Friday, February 23, 2007

Patent troll of the month: the MP3 Player Patent

A Texas company is claiming to the idea of an MP3 player.

The patent was issued in June 2006 but claims priority on the basis of a series of Lemelson like continuations dating back to 1997.

The claim to have been the first to create an MP3 player might well be valid. The idea that using a standard audio compression format to compress audio is anything other than blitheringly obvious is utterly bogus.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The end state

There is no shortage of states playing the despicable game in the Middle East. This despite the fact that we can predict what the region will be like in ten years time with a higher degree of confidence than the next 12 or 24 months.

We can predict with a high degree of confidence that US forces will be gone entirely. Political support for the occupation is already spent. It is entirely possible that both Presidential nominees in 2008 will be running on an anti-war ticket.

The neo-con dream of establishing a permanent US military base to control the region was always ridiculous. Now the attempt to maintain the permanent bases has become one of the chief casus-belli for the insurgents. Regardless of who succeeds Bush the bases will be gone.

Israel will still exist, the Palestinian issue will remain unresolved. More to the point however the West may have recognized that any hope for the two party state solution died with Rabin and Arafat. Neither Hamas nor Likud want the two party solution. Partition is in any case an unstable situation, particularly when one side continues to control the borders. Hamas uses violence to disrupt attempts to close a deal on the two state solution, once that is off the table their interests would be to adopt a non-violent approach.

Less certain is the position of the US Israel lobby which faces challenges on every front. The GOP will require a scapegoat for their Iraq fiasco. Muslims fed up with the bigotry they have encountered since 9/11 have begun to organize politically and are likely to have become a political force. Meanwhile the habit of referring to every opponent as an anti-Semite is already consolidating the left wing blogosphere against them.

Iran will get its nuclear bomb and more besides. Whether the mullahs will continue to control the strings is another matter. Iran is already the regional superpower, its influence dominates Iraq and southern Afghanistan.

Iran's bomb will of course mean the end of the illusion that the US is able to engage in adventures in the region such as the Iraq fiasco. Iran's bomb will effectively marginalize any remaining neo-cons to John Birch society status; regarded as crazed idiots with dangerous ideas who must on no account be allowed anywhere near the leavers of power.

By 2017 Iraq's civil war should have run its course. During the course of the war any and all interim settlements will have been liquidated. These include the US drafted interim constitution and US drafted agreements for foreign exploitation of the oil. The constitutional settlement most likely to end the war is one similar to that imposed after the Iranian revolution: some form of democratic veneer on an essentially dictatorial regime. In order to maintain power the center will need to have frequent recourse to violent means. The result is unlikely to meet anyone's definition of a liberal democracy.

The power behind the throne in such an arrangement is almost certain to be Iran since it is the only country in the region with the men and materiel to impose a peace. At this point the most likely top thug appears to be Moqtadr al Sadr but there is no shortage of brutal thugs to take his place.

The analysis is not eaxctly favorable to US or Western interests but it is hard to see any more favorable outcome surviving that long. The insurgents will certainly not permit the US to maintain permanent bases. The US does not have the means to occupy Iran. So baring a deus ex machina solution (the Iranians greet US troops with flowers) the forecast for 2017 looks far far worse for Western interests today than it did in 2002.

Another issue that the hawks have not managed to internalize is the fact that as a direct result of the invasion of Iraq the US has ceased to be a unilateral power. By 2017 China, Rusia and possibly India will also be ranked amongst the great powers. The major concern of US policy will be as in 1950 establishing multinational alliances to stablize the international system and not enabling the exercise of raw power unfettered by UN constraints.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Abysmal Punditry

The quality of US political punditry is abysmal.

It is one thing to misunderstand the dynamics of war or public opinion, quite another to fail to grasp US parliamentary procedure. The Democrats control both houses of Congress. There is no procedure that allows the Republicans to introduce legislation to support the President's position in the House and no way to bring it to the floor for debate in the Senate.

Reading the op-eds in the US press and the bobbleheads on TV one would think that the reverse was the case, that the Democrats are the opposition not the majority.

The establishment media in the US has become adicted to presenting every story in narrative. That is not a problem when the narrative being presented is real. All to often however the narrative is an artificial one. The Clinton impeachment was presented in terms of the Watergate scandal despite the almost comical difference in the seriousness of the charges. The Iraq war does not fit any narrative the establishment media cares to repeat so we get wall to wall coverage of Anna Nichole Smith instead.

If the Democrats need to they can certainly break a filibuster. They have plenty of time and the Republicans are the ones who do not want wall to wall debate on Iraq. But it makes no sense to go to the effort of breaking a filibuster for a non-binding resolution.

Sentiment in the country now runs strongly against the war by two to one. The consensus in the Beltway Establishment continues to run in the opposite direction. If the Establishment was less self-absorbed the pundits would recognize that they are completely out of step with the country and that the outrage they predict for defying an unpopular, discredited President is simply not going to appear.

The Democrats will pass a bill that funds the troops that Bush has asked for but attaches conditions that nobody can argue against. Such as requiring all troops to be fully equiped with body armor, armored transport etc. before deployment. Such as limiting callups, tours of duty, use of the National guard.

The Whitehouse has little choice but to either accept the right of Congress to use the power of the purse or to create a constitutional crisis when it is already weak.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Telephone books

One of the paradoxes of the paperless office is that paper consumption goes up. Finishing my book involves a huge amount of paper. Each week I go through at least 5 30 page printouts of the chapter I am working on. Then there are printouts of standards and specifications and papers I am working on. It all adds up.

We get through between one and two reams of paper a month. I might start getting guilty if not for the idiotic actions of Verizon.

It has been four years since Verizon provided telephone service to the house but they still deliver two telephone books at least twice a year. It used to be three sets but last year they realized that we no longer had a third line (a mere five years later).

Or rather they deliver the yellow pages directory. I don't know if they still bother to print the white pages and even if they did it would be pointless since almost everyone went ex-directory before Do-Not-Call put the junk caller filth out of business. One of the reasons I ditched Verizon as soon as I could was that they had the cheek to demand $3.50 per line per month for NOT listing my numbers in the directory. Utter extortion. The yellow pages are equally useless to me: Angies list, Craigslist, Google.

Pile the unasked for telephone directories up and they look like they used enough wood pulp to run my printer for at least a six months. Why should I feel guilty about my waste when Verizon feels it can trash the environment as much as it likes?

Reading the newspaper online rather than in print has a similar effect. Pile up a weeks worth of the Boston Globe (incl. Sunday) and you have enough wood pulp to make two reams of paper, enough to keep me going for a month.

Technology has already reduced my paper consumption dramatically in many areas, but it has increased them in others. I would happily move to using an electronic medium for notes and copyediting but it has to be at least as good as paper.

As good means that electronic media is as portable, no larger than a reporter's pad, no thicker either. Like pen and pencil it must be 'instant on' - no waiting for the machine to boot. The screen resolution must be much better than current systems provide as well - at least 150, preferably 200 dpi. The resolution on the writing instrument must be equally good.

The device must synchronize automatically to my laptop and desktops, have a reasonable battery life and be no more that 0.3" thin.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Don't get scammed now

Old trick: barker at a fair tells his audience to 'watch out for pick pockets'. People instinctively check to see that their wallet is still there. The barker's accomplice then knows where the people keep their wallets.

Denny's scam review tells us that if we don't read his page 'we will get scammed'. After such an obviously untrue and exagerated statement how could I not read further?

The 'scam warning' page is of course an advertisement for two 'make money fast' type schemes. They use the 'soft-hard-sell' technique of telling people that they can't expect to make $10,000 month from these schemes but they can make $1,500.

Of course if these were genuinely disinterested reviews they would describe the mechanism behind the purported scheme.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Intel tests 80 core processor

The reports of Intel's 80 core processing are interesting on several levels. First it marks the first step towards mainstream use of massively parallel processors. 80 cores is nowhere near the 1000 plus processor machines I was using in the late 80s but these are running on the same chip and are running at 3GHz rather than 20MHz.

The recent cap in processor speeds is not the only reason that improvements in machine speed have tailed off of late. The other reason is lack of parallelism to exploit. It is pretty easy to run a 6502 processor core at 3GHz but it will still run several orders of magnitude slower than a 64 bit Pentium. Increasing numbers of gates has been responsible for much more of the increase in machine speed over the years than improvements in clock speed.

Most of the tricks being used to keep the machine running fast over the past five years have been reaching a natural limit. There is only so much you can do with more cache, more pipelining etc.

The other significant trend is that much more of the code in modern machines is now threaded than ten years ago. There was not much point in having 80 cores ten years ago. Today there are many people who know how to use them.

Even so we are still waiting to see a decent parallel spreadsheet or come to that a decent spreadsheet or database at all. Regurgitated versions of mediocre 70s offerings.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Anna Nichole Smith baby paternity sweepstake

How long before the number of Californian's claiming to be the father of Anna Nichole-Smith's child exceeds the number who ran for governor?

Update: I refuse to either confirm or deny the existence of rumours that I am the father and further should there be rumours refuse to either confirm or deny their veracity.

Monday, February 05, 2007

First blogger with an EV certificate!

So guess who the first blogger is to have an EV certificate on their blog would be?

It will be some time before I will be adding an EV cert to the dotFuture Manifesto blog.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

At least they are corrupt

Ideology is in my view the cardinal sin in politics. Ideology means not bothering to think about the real problem, just apply a ready made one size fits all solution. It does not matter which side of the aisle the ideologues sit, they cause fiasco at best, at worst they blindly lead a Hitler or a Stalin.

In that respect the news that the Iranian mullahs are as corrupt and venal as they come is good news. When it became clear that the comrades of the Soviet Union were as corrupt as they come mutually assured destruction became a viable strategy.

When a politician states that an outcome is 'unthinkable' they should be considered unfit to lead. If you can't think the unthinkable you can't make a rational choice between the possible outcomes.

The worst possible outcome of the current situation in the middle east is a world war. Threatening Russia and China's oil supply is a good way to start one.

The most likely effect of starting a preventive war against Iran is that the power of Iran will grow. The bulk of the world's oil supply has to flow through the Straits of Hormuz Iran in slow moving, easily sunk oil tankers. Iran has the ability to retaliate. If Iran is attacked it will have the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of this fact.

Israel has over 200 nuclear weapons. That is more than enough to discourage nuclear blackmail. Treating the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran as equivalent to the immediate destruction of Israel is false and dangerous.

If Iran does acquire nuclear capability Israel might well be safer. Unilateral nuclear capability is dangerous in itself, it encourages the type of aggressive militarism that led to the disaster in Iraq. When Iran acquires a nuclear capability expatriate irridentists are going to have to face the fact that the choices they demand are not costless.