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Comment Why didn't you read the patent, then? (Score 1) 183

Seriously, the claims aren't that had to understand, even though they're drafted in legalese that intentionally obscures how trivial the "invention" is.

Claims 1, 8, and 15 of the patent are broad enough that they very well could capture a chloropleth map. After all, a chloropleth map is really just a bunch of "cells" (regions) that you're assigning visual cues (colors) to based on a value they're associated with.

Maybe, just maybe, some of the finer dependent claims would meet the threshold of patentability, but the broader claims are obvious to anyone who's done more than dabble in Excel VBA.

IANAL (thank God), but FWIW I have taken IP law courses at one of the top two law schools in the country.

Comment It's obvious to people WITHOUT ordinary skill... (Score 3, Insightful) 183

There are no technical details that are not obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art.

I'm not a programmer. I was a social science major in undergrad. My languages of choice are Perl and Visual Basic for Applications.

Why do I open myself up to the scorn of the /. community by revealing these facts? Because just this summer, I was about to implement EXACTLY what this patent describes when I was happy to find that the functionality already existed in Microsoft Excel. Thanks, Excel, for saving me some time. You deserve credit for that. But a patent? 20 years of exclusivity?

If the idea to do this, and the implementation (gee, look at maximums and minimum, set up a color scale or other visual indicator corresponding to certain values) was readily accessible to me (a person WITHOUT ordinary skill in the art), there is no reason this should have been granted a patent.

As the summary suggests, the claims seem broad enough that some of them (1, 8, and 15) might be invalidated by chloropleth mapping techniques present in GIS software.

Comment This "creep from Thailand" was an entrepreneur (Score 5, Insightful) 543

There have been hundreds of thousands of students from Asia who knew the price differentials. None of us thought of exploiting it by arbitrage, because we knew it was "wrong". This creep from Thailand did just that.

Actually, engaging in this sort of arbitrage is virtually an American tradition. The only reason there's a lawsuit here is because there's intellectual property involved. If someone discovered that they could purchase Widget X in Country B at a lower price than in Country A, then bought a lot of Widget X and imported to Country A to resell at a higher price, we'd typically call them smart or at least entrepreneurial. Not to mention that consumers in Country A benefit from lower prices.

But since this involves copyright, normal logic goes out the window, and we're told that a book, lawfully purchased in Thailand, cannot be lawfully sold by its purchaser in the United States... because OMG WE NEED DIFFERENTIAL PRICING. You know what? Not my problem. Don't use copyright law to outlaw arbitrage. You want to make your differential pricing more effective? You could translate it into the local language, that'd be a huge barrier to reimportation and reselling.

BTW, this is the exact issue brought up in the Omega v. Costco case - except there it was even more ridiculous, since the copyright was on a design that happened to be stamped on the watch. Currently Costco is apparently winning the issue, since they're arguing that Omega is engaging in copyright misuse in order to control distribution of a normally uncopyrighted object (a watch).

Comment How is that different than online shopping? (Score 3, Interesting) 145

The first time I had some hipster process my card with his iPhone, I was apalled that there was a system that *can't* issue a physical receipt.

How is that different than shopping online? You're relying on online vendors to present you with a confirmation page, which you can then choose to print on your printer, or have e-mailed to you. If you're buying a physical object, you might get a receipt with your shipment, or maybe just a packing list. If not, where's your physical receipt? It's up to you to print it.

Square will e-mail or text you a receipt. Is it that hard to enter 10 digits to get a text? If the person you're buying from is complaining, the problem is them, not the system.

Comment Not really... (Score 2) 47

I don't know what specifically you tried to do, but there is a lot of data available down to the block group and block level, which are relatively small geographic units. There's even more data available by "place", which would include any major city and many smaller cities and towns. Some of the tax data is redacted for confidentiality (e.g., when there is only one employer of a certain type in a geographic area, they won't release payroll information for it), but that's pretty unusual in larger areas.

You may have been using one of the user-friendly tools, which can be limited in their reach. American FactFinder has more depth than most, but it's also kind of a PITA. If you're serious about digging into the data, you can download zipped text files that represent the full extent of the public information available, which you can then load into your favorite processing program.

Comment So? (Score 1) 47

That paper points out that three factors - DOB, place, and gender - are often enough to uniquely identify a person. How is that relevant to Census Summary File information, or ACS information?

I think the point that many people misunderstand is that Census/ACS public information is not a database where each row represents one response, and some data items have been withheld. It's not at all like that - it's aggregate totals for geographic areas of varying sizes. That row-by-row information is not made public until 72 years after the census (remember the news about info from the 1940 census being made public?).

The real issue that paper highlights is the state-level legislative mandates regarding information collection. I'm not denying you could link a voter registration list to state-collected health data, like the author does in that paper, but that fact has nothing to do with the data made accessible by this API (not to mention these data were already online, just in a more complicated format).

Comment That's not how it works (Score 4, Informative) 47

That's not how Census information is either collected or stored. First off, there are two different data sources at issue - the decennial census, which gathers a very limited set of information on (theoretically) every person in the country, and the American Community Survey, which uses sampling to get estimates on a much wider range of information. You cannot link those two datasets, since the only public factors they share are far too broad - e.g., age, race, sex, etc., and the time periods during which they are conducted are totally different.

Besides, the information is not released at person-level. The lowest level you can get sampled information at (e.g., the detailed ACS stuff) is the "block group", which on average contains 39 blocks. You can get decennial census information at the block level, and a "block" may correspond to a city block, or a much larger area for lesser-populated areas.

So, you can find some interesting information about your city street (I've looked up my own, and found the number of people living alone, owning/renting, age, sex, etc. for the 24 houses on my block), but these data are not per person, they are per block - in other words, if there is only one Native American living on my street, I cannot then find out whether they are owning/renting. I can only find out the number of renters on the entire block.

Comment Re:That's true, but... (Score 3, Interesting) 189

I don't necessarily disagree. Again, the IP hack response is that without the patent and profit, there is no new drug from which to benefit, so the question is irrelevant. In theory, decent health insurance coverage is supposed to solve the problem of access to the drugs, too.

But as you've pointed out there are other funding mechanisms that could potentially work, and might even produce better results. After all, the end result of our current patent system is not that life-saving drugs get made, it's that profitable drugs get made (or at least research for profitable conditions gets done). If they happen to be life-saving, that's nice. Research on drugs for tropical diseases languishes. We've noticed it and try to supplement the incentives of the patent system with prize funds, grants, non-profit money, and the Orphan Drug Act.

The reason it is destined to fail on a large scale is probably because of political pressure from pharmaceutical companies loathe to see anything significantly alter the current system.

Comment That's true, but... (Score 2) 189

the thing to take issue with there is the policy of expanding US- and European-style patent law worldwide.

Pharmaceuticals and chemicals are the prime examples of industries where patents are not only valuable, but also generally thought to be essential to innovation. Posner's suggestion of having different patent terms for different industries is not news, that idea has been circulating for decades, and probably longer. It's something that he's actually endorsing it in public, I guess.

The standard IP hack response to this proposal is that it would be too hard and costly to clearly define what industries and inventions are eligible for patents.

Comment Automator in OS X is pretty good (Score 1) 1134

With a GUI, everything is visual, but nothing can be automated or repeated.

While somewhat true in Windows, OS X has the Automator, which is basically a GUI for building scripts using the OS X environment. It's quite powerful, and I often find myself using it to accomplish tasks that I normally would have written a shell script for in Linux. Given the complexity of the tasks it can accomplish, it's fairly user friendly.

On the other hand, my impression is that Automator is also vastly underused by OS X users. I think the fundamental difference between "computer people" and computer users is that if a computer person has to do the same thing more than twice, they see if they can't find a more efficient and automated way to do it... whereas computer users just sigh and resign themselves to a redundant and mindless task.

Comment There are plenty of other reasons (Score 2) 400

I have a smart phone, and I don't play games on it.

Top uses besides voice calls and texting (I have a limited text plan, but texting is useful when you or the other person is in a loud place, or for some reason you can't leave a voicemail): weather (I ride a motorcycle, so it's especially relevant to me), news, calendar and reminders, GPS and navigation, and quick checks of Google/Wikipedia. I also occasionally price check on Amazon when I'm in various stores.

The camera is nice for documenting your parking situation so you can contest tickets. I rooted the phone, so I can tether to my laptop and check e-mail, etc. when I need to and there's no WiFi around.

So yes, there are other uses for a smart phone besides games.

Comment Leaving Berne unlikely and difficult (Score 1) 577

The Berne Convention has over 160 members, so there really aren't that many countries that haven't ratified it. Plus, if you look at the countries that haven't (in gray), you'll notice that they're not exactly countries where we probably expect that jobs, data, and investment will flow. You know, places like Somalia, Western Sahara, Iran, and Afghanistan.

I think you're partially right that in the future, Berne members with less restrictive IP enforcement might benefit somewhat compared to us, but even for a place like China, those benefits are going to have to be greater than quite a lot of other downsides from the perspective of many Westerners. Leaving Berne has very negative consquences for countries - it's not only a WTO violation, meaning they can be sued by other WTO members and have trade sanctions applied against them, but it also means losing copyright protection for all your own authors' works abroad, etc. And it's extremely difficult to amend Berne.

Finally, while the US wasn't in Berne until 1989, there were specific reasons for this. In the meantime, we established our own copyright treaties, like the Universal Copyright Convention.

Comment Re:Marketing (Score 1) 308

Don't be so shocked... I voted "don't play", which has been accurate for the past year or two, but I used to play a lot. Pretty much from freshman year of college (first introduced to Counterstrike) through the end of my master's degree, I played multiplayer computer-based FPS a lot. I think at one point Steam counted 33 hours played over the course of two weeks.

In 2009 or so my gaming machine died, and I never really replaced it. I still have a Windows machine I keep around to run Windows-only programs, and I popped a budget video card in there to occasionally play CounterStrike Source or Quake 3 for old time's sake, but the original Portal was probably the most recent game I've played.

I now find myself without much time to play, and when I do have the time often I'd rather watch a quality television series, read, play music, or play mechanic.

I never downloaded Angry Birds, Words with Friends, or anything like that; partially because I don't really want to spend the time on them, and partially because I fill downtime with other smartphone activities like reading news/weather (I ride a motorcycle, so accurate weather information is important to me).

Comment Re:Zip disks filled a gap reasonably well... (Score 1) 247

Wrong: There was also the LS120 drive.

In my experience, LS-120 never had the kind of limited success that Zip drives did. For that matter, there were lots of purported floppy-killers from that time. LS-120 did have the advantage that the drive was mechanically compatible with normal floppy disks, but it still had the same issues with high drive prices, high media prices, and low rates of adoption. Overall, I was always much more likely to find a Zip drive on a computer than an LS-120 drive.

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