Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
User Journal

Journal: Right back atchya Slashdot 10

Journal by Sanity
Sorry about this, but Slashdot was crushing our server. We would very much appreciate it if you could select a random day next week and come back and check out Indy. Feel free to ask questions below or in the main slashdot comments, we will try to answer them as best we can. In the meantime here is the text of the front page on the site -

Indy is a music discovery program that learns what you like, and plays more of it. And it's free.

Indy makes it easy for you to find great new independent music. Just download Indy and double-click: as it plays songs, you rate what you hear. Indy quickly learns what you like and gets really smart about sending you more music you'll like. Let Indy help you find your place in the collective conciousness as you help other people find theirs.

DOWNLOAD NOW - Windows 98/2000/XP

Latest News
19th April, 2005, Build 3 Released - Read more...

Why Indy Rocks
You aren't just a target market - Indy can help you find your own path to the music you like. There are tons of great bands out there that don't have big labels promoting them; Indy helps you find them. And once Indy downloads a track, you can add it to your music collection, listen to it whenever and wherever you want. For musicians, Indy gives you a chance to reach a whole new audience that's excited about what you're playing. Best of all, it's free for everyone!

How Indy Works
Indy uses an advanced collaborative filtering system to predict what kind of music you'll enjoy hearing. As you rate songs, Indy finds out what you do and don't like. It compares your preferences with the ratings of all the other Indy users. For example, if you rate a song highly, and another user also likes the same song, Indy guesses that you'd probably like other music that they enjoyed. As you rate more songs, Indy will gets better and better at picking songs that you'll really enjoy.

Indy contains no adware or spyware.

User Journal

Journal: Email notification for new blog

Journal by Sanity
Some people pointed out that one of the nice things about /. is that they could immediately see when my blog had been updated.

To address this problem, my new blog can now send email notifications of updates. To receive these notifications, please sign up to this mailing list, or follow the link in the sidebar of my new blog.

User Journal

Journal: Blog has moved 4

Journal by Sanity
After many months of using Slashdot as my primary blog, I eventually decided that I could no longer put up with its various limitations. As a result, I have moved back to running my own blog software. You can find my new blog here, complete with various RSS feeds so that people can keep up.
User Journal

Journal: Karma at work 4

Journal by Sanity
I read this essay by Jonathan Schwartz, President of Sun Microsystems, and was rather disappointed by his slavish support for the existence of software patents. In it he repeats the thoroughly discredited and naive argument that more IP is better because IP means innovation, and thus we need software patents. Not in my wildest dreams could this have been followed, just a few days later, by this, Kodak winning a suit against Sun in which it alleges that Java infringes on some of their patents (all of them classic examples of what is wrong with patent law), and now they want half of Sun's operating profit from 1998 to 2001!

Hey Jonathan, why did Sun need to steal Kodak's precious intellectual property - and if you didn't, perhaps, having experienced the wrong end of US patent law, you can reconsider your position on software patents?

User Journal

Journal: Letter to Home Secretary 2

Journal by Sanity
Just wrote a letter to the UK's Home Secretary (who is responsible for immigration):

Dear Home Secretary,

It is well known that the United Kingdom is keen to attract skilled workers to the UK, particularly those involved in the software industry.

The United States is poised to pass legislation, known as the "Induce Act", which will dramatically increase the risk of innovation in the software industry in the United States. If passed, this legislation is likely to prompt a large number of the United States' most talented software engineers to consider relocation to another country.

The United Kingdom is well suited to provide an alternate base for these displaced software engineers, where their innovations may benefit the UK's economy, not to mention the economy of the European Union.

My question is whether the UK government has made sufficient provision for displaced American innovators to migrate here given the hostile environment they may soon face in their own country. It is my belief that the United Kingdom can only benefit from the influx of talented software engineers from the United States, and should minimise any barriers to their migration here.

I await your response with much anticipation,

Kind regards,

Ian Clarke
Cematics Ltd.

User Journal

Journal: Induce II : Revenge of the Copyright Office 1

Journal by Sanity
A new version of the Induce Act has been prepared by the Copyright Office. Judging by early reports, it sounds like it is an improvement on the previous version, in much the same way that getting shot in the stomach is an improvement on getting shot in the head.

The new text still places the burden of protecting Hollywood's outdated business model on the creators of new technologies. Worse, it leaves open massive legal uncertainties that will inevitably lead to a storm of litigation that could stifle new technology development for years to come.

The Media

Journal: What might a viable Induce Act look like? 3

Journal by Sanity
More and more people are accepting that it is unlikely that the ill-conceived Induce Act will survive in its present form, however a number of well-informed people have told me that a revamped version which more specifically targets P2P networks probably will make it through Congress.

But, this begs the question: Will it ever be possible to target the makers of Kazaa and Morpheus, without the supposedly unintended consequences that everyone worries about?

Now, obviously the law can't simply name the companies it wants to get rid of, so there has to be some kind of test to identify these "bad actors". The fundamental problem (for the Induce Act) is that there may not exist an objective test that can effectively isolate those they wish to isolate, meaning that the Induce Act will inevitably require a subjective test. Subjective tests must be clarified by litigation, but it only requires the threat of litigation to torpedo many potentially valuable new technologies before they even get out of the angel investor's office.

It is therefore my suspicion that it will be impossible to rewrite the Induce Act such that it addresses the concerns of the IEEE, CEA, EFF, and others, while still achieving its stated goal. This probably means that the current effort to come up with a compromise is unlikely to bear fruit. I doubt the situation is improved by the fact that the person charged with achieving this compromise is the Register of Copyrights, Mary Beth Peters, who has a more anti-technology view than even the RIAA will comfortably admit to.

Whatever happens, I am sure that history will regard the Induce Act as the most violent death throe yet of a powerful and influential industry. Lets hope they don't take too many useful technologies down with them.

User Journal

Journal: Listen to the Induce Act hearing 2

Journal by Sanity
Yesterday there was a hearing in Congress on the absolutely insane anti-technology pro-entertainment industry Induce Act which you can listen to here. More-or-less predictable, Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association probably most clearly articulates the problems with this law.

Interestingly, the Business Software Alliance, who rarely see an extension of intellectual property law they don't like, and who initially endorsed the Induce Act, are now far more skeptical.

User Journal

Journal: Censored by Slashdot for criticising Apple! 8

Journal by Sanity
This is so rediculous I can scarcely believe it. A few days ago /. posted a story about iTunes which seemed a little sycophantic for my tastes, so I posted a comment pointing out (but not even endorsing) some opposing opinions. My comment was rapidly moderated up to +5, and then down it went again as some moderators decided that it was their job to shield innocent eyes from any criticism of Apple. How nice of them.

Meahwhile another user, "hanssprudel", posted a much smarter and wittier comment highlightling the hypocrisy of the Slashdot groupthink who claim to hate DRM, except when it happens to be Apple's DRM. Quite correctly it was moderated up to +4 before, like mine, the fanboys spotted this crime against their beloved Apple and down it went.

All was not lost, it turns out that some moderators actually read the moderator guidelines and decided to try to counteract the handiwork of their fellow moderators. Up and down the comments went, until then - something really surprising happened - I tried to post again and got the following message:

Due to excessive bad posting from this IP or Subnet, comment posting has temporarily been disabled. If it's you, consider this a chance to sit in the timeout corner . If it's someone else, this is a chance to hunt them down. If you think this is unfair, please email moderation@slashdot.org with your MD5'd IPID and SubnetID, which are "09b3980f7f6a2eef8e166300c0c88a54" and "7bc76bb089f2d469d9d92e2d28d45ba5" and (optionally, but preferably) your IP number "81.178.66.53" and your username "Sanity"

Well that's just great, I have been banned for excessive negative moderation, which wouldn't actually have been possible had it not been for all the positive moderation! Really clever precaution they have there. What is even better is that hanssprudel met the exact same fate (it turned out that I knew him IRL), presumably for the exact same reason!

He and I both emailed the slashdot editors, confident that they would quickly see the flaw in this silly system, unblock us, and apologise for the inconvenience. Not so, instead hans was told by CmdrTaco himself that he "deserved it" - why? Because apparently his "comment was dripping with sarcasm". Great! Glad that is clarified, you can rant about gay n*ggers all you want, but anybody that is sarcastic on Slashdot gets banned from posting for several days!

Two days later I am still banned, not sure about hans. It seems pretty clear from our correspondence with the /. editors that they aren't going to admit how stupid this mechanism is . That is their right, but you can rest assured that I won't be renewing my /. subscription, and I hope this prompts others to rethink theirs.

User Journal

Journal: More victims for swpat rant 1

Journal by Sanity
Just discovered this. It is a list of the MPs that sit on the Trade and Industry Select Committee, these being the people that are supposed to oversee the Department of Trade and Industry in the UK. It is the policy of the DTI to support the introduction of software patents in the EU, and thus the members of this committee seem like good people to pester.

With that in mind, I updated and customised a previous swpat letter, and sent it to Sir Robert Smith, one of the members of the committee. I quote it below for your plagiarizing pleasure, feel free to use it as a basis for your own letters to other members of the committee (oh, and a tip, if you send an email to an MP, phone them a few minutes later to ensure that they "got it", making a joke about spam generally helps):

Dear Sir Smith,

I am writing to you as a professional software developer to bring to your attention my growing concern over an issue which I believe could seriously hurt my profession, not to mention the wider public interest.

Current Department of Trade and Industry policy is to support a change in European Patent law which, had it been implemented 15 years ago, would almost certainly have delayed or even prevented the emergence of the Internet, and many other innovations which we now know to be hugely important technological advances.

Under the guise of a clarification to EU patent law, special interest groups have put pressure on the European Union and national governments to extend the traditionally limited range of things that can be patented to include "computer implemented inventions", in other words, patents on software. In study after study, software patents have been shown to inhibit innovation and stifle competition wherever they are permitted. It is not just software engineers like myself that are expressing concern, the US Federal Trade Commission[1] and a growing number of respected economists[2] share my views.

[1] http://www.ftc.gov/os/2003/10/innovationrpt.pdf
[2] http://www.researchineurope.org/policy/patentdirltr.htm

I have several reasons for writing to you rather than my own MP (with whom I have already had some correspondence on this issue, the end result of which was an unsatisfactory pre-prepared response from Lord Sainsbury). The first is that you are a member of the Trade & Industry Select Committee, and thus I assume you are well positioned to hold them to account for a misguided policy. Secondly, the Liberal Democrats are the most skeptical of the three main political parties on the issue of software patents. And thirdly, I had the pleasure of meeting you personally before the 1997 general election when, as a member of the Edinburgh University Libdem Society a small group of us traveled up to Aberdeenshire to help your campaign for reelection, and we had the pleasure of staying at your beautiful home over a weekend.

The purpose of patents are to encourage innovation, so you might wonder why the extension of patents into the software arena will have the opposite effect. Patents are well suited to fields where new innovations require years of research and large amounts of capital, however this is not the case with software. Every new innovation in software builds on a multitude of previous innovations, and even a single software engineer might solve hundreds of small problems in a single day of programming. Against this backdrop, the notion of the programmer seeking a 20 year patent on each of those small solutions is clearly ridiculous.

Worse still, imagine now that this programmer is forced to ensure that every small innovation they might want to build upon is not covered by someone else's patent. The programmer might need to conduct hundreds of patent searches in a single day of programming, and even then they would have no guarantee that they aren't violating a patent! Clearly this situation would be ridiculous, yet this is exactly the situation that programmers in the US and Japan now find themselves, and is exactly the situation that current UK government policy will impose on European Software developers!

Given that it is impossible to write software without risking the violation of software patents, and given that unscrupulous people will inevitably abuse the patent system to obtain patents on trivial building blocks of computer science (as has happened in other countries), software development, indeed innovation itself in the software field, becomes a very risky business. There are a multitude of examples where large corporations have used their massive patent portfolios to exclude smaller competitors, and even cases where specialist companies extort money from innovators using patents on obvious techniques.

Even large companies are not invulnerable to such parasitic practices. In the US, Microsoft is currently fighting against a small company called Eolas who have acquired a patent on an obvious technique fundamental to the operation of any web browser. This company, if successful, will be able to extort a tax on every company and individual in the United States that uses the Internet! It is worth noting that this company's only purpose is to generate revenue through extortion using this patent, they have never written a line of computer code, nor do they have any intention of doing so.

The first attempt to impose software patents on the European Software Industry was met with stiff resistance from the software development community, and as a result amendments were made to the draft directive by the European Parliament in September 2003 to address these concerns. Unfortunately the European Council of Ministers recently approved a new draft of the directive which controversially reversed the European Parliament's amendments. This draft now returns to the European Parliament where it will be much more difficult for them to reintroduce their amendments.

But why is current UK Government policy so misguided? The DTI's current position is primarily dictated by the UK Patent Office. Unfortunately, the opinion of a patent office on software patents is analogous to the opinion of an arms dealer on war, they simply can not be treated as an impartial source of advice on this issue. For example, in 2000 the UK Patent Office had a consultation on the introduction of software patents. Despite an overwhelming negative response to this consultation, the UK Patent Office ignored the opinions of software developers and now use this consultation to support their pro-patent position!

As a software innovator, I am exactly the type of person that would applaud software patents if they achieved their stated purpose of assisting innovation. The simple reality, however, is that they achieve the opposite.

I would be most appreciative if, in your role as a member of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, you could challenge the DTI on its current policy and have them justify it in the face of the wealth of evidence on the detrimental impact of software patents on competition and innovation in the software industry. Since this is a complex issue I would be more than happy to assist you in any way I can.

Yours Sincerely,

Ian Clarke,

Chief Executive Officer, Cematics Ltd
Coordinator, The Freenet Project Inc

User Journal

Journal: Followup: /dev/government 5

Journal by Sanity
I have found a volunteer to work on this idea to create a bugtracker for political issues and lobbying. Rob Park (aka Feztaa) and I have been working on the database design (see latest design here).

We have decided to go with Perl+Postgres since that is where Rob's expertise lies, rather than MySql+PHP.

Hopefully it won't be long before we have a potent new weapon to help us defend technology and progress against their enemies.

User Journal

Journal: /dev/government : On geeks and the political process 34

Journal by Sanity
During a conversation with Larry Lessig a couple of years ago, Larry was lamenting the reluctance of many geeks to engage in the political process, and how if they did, we might never need to resort to systems like Freenet.

Since then, and particularly in the last year or so during which I have been working hard to prevent the introduction of software patents in the European Union, I have seen first-hand how difficult it can be even for determined geeks to combat experienced and well-paid corporate lobbyists. Even when they figure out who it is they should be talking to, the lack of a coherent message can often serve simply to confuse their political representatives, rather than persuade them. On other occasions people's time and energy is wasted in writing to politicians whose minds are already made up.

My idea is to create a website which would allow geeks concerned about particular issues to coordinate their lobbying efforts to avoid these and other problems. At a basic level the website would contain a database of political representatives (and possibly other relevant individuals), and a record of all correspondence sent to and received from that person, organised by issue or campaign (examples of which might include the Software Patent Directive in the EU or the latest piece of anti-technology legislation put forward by the copyright industry's flunkies in congress).

This website would be somewhat analogous to "bugtracker" software such as Bugzilla, but instead of tracking the progress of particular bug-fixes, it tracks the progress of informing those in power about the concerns of technologists.

Going into a bit more detail, people would be able to locate their political representatives by indicating what issue they are interested in and then entering their location. The website would be largely user-generated in the spirit of Wikipedia. Users would be able to add new politicians to the database, edit summaries of those politician's positions, and obviously add details of correspondence they have sent or received.

Each response received from a politician can be rated with a score indicating how close they appear to be to the position the website has taken on an issue. These scores will be combined by the site to summarise the politicians apparent position, whether pro, anti, or undecided.

This data could then be mined in a variety of useful ways, such as creating voting lists of which politicians are deserving of support, and which are not, or determining whether politicians are accurately representing their party's position on the issue.

Unfortunately I do not have the time to build this myself at present, but I am hopeful that there is someone out there with PHP and MySql experience that could get their teeth into it. For my part I am willing to donate an account on a reliable Linux box from which the website can be served, and also the domain name lawtracker.org, to anyone that convinces me that they can make this a reality. Of course I will also provide any other support and advice I can for the project.

If interested, drop me an email at ian at locut dot us.

User Journal

Journal: Gmail ain't all that 3

Journal by Sanity
Well (unrelated to my previous journal entry - it was a joke people!) I got my hands on a Gmail account - and I was rather disappointed. Gmail has one or two mildly novel ideas, but nothing to make it rival a decent client-side email client. I also found it to be somewhat buggy, filters often didn't work, and were insufficiently flexible. Sometimes it claimed not to be able to parse email (how hard can it be to parse an email?!). Also, their spam filtering, which you might imagine would be amazing, given the opportunities for collaborative spam filtering, was rather ineffective. Ok, I know it is still a beta, people are already raving about it - and I just don't see why.

More to the point, one's email address is an important commodity, and it seems quite risky to invest so much in a Gmail address given the likely difficulty in migrating away from such an account in future. Consider a situation where you had been using Gmail for a year, and they did something really nasty (like trying to spam you). What are your options? Basically you are stuck with them unless you think you can email everyone who might ever want to contact you and inform them that you are changing your email address. No thanks!

Bottom line: After about 4 days of Gmail, I have now migrated back to Thunderbird and to an email address I have 100% control over.

User Journal

Journal: Please please please invite me to Gmail! 4

Journal by Sanity
If anyone out there is in the Gmail beta please please please invite me! It isn't that I lack an email account, in fact, Thunderbird combined with server-side spam filtering on my Linux server is more than sufficient for my needs. Nor do I lack a sufficiently short email address, it is hard to do better than ian[@]locut.us.

No, the point is that I want to be able to lord my gmail.com email address over those that haven't got one and thus exact karmic revenge on those who made fun of my obsession with computers at high school, lets see those jocks laugh at ian.clarke@gmail.com!

Remember, nothing says "I'm not afraid to beg" like a @gmail.com email address.

User Journal

Journal: YAswpatL

Journal by Sanity
Yet Another software patent Letter.

This one was for a friend of mine who asked me to give him some initial direction in writing a letter to his MP. I thought I would share it here as I think it is my best attempt yet to introduce the dangers of software patents, and others might find it a useful source of inspiration for their letters:

Dear xxx,

I am writing to you as a professional software developer to bring to your attention my growing concern over an issue which I believe could seriously hurt my profession, not to mention the wider public interest.

Current Department of Trade and Industry policy is to support a change in European Patent law which, had it been implemented 15 years ago, would almost certainly have delayed or even prevented the emergence of the Internet, and many other innovations which we now know to be hugely important technological advances.

Under the guise of a clarification to EU patent law, special interest groups have put pressure on the European Union and national governments to extend the traditionally limited range of things that can be patented to include "computer implemented inventions", in other words, patents on software. In study after study, software patents have been shown to inhibit innovation and stifle competition wherever they are permitted. It is not just software engineers like myself that are expressing concern, the US Federal Trade Commission[1] and a growing number of respected economists[2] share my views.

[1] http://www.ftc.gov/os/2003/10/innovationrpt.pdf
[2] http://www.researchineurope.org/policy/patentdirltr.htm

The purpose of patents are to encourage innovation, so you might wonder why the extension of patents into the software arena will have the opposite effect. Patents are well suited to fields where new innovations require years of research and large amounts of capital, however this is not the case with software. Every new innovation in software builds on a multitude of previous innovations, and even a single software engineer might solve hundreds of small problems in a single day of programming. Against this backdrop, the notion of the programmer seeking a 20 year patent on each of those small solutions is clearly ridiculous.

Worse still, imagine now that this programmer is forced to ensure that every small innovation they might want to build upon is not covered by someone else's patent. The programmer might need to conduct hundreds of patent searches in a single day of programming, and even then they would have no guarantee that they aren't violating a patent! Clearly this situation would be ridiculous, yet this is exactly the situation that programmers in the US and Japan now find themselves, and is exactly the situation that current UK government policy will impose on European Software developers!

Given that it is impossible to write software without risking the violation of software patents, and given that unscrupulous people will inevitably abuse the patent system to obtain patents on trivial building blocks of computer science (as has happened in other countries), software development, indeed innovation itself in the software field, becomes a very risky business. There are a multitude of examples where large corporations have used their massive patent portfolios to exclude smaller competitors, and even cases where specialist companies extort money from innovators using patents on obvious techniques.

Even large companies are not invulnerable to such parasitic practices. In the US, Microsoft is currently fighting against a small company called Eolas who have acquired a patent on an obvious technique fundamental to the operation of any web browser. This company, if successful, will be able to extort a tax on every company and individual in the United States that uses the Internet! It is worth noting that this company's only purpose is to generate revenue through extortion using this patent, they have never written a line of computer code, nor do they have any intention of doing so.

The first attempt to impose software patents on the European Software Industry was met with stiff resistance from the software development community, and as a result amendments were made to the draft directive by the European Parliament in September 2003 to address these concerns. Unfortunately the European Council of Ministers now has the opportunity to rewrite this draft, and thus it is essential that we persuade the UK's representative in this discussion, the Department of Trade and Industry, of the dangers of software patents.

But why is current UK Government policy so misguided? The DTI's current position is primarily dictated by the UK Patent Office. Unfortunately, the opinion of a patent office on software patents is analogous to the opinion of an arms dealer on war, they simply can not be treated as an impartial source of advice on this issue. For example, in 2000 the UK Patent Office had a consultation on the introduction of software patents. Despite an overwhelming negative response to this consultation, the UK Patent Office ignored the opinions of software developers and now use this consultation to support their pro-patent position!

As a software innovator, I am exactly the type of person that would applaud software patents if they achieved their stated purpose of assisting innovation. The simple reality, however, is that they achieve the opposite.

I hope that you can bring my concerns to the attention of those in a position to avert this disaster before it is too late.

Yours Sincerely,

yyy.

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

Working...