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Comment: HP 9845C -- soft-keys on display (Score 1) 610

by robbarrett (#42495265) Attached to: 'Gorilla Arm' Will Keep Touch Screens From Taking Over

While not exactly a touchscreen, I spent many hours/days/weeks/months programming and using an HP 9845C back in the 1980s. It had a series of 8 soft-keys built into the lower edge of the display that could be controlled via software to display menu options and generate interrupts when pressed. Users of our software (and that of many others) used these soft-keys extensively to navigate information. Users also switched regularly back to the keyboard to enter queries, etc.

While I do remember some arm tiredness, the rapid dance of fingers across the soft-keys was so efficient for navigation that everyone loved the system. It might be worth reflecting on the details of this design. For example, the user could rest the hand on the display frame or the body of the computer without straying too far from the soft-keys; all of the "touchscreen" actions were at the lower edge of the display. Both of these features decreased arm strain.

FWIW, some applications on this machine used light-pens, which also required a touchscreen-like mechanic It might be worth exploring what use cases found these awkward devices to be wins. I notice that the Wikipedia article on light-pens claims Gorilla-arm led to the demise of light-pens, but without citation.

Comment: Re:And do what with them? (Score 2) 211

by robbarrett (#38715554) Attached to: Putting Medical Records Into Patients' Hands

Seriously, if patients take the records home with them, then what. I don't personally have any knowledge that would allow me to understand the records.

You're thinking way too small....

I would think one of the primary results of this would be the instant creation of a vast array of online services where one could upload the records and see them processed in a variety of way. I also expect that regulation of such services would be a nightmare, since the line between "processing" and "practicing medicine" would be extremely narrow. Security is obviously another issue. On the other hand, in many other areas there have been mechanisms for rating online services that have been at least somewhat successful in granting authority in reasonable ways.

Comment: Re:patentable invention (Score 1) 219

by robbarrett (#36027144) Attached to: Woz and the RCA Character-generator Patent

> What have you invented that we would have heard of?

Not to take any credit away from a lot of other fine work on this technology, but I had something to do with the Linear Tape-Open system. The sales figures suggest someone around here may have heard of it. You can look at the patent yourself and decide if you think the technology was obvious or not.

Another example--a software (or at least firmware) patent--might be more controversial. This one is an algorithm to make the Trackpoint pointing device more responsive. Again, perhaps this one would seem obvious to someone who had studied control systems, but nobody up to that point in the business of isometric joysticks had conceived of the problem in these terms and proposed a solution of this sort.

> If something can't be rendered in 'practical form', can it be an actual 'invention' ?

Legally, yes. Part of the patent disclosure requirement is that the inventor must state the best way(s) s/he can think of to reduce the invention to practice. Because of the importance of filing dates and overenthusiasm, this is sometimes (often?) done prematurely, amounting to a certain bit of wasted of time. I have also been guilty of that, unfortunately.

Comment: obviousness (Score 4, Insightful) 219

by robbarrett (#36024290) Attached to: Woz and the RCA Character-generator Patent

As someone who has done a fair bit of inventing and patenting, I find generalized disdain for patented inventions to be a little irritating. (This is apart from arguments about whether intellectual property is a proper category or whether its legal protection is a good idea). Yes, many patents may have titles that make them sound trivial, and quick reads of them may make you snigger. But in the U.S., one criterion for ruling against patentability is that "the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains" (35 U.S.C. 103 (A)). I think most of my patent submissions have been initially rejected as "obvious" (one particularly entertaining case was a patent examiner's note that the shape of the recording elements in my magnetic head bore remarkable similarity to a piece of plastic someone had devised to keep a garden hose from snagging on the tire while you're washing your car). However, arguing against an "obviousness" claim is straightforward:

1. Prove that the problem has been recognized for some time;
2. Show that engineers have attempted a variety of solutions to the known problem;
3. Clearly explain how your own invention's method for solving the problem is different from existing solutions.

Of course, this doesn't do anything to prove that the invention is useful, actually does solve the problem, can be reduced to practical form, etc. It just demonstrates that the invention was not obvious at the time. It also does not mean the inventor is a genius or that nobody else on the planet could come up with the solution. It just means that it may qualify to be a patentable invention.

My own favorite case of proving non-obviousness to myself was having a renowned engineer in the field look at my proposal and tell me that he was quite sure it could not possibly work, though he could not exactly explain why. A couple of weeks later we met in the hall with him telling me that he had been intrigued enough to run simulations while I was building a prototype. We both came to the conclusion that it indeed could and did work.

Lots of crazy stuff gets patented all the time, but the process of describing and justifying an invention as such is...not completely obvious.

Comment: Re:Who's the real winner? (Score 1) 674

by robbarrett (#35229418) Attached to: Watson Wins Jeopardy Contest

As a former IBM researcher, some projects are not aimed very directly at product or bottom-line value. Increasing the stature of the corporation in the public eye and gaining acclaim within the scholarly world of the scientific community are also valued very highly. Of course, most projects have some product connection, but there are a limited number of well thought out "grand challenge" projects that need not.

Comment: Re:The rollback of the Bush era infringements (Score 1) 359

by robbarrett (#32532386) Attached to: Federal Judge Limits DHS Laptop Border Searches

His Democrats Congress passed a bill, and he signed into law, a requirement that I MUST...[do xyz]...or be punished (fined $...)).

Not really advocating either way, but the alternative Republican-favored approach is to give tax rebates for the economic behavior you want (e.g. health cost savings accounts, buying energy efficient cars, etc.). Both are forms of government influence over economic behavior.

Comment: Tape Business vs. Disk Business (Score 1) 228

by robbarrett (#32532356) Attached to: Recent Sales Hint That Tape For Storage Is Far From Dead

Back in the not-too-distant past when I worked on tape R&D at IBM, we were entertained by these non-stories. At the time, IBM made more money off of tape than the whole disk industry made all together.

As to the geek-factor, it's worth noting that the slower product cycle for tape development (driven largely by interoperability being maintained for a long time) means that a tape developer can have a lot more fun than a disk developer. When we were inventing the LTO technologies, there was huge freedom to create something new and interesting compared with the difficulty of making even modest changes to the disk product line.

Comment: Re:Computer simulations?!? (Score 2, Insightful) 145

by robbarrett (#29088887) Attached to: Simple, Portable Physics Simulations

Totally agree. For me (I eventually became a research physicist), the connection point was a simple experiment in a high-school physics class where we were able to predict the equilibrium temperature of the combination of a heated brass weight and a styrofoam cup of water. It was the connection between the math and the reality that was amazing to me -- that you could know pretty much exactly what the result would be ahead of time...and the you could design a particular outcome and make it happen. I guess it is the mark of nerddom, but I was hooked.

Comment: One poor LaTeX user's story (Score 1) 674

by robbarrett (#28015477) Attached to: MS Word 2010 Takes On TeX

My officemate produced a beautiful doctoral dissertation with LaTex. Unfortunately, he has now been manually re-working it over the course of several weeks to coerce LaTeX to format it more like MSWord so that it will be approved by the publisher who is printing his book. "Everyone else" produces "camera ready" copy for this book series using MSWord with provided templates. When my friend argues with the editor that his LaTeX output is better, he is told that those styles are no longer considered better -- I assume this means that Uncle Bill has managed to win the formatting game as he has managed to control what is "proper" grammar through his green squiggles.

I'm not saying this is a good thing, but it is his sad story. And this is a top-rung German academic book publisher. (They turned down my book [another story] but fortunately, my publisher does all of the typesetting for me!).

He's dead, Jim.

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