Apparently, IP-Protection Exists for Its Own Sake

This article's (Bobbie Johnson, Guardian) news astounds me.
It's no news to me that there are groups that have lobbied vigorously for intellectual monopoly (aka "IP")-protection and against free software.
But, it seems like one particular group based on the US has taken it farther than it has ever gone before.
It is recommending the inclusion of Indonesia on a list of countries to pressure to change IP-protection laws due to the mere encouragement of the use of open-source software.
The funniest (and saddest) part is that this group is supposed to be pro-free market and pro-competition.
This is exemplified in...open-source software. Companies like Red Hat and Canonical have developed new business models around open-source software.
The status quo (i.e. Microsoft) is antithetical to that.
The worst part of its recommendation is that it wants to force stricter IP-protection laws down Indonesia's throat for the sake of...stricter IP-protection. There appears to be no other reason for this - i.e. intellectual monopoly for its own sake.
The author of the article also points out that often, open-source licenses are stricter in ensuring that the license (to promote free use) and original authorship are retained in all derivative works; one could thus argue that a beneficial form of IP-protection (one that actually fosters further creation and use while maintaining attribution to the original author) is what is needed - not the draconian measures of laws like the DMCA.
I would have laughed out loud if I forgot that this was actually happening; I am sick to my stomach and proceed to vom - [bleccccccccch].


A Victory for Openness and Against Patents

This article (Bruce Perens, Datamation) gives a good analysis over the closing of a 5-year old court case involving open source software and patent infringements.
The good news is that the party accusing the open source developer of patent infringements has lost both patents in question and has paid the developer $100000, among other things.
Basically, a physicist named Bob Jacobsen who also develops software controlling model trains as a hobby (and released them under open licenses) was accused by Matthew Katzer, a seller of software for model trains, of patent infringement. The problem is that Jacobsen's license was meant to ensure that all software covered in the license would be released under a similar license, with which Katzer did not comply (the non-compliance came in the form of a patent application). Worse, Katzer extended his original 1998 patent to cover this open source code while keeping it under the 1998 date to make it look like Jacobsen was guilty of patent infringement. That shows the worst side of today's patent system and how it really doesn't promote innovation.
Despite numerous pressures (financial and otherwise) on Jacobsen, he persevered. The worst part was when Katzer essentially dismissed the open license (requiring use of the license for derivative works) as essentially public domain and thus patentable in a specific application. This basically threatened the basis of all works published under open licenses like the GPL. When it became clear that Jacobsen's Artistic 1.0 license was legally inadequate, ironically (though I don't approve of this part) the law that came to Jacobsen's rescue was...a law I have railed against multiple times...the DMCA.
What? The DMCA came to the rescue of an open developer?
Funny how the world works, huh?
Basically, the DMCA provided the requirement of retaining attribution and the original license on the work (Katzer was removing Jacobsen's name and license from the code).
Things went downhill for Katzer from there.
Ironically, despite the provisions of Jacobsen's license, as punishment, Katzer can no longer copy, modify, or distribute the model train code (though everyone else can). He can no longer take trademarks of Jacobsen's project. He must pay Jacobsen $100000 over 18 months or pressure people close to Jacobsen about this during this same time period. Both sides have agreed to not sue each other within these same 18 months.
Most importantly, however, unlike most court cases, this one is not sealed, meaning that all details of the case are open to public scrutiny. This is extraordinarily important, as people can now make sure that a similar drawn-out case does not happen again.
Congrats, Bob Jacobsen, and hooray to the open source community!


The ACTA, Not Counterfeiting, Terrifies Me

It comes from this (Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing) post.
Basically, the ACTA is forcing the DMCA down the throats of all other countries.
Some of you know that around 2002, a professor gave a lecture in Europe on cryptology and current technology and reverse-engineered a particular technology (protected in the US under the DMCA) in order to analyze its cryptological safety (or something like that). When he flew to the US, he was arrested for violating the DMCA, even though what he did was solely to promote learning for his cryptology students. Of course, he would not have been arrested in the country where he gave this lecture.
So what does the ACTA mean? It means that he could have been arrested anywhere had the ACTA been in place at that time. Even though the reverse-engineering was done purely for educational purposes, as reverse-engineering, it was against the law.
The incidence of these stupidly-made arrests will only go up in the future.
What's worse is that while the DMCA at least makes clear its intentions in its names, the ACTA conflates counterfeiting with copyright, patents, and reverse-engineering.
Counterfeiting is a serious problem; many people get sick and die every day from shoddy-quality counterfeit drugs being passed off as the real product.
Reverse-engineering? If the US, UK, and Poland had not reverse-engineered the German Enigma Machine, we may have lost WWII.


KDE 4.3 - A Second Look

This comes after I (unsuccessfully) tried to install the new KDE 4.4 on my computer. It seems that Ubuntu hasn't come with packages for versions earlier than 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope"; the only packages are those available for 9.10 "Karmic Koala" and the (currently beta) 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx". I use Linux Mint 7 "Gloria" which is the equivalent of Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope", so I found myself out of luck. It is my intention to upgrade this computer to Linux Mint 9 "Isadora" when that comes out; hopefully I will be able to get the new KDE packages then, as I am eager to try them out. Until then, I thought of taking another look at KDE 4.3 (which I had already installed and reviewed), as I thought some of my comments were a bit unfair. I found that KDE 4.3 redeemed the old problems (to an extent) while presenting new problems. I have been doing this for about a week.
First, I want to review and maybe show how KDE managed to rectify the old problems.
The biggest annoyance was the lack of integration of Mozilla Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and GTK+ applications. I have since learned that there is a theme for GTK+ applications called QtCurve to integrate them into KDE 4.X. I'm not going to do that as I want to have a native look in GNOME as well; it's a shame that KDE can't integrate GTK+ applications even close to as well as GNOME integrates Qt applications. I know a lot of distributions with KDE 4.X have this theme for included GTK+ applications, but as I also use GNOME, I won't be following this.
OpenOffice.org is a nightmare in this regard. As it turns out, the theme management for OpenOffice.org is near-dysfunctional; even in GNOME, I can't even change the theme to one of the included themes (forget installing a new one).
Firefox is a bit better. I installed the KFirefox theme which gives the menu a look combining the Windows Firefox back/forward buttons with the Konqueror look for the other menu buttons and the scrollbars. Sadly, the buttons in the webpages still look like they come from Windows 3.X. Oh well, at least it is a little better than before.
The Facebook Plasmoid still doesn't work. Oh well.
On a brighter note, Plasma has not crashed on me. KDE also seems notably more responsive and snappy (and quick to load) now. Maybe the latest update brought a serious shot in the arm for speed. That's good.
I managed to fix the problem of window labels in the Task Manager showing up across all virtual desktops, defeating the purpose of virtual desktops. There is an option in Task Manager to turn this off, so that in any given virtual desktop, the Task Manager will only show window labels from that virtual desktop. It's a good improvement, but I would like to see it like that by default in the future as in Linux Mint GNOME's default behavior (once the virtual desktop panel application is added to the panel).
I changed the main menu to the "Lancelot" menu, which is a slab menu similar to Linux Mint's MintMenu. I like it as I like all slab menus, but it has some quirks. Every time I unclick and reclick the menu, it resets to the default view rather than showing me the tab I was looking at before I unclicked the menu. It's a little annoying, but I can deal with it. I was hoping for a bit more customization of the menu as well in terms of determining what appears and what doesn't and in what order the icons go, but oh well.
I've changed the theme from the bland default "Air" to the more appealing (to me) "Oxygen". It looks a lot nicer now.
A new quirk I've found is that even though I've disabled these applications from startup, the applications Pidgin and Cairo Dock are still executed upon startup. I'm not really sure how to change this behavior now.
One thing I have done now that I didn't do before was to enable Activities. These basically enable me to keep Plasmoids (except for the panel but including the desktop background Plasmoid) on different desktops, greatly reducing the number of Plasmoids running at any one time. It's a neat feature, but I think only organizational freaks will find use in it.
I'm a little concerned that I can't really set default applications in KDE like I can in GNOME. It doesn't even give me the option of choosing Pidgin as my default IM client (it only gives Kopete as an option); the issue is similar with Firefox vs. Konqueror. Thankfully, OpenOffice.org is listed as an option for default applications.
Finally, I've found a quirk in Dolphin. For some reason, I can't permanently delete anything - I can only send it to the trash, which may not work if I'm deleting a particularly large file (like a Linux installation DVD ISO); it almost makes me want to use Nautilus again (and as I now know, in the newer versions of GNOME, Nautilus, like Dolphin, has split-pane viewing).
For all of these bright and dark spots, my opinion of KDE 4.3 is higher (but only by a little) than before. I'll probably be able to tolerate it a little longer than before - that is, before I get sick of it and decide to switch back to GNOME.
UPDATE: There are two things to update.
I got another weather Plasmoid. This one looks kind of nice, but still doesn't have a forecast.
More importantly, think of the devil... As I tried to use the "Lancelot" menu, it crashed. I guess it had to happen. Thankfully, that's the first time a crash has occurred since the start of this re-review.
UPDATE: Oops. Sorry I forgot this biggie.
For some reason even though KDE has a setting for power management, though I have set the computer to automatically suspend to RAM after 20 minutes of inactivity, this has never happened in KDE (though it faithfully happens in GNOME). I later did a manual suspend action and then resumed the session to find that suspending to RAM also logs the current user out of KDE. That explains a lot. It's a pretty big bug, though, as suspending to RAM can save a lot of power over leaving the computer on in full (even when inactive). A lot of people are used to this in Windows, and GNOME does it beautifully. KDE needs a lot of work in this regard.


Just Another Ordinary Opening Ceremony

(It's a play on "Just Another Ordinary Miracle", a song that was sung at this years XXI Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony.)
It was boring. Of course Beijing's organizers blew everyone out of the water with their ceremonies, but even judged on its own, the Vancouver ceremony literally made me fall asleep. Totally unimaginative and uninteresting.

Also, where was the Vatican delegation? I want to see the Pope as head coach of the slaloming archbishops and the curling cardinals!
I kid, I kid.

Finally, I want to dedicate this blog post to Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian (in Eastern Europe, not in the southern US) luger who died during training the morning of the opening ceremony. He was 21. As you read this, please join me in observing a moment of silence in honor of him.
Thank you.


Movie Review: The Matrix

I know this is a popular slightly older movie, so I'm giving a different take on The Matrix.
I loved the action; I don't know why this was rated 'R'. I digress.
I think the most philosophically challenging part of the movie is when Neo enters the apartment of the Oracle (the first time) and sees the other "Potentials". One of the children manages to twist and bend a spoon through the mind-activity of thinking that the spoon doesn't exist; Neo replicates this. The scene raises a plethora of philosophical questions, aside from the obvious question about the spoon's actual existence.
Let's assume that the spoon doesn't exist.
If this is true and the "Potential" believes it is true, how does this relate to the spoon bending, and why should the "Potential" be able to perceive the spoon bend if s/he has blocked all perception of the spoon entirely?
If this is true, why should an outside observer see the spoon bend just by the "Potential's" intense belief in the spoon's nonexistence?
If this is true, and 2 "Potentials" believe it, why should they both perceive a bending spoon?
In short, what effect does a "Potential's" belief of an object's [non]existence have on its appearance to all others?


Movie Review: Young Frankenstein

This evening, I watched Young Frankenstein (or "Young Fronkensteen", if you will - more on that in a minute) with my family.
It was a great, funny movie. I like how the movie stayed generally true to the original movie plot (except for the ending, of course; in the original, the monster is killed, whereas this movie ends happily with the newly sophisticated monster marrying Elizabeth and Frankenstein with his newly enlarged reproductive organ marrying Inga) while putting in some (maybe not-so-) subtle running gags (like how Frankenstein, to distance himself from his mad scientist grandfather, prefers the pronunciation "Fronkensteen", or how whenever Frau Bluecher's name is said (wherever), the horses neigh).

However, something at the beginning of the movie concerned me. It has nothing at all to do with the actual plot or production of the movie; rather, it is related to the fact that this is a DVD. There is this almost frightening sequence at the beginning by the MPAA about how you wouldn't steal a car or a cell phone, so you also shouldn't illegally download a movie. While this of course means that downloading a movie is currently illegal, what is questionable is how morally wrong/repugnant downloading a movie is compared to stealing a car or a cell phone.
The point is, with all these new technologies involving acquiring professionally created content (e.g. music, books), the legal method has to be easier than the illegal method. With the freeing of music from DRM and other restrictions, illegal downloads of music on P2P networks have dropped precipitously while legitimate sales on sites like the iTunes store have shot up ever since; the reverse is still true (as it once was for restricted (e.g. DRMed) music) for restricted (e.g. DRMed) movies. The MPAA needs to learn now that something like the iTunes store, and not a set of draconian restrictions, is the business model of the age of the Internet.


2010 February 8: Rahm Emanuel and the Super Bowl

This is an update to the previous story on Rahm Emanuel's use of the word "retarded" to describe certain liberal groups.
He has since apologized and signed a pledge to end the use of this word. I applaud him for this, though he shouldn't have made the comment in the first place.
Also, Sarah Palin's outrage showed a rift in the conservative base. Many (though certainly not all) conservatives are opposed to being overly politically correct. Palin has made reference to this before as well. However, as this directly insulted her son, she felt the need to defend political correctness and in the process blast Rush Limbaugh for not supporting her. I'm not taking sides in this particular dispute; I just thought it's an interesting thing to see.

Also, the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV! New Orleans really needed this one.


On Political Correctness and Retard[suffix]

I've wanted to talk about this for a while, but this (Brent Dykes, Yahoo! News) provides a good starting point. It's about how Obama Administration Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called liberal lobbies planning to air attack advertisements on conservative Democrats opposing the health care plan "[expletive] retarded".
I do not at all condone this. He should have attacked the plan on its merits rather than mindlessly foulmouthing it. I also think it would be best if he sincerely apologized for this, though knowing him, it probably won't happen.
Sarah Palin, who has a son with Down Syndrome, has responded by calling for his resignation/firing, saying that this will affect her son and other similarly affected people the same way African Americans would be affected by someone using the 'n'-word to insult them. While I don't agree with this extreme reaction, I think it is entirely reasonable to condemn him as she did.
That said, I wanted to use this opportunity to bring up something bigger about the word "retard"/"retarded" and political correctness.
I don't think it is at all right to use "retard"/"retarded" as an insult against mentally handicapped people. In our schools, we are taught to use words like "mentally handicapped", "mentally disabled", or "mentally challenged", among other words; "retard"/"retarded" aren't even part of this vocabulary (i.e. they are completely ignored altogether). Hence, I have never once met someone who used the word "retard"/"retarded" to [insultingly] refer to a mentally disabled person. This probably isn't true in other parts of the country, but from my own experiences, the word "retard"/"retarded" has solely taken on the meaning of a synonym for "idiot"/"imbecile".
That is probably what Emanuel meant; I still don't support him on this, because as it is, it is a pretty vicious insult to use against someone else.