Thursday, May 31, 2007

Laid back feedback

Something is very wrong if firemen are in danger of losing their jobs because they find the installed sleeping facilities uncomfortable and so improvise:

BBC NEWS | England | Manchester | Fire crew 'slept in wrong place'

The bit about them having the read a manual before being able to sit in reclining chairs is amazing too.

Sounds like some bureaucrat somewhere has too much power and too much time on their hands. Ah, but the problem with these news stories is that they are rarely the *whole* story.

Even more Oyster woe

Back in March Oyster overcharged us for a trip and because of that cock-up the gate at Bank station did not open for Justina who was then accused of being a thief because the TfL staff seem to believe that the Oyster system is perfect. It's not.

So, after several months, and the involvement of London Travel Watch, Oyster finally agreed to refund the overcharge ... by a cheque in the mail, which never arrived. As for the abuse directed at Justina, the response was "Not our problem. See TfL".

It now turns out that the cheque did not arrive because Oyster sent it to an old address they had on file. They sent out the cheque without confirming the postal address. It would have been easy for them to check, but they chose not to. They could also have chosen to simply credit our oyster accounts, but that would have been too easy for the customer.

It's starting to look like the Oyster bureaucracy are trying to win out by making the process so painful that nobody can possibly see it through to the end. To send out a new cheque Oyster are demanding that I write them a snail-mail letter. They are currently refusing to accept the correct address via their (really horrible) email based system despite the fact that they have been forcing me to use it for the last few months as I tried to persuade them to pay back what they owe. It seems that I must be punished for their mistake.

... and on top of all that they keep trying to mark the case as closed - no doubt to make the problem clearance rates look good in their reports to the board.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

UK Patent office has right idea

It seems from this story in the Register that the UK patent office (now the Intellectual Property Office) is trending in the right direction regarding software idea patents:

UK firms contest 'absurd' software patent ruling | The Register

The patent office is saying that the software parts of a patent are not granted a distribution monopoly. This is good in that it kind of reflects EU statute law that software may not be patented at all.

The five firms raising this issue are right that the current situation is absurd. Statute law forbids software idea patents but the EPO have blundered and have allowed some and in so doing have created confusing case law.

What we need is clarity. We need our legislators to make it completely clear in law that software ideas can not be patented under any circumstances at all.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sport gets a logo

I spent a bit of time this afternoon playing with Inkscape and have come up with a logo for the Sport project:

Sport is a Smalltalk portability library. In this logo Smalltalk is represented by the [ ] and the portability part is represented by the ship. You can think of the Sport being like the water that lets the ship float anywhere, regardless of the shape of the sea floor. I rather like it :-)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Get your FUD here

As reported in eWeek, Microsoft have funded another "Get The Facts"-like study:

Study: Developers Do Not Want GPLv3 to Police Patents

Once again, the study group is carefully selected in advance and duly trots out the expected pro-Microsoft response. The report itself is well enough done, but the input data makes it meaningless and irrelevant - unless you happen to want to confirm what Microsoft thinks of the GPL v3.

Sadly, this report will look good in a slick folder and will no doubt turn up on executives desks courtesy of their friendly Microsoft sales person. It is such rubbish that it will cause no long term harm, but it will sap the time of the good guys who will take tame to explain things to their poor deceived boss.

Classic FUD.

p.s. For a more extensive review, see Groklaw.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Nothing to Hide?

If this guy and his pals really have nothing to hide:

BBC NEWS | Politics | MP defends quad bike on expenses

... why did he have the law changed so he *could* hide things from the public?

Oh, and the excuse about wanting to protect correspondence with the people he represents? That was already covered under the Data Protection Act. No need for a new law if that really was the objective.

Google says: When in Spain you *must* read Spanish!

OK, I confess. I am in Spain at the moment, sitting in a hotel in Barcelona. Very nice too.

Google also knows where I am and has decided that to render all pages in Spanish. This happens for all the Google .com sites. If I go to (for example) then I do see English.

Now, it's all jolly clever to switch language on the basis of a guess about location based on IP information, but if I log in to a service (e.g. Gmail) then this should be a big clue about the audience for subsequent pages. And even if Google do default to a language based on IP data they should at least provide an easy way to switch.

I think "Publicar Entrada" means post - so I'll press that now ...

Is Adobe such an agressive company?

Perhaps Amazon is trying to tell me to beware of Adobe sales and marketing tactics? It kind of seems that way in this email message I just received from Amazon:

We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in books by Adobe Systems Inc. have also ordered "The SAS Fighting Techniques Handbook, New and Revised" by Terry White. For this reason, you might like to know that this book will be released on June 1, 2007. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of $4.39 by following the link below.

Following the link reveals that I can learn about:

* Survival, evasion, resistance, and escape techniques
* How to use the sun's shadow to determine time and location
* How to board an aircraft at 130 mph
* How to read footprints in the field

Handy stuff for when I next need to have a look at a PDF file :-)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How to renege

I could not disagree more with the title of this BBC article:

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Music stars 'must keep copyright'

In essence, the cited artists want to renege on a deal they made. The deal is that they would received a monopoly on the copying of their work, but for a limited time, i.e. a copyright. This has proved to be very lucrative indeed for the two people mentioned in the article, Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Paul McCartney.

The other side of the deal is that the protected work enters the public domain when the monopoly (the copyright) expires.

So, having made heaps of money from the deal we see that Sir Paul and Sir Cliff want to change the deal. They want to renege on the agreement. They want more time, and the public can just wait while they pocket even more money.

The article suggests that there is no reason *not* to extend the copyright term, but of course there is a very good reason not to - the public will be denied free access to these works after having fulfilled their side of the deal.

Far from supporting creativity the current long copyright terms cause stagnation. When did Sir Cliff last produce a really creative work? Right.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Big cats before they get BIG

A friend of mine recently spent a working vacation at a lion refuge. They take in abandoned lion (and other big cat) cubs and rear them by hand before releasing them back into the wild.

Anyway, here is one of the cats my friend met:

Cute Smalltalk application

Scratch is a visual programming tool written in Squeak, a dialect of Smalltalk. Scratch is in the mould of eToys which is included in the Squeak environment.

Scratch does indeed look like fun:

BBC NEWS | Technology | Free tool offers 'easy' coding

Monday, May 14, 2007

Software Idea Patents - this is why they are bad

Software Idea Patents "protect" nothing. Rather, they are a mechanism that large corporations can use to intimidate others, e.g :

Microsoft claims software like Linux violates its patents - May 28, 2007

Patents when used as a force for good are a way to make new original and non-obvious ideas public so that others can use them while allowing the originator to be rewarded.

In the above article we see that Microsoft will not even say what patents are at issue. Thus there is no way for people to understand what idea(s) they are being asked to license from Microsoft.

Microsoft is using software idea patents as an offensive weapon rather than a defense. The weapon can be used just as a publicity tool (i.e. FUD) or in court. Either way, only the big corporations can afford to wield this weapon. Small companies and creative individuals have no practical defense. If Microsoft gets away with this, others will follow and creativity among individuals and small companies will be suppressed.

Is this what the legislators intended? I hope not.

To my European representatives: Now you can see the harm that software idea patents cause please ensure that that statute law is not changed to permit them (in fact, please re-enforce statute law which prevents software idea patents) and please have the EPO reverse decisions which granted any apparent patent protection to software ideas.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | ID card costs rise above �5bn

Astonishing stupidity in action:

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | ID card costs rise above �5bn

Not only is the ID card a waste of money, it is worse than useless. The ID card will be a boon for identity thieves.

Here's why: The ID card will be touted by the government as being trustworthy. People will indeed trust ID cards. The forgers will make ID cards to fool the person on the street into revealing small things that will open the door to bigger things.

Real ID security comes from multiple forms of ID, not one super flawed one.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Only following orders?

This is a very interesting read:

Slashdot | Would You Install Pirated Software at Work?

If an employer asks you to install unlicensed software they are asking you to break the law. "Only following orders" is no defense if you break the law.

I'm sure this Slashdot story is only the tip of the iceberg.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Advertise and get good press

It seems obvious to me that the big companies get a very easy ride from the publications in which they advertise. And if an editor happens to have some integrity they may well get themselves fired:

Wired Blogs

So it's no wonder that Linux so rarely gets a glowing review when compared to Windows in the MSM.

The rather sad moral is: don't trust the MSM to honestly present the facts about their advertisers.

More Oyster woe

It seems that the London Travel Watch people did get some action out of TfL as I have at last heard back from the Oyster people about the overcharging and abusive staff we experienced at Bank tube station on 16th March this year.

So it has taken theTfL/Oyster people over 6 weeks to get back to me.

This week I am in Toronto attending the Smalltalk Solutions conference. I got the email message from TfL on Sunday (29th Apr) asking me confirm my identity with several pieces of information I didn't have with me in Toronto. I decided to reply to them when I got back to London on Friday (4th May).

Imagine my surprise when, after only a couple of days I got another email message from TfL telling me that they now considered the matter closed because I had not got back to them fast enough! They gave me 3 days from the instant they *sent* the first email message to me. Stunning.

I took time out from the conference to write a reply to them explaining that I was away and that I would send them the details as soon as I could upon my return. I got an automated response from them saying that they would consider my response to them within 7 days.

So, I had to wait for over 6 weeks for TfL to get in touch and I had to get help from London Travel Watch to make even that happen. Then TfL close off the issue after only three days from when they finally sent a response to me (which gave me one working day to respond in the end) and then they give themselves a relaxed 7 days to even look at my response to them asking them to not close the issue.

This smells like someone massaging the stats to make themselves look good: Oh, yes, we managed to close nnn issues this week and none of them were open for more than 2 working days!

The fact that none of the actual problems have been dealt with would be quietly forgotten, of course.

Cheap source of energy: Cell splits water via sunlight to produce hydrogen

Cheap source of energy: Cell splits water via sunlight to produce hydrogen