept enough to use AdBlock or avoid Ad networks some other way (DNS). What you guys need to do is to come up with ways to advertise on Slashdot that don't use popular ad networks because network Ads simply don't reach most of your audience. Maybe it takes the form of sponsoring individual stories or sections, or the whole site for a number of visitors, but it has to avoid the major ad networks. I post this not for Internet karma but because I truly care about this site, so please feel free to contact me if you need more input.

Comment Re:Science! (Score 2) 127

Yes, processing power and bandwidth have gone up significantly but what do we do with them? The same things we did on the old systems. You could stream video on 56k using Real player, or play Doom with your friends over 9600 baud. Now there is Netflix and GTA Online. Apart from a little extra HTML5/Ajax widgetry, Slashdot looked and functioned pretty much the same on my 640x480 screen over a 33.6k modem. Those supercomputers in our pockets are used for random chitchat on Twitter and Facebook and playing Angry Birds. Not very different from Yahoo messenger over SMS and Snakes. All those features you mention about the iPhone were present on the Nokia series 60 phones about 15 years ago. Even modern smartphones themselves have had pretty much the same feature set for the last 4-5 years. The base technologies have improved vastly and everything is bigger, faster and better now, but what I'm trying to say is that the way we use them hasn't changed all that much, i.e. the use cases have remained pretty much the same and not as many new use cases (such as booking taxis over the internet) have come up as I would expect with exponential growth in the technology. It's the exact same painting made with a thousand more strokes.

Comment Re:Science! (Score 1) 127

That's a wonderful passage and truly deserves to be published. I wish I was a schoolteacher just so I could show it to my kids in class. I agree with all of it: there are lots of miracles both man-made and god-made all around us that we never come to appreciate. But here's my gripe with the state of technological innovation today: all this stuff except for cellphones has been with us for decades, or at least for as long as I've had my eyes open. Sure there are minor improvements everywhere: carburetors got replaced by injectors, brick phones got replaced with Nokia 6610s which got replaced by iPhones. The Internet was a big one, but that was about 20 years ago for me. There haven't been any giant leaps in technology for as long as I can remember except for the Internet. I've been reading about nanotechnology for about 15 years now, and I know universities are all abuzz about it, but so far I haven't seen it affect my life in any meaningful way. Someone needs to come up with a way to bring all this new technology that we hear about in papers to market more quickly.

Comment Re:Presidential Administrations Care About Percept (Score 1) 117

Yeah that voter manipulation trick has has been imported to India from K Street with some enhancements and is wreaking havoc here. We now we have a genocidal fundamentalist running the country with a perfectly astroturfed social media based campaign. For example, he circulated a false jpeg on WhatsApp claiming that Julian Assange says Modi is incorruptible. This was happening at a time when social media had just hit critical mass in India, e.g. the average 40+ year old citizen and the middle class had just moved to smartphones that display HTML properly. So perfectly astroturfed that he got a stadium literally astroturfed just so that searching 'modi astroturf' doesn't turn people to anybody talking about the ruling party's deceptive campaign. The government is spending huge amounts on tailored suits, pointless public addresses and inconsequential foreign visits that do nothing except create a cult of personality around Modi. Public schools where kids don't even have benches or books were rented high-end video equipment just so they could see Modi's swearing-in ceremony. Hindu fundamentalists have been given his silent assent, and if a muslim was caught with beef and murdered for it (which happened recently), there would be no action by the authorities or acknowledgement by the government. The first time Modi addressed religiously motivated killings of muslims in India was to the BBC on a visit to England, a month after the fact. Imagine if POTUS did that after a mass public shooting. You all in America have a duty to protect your country from the likes of Trump, Cruz and Fiorina by going to the voting booths and voting. Heck, even Bush and Hillary look good in comparison to them.

Comment SpeedSwitchXP, SpaceMonger and PuTTY (Score 1) 620

Maybe not the oldest, but I still use these 3 fairly frequently and download them onto almost every new computer: 1. SpeedSwitchXP: For breathing life into old XP machines by making them run in max-fan-noise-mode. I guess I could use Power options, but this is more forceful. 2. SpaceMonger 1.x: An old utility for visualizing disk space usage. Still runs beautifully. 3. PuTTY/pscp: There's this old-school HTML 3.0 page that I download them from. I should probably switch to something newer.

Comment IMHO, not worth the trouble (Score 1) 83

As far as replacing parts is concerned, you can always pop a new battery or memory card (at least on non-iOS devices). By the time a non-replaceable part is gone, chances are that other parts are also getting old and you probably need a new phone anyway. If you want to spare the money buy a ~$400+ phone, and if you don't, you can get a ~$100 model that does everything your old phone did, and use the old phone for a simpler purpose just like you would do with an old laptop. If you still insist on replacing the part, you can always go to a "mobile hospital" (there are literally hundreds here in India, and I've seen one or two in pretty much every major US city) and get the screen, camera, or charger port replaced. Spares are available for everything. If you did the same replacement on a Fairphone, the most you would be saving on is the labor that the mobile repair guy would be charging. And even that savings would probably get lost because the Fairphone modules would be costly because of their low volumes, proprietary physical interface, and 'ethical manufacturing'. Sure, it's ethical for the big picture and Gaia would be so happy, but it's probably cruel to my communications budget which is already getting bled dry paying ridiculous prices for mobile data. $10 for 3 long youtube videos over your data limit? It's highway robbery out there.

As far as actual customization goes, the smartphone OS and hardware ecosystem pretty much has you locked in place. You can't really remove any features. Want a phone without a camera? you'll either have a half-functional phone (no QR codes, etc.), or you'll have a buggy piece of shit. Maybe the developer of your favorite app did the right thing and added a check for a camera, but most likely he just programmed it to go straight to the camera and getImage(). Want a phone without a GPS to go with your tinfoil hat? It's most likely coupled with some other useful part (like a modem) in a module, and even if you could take it out, the Google WiFi SSID-based location system's already got your exact location within 3 feet as soon as you turn on the WiFi. Want a phone with a bigger camera? Why not get the extra processing power that it would end up needing anyways and get the newest and biggest Samsung, HTC or Xiaomi. Wanna upgrade GPU, CPU, RAM or root storage? Fuggedaboutit - It's probably soldered to the base phone and/or inside an SoC chip. Want a new OS? Good luck finding anything that is worth switching to and will run reliably unless your phone sold at least a 100,000 copies. Want a bigger battery or a wireless charging system? Most good and recent-ish phones can be easily fitted with one.

You can't compare the IBM PC platform to these SoC phones, and here's why:
1. The choice of internal components is very limited, and a lot of stuff is combined into one chip. There are 3-4 major SoC vendors out there. Same goes for the Camera CCDs, sensors, and all the chips that go in there. Compare that to the ~10 major graphics card and motherboard manufacturers in the market. Or the ~40 different types of CPUs you can install on a given motherboard socket.
2. Unlike a desktop OS with replaceable drivers, an Android OS image has to already have all the drivers it needs installed in the image. With a desktop OS you get an installer that lets you install it on any compatible hardware. With a smartphone OS, the install takes a team of 40 engineers 6 months of work, day and night, after which they release the OS image (which still has fucking bugs in it, mind you, till they iron half of them out with every +.001 version). Or some smart kid makes the install using Cyanogen or something in one all nighter, but it ends up having bugs that never go away because the kid got bored of the project or got hired to that team of 40 engineers.
3. The choice of manufacturers and models at different price points is simply fucking crazy. There are easily hundreds of smartphone/tablet manufacturers out there if you know how to look beyond what Best Buy/Verizon will sell you. You can pretty much customize by simply choosing the right phone for what you need.
4. Unless your phone usage is very different from the average user, there's almost no difference in the experience of using any of these devices. No matter how good your phone is, it's gonna get slow as fuck anyways once you actually start using it because you'll keep installing shit until it slows down, and then try to optimize it. 5. When a good Samsung falls out of your pocket, you get a few scratches and your Gorilla glass screen survives the drop. When a modular phone does the same, the floor is scattered with modules and pieces of your dignity. Oh, and that 100 megapixel camera module that you got for $400? nowhere to be found - probably fell into the hole with the cockroaches in it.

Don't get me wrong - these problems could all be ironed out and we may indeed have a truly awesome modular phone in our hands someday. It's just going to a take an industry-wide paradigm shift (and a mature and widely deployed version of Project Ara) for it to be actually useful. Until then, the most a Fairphone will do for you is make you the star of one coffee break where people finally notice your Code Monkey ringtone. If you're really desperate and work at Facebook or some shit, maybe, just maybe it might be worth it for that.

Comment Re:Higher, at first ... (Score 1) 142

I had an old school cable modem (circa 2007, big-ish metallic heatsinky thing) with a similar issue and the solution was to turn it off and on every once in a while. From what I searched on the issue, some buffer somewhere on the modem wasn't getting emptied as fast as it should, such that over the course of a few days the buffer would be nearly full and you wouldn't get good throughput anymore. I would also recommend buying a new good cable modem - you'll end up saving a ton on the modem rental charge too. If you've messed with the QoS settings on your router, perhaps a reset there would also help.

Comment Re:I'll buy a self driving car.. (Score 1) 258

I don't see why this represents a serious objection. You would obviously have the vehicle software / sensor stack optimized for local conditions. Indian designers could rig it so that lights flashed and horns honked. Algorithms could be designed so that you could simulate bluff charges / random aggressive behavior / whatnot.

Really, from what I've seen of third world driving, a simple pseudo random number generator along with five or so stock behaviors (go, stop, go faster, swerve, swerve more) should do just fine.

You present the problem better than I do. In third world driving, the road is full of random actors like that, and in close enough proximity that any automated driving device/"stack" safe enough to be made road legal would keep the car stopped the whole time. I have a reverse sensor that pings if there's an obstruction some x feet away from the car. If I'm reversing out of parking into busy mixed vehicle/pedestrian traffic (and you have to in places), it just beeps constantly - if I was to go strictly by the sensor I'd probably have to wait hours. Bad third world traffic requires a human driver who also acts as a negotiator for the right of way, and has a sensor grid complex enough to sense every inch of the car, and has the human intelligence required to predict the actions of these random actors quick enough. I'm not saying it's impossible for self-driving to one day be good enough to use here. It's just that the state of the art is not as advanced right now. No amount of million dollar cars that can barely traverse the I-90 by itself will convince me that self-driving cars are going to be a thing any year soon. All kinds of automation is already used for safety features and assists and that will keep getting advanced, but autonomous driving throughout the world is still pretty far from real.

Comment I'll buy a self driving car.. (Score 1) 258

the day you can make it drive in heavy Indian traffic. Out here in the traffic, you have to use the horn, stare down at other drivers, sense the other driver's next move (which may or may not be predictable from their vehicles' movements), dodge cows, camels, donkeys, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and hand pulled rickshaws. Sometime's if you're stuck in a lane behind a truck that's not moving, you have to change lanes while frantically honking, flickering your headlights, and motioning with your hands. Check out the Top gear India special if you think I'm joking - and those guys didn't even get into some of the nastiest traffic.

Comment A few caveats (Score 4, Interesting) 53

Some factors to consider:

1. The Android Ones are a hard sell in India and nobody cares about Stock vs Proprietary Android. The Xiaomi Redmi 1S which sells for less than these phones and has much better specs is a huge hit in India. I bought one about a week ago for ~Rs. 6000 ($100) in a flash sale, and its already out of stock at all major online retailers. To top that, there's news of an even cheaper (~Rs. 4000) Xiaomi phone with a 4G modem coming soon. I did look at the Android One phones when I was shopping, but ended up getting the Xiaomi because of the better build quality and necessary luxuries like a scratchproof screen and non-shitty camera which the Android Ones lack. Also, there are better featured phones (with older Android in some cases) available in the same price bracket as the Android Ones from these same manufacturers. My servant bought a 6 inch Micromax phablet a month ago for ~Rs. 7000. (Yes, I'm not one of the aforementioned 'class-conscious' assholes, although they do exist). Btw, CyanogenMod works well on the Xiaomi and I now have a fully functional portable ScummVM gaming console - something that my iDevices and Samsung Androids from the past 4 years haven't been able to do without bricking/breaking warranty.

2. Brick-and-mortar mobile stores are a lot less regulated and organized, and come in way more shapes and sizes than the article makes them out to be. For instance, a lot of "mom-and-pop" phone shops in India will gladly sell you pirated software and content, non-licensed Chinese parts, and no-name Chinese phones. If you're unlucky, they'll even sell you refurbished items as new. These are highly independent wheeler dealers who do what it takes to make a profit. The real effect of this stocking ban will be that only big-name mobile shops such as those run by the major cellular carriers or the equivalents of Best Buy here in India will not stock the Android Ones, but the countless little shops will still do it.

3. Online shopping has reached critical mass only just now, i.e. the Diwali 2014 season. The technology and players have been around for a long time - I made my first online purchase here in 2000, but India-friendly options such as cash-on-delivery and zero-fee cash transfers have only recently come up. Trust is a huge issue here when not buying face-to-face from a person, because we don't have faith in the due process getting our money back if something goes wrong. If you buy face-to-face, you can at least go and rough up the guy who sold you the defective item, or so the argument went. But, times are changing, and people don't want to pay the "brick-and-mortar tax" anymore. Big retail in India is shit-scared, and there's possibly even corporate psychological warfare going on against e-commerce:
Story 1 Story 2.

Comment Women in competitive gaming (Score 1) 962

Even outside of the extreme examples, women have a tough time in the competitive gaming scene and are immediately written off when they show the slightest bit of incompetence. For example, take Pyrion flax and Sheever from the Dota 2 competitive scene. Pyrion is arguably worse than Sheever (he himself would probably admit that), but he is given more airtime and taken more seriously. Here's a video that shows blatant sexism among Dota 2 casters:
I can't seem to find the video, but on day 3 of the Dota 2 TI4 championship (in the C9 vs VG match), there's a point where Sheever tries to say something about the lineups but is interrupted by other casters three times in a row. She ends up getting to say nothing before the game starts.

I don't think there's much that can be done to get women equal and fair treatment in gaming and computer-related fields, but I'm almost certain the situation will improve itself over time as more women participate. In the meantime, we just have to try to not be such dicks to the outliers and to not look at people through the lenses of gender, race and nationality.

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