Saturday, August 07, 2004

Intellectual Property: A Global Concern

Tim Bray writes

"But what I really worry about is the basic broken-ness of the US Patent system. It’s sucking money and time and resources out of the whole technology ecosystem; it’s a bleeding sore on our business and our culture and our people. It’s way past time to fix it."

I agree. The IP Wars are a cancer on our economies. I believe that unless we fix the global patent system, reforming the US patent system avoids the larger problems.

1. International recognition of kinds and types of property rights
2. International recognition of the states of property rights
3. International regulations for the collection and distribution of licensing fees.

We are both engineers who have worked for most of our careers to create, evoke, or otherwise recognize the power of international standards. Yet we both also recognize that technology is not governed wholly by standards. If we are to have international agreements to govern the kinds, types, states, and regulations, we need systems that implement these at least as well as we implement web browsers.

For while we both know that the development of the web technology must be followed by the standards and specifications that enable these to be developed by anyone with the skill and moxie, we recognize the need for simplicity, particularly in systems that must scale to be most effective. The challenge for nations, courts, and industries and the people that govern nations, rule in courts, and create product for all of these is to discover the simplest and most universally accepted laws for intellectual property in all forms.

It is time to recognize and administer intellectual property in a global system.

  • The URI is the key.

  • Google and systems like it point the way.

  • The Semantic Web is the means.

The goal of the means is to ensure fairness, accuracy, clarity, and transparency but above all, to lower costs. If this goal is met, the system will right itself.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Free Range Democrats

"One generation got old.
One generation got sold.
This generation's got no destination to hold.
Pick up your prize."

- The Jefferson Airplane

I live in Alabama. The only time I've voted for a Republican for President was in 1972 when I was eighteen and voting in my first presidential election. The candidate, of course, was old Tricky Dick himself. When asked by my friends why I would vote for someone thought even then to be a scurilous S.O.B., I said, "He is an S.O.B. but he's our S.O.B." The point was that at that time with VietNam still waiting for young Southern boys like me fresh out of high school ROTC, there was a six thousand mile long logistics train running thin into Southeast Asia. As a military student and having had two brothers go and return from in country, I knew exactly what this was about and while I would not sign up as a C.O. (conscientious objector), neither was I eager to get on that big silver bird and find myself snuffing through the Mekong or the Ho Chi Minh trail. Call it fear or common sense, but unbeknownst to me, my brothers were hatching a plot to grab my young behind and schlep it across the Canadian border. With a very very low draft number, it looked like my time was coming when my lucky vote cashed in and Nixon stopped the draft. We needed an S.O.B. to get us out of VietNam, and he was the Man.

All of that is a long winded way to say that I am a Free Range Democrat. Democrats are exceedingly rare in this state that distinguished itself in the last few years by passing laws against selling sex toys, attempting to ban the use of diminished fifths in music (there goes "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"), three times refusing to allow state lotteries to support education, banning the airing of the ABC special honoring the fallen soldiers in Iraq, and refusing 9 to 1 to watch the Democratic Convention. You just thought George Wallace was the worst we could do. No one out Bubba's the BamaBubbas.

If there is a place further to the right than Alabama, it could only be Texas and as they say, Texas is just Hell without the inconveniences.

You can spot Free Range Democrats easily at a distance. They resemble feral dogs that live in the desert with wisps of hair hanging loosely off their heads, and panting as if the next breath will be their last. Somehow they survive even though they are hunted for sport and pleasure. Twenty years ago, they were numberless and the most powerful domestic herd animals in the American South. Ronald Reagan was their downfall. After Jimmy Carter sinned in his heart, and then the Great Obsfuscator told them that their best behinds were before them and trickled down on their Ford pickups, the squarest dancers obediently aleman'd right and doe-si-doed all to the sound of their rowdy friends coming round with red ties, dark suits, and close-cropped haircuts. Now they are the New South, rich, successful, ultra-protestant and always willing to help a neighbor skin a deer or skim a profit. These dogs are now every bit the modern Republican.

Over time, the ranks of the Free Range Democrats dwindled to just the few bewildered dreamers you see before you. They seem to be the same people I saw in my youth at bong parties and working at the local waterbed store where I upholstered waterbeds. (No joke. Someone actually did have to figure how to wrap the vinyl around the pad and staple it to the frame without leaving a point that would puncture the mattress. It's a real craft.) They seldom gather in large numbers because the Republicans won't allow them to hold events that would attract large numbers, and because beer is too expensive to throw away. The mainstream Democratic Party has written them off and I don't expect the Calvacade of Rock Stars to come closer than 200 miles to the Great State of AlaBubba.

On the other hand, Free Range Democrats are the masters of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Survival and dead dendrites do that to impounded animals. "Something's happenin' here.." the Buffalo Springfield sang to us long long ago, and you know what, something's happening again.

Last weekend I attended the second wedding of an old friend from my theatre freak days. The wedding was just an excuse to get a party beneath the Republican radar. Even the Blue Meanies had to sleep sometime. All the talk was of ways to take the Shrubs out of Washington. These lop-eared vermin were excited. Young kids listened as adults who have spent most of the last twelve years asleep on their couches plotted guerilla art tactics to get out the vote. They covered the windows in black plastic just as they did in their youth, but instead of pulling out bags, they put a DVD into their computer and used a full screen projector to view Frankenheimer's "Manchurian Candidate" in glorious black and white and surround sound on the living room wall. More sober and more studied than I've seen them, the Free Range Democrats have a cause.

And they live for a cause.

"America, where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
America, we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster."
- Steppenwolf

The Volunteers for America are back on the streets.

In an election that could come down to the dregs of the vote, the Dixie Dregs are oiling up their axes, putting up signs, wearing buttons, and writing their blogs. If it all goes as planned, we'll be able to achieve something really wonderful... we'll bring back the Dixie Chicks.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Gift of Tamas

"Religion followed by a witless will
To torture self, or come at power to hurt
Another - 'tis of Tamas, dark and ill."
The Book of Religion by the Threefold Kinds of Faith

I cannot accept a role or countenance an act that removes thought from the world. First, this is not legal in the American system of government. Note the court decision that allowed the American National Socialists to march in Skokie, Illinois in 1978. Even the speech of hate and the repulsive image of the Swastika are allowed. Second, it is not possible to erase thought. Even the best brainwashing techniques of the Cold War showed that given time and separation from the controlled environment in which this kind of programming is attempted, the individual returns eventually back to their normal habits of thought.

It isn't right and it won't work.

However, what can be changed is the unwarranted use of force. I hope that we are not fighting in the Middle East to change their culture or attempting to make them adopt ours. Yes, there are things about that culture that I find distasteful, particularly the treatment of women and children, just as there are aspects of the Western culture that some Islamists find revolting, but these are not going to change by the use of force. What we should look at critically is precisely the use of force to attempt to modify behavior, because this is precisely a behavior itself. This can be changed.

Should we kill to stop the killing? I am afraid we must. Will they kill us in return? They have.

And so it will go on, act after hateful act as it has gone on for as long as we have human memory to relate. Yet as Gandhi noted, Love always wins and the tyrants fall. So we must find and share reasons to love. This is not soft, but the hardest and the boldest action. We must find what we share. Golda Meir said, 'the violence will stop when we love our children more than we hate each other.' There are mothers today in Bagdhad, in New York and Lahore who love their children and wish only to see them do well in life. As said in the Middle East, God willing, another should live as well as I desire to live. As said in the Bible, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Islam is a religion of truth and mercy and beauty. It cannot perish because these are values it shares with all true religions and these are eternal values. No belief with these as core shall perish. That some believe they can make one religion master of all truth and all believers is deeply hurtful to these beliefs. A Christian who takes this path takes the sword in their own hand and plunges it into the side of the Christ. The Muslim who takes this path tars his own children in pig's blood. The Hindu who takes this path accepts the gift of Tamas that does not bless.

We must step back from the feast of rottenness, and we must accept our differences as the joyful expressions of God at play, and learn to hear the voice of Creation singing to us in our wakeful dream. I know it cannot be a perfect world, or a peaceful world, but it can be a world where our children play free of fear of one another based simply on the color of skin, dress, or how, when, and where we go to pray. This, I believe is the world the God of Abraham and Mohammed and Arjuna earnestly waits for us to create. God sees through our eyes but with infinite mercy, does not control every act of our hands or hearts. God watches and waits for the time when we ourselves undertake acts of mercy, compassion, and tolerance, and in these, knows joy.

There is much darkness in our hearts but there is infinite light in our souls. Pray in whatever tongue with whatever gifts you have, that this light overcomes that darkness soon, today, in this moment before another car bomb takes more lives, before more helicopters rain down death on the innocent, before we once again sully Creation in the eyes of God.

For the sake of our children, for the sake of our world, for the love of God, pray for this earnestly. God willing, let this be done; God providing, let us do this.

True Magic

On finding the sign...

Apply your mind.
Thus you will not sleep.
Sustain this application.
Thus you will not doubt.
On understanding, feel rapture.
Thus you will not harm.
Experience happiness.
Thus you will not be restless.
Experience one-pointedness.
Thus you will not be seduced.

This is the way of jhana.
Jhana is true magic.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Culture Versus Culture

Joshua Allen, a fellow I have much respect for, asks if the West will stop attempting to cram our concepts of liberty and culture down the throats of others. That is a tough question.

1. When two different cultures meet with an asymetric balance of power, the result is not usually improvement of both; the typical result in nature is the extinction of the weaker culture. If we think naturally, we should be quickly and efficiently committing genocide. Whatever our concepts of liberty and culture may be, they don't include genocide, so perhaps imitating nature is not in anyone's best interests.

2. A point in the 9/11 Commission report is that the history of the West and the Middle East has been one of economic entanglement with very large infusions of wealth into the Middle East for access and control of the oil resources. We've not been very overt about how that wealth was spent except where we could sell big ticket items; think water plants, refineries, and armaments. As the flow of this wealth decreased, the entitlement society it created became dissatisfied. The response by the controllers of that wealth, the monarchs and the military, has been to allow the religious culture that is native to these societies to take major responsibility for the education of the society. Thus the rise in wahabism and other forms of regressive thought. Otherwise, the emphasis on education of those who could afford to go to the West has been on technical and financial subjects.

What emerged from this laissez-faire interaction was a generation of technically sophisticated, tribally-affiliated, and historically impoverished terrorists who have been educated to believe that the Western culture is responsible for their current conditions and that a return to a medieval Caliphate based on the Koran is their salvation. If that is their goal, selah, but it is accompanied by the message that the will of God is only achieved when the West embraces their beliefs.

It ain't gonna happen. So we find ourselves in the position of creating a massive and possibly ineffective defense system that forces us to monitor every piece of information produced anywhere by anyone and to attempt possibly also ineffectively to fuse that into a coherent picture of 'what's happenin'. As a species, we share signs, but the difficulty is we don't share interpretations. Fast reaction is the essence of wacamole and we will exhaust a lot of resources trying to figure out which hole the mole will pop out of next. Further, by not distinguishing between civilians and military targets, but issuing fatwas that proclaim it is the religious duty of every Muslim to kill Americans, they've made us all players.

If we are being strictly empirical (observing results and backward chaining to causes), our own survival might depend on exporting more of our culture. The trouble here, and it is very evident in the current American election, is that we don't really share a common vision of just what that is. Until we have clear policies and quit beating each other down in a lust for power and domination, I don't think we have any chance of exporting anything but the image of our own indecencies, our own inhumanity to each other.

If I were to hope for anything, it would be that the holders of the pulpits of my country's heterogeneous religious institutions speak long and forcefully on the topic of examining our own motives for our own treatment of each other. The creepiest statement I heard this year came from a friend of a former Soviet emigre who told him, "I was amazed after the last election how quickly the Americans begin to look over their shoulders when discussing the topic to see who was listening." Having been told at my own company by one individual that who I voted for could be a "career decision", and constantly reminded by his friends that I should be more conservative in my opinions, and as Beldar Conehead said, "adopt low tones", I believe it is time to get louder, more up front, and not just a little aggressive in this election.

Is the refusal of a company to rent space to an anti-war group a violation of the first amendment?Likely not. It can be construed as a commercial business decision. The outcome here is in the details of the contract and lawyers settle that.

Is it a violation of the spirit of that amendment? Matters of spirit are for individuals to decide, but I say yes, it is. It is a disease where the symptoms are to seek power by any means and to lose sight of the necessity of balanced and fair leadership.

Our country is in a dangerous time in which thinkers and doers on both sides must look for reasons to unite instead of reasons to divide. The mean spirited acts of media and their customers alike that attempt to suppress dissenting opinions in these times have become not simply a political feint, but a global psychosis that is penetrating every communicative act. It leads a Republic to fascism and historically, this is a very hard disease to overcome. It takes generations and it leaves permanent scars. Look to the history of Italy for an example.

When the voice of dissent is heard, the warranty of freedom is realized. Let it be as loud as the bells and fireworks that announce our independence.

Think Like Engineers; Speak Like Lawyers

With the acceleration of not-selling-so-why-not releases of formerly proprietary products into the open source ecosystems, one begins to wonder where the manpower will come from to sustain the development of these entries at a rate that keeps them competitive? As John Cowan has told me in the past, unmaintained code is dead code.

Are the recipients of these gifts vetting them with respect to hidden IP encumbrances? I don't suggest that companies such as IBM with massive patent portfolios are signing away their new currency to the open source community, but given the concurrent stampede to acquire patents, I'm not so sure anyone knows what the IP status of these contributions are.

Meanwhile, the IP keiretsu I've been predicting are forming fast and furious in the forms of cross-licensing agreements and the revised IP policies of the standards, specifications and open source product consortia. As a current member of the board of one of these (the Web3D Consortium), I think they are the best refuge for the small and middle tier players in markets where the high costs of IP defense can't be sustained by individual players.

Clear participation agreements for members are the best way to proceed. This is important because anyone can create a consortium, proclaim its specifications to be standards, then use that wedge in combination with patents to hold weaker competitor's heads under water until they drown.

This topic should become a required course in universities that expect graduates to become innovators and entrepeneurs in their fields. The sad fact of the industry today is we have to think like engineers and speak like lawyers. The technical writers have understood this for years.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The 9/11 Commission Report: Effective Means

I've been reading "The 9/11 Commission Report". For $10 US, this is 567 pages of the scariest reading I've seen since Bram Stoker's "Dracula". I highly suggest you buy a copy and read it. The elections before us have made it a topical centerpiece, but without reading it, it is all too easy to drown in the punditry of the election and fail to grasp the long term implications beyond the November elections.

Although it may take some time to read, some things will be clear to Homer Simpson and his bespectacled neighbor.

1. The Federals blew it. From as far back as the Reagan years, they operated in an a fog of arrogance and back-biting competition with each other. When the ever so focused Islamic radicals decided to take on America as its number one target, America's agencies acted like a single skier on a slope unswervingly failing to miss the only other person on the slope.

2. We are still on the slope. The Bush administration cannot take the 'mote out of its own eye' and still continues to pursue policies that will keep us in this war for another two decades. Yet a new administration that fails to understand the history that created the opportunities for the Islamic fundamentalists will fail just as spectacularly.

3. Islamic fundamentalism is an old phenomenon. So is Christian fundamentalism. In different times in history, both have emerged as destructive forces. Their emergence simultaneously as movements that have seized power on opposite sides of a conflict are reinforcing elements that escalate tensions and ensure an ever escalating conflict. Yet even these are not the source of the conflict. If we are to reduce tension and conflict, we must reduce behaviors on our side that create the perceptions of conflict. It will take time to change these perceptions, but the sooner we start using effective means instead of Spy Vs Spy rhetoric which only makes the situtaion more incindiary, the sooner we will create a safer world.

4. Because we have fewer opportunities to modify the behaviors of other cultures, it is time to listen to what the fundamentalists are saying and begin to engineer systems to modify our own behaviors. In short, good forestry reduces tinder that accelerates fire. We must consider effective means.

In blogs that follow, I want to discuss means that have proven effective at modifying behaviors of large social systems without draconian or punitive measures. At the center of such means is the concept that it is not race or religion or profiling based on these characteristics that should dominate our selections, but the use of force in a world where feedback and agency can combine to amplify the effects of small forces over large communities.

Your comments are welcome.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Whyizzit? Oil Money and the Elections

The news reports that a new and imminent terrorist threat has been uncovered. A recovered computer (Code 07 for those in the know) contained the details. The security forces go into action and the Attorney General tells us we must be Americans and continue about our normal duties, meaning, the Wall Street types can't take a day off. CNN posts a poll asking if people believe as Howard Dean suggests that the news is being manipulated for 'political purposes'. The usual pundits decry the conspiracy theories and my wife asks me, "Would they lie to us twice?" So as it was after Watergate, the mistrust by Americans of their government soars, and one wonders what the agenda of Al Qaeda could possibly be if it leads to more Americans voting for The Shrubs?

Almost as an afterthought, the press quotes sources as saying gas prices will rise as a result of fears of the 'imminent threat'. I don't know who is manipulating whom here, but the observable is that the same group is benefitting. After forty years one wonders why at the bottom of so many of America's great screw ups in the world, we keep finding Texas oil money cashing the checks.

I'm sure G.W. wants to win this election, but for those who pay his bills, I'm not sure it matters.

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