Food and IP

March 13th, 2010

Here are some movies I think are worth watching about our food supply Strangely, these movies also twist together some of the intellectual property and patent issues I’ve been thinking about recently. Did you know if you grow Monsanto’s patented soybeans, you can’t keep any of the seed you produce? They actually police this. Also, if you’re a non-Monsanto soybean grower next to a Monsanto grower and Monsanto’s plants naturally cross with yours, Monsanto can come and take your crop because of patent infringement?

Food, Inc. (IMDb)
King Corn (IMDb)

Both are available via Netflix streaming, if you have it. I suggest watching King Corn first.

Follow-up on Light Side of the Moon

March 11th, 2010

There’s been a flurry of IP talk since my last blog post ( Here are some posts that I found interesting:

Jonathan Schwartz – Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

Edison’s Patent Enforcement

This Apple-HTC Patent Thing

And a little earlier, Tim Bray – Giving Up on Patents

The Light Side of the Moon

February 28th, 2010

I’ve always been greatly inspired by the U.S. mission to the moon. The moon mission drove my passion for electronics, computers, and science; as it did for many others. I’ve read quite a bit on the moon mission and watched quite a few documentaries on it. I recently watched a couple of episodes of “Moon Machines.” This series caused me to connect some thoughts I’ve had lately – none of which have anything to do with actually being on the moon.

It’s Not About the Moon

It always starts with a seemingly crazy idea. What is the farthest goal in space we could imagine? Putting a man on the moon.

Maybe there wasn’t much to see or do on the moon, but it was all about getting there. I firmly believe that this single achievement gave us the broadest advancement a society has ever had in a 10 year time span. Maybe the broadest advancement – period. Remember when someone said something couldn ‘t be done? The response was always “if we can put a man on the moon, we can certainly do…”. It gave us a sense that anything is possible.

Perhaps the moon mission started as a political and nation-building goal. Of course there was the space race with the USSR. Coupled with our national desire to be number one and prevail in the race propelled us towards this goal. The end result, however, was much more wide-reaching. Yes, we “won” the space race, but I think it was realized as success for mankind, not just the U.S. So much of our technology today, what you’re able to do right now, can be traced back to the moon mission. We, as a global society, have benefited immensely from the moon mission.

There were legions of people that caused the moon landing go from a fanciful idea to a feasible one. These were just regular people assembled for one fantastic goal. Many people wanted to be involved with this mission. People want to be involved with something great. Truly, the landing happened (successfully) because the collective ideas of many. Those ideas were built upon the ideas of others. No one entity can own this achievement. Not one company. Not one nation. It was an achievement of the entire world.

Don’t believe me? Who was one of the driving forces behind the Apollo program? Wernher von Braun. That’s right – the guy who developed the V-2 rocket for the Germans. The rocket that was launched more than 3,000 times during WWII – mostly against London. The V-2 didn ‘t inspire technological and social achievement. However, we might not have gotten to the moon if it wasn’t for von Braun. But it wasn’t just him. Robert Goddard, the U.S.-born “father” of modern rocketry, influenced von Braun. Goddard’s work is based on Russian-born Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s work. Goddard influenced Hermann Oberth, a Hungarian-born scientist, who later worked with von Braun in the U.S.

The idea of a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous was originated by Yuri Kondratyuk (Russian) around 1916. John Houbolt at NASA thought this was the only way to land on the moon and return. But von Braun was strongly against this idea. However, thanks Houbolt’s conviction, he changed von Braun’s mind. Prior ideas, rethinking ideas, and arguing ideas are all elements of invention.

Connection is The Invention

All of the ideas and science which allowed us to get to the moon were derived and combined from others. These people and ideas came from all around the world; so it is truly a global accomplishment. All inventions are the combination – intentional or unintentional – of other ideas. No one can say that they truly “own” a new idea. To quote T. S. Eliot “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” This has been said in other forms. “Lesser artists borrow. Great artists steal.” has been attributed to Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso.  Newton said “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Where am I going with all of this? We can do great things by innovating on the ideas of others. That’s how it’s always worked. Imagine for a minute if the mathematics, philosophy, and logic of the Greeks was patented. It could have suppressed many follow-on innovations for many years to come. You know what? That’s what’s happening right now.

My own writing here is a connection of ideas to form yet another idea. What if all of these other ideas were controlled? I would not be able to say what I’m saying now. It would be a suppression of free speech.

Unfortunately, this is where things are headed. The way it’s going we’ll never have another “moon landing” because someone will have to own it. NBC would work out a deal with NASA for exclusive TV rights. Then we’ll only see what NBC thinks we should. Exclusive deals and proprietary intellectual property rights would drive up the cost of everything. We’d never even get to the moon.

Patent Lunacy

The current lifetime of a patent is 20 years. From 1861 to 1995, it was 17 years. From 1836 to 1861, it was 14 years with an optional 7 year extension. Prior to 1836, it was 14 years. Did ideas become more valuable recently? Twenty years is eons in the world of technology. More than a lifetime. It pretty much grants the patent holder exclusive extortion rights for the useful life of the invention. More recently, the mis-named “American Inventors Protection Act” of 1999 was seen by some to favor corporations over individual inventors. In 2002, this act was further amended (see and In 2005, 2007, and 2009, attempts have been made to pass a “Patent Reform Act”. Patents are becoming more and more the domain of large corporations. They are expensive to file and even more expensive to defend.

What happened? Mega corporations happened. Mega money happened. A company cannot create an idea. After all, a company is only made of the people which comprise it. A patent is actually granted to an individual, but almost always assigned (conveyed as property) to a company. Who profits the most from a patent? The company, not the inventor.

Patents stifle innovation for the period of the grant – by definition. It is the right to exclude others from using the invention. Some arguments are made that this allows the patent holder to invest in and develop the invention. This is a macro-view. What if an idea wasn’t patented and free for everyone to use? A strong ecosystem of inventions and improvements around the idea would ensue. A whole economy would ensue. It’s possible that a greater profit on the whole, and a greater good for society, would be made.

Take software for example. Because of some key court decisions, the ability to patent software algorithms was secured by the early 1990s. Prior to this, we all developed and innovated based on well-known algorithms. What if the algorithms in Knuth’s books were patented? What if every algorithm in every text book you ever read was patented? We couldn’t use them. Software wouldn’t be anywhere close to where it is today. But that’s where it’s headed.

Take a look at IP Alliance says that encouraging free/open source makes you an enemy of the USA and When using open source makes you an enemy of the state. Who’s included in the IIPA? That’s right – our friends at the RIAA and MPAA. What software does the RIAA’s site run on?

Server: Apache
X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.10

But of course – they use two very popular open source packages! Irony at its best. So I guess the RIAA, by their own policy, is an enemy of the state. But of course, I’m probably breaking some sort of IP law by reporting this.

Open Source software (FOSS) is an excellent demonstration of how an IP-free ecosystem works. Companies monetarily benefit everyday from the use of open source. If it weren’t for open source, we wouldn’t have the Internet and web that we have today. The Internet protocol (TCP/IP) was developed in an open environment and specification process. Possibly the most widely-used implementation is based on Bill Joy’s BSD work – all open source. Linux – run on many web servers today – is open source. It’s quite possible that your cell phone contains open source software. Corporations benefit from not having to reinvent the wheel with every phone. The proliferation of many things on the Internet wouldn’t have occurred, nor succeeded, if they were wrapped up in one company’s proprietary technology.

Where are They Now?

What about the big patents? Did a patent give a company a competitive advantage to stay at the fore-front of their invention? Edison and the light bulb: today there’s proliferation of Edison electric companies, but you don’t go out and buy an Edison-brand light bulb. Nope. It took an ecosystem to make the light bulb a common commodity. Edison found more value in providing the electricity to the bulb than the bulb itself.

Bell and the telephone. When AT&T’s patent expired in 1894, a huge ecosystem of phone companies emerged. Telephones took off. Then AT&T started buying up the phone companies and was later converted to a government sanctioned monopoly. AT&T benefited from the ubiquity of the telephone after an ecosystem was created. In 1984, it was broken up and the flood gates opened again. Many companies started producing phones. Bell was forced into realizing there’s more value in providing the phone service than the phone itself.

Henry Ford fought a long-battle to invalidate George Selden’s much earlier car patent. He won the case, invalidated the patent, and opened the doors for all car manufacturers. This is a prime example where the elimination of a patent grew a huge ecosystem. Car manufacturers were freed from Selden’s licensing and pricing restrictions.

Return to the Moon
In January 2004, President Bush called for a return to the moon by 2015. Okay – that only works once. We’ve already done it. A return to the moon now would not be for national spirit, societal development, nor any other noble goal. Straight from the NASA web site: The Moon Mining Activity … Why Return to the Moon Before Going to Mars? Ah – the profit motive. There won’t be any big technological advancement out of that mission. Maybe Mars is a better idea. Or the ocean.

Here’s a lighter take on it: If Man Walked on the Moon Today.

Who won the space race? We all did. By “we” I mean the entire planet. Where is the USSR now? It doesn’t exist. What if the USSR would have made it to the moon first? Would everyone win? The U.S. would be in a much different technological position than it is now. Most likely, the Internet wouldn’t exist either.

The U.S. is the only country to-date which has put men on the moon. 41 years have gone by and no one else has attempted it. Maybe it’s because we were the only ones crazy enough to do so. I think it’s because the U.S. is open and free-thinking. Free and open always win.

Recommended viewing: Moon Machines: Software for the Apollo Mission
Recommended reading: Finding a fair price for free knowledge

The moon mission is also an epic tale of reliability. But that is another blog post…

Getting Nexus One Working with USB on Ubuntu

January 9th, 2010

I received my Nexus One on Thursday. It is flat-out fast. I’m really liking it, even if it doesn’t have a physical keyboard like my G1.

I was pretty excited to load my latest development game on it. However I found that the Ubuntu USB settings that I had setup for the G1 didn’t work for the Nexus One, even though they’re both HTC phones. I had setup Linux (Ubuntu 8.04) for the G1 based on these instructions: As of Jan 9 2010, this page does not have a USB vendor ID for the Nexus One/Google. The “0bb4″ vendor ID for HTC does not work. The Nexus One shows up as “?????????” in adb/Eclipse.

I did some serious Googling for a solution and found two hits with instructions, but they were both saying to use “0bb4″ for the USB vendor ID. That’s what I had and that doesn’t work. I then read an post that said Google updated the Windows SDK USB driver for Nexus One. I downloaded this to one of my Windows boxes and looked at the vendor ID in the .inf file – it is “18D1″ for Nexus One.

In short – follow these instructions:

  1. Follow the instructions at
  2. Replace the vendor id of “0bb4″ with “18d1″ in /etc/udev/rules.d/51-android.rules. Or add another line that reads:
    SUBSYSTEM=="usb", SYSFS{idVendor}=="18d1", MODE="0666"
  3. Just restarting adb after this didn’t work for me. I had to reboot Ubuntu. That took me a while to figure out.

After the reboot I was up and running. Development cycle times are now much faster because installs are faster.

AlphaMixr Version 1.2.0 Released

November 7th, 2009

The new features of this Text Twist-like scrambled word game include an improved dictionary and the ability to view Global High Score maps right on your phone!

If you have an Android phone – especially the new Verizon Droid – you should check out this game. It’s available on the Android Market in a Trial and Full version. More information is available at

AlphaMixr on Sale! Picked as #1 Game!

July 23rd, 2009

AlphaMixr, my Android game for T-Mobile G1, et. al. is on sale for $.99 this weekend (through 7/26). You can beat the price – it’s less that a hamburger on the $1 menu at McDonald’s! Get it while it’s hot!

AlphaMixr was picked as the #1 G1 Game or App on this blog.

You can read the review for AlphaMixr at Android Tapp where it got 4 out of 5 droids.  You can also read AlphaMixr user reviews on Cyrket.

You can see screen shots and more information about AlphaMixr at its website:

Wicket Web Beans 1.1 Released

May 22nd, 2009

After an overly long delay, Wicket Web Beans 1.1 has been released. I really appreciate Daniel Toffeti’s contributions.  Also thanks to Cemal at ( for pushing us to get this release out. jWeekend is gracious hosting the live samples for us (see below). Looking forward, Daniel is going to start on the Wicket 1.4 migration. And, maybe someday, I’ll get back to WWB 2.0. The code for it is on the 2.0 branch and you can experiment with it if you want.

Some News:

The project is now hosted on Google Code:
Try out the live samples



AlphaMixr Reviewed – Demo Downloads Hit 10,000

May 16th, 2009

AlphaMixr, my game for Google Android (T-Mobile G1, et. al.), was reviewed the other day and got 4 out of 5 “droids.” You can read the review at Android Tapp.  You can also read AlphaMixr user reviews on Cyrket (an online Android Market browser).

In other news, AlphaMixr Demo hit the 10,000 download mark today at Android Market.  I think this will pick up even more as additional Android-based devices are released globally this year.

You can see screen shots and more information about AlphaMixr at its website:

AlphaMixr for T-Mobile G1/Android Released

February 20th, 2009

Google released paid apps today on the Android Market today (2/20/09) and so my game, AlphaMixr was released into the wild. AlphaMixr is a scrambled word game in the spirit of Text Twist and Jumble. It adds another dimension of Global High Scores so you can compete with other players around the world.

You can read a glowing review from a friend of mine who’s been a beta tester at

Visit to see all of the game details and Google Maps of the high-scorers.

Fun With Generics

January 20th, 2009

I was trying to declare a array variable this morning:

Map<String, String>[] mapArray = new Map<String, String>[2];

However, the compiler reports an error with the above statement: “Cannot create a generic array of Map<String,String>”. I had to replace the statement with:

Map<String, String>[] mapArray = (Map<String, String>[]) new Map[2];

!?! If one of the goals of generics was to eliminate casts, it certainly failed here.