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Debian Votes Against Mandating Non-systemd Compatibility

Paul Fernhout Re:Debian OS is no longer of use to me now (521 comments)

"You are personally going to migrate your employer's systems because you personally do not like something, something every single major distro is moving too, and the top kernel developers are already using?"

No, AC, he said he is going to migrate his *personal* systems and those of an apparent volunteer organization he is affiliated with. Read more carefully next time before launching into the personal insults...

11 minutes ago

Machine-Learning Algorithm Ranks the World's Most Notable Authors

Paul Fernhout The Ben Franklin / Copyright "Pirate" connection (55 comments)

"Ben Franklin and others who owned printers realized that copyright didn't apply to them, so they promptly began making copies of everything - books, sheet music, etc."

I had know that for much of US history there was no respect for foreign copyrights (from other countries). I never saw anyone connect this to Ben Franklin's success before. Interesting!

Now that I look:
"Benjamin Franklin, Copyright Pirate"

"Benjamin Franklin, the first IP pirate?"

38 minutes ago

Rooftop Solar Could Reach Price Parity In the US By 2016

Paul Fernhout Small nuclear vs. solar PV vs. a singularity (489 comments)

I agree we may well see cheap compact nuclear fission reactors in the 2020s like from Hyperion., Also, it is a sad truth that we could build much safer reactors if engineers had been asked to prioritize safety over other things (Freeman Dyson's TRIGA design being one example) and if the USA has not focused on a Uranium nuclear cycle that intentionally could be easily weaponized (instead of Thorium).

Still I'd expect solar will actually continue to fall in price by the 2020s too. It would not surprise me if PV was in the 15 cent per watt range by 2030 (or even less) other things remaining constant. Consider how "cheap" used "solar collectors" in terms of tree leaves are in the Fall in the USA. Solar panels potentially could be printed as cheaply as aluminum foil using advanced nanomaterials and special inks.

We haven't really seen anything like the amount of research in PV we will probably see when it reaches grid parity everywhere and people really invest in it in a huge way equivalent to previous investments in fossil fuel production and research. Some people (myself included) have been predicting this turning point for a long time, and it has been dismissed and ignored. It is easy to say PV progress will never get to grid parity until it actually happens. That has been true even though the trends for decades show a clear line towards zero cost (no doubt it will go asymptotic at some point to just be dirt cheap though).

Unfortunately, in our short-term-oriented society in the USA, until PV is cheaper than the grid it is only a niche thing for special circumstances or motivated environmentally-minded people. That has been what has been funding it as only a relative trickle of investment. Once PV is cheaper than the grid, assuming a good solution to energy storage exists (fuel cells with nickle-metal hydride storage, Lithium ion batteries, molten salt batteries, compressed air, or something else), it will be economically foolish to use anything else to generate power than PV. And then, sometime after the stampede, we will see enormous sums of money flow into PV research and production. Electric utilities may collapse all over the place as his happens because grid power becomes too pricey once the cost of delivery exceeds the cost of on-site production. Except for the value of their right of ways as internet conduits, and maybe the value of their copper wires, I would guess that most utilities if properly accounted for, given decommissioning costs and outstanding long-term debt in sunk costs, most utilities may well have a negative net worth right now given any forecast that includes these trends.

Personally, I still think it possible that hot fusion or cold fusion will displace PV (as well as nuclear fusion) in the near future. Those could potentially be really really cheap. Even if fission gets cheaper and better (including potentially as small batteries), I don't see it could compete with workable fusion (and probably neither could PV for most applications).

We'll likely also see energy efficiency increase greatly. The current best construction in Europe is to build passive solar superinsulated houses without furnaces; search on "no furnace house".

I'd love to see the solar roadways thing work out... Or even just for parking lots or driveways.

Still, as I said elsewhere, the same reasons PV s getting cheaper (cheaper computing leading to cheaper collaboration and better designs by cheaper modeling and newer materials and so on) are the same sorts of reasons we will also see much cheaper nuclear power. Of course, there are other trends that all interact with that as well... A post by me from 2000:
"[unrev-II] Singularity in twenty to forty years?"

about an hour ago

Interviews: Ask Malcolm Gladwell a Question

Paul Fernhout Reduced lead leading to reduced crime? (108 comments)

In the Tipping Point you advance the argument that it was better policing against minor infractions that reduced crime.
"Economist Steven Levitt and Malcolm Gladwell have a running dispute about whether the fall in New York City's crime rate can be attributed to the actions of the police department and "Fixing Broken Windows" (as claimed in The Tipping Point). In Freakonomics, Levitt attributes the decrease in crime to two primary factors: 1) a drastic increase in the number of police officers trained and deployed on the streets and hiring Raymond W. Kelly as police commissioner (thanks to the efforts of former mayor David Dinkins) and 2) a decrease in the number of unwanted children made possible by Roe v. Wade, causing crime to drop nationally in all major cities -- "[e]ven in Los Angeles, a city notorious for bad policing"."

However, it looks like the drop in crime is most closely correlated with the fall in environmental lead (mostly from reducing the used of leaded gasoline). Since other places have seen their crime rate fall without drastic changes in policing, what do you think of the lead and crime connection? See also:
"America's Real Criminal Element: Lead; New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing. "

2 days ago

Group Tries To Open Source Seeds

Paul Fernhout How is this different from "Seed Savers Exchange"? (99 comments) "Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. Since 1975, our members have been passing on our garden heritage by collecting and distributing thousands of samples of rare garden seeds to other gardeners. "

3 days ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout Thanks for the informative history lesson! (254 comments)

Looks like we turned down the wrong path a few decades ago...

When Lessig argued "Eldred vs. Ashcroft" there was some point where the justices said, essentially, well no one has ever complained about copyright extensions before in terms of that being a taking something of value from the public (breaking the previous bargain struck at the time the work was produced), so extensions must be OK. That was probably not true, but Lessig did not have much of an answer for that. My memory of that may be a bit fuzzy, but I think that was the gist of an important point in the case as far as precedent.

More craziness and the law regarding the "owners" of so many copyrights these days:
" In 1886, . . . in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a private corporation is a person and entitled to the legal rights and protections the Constitutions affords to any person. Because the Constitution makes no mention of corporations, it is a fairly clear case of the Court's taking it upon itself to rewrite the Constitution.
                    Far more remarkable, however, is that the doctrine of corporate personhood, which subsequently became a cornerstone of corporate law, was introduced into this 1886 decision without argument. According to the official case record, Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite simply pronounced before the beginning of arguement in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company that:
                          "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does."
                    The court reporter duly entered into the summary record of the Court's findings that:
                            "The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteen Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
                    Thus it was that a two-sentence assertion by a single judge elevated corporations to the status of persons under the law, prepared the way for the rise of global corporate rule, and thereby changed the course of history.
                    The doctrine of corporate personhood creates an interesting legal contradiction. The corporation is owned by its shareholders and is therefore their property. If it is also a legal person, then it is a person owned by others and thus exists in a condition of slavery -- a status explicitly forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. So is a corporation a person illegally held in servitude by its shareholders? Or is it a person who enjoys the rights of personhood that take precedence over the presumed ownership rights of its shareholders? So far as I have been able to determine, this contradiction has not been directly addressed by the courts. "

about two weeks ago

Americans Rejoice At Lower Gas Prices

Paul Fernhout Try eating more vegetables, fruit, and beans (334 comments)

to get more fiber and micronutrients: In practice, it is what we're eating. Exercise just makes us want to eat more afterwards. Enough fiber and micronutrients shuts off our "appestat" and we feel full on less calories. See, for one example, Dr. Fuhrman's approach, which suggests people aspire to one pound cooked and one pound raw veggies every day (hard to do, but even getting close yields great benefits):

That said, exercise is generally *great* for your overall health, including boosting immune function by getting the lymph moving. And outdoors exercise in sunlight under the right conditions can help with vitamin D deficiency.

See also:
"Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, MediFast and Weightwatchers offer only traditional foods from the Standard American Diet that are known to be the root cause of obesity and other common diseases. The portions may be smaller in size and in the number of calories but their nutrition is negligible and too low as confirmed by the Aggregate Nutrition Density Index."

Getting back to the main topic, in the same way, if we were producing power locally-to-the-neighborhood like via Solar PV or maybe someday hot/cold fusion, we would be less likely to have unpaid-up-front external costs like cross-country pollution, economic risks, or maintaining the US military in the middle east. Then our economy and society would be a lot healthier. Energy efficiency also works like local energy production and so generally is a great thing. Consuming foreign il is an invitation to disaster, like the USA has not learned its lesson from the 1970s!
"We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
    All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.
    Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny."

Sadly, the USA took the wrong path to the feel-good-in-the-short-term Reagan years back then... But thankfully some people did not give up, and the cost of solar PV continues to fall and energy efficiency improvement continue to be made despite it not being a level playing field because the price of fossil fuels and nukes don't account for many negative externalities. But we could have been there in the 1980s, and saved decades of military costs and health costs and pollution remediation costs incurred since then.

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout How is copyrigt for any software justified then? (254 comments)

Good points. How is copyright for any computer software then justified, at least for most software that is intended to be a "useful" tool, like Microsoft Word?

about two weeks ago

Joey Hess Resigns From Debian

Paul Fernhout Modularity & Hygiene & Complexity & sy (447 comments)

From what I read here, systemd is a lot less modular by bundling in a lot of services. Linux has had the virtue of modularity at is core, as exemplified by narrow-focus command line tools piped together to get work done. Modularity is something like cleanliness. If you leave crumbs all over your kitchen all the time, it generally isn't itself the problem. The problem is when roaches and mice move in and you can't get rid of them due to the crumbs you still leave everywhere. Granted, cleanliness (and modularity) can perhaps go too far (the person who scrubs the kitchen flour every five minutes). So, what is a healthy balance here? I don't know enough about the details to weigh in on that. You ask for specific problems, and while a reasonable sounding request, that is also a bit like asking people to send pictures in of specific roaches and mice. The specific problems are important of course, but what is at stake is the bigger picture, not stamping out each individual roach. What matters is increased risk. The more general issue is the management of risks from complexity, whereas modularity is one of the best (but not the only) approach for doing that.

I've seen how lack of modularity can damage other software communities -- particularly the early Squeak community, like I wrote about here
"I sympathize. I think the biggest issue of Squeak is issues with modularity and managing complexity. These issues translate to frustration for maintainers (and users :-). Anyway, I had related frustrations to yours many years ago and they are why I ended up doing a lot in Python and Jython on the JVM in the last decade, even to the point of working on PataPata. ... I think the most important single issue in maintaining any large system is managing complexity (documenting intent maybe comes next, including well-named variables and methods and functions). This has never been a priority for Squeak IMHO. ...
    There are several ways to manage complexity, which include:
* modularity (namespaces, packages like Java or GNU Smalltalk or Debian, letting someone else do that hard work by leveraging libraries or VMs or languages, like Squeak does by using a C compiler to generate the VM)
* cleverness (brilliant redesign, like traits was hopefully going to be)
* laissez faire, and also to each his or her own image (that is what we have now, and it is not that bad an idea, if the *core* is small and well thought out, like Spoon, so the *image* instance becomes the *module*. But alas, it is not, witness how confusing Morphic is to unravel).
    Modularity is the one way to manage complexity which seems to work best in practice, although the others have their role. However, if Squeak images could easily talk to each other and share some state, and we had Spoon-like remote debugging and development, then we could have just one application per image, and that would be easier to maintain (it would be modular to a degree but in an unusual way). But I would still suggest such a system built on well-though out (clever) modules would be more powerful and easier to use than a mess of spaghetti code, even if we had only one application per image."

With roots back to here in 2000:
"Squeak complexity in 2.8 has become a complex cat from the simple kitten complexity of 1.13(?) in 1996. Back then, Dan Ingalls wrote on 10 Nov 1996 those prescient words: "The Squeak team has an interest in doing the world's simplest application construction framework, but I suspect that we will get sucked up with enough other things that this won't happen in the next two months (but who knows...)."
    Squeak 2.8's complexity is now quiet (in terms of walkbacks) and stealthy (in terms of growing between releases without a complaint). And the complexity could be deadly. Witness the recent issue Stefan raised about some Squeak fonts possibly violating a Microsoft EULA. The question should never even arise of the legal integrity of the core release. We might as well just leap right into those jaws of complexity. ... "

Granted, Squeak has finally much improved since those years -- but the cost to the community as enormous from all the missed opportunity... Squeak limps along, and is a better and better system, and spinoffs like Amber Smalltalk and Pharo are awesome, but so many other systems grabbed Squeak's mindshare that Sqeuak faces big uphill struggle at this point. It never got to be the Flash replacement it could have been in browsers, or the Java-killer, or lots of other thing it could have been (the alternative to Python...).

For its own flaws (including those inherent in JavaScript), NodeJS seems to have gotten modularity right and can support that picture I painted above for Squeak of special-purpose application-focused servers talking to each other:
"All you people who added node_modules to your gitignore, remove that shit, today, it's an artifact of an era we're all too happy to leave behind. The era of global modules is dead."

Maybe what frustrates so many Linux developers is to see such an obvious problem going ignored, like for a master chef to have a new restaurant owner come in who is intentionally throwing bread crumbs all over the floor because is "looks nice"? Or, for another analogy, like an experienced firefighter being forced to live in a wood house overflowing with years of un-recycled newspapers supposedly protected by some funky new smoke detector system that is unproven and behind the scenes is implemented using a rat's nest of unlabelled wires?

That said, again, I don't know enough about systemd to know if it does indeed make good overall tradeoffs. I'm just building on the complaints about it I've read here. Things can be too clean. Humans need bacteria to survive. Evolution tends to produce odd efficiencies of unexpectedly interacting systems. So, I'll continue to watch how this plays out...

But Joey's biggest complaint seems to be about the social process. It seems to me that all social systems tend to attract parasites and rent seekers eventually. It can be hard to manage that sometimes without moving on and just waiting for the inevitable collapse before recolonizing. As Clay Shirky says:
"A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy"
"What matters is, a group designed this and then was unable, in the context they'd set up, partly a technical and partly a social context, to save it from this attack from within. And attack from within is what matters. Communitree wasn't shut down by people trying to crash or syn-flood the server. It was shut down by people logging in and posting, which is what the system was designed to allow. The technological pattern of normal use and attack were identical at the machine level, so there was no way to specify technologically what should and shouldn't happen. Some of the users wanted the system to continue to exist and to provide a forum for discussion. And other of the users, the high school boys, either didn't care or were actively inimical. And the system provided no way for the former group to defend itself from the latter.
    Now, this story has been written many times. It's actually frustrating to see how many times it's been written. You'd hope that at some point that someone would write it down, and they often do, but what then doesn't happen is other people don't read it.
    The most charitable description of this repeated pattern is "learning from experience." But learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something. Learning from experience is one up from remembering. That's not great. The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: "Don't go in that swamp. There are alligators in there."
      Learning from experience about the alligators is lousy, compared to learning from reading, say. There hasn't been, unfortunately, in this arena, a lot of learning from reading. And so, lessons from Lucasfilms' Habitat, written in 1990, reads a lot like Rose Stone's description of Communitree from 1978.
    This pattern has happened over and over and over again. Someone built the system, they assumed certain user behaviors. The users came on and exhibited different behaviors. And the people running the system discovered to their horror that the technological and social issues could not in fact be decoupled. ..."

So, systemd sounds nice in practice -- let's bundle all the important services together and finally get all the bugs fixed *this* time -- but in practice, experienced developers worry that the bundling creates a big technical and social problem of maintenance and debugging and related discussions and management.

I might have succeeded in 2000 with rallying Squeakers to make a better system back then, sparing years of frustration and bit rot for so many people, but there were several people (including a "lawyer") who claimed Squeak was just fine as it was, that the quirky non-open-source-recognized license did not matter and that modularity was not an import priority and so on... I'm glad those issues have been mostly fixed for Squeak in something lie Pharo, but it took many years of painful reality for the community as a whole to wake up to them become priorities, losing many good people along the way -- even losing Dan Ingalls to JavaScript...

about two weeks ago

Berlin's Digital Exiles: Where Tech Activists Go To Escape the NSA

Paul Fernhout Holocaust Survivor Leaving US - Sees What's Coming (231 comments)

Granted from 2005:
"I had been stationed in Germany for two years while in the military, so I lit up, and commented about how beautiful the country was, and inquired if he was going back because he missed it.
      "No," he answered me. "I'm going back because I've seen this before." He then commenced to explain that when he was a kid, he watched with his family in fear as Hitler's government committed atrocity after atrocity, and no one was willing to say anything. He said the news refused to question the government, and the ones who did were not in the newspaper business much longer. He said good neighbors, people he had known all his life, turned against his family and other Jews, grabbing on to the hate and superiority "as if they were starved for it" (his words).
      He said he was too old to see it happen right in front of his eyes again, and too old to do anything about it, so he was taking his family back to Europe on Thursday where they would be safe from George W. Bush and his neocons. He seemed resolute, but troubled, nonetheless, as if being too young on one end and too old on the other to fight what he saw happening was wearing on him. ...
    I have related this event to you in the hopes it will serve as a cautionary anecdote about the state of our Union, and to illustrate the path we Americans are being led down by a group of fanatics bent on global economic and military dominion. When a man who survived the fruits of fascism decides its time to leave THIS country because he's seeing the same patterns that led to the Holocaust and other Nazi horrors beginning to form here, it is time for us to recognize the underlying evil inherent in the actions of those who claim they work for all Americans, and for all mankind. And it is incumbent upon all Americans, Red and Blue, Republican and Democrat, to stop them."

What has really changed from the Bush years of great significance in that regard?

See also:
"They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45"
""What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
    "This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter."

Jews who moved to Israel seem to me overall to have interpreted "never again" in terms of who has the most guns. But there is another perspective on that, which is to think that "never again" should be about militaristic bureaucracy getting out of control. A culture like the USA (or Israel for that matter) can be full of guns and people who know how to use them, but still infested with militarist bureaucracy infesting every aspect of life (including via perpetual full-surveillance "schooling"). Like bureaucracy, humans have had a long association with fire, and fire is useful to warm our homes and cook our meals, but it is a terrible thing when it rages out of control.

That said, how should we behave when we are essentially trapped in the middle of such a (currently) slow moving disaster? It seems always possible it could turn around instead of get worse. The USA is a different country than Germany, with a different history and different traditions. And social and economic life often sucks for immigrants in new countries, like shown by Michael Ruppert's experience moving to Venezuela (ignoring how I think "Peak Oil" is a non-issue given Solar PV and likely fusion):
"The important distinctions about adaptivity are not racial at all. US citizens come in all colors. American culture is the water they have swum in since birth. A native US citizen of Latin descent who did not (or even did) speak Spanish would probably feel almost as out of place here as I do. They would look the same but not feel the same. And when it came time to deal collectively with a rapidly changing world, a world in turmoil, a native-born American's inbred decades of "instinctive" survival skills might not harmonize with the skills used by those around him.
    Another one of my trademarked lines is that Post Peak survival is not a matter of individual survival or national survival. It is a matter of cooperative, community survival. If one is not a fully integrated member of a community when the challenges come, one might hinder the effectiveness of the entire community which has unspoken and often consciously unrecognized ways of adapting. As stresses increase, the gauntlets required to gain acceptance in strange places will only get tougher. Diversity will become more, rather than less, rigid and enforced.
    Start building your lifeboats where you are now. I can see that the lessons I have learned here are important whether you are thinking of moving from city to countryside, state to state, or nation to nation. Whatever shortcomings you may think exist where you live are far outnumbered by the advantages you have where you are a part of an existing ecosystem that you know and which knows you. If the time comes when it is necessary to leave that community you will be better off moving with your tribe rather than moving alone."

The USA still has the strength, as exemplified by a true "Promised Land" of NYC (rivaling Israel for Jewish resettlement), of being a place where diverse people have learned to live and work together, perhaps better than anywhere else on the planet.
"The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies"

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout Re:IMHO Copyright sucks but APIs are copyrightable (254 comments)

AC, thanks for the insightful reply! Indeed several Nobel-prize winning economists have supported the basic income for some of these sorts of reasons.

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout Re:How Big a Deal If They Are? (254 comments)

Great points!!! I've made similar ones on scope, suggesting the Java API is derivative of Smalltalk's class libraries. Also, one can look at the FSF's claim the calling GPL'd code even via dynamic linking creates a derived work.

Copyright has many absurdities built into it when applied to programs, and this is one of them. I agree that in practice, if APIs were extensively protected, then people would gravitate towards freely licensed ones. And people might go back decades to find the origins of various software expressions related to interfaces in decades old code (independent invention wold be the only defense, and might be hard to prove). Although, the freely licensed APIs would probably be used by everyone else who argued they copied something from it... One can hope that the SC ruling for Oracle might push copyright for software to the point where copyright for software is show to be so absurd it is abandoned, but somehow I doubt even that would get copyright for software repealed.

Reminds me of the same kind of nonsense as is now happening with patents and smartphones. It's one thing when you are producing machinery in the 1800s and devices are covered by at most a handful of patents. But a Smartphone may be covered by literally thousands of patents (both hardware and software). How do you begin to keep track of that when designing something, let alone negotiate rights to each patent? How are patents then promoting the useful arts when in practice all they do is get in the way? Contrast with the US Fashion industry which in general is not covered by copyrights or patents.

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout Re:A Google Engineer about APIs' importance (254 comments)

My main point is not to argue for more copyright; it is to say that, like Rodney Dangerfield, API designers "no respect". :-)

Granted, so many APIs suck for all the reasons the Google engineer said they were hard to make that it's understandable why people don't respect them. It's like how general tankers in World of Tank have so little respect for Artillery (another hard job). :-)
"Arty seems like the best choice to blame at for some idiot players who have no idea where to go in battle and cock up the whole battle. Arty is not air strike, it takes time to aim and reload, most importantly, i cant shoot at target that i cant even see on my map. For those noobs who always blame at other player in order to feel good abt their own IQ, stop pissing ppl off and learn how to play."

I get the feeling you perhaps have not designed any complex software more than one, especially software libraries intended to be supported for years? Otherwise you might not so easily dismiss the creative challenge of creating good APIs. Sure, implementations may require hard work up front, but a sucky API generally creates massive amounts of hard work for everyone else for years to come. A bad API in that sense is much, much worse than a bad implementation, which as Linux shows, can be fairly easily replaced eventually. While it may look trivial, creating a good API demands immense amounts of understanding of the problem space, the limits of computers, the user community, and so on, including imagining future needs. And choosing the right simplification can be the hardest, most creative act of all -- which is just as true for programmers as it is for painters, novelists, architects, screenwriters, illustrators, actors, and so on.

Actually, it is more and more rare that someone can get anyone to pay something for what want to get paid for in the USA. See for example, from the 1990s by the then Vice Provost of Caltech
"The period 1950-1970 was a true golden age for American science. Young Ph.D's could choose among excellent jobs, and anyone with a decent scientific idea could be sure of getting funds to pursue it. ... By now, in the 1990's, the situation has changed dramatically. ..."

Sure, you can always point to funding successes, but as a successful percentage of aspirants, the odds get longer and longer with more qualified people and less global-scale opportunities as big winners dominate the landscape.

BTW, people did get funding for creating triple stores and similar thing, just not me (not that I ever tried to raise funding for the Pointrel System, in part because I wanted it to be free and open source).

Besides, in a world of so much potential plenty, why make people justify what they want to do based on the possibility that "investors" who are already financially obese can monopolize it for a profit? Also, in a supposed democracy, why should a system like "Freedombox" get the left-overs while phones and tablets full of essentially spyware get vast amounts of money poured into them?

But regardless of funding issues, this whole case shows how valuable the Java API had become, given Google took such pains to use it exactly... Part of the value of that API was the immense amounts of marketing put into Java by IBM and Sun for a decade (given Java sucked at the start, and is not that great even now although it has become OK-ish after vast investments). For good or bad, Oracle bought that Java asset, including community good will and everyone's investment in learning that API and making software that was dependent on it (even if much of the better part of Java down to aspects of Swing's API and the hotspot compiler was a rip-off of Smalltalk, with Sun hiring a bunch of ex-Smalltalkers).

Just because a system needs multiple parts to work does not mean one part of it (the API) can be dismissesed as unimportant or uncreative. Interfaces are very important, even if many people don't appreciate that fact.

Still, it is true that good interfaces hopefully become standards, and proprietary standards are very problematical in a supposed free market. Proprietary standards can ultimately be very costly to a society. The internet and the web succeed in large part because it was an *open* standards.

However, by contrast, due to marketing power from IBM and many other factors, Microsoft succeeded in dominating the desktop with a proprietary standard. I'm actually surprised how far WINE has gotten given Microsoft; parallels there to this case would be of interest (same with Mono).
"Microsoft has not made public statements about Wine."

Related by Manuel De Landa:
"Meshworks, Hierarchies, and Interfaces"
"Certain standardizations, say, of electric outlet designs or of data-structures traveling through the Internet, may actually turn out to promote heterogenization at another level, in terms of the appliances that may be designed around the standard outlet, or of the services that a common data-structure may make possible. "

As a developer, years ago I rooted for Apple to lose the look-and-feel lawsuit that threatened to make creating good user interfaces impossible -- but, I would never say creating a good user interface was not a creative act involving a lot of hard work and researcher and inspiration and reflection and trial-and-error.
"Apple Computer, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation, 35 F.3d 1435 (9th Cir. 1994) was a copyright infringement lawsuit in which Apple Computer, Inc. (now Apple Inc.) sought to prevent Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard from using visual graphical user interface (GUI) elements that were similar to those in Apple's Lisa and Macintosh operating systems.[1] The court ruled that, "Apple cannot get patent-like protection for the idea of a graphical user interface, or the idea of a desktop metaphor [under copyright law]...".[2] In the midst of the Apple v. Microsoft lawsuit, Xerox also sued Apple alleging that Mac's GUI was heavily based on Xerox's.[3] The district court dismissed Xerox's claims without addressing whether Apple's GUI infringed Xerox's.[4] Apple lost all claims in the Microsoft suit except for the ruling that the trash can icon and folder icons from Hewlett-Packard's NewWave windows application were infringing. The lawsuit was filed in 1988 and lasted four years; the decision was affirmed on appeal in 1994,[2] and Apple's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied."

However, that may have been a rare bit of sanity about copyright in the courts. Copyright rulings generally are pretty adhoc. There is little consistency to them according to people like Alan Kay who have been expert witnesses in a variety of cases. This amicus brief is rolling the dice, and we don't know who will win. If APIs get ruled as proprietary, which they might considering the Google presentation I linked to, then the whole computing landscape may change overnight generally much for the worse.

Copyright has become overly broad IMHO, and, for example, right now try to popularize a story using the characters from Harry Potter or Frozen and see how far you get (if you are financially successful) before getting sued. Granted, some places look the other way about fan fiction, but if you make serious money, you can expect a legal attack by copyright owners claiming under US law to control things like character names and related concepts. What real difference is that from API names and expected exceptions and structure contents and so so as a large body of interrelated stuff like the Java API?
"Fictional characters can be protected separately from their underlying works as derivative copyrights, provided that they are sufficiently unique and distinctive--for example, James Bond, Fred Flintstone, Hannibal Lecter, and Snoopy. Judge Learned Hand established the standard for character protection in Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930), when he stated that, "... the less developed the characters, the less they can be copyrighted; that is the penalty an author must bear for marking them too indistinctly." ... Exploitation of fictional characters is a crucial source of revenue for entertainment and merchandising companies. Characters such as Superman and Mickey Mouse are the foundations of massive entertainment franchises and are commonly protected under both copyright and trademark law."

That's an example of why I feel the Supreme Court may side with Oracle.

I'm not saying that situation is morally right or good public policy or good for "progress of the useful arts"; I feel it is not. But I'm suggesting that what many people are saying here, including the amicus brief, seems inconsistent to me (including denying the creativity of API design, which is at the heart of much good software development), and thus the outcome is risky. And rather than address the issue and accept that a well-designed interface is a creative act while admitting overly-broad copyright has become counter-productive (at least to the average software developer), people try to dismiss that, as you seem to me to be doing here.

Let me put it another way to show how API design is at the heart of much good software development. Forth exemplifies incremental modular design, where you build generally from the bottom up, creating Forth words that are usually a composite of just a few other words, and then building new words with the previous words you made. So much of the value created in a Forth program is in the way you create words as an API for the words in layers above, and designing useful words is the supreme art of Forth development. But how can you disentangle the act of Forth programming from API creation?
"What's interesting specifically about Forth is the low level machinery required to get it to work - or the lack of it. That's what makes a well documented minimal Forth like this quite interesting. Writing a Forth from the ground up is a fascinating experience. After just a few lines of assembler you're defining Forth words and writing hybrid Forth/Assembler. I know of no other practical language that can be bootstrapped so quickly."

Solving problems by making APIs that define mini-languages in terms of internal functions is of course true for almost any computer language, but the emphasis on creating an API to create solutions in a problem space may be less obvious in some cases than Forth. To say API creation is not creative is ultimately to deny the creativity needed for much of real programming. In practice, any significant "implementation" to solve a complex problem is built on layers of custom-made APIs almost all the way down... Granted, how you sequence API calls is not making an API, but invariably that sequence of API calls becomes itself an PI endpoint for some other layer. You just can't neatly separate making an API from making a sequence of instructions in practice in any significant piece of software; the two are intertwined in the creative act.

The public policy of whether other people should be able to call that code without your permission (GPL and derived works), or duplicate the function names and expected behaviors without your permission even with clean room implementations (this case with Oracle vs. Google), is ultimately a political question of "fair use" and should be independent of the issue of "creativity" IMHO. I'm still saddened to see how little appreciation many slashdotters seem to have for programming as a craft generally requiring a poetical mindset to do well.

"My feeling is that when we prepare a program, it can be like composing poetry or music; as Andrei Ershov has said [9], programming can give us both intellectual and emotional satisfaction, because it is a real achievement to master complexity and to establish a system of consistent rules."

By me: "[unrev-II] Poetry and Knowledge Management (was Jack's Use Case)"

"The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures.... Yet the program construct, unlike the poet's words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. [â¦] The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be. (Fred Brooks (1975) The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering Page 7)"

Choice of words to express emotions and ideas is a poet's stock in trade, just like picking good names for methods of doings things is an essential part of the creative act of programming. I've read of one person who hires programmers who always asks programmers who their favorite poets are...

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout Re:IMHO Copyright sucks but APIs are copyrightable (254 comments)

Loved the first half of your comment; the second half I have issues with. Dan Pink's talk on motivation and creativity cited research done by the federal Reserve which included experiments in a poor country which agreed with the general findings. So it is not just white middle class -- it is human. As for Bill Gates, he bought DOS from someone who had according to some sources essentially stolen it from his employer.

Bill Gates was born a multimillionaire in today's dollars and could have spent his life working on free software if he wished.

Emacs is essentially a word processor, especially when coupled with tools like LaTex,

I was using a word processor (in ROM) on a Commodore PET around 1980. Many other word processors were created, along with drawing programs, and so on. PLATO preceded pretty much of of that.
"PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations)[1][2] was the first generalized computer assisted instruction system. Starting in 1960, it ran on the University of Illinois' ILLIAC I computer. By the late 1970s, it supported several thousand graphics terminals distributed worldwide, running on nearly a dozen different networked mainframe computers. Many modern concepts in multi-user computing were developed on PLATO, including forums, message boards, online testing, e-mail, chat rooms, picture languages, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, and multiplayer games."

Or with Forth, funded in part by federal dollars:
"Forth was first exposed to other programmers in the early 1970s, starting with Elizabeth Rather at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory.[6] After their work at NRAO, Charles Moore and Elizabeth Rather formed FORTH, Inc. in 1973, refining and porting Forth systems to dozens of other platforms in the next decade."

And don't forget "The Mother of All Demos" by Doug Engelbart:
""The Mother of All Demos" is a name given retrospectively to Douglas Engelbart's December 9, 1968, computer demonstration at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. The live demonstration featured the introduction of a complete computer hardware and software system called the oN-Line System or more commonly, NLS. The 90-minute presentation essentially demonstrated almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, the computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revision control, and a collaborative real-time editor (collaborative work). Engelbart's presentation was the first to publicly demonstrate all these elements in a single system. The demonstration was highly influential and spawned similar projects at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s. The underlying technologies influenced both the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows graphical user interface operating systems in the 1980s and 1990s."

The reason we use what we use may relate to "capitalism", but it has more to do with the rich getting richer and market position and advertising and (sometimes illegal as with Microsoft antitrust) wheeling and dealing with supplier contracts and press and such, funding alliances, sweat heart deals with governments, and a bunch of similar things.

Rewards, in the presence of artificial scarcity, can control people. But people don't do their most creative work in such a regime. Under such a regime, people tend to gravitate to doing the minimum to get the reward, avoiding risks when possible.

I'm not saying in our system in the USA that software developers don't need money to develop software. They do because otherwise they will have to take unrelated jobs. FOr example, my wife and I went way into debt to create a garden simulator and then spent years doing unrelated work to pay the debt off. That was sad because we were all tooled up to write great educational simulations and similar related things in that domain and that capacity pretty much all got lost over the years of doing unrelated coding. But something like a basic income could solve that issue instead of raising funds speculatively via artificial scarcity and a hope of winning the copyright lottery with a copyright that pays off (most code gets thrown away fairly soon). As for other tasks related to software, the FOSS movement especially GNU/Debian/Linux has shown what is possible, Maybe it is not perfect, but it shows another way is possible,

Apple and Microsoft may have won the mindshare hype game, but there were alternatives -- some of them better. Another example:
"Announced in June 1982. Based on the Motorola 68000 CPU, this personal workstation was intended for interfacing with laboratory instruments to acquire and analyze experimental data. In addition to a regular PC keyboard, it had a touch panel for controlling experiments. It had a custom realtime multitasking operating system called CSOS, and could be programmed in Pascal, Fortran, or Basic. The 128KB memory could be expanded up to 5MB. Up to 4 10MB hard disks could be installed, as well as various combinations of 5.25- and 8-inch floppy disks. The screen had 80 columns Ã-- 30 rows in text mode and 768 Ã-- 480 pixels in monochrome graphics mode. I/O interfaces included serial, parallel, IEEE-488, and analog, with an integrated color printer -- a big package in a small footprint. I attended a nondisclosure presentation of this product by IBM in 1980 or '81 and recall commenting that if they stripped away the instrument control panel and interfaces, they'd have a desktop computer that was miles ahead of anything else on the market. Wrong division, I guess."

Personally, I think a Commodore pet with embedded Forth might have taken the computing world by storm (compared to slow BASIC and hard to use assembly) especially if it had included bitmapped graphics (which was an add-on board I bought):
"The Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) is a home/personal computer produced in 1977 by Commodore International.[2]..."

For reference:
"Many of the design features of the I were due to the limited amount of money they had to construct the prototype, but with the income from the sales he was able to start construction of a greatly improved machine, the Apple II; it was presented to the public at the first West Coast Computer Faire on April 16 and 17, 1977."

Minitel in France might theoretically have been the winner:
"The Minitel was a Videotex online service accessible through telephone lines, and is considered one of the world's most successful pre-World Wide Web online services. Rolled out experimentally in 1978 in Brittany and throughout France in 1982 by the PTT (Poste, Téléphone et Télécommunications; divided since 1991 between France Télécom and La Poste).[1] From its early days, users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to that now made possible by the Internet."

Still, the first interactive computer system I played with (for like a minute or two) was probably some kind of early computer running lunar lander software with an oscilloscope for display at Brookhaven National Labs around (guessing) 1975? So, government funded... A lot of people wanted such things. People were building from kits. Someone was gong to do a premade system. 3D printing is in the same flux right now that PCs were in the later 1970s. Someone is going to be a big winner there -- but there are lots of small players right now, some of which are attracting capital, plus a few big ones (like HP) that seem to just be misfiring somehow when they should have already owned the market (like IBM messing up by licensing DOS instead of using existing in-house software, inclusion a Forth made by David Frank).

If aspirin is everywhere even without a patent on it, and fancy clothes are everywhere without copyrights on them, why not personal computers and software? Does nature need copyrights and patents to produce oak trees or hummingbirds or blue whales or lactobacillus? Do (real) apples need to be copyrighted or patented so farmers will grow them?

Meanwhile, in the *real* world, millionaire (then) Bill Gates dumpster dives to learn how to write software:
"Allen credits his basic programming skills to Lakeside School, the Seattle preparatory school where he met Bill Gates. "We were the only high school in Seattle with a (computer) terminal. The teachers wrote a three-line base code on the blackboard and gave us the manuals, and that was it. We were hooked," said Allen. That phase of Allen's life involved taking the bus -- sports coat, tie, leather briefcase and all -- down to the offices of local computer gurus. "I would boost Bill into dumpsters and we'd get these coffee-stained texts (of computer code)" from behind the offices, grinned Allen."

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout Re:As any developer worth their salt knows (254 comments)

Quoting a small snippet from a larger work with attribution in the USA is generally fair use. But in any case, how can the Free Software Foundation claim that code that links to GPL libraries even *dynamically* is a derived work if APIs are not copyrightable? As much as I am against excessive copyright, people can't have it both ways.

Others disagree though, although I think they are probably wrong (but its up to the courts etc...):
"There's a dangerous meme going around that if Oracle loses its novel copyright claims against Google that suddenly the GPL will become unenforceable. This idea hinges on a misunderstanding about the difference between linking to a code library and merely using an API. ... Florian Mueller, who provides indispensable analysis of various intellectual property issues in the mobile industry, believes that whether an API is copyrightable can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. He is certainly right that the overall design of a system of APIs can show "creativity," in the same sense that a brilliant mechanical invention is creative. But that does not mean that copyright is the proper way to protect that creativity, if at all. Copyright extends only to "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression," and a system of API calls does not meet that test. It is not a "fixed" work in the same way that an actual computer program is. I will not address whether a system of APIs is patentable, but certainly the creativity that a well-designed API scheme might show is closer to the creativity that a concise mathematical statement (not patentable) or a new design for an engine (patentable) might show. In any event, simply because something is "creative" in some sense does not mean that it deserves legal protection, unless it can be shown that some desired level of creativity would not happen without such protection. I do not see any evidence that the dynamic and innovative software industry requires copyright protection for APIs to maintain its current high level of creativity. ..."

Some people also suggest the dynamic linking issue for the GPL would not hold up in the Supreme Court...

To add to the confusion, from Richard Stallman:
"Someone recently made the claim that including a header file always
makes a derivative work.
That's not the FSF's view. Our view is that just using structure
definitions, typedefs, enumeration constants, macros with simple
bodies, etc., is NOT enough to make a derivative work. It would take
a substantial amount of code (coming from inline functions or macros
with substantial bodies) to do that."

How can he say that and still argue that dynamic linking to a GPL's library makes something fall under the GPL?
"This key dispute is whether or not non-GPL software can legally statically link or dynamically link to GPL libraries. Different opinions exist on this issue. The GPL is clear in requiring that all derivative works of code under the GPL must themselves be under the GPL. Ambiguity arises with regards to using GPL libraries, and bundling GPL software into a larger package (perhaps mixed into a binary via static linking). This is ultimately a question not of the GPL per se, but of how copyright law defines derivative works. The following points of view exist: ... The Free Software Foundation (which holds the copyright of several notable GPL-licensed software products and of the license text itself) asserts that an executable which uses a dynamically linked library is indeed a derivative work. ..."

So, while they are at it, why not get the Supreme Court to rule on that dynamic linking issue? Of course, if GPL code could be dynamically linked to, then in practice the GPL become unenforceable as it was intended...

If the FSF can argue dynamic linking to GPLd code, which requires referencing API function names creates a derived work, why can't Oracle claim that an API gives them control over who uses it as creating a derived work? And further, if that API is "creative" enough to be copyrightable in that sense, when someone else intentionally makes a complete copy of that API, is that not copyright violation?

As I say elsewhere, I think copyright is now excessively long and broad, but I don't think this lawsuit is going to fix that problem. I think it likely it will make it worse if Google looses. Of course, Google may still "win" if it "loses", because suddenly it may have so much greater legal control over anyone who accesses its APIs for its web services and it may be able to prevent competitors from creating similar services (even if just by legal intimidation) or clients to its services without payment and so on... Could that have been Google's plan all along (to lose the lawsuit)? Which if so would seem to be greatly departing from "don't be evil" so I hope not.

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout A Google Engineer about APIs' importance (254 comments)

Top down programming is a recognized form of design. With a bigger initial team, you could imagine Linus might have never written any implementations of APIs as other team member could have filled that in, but he still have made an enormous creative contribution by good design. Example:
"A top-down approach (also known as stepwise design and in some cases used as a synonym of decomposition) is essentially the breaking down of a system to gain insight into its compositional sub-systems. In a top-down approach an overview of the system is formulated, specifying but not detailing any first-level subsystems. Each subsystem is then refined in yet greater detail, sometimes in many additional subsystem levels, until the entire specification is reduced to base elements. A top-down model is often specified with the assistance of "black boxes", these make it easier to manipulate. However, black boxes may fail to elucidate elementary mechanisms or be detailed enough to realistically validate the model. Top down approach starts with the big picture. It breaks down from there into smaller segments."

What seems to me to be going on in the discussion here which disturbs me greatly as a software developer is that, in order to try to help win a political argument about interoperability, people are dismissing the creative aspect of naming things well and making good choices about module partitions. That is really really sad. It has taken me *decades* to get better at those tasks, and they remain hard, and I can still see how much I could improve on them. One pet project (the Pointrel system) I've been thinking about APIs for for thirty+ years trying to simplify and clarify the design. Maybe that is to excess :-) but in any case, an essential part of a good design is good names and good abstraction layers, and that can IMHO take a lot of effort and creativity.

But rather than, as I do, people here saying, yes good APIs demand effort and creative understanding of the problem domain, and the issue is that copyright is (or has become) a bad idea because it would restrict interoperability, people here tend to be saying, no, APIs aren't creative because it would be inconvenient if they were given how broad copyright now is. I think the end result of that is going to be:
1. Pissing off software designers
2. Losing the Supreme Court case too.
3. ???
4. Profit for those purveying artificial scarcity
(my half-ironic site on that: )

Personally, I'm coming around just now to the thought that maybe most people on Slashdot really have never tried very hard to design great software API interfaces? Which fits the facts that most APIs I've ever had to deal with were fll of gotchas and confusing aspects. Contrast with, say, ObjectWorks Smalltalk, which in general had great APIs for streaming and such.

Maybe this discussion is an example of?
"When We Don't Like the Solution, We Deny the Problem"

The "solution" here (implied by Oracle) is that APIs are controllable by the copyright owner, and the problem is that APIs take a lot of hard creative work to get right? I propose other solutions, like a basic income and rolling back copyright.

If APIs were not hard to write and required creativity to do well, why are their articles giving advice on how to do it better? Example:
"Here are the main concepts I tried to apply when designing the API:
        Easy to learn ; the documentation provides simple examples, complete documentation
        Easy to use ; single entry point, standard parameters
        Hard to misuse ; explicit error message suggesting parameters values
        Appropriate to audience ; I talked about such a service with several users, and looked at what the competition was offering"

Perhaps on that page is a link to (sad to point it out as I like Google more than Oracle) the "smoking gun" that might lose the case and leave us worse off than with ambiguity:
"How to design a good API and why it matters?" by Joshua Bloch, Principal Software Engineer, *Google*
"APIs can be among a company's greatest assets
* Customers invest heavily: buying, writing, learning
* Cost to stop using an API can be prohibitive
* Successful public APIs capture customers
Can also be among company's greatest liabilities
* Bad APIs result in unending stream of support calls
Public APIs are forever - one chance to get it right"

And the damning evidence goes on from there on how hard it is to write good APIs, and how important it is to do so, and, to my mind, how much creativity the process takes to do well. I would be surprised if Oracle does not submit that in their court case, so the EFF etc. better get on it now... Seriously, how can anyone read that document by a Google engineer outlining all the complexity involved in writing an API well and turn around and say writing a good API is not a creative act?

Of course, the fact that much of the better parts of the Java API were "borrowed" from Smalltalk is another layer of complexity here. :-) But that doesn't really resolve the issue for Google to prove Oracle inherited a liability from overly broad coprygith -- unless, say, Google was right now to buy the assets of old Smalltalk vendors like ParcPlace-Digitalk (currently owned by Cincom), which I'd advise them to do this instant, but who listens to me?).
"This image seems appropriate talking to the new folks at the former ParcPlace-Digitalk Inc, of Sunnyvale, California; for it seems the $45m (in stock) July 1995 merger of Smalltalk powerhouses ParcPlace Systems Inc and Digitalk Inc was in fact as unholy and ultimately dangerous an act of constructive surgery as anything Victor Frankenstein did, at least to their investors; and just like in the old Karloff sequels, along have come a new team of eager re-animators, convinced this time they have the right therapy to make the revived old boy behave himself. Our tale begins in 1987 when Xerox's legendary Palo Alto Research Center (Parc) helped alumnus Adele Goldberg set up a company, ParcPlace, to exploit her work in the pure-play object-oriented programming language Smalltalk. ..."

Then maybe Google would open source VisualWorks Smalltalk and I could start using it again (after paying about $9K for a license for it plus ENVY server back in the 1990s but not keeping up with expensive upgrades and anyway not liking runtime fees). Although, realistically, I'd still probably keep plugging away in JavaScript when not posting on Slashdot due to ease-of-installation...

about two weeks ago

Computer Scientists Ask Supreme Court To Rule APIs Can't Be Copyrighted

Paul Fernhout Re:IMHO Copyright sucks but APIs are copyrightable (254 comments)

Correlation does not prove causation, but interesting paper none-the-less reading the summary: "Copyright and Creativity -- Evidence from Italian Operas"

But even if it was true, should most of humanity be denied access to most of human knowledge via the internet that could otherwise be available right now (like via Google Books) so we might get a few more operas and other such thing?

Beside, current research (even by the US Federal Reserve) shows reward is not motivator for creative works (or sometimes even has a negative correlation of causing artists to just rehash more of the same old thing). Lot of studies are cited in these works by Alfie Kohn and Dan Pink to support my point:
"Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes"
"RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us"

Also: "Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator: Creativity and intrinsic interest diminish if task is done for gain"

A better answer to the issue of people having enough time to do quality work (including learning to do it) is to have a "basic income" for everyone (so, for example, monthly Social Security payments in the USA from birth, not just for those 65 and older).

There are plenty of reasons copyrights stifle creativity these days, because artists can't easily remix.

Most, as in 99%+ (my guess), of artistic people are only held back by copyright, because very, very few people can make a living at licensing creative works as authors or composers or whatever, but they instead generally have to pay for access to contemporary novels and music and such. Some of that is discussed here:

about two weeks ago



Safety first, privacy second in use of cameras in schools

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about three weeks ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Caroline Murray reports for the Sacandaga Express: "Just this year, the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District completed Phase 1 of a plan to install high-tech security cameras in every school across the district. For the first time, high school and middle school students started off the school year with security cameras pointed at them from every direction, including hallways, staircases, and public rooms, such as the cafeteria and gymnasium. For some veteran students, the cameras feel a bit invasive. "It is like '1984' with big brother," senior Hunter Horne said while walking down the hallway. ... Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said safety is the driving force behind the technology, however, admitted student behavior also plays a role in utilizing the equipment. Tomlinson said students have rights, and he wants to respect their privacy, but their rights change when students step foot on school grounds. ... Tomlinson said he already notices the culture has changed in the high school. He believes the amount of bullying and vandalism in the hallway is greatly reduced already. Gennett said faculty and teachers have peace of mind now, knowing the entire school is under surveillance. "It would be very difficult to find a location in our buildings where you can hide, or you can go, and intentionally do something that is not acceptable in our buildings," Tomlinson said. Some of the administrators view the security cameras as entertaining. Seniors Smith and Horne said certain staff members will call-out students over the loud speaker, and tell them to take off their hats."

One question not addressed in the article is whether forcing a child to submit to total one-way surveillance is a form of bullying or in some other way a vandalism of privacy or democracy? See also David Brin's "The Transparent Society" for another take on surveillance, where all the watchers are also watched."

Link to Original Source

US Millennials: The Cheapest Generation

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about three weeks ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Just noticed this two-year old Atlantic article on how US Millennials (aka Generation Y) are not buying houses or cars as much as previous generations, but are buying smartphones instead and using those phones to get on-demand access to things like Zipcars or other "sharing economy" services. It says: "In 2010, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 bought just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, down from the peak of 38 percent in 1985. Miles driven are down, too. Even the proportion of teenagers with a license fell, by 28 percent, between 1998 and 2008. ... Just as car sales have plummeted among their age cohort, the share of young people getting their first mortgage between 2009 and 2011 is half what it was just 10 years ago, according to a Federal Reserve study. ... Smartphones compete against cars for young people's big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits — opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. ... If the Millennials are not quite a post-driving and post-owning generation, they'll almost certainly be a less-driving and less-owning generation. That could mean some tough adjustments for the economy over the next several years. ... Education is the "obvious outlet for the money Millennials can spend," Perry Wong, the director of research at the Milken Institute, told us, noting that if young people invest less in physical things like houses, they'll have more to invest in themselves. "In the past, housing was the main vehicle for investment, but education is also a vehicle." In an ideas economy, up-to-date knowledge could be a more nimble and valuable asset than a house."

Of course, education via the internet or through FOSS educational simulations may not cost that much either. Also, we are also seeing the bubble on student loan borrowing nearing the bursting point, where more and more young people are deciding to bow out of the entire academic credentialing arms race given the uncertainty of a financial return on such an investment (as much as education via schools or other venues may have other non-financial benefits)."

Link to Original Source

10 things that scare the bejeezus out of IT pros

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about three weeks ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "ITWorld has a slideshow that begins with: "As Halloween approaches, some may be creeped out by vampires and zombies and other minor evils. But IT workers know that just a few words can carry more horror than most ordinary souls can imagine — with nightmarish results ranging from wasted IT resources to botched rollouts to failed projects. Presented for your approval: 10 short sentences that will truly make your blood run cold this Halloween.""
Link to Original Source

Cold fusion reactor verified by third-party researchers

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a month and a half ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "ExtremeTech reports that "Andrea Rossi's E-Cat — the device that purports to use cold fusion to generate massive amounts of cheap, green energy — has been verified by third-party researchers, according to a new 54-page report. The researchers observed a small E-Cat over 32 days, where it produced net energy of 1.5 megawatt-hours, or "far more than can be obtained from any known chemical sources in the small reactor volume." The researchers were also allowed to analyze the fuel before and after the 32-day run, noting that the isotopes in the spent fuel could only have been obtained by "nuclear reactions"...""

Hidden Obstacles for Google's Self-Driving Cars

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 3 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Lee Gomes at Technology Review wrote an article on the current limits of Google self-driving car technology: "Would you buy a self-driving car that couldn't drive itself in 99 percent of the country? Or that knew nearly nothing about parking, couldn't be taken out in snow or heavy rain, and would drive straight over a gaping pothole? If your answer is yes, then check out the Google Self-Driving Car, model year 2014. Google often leaves the impression that, as a Google executive once wrote, the cars can "drive anywhere a car can legally drive." However, that's true only if intricate preparations have been made beforehand, with the car's exact route, including driveways, extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans. It's vastly more effort than what's needed for Google Maps. ... Maps have so far been prepared for only a few thousand miles of roadway, but achieving Google's vision will require maintaining a constantly updating map of the nation's millions of miles of roads and driveways. Urmson says Google's researchers "don't see any particular roadblocks" to accomplishing that. When a Google car sees a new permanent structure such as a light pole or sign that it wasn't expecting it sends an alert and some data to a team at Google in charge of maintaining the map. ... Among other unsolved problems, Google has yet to drive in snow, and Urmson says safety concerns preclude testing during heavy rains. Nor has it tackled big, open parking lots or multilevel garages. ... Pedestrians are detected simply as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels — meaning, Urmson agrees, that the car wouldn't be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop. ..."

A deeper issue I wrote about in 2001 is whether such software and data will be FOSS or proprietary? As I wrote there: "We are about to see the emergence of companies licensing that publicly funded software and selling modified versions of such software as proprietary products. There will eventually be hundreds or thousands of paid automotive software engineers working on such software no matter how it is funded, because there will be great value in having such self-driving vehicles given the result of America's horrendous urban planning policies leaving the car as generally the most efficient means of transport in the suburb. The question is, will the results of the work be open for inspection and contribution by the public? Essentially, will those engineers and their employers be "owners" of the software, or will they instead be "stewards" of a larger free and open community development process?""

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Humans Need Not Apply: A video about the robot revolution and jobs

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 3 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "This explanatory compilation video by CGP Grey called "Humans Need Not Apply" on structural unemployment caused by robotics and AI (and other automation) is like the imagery playing in my mind when I think about the topic based on previous videos and charts I've seen.

I saw it first on the econfuture site by Martin Ford, author of "The Lights in the Tunnel". It is being discussed on Reddit, and people there have started mentioning a "basic income" as one possible response.

While I like the basic income idea, I also collect other approaches in an essay called Beyond A Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics. Beyond a basic income for the exchange economy, those possible approaches include gift economy, subsistence production, planned economy, and more — including many unpleasant alternatives like expanding prisons or fighting wars as we are currently doing. Marshall Brain's writings like Robotic Nation and Manna have inspired my own work.

I made my own video version of the concept around 2010, as a parable called "The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income". At 1:02 in the video I made, there is a picture of a robot near a sign "Humans Need Not Apply". The text there is: "Soon everyone was out of work. The politicians and their supporters said the solution was to lower takes and cut social benefits to promote business investment. They tried that, but the robots still got all the jobs."

Here is a p2presearch post I made in 2009 pulling together a lot of links to robot videos: "[p2p-research] Robot videos and P2P implications (was Re: A thirty year future...)". It's great to see more informative videos on this topic. CGP Grey's video is awesome in the way he puts it all together. Makes we wish I had done one like that with all those snippets of stuff I've seen over the years."

On MetaFilter Being Penalized By Google

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 6 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "MetaFIlter recently announce layoffs due to a decline in ad revenue that started with a mysterious 40% drop in traffic from Google on November 17, 2012, and which never recovered. Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand explores in detail how MetaFilter "serves as a poster child of problems with Google’s penalty process, despite all the advances Google has made over the years." Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post puts it more bluntly: "That may be the most striking, prescient takeaway from the whole MetaFilter episode: the extent to which the modern Web does not incentivize quality.""
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To Wash It All Away by James Mickens

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 6 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "James Mickens of Microsoft Research writes his last column for USENIX's ;login: magazine humorously about everything that is wrong with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the modern Web page and why we should "wash it all away". An example from his column: "Describing why the Web is horrible is like describing why it's horrible to drown in an ocean composed of pufferfish that are pregnant with tiny Freddy Kruegers--each detail is horrendous in isolation, but the aggregate sum is delightfully arranged into a hate flower that blooms all year." He makes many excellent points about problems with all these technologies, but do these points matter much given the Web's momentum? And could we expect anything better in the near future (like a Social Semantic Desktop or other new standards for exchanging information)? In my opinion, the Web wins because we are reaching the point where if something does not have a URI, it is broken. And JavaScript is, all things considered, better than we deserved."
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LATimes to discard all previous user comments

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 9 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "I just received an email from the LATimes they will apparently be discarding all previous user comments tomorrow as they transition to a new commenting system. They are giving about one day to "save your work". What does this example mean about trusting our content to third-parties, even ones that one might otherwise presume to be a "Newspaper of Public Record"?

The main text of the email: "Thank you for being a part of the community. We're committed to providing a forum for meaningful discussion about the topics we cover and have upgraded our commenting system. As of Thursday, February 27, we are giving our readers better ways to connect and communicate, using improved tools to help keep debates spirited, but not mean-spirited. More details will be available at launch on As we bid goodbye to our old system, past comments will not be carried over. If you'd like to save your work, we encourage you to do so before February 27. We look forward to hearing from you at Jimmy Orr, Managing Editor, Digital""

Gates Spends Entire First Day Back in Office Trying to Install Windows 8.1

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 9 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "According to Andy Borowitz: "Bill Gates's first day at work in the newly created role of technology adviser got off to a rocky start yesterday as the Microsoft founder struggled for hours to install the Windows 8.1 upgrade. ... After failing to install the upgrade by lunchtime, Mr. Gates summoned the new Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella, who attempted to help him with the installation, but with no success."

I've read before on Slashdot that Vista took the hate for buggy drivers after big changes from XP. After that all got sorted out, lots of people praised Windows 7. Might we see the same thing here with a more stable Windows 9?"

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Kickstarter hacked, user data stolen

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 9 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "CNet wrote: "Hackers hit crowd-funding site Kickstarter and made off with user information, the site said Saturday. Though no credit card info was taken, the site said, attackers made off with usernames, e-mail addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and encrypted passwords.""
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MIT Scientists Report Cold Fusion Success with "NANOR" Device

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 9 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "E-Cat World reports: "[A video] has been posted on Youtube by someone called ‘AlienScientist’ who attended (and filmed) the recent MIT Cold Fusion seminar and reports about what he has learned. He does a very nice job of summarizing the key points from the seminar, pointing out that Peter Hagelstein and Mitchell Swartz mention such things as how the cold fusion reactions can be enhanced by subjecting the cold fusion cell to an external magnetic heat and shining a laser on the cathodes. He also mentions that they say cracking in the metal and rapid gas loading can cause the deuterium to leak out, thus negatively affecting the amount of excess heat produced. The video also includes pointed criticism of the way the scientific community dealt with Pons and Fleischmann 25 years ago, and laments the lost opportunities that could have been realized if more care had been taken in trying to replicate the effect back then. The takeaway quote from the video (I think) is: “This is quite possibly the beginning of the largest technological breakthrough that our generation will witness.” ""
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Start-up purchases controversial cold fusion E-cat technology

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 10 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "A North Carolina based company called Industrial Heat LLC has come out and admitted that it now owns Andrea Rossi’s ecat low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology (also sometimes called "cold fusion"). Industrial Heat has put out a press release in which seems to confirm rumors that it had spent $11 million to purchase Rossi’s device. The press release also confirmed speculation that Tom Darden of Cherokee Investment Partners a North Carolina equity fund is a principal investor in Industrial heat."
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Willis Ware, 93, Engineer at Dawn of Computer Age, Dies

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "The NYTimes reports: "Willis H. Ware, an electrical engineer who in the late 1940s helped build a machine that would become a blueprint for computer design in the 20th century, and who later played an important role in defining the importance of personal privacy in the information age, died on Nov. 22 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 93.""
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New surveillance tool to track posts about vaccines

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Michael Smith at MedPage Today writes: "A new surveillance tool might help immunize communities against vaccine scares, researchers reported. An international pilot project has demonstrated that it's possible to trawl through the Internet and quickly identify places where public fear about vaccines is on the rise, according to Heidi Larson, PhD, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in England, and colleagues. ... The researchers cautioned that the system has not been running long enough to demonstrate "long-term predictive value," but added it will let observers characterize, in real time, vaccine opinions by "topic, negative or positive content, location, time, and risk level.""

The work is funded in part by the Gates Foundation. It is discussed in positive terms at the Daily Telegraph as "Monitoring system to globally track false social media claims on dangers of vaccines" and in negative terms at at Natural News as "Internet monitoring system to stalk social media users who question safety of vaccines"."

European Commission to criminalize unregistered seeds and plants?

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Mike Adams at Natural News writes: "A new law proposed by the European Commission would make it illegal to "grow, reproduce or trade" any vegetable seeds that have not been "tested, approved and accepted" by a new EU bureaucracy named the "EU Plant Variety Agency." It's called the Plant Reproductive Material Law, and it attempts to put the government in charge of virtually all plants and seeds. Home gardeners who grow their own plants from non-regulated seeds would be considered criminals under this law.""
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Knight Foundation launches News Challenge on topic of open government

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 2 years ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The Knight Foundation opened on Tuesday its first Knight News Challenge of the year on the topic of Open Government under the guiding question: "How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?""
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European Patent Granted for Francesco Piantelli's LENR Process

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 2 years ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The European Patent office has apparently granted a patent for the Francesco Piantelli’s invention of process for producing energy from a nickel-hydrogen reaction. This has in the past been called "cold fusion" but now often is called LENR for "Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions" that supposedly take place when hydrogen atoms are in a metal lattice. Toyota and Mitsubishi are working in this area too. There are open source efforts underway to create a cold fusion device. Are we perhaps "slouching towards post-scarcity" despite having an economy where Aaron Swartz recently was persecuted for the alleged crime of attempting to disrupt business models of "non-profits" based on artificial scarcity? More links about this announcement (including controversy about it) can be found in the LENR-to-Market Weekly report for this week. If this technology really worked, it would make it easy to recycle materials, to grow food indoors, to desalinate water from the oceans, to power endless robots, and to launch space vehicles with lasers. Does this once again show that the human imagination is the ultimate resource?"
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