Thursday, December 22, 2005

Rene Descartes on Problem Solving

Looks like Descartes agrees with some of my ramblings on problem solving...

  • "Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems."
  • "Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it."
  • "Everything is self-evident."

Quotes of the [arbitrary time period]

On the presidency, faith, and insanity:

Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Do I think faith will be an important part of being a good president? Yes, I do. -- George W. Bush

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. -- Frederich Nietzsche

On WMDs:

Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction. -- George W. Bush

I feel compelled to speak today in a language that, in a sense, is new; one which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use. That new language is the language of atomic warfare. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Just for fun:

When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That's Relativity. -- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

English Pronunciation is Fun

The top twenty-one reasons that pronouncing English is fun (in no particular order):

  1. We must polish the Polish furniture.
  2. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  3. The farm was used to produce produce.
  4. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  5. The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
  6. This was a good time to present the present.
  7. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  8. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  9. I did not object to the object.
  10. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  11. The bandage was wound around the wound.
  12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  13. They were too close to the door to close it.
  14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
  15. They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
  16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  18. After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  19. Upon seeing the tear in my clothes I shed a tear.
  20. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  21. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Canine Intelligence Quotients

The Christian Science Monitor has an article entitled "Why your dog is smarter than a wolf" that drew my attention for somewhat obvious reasons. Here's a quote:

"The wolves ... were only interested in the meat," notes Miklosi. "The dogs were of course interested in the meat, but knew that one way to get it might be to figure out what the human wants them to do."

To Csanyi, this proves that dogs have acquired an innate ability to pay attention to people, and thus to communicate and work with them. This is a skill that wolves don't assume even when raised from birth to learn it.

Dogs are "very motivated to cooperate with and behave like people," says Csanyi. "That's why dogs can do things no other animal can do."

So, the animal that has been bred for human social interaction over a period of several generations was more inclined to trust and rely upon humans than the animal whose ingrained social expectations are wildly different than what they have experienced for a couple of months. It's quite amazing what passes for science reporting these days...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Longhorns Win Big 12 Championship

The University of Texas Longhorns secured the Big 12 championship in convincing fashion and secured a second-consecutive Rose Bowl date with the little old lady from Pasadena. My Big 12 tracking page has been updated with a quick Flash that plays The Eyes of Texas while running through Texas' conference scores in reverse-chronological order. The weekly results tables are still available, too.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Let's Raise Money and Patent Putting on Pants

Seems Illiad shares a disdain for "patentus maximus ignoramus," as evidenced by his last two Sunday editions of User Friendly. This week, he harps on the latest Amazon Patents. Last week, it was the patent-applied-for story line.

Then again, maybe we should just jump right up onto this bandwagon and become filthy rich. We can pool our collective resources, raise some VC, and patent the process of putting on pants one leg at a time.
  • > The wording should be broad enough that it also covers the act of donning trousers, chaps, shorts, culottes, underpants (including, but not limited to: boxers, briefs, boxer-briefs, panties, thongs, and jocks), or anything else that has 2 leg holes.
  • > Before we file, we should begin investing in companies that manufacture skirts, kilts, sarongs, togas, and other one-hole or hole-less types of clothing that provide coverage of the lower body.
  • > Further, we should invest in medical supply companies (particularly those that make splints, braces, crutches, and plaster for casts) and hospitals -- for those die-hard pants-wearers who insist on attempting to jump into their pants with both legs at the same time.
  • > We can also sell licenses that allow people to use "our method" of putting on their pants, and may even be altruistic enough to grant free licenses for developing nations.
  • > Individual-use licenses will expressly forbid the donning of pants via the one-leg-at-a-time method for military purposes, and military-use licenses will come at a great cost, have a waiting period, and expire quickly.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Coming Soon on

Random House Webster's Constitution of the State of Texas
This State Constitution represents volume 19 in H. Mo Fobia's publicly-acclaimed series of constitutional amendmends that provide a new level of clarity to the American version of the English language.

This illustration is an original, and normally you would see some sort of copyright crapola here. Well, that's not the case this time. I hereby grant license to anybody who wishes to use this illustration as a form of political satire -- so long as you download the image and host it on your own site...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Troubleshooting Your Way to Better Math, Pt. 2

a.k.a.: math rant, part 2
By the end of the previous math rant, I had stipulated that all problem solving can be approached in a manner that is typically associated with troubleshooting. Namely, the problem can be reduced by employing an iterative process that results in a continual refinement of the "working answer" into a final solution. The final solution is not reached until all of the available data have been consumed. I provided an example of applying this technique to arrive at the summation of several four-digit numbers.
Problem Solving Theory
One of the most valuable skills in any profession is an ability to understand a problem, classify and distill the problem into discrete components, and formulate methods (or theories) of resolving each resultant "problem-ette." This is the role of a troubleshooter (M-W). Cultivating this skill is essential to success in many fields, although the problems encountered can vary widely. An IT professional will encounter vastly different problems than a plumber or a mechanic, but all of these skilled workers must apply similar problem solving principles. Educators and executives apply the same logical processes in solving the problems encountered in their fields. The principle is simple: understand the nature of the problem, be knowledgeable of the constraints and rules, apply your experience to formulate a hypothesis, and test the hypothesis to verify the result.
Why Troubleshoot Math Problems?
The logical constraints and rules associated with basic arithmetic provide a very practical introduction to troubleshooting methodologies, which can then be applied to more difficult classes of problems. (Those of you who don't dismiss the preceeding statement as a circular argument may have recognized it as a case of the type of iterative process that I am attempting to promote.) A consistent application of problem analysis followed by targeted iterative solution generation reinforces understanding of not only the underlying problem and principles, but also the means of arriving at a solution. The current methods of mathematics education tend to teach rote processes that require little understanding of why the process works.
Example - Find the Product of Two Three-digit Numbers
This class of problem demonstrates my point fairly well. Consider the task of finding the product of two three-digit numbers, say 456 x 789. If you were taught the same way I was, your initial reaction is probably "let me grab my calculator," followed by a reluctant reach for pencil and paper to apply the dreaded process of starting on the right-hand side and carrying digits, which goes something like this:
The Way You Were Taught:
Consider the problem, and apply the method that has been demonstrated to arrive at an answer to the problem. Be sure to write everything in nice little columns, so that you'll be able to "carry" any digits as required. Then, start turning the "multiply like this because it works" crank. The process works something like this (starting from the right-hand side):
1.) Nine times six is fifty-four. Write the four (under the "line"), but "carry" the five.
2.) Nine times five is forty-five -- add in the "carried" five to make fifty. Write the zero to the left of the four, and "carry" the five.
3.) Nine times four is thirty-six -- add in the "carried" five to make forty-one. Write the one to the left of the zero, then -- since there aren't any more digits -- write the four to the left of the one. You now have a top line in your sub-solution that reads "4104"...
4.) Eight times six is forty-eight. Carefully write the eight under the zero from the previous line of the sub-solution, and be sure to "carry" the four. (Some of you may have been lucky enough to learn to place a zero as a "placeholder" to the right of this eight.)
5.) Eight times five is forty -- add in the "carried" four to make forty-four. Write a four to the left of the eight, and "carry" the other four -- don't mix them up!!!!
6.) Eight times four is thirty-two -- add in the "carried" four to make thirty-six. Write the six to the left of the four, then -- since there aren't any more digits -- write the three to the left of the six. You now have a second line in your sub-solution that reads "3648(0)"...
7.) Seven times six is forty-two. Carefully write a two under the four from the previous line of the sub-solution, and be sure to "carry" the four. (Again, some of you may have learned to place two zeros as "placeholders" to the right of this two.)
8.) Seven times five is thirty-five -- add in the "carried" four to make thirty-nine. Write a nine to the left of the two, and "carry" the three.
9.) Seven times four is twenty-eight -- add in the carried three to make thirty-one. Since you're out of digits write the one to the left of the nine, and then the three to the left of the one. You now have a third line in your sub-solution that reads "3192(00)"...
10.) Add the three lines of the sub-solution to get the final solution. So, that's 4104 + 36480 + 319200. Eventually, after much more carrying (see prior rant), you will arrive at 359784.
Why did you add the sub-solutions components? Because you have to, that's just the way it works... Why work the problem right-to-left, because it's harder to lose your place that way. How can you test the validity of your solution?
The Way That Makes More Sense:
Oddly, many of you learned the logical way of solving this class of problem much later in your mathematics education -- after the above process was already firmly, and indelibly, ingrained. When considering the multiplication of two three-digit numbers, the first step is to separate the numbers into their constituent components, namely rewrite the problem as: (400 + 50 +6) x (700 + 80 + 9). When presented in this manner, the "distributive law" and the need for addition of solution components become apparent to those who have studied algebra. I prefer to approach the solution in this manner, because it involves application of a logical process that demonstrates the significance of each digit appropriately. So, without further ado, let's troubleshoot this restated problem:
1.) 400 x 700 is 280000.
2.) 400 x 80 is 32000, and 280000 + 32000 is 312000.
3.) 400 x 9 is 3600, and 312000 + 3600 is 315600.
4.) 50 x 700 is 35000, and 315600 + 35000 is 350600.
5.) 50 x 80 is 4000, and 350600 + 4000 is 354600.
6.) 50 x 9 is 450, and 354600 + 450 is 355050.
7.) 6 x 700 is 4200, and 355050 + 4200 is 359250.
8.) 6 x 80 is 480, and 359250 + 480 is 359730.
9.) 6 x 9 is 54, and 359730 + 54 is 359784.
Instead of carrying digits, we gave them the appropriate significance throughout the entire process. Instead of saving all of our addition until the end, we performed it with each refinement of the solution. Notice that the solution converges on the final answer as the data are consumed, just as it did with our summation example.
Isn't That Still Just a Process?
Because the process is founded on logic and mathematical principles, rather than merely applied "because it works," it is possible to refine the process based on the problem. Once the principles are well-understood, it is appropriate to apply logic to identify "faster" ways of reaching the solution. In fact, I would encourage a group of students to discuss ways to do just that. Remember, we are trying to instill understanding, not just methodology.
For example: 456 x 789 = (456 x 790) - 456. Zeros are really awesome when you're multiplying, because you get to "skip steps." This results in restating the problem as ((400 + 50 +6) x (700 + 90)) - 456, wherein one subtraction takes the place of three "multiply and add" steps from the prior example.
Another example: 456 x 789 = (455 + 1) x (790 - 1). Fives aren't too bad, either. So maybe this would work out to ((400 + 55) x (700 + 90)) + 790 - 456, which takes considerably fewer steps -- but much more advanced understanding. If somebody came up with this and could explain it to the class, they might get a gold star...
Applying the troubleshooting method, in which the problem is rephrased to allow an iterative process that continually refines estimates until it converges on the solution, represents a logical way to handle many different types of mathematical problems -- not merely simple summations. The above example illustrates how this process can also be applied to finding the product of two three-digit numbers. The key to unlocking the potential of the troubleshooting approach to mathematics is to instill understanding of what the numbers represent and their significance based on place. If we did teach the foundations in this manner, then making the jump from decimal into other number systems -- where this type of "bitwise" operation is essential -- would become vastly easier. As the T-shirt says, "There are only 10 types of people in this world: those who understand binary, and those who don't."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

More Insane DRM Nonsense

Hot on the heels of the Sony CD DRM rootkit fiasco, and the subsequent knee-jerk reaction (pay no heed to the uninformed title of the article), comes the entertainment industry's latest salvo. This is a bill that aims to (cough) encourage the adoption of digital content (cough), assuming that said content is sufficiently restricted. How does it do this? It's deceptively simple, just make analog recording disappear, and you'll have to buy encumbered digital content instead. Don't throw away your current recorders -- they may be worth more than you could possibly imagine in a few years...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Everything and Nothing

Speaking of everything, Wikipedia has been experiencing some sour grapes as a result of rampant trolling and widespread apathy. Of course, their philosophy is still appealing to the anti-corporate vein that runs in several folks.

As a former employee of an ISP, I've always had a soft spot for UserFriendly. So, here's Illiad's jab at the unspoken contractual obligations of dating. Sorry, I'm not crazy enough to try to come up with any personal references to either confirm or deny the cartoon's allegations.

If you're interested in more academic pursuits, here's the Flash gallery of physics animations. Or, you could burn some time in a way that me and the father of BitTorrent have in common -- Sudoku. The nine-by-nine grid of digits is both fun and addictive. Apparently, it's not quite as addictive as EverCrack; I've never played six games at once. If you want to get outside and move, you can still go high-tech with the official Adidas microchip-enabled soccer ball...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Paranoia Express

In case a safe room doesn't give you enough peace of mind, you can also equip your bedroom with the Quantum Sleeper (patent pending). This monster cocoon allows you to encase yourself, and a like-minded paranoiac who is willing to share your bed, in the finest available polycarbonate. The list of features shouldn't be missed...

If you have more dollars than sense, you may also want to put these hide-a-doors on your wishlist. These make me laugh; every installed door that is pictured on their website is 200x more obvious than any secret door in any first-person shooter. Even the secret doors in the original Wolfenstein 3-D (e.g. push the Hitler portrait to get the machine gun) were harder to spot than these are.

Of course, if you're really this paranoid, maybe you should just stay home and watch the movie "Panic Room" -- don't worry, you don't have to leave the house to get it... You could always add a DVD player to the list of essentials for your bomb shelter.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Great Gallonage

Wired's Gear Factor has a post about Gen-Ryu, one of several prototype 2-wheeled vehicles that Yamaha will be showing at the 39th Tokyo Motor Show later this month. Many of the prototypes are electric vehicles or hybrids, and there's even a fuel cell scooter. Unfortunately, there are no specs available at this time.

Monday, October 10, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge

The DARPA Grand Challenge has been successfully completed by a few teams, and was won by Stanley, the entry from Stanford University. Carnegie Mellon took 2nd and 3rd place in the 131.6-mile off-road race for autonomous robotic vehicles. Last year, the best entry only managed to travel 7.36 miles. What, you may ask, was the biggest difference between last year and this year? Three words: Corporate cash infusion. The technology didn't improve significantly, it simply became more accessible to the teams.
The prize is $2,000,000.00, but the development cost for these vehicles can easily reach 20x that amount. DARPA (1996) evolved from ARPA (1993), which in turn evolved from DARPA (1972), which evolved from -- you guessed it -- ARPA (1958) [to D or not to D, seems like the DoD doesn't know]. The original (pre-D) ARPA was responsible for the ARPANet, which evolved into today's Internet.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Why Was Butthead Angry at Numbers?

Welcome to the inaugural math rant...
Butthead: "I'm, like, angry at numbers."
Beavis: "Yeah, there's like, too many of 'em and stuff. Heh heh."
Tangent (to return to the main rant, simply integrate):
In the UK, mathematics is abbreviated as maths; in the US, the preferred term is math. Of course, those stateside who are concerned with "The Three R's" should be made aware of the following:
  • Neither writing nor arithmetic begin with the letter "R"
  • Although arithmetic is an important foundation, the discipline does not even adequately encompass the level of mathematics education that is required for high school graduation.
The Problem:
I have a theory regarding why so many people profess a dislike of math. This theory is based in part on the educational methods employed, and in part on a great deal of social/societal baggage that tends to travel with the subject. You see, in my opinion we've been teaching math incorrectly for several generations, which has created a self-perpetuating cultural and societal bias.
Take, for example an arbitrary parent of a junior high / middle school aged child. In America, the vast majority of such parents will have found math to be "a difficult subject." The parent's recollections of their unpleasant math-related experiences then inadvertently socialize their child to believe that math must be difficult. Said socialization is then reinforced when the parent ceases to have the necessary skills to answer the child's questions regarding the subject. Test scores decline, and the media takes up arms proclaiming that math must be too hard, otherwise our children wouldn't perform so poorly. And the cycle goes on...
Aside, Mark 1:
Do I have any data to support this? No, it is simply a hair-brained theory that I'm posting on a practically unread blog that I write for the fun of it. Did I happen to mention that my robots.txt file doesn't allow any search engines to index anything on my site. Do the math...
The Root Cause?:
We teach math in a manner that places the emphasis on arriving at a solution and then provides a rote, mechanical, formulaic method for transmogrifying the problem into an answer. The vocabulary that we use to describe the process -- working a math problem -- reinforces this fundamentally flawed methodology. The focus on mechanics and procedures removes intuition from the equation. However, intuition is the key to shifting the focus toward understanding the problem. Only by focusing on the actual problem itself and devising a means of approching a solution can we instill understanding, therefore removing the fear and baggage that are often the only remainder of the current system.
Aside, Mark 2:
It's really easy to insert bad math-related puns into a math rant. I'm sure there will be more. Stay tuned. Oh, and no, I don't know exactly how to "grade" a rational thought process that doesn't necessarily converge onto the expected solution. Perhaps that whole concept needs to be explored more carefully...
That's Nice, but So What?, Mark 1:
I haven't quite figured out the answer yet, so I will try to distract you with an example. For this example, you will require the skills expected at the culmination of somewhere in the 3rd-to-5th grade range of arithmetic. However, you will also require an understanding of what numbers, and particularly digits, represent. This example focuses on adding a set of four four-digit numbers. Please play along by putting away your calculator (even the one on your computer), putting down your pencil (or other writing implement), and solving the following in your head: 1234 + 5678 + 9012 + 3456
The Way You Were Taught:
Consider the problem, and apply the method that has been demonstrated to arrive at an answer to the problem. Be sure to mentally visualize everything in nice little columns, so that you'll be able to "carry" any digits as required. Then, start turning the "add like this because it works" crank. The process works something like this (starting from the right-hand side):

  1. Four plus eight is twelve, plus two is fourteen, plus six is twenty. Write down zero and "carry" the two.
  2. The carried two plus three is five, plus seven is twelve, plus one is thirteen, plus five is eighteen. Write the eight to the left of the zero, and "carry" the one.
  3. The carried one plus two is three, plus six is nine, plus zero is still nine, plus four is thirteen. Write the three to the left of the eight and zero, and "carry" the one.
  4. The carried one plus one is two, plus five is seven, plus nine is sixteen, plus three is nineteen. Since we've run out of places to "carry," simply write nineteen to the left of the three, eight, and zero.
  5. Congratulations, you have magically arrived at an answer of 19380. Based soley on this mechanical solution, I defy you to explain why you arrived at that answer or to justify whether it makes sense.
The Way That Makes More Sense:
What are you being asked to do? You are computing a sum of four four-digit numbers. What does a four-digit number represent? Well, any arbitrary sequence of four decimal digits WXYZ represents W thousand, X hundred, etc... So, let's solve the problem intuitively, applying something akin to "iteratively refined estimation, until exhaustion of data." With regard to acquiring the sum of numbers, I call this solving the problem "forwards instead of backwards," and it works something like this (starting from the thousands, and working "bitwise" down to the ones):
  1. One thousand plus five thousand is six thousand, plus nine thousand is fifteen thousand, plus three thousand is eighteen thousand. [Estimate one]
  2. Two hundred plus six hundred is eight hundred, plus nil plus four hundred is twelve hundred. Eighteen thousand plus twelve hundred is actually nineteen thousand two hundred. [Estimate two]
  3. Thirty plus seventy is one hundred, plus ten is one hundred ten, plus fifty is one hundred sixty. Nineteen thousand two hundred plus one hundred sixty is nineteen thousand three hundred sixty. [Estimate three]
  4. Four plus eight is twelve, plus two is fourteen, plus six is twenty. Nineteen thousand three hundred sixty plus twenty is nineteen thousand three hundred eighty, or 19380. [Yes, that is my final answer]
That's Nice, but So What?, Mark 2:
That little exercise is meant to demonstrate that often, the best methodology for solving math problems is exactly the same methodology employed for solving arbitrary problems. First, start with the data that has the highest significance and formulate a first-order estimated solution. Then, apply the additional data, in order of significance, to refine the estimate. Finally, when all of the data have been exhausted, the solution becomes apparent. Does this sound like troubleshooting to you? It should.
Consider another problem, such as "My car won't start." Applying my as-yet-really-poorly-named (I'm open to ideas) "iteratively refined estimation, until exhaustion of data" principle, a mechanic would be faced with a vast plethora of possible solutions to the stated problem. By performing investigations and asking questions, the mechanic gains data that provides additional granularity to the problem. This data presents other avenues for investigation or raises other questions, which in turn provide further granularity. Eventually, when the available data have been exhausted, our competent mechanic will have arrived at a solution to the problem (or at least a small discrete set of potential solutions that can be tested and verified).
Ah, but how does our mechanic become a better troubleshooter? Although the question sounds rhetorical, it is actually easy to answer. The key to successful troubleshooting is rooted in repeated observation and experience. The same is true for any subject of study...
Aside, Mark 3:
Granted, the vocabulary that I have used is heinously raw, the one type of example I provided is the most trivial, and even the concept of working a summation bitwise in order of decreasing significance isn't something that we can immediately go shoving down the throats of our children today. However, what if the whole system was grabbed by its ear and yanked down to the principal's office? What if we built a foundation based on number theory as well as arithmetic? If we're willing to trust that little Johnny and sweet Sally are capable of understanding what numbers signify, perhaps Butthead can learn to forgive them...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Big 12 football results

My horrible spreadsheet-turned-crappy-web-page o' Big 12 conference football results will live here for the rest of the season. So far, so good for the 'Horns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What's in a Word?

The BBC News Magazine brings a story of "The Meaning Of Tingo," a book that explores words from around the world, many of which have no English equivalent. (Amazon Link)

Meanwhile, Wired News talks about "Snarge," which according to the article is ..."bird ick," for lack of a better term. Turns out that this lovely biological Rorschach test that ends up on civilian and military aircraft isn't always derived from avian carriers.

Also consider:'s word of the day, Wiktionary's Random Page (sometimes quite random, indeed), or's word of the day.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bananas in Mortal Peril!

Popular Science dares to ask "Can This Fruit Be Saved?"

The Terror Alert Banana suggested the use of antimicrobial fabric for new pyjamas to better protect his fellow fruit. Dole, Chiquita, and Carmen Miranda were all unavailable for comment; Gwen Stefani simply refused to Hollaback.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm..."

Priceless quote of the week (courtesy of Reuters):
"I've got one revenue stream that a proctologist would have a hard time analyzing. It's not pretty."
- Andrew Lack, CEO of Sony BMG music
I truly can't tell if this is meant to imply that:
A.) He has money coming out of his respective area of interest to the field of proctology or
B) The way that his company treats the customer is nearly as conceptually pleasant as flexible sigmoidoscopy

Regardless, this affords the opportunity for a short rant on the music industry, copy-proctected compact discs, and the whole concept of "DRM" and why it is a complete misnomer. During this discussion, keep in mind that Sony BMG is one of the supporters of a version of CD Audio copy protection that attempts to "bundle" a DRM-encumbered WMA-formatted file for each song on the "CD." I put CD in quotes because these discs do not qualify for the "Compact Disc - Digital Audio" logo that is granted to discs that comply with the original Sony-Philips Redbook standard.

Because no alternative is offered, I actually own a couple of these discs from various manufacturers. Although they tend to work on most audio-only devices and despite the fact that the protection is fairly easily circumvented, it is technically a violation of the US Digtial Millenium Copyright Act to perform the circumvention. The fact that said circumvention would merely restore the expectations of fair use* (a.k.a. consumer copying) that have accompanied Compact Disc - Digital Audio media since the inception of the standard has no bearing in the intrepretation of the statute. In fact, although the statute draws distinctions between "access" restrictions and "rights" restrictions (with greater tolerance for fair use given to non-infringing circumvention of rights restrictions), current case law has held that a DRM scheme that performs both functions is subject to both anticircumvention clauses -- resulting in a "least privilege" model for the purchaser. To further add to the rich tapestry of Sony-centric irony (the Betamax decision didn't favor the copyright holder), the provided WMA files are not compatible with the "Network Walkman" line of portable music players. In my mind, this type of incompatibility is only the most trivial of several problems that apply to all current and prospective DRM systems.

In order to further expand on this rant, let me first provide my definition for DRM, namely Digital Restrictions Management. I object to the use of the word "Rights" in this context because it can only properly be applied to the supplier -- and not to the purchaser. No current or publicly-proposed DRM technique is based on an open standard. So, even if the initial terms of the restrictions are accepted, there remains no guarantee that the DRM'ed file will remain useful to the purchaser in perpetuity. To me, this is every bit as troubling as the fact that current DRM technologies inherently eliminate the portability that has always been an intrinsic part of the media-purchasing experience.

When you purchase the forms of mass-market media that have been made available for the past several decades (VHS video cassette, audio cassette, CD-DA, and to a lesser extent DVD), you can rest assured that your purchase is compatible with any of a class of compatible consumer electronics and/or personal computing devices. You can play your tape or disc in a friend's player, and can buy a new player decades later that still supports the media. With tapes and CD-DA discs, you can make legal personal backup copies, and have access to the content for other non-commercial re-use purposes that have historically been protected. DVD added encryption and regionalization to the mix. These techniques limited the ability to re-use the content, and restricted the portability to pre-defined geographical regions.

DRM further limits media portabilty to a single device or a set number of devices. Thus, if you want to let your friend hear the new song that you "bought," they have to listen on your playback device or your computer. Be sure to ask your DRM vendor how to recover your "rights" in the event that your playback device and/or computer is lost, stolen, or otherwise rendered unusable. At the same time, ask yourself if you will be able to procure or "authorize" a compatible playback device in the future. Another good rhetorical question: What happens to the file format if the vendor exits the media-distribution business, whether intentionally or otherwise?

I could continue almost indefinitely, but will instead point you to that little EFF link on the right, and suggest that you look at their DRM info. Opinions vary, but I prefer to get what I pay for...
(I'm still waiting for the Sony Consumer Electronics vs. Sony BMG Music lawsuit -- with the obligitory amicus briefs filed by Sony Online in support of the plaintiff and Sony/Columbia Pictures in support of the defendant. Oops, that's the beginning of a completely different rant about content creation, content distribution, and media ownership in general. Stay tuned...)

*: Audio from Raymond Ku's presentation at the Berkeley DRM conference, Feb. 27 - Mar. 1, 2003.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

More Primarily-European Sports News

Former U.S. Postal leiutenant and current Liberty Seguros leader Roberto Heras won his fourth Vuelta a España. The accomplished climber is the first rider to achieve four victories in this grand cycling tour. In older Liberty Seguros news, Alexandre Vinokourov joined the team after the conclusion of the Tour de France.

In the World Rally Championship, Markko Martin's co-driver Michael Park died as a result of a collision with a tree during the Wales Rally GB. If you don't know what a co-driver is, you have much to learn about the ways of rally racing. Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm and current-leader Sébastien Loeb showed their respect in a way that many Americans would consider unusual -- refusing to win.

Manchester United stayed unbeaten (0-0 draw with Liverpool), but unfortunately Chelsea racked up their sixth Premiereship victory this weekend. In other footie-related news, the US national team and Mexico have secured two of CONCACAF's berths in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Other teams that have already qualified include the host, Germany, as well as Japan, Iran, the Republic of (South) Korea, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Brazil, and the Ukraine.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Shocking News!

According to Reuters, a Sydney man was packing a 40,000 volt static charge that set fire to a carpet and melted the plastic in his car. Luckily for him, it's the current that kills, and not the voltage...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bob Dole Likes University Patents with Federal Funds has an extensive article entitled"The Law of Unintended Consequences" that explores the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 (codified: 35 USC § 200-212; implemented: 37 CFR 401 "RIGHTS TO INVENTIONS MADE BY NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS FIRMS UNDER GOVERNMENT GRANTS, CONTRACTS, AND COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS") and it's role in the birth of the biotech industry, the profitability of Universities and their research staff, and the decline of many aspects of truely novel innovation. This act allows universities, small businesses, and non-profits to retain title to inventions that arise in the course of federally-funded research.

Sounds noble, right? In practice, however, this has led to a focus on revenue as the motivation for "technology transfer" from the "scientific community" to "industry," and eventually to the general public. Patent portfolios, license fees, and IP litigation are now staples of the University research diet -- even when your tax dollars are used to pay for a significant portion of the research. "Publish or perish" has practically turned into "Patent or perish" in many fields -- try not to puke on your shoes while you think about the implications and consequences...

Gates: Do Evil???

Some quotes are just priceless, especially if they're just a smidge out of context:
(C|Net interview with Bill Gates)
So that would be the philosophical difference between Microsoft and what Google is up to at this point?

Gates: Well, we don't know everything they are up to, but we do know their slogan and we disagree with that.
This statement can be all-too-easily twisted into a direct rebuttal of Google's widely-publicised "do no evil" doctrine (Hence the title of this post). That doctrine has evolved a bit (see #6). Besides, it's nowhere near as fun to note that the quote was actually referring to the current Google corporate mission statement: "
Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

"do no evil" searches: MSN, Yahoo,,, Google

Friday, September 09, 2005

Football season

Regardless of where on Earth you are, it is officially football season.

Personally, I'll be rooting for
Manchester United, and the University of Texas Longhorns. If you're not an "official site" kind of person, BBC Sport and ESPN have team-specific pages, too.

Sunday, 09/11/2005 - Not a bad weekend for either squad:
ManU secured one point after allowing Manchester City to come back and tie things up in the 2nd half. They remain unbeaten, and will stay among the top ranks for a bit longer.
Texas beat Ohio State in a gut-wrencher in which the 'Horns managed to pull it off in spectacular fashion, including the rather rare safety (NCAA Rule Book).

Fast Fertility, Wicked Strong Brew, and Supermanhood

The Register is reporting the story of a woman whose pregnancy is said to have been influenced by a rollercoaster ride.

Reuters has picked up the unrelated news, also from Germany, that there is a new world's strongest beer.

From the bigger-isn't-always-better department, there is speculation about Superman's schlong and just how super it shall be in the upcoming "Superman Returns."

The internet shall remain vast and mysterious...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Yeah, right...

While the world waits for Apple's amazing announcement, the Register takes a moment to report on this (cough) amazing product (cough). Yes, folks, the "World of Nanomicrons and Beyond!" is here. I should probably try to aviod any reference to "bovoid fecal material revelation devices," and whether this U.S. patent could be used as a calibration mechanism therefor.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Automotive insanity

Yikes! Be sure to bring your deck chairs for some of these front spoilers.

Gratuitous Bling (Oh, the humanity)

Nominations for the most ridiculous "bling" I've seen recently:

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bicycle Stuff

"Ride your bike." -- Eddy Merckx (regarding how to train)

Get a bicycle -- you have to start somewhere:
It doesn't matter if you get a Giant (Makers of my road bike), a Specialized (Makers of my mountain bike), make like Lance and ride a Trek, go American with a Cannondale, try Diamondback (Had one of their BMX/freestyle bikes when I was a kid), or GT, or Haro, or even Schwinn. Remember those banana-seat bikes? Yes? Good. You're old, too.

There are, of course, too many other manufacturers to list, so you can always Google search (for "bicycle").

Get stuff:
Supergo, Bike Nashbar, and Colorado Cyclist all have big online stores. REI has stores in many states, and carries a good selection of bike stuff. If you happen to be in the Austin area, check out Bicycle Sport Shop and Buck's Bikes, among others.

Get a rack (for those times that you have to start your ride somewhere else):
Yakima and Thule have racks for
most vehicles, but not mine.
Bird Automotive has racks for some sports cars, like the Boxster, 350Z, TT, and G35.

I am participating in the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) Ride for the Roses for my 2nd consecutive year. Last year, I rode 26 miles on my mountain bike -- this year (October 23rd) I will be riding 44 miles on my road bike. The LAF supports cancer research and cancer survivors. You can contribute via my "Peloton Project" page -- the LAF is trying to raise $7 million before September 16th. Here's a write-up from the Austin Chronicle during last year's ride.

Find out about safe routes, bicycle advocacy groups, etc.

Most Importantly - Ride
Stop reading and go ride! It's nice out