Thursday, April 20, 2006

Switchfoot, Spring, Strawberry Mocha

On Tuesday night I saw Switchfoot in concert at Foellinger Auditorium, which is right in the middle of campus. I've listened to this band since 1999, but I hadn't seen them in concert yet. It was a very fun concert. A particularly memorable moment was when an audience member proclaimed his request for a song, "Only Hope". John, the lead singer, brought him and his friend on stage. He proceeded to play the song while one of the stage techs gave them a haircut! A song for a haircut. Fair trade, eh? I was very close to the stage with Ben, and we really got into the music. They are good performers and they had an amazing set, with lots of LED panels and lights set up.

Spring is the most amazing season. It makes everything come alive, including my mood. Illinois gets so much brighter during the warm weather. I took a walk around the arboretum on Sunday, talking to my good friend Drew, feeling tree trunks and digging my fingers into the ground.

I just bought a strawberry mocha at Espresso Royale because it's half price today, and I haven't had one before. But the coffee taste is there, which I don't like, and I don't think I can finish it. Does anyone want it?

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Note on Software Patents

A big issue discussed in the computer software world is the current patent system, and how they apply to software. The issue arises from the fact that large software companies are bombarding the US PTO(Patent and Trademark Office) with patent requests. As a result, they get a large number of patents made on everything they develop. By doing this, they can effectively push out competitors from developing the same sort of product, making a veritable intellectual monopoly.

This is a common topic discussed on Slashdot and the most recent one is based on an essay on the topic by Paul Graham.

I found a particularly good comment that struck me as the reason software patents are not as valid as patents on a new lawnmower or 3D glasses. Patents are not allowed to protect ideas or thoughts themselves, but the production of that idea into a profitable form. They are meant to encourage inventors to publish their secrets in exchange for a guarantee of government protection from copying, so the ideas don't get lost when the inventor dies.

Software is at once the description of a an idea as well as being the product itself. There is little cost to transforming working source code into a profitable form. You just compile it(sometimes) and put it on a website. Simple.

Contrast this with someone having a working idea for an anti-gravity machine. In order to make it profitable, they'll need to spend a ton of money on making prototypes and investing in manufacturing facilities and personnel. If someone were to get ahold of one of these and replicate it, the original inventor would have lost all that money not only on research and development(software companies also do), but also on being able to make enough of them to be profitable(which software doesn't have to deal with).

A common example of an absurd software patent is Amazon's one-click purchase function. Yes, they have a patent on that. No joke! If you make a function on your website whereby someone can make one click and have a purchase placed, you can be sued by Amazon!

Well, what do you think of that?