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Comments

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Advertisers Blast Microsoft Over IE Default Privacy Settings

Sanity Re:Harm to consumers (558 comments)

'the harm to consumers that Microsoft's decision could create.'" The only harm is to these business' pocketbooks.. For once I'm on MS side in this matter...

Then you are failing to think this through. The only effect of this will be to give advertisers an excuse to ignore "do not track". How does undermining "do not track" help anyone?

about 2 years ago
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Advertisers Blast Microsoft Over IE Default Privacy Settings

Sanity Re:So you admit tracking is bad for customers (558 comments)

For once I agree with Microsoft that WE DO NOT BENEFIT FROM TRACKING.

Are you stupid, or can you just not read? Microsoft is UNDERMINING "do not track" by turning it on by default, because that only gives advertisers an excuse to ignore it. "Do not track" is entirely voluntary on the part of advertisers.

about 2 years ago
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Advertisers Blast Microsoft Over IE Default Privacy Settings

Sanity Re:Microsoft cares about privacy (558 comments)

Because it renders "Do Not Track" useless. Apache is already ignoring Do Not Track if it detects that you are using IE10. It's a boneheaded move on Microsoft's part.

about 2 years ago
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What Happened To Diaspora, the Facebook Killer? It's Complicated

Sanity Tahrir (215 comments)

The Tahrir Project is trying to create an anonymous microblogging platform, similar to Twitter or Facebook. Google was sponsoring development on it over the summer so with any luck it won't prove to be vaporware like Diaspora.

about 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:Similar software (103 comments)

You can just type:

X nm = (X*10) angstroms

The plan is that people will be able to define lots of functions like this, along with much more complicated ones, and then share them. The best of them will become part of the default vocabulary.

Please sign up for the mailing list if you'd like to keep up with developments (or, if you can code Java, perhaps you could help?!)

more than 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:is it wrong? (103 comments)

Yeah, it kinda is. Did you ask that when Slashdot opened their codebase many years ago? How about when Reddit did it? What about Google with their various open source projects?

You should be glad that people open source things.

more than 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:Similar software (103 comments)

Soulver was actually what inspired LastCalc, but I wanted to bring it to the web, and make it programmable.

OpalCalc looks neat, unlike Soulver it supports functions, and I'm sure it has a few features that LastCalc currently lacks.

However LastCalc has a few features that OpalCalc lacks too, such as support for higher-level datastructures like lists and maps, pattern matching (like Haskell), and the ability to pull data from the web to use in calculations.

So I'm not sure that I would describe OpalCalc as "LastCalc on steroids" by any stretch.

more than 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:For those who are curious (103 comments)

It's software, the website is just one place you can obtain the software but there are others.

more than 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:Too bad it's Affero (103 comments)

I'm fairly sure that merely using LastCalc (ie. being a user of the web service) doesn't impose any responsibilities.

more than 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:Must be Lisp under the hood (103 comments)

Ok, just for you I risked borking the site during a slashdotting and I implemented a quick fix. You're welcome :-)

more than 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:Must be Lisp under the hood (103 comments)

Yeah, you're confusing it with a recursive function definition, I've been meaning to fix that. I guess I'll fire up Eclipse (it's Java, not Lisp)

more than 2 years ago
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LastCalc Is Open Sourced

Sanity Re:Too bad it's Affero (103 comments)

This is compelling but the use of Affero for the license makes onerous demands of the user. The implicit threat of a code audit is there.

Can you elaborate? Which clauses specifically make onerous demands?

more than 2 years ago
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Tesla Sues BBC's Top Gear For Libel

Sanity Re:Finally, a reasonable lawsuit (547 comments)

That said, Tesla is a US company, and Top Gear Is produced by BBC in the UK. So I'm not sure there is much hope for this lawsuit to accomplish anything anyways.

I'm guessing you haven't heard much about British libel laws.

more than 3 years ago
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Tesla CEO Says Model S Will Support Third-Party Apps

Sanity Is software really their core competency? (103 comments)

Why are they coming up with their own operating system and app ecosystem, is this really the core competency of a car company? Why aren't they using Android, which already has text to voice, voice to text, GPS navigation, and almost everything else you might need in a car?

more than 3 years ago
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Slashdot Launches Re-Design

Sanity Back to 2006 (2254 comments)

Slashdot no-longer looks like a car crash by reverting to essentially the level of site complexity they had in 2006 (or, at least, disguising the "improvements" more effectively). Will be interesting to see if this stems or reverses the exodus of readers /. has experienced over the past half-decade.

more than 3 years ago
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Should Wikipedia Just Accept Ads Already?

Sanity Re:User donation model (608 comments)

The ad model is working extremely well for Google, Facebook, and others.

more than 3 years ago
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Researchers Pinpoint Cause of Gluten Allergies

Sanity Celiac disease is not an allergy (177 comments)

Rather it is an auto-immune disorder, gluten causes the sufferer's own immune system to attack their small intestine. Aside from the immediate pain (a stomach ache for a day or two after eating even a tiny amount of gluten), it can result in deficiencies in various necessary substances, and can lead to an increased danger of cancer. My wife had stomach aches most of her life, she had grown accustomed to them, thinking they were normal. A few years back (she was 28), on someone's suggestion she got tested for Celiac (first a blood test, then a biopsy of her small intestine). She was positive. She has been avoiding gluten ever since, she can't even have a single crumb of bread without getting sick now. Most people that have Celiac are never diagnosed, and suffer a life of pain and misery as a result, in addition to a shortened lifespan. If you get a lot of stomach aches for reasons you can't determine, you owe it to yourself to get a blood test for Celiac.

more than 4 years ago
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Health Care Reform

Sanity Re:Taking care of people is not wrong (2044 comments)

It's about forcing you to do these things at gunpoint (and yes, a gunpoint is somewhere in your future if you stop paying your taxes) by raising taxes (by 3.8%) and by forcing you to buy health insurance when you don't want to do so.

And yet I'd bet you'd be the first to expect to get treated in an emergency room if you didn't have health insurance and something bad happened. The reality is that nobody wants to live in a country where people are allowed to die on the streets because they are poor. If you accept that as a premise, then at some point it is necessary for us all to accept some kind of mandate to participate in the health care system. The alternative is the current situation, the worst of all worlds, where emergency rooms end up being the safety net for those without insurance, and we all pay through the nose for it.

more than 4 years ago

Submissions

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LastCalc is Open Sourced

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 2 years ago

Sanity (1431) writes "LastCalc is a cross between Google Calculator, a spreadsheet, and a powerful functional programming language, all with a robust and flexible heuristic parser. It even let's you write functions that pull in data from elsewhere on the web. It's all wrapped up in a JQuery-based user interface that does as-you-type syntax highlighting.

Today, LastCalc's creator Ian Clarke (Freenet, Revver) has announced that LastCalc will be open sourced under the GNU Affero General Public License "to accelerate development, spread the workload, and hopefully foster a vibrant volunteer community around the project"."

Link to Original Source
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A new service for disposable email addresses

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 3 years ago

Sanity (1431) writes "33Mail is a new free disposable email service. Unlike services like Mailinator, you "own" the email addresses you create with it, and so you can use it to sign up for almost any website. If that website later starts to spam you, you can block that address. Instant Fundas has a nice review of the service."
Link to Original Source
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Swarm: A true distributed programming language

Sanity Sanity writes  |  about 6 years ago

Sanity writes "Ian Clarke, creator of Freenet, has proposed a new programming language called Swarm, the purpose of which is to be truly and transparently distributed. The idea is that you write your code as normal, but when it runs it can jump between multiple computers in a cluster — effectively distributing both the data and computation in a scalable manner. The same code can run on a single computer, or run in a distributed way across hundreds of computers in a cluster. The Swarm prototype is open source, and implemented in Scala."
Link to Original Source
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After 3 years, Freenet 0.7 "darknet" is re

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Sanity writes "After over 3 years of work, the Freenet Project has announced the final release of Freenet 0.7. "Freenet is software designed to allow the free exchange of information over the Internet without fear of censorship, or reprisal. To achieve this Freenet makes it very difficult for adversaries to reveal the identity, either of the person publishing, or downloading content." ... "The journey towards Freenet 0.7 began in 2005 with the realization that some of Freenet's most vulnerable users needed to hide the fact that they were using Freenet, not just what they were doing with it. The result of this realization was a ground-up redesign and rewrite of Freenet, adding a "darknet" capability, allowing users to limit who their Freenet software would communicate with to trusted friends.""
Link to Original Source
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Google donates $18k to Freenet Project

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Sanity writes "Google's Open Source team has donated $18,000 to the Freenet Project to fund ongoing development of the Freenet software. Freenet is primarily developed by volunteers, but the project has one paid programmer, Matthew Toseland. Matthew's salary is paid by small donations from individual users, and larger donations like this one. Other large donors to Freenet include John Gilmore and John Pozadzides."
Link to Original Source
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Windows users more religious than Mac users

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Sanity writes "According to a recent Thoof blog entry, Mac users are 20% less likely to be interested in religious stories than Windows users, perhaps those blue screens of death have given them a greater sense of their own mortality? On the flip side, Windows users are 6% more likely to be interested in a story about New York, but 6% less interested in intellectual property law. All of this data was collected by a system called Thoof, which identifies patterns in user behavior and uses those patterns to determine what news and information you are most likely to find interesting."
Link to Original Source
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Deploying Apache Wicket in the real world

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Sanity (1431) writes "Scott Miller, Chief Architect of Thoof, gives a detailed breakdown of their choice of web framework, server hardware, and other infrastructure, along with the results of their scalability testing, in a recent series of blog entries. Thoof is built on Apache Wicket, a relatively new Java-based web framework that recently joined the Apache Software Foundation. Thoof is probably one of the highest-traffic Wicket deployments yet, so their experiences should be useful to anyone considering it as a framework."
Link to Original Source
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Thoof reviewed by Read/Write Web

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Sanity writes "New social news website Thoof is reviewed by Josh Catone of Read/Write Web. "It's a bit like Digg meets Findory with a wiki flavor ... Thoof relies on a story personalization algorithm to analyze the links you've clicked and attempts to deliver links based on your interests." In addition to the collaborative filtering aspect, the site is also different in that users can propose changes to stories which other users can vote on before they are applied. This means that rather than just complaining about poorly written story summaries, users can just fix whatever problems they see."
Link to Original Source
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User-generated news with artificial intelligence

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Sanity writes "A new user-generated news site automatically figures out what your interests are and adapts to them using a Bayesian algorithm that is claimed to be much faster and smarter than a collaborative filter. The more you use the site, the better it gets at finding stuff that will interest you. If you disagree with a story description, you can edit it, and your edit must go through a voting process before it will be applied. The site, called Thoof, was created by Ian Clarke, founder of Freenet and Revver."
Link to Original Source
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Personalized user generated news that you can edit

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Sanity writes "Thoof, the latest project of Ian Clarke, creator of the Freenet P2P network, came out of private beta today. Thoof is an attempt to address the shortcomings of current user-generated news websites, by allowing users to edit stories (Wikipedia style, but with an additional voting step), and also through a new and novel personalization algorithm that is much faster at learning your preferences than a conventional collaborative filter."
Link to Original Source
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Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Sanity writes "Wondering whether that T-shirt you got at DEFCON, and those jeans you have worn since high school are as flattering as they could be? Pocket Fashionista allows you to upload a photo of yourself and get friendly but honest feedback from fashion-minded experts. The site is simple, easy to use, and implemented in Ruby on Rails, so its definitely buzzword-compliant. Could this be the turning point for geek-fashion?"
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Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 8 years ago

Sanity writes "John Gilmore, one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Cypherpunks mailing list, and Cygnus Solutions, has donated $15,000 to the Freenet Project, to support the ongoing development of the Freenet software. This donation will ensure the continued employment of Freenet's full-time software developer, Matthew Toseland, who has been working for Freenet full-time for the last 4 years, funded entirely by donations to the project. In April 2006 the Freenet Project released the first alpha version of Freenet 0.7, a new approach to anonymous peer-to-peer adopting a "scalable darknet" architecture, designed to offer a new level of privacy and security for those using the software, while addressing a number of other long-standing issues with Freenet. This donation will support the project as it works towards a beta release of Freenet 0.7, improving the ease of use, speed, and security of the software."

Journals

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Right back atchya Slashdot

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 9 years ago Sorry about this, but Slashdot was crushing our server. We would very much appreciate it if you could select a random day next week and come back and check out Indy. Feel free to ask questions below or in the main slashdot comments, we will try to answer them as best we can. In the meantime here is the text of the front page on the site -

Indy is a music discovery program that learns what you like, and plays more of it. And it's free.

Indy makes it easy for you to find great new independent music. Just download Indy and double-click: as it plays songs, you rate what you hear. Indy quickly learns what you like and gets really smart about sending you more music you'll like. Let Indy help you find your place in the collective conciousness as you help other people find theirs.

DOWNLOAD NOW - Windows 98/2000/XP

Latest News
19th April, 2005, Build 3 Released - Read more...

Why Indy Rocks
You aren't just a target market - Indy can help you find your own path to the music you like. There are tons of great bands out there that don't have big labels promoting them; Indy helps you find them. And once Indy downloads a track, you can add it to your music collection, listen to it whenever and wherever you want. For musicians, Indy gives you a chance to reach a whole new audience that's excited about what you're playing. Best of all, it's free for everyone!

How Indy Works
Indy uses an advanced collaborative filtering system to predict what kind of music you'll enjoy hearing. As you rate songs, Indy finds out what you do and don't like. It compares your preferences with the ratings of all the other Indy users. For example, if you rate a song highly, and another user also likes the same song, Indy guesses that you'd probably like other music that they enjoyed. As you rate more songs, Indy will gets better and better at picking songs that you'll really enjoy.

Indy contains no adware or spyware.

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Email notification for new blog

Sanity Sanity writes  |  about 10 years ago Some people pointed out that one of the nice things about /. is that they could immediately see when my blog had been updated.

To address this problem, my new blog can now send email notifications of updates. To receive these notifications, please sign up to this mailing list, or follow the link in the sidebar of my new blog.

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Blog has moved

Sanity Sanity writes  |  about 10 years ago After many months of using Slashdot as my primary blog, I eventually decided that I could no longer put up with its various limitations. As a result, I have moved back to running my own blog software. You can find my new blog here, complete with various RSS feeds so that people can keep up.

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Karma at work

Sanity Sanity writes  |  about 10 years ago I read this essay by Jonathan Schwartz, President of Sun Microsystems, and was rather disappointed by his slavish support for the existence of software patents. In it he repeats the thoroughly discredited and naive argument that more IP is better because IP means innovation, and thus we need software patents. Not in my wildest dreams could this have been followed, just a few days later, by this, Kodak winning a suit against Sun in which it alleges that Java infringes on some of their patents (all of them classic examples of what is wrong with patent law), and now they want half of Sun's operating profit from 1998 to 2001!

Hey Jonathan, why did Sun need to steal Kodak's precious intellectual property - and if you didn't, perhaps, having experienced the wrong end of US patent law, you can reconsider your position on software patents?

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Letter to Home Secretary

Sanity Sanity writes  |  about 10 years ago Just wrote a letter to the UK's Home Secretary (who is responsible for immigration):

Dear Home Secretary,

It is well known that the United Kingdom is keen to attract skilled workers to the UK, particularly those involved in the software industry.

The United States is poised to pass legislation, known as the "Induce Act", which will dramatically increase the risk of innovation in the software industry in the United States. If passed, this legislation is likely to prompt a large number of the United States' most talented software engineers to consider relocation to another country.

The United Kingdom is well suited to provide an alternate base for these displaced software engineers, where their innovations may benefit the UK's economy, not to mention the economy of the European Union.

My question is whether the UK government has made sufficient provision for displaced American innovators to migrate here given the hostile environment they may soon face in their own country. It is my belief that the United Kingdom can only benefit from the influx of talented software engineers from the United States, and should minimise any barriers to their migration here.

I await your response with much anticipation,

Kind regards,

Ian Clarke
Cematics Ltd.

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Induce II : Revenge of the Copyright Office

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago A new version of the Induce Act has been prepared by the Copyright Office. Judging by early reports, it sounds like it is an improvement on the previous version, in much the same way that getting shot in the stomach is an improvement on getting shot in the head.

The new text still places the burden of protecting Hollywood's outdated business model on the creators of new technologies. Worse, it leaves open massive legal uncertainties that will inevitably lead to a storm of litigation that could stifle new technology development for years to come.

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What might a viable Induce Act look like?

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 9 years ago More and more people are accepting that it is unlikely that the ill-conceived Induce Act will survive in its present form, however a number of well-informed people have told me that a revamped version which more specifically targets P2P networks probably will make it through Congress.

But, this begs the question: Will it ever be possible to target the makers of Kazaa and Morpheus, without the supposedly unintended consequences that everyone worries about?

Now, obviously the law can't simply name the companies it wants to get rid of, so there has to be some kind of test to identify these "bad actors". The fundamental problem (for the Induce Act) is that there may not exist an objective test that can effectively isolate those they wish to isolate, meaning that the Induce Act will inevitably require a subjective test. Subjective tests must be clarified by litigation, but it only requires the threat of litigation to torpedo many potentially valuable new technologies before they even get out of the angel investor's office.

It is therefore my suspicion that it will be impossible to rewrite the Induce Act such that it addresses the concerns of the IEEE, CEA, EFF, and others, while still achieving its stated goal. This probably means that the current effort to come up with a compromise is unlikely to bear fruit. I doubt the situation is improved by the fact that the person charged with achieving this compromise is the Register of Copyrights, Mary Beth Peters, who has a more anti-technology view than even the RIAA will comfortably admit to.

Whatever happens, I am sure that history will regard the Induce Act as the most violent death throe yet of a powerful and influential industry. Lets hope they don't take too many useful technologies down with them.

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Listen to the Induce Act hearing

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 9 years ago Yesterday there was a hearing in Congress on the absolutely insane anti-technology pro-entertainment industry Induce Act which you can listen to here. More-or-less predictable, Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association probably most clearly articulates the problems with this law.

Interestingly, the Business Software Alliance, who rarely see an extension of intellectual property law they don't like, and who initially endorsed the Induce Act, are now far more skeptical.

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Censored by Slashdot for criticising Apple!

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago This is so rediculous I can scarcely believe it. A few days ago /. posted a story about iTunes which seemed a little sycophantic for my tastes, so I posted a comment pointing out (but not even endorsing) some opposing opinions. My comment was rapidly moderated up to +5, and then down it went again as some moderators decided that it was their job to shield innocent eyes from any criticism of Apple. How nice of them.

Meahwhile another user, "hanssprudel", posted a much smarter and wittier comment highlightling the hypocrisy of the Slashdot groupthink who claim to hate DRM, except when it happens to be Apple's DRM. Quite correctly it was moderated up to +4 before, like mine, the fanboys spotted this crime against their beloved Apple and down it went.

All was not lost, it turns out that some moderators actually read the moderator guidelines and decided to try to counteract the handiwork of their fellow moderators. Up and down the comments went, until then - something really surprising happened - I tried to post again and got the following message:

Due to excessive bad posting from this IP or Subnet, comment posting has temporarily been disabled. If it's you, consider this a chance to sit in the timeout corner . If it's someone else, this is a chance to hunt them down. If you think this is unfair, please email moderation@slashdot.org with your MD5'd IPID and SubnetID, which are "09b3980f7f6a2eef8e166300c0c88a54" and "7bc76bb089f2d469d9d92e2d28d45ba5" and (optionally, but preferably) your IP number "81.178.66.53" and your username "Sanity"

Well that's just great, I have been banned for excessive negative moderation, which wouldn't actually have been possible had it not been for all the positive moderation! Really clever precaution they have there. What is even better is that hanssprudel met the exact same fate (it turned out that I knew him IRL), presumably for the exact same reason!

He and I both emailed the slashdot editors, confident that they would quickly see the flaw in this silly system, unblock us, and apologise for the inconvenience. Not so, instead hans was told by CmdrTaco himself that he "deserved it" - why? Because apparently his "comment was dripping with sarcasm". Great! Glad that is clarified, you can rant about gay n*ggers all you want, but anybody that is sarcastic on Slashdot gets banned from posting for several days!

Two days later I am still banned, not sure about hans. It seems pretty clear from our correspondence with the /. editors that they aren't going to admit how stupid this mechanism is . That is their right, but you can rest assured that I won't be renewing my /. subscription, and I hope this prompts others to rethink theirs.

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More victims for swpat rant

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago Just discovered this. It is a list of the MPs that sit on the Trade and Industry Select Committee, these being the people that are supposed to oversee the Department of Trade and Industry in the UK. It is the policy of the DTI to support the introduction of software patents in the EU, and thus the members of this committee seem like good people to pester.

With that in mind, I updated and customised a previous swpat letter, and sent it to Sir Robert Smith, one of the members of the committee. I quote it below for your plagiarizing pleasure, feel free to use it as a basis for your own letters to other members of the committee (oh, and a tip, if you send an email to an MP, phone them a few minutes later to ensure that they "got it", making a joke about spam generally helps):

Dear Sir Smith,

I am writing to you as a professional software developer to bring to your attention my growing concern over an issue which I believe could seriously hurt my profession, not to mention the wider public interest.

Current Department of Trade and Industry policy is to support a change in European Patent law which, had it been implemented 15 years ago, would almost certainly have delayed or even prevented the emergence of the Internet, and many other innovations which we now know to be hugely important technological advances.

Under the guise of a clarification to EU patent law, special interest groups have put pressure on the European Union and national governments to extend the traditionally limited range of things that can be patented to include "computer implemented inventions", in other words, patents on software. In study after study, software patents have been shown to inhibit innovation and stifle competition wherever they are permitted. It is not just software engineers like myself that are expressing concern, the US Federal Trade Commission[1] and a growing number of respected economists[2] share my views.

[1] http://www.ftc.gov/os/2003/10/innovationrpt.pdf
[2] http://www.researchineurope.org/policy/patentdirltr.htm

I have several reasons for writing to you rather than my own MP (with whom I have already had some correspondence on this issue, the end result of which was an unsatisfactory pre-prepared response from Lord Sainsbury). The first is that you are a member of the Trade & Industry Select Committee, and thus I assume you are well positioned to hold them to account for a misguided policy. Secondly, the Liberal Democrats are the most skeptical of the three main political parties on the issue of software patents. And thirdly, I had the pleasure of meeting you personally before the 1997 general election when, as a member of the Edinburgh University Libdem Society a small group of us traveled up to Aberdeenshire to help your campaign for reelection, and we had the pleasure of staying at your beautiful home over a weekend.

The purpose of patents are to encourage innovation, so you might wonder why the extension of patents into the software arena will have the opposite effect. Patents are well suited to fields where new innovations require years of research and large amounts of capital, however this is not the case with software. Every new innovation in software builds on a multitude of previous innovations, and even a single software engineer might solve hundreds of small problems in a single day of programming. Against this backdrop, the notion of the programmer seeking a 20 year patent on each of those small solutions is clearly ridiculous.

Worse still, imagine now that this programmer is forced to ensure that every small innovation they might want to build upon is not covered by someone else's patent. The programmer might need to conduct hundreds of patent searches in a single day of programming, and even then they would have no guarantee that they aren't violating a patent! Clearly this situation would be ridiculous, yet this is exactly the situation that programmers in the US and Japan now find themselves, and is exactly the situation that current UK government policy will impose on European Software developers!

Given that it is impossible to write software without risking the violation of software patents, and given that unscrupulous people will inevitably abuse the patent system to obtain patents on trivial building blocks of computer science (as has happened in other countries), software development, indeed innovation itself in the software field, becomes a very risky business. There are a multitude of examples where large corporations have used their massive patent portfolios to exclude smaller competitors, and even cases where specialist companies extort money from innovators using patents on obvious techniques.

Even large companies are not invulnerable to such parasitic practices. In the US, Microsoft is currently fighting against a small company called Eolas who have acquired a patent on an obvious technique fundamental to the operation of any web browser. This company, if successful, will be able to extort a tax on every company and individual in the United States that uses the Internet! It is worth noting that this company's only purpose is to generate revenue through extortion using this patent, they have never written a line of computer code, nor do they have any intention of doing so.

The first attempt to impose software patents on the European Software Industry was met with stiff resistance from the software development community, and as a result amendments were made to the draft directive by the European Parliament in September 2003 to address these concerns. Unfortunately the European Council of Ministers recently approved a new draft of the directive which controversially reversed the European Parliament's amendments. This draft now returns to the European Parliament where it will be much more difficult for them to reintroduce their amendments.

But why is current UK Government policy so misguided? The DTI's current position is primarily dictated by the UK Patent Office. Unfortunately, the opinion of a patent office on software patents is analogous to the opinion of an arms dealer on war, they simply can not be treated as an impartial source of advice on this issue. For example, in 2000 the UK Patent Office had a consultation on the introduction of software patents. Despite an overwhelming negative response to this consultation, the UK Patent Office ignored the opinions of software developers and now use this consultation to support their pro-patent position!

As a software innovator, I am exactly the type of person that would applaud software patents if they achieved their stated purpose of assisting innovation. The simple reality, however, is that they achieve the opposite.

I would be most appreciative if, in your role as a member of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, you could challenge the DTI on its current policy and have them justify it in the face of the wealth of evidence on the detrimental impact of software patents on competition and innovation in the software industry. Since this is a complex issue I would be more than happy to assist you in any way I can.

Yours Sincerely,

Ian Clarke,

Chief Executive Officer, Cematics Ltd
Coordinator, The Freenet Project Inc

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Followup: /dev/government

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago I have found a volunteer to work on this idea to create a bugtracker for political issues and lobbying. Rob Park (aka Feztaa) and I have been working on the database design (see latest design here).

We have decided to go with Perl+Postgres since that is where Rob's expertise lies, rather than MySql+PHP.

Hopefully it won't be long before we have a potent new weapon to help us defend technology and progress against their enemies.

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/dev/government : On geeks and the political process

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago During a conversation with Larry Lessig a couple of years ago, Larry was lamenting the reluctance of many geeks to engage in the political process, and how if they did, we might never need to resort to systems like Freenet.

Since then, and particularly in the last year or so during which I have been working hard to prevent the introduction of software patents in the European Union, I have seen first-hand how difficult it can be even for determined geeks to combat experienced and well-paid corporate lobbyists. Even when they figure out who it is they should be talking to, the lack of a coherent message can often serve simply to confuse their political representatives, rather than persuade them. On other occasions people's time and energy is wasted in writing to politicians whose minds are already made up.

My idea is to create a website which would allow geeks concerned about particular issues to coordinate their lobbying efforts to avoid these and other problems. At a basic level the website would contain a database of political representatives (and possibly other relevant individuals), and a record of all correspondence sent to and received from that person, organised by issue or campaign (examples of which might include the Software Patent Directive in the EU or the latest piece of anti-technology legislation put forward by the copyright industry's flunkies in congress).

This website would be somewhat analogous to "bugtracker" software such as Bugzilla, but instead of tracking the progress of particular bug-fixes, it tracks the progress of informing those in power about the concerns of technologists.

Going into a bit more detail, people would be able to locate their political representatives by indicating what issue they are interested in and then entering their location. The website would be largely user-generated in the spirit of Wikipedia. Users would be able to add new politicians to the database, edit summaries of those politician's positions, and obviously add details of correspondence they have sent or received.

Each response received from a politician can be rated with a score indicating how close they appear to be to the position the website has taken on an issue. These scores will be combined by the site to summarise the politicians apparent position, whether pro, anti, or undecided.

This data could then be mined in a variety of useful ways, such as creating voting lists of which politicians are deserving of support, and which are not, or determining whether politicians are accurately representing their party's position on the issue.

Unfortunately I do not have the time to build this myself at present, but I am hopeful that there is someone out there with PHP and MySql experience that could get their teeth into it. For my part I am willing to donate an account on a reliable Linux box from which the website can be served, and also the domain name lawtracker.org, to anyone that convinces me that they can make this a reality. Of course I will also provide any other support and advice I can for the project.

If interested, drop me an email at ian at locut dot us.

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Gmail ain't all that

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago Well (unrelated to my previous journal entry - it was a joke people!) I got my hands on a Gmail account - and I was rather disappointed. Gmail has one or two mildly novel ideas, but nothing to make it rival a decent client-side email client. I also found it to be somewhat buggy, filters often didn't work, and were insufficiently flexible. Sometimes it claimed not to be able to parse email (how hard can it be to parse an email?!). Also, their spam filtering, which you might imagine would be amazing, given the opportunities for collaborative spam filtering, was rather ineffective. Ok, I know it is still a beta, people are already raving about it - and I just don't see why.

More to the point, one's email address is an important commodity, and it seems quite risky to invest so much in a Gmail address given the likely difficulty in migrating away from such an account in future. Consider a situation where you had been using Gmail for a year, and they did something really nasty (like trying to spam you). What are your options? Basically you are stuck with them unless you think you can email everyone who might ever want to contact you and inform them that you are changing your email address. No thanks!

Bottom line: After about 4 days of Gmail, I have now migrated back to Thunderbird and to an email address I have 100% control over.

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Please please please invite me to Gmail!

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago If anyone out there is in the Gmail beta please please please invite me! It isn't that I lack an email account, in fact, Thunderbird combined with server-side spam filtering on my Linux server is more than sufficient for my needs. Nor do I lack a sufficiently short email address, it is hard to do better than ian[@]locut.us.

No, the point is that I want to be able to lord my gmail.com email address over those that haven't got one and thus exact karmic revenge on those who made fun of my obsession with computers at high school, lets see those jocks laugh at ian.clarke@gmail.com!

Remember, nothing says "I'm not afraid to beg" like a @gmail.com email address.

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YAswpatL

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago Yet Another software patent Letter.

This one was for a friend of mine who asked me to give him some initial direction in writing a letter to his MP. I thought I would share it here as I think it is my best attempt yet to introduce the dangers of software patents, and others might find it a useful source of inspiration for their letters:

Dear xxx,

I am writing to you as a professional software developer to bring to your attention my growing concern over an issue which I believe could seriously hurt my profession, not to mention the wider public interest.

Current Department of Trade and Industry policy is to support a change in European Patent law which, had it been implemented 15 years ago, would almost certainly have delayed or even prevented the emergence of the Internet, and many other innovations which we now know to be hugely important technological advances.

Under the guise of a clarification to EU patent law, special interest groups have put pressure on the European Union and national governments to extend the traditionally limited range of things that can be patented to include "computer implemented inventions", in other words, patents on software. In study after study, software patents have been shown to inhibit innovation and stifle competition wherever they are permitted. It is not just software engineers like myself that are expressing concern, the US Federal Trade Commission[1] and a growing number of respected economists[2] share my views.

[1] http://www.ftc.gov/os/2003/10/innovationrpt.pdf
[2] http://www.researchineurope.org/policy/patentdirltr.htm

The purpose of patents are to encourage innovation, so you might wonder why the extension of patents into the software arena will have the opposite effect. Patents are well suited to fields where new innovations require years of research and large amounts of capital, however this is not the case with software. Every new innovation in software builds on a multitude of previous innovations, and even a single software engineer might solve hundreds of small problems in a single day of programming. Against this backdrop, the notion of the programmer seeking a 20 year patent on each of those small solutions is clearly ridiculous.

Worse still, imagine now that this programmer is forced to ensure that every small innovation they might want to build upon is not covered by someone else's patent. The programmer might need to conduct hundreds of patent searches in a single day of programming, and even then they would have no guarantee that they aren't violating a patent! Clearly this situation would be ridiculous, yet this is exactly the situation that programmers in the US and Japan now find themselves, and is exactly the situation that current UK government policy will impose on European Software developers!

Given that it is impossible to write software without risking the violation of software patents, and given that unscrupulous people will inevitably abuse the patent system to obtain patents on trivial building blocks of computer science (as has happened in other countries), software development, indeed innovation itself in the software field, becomes a very risky business. There are a multitude of examples where large corporations have used their massive patent portfolios to exclude smaller competitors, and even cases where specialist companies extort money from innovators using patents on obvious techniques.

Even large companies are not invulnerable to such parasitic practices. In the US, Microsoft is currently fighting against a small company called Eolas who have acquired a patent on an obvious technique fundamental to the operation of any web browser. This company, if successful, will be able to extort a tax on every company and individual in the United States that uses the Internet! It is worth noting that this company's only purpose is to generate revenue through extortion using this patent, they have never written a line of computer code, nor do they have any intention of doing so.

The first attempt to impose software patents on the European Software Industry was met with stiff resistance from the software development community, and as a result amendments were made to the draft directive by the European Parliament in September 2003 to address these concerns. Unfortunately the European Council of Ministers now has the opportunity to rewrite this draft, and thus it is essential that we persuade the UK's representative in this discussion, the Department of Trade and Industry, of the dangers of software patents.

But why is current UK Government policy so misguided? The DTI's current position is primarily dictated by the UK Patent Office. Unfortunately, the opinion of a patent office on software patents is analogous to the opinion of an arms dealer on war, they simply can not be treated as an impartial source of advice on this issue. For example, in 2000 the UK Patent Office had a consultation on the introduction of software patents. Despite an overwhelming negative response to this consultation, the UK Patent Office ignored the opinions of software developers and now use this consultation to support their pro-patent position!

As a software innovator, I am exactly the type of person that would applaud software patents if they achieved their stated purpose of assisting innovation. The simple reality, however, is that they achieve the opposite.

I hope that you can bring my concerns to the attention of those in a position to avert this disaster before it is too late.

Yours Sincerely,

yyy.

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An alternative to syntax extensions

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago One of the common criticisms made by advocates of scripting languages such as Python, Perl, and Ruby, of languages like Java is that programming in Java can be quite verbose due to the lack of syntactic support for things like maps. In Python, if you want to access a variable in a map you can do so with simething like:

value=map["key"]

In Java, you must use:

value=(ObjectType) map.get("key");

Java's syntax is obviously more verbose, but Java advocates defend this verbosity on the basis that a language's syntax should be as simple as possible, and the notion of extending the syntax to support a particular (albeit popular) type of datastructure is anathema.

This conservative attitude is understandable when one looks at a language like C++, which in many ways gleefully encourage the programmer to muck around with syntax, the result being that one practically needs to learn to interpret a new programming language every time they try to decipher a new developer's C++ code.

So, what hope for reducing Java's verbosity without falling into the C++ trap? Salvation may come from an unlikely source, the IDE. The notion that a developer might wish to have a more concise way to express and view common code structures and expressions is understandable, the difficulty comes when they must impose their syntactic preferences on others.

The solution? What if an IDE allowed a developer to define syntactic shortcuts which they could use, and which would be used in the code they are viewing, but which would automatically be converted to "vanilla" Java before being saved to disk.

This would afford most, if not all of the benefits of a more consise syntax, without the disadvantage of having to endure the ill-judged syntactic conventions of others.

Thoughts?

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Response to swpat letter

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 9 years ago I received a response to my most recent swpat letter in which my MP said that he had sent my comments back to the minister for his further consideration - and that he will pass any response back to me. He is also willing to meet on the issue and he seems genuinely interested.

It is worth mentioning that when I initially raised the issue with him, he mentioned that I wasn't the first. It would be great if every MP in the UK, indeed every politician in Europe, had at least one person working to persuade them of the dangers of software patents. I don't believe this to be an unrealistic goal.

We managed to persuade the European Parliament, and through this I think the geek community has recognised that while we can certainly be adversely affected by clueless politicians under the thrall of special interests, we are far from powerless to fight back. Our greatest enemies are apathy and cynicism about the political process (it is far from perfect, but that is no excuse to ignore it).

If you haven't already, write to your political representatives. Be sure you support your claims with research, and talk about your personal experiences rather than abstract morality or economic theory (ie. put a human face on the those that will be hurt by swpats - namely everyone but patent lawyers and large corporations). Lastly, do not demonise those supporting swpats, accusing them of stupidity, corruption, or just being plain evil will hurt your case. At worst accuse them of being misinformed.

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Letter to MP on Software Patents

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago A while ago I wrote to my MP, Mark Lazarowicz, on the issue of software patents. He forwarded my concerns to the Dept. of Trade and Industry, and he recently forwarded their response to me. Here is the reply I sent in response to the DTI's letter:

Dear Mr Lazarowicz,

I write in response to your letter of 13th January 2004 in which you were kind enough to pass on the response you received from the DTI on the concerns I raised on the introduction of software patents to the European Union.

As you might suspect, this response fails to alleviate my concerns.

The Minister asserts that software patents play a central part in developing and protecting new ideas. It is this belief with which I, and many others including respected economists[1], and even the US Federal Trade Commission[2], wholeheartedly disagree.

The Minister points out that patents have been granted on software-related inventions for decades. While it is true that the European Patent Office and many national patent offices have, in recent years (certainly not decades), granted software patents, they have done so against the terms of the European Patent Convention of 1972, which explicitly forbids them. This means that very few owners of software patents attempt to enforce them in the EU, as they cannot be certain that they would be upheld. Indeed, many national courts have revoked such patents, using the EPC as their basis.

It is surprising and very worrying that the Minister is unaware that the existence of software patents have significantly hindered growth in the software sector and in e-commerce[3], and if software patents are explicitly permitted in the EU, this situation will get worse.

The 2000 consultation to which the Minister refers is probably one by the UK Patent Office. A closer examination of that consultation would reveal that there was an overwhelming "no" response to software patents from industry professionals yet the UK Patent Office somehow managed to interpret this as an endorsement of their pro-software patent position.

Unfortunately, this is not surprising as national patent offices typically act in the interests of patent holders, not the overall public interest. For this reason the UK Patent Office cannot be viewed as an impartial source of information and advice on the software patents issue, and the Minister should be very wary of treating it as such.

Speaking personally, I recently moved my software development company from California to the United Kingdom, and one of my reasons for doing so is that in the US, where software patents are explicitly permitted, it is impossible to know whether you might be infringing a trivial software patent whenever you write software. Rather than encouraging innovation, software patents actually serve to inhibit it since you can never know when you might inadvertently infringe on someone's software patent whenever you do something new.

Further, as an innovator, software patents offer little protection since if you do obtain a software patents, large companies will typically use their patent portfolios to threaten you into signing a "cross-licensing" deal, which will prevent you from enforcing your patent against them. It is for this reason that in my entire career as a software innovator it has never once made business sense for me to obtain a software patent.

It may be worth adding that in August 2003 I was selected as one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and so I feel I can speak with some experience on what is likely to encourage or discourage innovation.

I am very grateful for your willingness to pursue this matter, I hope you agree that this issue is of fundamental importance in our increasingly information driven world.

Kind regards,

Ian Clarke.

If you are in the EU and you haven't contacted your political representative(s) about the software patent issue, please do it now - or we risk software patents being forced through right under our noses. You can find some useful information here to help you get started. If you are in the UK, here is a convenient way to contact your MP.

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Oh for f*ck sake!

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago Just discovered that due to a stray carriage return in my .procmailrc file, any emails containing the word "your" in their subject line was being filtered out of my inbox and into another folder. Aren't convoluted Linux config files just wonderful!

It is quite amazing how many emails contain the word "your" in their subject line!

To those of you who think I was systematically ignoring their attempts to tell me things about stuff I do or own - sorry!

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SWT and Swing

Sanity Sanity writes  |  more than 10 years ago I have been a Java fan for quite a while now, and it continues to be my language of choice. One of the biggest reasons is Eclipse, a free IDE developed by IBM. In short, it is the best IDE I have ever used irrespective of price or programming language. The fact that it is free is just the icing on the cake.

Eclipse has some amazing features, including parsing your code as you type it, and highlighting syntax errors them moment you type them (just like a spell checker). It even suggests corrections for common errors! Quite simply, even if Java was the worst language in the world, Eclipse alone makes a compelling case for using it.

One of the contraversial aspects of Eclipse's design is that it snubs its nose at Swing, Sun's GUI library, and instead they implemented their own, calling it SWT, which people are free to use in their own applications.

Why would IBM do this? Was it simply a case of "not invented here", or was Swing really so flawed that it had to be bypassed completely? This debate it still alive and well in the Java world, but I believe that IBM made the right decision.

When Sun came up with Java their goal was that Java would effectively become the standard layer between the hardware-specific OS and the application layer. Essentially it would no-longer matter whether you were running Windows, Linux, or a Mac, all your Java applications would work, and they would all look the same. As a result, Sun made Swing handle the "look and feel" of Java applications irrespective of what platform they were running on. This was a mistake.

Look and feel is the job of the operating system. This is the way buttons, menus, and dialogs are drawn, what happens when you click them, and other such things. Basically it is the "asthetic" of the user interface. Users expect a consistent look and feel across the applications on their chosen operating system. With Swing, Sun forced l&f into the application layer, where it doesn't belong.

SWT corrects this mistake. When you write an application using SWT it looks like a Windows application on Windows because it uses the operating system to draw the user interface. Similarly, it looks like a Linux application on Linux because it uses GTK, the most widely used Linux GUI library.

Swing tries to do the same by having custom Swing code for each operating system which tries to make it fit in with other applications. By this stage things are really getting silly. Swing tries to emulate the look and feel of the operating system on which it is already running! The notion of so-called cross-platform Java now trying to emulate platform specific features should really tell people that something is very wrong indeed with Swing's design!

SWT has some other advantages too - using tools such as the commercial Excelsior Jet or the free GCJ, it is now possible to compile Java to native code. This removes the onerous requirement to deploy a 14MB Java runtime along with your Java applications. Of course, Sun hates the idea as they are still hanging on to their dream that Java will replace the operating system, but for everyone else it makes Java a viable platform in which to write applications that would otherwise have to be written in C++.

One problem with this is that Swing is so huge that compiling it as part of these applications doesn't make sense. SWT, however, is much more compact, and thus forms the perfect companion to native Java compilers, removing one of the last barriers to Java competing directly with C++ (and about time too!). Take a look at IRate for an example of this in action.

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