Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The great momentous and thunderous silence from Afghanistan
What story haven't you heard in the past couple of days from our media?
Massive explosions were reported throughout Kabul, Herat and other major cities in Afghanistan as the nation descended further into chaos. Representatives of the ousted Taliban regime struck polling stations across the country as the promised campaign of intimidation began. It is reported that several candidates for positions in the nation have died as well. After the initial reports of violence the turnout has been poor to non existent at polling stations across the nation.

A UN election observer was reported to state that so few people have voted there is no way the results of this election could possibly be considered legitimate.

Such a story would have worldwide front page headlines. People would be bellowing that this was the proof that the US abandoned Afghanistan for its ill-conceived adventure in Iraq.

Instead, silence. Little to no broadcast media seems to even care about the completely violence free election with "massive" voter turnout which occurred for the first time in Afghanistan.

Does this mean that the West can pack up and depart Afghanistan in victory? Absolutely not. We are going to be there for a very long time. But this is a tremendously important first step, and calls into question those who claim the Taliban is 'winning' in Afghanistan, or the nation is in 'chaos' or Karzai is the 'Mayor of Kabul at best'.

In my opinion this represents a small step forward for the entire Middle East. Once which I hope proves contagious.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Hussein never was a good poker player
In Mariskova, I wondered indirectly if in reality Saddams WMD inventory was a giant bluff in order to keep us, the Iranians, the Kurds, any anyone else at bay. According Hussein, this is essentially correct.

Any Questions?

SADDAM HUSSEIN believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.

Memos from Iraqi intelligence officials, recovered by American and British inspectors, show the dictator was told as early as May 2002 that France - having been granted oil contracts - would veto any American plans for war.

But the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which returned its full report last night, said Saddam was telling the truth when he denied on the eve of war that he had any weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He had not built any since 1992.

The ISG, who confirmed last autumn that they had found no WMD, last night presented detailed findings from interviews with Iraqi officials and documents laying out his plans to bribe foreign businessmen and politicians.

Although they found no evidence that Saddam had made any WMD since 1992, they found documents which showed the "guiding theme" of his regime was to be able to start making them again with as short a lead time as possible."

Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions - which stopped him acquiring weapons - were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.

Go read the rest of the article from The Scotsman.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Software patents, Kodak vs. Sun, and the tale of something that is just plain broken.
In 1997, The Eastman Kodak company purchased a series of patents from Wang Laboratories for a bargain price of $270 million. And now we are seeing the fruits of this 'investment'. There are three patents in particular which are in dispute: 5,206,951; 5,421,012; and 5,226,161. These three patents basically 'protect' ideas of how certain types of software objects interface with each other. In other words it is a patent on an idea of how virtual entities may or may not interact.

Well, as it turns out, the Java language implements something very like this. So on the basis of their purchased patents, Kodak sued Sun for copyright infringement, even though Java ( a software language) has absolutely nothing even remotely to do with photography. In any event, on October 4th a Federal Jury ruled in favor of Eastman Kodak.

Now here is the real wrinkle. Java is a free language, which Sun does not seek compensation for use. So, naturally, Kodak is seeking $1.06 billion in back royalties based on Sun's operating profit of hardware sales between January 1998 and June 2001. Their justification? "Java provides the engine for such computer equipment."

In conclusion, a somewhat shady company (Sun) is about to be looted by an even more shady company (Kodak) because of some third party patents that really should not have been issued in the fist place.

The relevant patents:
Patent 5,206,951 covers the integration of data between typed objects by mutual, direct invocation between object managers corresponding to object types.

Patent 5,421,012 covers multitasking computer system for integrating the operation of different application programs which manipulate data objects of different types.

Patent 5,226,161 covers integration of data between typed data structures by mutual direct invocation between data managers corresponding to data types.
As time goes by, it is becoming glaring obvious to me that firstly, the patent office does not even begin to understand technology and what is a novel, patentable implementation of something, and an unpatentable generic concept. Secondly, we are in desperate need for technology savvy Judges to be able to toss out this sort of case before it is heard, let alone before ruling. Finally, we need legislators who have a base inkling of how technology operates so we can even begin to address the fact that there is something very, very wrong with the current patent system.

These patents are absurd, this ruling is a joke, and together they amount to piracy in the corporate boardroom.

UPDATE: A miserable pittance, and Kodak gets away with highway robbery. From ITWrold.com:
Sun Microsystems Inc. has agreed to pay US$92 million to settle a software patent lawsuit brought against it by Eastman Kodak Co., Sun announced Thursday. The settlement comes just six days after a New York jury found Sun guilty of violating Kodak's patents, but before any damages had been awarded. Kodak had been seeking $1.06 billion in lump sum royalties in the case.
And, it is relevant to point out that

Developers and industry analysts had criticized the jury's verdict, saying that Kodak's patents covered techniques that had, in fact, been around since the 1960s.

"This is one of the things when you hit your head and say how can this possibly be valid...If Java does these things and infringes, then what doesn't," said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with the research firm Illuminata Inc during a Monday interview.

In short, Sun settled to make this irritation go away, thereby exposing EVERYONE else in this industry regardless of prior art dating from the 1960's.

I guess all I can say is Good Game Kodak.

Monday, October 04, 2004

How much has NASA damaged out pursuit for manned space flight?
On August 22nd, 1963, an experimental manned aircraft called the X-15 reached a speed of 6105 kph, and an altitude of 107,960 meters. This record stood until October 4th, 2004, when 'Space Ship One' reached an altitude of 112,166.4 meters. Two dates separated by 40 years. What happened between those two landmark events? Apollo and the Space Shuttle. Or, a 'Bread and Circus' event, capped by a large bus that putters around in Low Earth Orbit who's only seminal accomplishment was a repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope.

What went wrong? What happened? How did we loose 40 years? Quite simply, JFK. Sputnik scared us, in spite of Eisenhower trying to downplay it as not important. After all, if the Commies could lob a beeping volleyball into orbit, how hard would it be to lob an atomic weapon up there as well? So what did we do? we copied their methodologies and created a massive government sponsored bureaucratic quagmire. And it worked, sort of. Well, it got us to the moon anyway. But once the established goal of NASA was achieved, what was the point? Skylab? The Space Shuttle? the ISS? All these programs simply proved that bureaucratic inertia can and will eventually a good thing.

But luckily, there are still people who believe in things: believe in the ability of the individual to overcome conventional wisdom and do it for a reasonable price. No, Space Ship One did not achieve Low Earth Orbit. But Space Ship Two will, wither it is built by Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, or someone completely different.

40 years of wasted time, effort and potential. But hey we got some rocks from the moon.

For me, the true significance of this event is larger than what it appears at first glance, because not only has Scaled Composites broken a 40 year old record, but it has also proven that distributed networks, 'the market' and people pursuing the mighty dollar ARE truly more effective than the old Command and Control style of problem solving. Space Ship One is not only a victory for 'capitalism' but it is a victory for the masses of individuals over ossified, siloed, cover your ass bureaucrats everywhere.

Lots of people trying, and some failing, will always work better in the long run than dictate from an 'expert'. And as we look at other social problems it would serve us well to remember this repeatedly demonstrated fact. Let us go forth and try. We may fail, but not all of us. So when our President calls on a Mars or Bust plan by 2050, I'll make certain to wave at the resulting 200billion dollar spacecraft from the Hilton residing at the LaGrange point between here and the moon.

"Once you get into Low Earth Orbit, you aren’t half way to the Moon, you are half way to everywhere"
--Jerry Pournelle

Concerning Iraq
TigerHawk has written what I think is the most thorough and cognitive summary of why I think the Iraq war was inevitable. The only addition to his excellent summary I would make is that in '91 and '92 we promised aid to the Iraqi's if they would rise against Saddam. They did so. We completely and utterly failed to support them. If nothing else, we owe the people of Iraq for OUR failures in supporting them. Or, to put it bluntly, this latest conflict was inevitable due to the slowly collapsing status quo as imposed by the Cease Fire. 9/11 made it possible to engage Hussein on our terms, like it or not.

We broke out promise to the people of Iraq in 1991. We cannot afford to do so again, no matter how bad the situation may appear to be.