Friday, August 27, 2010

Why software patents suck

Usually I don't blog about computer issues here, but when Michael Kaplan writes about such an important topic I can't resist.

The general fear that large companies have is that they can do amazing work that someone else can negate because that someone else turns out to have a patent. Since most employees are generally instructed to not search to see if patents exist (to avoid a tripling of a damage award that knowingly violating a patent can easily lead to), and since a ton of patents represent ideas that have not been realized in available products, the fear of an ocean of existing patents that are more profitable to use as a way to sue a big company rather than produce anything is a very real one.

His blog is well worth reading even if you don't particularly care about internationalization, collation, globalization, or blaxploitation.

Also, Blogger's spell checker doesn't think that "blog" or "blogger" are words. Good job guys.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Glad I've been waiting

I bought a missal in 2002. In 2003, I decided to purchase a new missal for various reasons. I then learned that a new translation was brewing, so I decided to wait. How long could it take, after all?

The Vatican has given final approval for a new English-language translation of the Roman Missal. The new translation will introduced in the US beginning in Advent of 2011.

Damn. I should have just bought the thing.

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The social stigma of reading


Monday, August 23, 2010

Plug for Women of Niger

While floods destroy lives in Pakistan, drought is starving families in Niger.

At the local health center, Madina Sanoussi, a stern woman who keeps her sentences short and her smiles to a minimum, says that 85 women had been coming every week to receive about 8 pounds of fortified corn-soy blend for their acutely malnourished children. The food was supplied by an international humanitarian organization.

But soon the stream of women turned to a trickle. Then it dried up all together.

"They'd say, 'We don't have money to buy this,' " Madina says. "So they stopped coming."

That's why the arrival of Catholic Relief Services at the local middle school was such a big deal. Several hundred women, including Maimouna, lined up and received corn-soy blend and vegetable oil for their youngest children—those younger than 2. A cooking demonstration over an open fire taught them how to prepare the mixture.

Maybe now is a good time to remember to donate to Catholic Relief Services, or another international emergency aide organization of your choice. (Although CRS is so good, you really need not look further.)

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Drawing the wrong conclusion

Jimmy Akin writes a lovely article on why the particular uses of atomic weaponry at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes, with supporting quotation from CCC and what not.

So, of course, the comment box gnomes open up on him (there's one problem I haven't had since junior year of college), mostly along two lines:

  1. We firebombed a lot of cities and killed lots of people, and that was ok, so this is ok too

  2. It net saved lives, so nothing else matters

Err, with regards to one, reread the catechism, and then reverse your logic (hint - firebombing civilian populations is wrong even if done with conventional bombs).

With regards to two, reread the catechism again. Then ask yourself if the ends justify the means in your moral system. If they do, reread the catechism again once or twice and report to the nearest First Things subscriber for an introduction to morality.

With regards to both, we note that it is possible to be a right wing cafeteria Catholic just as well as a left wing one.

Nothing I said here, he (Mr. Akin) didn't say better. But I just had to say it.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The End of Catholic Education

How it died. The ramifications. And what one Dominican university plans to do about it.

All of this was deliberately discarded, and it is now
the case that most Catholic universities are indistinguishable from any other.
As a consequence, the positions of Catholic alumni on social questions, even on
issues that directly reflect the Church’s moral teaching, do not differ
significantly from the rest of the population...

There have, I think, been two principal consequences of the general collapse of Catholic higher education. First, it has compromised our ability to entrust the whole of the Catholic tradition to the generations that have followed my own. Second, it has had the ironic effect of clericalizing the Church, of marginalizing the contribution to the Church that most properly belongs to the laity.

An article worth a quick read. This was written by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, a place where I dabbled in Christian History.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Books that come alive

In May 2009, Amazon announced the pilot program, under which it would provide Kindle DX readers to a few universities. It wasn't a huge deal; Princeton's plan, for example, involved three courses and a total of 51 students, and only in the fall semester of that year. University spokeswoman Emily Aronson says the program was voluntary and students could opt out of using the Kindle. "There were no students with a visual impairment who had registered for the three classes," says Aronson.

Nevertheless, in June 2009, the federation filed a complaint with the Justice Department, accusing the schools of violating the ADA. Perez and his team went to work.

"We acted swiftly to respond to complaints we received about the use of the Amazon Kindle," Perez recently told a House committee. "We must remain vigilant to ensure that as new devices are introduced, people with disabilities are not left behind."

Wait just one second. The existing devices, also known as textbooks, completely leave people with disabilities behind. They don't read to you, and if you're blind you can't use them. Why doesn't the Justice Department sue all schools that use textbooks?

To recap. At time t=0, there are two options. Textbooks, and whatever blind studends are using (Braille books, people to read to them, books on tape, etc). At time t=1, there are three options. Textbooks, the existing aids for blind people, and the Kindle, which is a glorified PDF reader. T=0 is good, T=1 is bad.

Who knew that providing the same data in more formats oppressed people?

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Who built that?

The state also points out that if Indian Point’s owner had been serious about protecting the environment and obeying the law, it would have started on the cooling towers 30 years ago.

Hmm, who built Indian Point?

The plant is owned and operated by Entergy Nuclear Northeast, a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation, and includes two operating Westinghouse pressurized water reactors – designated Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 – which Entergy bought from Consolidated Edison and the New York Power Authority respectively.

NYPA is more or less the State of New York. So is New York arguing that it should be taking the law seriously itself? Or maybe they're yelling at Con Ed? The third possibility is, of course, that Entergy should have started on the cooling towers twenty years before they purchased the plant from Con Ed and New York.

Either way, it's good to be a sovereign entity. Sell your junk to a private company and then sue them for owning it. Life gets no better.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Unfortunate uses of the english language

I tend to use the word "intercourse" in its normal meaning, as exemplified in the Indian Intercourse Act. This can sometimes be awkward.


Book review - A Tale of Two Cities

A most intense work of literature. This was my first time reading it.

My first impression was that the Ancien Regime and the French Revolution were much scarier places than I remembered from my history classes. Terrifying. The depiction of the Defarges was particularly powerful.

My second impression was that it was somewhat shorter than I wished, that events moved too quickly from one point to the next. Or maybe I read it too quickly. I suppose part of the reason that I preferred Bleak House was because I felt that the characters had more time to develop and become part of my mental menagerie. Here some of the characters, in particular Mr. Carton and Mr. Lorry, began that process but were unable to complete it due to the untimely end of the book.

On the other hand, I suppose the fact that I stayed up one Friday night and missed the beginning of the great Public House Beer Pong Tournament in order to read the end of the book suggests that I enjoyed it immensely.

Any suggestions for my next Dickens-like book?


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Word of the day - propædeutic

providing preparatory or introductory teaching

This will be on your SAT.

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Completely insane and heartless

That's me!

Colorado Tea Party Senate candidate Ken Buck joins the completely insane and heartless anti-choice crowd, and says women who are raped or who are victims of incest should be forced to have the rapist’s child.

Le sigh. I will just refer to the also completely insane and heartless Mary Beth Bonacci:

If a woman has been raped, does abortion un-rape her? No, it just kills
her child.

I think LGF has gone a bit off the deep end - anything associated with a conservative position is buried as insane, cruel, and heartless. Now that probably does apply fairly well to many of the things that they excoriate, but it's nice to stop and breathe once in a while

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Cathedral purse snatcher caught!

Hey, I'm in the article! Try to figure out which character is me. (Hint, I don't smoke crack cocaine.)

In all seriousness though, let's pray for the the man on the street, and for all those who are victims of poverty and enslaved to drugs. I hope this somehow becomes an opportunity for him to get help.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Orchids - meth of the future

Mr Norris was 65 years old at the time, and a collector of orchids. He eventually discovered that he was suspected of smuggling the flowers into America, an offence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This came as a shock. He did indeed import flowers and sell them to other orchid-lovers. And it was true that his suppliers in Latin America were sometimes sloppy about their paperwork. In a shipment of many similar-looking plants, it was rare for each permit to match each orchid precisely.

In March 2004, five months after the raid, Mr Norris was indicted, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with a suspected murderer and two suspected drug-dealers. When told why he was there, “they thought it hilarious.” One asked: “What do you do with these things? Smoke ’em?”

Sounds like a good reason to send a man to jail, right?

And of course the knock on effects:

Severe drug laws have unintended consequences. Less than half of American cancer patients receive adequate painkillers, according to the American Pain Foundation, another pressure-group. One reason is that doctors are terrified of being accused of drug-trafficking if they over-prescribe.

And so on and so forth, down to the rotten core of the system. All to keep the children safe, of course.

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Modras asks: “If a girl becomes the victim of a date rape and takes the morning-after pill, is she excommunicated? And if so, why is she excommunicated and not the rapist? Or is she excommunicated? Is Zapp now excommunicated for leaving the church as an institution but not as a community of faith? Does opting out of paying his church taxes endanger his immortal soul? Was McBride excommunicated, if she made her difficult gut-wrenching decision with prayer and a good conscience?”

I will reply to each of Modras' questions below . . .

Ed Peters doing the canon law thing, as usual. Excellent.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Bait and switch

Hook 'em with the contest, then stick 'em with the lawsuit:

One afternoon, Duane P. Kerzic was arrested by the Amtrak police while taking pictures of a train pulling into Pennsylvania Station. At first, the police asked him to delete the images from his camera, but he refused. He ended up handcuffed to the wall of a holding cell while an officer wrote a ticket for trespassing.

. . .

“Finally,” Mr. Colbert reported, “Kerzic cracked and revealed the reason he was taking his terrifying photos.”

Mr. Kerzic appeared on the screen.

“The reason I was taking photos of trains is that every year Amtrak has a contest; it’s called ‘Picture Our Train,’ ” he explained.

Sounds like a good use of taxpayer dollars, right? Advertise a contest, and then arrest anyone who tries to participate. That's the way to root out all of those sneaky photographers.

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