19 Aug

Ars Technica – Does not compute: court says only hard math is patentable

On Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected a patent on a method of detecting credit card fraud. The result was unsurprising, but the court broke new ground with its reasoning. Citing the Supreme Court’s famous rulings against software patents from the 1970s, the court ruled that you can’t patent mental processes—even if they are carried out by a computer program.

Of course, all computer programs implement mathematical algorithms that could, in principle, be implemented with a pencil and paper. So is this the end of software patents? Unfortunately not. The court ruled that the no-patenting-math rule doesn’t apply if the math in question complicated enough that "as a practical matter, the use of a computer is required" to perform the calculations.

In order to justify this result, the court gives the most thorough defense of software patents that we’ve ever seen from the judiciary. We don’t think the line they draw—between ordinary math and math that requires a computer—makes much sense from either a legal or policy perspective. But the ruling at least signals that, for the first time in over a decade, the courts are thinking hard about how to apply the Supreme Court’s old software patent cases in the modern world. We’re hopeful that as the confusion in this week’s decision becomes more obvious, we’ll see further progress.

via Ars Technica – Does not compute: court says only hard math is patentable. It’s nice to see the courts limit patents somewhat, but the logic still has a real problem which is that practically speaking all math can be performed by a human being it may just either be tedious or time-consuming. The other question becomes raised if the math is complicated enough that a computer becomes required does that mean that the math itself is patentable (which the courts have said no math isn’t patentable)? The court seems to be trying to not rule against all software patents while acknowledging they are broken and need to be reformed.

The core of the legal problem with software patents is that they are just algorithms, logic and math, neither of which is patentable. Combine the two and describe a possible computer program and bam, that logic and math is now patentable. Ignoring all practical aspects of patents and software patents in particular, legally speaking software patents seem to me to be indefensible.

19 Apr

Yahoo! News – Armenia makes chess compulsory in schools

Armenia is to make chess a compulsory subject in primary schools in an attempt to turn itself into a global force in the game, the education ministry said on Friday.

"Teaching chess in schools will create a solid basis for the country to become a chess superpower," an official at the ministry, Arman Aivazian, told AFP.

The authorities led by President Serzh Sarkisian, an enthusiastic supporter of the game, have committed around $1.5 million (one million euros) to the scheme — a large sum in the impoverished but chess-mad country.

Children from the age of six will learn chess as a separate subject on the curriculum for two hours a week.

Aivazian said the lessons which start later this year would "foster schoolchildren’s intellectual development" and teach them to "think flexibly and wisely".

via Yahoo! News – Armenia makes chess compulsory in schools. This seems like a cool idea, and I imagine would create students more skilled in critical thinking and logic, all good things.

10 Apr

Huffington Post – U.S. House Ignores Internet Reality, Again

The U.S. House of Representatives resumed its flight from reality earlier today (April 8th) when it voted to repeal the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules to mandate an open and non-discriminatory Internet.

What was remarkable about the vote was how the Republicans pushing the legislation managed to at once speak in favor of the legislation as helping small business and innovation, while ignoring the testimony and other advocacy from those very businesses that opposed it.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), for example, cited the success of companies from Apple to Zipcar because of the absence of government regulation. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) questioned the future of startups in an environment without government regulation.

It appears that Upton, Scalise and their colleagues missed the article published earlier in the week by Robin Chase, who founded Zipcar. She wrote a well-received article for Politico on how that company wouldn’t exist without an open Internet. None of it mattered to those on an ideological mission to protect the large Internet providers. Other companies have said much the same thing. They similarly ignored the experience of their colleague, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), who made his fortune as an Internet entrepreneur, and who earlier in the week opposed the GOP bill during debate on a procedural motion.

And when Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) said that the FCC had taken control over business plans of big Internet Service Providers, he was partially right. If the business plan’s goal was to drive competitors out of business, he was right. Terry, ironically, said it was the open Internet that allowed Netflix to develop.

His statement was ironic because Netflix sent one of the strongest letters ever seen from the corporate sector to the Congress opposing what Terry wanted to do. As senior Commerce Committee Democrat Henry Waxman (D-CA) pointed out, a cable or telephone company could stop Netflix simply for competitive reasons without it being an antitrust violation. Without Net Neutrality, there would be no stopping phone companies from controlling Netflix’s access to its customers.

Through it all, the Republicans argued that the FCC wanted to take control of the Internet, much as totalitarian governments wanted to do. That argument is so tiresome. The purpose of Net Neutrality is to make sure no one can take control of what’s online — not the government, not the big businesses that control Internet traffic on a day-to-day basis and have the incentive and opportunity to harm competition.

via Huffington Post – U.S. House Ignores Internet Reality, Again. If it wasn’t so frustrating you have to almost admire Republicans ability to ignore their own experts or examples when legislating.

24 Mar

Bad Astronomy – Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity

Today, House Republicans made it clear just how antiscience they are (as if we didn’t know already): they voted down a simple amendment declaring the reality of climate change. Not that it was human-caused, or dangerous, just that it existed. Which it does.

Y’know, whenever I use the term denier (as in "global warming denier") I get lots of comments accusing me of using a loaded word. But it’s not: it’s precise, and given what we’re seeing in Congress, it’s the exact word to use.

via Bad Astronomy – Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity. I’ve been trying thing of something to put here but can’t.

13 Mar

VeriFone – VeriFone Releases Open Letter to the Industry and Consumers

Today is a wake-up call to consumers and the payments industry. Last year, a start-up named Square introduced a credit card reader for smartphones with the goal of making it very easy for anyone to accept credit cards through a mobile device. Seems like a great idea, but there is a serious security flaw that Square has overlooked that places consumers in dire risk.

In less than an hour, any reasonably skilled programmer can write an application that will "skim" – or steal – a consumer’s financial and personal information right off the card utilizing an easily obtained Square card reader. How do we know? We did it. Tested on sample Square card readers with our own personal credit cards, we wrote an application in less than an hour that did exactly this.

Let me explain how easy it is to exploit the vulnerability.

via VeriFone – VeriFone Releases Open Letter to the Industry and Consumers. Let me explain how easy it is to get this same information had you card over to a waiter like you do everywhere. The information contained in the magnetic strips is the same as what is on the card itself. What a bunch of FUD from VeriFone because Square is cheaper and a more awesome mobile point of sale system. Square responds beautifully calling them out and detailing just how secure their system is.

22 Dec

We Won’t Fly – Homeland Security Trolling We Won’t Fly Blog

I was about to delete an offensive comment on this blog – one of the very few we get – and thought, hmm, I wonder where this guy is posting from? Because, really, it is quite unusual for us to get nasty comments. Lo and behold, the troll posted to our website from an IP address controlled by the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security! Here is the taxpayer-funded troll’s gem of a comment, for your entertainment:

Fuck you, Fuck all you cocksuckers, you wont change anything. ride the bus, TSA is here to stay there doing a great job keeping americia safe.

via We Won’t Fly – Homeland Security Trolling We Won’t Fly Blog. Apparently the Department of Homeland Security employees isn’t happy with We Won’t Fly. Perhaps even better is that comments are outlandish, stupid and rude. How do these employees think they are changing anyone’s mind with this sort of commentary?

28 Jul

BBC News – Obama: ‘Nothing new’ in Wikileaks Afghan records leak

Barack Obama has said that the leaking of classified documents on the war in Afghanistan is a concern, but that it had not revealed any new information.

In his first public reaction to the leak, the US president said the data justified his decision to overhaul the US military strategy in Afghanistan.

via BBC News – Obama: ‘Nothing new’ in Wikileaks Afghan records leak. Wait a minute, it’s three things at once, a security concern, no new information and allows the public to have a justification for a past decision? Anybody follow the logic behind all of those?

27 Jul

BBC News – US border violence: Myth or reality?

In the past two years, more than 5,000 people have been murdered in Juarez as drug-related crime has soared.

A few hundred yards away across the river in El Paso, local authorities have recorded just two murders this year. In 2009 there were 11.

Yet politicians including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tend to portray border towns as being pushed to crisis point.

via BBC News – US border violence: Myth or reality?. BBC News on truth versus perception in terms of violence on the border.

27 Jul

Skepticblog – The Reasonableness of Weird Things

In my experience, the top reasons people believe weird things are not only understandable, but identical to the reasons most skeptics believe things: they are persuaded by personal experiences (or by the experiences of a loved one); or, they are persuaded by the sources they have consulted.

via Skepticblog – The Reasonableness of Weird Things. A both interesting and important point for getting quite possibly at why it can be so hard for people to dis-believe an other wise irrational belief.

25 Apr

Riders on the Storm – NYTimes.com

But the core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News.

via Riders on the Storm – NYTimes.com. Interesting one study finds that the idea of people avoiding web sites that differ from their own point of view isn’t so true. However this is hard to rationalize with my thoughts of most people that I know. It’s far more likely the ideologues only visit a few sites and most everyone else floats from site to site as the study suggests.