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User Journal

Journal Journal: Intellectual Property Observations

In the recent Slashdot article regarding the upcoming Monsoon lawsuit involving the GPL, I was confronted because of some hypothetical questions regarding the GPL. I'm fairly agreeable with the general concept of copyright as well as the general concept of patents, although in a somewhat confusing stance I have not been sure that there is such a thing as intellectual property, common law and sentiments notwithstanding.

Where I stand is that while ideas in and of themselves aren't really of intrinsic value, the two things that do have value are the people that come up with ideas and what can be done with those ideas. Perhaps the latter is too fine a distinction, but the blueprints to a machine aren't very useful unless you actually build the machine. So, what I think needs to be protected are attribution rights, not the product itself: that is, when a person is the one who came up with the idea, that person should be rewarded as one with the ability to come up with ideas. However, I don't think that means that person should be rewarded for implementing those ideas unless that person actually does implement those ideas.

However, that's sort of background information for the main idea I have here. The interesting issue with "intellectual property" versus real property is that intellectual property is both the thing people are after *and* the instructions to create an exact duplicate of that thing. Take software for example: you want the software to perform some task, but just the aspect of having that software means that you can create an infinite number of 'copies' of that software. Contrast that again to a blueprint: if I have a blueprint, what I want is the thing the blueprint represents. The implementation of the blueprint is what has real value. Well, I take that back - the blueprint does have some value, but it's not nearly the same as the thing that is created. Notably because one can fairly easily create a blueprint from an object.

Hrm. Now that I think about it, maybe a better way is to think about things in terms of wealth rather than value: a blueprint has value, but little wealth; it is only instructional. The thing created by following a blueprint has much more wealth, and so likely also has significant value.

Things like music are a bit more esoteric, as the thing "created" by music instructions is transient: it is a sound wave. However, in the realm of computers, what I want is the sound file, and the sound file is an instruction to create another identical sound file. Software is even more obvious: the source code (or even binaries) are the "tool" but also explicit instructions on how to create a duplicate tool - it's kind of a quine thing. Unlike a drawing for a hammer, which cannot be used effectively as a hammer - it can only be used to make new drawings or make hammers - software is both the instruction and the tool, which is a unique situation - especially since the effort to create instructions is so low.

So...that's an observation about the nature of "intellectual property" but I don't yet know what all the implications of that may be. More on that later...

User Journal

Journal Journal: Measuring Stored Energy

The recent article on compressed-gas (as in state of matter, not fuel) powered vehicles got me to thinking about "how do you measure how much energy is stored in a compressed tank of gas?"

Incidentally, it's not possible to have a single answer to this, because the answer depends on how you extract the stored energy!

For illustration I looked at a piston that would compress from a volume of 1 cubic meter to 0.1 cubic meters, or expand, and some various situations. I'll save the details and just put in the summary.

If the "starting" pressure is 101325 kPa and temperature is 288.15 K (standard conditions), there are two basic ways to compress.

Adiabatic compression will require 383 kJ of pressure work, and the pressure will rise 25.119 times and the temperature will rise 2.512 times.

Isothermal compression, however, will require only 233 kJ, with a pressure rise of 10.000 times and temperature stays the same (ratio = 1.000). If we let the adiabatically-compressed gas equalize thermally, it will also be at 10.000 pressure ratio and 1.000 temperature ratio. So how much energy is stored in the chamber? If you look at either internal energy or enthalpy, the final states have the same value for both; however, those final states are the same as for the initial condition: internal energy is simply mass*cv*T and enthalpy is internal energy + pressure*volume; so in either case the initial and final conditions have the same internal energy and internal enthalpy (because P*V is constant if temperature is constant). (The disturbing thing is I cannot remember, for the life of me, what state variable captures the stored energy in the compressed cylinder. In both cases, though, the entropy of the compressed gas is lower, so this is likely the state variable which captures the change)

So, how much energy is stored? That's measured by extracting it: Adiabatic expansion will result in 152 kJ of pressure work, while isothermal will result in the same 233 kJ.

Regardless of how we got to the compressed state (10x pressure, same temperature), there are two amounts of work that can be obtained from the cylinder - so which has stored more energy?

Note though that the isothermal case requires heat transfer to and from the environment; in compression there is heat transfer to the environment while in expansion there is transfer from the environment; this means that some of the work done in compression is lost to the environment, so not all of it is "stored" in the compressed gas. When it expands isothermally, some energy is pulled from the environment to increase the available work; essentially the isothermal case "stores" some of the energy in the environment as well as the working cylinder.

Now, the adiabatic case is different; all the energy is stored and is available; the only catch is when the system is allowed to reach thermal equilibrium (for instance, stored for a long time). (Note that if the compression is adiabatic, without any heat transfer, the work available from expansion will also be 383 kJ).

That said, the entire process appears to be 100% efficient storage with a pure isothermal process and about 40% efficient with adiabatic compression, thermal equilibrium, and adiabatic expansion. Real processes will always be somewhere between these bounds, and slightly lower, because of friction and because all compression and expansion processes are neither truly isothermal nor adiabatic.

Interesting to think about either way, though.

User Journal

Journal Journal: On Taxing Real and Virtual Goods

There's another article on taxation of virtual goods that caught my eye, this time from cnn.

I have been thinking about this for a while, and I think I finally have a more coherent view of my thoughts on the concept of transaction taxes.

In my mind, the fundamental purpose of a tax should be to provide some public service related to the thing which is taxed. For instance, a gasoline tax to support roads makes sense because gasoline is typically used to drive on a road.

Taking that concept, I would think that a sales (or transaction) tax should be used solely for the purpose of facilitating transactions, or perhaps dealing with instances when transactions have gone bad (for instance, shoplifting, or contract enforcement). That means that if there is no required enforcement, then there should be no need for a tax.

In real life, however, I don't honestly know the purpose of sales tax in my state - I know it accounts for a sizable portion of the state income, but it's not used for facilitation of sales. Incidentally, a sales tax is actually strange because it taxes the transaction only. Technically, if there were two people in my state and they kept selling the same pencil to each other, every sale would be taxed. This is effectively economic disincentive to conduct a transaction, which is actually probably not what people want when it comes to economics.

Now let's take virtual goods. I can somewhat understand taxing "cashing out" of a virtual system, but unless the taxing agency is going to provide some services related to transactions in the virtual marketplace, purely virtual transactions should be beyond the consideration of a taxing entity.

I think the solution here is to really be more active in our local and state governments - use the representation which we fought for to show that "hey, if you don't show us the benefit of having this tax, why should we have it?"

It seems that the point of most governments is "to increase government revenue" rather than improve the standard of living of constituents. While having more social programs may accomplish this, I think it's addressing the wrong issue. Take, for instance, health care costs. Rather than addressing the issues that cause costs to escalate, governments typically just set up a mandatory insurance program where the population at large funds the increasing costs. The best solution would be to address the laws which allow for things like excessive barriers to competition and lawsuits. (Indeed, if the health care market were truly a free market, costs could not be so high because the number of competitors would rise dramatically).

Anyway, that was a bit of a diversion, but I think that involvement in local and state policy will go a long way toward improving things and reducing the unnecessary tax burdens we face. (I say unnecessary because, personally, I don't mind funding basic infrastructure and education through taxes.)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Strange Gasoline Economics 1

With the recent spate of crude oil and gasoline hitting new record highs, I've been trying to do some investigating into the economics of gasoline. I visited the Energy Information Administration to check out the current report. The public media seems to keep indicating that the demand for gasoline keeps climbing despite high prices and that's why the price keeps rising. Looking at the EIA's numbers, though, I'm not sure what's going on:

In three of the past four weeks (15 July through 5 August), gasoline production and imports have exceeded supplied product, but in all those weeks the overall stocks of gasoline are reported to have fallen. Granted, the report only breaks down exports into 'crude oil' and 'other products', but unless half the exports are gasoline, the numbers don't add up.

I find this extremely disturbing, because is shows that either the metrics people use are wrong, people ignore the metrics, or both. The other interesting thing is that, despite all the "refinery problems" in the past weeks, actual gasoline production has increased by about 200k bbl/day since the middle of July. Gasoline consumed has only gone up a net 70k bbl/day, and for the week of 5 August, imports plus production averaged about 450k bbl/day higher than consumption! How can stocks decrease when intake exceeds output?

Very disturbing to say the least, and I'll definitely be keeping my eye on the weekly reports to watch the trends of these numbers.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Employment Statistics and other musings 2

I've just read this small article about the employment situation (December 2004 payrolls supposedly increased 157,000, but some 360000 or so folks filed for first-time unemployment. Funny money all the way). There was a linked article about how the "average wage" for small business is declining. The number they cited was employment was up 4.4% (in terms of number of people working) but average paycheck was down 4.8% and they article gives you the idea "ah! people make less than they used to!"

I'm not sure I agree with that statement simply because if you have 10 people working and all making $100, then you hire 5 more at $50, you have employment up 50%, but average wage down 17% (down to $83.33). However, total payroll increased 25% (from $1000 to $1250). I would agree that the average standard of living for all people working is less than it used to be, but the average standard of living for all people, in this example, goes up. Here's why: if you include those 5 extra workers in the picture before they have a job, the average per-capita income for those 15 people is only $66.67. That's 20% lower than the $83.33 if they were hired at a lower wage.

The only way that hiring folks at a lower wage is "bad" is when one considers if they were hired at that lower wage after a period of unemployment from a job that paid much more. If the person getting hired is a "new hire" altogether, than it's a benefit. That's a key piece of missing information from the employment statistics that I have seen. It's also hard to say even on what time scale wage changes matter. For instance, going from any job to no job is horrendous, because it's a 100% decrease in wage. However, once you're at the zero-point, do you compare your new job to the zero point or the point you were at before zero?

I know it's tempting to say "I'm not as well off as I was! argh!" but why can't we turn it around and think "but I'm not as bad off as I could be..."

It's definitely interesting, and to be sure I'm quite thankful for what I have right now.


Journal Journal: On Media Copyrights (and other IP)

I just read this article and suddenly realized something. The RIAA is all concerned about "not getting compensated" due to media piracy. And artists are rightly concerned about not getting paid enough to be able to make music. I think, though, they are forgetting the basic Golden Rule of Capitalism.

Here's what I see: the RIAA and the "labels" are all upset because they are losing power. That means the people that run it are losing money (or, better stated, they aren't getting as much money as they want). They think that if music is pirated too much, then they won't be able to survive because nobody will pay for music. What they are forgetting is this:

If "nobody" pays for music, then people will stop making music. Before this happens, though, what will happen is that music producers (that is, the actual songwriters and performers) will have to charge more for their service of producing new stuff. The general public will never stop wanting new music, so there will always be a way for some musician to get people to pay for their work. There will be a supply-demand balance that happens.

Sure, things may look very different than they do now, or maybe they won't, but there will still be people able to get enough money to make a living writing and performing songs. Think about it this way - if there was no such thing as copyright, what would happen is that all the publishers would be hard pressed to stay in business (probably go extinct with the presence of the Internet). However, the artists would not go extinct, because people still want their goods. It would be like a comic strip that was in danger of having to go off-line because the author was running out of money. He has a big enough following that in 1 week of his fund raiser he got enough to stay solvent for three years. This wasn't so that people could see the old stuff Mr. Abrams wrote, but so that they would be able to see the stuff he'll write in the future. This is where the value of creative works comes in.

The publishers are somewhat successfully using the legal system to prolong their demise when market forces have destroyed the necessity for their chosen occupation. It's a shift, just like manufacturing is shifting, just like agriculture shifted, etc. etc.

The point is this: music will always exist, because people will always be willing to pay musicians (be it for concerts or just in the form of "I'm gonna give you money so I can hear the songs you'll be able to write in the future because you won't have to work 80 hours/week at Wal-Mart to get by". Publishers, however, don't need to exist any longer. This is why the RIAA is all up in arms. Notice that it's the Recording Industry that's up in arms, not the artists. I think the artists know that, at the very least, they'll be able to book enough gigs to make ~$50k per member per year, which is plenty on which to live.

My prediction is this: if market forces are allowed to prevail (i.e., no intervention through the artificial construct of legislation - including copyright law) the labels will belly-up for the most part, or more likely be relegated to server or CD publisher clearing houses. Archivers, if you will.

Instead of copyright, we should have something like "performance right" where you can freely distribute a recording of a performance as much as you want, but you have to pay the artist some licensing fee or whatever to perform the work. I would actually propose this as a better alternative to copyright, because copyright doesn't seem much to apply. As for copyright for things like literature, I think it should morph to something like "if you get paid for the distribution of this product, $X has to go back to the author". This would be the best solution to the issue I think, and I think it covers the intent and purpose of the original law. Actually, you could switch the performance arts to the same thing: if you charge money for the distribution of this, then $x goes back to the original author.

Granted, I'm biased, but this could even apply to software. It would let people know who the author is, and give people reason to only charge when necessary. Coupled with the "performance rights" I think this would be the best way to go. I'll have to do some more thinking about how "performance rights" might apply to software, since it doesn't really match that analogy.

Anyway, just like everything else, the people who are clamoring for "compensation" in the RIAA are just clamoring for protectionism. They are asking for someone to build them a wall so they don't have to change, and what will happen is they are just building themselves a mausoleum.

Let's think about IP reform, and present something that the politicians can buy. I'm not too concerned about the people in the distribution industry who aren't willing to change with the times, becuase people not willing to change should have to suffer the appropriate consequences for that decision.

Ah, I could prattle on for quite a while longer on this, but I think I'm going to work on writing some of it down in a more formal manner. I might even begin to try and put together some sort of movement. Scary.

The Almighty Buck

Journal Journal: Spatial Inflation 1

I just read another article about the "offshoring" of some job skill set. This one was on programming (true to the /. crowd) but I see lots of this regarding manufacturing since I work in the automotive industry. I have for some time been attempting to formulate a stance on this whole issue, and really understand it, so that I might be able to make educated decisions about the policies that people come up with regarding the issue. Or, perhaps, I might be really off-the-wall and even try and promote my ideas somehow...

What I see as the true problem with "offshoring" is simply spatial inflation. This is the same thing that happens domestically (why the heck does it cost twice as much to live in CA as in SC?). Inflation is just "more monetary units required for the same product / service". Most people associate inflation with "over time" but I think it also applies "over space". Inflation always gives advantage to one group over another; temporally you have the advantage in the past. Spatially you have advantage if you're in a place where fewer monetary units buy what you want/need.

There's more to this, and I'm going to jot down my ideas...

What puzzles me is how inflation happens. Basically the only reason we have money is to buy stuff we want and need. I need sustenance and what I'll call "security" in which I will lump residence (protection from the elements), health care and some infrastructure like water systems / sewer (protection from disease), and such social systems as disaster protection (i.e., firefighters) and violence control (i.e., police, as well as people who keep "nasty animals" from wreaking havoc).

So, let's say that here in the good old US of A, these necessities cost $20,000. Let's say that in (ficticious) Spazland these things cost @20,000. Now, we have this weird thing called an international money market. Somehow the value of $ relative to @ is not based on what those units can buy, but on somethine else. So, let's say that the exchange rate is $1 = @2. So that means that a guy in Spazland only needs $10,000 to get the @20,000 to buy the same amount of sustenance & security as in the US. So if I'm a company in the US, I'd be an idiot not to use my $20,000 to pay for the services of two guys in Spazland instead of the services of one guy in the US.

This is simple math, folks, and I can't say I blame the US companies for doing this. After all, the name of the game (capitalism) is to line my pockets, not those of everyone else. So what's a solution?

Well, if our government was smart, they'd say, "Hey, look at that. Why the heck are we paying Spazland $1 for every @2 when $1 buys the same amount of stuff as @1? We should only be paying them $1 for @1!!!" I don't know how to make this happen, though - given the current world banking system. (Especially since it's not set up to gravitate toward equality - it is set up to move the money to where things are most wanted at a given time).

Another possible alternative is that the government imposes tariffs (or whatever you want to call them) based on exchange rate and buying power ratios rather than some arbitrary percentage. This would apply to all money flow across some border, regardless of product or service. This would make things on-par with each other, then only quality of product at given price would drive selection of source (i.e., US vs Spazland) rather than artificial price difference advantages. For instance: The Spazland company charges some US company $10,000 for services to cover the @20,000 it needs to pay some worker. The Government could step in and go "hey, US company, you have to pay us @/$ * ($STD/@STD) * $pricetag to do business with them. We'll pocket the difference to run our infrastructure services." Thus, the government would charge (@2/$1)*($20000/@20000)*($10000) = $20,000 to the US company, buy @20,000 (to pay the Spazland company) with $10,000 and pocket the other $10,000.

Now, this is always good for domestic groups. Imports will now always cost like they would cost if they were domestic, aside from inherent quality / process efficiency means. However, exporters would dislike it because they would actually have to provide better product/service to compete with domestic suppliers. Right now they can give same quality at much lower price, so people will take it. But this price difference is artificial because it's not based on buying power but on the market, which doesn't make any logical sense.

But what if the US company wants to sell to Spazland? Well, a US worker costs $20,000. A Spazland person would need @40,000 to buy $20,000 to pay for it. What should happen here is that the US govt *could* take the extra $10,000 they pocketed when the US bought from Spazland to pay the US company. The Spazland company would pay the US "one worker" amount of monetary units. In this case it would be @20,000 - enough to buy $10,000. Otherwise, the foreign country would never buy the US product because it would cost twice as much!

The burden of this lies with the governments though. For instance, Spazland couldn't do anything to help because their units are worth less than US units. They would not be able to charge a Spazland company extra money to import and hold it - they would actually have to loan out money for an import. Of course, they could then charge their Companies to export.

Ah, well, I must be off to other things for now, but I need to formulate my thoughts some more. Do some math, that sort of thing. Any comments are apprciated! I plan on continuing this topic later.

Other topics will also be my ideas on Intellecual Property - another common "hot topic" here on /.!

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