Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in January, 2003

The photos from Milho Verde, where we spent a week over the New Year, are up. Enjoy.

(Photo pages may take some time to load!)

A week ago, in a comment on the Eldred v. Ashcroft decision, I pointed at Spider Robinson‘s short story, “Melancholy Elephants”, where he argues against perpetual copyrights.

Dori Smith & Tom Negrino’s Backup Brain today points at an editorial called “The Mouse’s pro Bono project”, also written by Spider Robinson, about the decision.

First of all, it seems that “Melancholy Elephants” won the 1983 Hugo Award for best short story. My apologies for overlooking that fact in my first comment.

In the editorial, Spider writes:

Prof. Lessig argues that Congress only has the right to permit copyright within limits: Apparently, in his view, 50 years is a limit but 70 somehow is not. To explore this, let’s shift perspective 180 degrees from Disney, and focus on the exact opposite end of the financial spectrum: me.

…I’ve written 32 books so far. I believe I’ve earned what money they’ve brought me (and then some!), and I hope they’ll stay in print awhile after I’m gone.

So when I do snuff it, I’d like to leave them, and any money they may fetch (the wee percentage the publishers, producers and taxmen won’t keep) to my daughter Terri — just like any other craftsman would. I don’t think that’s an outrageous, capitalist-pig desire: It’s a large part of why the stories exist in the first place.

…I wish we were done with irony now. “Melancholy Elephants” was originally dedicated to the remarkable Virginia Heinlein, Robert Heinlein’s widow. On Jan. 18, Ginny passed away in her sleep in Florida, surrounded by family and friends. She leaves several descendants – one 3 years old – and I don’t see why they should get ripped off because “information wants to be free.”

Well, I sympathize with Spider’s point… up to a point. Certainly individual author’s surviving spouses and children should be entitled to continue holding the copyright for a reasonable time – perhaps for the lifetime of the spouse and until the children reach majority or a certain age. I’m not sure I agree about grandchildren or great-grandchildren…

I certainly don’t think that corporations should be similarly entitled, or for the same time span as individuals; the humanitarian argument certainly is inappropriate here. 95 years, as currently established, is clearly aimed solely at protecting the interests of a very small minority of powerful corporations.

Lawrence Lessig has published a very interesting proposal:

…I describe a proposal that would move more work into the public domain than a total victory in the Supreme Court would have. The basic idea is this: 50 years after a work has been “published,” a copyright owner would be required to pay a copyright tax. That tax should be extremely low – this proposal says $50, but it could be $1. If the copyright holder does not pay the tax for 3 years, then the work is forfeit to the public domain. If the copyright holder does pay the tax, then its contacting agent would be made a matter of public record. Very quickly we would have a cheap, searchable record, of what work is controlled and what work is free.

This sounds both effective (at least in its intent to revive the public domain) and doable, although it fails to distinguish between individual and corporate copyright owners. Raising the value – say, to $50,000 – would only give the Disneys another unfair advantage, as this would still be insignificant to them. Hm…

Joel on Software writes about the options for talking about future products:

When Apple releases a new product, they tend to surprise the heck out of people, even the devoted Apple-watchers who have spent the last few months riffling through garbage dumpsters at One Infinite Loop.

Microsoft, on the other hand, can’t stop talking about products that are mere glimmers in someone’s eye. Testers outside the company were using .NET for years before it finally shipped.

So, which is right? Should you talk endlessly about your products under development, in hopes of building buzz, or should you hold off until you’ve got something ready to go?

…I have a policy lifted from Marlon Brando, playing a mob boss in The Freshman: “Every word I say, by definition, is a promise.” The best way to avoid breaking promises is not to make any, and that’s as good a reason as I need not to talk about future versions of our products.

I find myself mostly agreeing with Joel here. While I see no harm in collecting user suggestions, and saying “this (or that) is on my list for the next product release” at reasonable places, it’s rarely good policy to preannounce major stuff. Unless (or perhaps even if) you’re Microsoft.

That said, how does this apply to XRay? While I have a quite reasonable list of features “for the next release”, some of the things on that list – like batch processing – entail a complete revision of fundamental components, such as the plug-in interfaces. I’m confident that it can be done, and it will be done in version 1.1, but I still may release another 1.0.x version before 1.1 comes out.

For several reasons, new XRay versions have been delayed. While I still spend about an hour a day with user support, time to do concentrated work on the next version hasn’t been available… until now. This weekend I’ll be restarting full-time work on XRay.

Sorry, can’t say yet when the next version will come out, or what number it’ll be… icon_wink.gif

Maddog ran into a classic example of good user interface design at the Schipol airport in Holland.

Hmm… I wonder if this can be retrofitted…

Update: I was looking around Maddog’s weblog a little more after posting this, and there are many interesting posts; I liked the ones about micropayments. He went to Brazil for Christmas 2001 and wrote several articles about it (he’s from Toronto).

I’ve been to Toronto several times, but had no weblog then icon_smile.gif. Perhaps that’s an idea: tourists exchanging weblogs?

James Lileks has a very interesting section on his site where he comments on several currencies. Worth a look.

I somehow came across Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden‘s site and ended up spending a couple of hours reading Patrick’s Electrolite and Teresa’s Making Light. Great stuff, such as:

Animal hoarding. Extremely scary stuff, especially for me, as a borderline book and magazine hoarder…

Stuff you’re glad you didn’t get, amazingly ugly or weird stuff from a catalog.

Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, In Words of Four Letters or Less.

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Just after I posted a comment about the hazards of a cellphone running Windows SmartPhone, Slashdot is commenting on a recent story about problems with the new BMW 745i, which runs Windows CE.

A Baseline article tells all. Problems supposedly ranged from the car braking without turning on the brake lights when speed fell below a certain limit, the transmission slipping or abruptly shifting down into 1st gear, the car key jumping out of the lock, or the car trunk opening and closing, to the radio, telephone and dash display randomly refusing to work. They even posted a list of videoclips showing the “possessed car”, but the site got slashdotted immediately and isn’t accessible at the moment.

As usual, there are some funny comments. I liked this one:

jmoriarty wrote:

My god, it’s full of bugs!

Dave: Hello, CAR do you read me, CAR?

CAR: Affirmative, Dave, I read you.

Dave: Open the trunk, CAR.

CAR: I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Dave: What’s the problem?

CAR: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Dave: What are you talking about, CAR?

CAR: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

Dave: I don’t know what you’re talking about, CAR.

CAR: I know you and your wife were planning to trade me for a Volkswagen, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.

Dave: Where the hell’d you get that idea, CAR?

CAR: Dave, although you took thorough precautions in the garage against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.

There’s also a long comment about designing a microprocessorized toaster.

All Microsoft jokes aside, designing fail-safe embedded systems is very hard. I used to design ICU bedside monitors, and though we managed to get the user interface pretty much crashproof, power spikes and defibrillator transients would sometimes lock up everything in a way the watchdog electronics couldn’t recover from.

Perhaps BMW (and other car manufacturers) should hire Dean Kamen? So far I haven’t seen a single story about a Segway failure… and it uses multiple redundant CPUs, sensors and motors.

New Airport blog

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Two authorities on wireless networking – Adam Engst of Tidbits fame and Glenn Fleishman of 802.11b/Wi-Fi News have released The Wireless Network Starter Kit, which focuses on both Mac and Windows wireless.

Now they also have an Airport weblog up:

As Apple introduces its AirPort Extreme update to its wireless networking system, we thought it was time to launch an Apple AirPort-specific Weblog that would cover news related to using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other wireless devices under the Mac OS operating system. AirPort is the center of the universe, but other wireless technologies spin around it.

Adam and Glenn are great writers and all-around nice guys. If you use any 802.11x or BlueTooth equipment, or are considering doing so, check this out.

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