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Comment 828 flashing Dekatron valves (Score 3, Informative) 65

Dekatron valves are an example of a solution to the problem of making storage registers before integrated circuits made them essentially free. Making reliable working memory was one of the biggest problems faced by the early computer hardware designers, and Dekatron valves (tubes) were one of the more creative solutions. Of course, the reliability of solid-state electronics made them a technological backwater, but that makes them no less interesting -- it's fun to speculate on how things would have worked out if cold-cathode valves remained the dominant storage technology.

Comment Find a value the old guard values (Score 3, Interesting) 379

In my experience (speaking as someone old enough to remember watching the coverage of President Kennedy's assassination on television), the odds are not good, since the existing people are typically happy with the existing system -- otherwise, they would have changed it by now. However, one hope is to find a value of your organization -- and it'll be specific to each organization -- that would be improved by the change you desire.

Note that this is not your value, but a stated value of the "old guard" that could be improved by the new system -- and, usually, avoiding the mortality of the old guard itself is not an acceptable value. Extra credit if you can arrange a discussion of the old guard value in such a way that Bob can take credit for the improved performance of the new system.

Often, like so much in life, people with existing beliefs have to pass on before new ideas are accepted; ask yourself if you will be open to replacing your Google Docs system by something you don't know and have never heard of, in ten or twenty years' time.

Recognize that you will have to do all the work to install the new system, just as Bob did to install his own system years ago.

Comment Re:Just how would this work? (Score 1) 257

Can you give any examples where this change would stop or slow scientific progress?

Absolutely. Ever heard of co-processors, or hardware accelerators? They are hardware implementations of algorithms that are used to speed computation and reduce power consumption, and are in every modern microprocessor.

Since they are hardware implementations of software algorithms, if this change were in force the manufacturer and seller of hardware accelerators (and the computer that contains them) would be vulnerable to patent infringement lawsuits from holders of software patents. However, if the processor did not contain them, this would not be the case, so there would be great incentive for manufacturers to design microprocessors, and computers in general, without them.

Having to design computing hardware without embedded data processing algorithms would slow progress a lot -- I wouldn't want to do it. Especially with attorneys trying to tell me that my address decoder or bus contention manager or AES-128 encryption engine is a hardware implementation of their software algorithm. Eek.

Passing the buck to the hardware portion of the computer, instead of the software, doesn't solve the problem.

Comment Re:Just how would this work? (Score 1) 257

so don't start an argument with me.

Apologies. That was not my intent. I, too, am trying to understand what Stallman is saying.

[rubs chin] . . . so his proposal would establish a sort of one-way intellectual property door, in which patented hardware could be emulated in software without patent infringement, but patented software algorithms implemented in hardware would infringe.

The implications of that are interesting. On the one hand, it would tend to force implementations of all kinds of things into software (even things that would be better done in hardware), for fear of lawsuits, which might slow the pace of hardware development -- even the programmable hardware the software runs on. On the other hand, it would make the decision of whether to patent a software algorithm an interesting one: The only valuable software patents would be those that seemed likely to be implemented into hardware (and could therefore get royalties).

Comment Re:Just how would this work? (Score 1) 257

once you move the code to general purpose hardware, it's no longer infringement.

As I have asked elsewhere, suppose that the guys developing code for general purpose hardware developed an improved algorithm, and some other guy took their algorithm, instantiated it in hard-wired logic gates, and sold it as a physical product. Is your position that the guy who took the improved algorithm and made money off of it owes nothing to those who invented the algorithm?

Comment Re:Just how would this work? (Score 1) 257

. . . but suppose that the guys working on programmable hardware developed an improved algorithm to use on their programmable hardware, and some other guy took their algorithm, instantiated it in hard-wired logic gates, and sold it. Is your position that the guy who took the improved algorithm and made money off of it owes nothing to those who invented the algorithm?

Comment Re:Just how would this work? (Score 2) 257

FPGA's are not at this time "generally used computing hardware", so the patent still applies to that line and above.

I beg to differ -- billions and billions of FPGAs have been sold, over the last 30 years, for just about every computing application one could name. It's hard to think of a more generally-used piece of computing hardware than one that can be programmed to be anything you want.

Or does "generally used computing hardware" mean that it has to be a consumer product? That wouldn't protect the armies of software developers in the world working on industrial or imbedded applications...

Besides, how do DSPs escape the "generally used computing hardware" category? They're above your line, too.

Comment Just how would this work? (Score 4, Interesting) 257

I'm not against it at all, but II really would like to understand how Stallman's proposal would apply to, say, the following example (one I've used before):

Suppose we take something like the FM demodulator in a radio. When Edwin Armstrong invented it, back in the stone age of the 1930s, I think we can all agree that (a) it was an "actual physical device," and (b) that it met all the other criteria (novelty, non-obviousness, utility, etc.) needed for a patent. It was implemented with the technology available at the time -- stone knives, bear skins, vacuum tubes (valves), and a transformer.

Skipping over details like the invention of ratio detectors, phase-locked loops, etc., the next change in implementation of FM detectors came when the tubes were replaced with discrete transistors. This required some change in bias methods, impedance levels, etc., but no major redesign. It did save cost, size, and power, though.

The next change was integration. At first, the transformer was still needed for the demodulator, and so it was pinned out of the ICs, which were still analog. This saved cost, size, and power still further.

Later, schemes were found to integrate the function of the transformer, fully integrating the (still analog) demodulator. This saved cost and size still further.

Still later, improvements in integration processes enabled the function of the FM demodulator to be performed digitally, using an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and a bunch of hard-wired logic gates, emulating the mathematical function performed by the analog demodulator. This saved cost, size, and power still further.

Demodulator designs were next ported into programmable hardware dedicated to signal-processing applications (digital signal processors); this required the ADC, plus the algorithm converted to the DSP's assembly language. This saved cost and size.

After that, demodulator designs were moved into hardware register-transfer languages, like Verilog, providing portability from chip to chip using standard-cell logic families. This saved cost.

Later, the Verilog designs were ported into field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), enabling one to program the hardware in the chip to become, when preceded by the ADC, an FM demodulator. This saved cost.

Finally, technology improved to the point that the FM demodulator could be made by an ADC followed by a microcomputer, programmed with software in a high-level language as part of a much larger system. This saved cost.

At what point in this development do we draw the line and say, "Below this, it's not patentable (or patent infringement)?" Where is "software"?

Comment It's so strange (Score 3, Insightful) 190

The funny part is, those corporate researchers that I've met -- and it would be dozens over the years -- all use cell phones, and buy them for their spouses and children. What cold-hearted bastards! Or ignorant fools! Or both!

And the corporate cell phone designers that I've met -- and it would be hundreds over the years -- all use cell phones and, despite their decades of work on improving the size, weight, battery life, and range of their devices, never once realized that it would be to their competitive advantage to minimize any radiation absorbed by the body, since that represents wasted energy that could have been used to reach the cell tower instead. Idiots!

But the managerial genius of the corporations! They can stay in the business for twenty years or more, and each hire hundreds of EM researchers and tens of thousands of engineers, without one of them cracking and letting the Great Corporate Secret -- those Top Secret studies that show how dangerous cell phones are -- out to the public. The maintained secrecy would impress the NSA and NRO, while the control of their people would impress Kim Jong-un. Masterful!

Comment Re:Redbull (Score 5, Informative) 271

the operator at the control center has a little bit of unfocused goofiness.

You mean Joe Kittenger, the man who holds the existing record, the man Felix trusts implicitly, and possesses the only voice that Felix wants to hear in his capsule?

When you are old enough to need bifocals, you'll appreciate the difference between "unfocused goofiness" and just trying to see.

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