Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The SkillsBase Location Tree

We are in the process of making the SkillsBase hold location information in a form that can be searched. Currently we just provide a text field in which people can say where they are working and where they want to work. That will be replaced by the Location Tree.

Users of the SkillsBase will be familiar with the Skills Tree. This is a hierarchy of skills which has been built up as required by users of the SkillsBase. If someone needs to say they had a particular skill and it is not in the tree, an OpenSkills member can add it. The SkillsTree is a taxonomy but because it is defined by the OpenSkills community, some people may call it a folksonomy.

The location tree will also be a taxonomy where each entry (formally a "taxon") will represent a location. A location in this case will be a common usage term for a place in the world of work and jobs rather than the names of physical or political geographic entities. For example there may be an entry for "Greater Sydney" within which we might find the "CBD", or in the UK we may have "London" within which we will have "West End" and "City". And so on.

The root of the tree will be taken to be the planet. The next level down may be regions and countries. We must have an entry in the tree for every area which has distinct legislation regarding the right to work, which will mostly mean countries.

People will be able to link themselves to locations in the following ways:
  • A number of places of work can be associated with an engagement. In this way we can record where a person is working now (via engagements that have not ended) and where they have worked in the past (via engagements that have ended).
  • People can list where they have the right to work. Examples of a right to work would be citizenship or some kind of visa.
  • People can list where they would like to or be willing to work.
Now all we have to do is implement this in the SkillsBase, which is underway. Expect to see the first version out in July.

Hateful accounting: could be so much easier

I hate doing my accounts. I loathe doing tax returns. All this entering and re-entering of transaction information is painful. Everyone seems to want information in a different format. Ugh.

We should not have to suffer in this way.

Think about the moment when you pay for something, be it a can of beans or a new camera. At that point all the information about the transaction is available: time, location, price, tax, account being debited etc. ... but from that point the information gets split up. The bank gets a bit, the shop keeps a bit and we get a bit of paper so that we can re-enter all that information into an accounting program at home and later total it up for a tax form etc. etc.

What we need is a file format for a transaction that would capture all the details of the transaction. Everything. The size of the can of beans and how many cans (the makeup of the entire shopping basket!), the serial number of the camera, the tax authorities that took some money and how much. For one transaction this would be a small file, much smaller than, say, a photograph taken by the camera in your mobile phone.

Lets say that the till makes up this file (after all, the till needs all this information to do it's job). We can then save the file to customer media (e.g. your phone via bluetooth) or send it to your bank along with the other transaction details or even just print it out ... or all of the above.

Given one such little file for each transaction which I can add into my accounting system I can now easily search my records to find out when I bought the camera, what the serial number is, how much tax I paid etc. etc. I should be able to complete my tax return without having to re-enter any data. The only data entry point will be that moment at the till when the purchase was made.

There are two big issues:
  • The format of the file and getting banks, retailers, accountants to adopt it
  • Privacy: Who gets to see and/or keep a copy of the file
For the former I think we need to see some activity in a standards body like ISO, and I think we should look to our governments to kick off this process. Once started I think the interested parties will join in if only to avoid having something foisted on them without their having a say.

On the privacy I think we just need to be able to control who keeps the transaction files and how long they may be retained. By default the file is destroyed by the till and we just get a paper receipt, just like today. We should be able to have a copy of the file sent to a device of our choice (e.g. a phone or even the chip on the card we use for payment). For bank or credit card payments it may be useful to let the bank keep a copy of the file on their records (then imagine banks offering gmail-like on-line accounting facilities ... but that's for the future).

Let's get the transaction file format standardised first.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Smokers harm others. Do they care?

Have a look at this article by the BBC:

BBC NEWS | Politics | Smokers in last gasp stand on ban

Note that the smokers focus only on themselves and their own health choices. No mention is made of the the impact smoke has upon people who choose not to smoke.

Smokers have had their chance to behave like adults and to regognise the harm that their habit causes to others, but have largely ignored such issues.

I support the individual right to smoke. Really I do. But with rights come responsibilities, and it is the responsibility of the smoker to ensure that in exercising their right they do not infringe upon the rights of others, for example by imposing their waste (smoke, wrappers, butts etc.) upon others.

I would rather we did not need to have a no smoking law, but it seems that we must. It is the selfishness and failure, on the part of all too many smokers, to balance their rights against the rights of others which unfortunately means that smokers do indeed need to be "nannied".

In the end I reluctantly support the smoking ban.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

MMS: Multi-Currency & Google Checkout

Version 4-007 of the OpenSkills membership management system (MMS) has just been released.

OpenSkills is moving from operating as a public company in Australia to operating as a private company in the UK. OpenSkills will be the same in almost every respect from the point of view of guests, subscribers and members except for two things: There should be more time spent on improving the OpenSkills systems, and the subscription payments will be in British pounds (£, GBP) instead of Australian dollars (AUD). This new version of the MMS addresses the change of currency.

People who already subscribe to OpenSkills will have a payment history in AUD and we don't want to lose that history. All new payments will be in GBP. So, the MMS needs to be able to support both currencies at the same time. Version 4-007 shows amounts postfixing the currency code, for example the current subscription fee is "10.00 GBP" and the previous one was "20.00 AUD". Account balances show the total in each currency - no attempt is made to add sums of one currency to those of another. The implementaion of this in the MMS uses a few modelling tricks I came up with while working with investment banks, so the model is fairly robust.

The second significant change in v4-007 is the ability to pay using Google Checkout. This facility is disabled for now and will be switched on as soon as we get the Australian company finally closed down. When it is switched on uses of the MMS will see a Google Checkout button on their "My Account" page. Clicking that will send them off to Google Checkout where they can make a payment. This mechanism is better than the old ones because the account number is included in the information sent off to Google via the payment button, so no more anonymous payments to try and resolve!

There you go. If you see any problems when using this new version of the MMS please let us know at membership@openskills.org. Thanks.

Friday, June 22, 2007

EU - "non" to open markets?

Recall that an early name for what is now the EU was the "common market". I think one of the key things that the EU can bring to it's citizens is a free, open and transparent market place. The French don't seem to like that, though:

BBC NEWS | Business | EU deal drops 'free competition'

The goals of "social cohesion" and "full employment" are good things to aim for but need to be arrived at by creating the right environment.

Free and open markets create a sound environment within which good things can grow. Forcing the result though market manipulation would be ugly and would end up propping up dying industries. Sarkozy's plan would see us still running steam engine factories just to keep the people who work there in a job, even if it's a dead end horrible job. No thanks. Lets keep the common market and make it even more open and transparent over time.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Parliament vs the EU

Read this with a large pinch of salt:

BBC NEWS | Politics | EC boss argues against referendum

In the above BBC article European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso appealed to Blair to not put the latest EU treaty to a UK referendum. He said:
"Britain is the country that exported Parliamentary democracy to the world. Do the British people consider Parliament the backdoor?"
This jumped out at me because I had just read in Private Eye that the UK government has avoided several attempts by the UK parliament to find out what the government would be trying to actually do at the current treaty summit. One parliamentary committee did manage to corner the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, and ask her directly what was happening. Here is part of the exchange taken from the "Called to Ordure" column in Private Eye (BTW, it's much better done in the Eye (issue 1187)):
Regarding the treaty summit, Beckett said "This is a frozen debate, there is nothing on the table"

When Beckett is asked what she means when she uses the words 'meaningful negotiations'. Becket replies "If I did use the word 'meaningful' I did not mean it to carry any significance."

In response to increasingly frustrated questioners Beckett say that "There is nothing going on"

The civil servants who go in ahead of a summit are called "Sherpas" because they work out the draft wordings and tease out the issues that need to be resolved. When Beckett was asked what the Sherpas were discussing in the lead up to this summit, Becket answered "not much".

In short, parliament was kept in the dark and had absolutely no input into the treaty process at all.

So, Mr. Barroso, it's not so much that the UK parliament is a "backdoor" but rather that is not a door at all in this case.

I think we need that referendum.

NatWest "Don't know"

NatWest bank strikes again.

I received a new cash card from NatWest. The letter that came with the card said that the PIN would be the same as the old card I had.

Well, the old PIN did *not* work with the new card so I called NatWest. I was told that the old PIN should indeed have worked. The person I spoke to thought it was very strange that it did not but said the only thing that she could do was to send out a new PIN which I could use to set the PIN of my choice.

The story of PIN-1: The very next day I got a PIN notification letter from NatWest. This was an all time high in being impressed with the bank. The PIN (I'll call this PIN-1) came in one of those sealed envelopes that you have to rip apart to get at the contents and is thus, in theory, tamper evident. Anyway, PIN-1 worked perfectly and I was able to set my PIN (which I'll call my-PIN). All was well. The card even worked with my-PIN at the cash machine and at our local grocery store. Smashing.

The story of PIN-2: Sadly, PIN-1 is not the end of the story. Yesterday I got a second PIN notification letter from the bank. I was baffled so I took this letter, unopened, to the closest branch and asked why I had been sent it. In short, the answer was "don't know". I tested the card by using an ATM to see the account balance, and my-PIN still worked fine. The PIN (PIN-2) in the envelope did not work at all. The NatWest staff told me to "Just ignore the new PIN". Hmmm. OK.

The Story of PIN-3: Today I received a *third* PIN notification letter. Again I traipsed off to the branch and asked what was going on. After lots of guesses about what might be happening it came down again to "don't know". Once again I tested the card and my-PIN was still working. I decided to try the PIN in the latest (third) notification letter. Imagine my surprise when I see that the "new" PIN (PIN-3) is actually the same as my-PIN, the one I created and have been using over the last week! It will probably not surprise you to lean that the NatWest staff answered "Don't know" when asked what was going on.

Well, that's the story so far. My-PIN appears to still be working, though I'll be changing that after all this weirdness. I asked the bank staff to put a note on my account that all this has happened and ask the powers that be what happened and why. I'm not holding my breath for any answer other than "Don't know".

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

ID cards - Ugh

ID cards are a breathtakingly stupid idea. All the clued in IT people I know view these cards as something that will make identity theft more likely.

But the government only have ears for the companies that want to sell hardware and services (and in the process extract billions from UK tax payers), so we get this nonsense:

BBC NEWS | Politics | ID cards 'to be UK institution'

The sooner this mess gets scrapped the better.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Appointed Lords = No checks and balances

Blair wants to see an all appointed upper house:

BBC NEWS | Politics | Blair still backs appointed Lords

What a terrible idea. The party machine has control over the lower house with most decision making and debating happening behind closed doors among party members. An appointed house would hand the whole legislative engine to said party system.

The Lords is not perfect by any means, but I like the existing Lords because it brings together people, albeit mostly very privileged people, who are largely independent and who bring along their own view of the world, not the cookie-cutter party line.

I'm sure the Lords will change over time but but I do hope it retains it's ability to act as a real check and balance to the lower house. An appointed House of Lords would completely fail to do that.

Microsoft makes law?

I thought the political distortions brought about by corporate lobbying were bad enough, but now we see Microsoft actually writing new laws and then using lobbying to get them passed:

Slashdot | Microsoft Moves To Change NY State Election Law

This is going way too far. Government is supposed to be by the people and for the people but instead is increasingly for the vested interests by the corporations.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Banks vs. Customers

As an indication of the sorry state of UK retail banking we can observe the banks stonewalling not only their own customers but the courts as well:

BBC NEWS | Business | Customers win back bank charges

It's mind boggling, really. Banks should be providing services to customers which customers value. There should be competition between banks to provide the best combination of service and value. But that just not happening.

Banks seem to treat their own customers as an enemy in the war for the customers own money. Such a war mentality might explain the secrecy and open hostility UK banks exhibit.

I'm afraid it looks like we need to have the government step in here to force banks to be more transparent and to get the banking market to start acting like a real fluid market instead of the slightly (but only slightly) tense cartel we seem to have today.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

EU Constitution - Too big. Try again.

I do think that Europe would benefit from a written constitution but the current document on the table should most certainly not be it, even if made "simple":

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | EU constitution 'can be simple'

A constitution needs to set the tone and the intent and should be a fairly short document that can be read and understood by an average 18 year old.

Times will change, fashion will change and even laws will change, but through all that the constitution should remain as a stable foundation. The Giscard d'Estaing document is too big, too detailed and carries far too much baggage of *now* (well, OK, when the ideas were formulated in the late 90's) to be of any long term value.

What to do? Start again from scratch.

NatWest: So what should they do?

I have made some very negative points about NatWest bank of late. Really, the service I have received from them since getting back from Australia is nothing short of awful.

But let's be positive. What can NatWest do to improve their service?
  • Empower the customer facing staff. Staff should be there to help customers get the most out of the services offered by the bank. Instead staff currently seem to focus of forcing customers to follow constantly changing processes no matter whether the process is helpful or even appropriate. Currently it seems that most staff, with a few notable exceptions, treat customers with derision. It does not have to be this way.
  • Empower the "branches". By branch I mean my normal point of contact with the bank. NatWest have taken many functions away from the branches and call centers. The centralised services, which are hidden in back rooms, may be cost effective from an operational point of view (and thus apparently good news for shareholders) but it's lousy for customers since few problems can actually be resolved by the branch or any customer facing member of staff. If a real fluid market develops for retail banking in the UK then the shareholders of NatWest may not be so happy with operational efficiency that drives away customers. Of course, we don't have a fluid retail market for retail banking in the UK today, but that's another story.
  • One stop shop. No matter whether my "branch" is a building or a call center they should be able to handle all my needs. What should not happen is customers being passed back and forth between call centers and physical branches to resolve an issue. I have been in this crazy situation with NatWest and in the end the only solution was to go to the branch and call the call center from there with a member of the branch staff sitting next to me. I can tell you that the dirision directed at me that day was palpable ... until the NatWest staff realised what I was being put thorough and then they went rather quiet.
  • NatWest should actually listen to customers and actively encourage them to give feedback. The attitude among most NatWest staff is that the bank is a static thing that can never change so customers must adapt to the bank. This is backwards and the belief that things can never change leads staff to ignore customer feedback and even to take every customer comment as a criticism (some staff even take presumed criticism personally which creates unnecessary tension) rather than as a constructive suggestion.
  • Respond to customer feedback and make it obvious that you are doing so. The bank must not merely become responsive to customer feedback, it must be obvious that actions are driven by customers.
None of this should be too hard for an organisation as well funded as NatWest bank. All it needs is some genuine commitment from the leaders in the organisation.

NatWest fail again

The latest Nat West blunder is with a new debit card. They sent out the card and gave me the option of activating the card online, which I did. They did not send out a new PIN for the card, instead they said that the PIN I had with the previous card would work with the new one, but it does not. What a surprise.

After a conversation with a bank CSR (which they charge for. nice.) it seems that they just don't know what went wrong. Furthermore, they don't care. They just want to have me wait another 6 working days, which will be about 2 weeks, for their process to work it's way through.

Contrast this with the bank I was with in Australia who could fix a PIN problem in just a few minutes at a branch, and with American Express who can have a completely new working card in my hands within 24 hours.

So why stay with Nat West? Because banking in the UK is set up such that the pain of moving from one bank to another is enormous. The banks love this and do all they can to maintain this customer-hostile status quo.

Transparency 1 : MPs 0

It looks like the Lords have effectively killed an attempt by MPs to exempt themselves from the freedom of information act:

BBC NEWS | Politics | MP secrecy bill without sponsor

Good. The actions of all public officials should be open to public review.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

NatWest - wrong form

Yesterday I received the first piece of correspodence from NatWest bank regarding a new account that has been set up for OpenSkills, but the address it went to was not the best one for me. Inside the letter was a small form that could be used to request a change of address, so I filled it in and took it along to my local branch at St. Pauls.

At the branch things are set up with a receptionist at a desk near the door and then tellers to one side behind glass screens. When I went in the receptionist was helping someone with what seemed to be a very involved problem but one of the tellers was completely free, so I walked over and asked if I could leave the address change form with her, but no, she only did one kind of thing and I must wait in line to see the person at the reception desk to hand over my form. What nonsesne. Clearly NatWest have not asked their staff to help customers but rather to only do very narrowly defined tasks. Staff empowerment? Not at Nat West.

So I went back to the other line and waited for what seemed like ages (other people had joined the queue while I vainly tried to leave my little bit of paper with the teller). When I got to the front I just asked the receptionist if I could leave the form ... but even that would be too easy. My form was not the latest version of the address change form, it seems! Horror! I must go over to the seating area and complete the new kind of form. I pointed out that I had received my form in the post just the previous day ... but the receptionist was not impressed. By this point, neither was I. NatWest have clearly failed to implement the form changeover in a sane way. They failed to get their own systems to send out the new form and they failed to leave a time window during which both versions of the form could be used. Add to that the rigid inflexibility of the staff in such a small matter and you have one very unhappy customer.

I just walked out leaving the form I had already completed and signed. Let's see if NatWest can show some flexibility and try a little bit to actually (gasp) help their customers rather than treat them with derision.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Excellent music & open standards

If you are looking to download excellent recordings in open (non DRM encumbered, non lock-in) formats you may be interested to know that the remarkable Linn HiFi company make music available in the lossless FLAC format:

Linn Records

More power to them.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The EPO blunders because ...

Could self interest and money raising be part of the reason for the EPO blundering and blurring the law about the patentability of software ideas?

Euro patent workers have no faith in their masters | The Register

By not following the letter of the law (which says software patents are *not* allowed) the EPO have increased the number of patents being issued and this means more money for the EPO.

Something stinks here. The EPO should be run for the benefit of the public at large not to make a few Euro.

1998 - When software became patentable in the US

Software is still kind-of non-patentable in the UK and even Europe despite the best efforts of the European patent industry. Since a legal case in 1998, the US is not so lucky:

We've Got Algorithm--Software Patents Boom

The good news is that the UK and Europe can learn. We can see that in the US the only people who win from software idea patents are the people in the patent industry, i.e. the lawyers.

The big software companies now pay vast sums to play this new patent game, with their expensive legal teams building up and maintaining patent portfolios. These legal teams joust with the patent teams from other big companies and with the independent "patent troll"s. (The amazing thing about patent trolls is that they are staffed almost exclusively by patent lawyers and exist purely to exploit current patent law. They create nothing. They gather together a patent pool and wait, very much like a spider on it's web, for a creative individual to actually do something new. And then they strike).

In the US creative individuals are suppressed by these recent patent rule changes. Today, if an individual produces a commercial success they will be descended upon by the patent industry (with the patent trolls in the lead) and will be left with nothing to show for their creative work. In the US it is pretty much impossible to write a substantial software work without infringing on some trivial (but well defended) software idea patent or other.

What do the US public gain from this mess? Nothing. It's worse than useless. Exciting new ideas are held back while the big companies and their expensive legal teams squeeze revenue from their stale old (but patent protected) software ideas. Instead of being an incentive to be creative, patents in the US are now a reason to stand still.

The US is starting to feel sufficient pain from this madness to take a step back and think again (e.g. this article in eeTimes).

I hope that the UK and the rest of Europe are watching and that they can avoid the worst of the pain by making it crystal clear in legislation that software ideas are simply not patentable, as was the case in the US before 1988.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Defend the system, not the person

I think that Downing Street being closed to the public sends entirely the wrong message. It says big brother far more than it says open government.

The argument for the gates, which prevent the public getting near the heart of their government, is that Mr. Blair needs special protection (though the gates were installed by Mrs. Thatcher, before Mr. Blair came to be PM), but I feel that the gates are a massive and inapropriate overeaction.

Just how much of an overreaction? Well, ...

BBC NEWS | UK | Couple breach Downing St security

So two private indivduals, holidaymakers, wander onto Downing Street via an insecure government building are are arrested under the "Serious Organised Crime and Police Act".

How pathetic is that?

The system is valuable and worth protection, but the system is also robust and can survive the loss (in the most extreme and awful case) of an individial. I think the system is much more vulnerable to being undermined by overactions and secrecy and heavy handedness by those in power.

Mr. Blair, tear down those gates.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Oyster finds a new low

At the beginning of May Oyster finally agreed to send out a cheque refunding the >400% overcharge for our trip from Waterloo to Bank in mid March. They made no mention of the abuse Justina received from the TfL staff that day. I think we are supposed to just forget that.

Anyway, at least the cheque was on it's way ... or perhaps not. It turns out that Oyster sent the cheque to some old address they had on file. Our addresses were up to date on our online Oyster accounts so goodness knows where they dug up the old address from. They are refusing to say.

OK, so now they know that a mistake was made and that the cheque should be sent to the correct address, the one in our online Oyster accounts. Easy? Not a chance. Oyster have asked me to send in a paper letter by post asking if they would be kind enough to cancel the check they sent to the wrong address and if they would, please, send a new cheque to the correct address which they knew about all along.

Well, given that I have been exchanging written communication with Oyster for several months now via their (truly awful) issue management system I told them I would not waste the paper of the stamp and that they had all the information they needed to correct the mistake and could they please get on and do so.

So, they sulked and didn't say anything for a week or so. Today they came back with "Oh, we thought this issue was completely resolved".

I'm finding it hard to imagine how this could get any more silly. I fear Oyster/TfL will find a way.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

HSBC: Our customers don't need good security

The BBC reports that customers look to do business online with companies that have good policy for online privacy:

BBC NEWS | Technology | Good privacy pays for web stores

HSBC, though, thinks its customers don't want them to spend too much money on security:

Computing | HSBC questions online security tool

Right, because all HSBC customers put their own privacy and security second to the profits of HSBC.

... or maybe not.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Microsoft starts the embrace of Linux

Following on from the Novell deal (which looks like it will be neutered by GPLv3) Microsoft get into a deal with Xandros, a Linux distro provider:

Microsoft's Protection Racket? - Forbes.com

Are we at the start of the "embrace" phase of Microsoft's oft repeated "embrace, extend and extinguish" strategy? Should we expect Microsoft to announce that it will be extending Linux soon?

The game is afoot.

The rules: The bank always wins

I have just spent a happy hour or so resolving a problem caused because Nat West on line banking has a data error.

It's not a huge deal and I'm sure it was an honest mistake but the effect was that a payment to a utility was sent to the wrong account and I got a red letter from the utility company. There was nothing at all I could have done to prevent this since all the critical information was hidden from me by Nat West, but once the problem came to light a few phone calls to the utility and the bank sorted it out.

The bank said sorry for the inconvenience (kind of, if you tried really hard to interpret it that way).

But it took more than an hour of my time to sort this out. Add to that the the bank chooses to only help customers if they call a number that they get paid for (really, it's profit center).

Now if I had made an honest mistake that had resulted in an account going overdrawn when it should not, or if a cheque had bounced or some other thing had happened, then as sure as eggs are egge the bank would have slapped me with an admin charge to "cover their costs".

What about my costs?

At least they said sorry. Kind of.

Microsoft eat their young

Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer famously shouted that it is the developers that make the difference and that his company would do all it could to attract clever young developers to the proprietary Microsoft development platform.

So one young man heeded the call and not only used the Microsoft tool set but he extended it too! Microsoft initially gave him an award, but then ...

Microsoft threatens its Most Valuable Professional | The Register

This vicious behavior on the part of Microsoft is all about defending their revenue stream at all costs. Even at the cost of eating the very young people that they so desperately need.

Monday, June 04, 2007

OpenSkills - helping with some hard things

Identity and reputation management is hard:

Slashdot | Online Reputation Is Hard To Do

OpenSkills is very interested in this topic because to help people make the most of their skills we need people to have confidence in what they find in the SkillsBase.

We are starting slowly and adding in reputation features as we go. The foundation is the use of OpenPGP keys to help ensure that "people" in OpenSkills really are people.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Patent Game: if you pay, you can play

Here is another example of why software idea patents are so bad. In this case a company called Eolas holds a software idea patent that is blocking Microsoft. Microsoft are directing a swarm of lawyers at the problem and ...

USPTO gives Microsoft chance to overturn Eolas browser plug-in patent

Could I do this? No. Eolas would squash me like a bug.

The software idea patent game is one that you can only play if you have heaps of money. ... or if you are a patent lawyer in which case you get to receive heaps of money.

So, assuming that the purpose of software idea patents is something other than making patent lawyers wealthy, why do we have them?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Enforcing Copyright

I'm not too sure about this one:

BBC NEWS | Technology | Anger over DRM-free iTunes tracks

Copyright holders certainly need a way to be able to protect their digital works, and encoding the name of the licensee in the work seems like a reasonable way of doing that. Perhaps the copy should just have a unique id rather than personal details of the licensee, though.

The "fear this data could be used to identify the owner of the tracks if they turn up on file-sharing sites" (quoted from the above article) is like fearing that the law will be enforced. It's not OK to make unauthorised copies of copyright works. I don't see any grounds for complaining that copyright holders will be able to detect when their rights are being abused.

But let me restate that I think the current copyright terms are far too long. If the intent really it to encourage creativity then copyright terms should be reduced to ~30 years.

So yes, enforce copyright, but reduce the term significantly.

Multi-touch - a new cool?

It seems that articles about multi-touch UIs are everywhere at the moment. This shows that organisations with huge marketing budgets can punch their way into the headlines.

Anyone would think that Microsoft had actually innovated for a change ... but no, it is more of the usual embracing of existing ideas but then adding brilliant marketing to the mix (one thing MS do very well indeed).

A very cool example of a deployed multi touch is the Helsinki City Wall (watch the video):

CityWall – About

Also, I just read a post by Alan Kay on this subject. As usual, he brings a sense of perspective:

Actually, this idea goes way back into the ARPA research community of the 60s and 70s. Maybe the first time it was done was by Mort Bernstein and the RAND tablet guys in the 60s using a very powerful Eidophor projector that could project an image through the translucent RAND tablet (almost melting it!). Nicholas Negroponte and his folks at the Arch-Mac group in the 70s did a very nice and usable table with rear projection, etc., (they also did the first multitouch tablet surface (Chris Herot, et al.)

And, of course, there was a PONG table later on by Atari (but done
before I got there).