Patents and Street Credit

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Thursday, January 27. 2005

Much is being made of Sun's recent announcement that it is "releasing" over 1600 patents to cover and help with the development of Open Solaris. Some of the discussion, as expected, sees this action as a simple reaction to IBMs similar pledge of free use of some 500 of its patents to aid in the development of open source, and nothing more. Others applaud the action, but bemoan the fact that Suns "release" is not as wide-ranging as IBMs. As for me, well, I'm very much against software patents of any kind for fundamental reasons; I think that they severly restrict the distribution and usage of the technology to the areas in which they are needed the most. Anyone recall the hurdles you had to go through with the RSA patents and SSL? But if you do have patents, then opening them up to the open source community is a very welcome thing to do. Patents are still hammers, but (if they must exist) they should be tools used to allow work to proceed, not as a weapon to bring down on someone's toes. Of course, some of the more suspicious among us see Suns efforts as a blatant attempt to obtain more open source street credit. Personally, I don't see that at all; it appears the logical and expected action to promote the development of Open Solaris. But it's not unexpected for companies to make attempts to align themselves as "contributing members" of the open source community, even when they don't have the slightless clue what that means. My favorite thing is when a company tries to buy street credit by taking a software project that they no longer have any use for, slap an OSI approved license on it and assume that that makes 'em automatic members in good standing. These people just don't get it. They see the code as if it was that old, musty sofa in the basement and we need to get rid of it so why not donate it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or even just dump it on the side of the road? Somebody will take it. It's not that way at all. Instead, open sourcing a software project is like transplanting a tree, from a shady area with clay-like soil, to a warm, sunny spot with rich, fertilized ground. You transplant it to ensure its health and growth and development. Not because you don't have any more need of it. No street credit isn't bought. It isn't obtained by simple declarations of being "pro open source" or claims that "we will help open source" and certainly not by butting into the communities with the mindset that "you all have been doing pretty well up to now, but we're here to help take you to the next level." Street credit is obtained by taking the time to honestly understand what open source really is, what it means. It's being active members of that community, and not for the prime reason of being able to use that as marketing hype. It's understanding that one key aspect of open source is collaborative, healthy development; that corporate governance of the requirements and direction of development, with no regard for the inputs of the development community or even no real regard for an external development community at all, may be open source in letter, but certainly not in spirit. It's not a bandwagon to jump on; it's a world-view. And the open source community can smell poseurs a mile away.
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EyeTV 200

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Monday, January 24. 2005

I've had an Elgato Systems EyeTV 200 for a bit over 2 months now, and I'm finding it more and more indispensable. If you are unfamiliar with the EyeTV line, think of them as TiVo for the Mac. I spend a lot of time in my home office, and although I'd run a cable drop to it, I never really had the real estate to put in a TV. Even when I would use a small TV (which we would take on trips), I found it more of a distraction than a benefit, since I needed to turn this way to see the monitor and that way to see the TV... It just took too much time away. I needed to be able to watch TV on the monitor, just as I would have a DVD running in the background in a small window. It was that capability that first made the EyeTV look so attractive. The ability to also record with it was a nice "added extra." Still, it seemed quite an expensive solution, so I hesitated in buying one until last October, when I was able to buy one heavily discounted. The EyeTV 200 is a Firewire drive, so the throughput is quite fast, resulting in a very nice and clear picture. But even more importantly is the recording quality, which is fantastic. I find myself using the unit more and more as DVR, burning DVDs for trips and the like. That is the coolest feature of all. My youngest son loves the SpongeBob DVDs I've made for him, and I find myself creating my own Law and Order episode set. The drawback, of course, is that the Mac needs to be up and running for the recording to happen, and you chew up diskspace like a sonofagun. I bought a nice 160gig Firewire drive and use it exclusively as my EyeTV archive. Still, it's quite a nice little device. It does exactly what it claims to do, and exactly what I want it to do. Can't get much better than that.
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Growing as a programmer and developer

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Friday, January 14. 2005

Two separate events precipitated this posting. The first was my older son Jonathan, who's a sophomore in high school, saying that he was interested in maybe becoming a programmer, and what courses should he be looking into. The second was Gianugo Rabellino's excellent blog entry on Holub on Patterns. The former got me thinking about how I started to grow and develop as a programmer (and developer) and the latter got me thinking about how much more I want to learn. I'm a proceduralist at heart. This is, of course, due to my start in programming. In high school and college the main language was BASIC (BASIC-Plus) with (at Hopkins) a moderate amount of C. When I graduated and started software development at NASA GSFC, the only languages at my disposal were FORTRAN and Pascal, again, very procedure oriented. The 2 were different enough that it was relatively easy to switch between the 2, without a lot of shifting of mental gears. However, around the late 1980s, the computing infrastructure at Goddard (which had been VMS on VAX) started moving towards Unix on various platforms (At Hopkins, we were all Unix on PDP-11s). When that happened, C became the language of availability. The problem for me was that I found myself not programming in C, rather I would "think" in Pascal and then "translate" to C. Needless to say, that didn't work too well, and I would make stupid mistakes; mistakes I should have known better about (pointers are a good example). Eventually, of course, I learned the skill of being able to juggle a number of languages around in my head, without conflict (well, much conflict). So my first nugget of advice to my son was to never "translate" languages. Think it, and write it natively. He's taking Spanish in school and he understood immediately what I meant. He said that when he first started as a freshman, he would think of what he wanted to say in English, and then translate it in his head to Spanish. Now, he "thinks" in Spanish. But that's only the first step. The next one is to think "design" and "algorithm" in a mental, pseudo-code sort of way, and then "map" the language you're programming in to that. You see the problem, and work the solution, without any language in mind; instead, you let it exist as itself without being tainted by a potential language. This has the further advantage of letting you pick the right language for the task at hand (if you are lucky to do so). Of course, this brings me to the Holub on Patterns book, since it appears that this book helps you further refine and develop that mental image to remove (or at least, not require) a deep procedural frame of reference, which I still have. In fact, I almost think procedural and translate to OO. Almost. But I know I could be better. Anyway, it's worth a look, and for Christmas I got a Barnes and Noble gift card, so that's what I may be using it on. I also gave my son two other pieces of advice. One was that no matter how far along you are, you can always get better. You can always tweak and fine tune the code; you can always fine tune the programmer. The other was even more basic: Learn To Type. I sure wish I had.
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Weapons of Mass Deception

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Thursday, January 13. 2005

This posting has an extremely political slant, so if that's going to bother you, don't read it. In fact, I wonder if I should even be writing it, since it will be soooo easy for people to misinterpret what I say... Today the Bush administration has officially stopped its search for the alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) supposedly stockpiled by Saddam and hanging over our heads ("our" == The USA's) like the sword of Damocles. More than anything else, the possible existence of these WMD was the factor that allowed the invasion of Iraq to obtain as much support as it did. Of course, the fact that none were found comes as no surprise to anyone; it was becoming increasingly clear that they did not exist. Even the administration itself was declaring that even if no WMD were found, the invasion was still justified. In the comic book world this is known as a "ret-con", or retroactive continuity. Here's an example: it's well known that Superman is from the planet Krypton. One writer decides that this whole Krypton thing is stupid and writes a story where Superman is really a genetically altered human being; the whole Krypton thing was implanted memories or a dream or something like that. Basically, history is rewritten and continuity has been retroactively changed. The about-face regarding the WMD is real-life ret-con. Of course, the administration claims that the world is safer without Saddam. Well, not if you're a US solder in Iraq it ain't. In fact, I think it's a much more dangerous world for them then it was a few years ago. Now don't get me wrong, imo Saddam was a supremely Bad Guy and I am not sad in the least that he is no longer in power. No way. But there are lots of other Bad Guys out there, and I don't think it's a wise decision for any country to unilaterally decide who should and who should not be in power in other sovereign states. I also think that in addition to the major advantages of having Saddam no longer in power, and the people of Iraq finally having an opportunity for Life and Liberty, there is also the disadvantage that the current disorder provides additional breeding grounds for terrorist activities. If a large percentage of Americans feel that the administration was less than honest, what does that say about the rest of the world, especially those who didn't trust us in the first place? Is the world better without Saddam in power? You betcha! Is it safer? Umm, I'll have to get back to you about that one... I wholeheartedly support our troups. I have friends and family serving over there. No matter how I or anyone else feel about this war, the men and women over there, doing their jobs even at the cost of their own lives have my respect, admiration and appreciation. So the search is over, and in some way the very fact that a search actually happened is good news, since it implies that maybe the administration really did think that there were WMD. No, that doesn't make everything OK, but sometimes you'll take what you can get.
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Modern Literary Art

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Friday, January 7. 2005

The death of Will Eisner on the 3rd got me thinking about how unappreciated, still, "comics" artists are. In my opinion, today's comics and graphic novels represent a truly exceptional art form. I've been a longtime comicbook reader and collector, in that order. I store away my comics not so that there will be worth something someday, but so I can pull out a set of comics one rainy day and reread the Galactus Trilogy, or Crisis On Infinite Earths. When Spider-Man 2 came out, I found my copy of "Spider-Man No More" and shared it with my sons (who are also getting into comics), who thought it was the coolest thing in the world that some scenes from the movie were almost exact homages to that issue. Over the last decades, we've been lucky to see a rebirth in the enjoyment of comics, mostly, I think, due to such seminal efforts as "Watchmen", "The Dark Knight Returns", "Ronin" and "Kingdom Come." I admit that one of my prized possessions is a copy of the "Kingdom Come" hardcover signed by Alek Ross and Mark Waid. Many of today's masters openly admit the debt they owe to such incredible talents as Mr. Eisner. Yet to the public at large, these masters of the craft are relative unknowns. I recall once when Johnny Carson joked about "who the heck" was this Jack Kirby who described himself as "King of the Comics." Johnny had never heard of him, and certainly the host of the Tonight Show would be expected to know all "comics." But Jack "King" Kirby wasn't king of the (stand-up) comics, but king of the comics (as in comic books). Yet even this genius of an artist and supreme creative force was, outside of the world of comic books, unknown. There's also an effort underway in many places to encourage the youth of today to "get into" comics, an effort I support whole-heartedly. Reading for enjoyment is almost a dying hobby, but reading comics help turn that around. I've seen it lots of times, when a boy hates reading yet devours comic books and/or manga ("Ghost In The Shell" is a favorite, of course). "All he reads are comic books," his parents complain, but my point of view is different: at least he is reading. He's learning that reading can be fun and exciting. Isn't that useful? I think it is. One of the best places I've found to get good graphic novels and other comic art is Bud Plant Comic Art. Highly recommended. If you are interested in back-issues of comics, or subscriptions, use the place where I order my comic books from: The NICE Club at Mile High Comics.
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