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Books

Submission + - Amazon Patents Changing Authors' Words

theodp writes: To exist or not to exist: that is the query. That's what the famous Hamlet soliloquy might look like if subjected to Amazon's newly-patented System and Method for Marking Content, which calls for 'programmatically substituting synonyms into distributed text content,' including 'books, short stories, product reviews, book or movie reviews, news articles, editorial articles, technical papers, scholastic papers, and so on' in an effort to uniquely identify customers who redistribute material. In its description of the 'invention,' Amazon also touts the use of 'alternative misspellings for selected words' as a way to provide 'evidence of copyright infringement in a legal action.' After all, anti-piracy measures should trump kids' ability to spell correctly, shouldn't they?
Government

Submission + - Governance By Website Instead Of Politicians?

An anonymous reader writes: When the internet spread out to mainstream population, it did not take long for politicians and activists to start using it as a way to communicate to their constituents, to organize supporters, and more recently even to solicit input. Then as collaborative technologies began to develop, some people started to wonder what exactly we needed the politicians for. After all, complex projects like Wikipedia and SlashDot are driven in large part by the user-base, not a small group of overlords. So why can't every governance system be open to input from everyone? Over the past couple of years, this movement has been crystalizing in the Metagovernment project, and now they have brought together numerous software projects (most in late Alpha) which are actively building governance systems meant to operate with little or no input from elected leaders. It should be pointed out that none of these systems are majority-rule or referenda systems: they are much more complex collaborative decision-making systems, deliberately designed to avoid the pitfalls of traditional direct democracy. The group has also compiled a much longer list of related projects. So, what is the future of the idea of "open sourcing" human governance: doomed, possible, or inevitable?

Submission + - In defense of insider trading (forbes.com)

trbdavies writes: As the Galleon Group insider trading case moves toward a trial, John Tamny at Forbes.com makes a pretty good argument that laws against insider trading are incoherent, and offers a full-blown "defense of the much-maligned practice". It does seem puzzling what the main principle should be here. As Tamny says, "information asymmetry is what makes investing a worthwhile pursuit to begin with. If everyone had access to the same information, there would be little opportunity for gain when investing." A better approach might be to require more detailed and immediate disclosure of every trade, which seems like it would drastically limit the timeframe and magnitude of insider deals. The methods used in the Galleon case also raise questions about whether future enforcement is really viable. The case against Raj Rajaratnam and 5 others is based on wiretapping evidence with cooperating witnesses — the first time such evidence has been used in an insider trading case, a la cases against the mafia. It seems very likely, now that everyone is aware of the possibility of such wiretaps, that future inside information will simply not be passed by cell phone, but through less tappable backchannels or even steganography. How is the FBI going to detect that two people are passing messages to each other by rearranging the stones along a hillside trail?
Government

Submission + - Flu Pandemic may lead to websites being blocked (reuters.com)

mikael writes: While corporations and businesses have been advised on how to allow employees to work remotely from home, there is still some uncertainty on how ISP's would be able to handle the extra flow of traffic. The Department of Homeland Security is suggesting that ISP's be prepared to block popular websites in order to prioritize bandwidth for commercial use.
Government

Submission + - GAO says Homeland Security should take over 'net (msn.com)

gclef writes: Under the guise of responding to potential Internet congestion in the case of a pandemic flu, the US Government Account Office is recommending that Homeland Security should be planning to take over the Internet. Some of their recommendations include turning off high-traffic sites and telling ISPs to re-prioritize their traffic to either force everyone to slower speeds or only preferring traffic from certain users. MSNBC has a story on it but the full GAO report is where the real fun is. Of special note is the appendix where DHS basically says that this isn't their job or their problem.
Google

Submission + - A copyright black hole swallows our culture (ft.com) 2

An anonymous reader writes: James Boyle, professor at Duke Law School, has a piece in the Financial Times in which he argues that a "copyright black hole is swallowing our culture." He explains some of the issues surrounding Google Books, and makes the point that these issues wouldn't exist if we had a sane copyright law.
Businesses

Submission + - The Case Against Apple

Hugh Pickens writes: "Last month Jason Calacanis, CEO of Mahalo, wrote that Apple's anti-competitve behavior and closed platform on the iPhone is setting the stage for the fight for the next desktop: the mobile desktop and if Apple wins the fight it will set the industry back decades. Calacanis highlighted five reasons that Apple is an "anti-competitive monster": It doesn't make iTunes or iPod compatible with other Mp3 players, highlighting what Calacanis called its "inexcusable lack of openness"; it locks iPhone users into AT&T as a carrier; it makes iPhone developers go through an "unclear" approval process; it blocks other browsers from being installed on the iPhone; and it blocks applications like Google Voice from iPhones. The WSJ reports that Calacanis debated former Apple marketing executive Guy Kawasaki at Startup2startup, a monthly event for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors and Calacanis made the case that the iPhone is not a phone, it's a computer and "the application layer on a computer should not be controlled by anybody." Kawasaki responded that he may not agree with the approval process for iPhone apps, but that doesn't mean Apple is evil and instead merely shows that the company is successful at its business. Calacanis argued that the more open technology is, the more everyone benefits. "Everyone has benefited from the open Internet. The open Internet is the reason why all these VCs will invest in your companies," said Calacanis adding that "I think there should be an iPhone bill of rights.""
Idle

Submission + - Will Honolulu make body odor a crime? (honoluluadvertiser.com)

trbdavies writes: "The Honolulu Advertiser reports that the Honolulu City Council is considering a bill to make it illegal to "bring onto transit property odors that unreasonably disturb others or interfere with their use of the transit system, whether such odors arise from one's person, clothes, articles, accompanying animal or any other source." So if you stink up the bus, you could "be fined up to $500, spend up to six months in jail, or be both fined and jailed." Councilman Rod Tam explains, "As we become more inundated with people from all over the world, their way of taking care of their health is different. Some people, quite frankly, do not take a bath every day and therefore they may be offensive in terms of their odor." The ACLU is predictably "concerned about laws that are inherently vague, where a reasonable person cannot know what conduct is prohibited." Is this country becoming Singapore?"
Patents

Submission + - Calls For Criminalisation Of Patent Law in UK

chrb writes: BBC News is reporting that British inventor Trevor Baylis, who invented the wind-up radio, has written to the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, urging him to criminalise patent violations. This would make violating a patent a criminal offense, punishable by several years in jail. The cost of patent trials would be paid for by the tax payer, rather than by the patent holder. The proposal apparently has the support of the Federation of Small Businesses (the UK's largest business lobby group), the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and former Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable, who in 2002 introduced a bill which raised the maximum sentence for copyright violations to 10 years imprisonment.
The Internet

Submission + - The Ups and Downs of BBN, Birthplace of the Net (xconomy.com)

waderoush writes: "UCLA researchers sent the first computer-to-computer transmissions using the Interface Message Processor (IMP) 40 years ago today, forming the first building blocks of the Arpanet, forerunner to the Internet. The IMP was built by Cambridge, MA-based BBN, which, it was announced yesterday, will be acquired by Massachusetts defense giant Raytheon. For an institution that has been so central to the development of networking, speech recognition, and many other key areas of computer science, BBN has had a remarkably tumultuous history, rarely making money and being passed around in recent years from GTE to Verizon to a private investment group, and now to Raytheon. This article digs into the lab's history and asks whether it may finally have found a natural home at Raytheon, which, like BBN, was the product of scientist-entrepreneurs from MIT."
Books

Submission + - Coders at Work

Vladimir Sedach writes: "Aside from authoring narrowly focused technical books, teaching university courses, or mentoring others in the workplace, programmers don't often get a chance to pass on the knowledge of the practise of programming as a profession. Peter Seibel's Coders at Work takes fifteen world-class programmers and distills their wisdom into a book of interviews with each of them.

The list of coders interviewed includes some geek household names like Donald Knuth and jwz, but also some not so well-known ones such as Bernie Cosell (one of the programmers behind the ARPANET IMP, the first Internet router) and Fran Allen (compiler pioneer). The full list of people interviewed is available on the book's website. The eras embodied by the interviewees range from the very beginnings of software as we know it today, to the heyday of the Internet boom, when people like Brad Fitzpatrick made their mark.

Seibel himself is a coder and author (having the well-received Practical Common Lisp under his belt). It is then no surprise that the interviews are packed with technical details, which (with one exception, explained below) restricts the intended audience of the book to those already familiar with programming.

Coders at Work manages to communicate the wisdom of programmers of bygone eras, while simultaneously being heavily colored by very contemporary issues. JavaScript, its consequences and its discontents, is a topic recurring throughout the book. More than just a recounting of history, Coders at Work should inspire readers to learn about the wider context of their craft and stop the reinvention of the proverbial wheel decried by several of the interviewees in its pages.

Given the related subject matter, the people interviewed in Coders at Work who played a role in creating major programming languages (Armstrong, Eich, and Steele), and close publication dates of the two books, inevitable comparisons will be drawn between Coders at Work and Federico Biancuzzi and Shane Warden's Masterminds of Programming (I previously reviewed Masterminds of Programming on my blog). There is a lot of common ground between the two books in terms of technical areas covered, but Coders at Work clearly comes out on top.

Part of the reason has to do with the fact that Seibel's choice of interviewees is stellar. Masterminds of Programming's niche focus on programming language designers meant that its authors had a tougher job than Seibel, but details like the omission of Alan Kay (creator of Smalltalk and one of the most influential programming language designers in the field's history) from Masterminds are nothing short of dumbfounding.

Just as important to making Coders at Work a good book is the fact that Seibel is a great interviewer. Seibel's questions felt more open-ended than those in Masterminds, and the resulting interviews have a flow and narrative that makes them engrossing to read and gives the programmers interviewed a chance to explore details in-depth.

A refreshing aspect of Coders at Work are the interviewees who don't shy away from strong opinions or humor, as shown in this remark by Peter Deutsch:

I think Larry Wall has a lot of nerve talking about language design--Perl is an abomination as a language.

One aspect where Coders unintentionally shines is as a guide to finding and hiring programming talent. Even non-technical managers will benefit greatly by reading those excerpts of the interviews concerned with hiring programmers.

Another unexpected aspect of the book is the breadth of topics discussed — everything from debugging machine code to women's issues in computing workplace and education.

One area where Coders could stand improvement is in its length. Not all of the coders interviewed possessed the gift of brevity, and many interview answers could have been edited to reduce their length without affecting the message.

In her interview, Fran Allen makes an interesting assertion — programming and computer science need to become more socially relevant. Other scientific and engineering fields are filled with well-known personalities, described in prominent interviews, biographies, and major Hollywood films. The only "software people" to appear in the public spotlight are the CEOs of major software firms. Ultimately, its role in helping programming assert its status as a socially relevant profession may be the most important contribution of Coders at Work.
"

Comment Simple contradiction in article (Score 1) 96

I agree with your summation. We can judge this article based on what is says about the Affero GPL:

Another curious licence is the Affero GPL - - which aims to close the "Application Service Provider Loophole". What it means is that if I install an AGPLed program on a public web-server and modify it then I must make my modifications public. However, the Free Software Definition , says that one must have "The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to his needs.". As a result, I personally don't consider the AGPL as free (because I may wish to run it on my publicly accessible web-server and modify it), but the FSF thinks otherwise. We have enough problems with the suitability of the GPL for embedded systems, that we don't need to kill the prospering web-apps market too.

Apparently the author thinks that if he has to share modifications, then his "freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to his needs" has been compromised, and the license is "curious". Why not just argue that the GPL itself is not a Free Software license?

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