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Comment Re:All for competitions (Score 1) 75

Patents are a non-issue unless you plan on commercializing a solution, and if that is the case, you (or the government) could license what is needed.

How do you find out which patents you've touched upon without paying for lawyers? How do you find the money to license said patents before you've made any money from your product?

If you come up with a commercially viable (i.e. can make money) product or process, angel or VC money can help you get a jump start. In addition, those type of people have been through the process of helping to get patents on whatever unique stuff you bring to the table as well as providing management and negotiating experience should you find that your product or process requires licensing.

Or perhaps your new shiny thing has a very limited potential market (left-handed shrimp farmers, sane tea party members, etc). In that case you might make enough money to provide you and a few others with a nice comfortable living while never rising high enough to be noticed by the trolls. Over the past 24 years, my software product company (with a somewhat limited market) has been hit up by two trolls - one we paid to go away (the "license" fee was cheap), and one we fought (and made go away) because we had a bunch of prior art.

One of the keys to being a successful innovator is to concentrate more on solutions and less on obstacles. If you are a worrier, its probably best to make your mark through excellence in your craft and attention to detail rather than with leaps of imagination. True worriers (such as some accountants, CFO's, and editors I've met) can have real value to the companies they serve and can make significant coin. Not everyone is an Edison.

Comment All for competitions (Score 5, Interesting) 75

Having led the Shredder challenge for all of a week or so (the teams killed me :), I can attest that the cash prize offered was (for me) an incredible incentive to come up with a solution. Offering direct prizes for innovative solutions to specific, limited, problems is a great idea and one that can help foster a spirit of inventiveness. Patents are a non-issue unless you plan on commercializing a solution, and if that is the case, you (or the government) could license what is needed.

Take even a cursory look at the inventions produced (and commercialized) by citizens of the United States, and you quickly realize that we created most of the things used in the modern world. It is exactly that spirit of inventiveness that the government should be encouraging to help create new jobs, and a challenge program is a direct and productive way to go about it.

Comment Its an acronym... (Score 1) 332



All storage is now so inexpensive it is essentially free. If I really need it, I can afford to buy my own and protect it. The only stuff you ever want to store in the cloud is all the useless crap that would make you slightly nervous to delete, so you throw it into someplace where you hope it will just eventually disappear on its own.

Comment As the current #3 on the DARPA challenge... (Score 1) 180

The problem is only peripherally like a jigsaw puzzle. While it is possible to attack certain portions of the assembly problem using automated methods (namely breaking the chads into individually manipulatable pieces and - perhaps - suggesting pieces), the basic problem is serial in nature. In the latter puzzles such as #4 an #5, the primary issues are:

- the chads are offset with respect to one another
- the pages have been shredded slightly skewed
- the edges are poorly defined
- the top and bottom edges often overlap slightly due to the cut/rip angle that chops the strips into chads
- the shape of the chads have often been warped during the scanning process

But worst of all, given a particular chad, a human or computer must predict the appearance of the adjacent chad and then find it among thousands of possible candidates. Even after narrowing down the search by categorizing the chads into whatever groups seem useful, you often end up with multiple chads that will *exactly* fit in place. By that I mean that the writing appears - pixel for pixel - to continue onto the next chad. While one would think that human handwriting documents would be highly random, they aren't. We tend to use the same line angles when connecting cursive letters, crossing our t's or other writing gestures and this causes a high degree of commonality in the graphics at the magnified level of the chads at which we are working.

But wait, it gets worse - if you misplace a chad, you have actually created *two* errors in the document - the misplaced chad and the (now missing) chad where it *should* have gone. In a crowd sourced solution with many inexperienced eyes working part-time, it is my opinion that many of these types of errors will be introduced, preventing a solution. For this reason - and for this particular challenge - I think it will actually be won by some masochistic puzzler with some image-manipulation skills.

Comment Humans to Mars? Probably never. (Score 1) 542

It's not the radiation or the length of time or the fuel that will keep humans from going to Mars - it's the lack of will and funding, combined with the advance of robotics. Has anyone seen the "artists conception" video of the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory that they will be landing on Mars in 2012? As I watched that thing, my jaw dropped lower and lower - if we actually manage to pull this robotic mission off, I'm convinced that we will never personally go there unless someone whips up a magic transporter. Figure it out - one one hand we can send robots to Mars on the (relative) cheap that let us explore, test, examine, and travel to just about anywhere we want to go, and we can keep sending more and more sophisticated bots. Balance the bot strategy with the incredible expense, human suffering, risk, and probability of actually learning anything new of going there personally. On balance, it just ain't worth it. If we can actually build automated spacecraft and rovers that can do what is pictured in that video, then game over. Bots are the way to go. I used to be a strong "send humans to Mars" proponent, but after watching that vid, I humbly admit that our real strength lies in our proven ability to design semi-autonomous spacecraft and incredibly productive bots, and that's the best way to leverage our money. Google for "Mars Science Laboratory Mission Animation".

Comment Verbal vs Non-verbal communications (Score 1) 395

Talking to the current crop of computers seems more than a bit embarrassing to me and always has. It's as if by talking to it, I am somehow telling those within listening range that I am stupid enough to imbue the mindless machine with humanlike properties - as if the computer has *me* fooled but not the other people who are feeling so sorry for me. Strangely, this feeling of embarrassment is present even when I am the only one in the room - as if I were standing outside myself, feeling sorry for the idiot that is treating a machine like a human being.

If computers were actually capable of perfectly emulating a human partner in a conversation, I imagine this feeling of embarrassment would either vanish or at least be greatly diminished. I would, after all, be conversing with what evidently is a human intelligence - if I closed my eyes I could not tell the difference.

But all embarrassment aside, it seems to me that as time goes on, computers and humans have developed incredibly efficient ways of accomplishing non-verbal communication - i.e. a simple click here, and tap of the keyboard there - abbreviated short hand on both input and output that is designed to convey the maximum amount of instruction and information with a minimum of effort. And I just bet that this evolved system of non-verbal man-machine communication is much more efficient that if we were to try to accomplish the same tasks using only verbal interaction.


Satellite-Based Laser Hunts Woodpeckers From Space 53

University of Idaho scientists have figured out a more effective way to track woodpecker populations than following the incessant laughter. They're using a laser onboard NASA's Icesat spacecraft to determine where the birds might be living. From the article: "NASA's Icesat satellite was initially intended for measuring glacial surfaces at the Earth's poles but has proven to be quite effective in measuring vegetation also. The satellite's laser bounces off of forest canopies, tree trunks and the ground making important characteristics about the forest easily measurable. For example, forest density is determined by the relative amount of light returned versus that which is returned from the ground. Once ideal woodpecker locations are identified 'we actually conduct ground-based woodpecker surveys in these locations as well to verify it,' says team-member Patrick Adam."
The Courts

Judge Berates Prosecutors In Xbox Modding Trial 285

mrbongo writes with this excerpt from Wired: "Opening statements in the first-of-its-kind Xbox 360 criminal hacking trial were delayed here Wednesday after a federal judge unleashed a 30-minute tirade at prosecutors in open court, saying he had 'serious concerns about the government's case.' ... Gutierrez slammed the prosecution over everything from alleged unlawful behavior by government witnesses, to proposed jury instructions harmful to the defense. When the verbal assault finally subsided, federal prosecutors asked for a recess to determine whether they would offer the defendant a deal, dismiss or move forward with the case that was slated to become the first jury trial of its type. A jury was seated Tuesday."

Comment Yes, Android will win eventually (Score 1, Interesting) 410

Apple - being Apple - will continue to concentrate on the overall user experience of their mobile devices. They will retain their reputation as the maker of mercedes-benz smartphones and other consumer goods, but the sheer volume of Android-based competition will eventually swamp them out of the lower-end of the market. Apple could probably care less - Steve and co. are all about the total experience and crafting the perfect device, and that's fine - they can lead the market in innovation and be the brand that everyone aspires to become. But the droid wave must eventually wash over them and absolutely eat their low-end lunch, and since most of the world ain't rich, that mean most of the world is going to be droid-powered, unless Apple can undercut droid prices, and that just isn't how they roll.

Comment Reality meets fiction - sci-fi refs (Score 2, Interesting) 272

OK, everyone got the Skynet reference which is probably the most well-known and recent and involves computers attempting to destroy humanity (bad computers!).

But how many of you have ever heard of "The Adolescence of P-1" by Thomas J. Ryan. School hacker codes up a cracker tool, gets expelled, improves it, and lets it loose where it gets out of hand. Humans then attempt to destroy now-intelligent and self-protective software program. (bad software! - nice read)

Or even earlier, "Shockwave Rider" by John Brunner. Epic hackers creating worms (bad society! - good, but overreaction to the Nixon years)

Or how about when humans actually *want* to turn over the world to a computer, as in "Two Faces of Tomorrow" by James P. Hogan. They test the concept by installing it in a space station and then attacking it just to be sure they can turn it off if they really want to (bad idea! - but good book and Hogan at his best)

Those last three were all written in the 70's. Others can likely lengthen this list considerably.

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