Archive for October 2008

Our Concept of Intellectual Property is Seriously Broken, Exhibit B   Leave a comment

Found at Groklaw… actually, this is good news.

This was an appeal against a rejection of a business methods patent, and the appeals court has now agreed with the rejection. At issue was whether an abstract idea could be eligible for patent protection. The court says no. Buh-bye business methods patents!

The story hits mainstream news over at the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek:

While rulings over the years have used various tests to determine if a process qualifies for patenting, the Federal Circuit said the sole analysis should be the “machine-or-transformation” test – which requires showing that the claimed invention is either tied to a particular machine or that it transforms an “article” (such as a substance or data). At the same time, the majority opinion, joined by 9 of the 12 justices ruling in the case – acknowledged that “the widespread use of computers and the advent of the Internet” had begun to challenge the usefulness of such a test. The justices invited the U.S. Supreme Court to develop a new test for determining the kinds of inventions that should be eligible for patent protection, one that might better “accommodate emerging technologies.”

This effectively asks SCOTUS to overturn much of the State Street decision from 1998.

But in today’s ruling, the court largely disavowed the highly controversial 1998 decision, State Street Bank v. Signature Financial Group. That case had granted protection to a system for managing mutual fund accounts. The State Street decision was widely cheered by the financial-services and software industries, among others. But ever since its issuance, the State Street case has been a lightning rod among patent practitioners, with detractors largely arguing that it led to a glut of weak patents.

Wikipedia’s article on State Street has more details, but is in serious need of some fleshing out… some opposing viewpoints here.

Posted October 31, 2008 by padraic2112 in news, tech

No, Luke…   7 comments

… I am your father!  Not that other kid!

Jack & Levi

Jack & Levi

Posted October 30, 2008 by padraic2112 in family

Let Me Tell You How It Will Be   3 comments

News for Ann, Meg, and Dave:

Arstechnica reports that MTV/Viacom (Rock Band) beat out Activision (Guitar Hero) for the rights to use digital versions of The Beatles songs.

But the most sought-after and coveted trophy in music, The Beatles, lay unclaimed. That is, until now. MTV, wielding the power of its parent Viacom, has claimed the Liverpool legends for itself, meaning that Rock Band will be the exclusive platform for the advent of the first ever digitally-distributed Beatles tracks.

Think you’ll be able to handle the mike on “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”?

Posted October 30, 2008 by padraic2112 in news, tech

I Prefer To Be Called “Rita”   5 comments

From Meg (who turned out to be The Hanged Man), some mystical-babble-meming

You are The High Priestess

Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education.

The High Priestess is the card of knowledge, instinctual, supernatural, secret knowledge. She holds scrolls of arcane information that she might, or might not reveal to you. The moon crown on her head as well as the crescent by her foot indicates her willingness to illuminate what you otherwise might not see, reveal the secrets you need to know. The High Priestess is also associated with the moon however and can also indicate change or fluxuation, particularily when it comes to your moods.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Who knew, I’m a woman!  ($0.50 if you’re not a sibling and can guess the source of the quote in the post title, enter your guess in the comments).

Posted October 30, 2008 by padraic2112 in memes, noise

Dialogue and The War of Words   3 comments

Dr. Free-Ride recently wrote a post about animal research and the dialogue between those who perform it and those who object to it.  This is a generalizable problem, not only between scientists and lay persons, but between any two distinct groups who are legitimately trying to communicate with each other.  The problem is severely exacerbated when the two groups have different cognitive processes, which is why wrangling between scientists and theologians or two different political partisans is so common.

The general problem is that the two sides are literally talking past each other, since they have no shared context in which to establish a meaningful framework.  Moreover, since these discussions often result in fundamental challenges to models of the world, there is a huge disincentive for either side to work at establishing that shared context.  So it’s not really a dialogue at all, it’s just a conflict.

I’ll take the easy example of the conflict between “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” in the United States.  Fundamentally, this conflict is broken at the root; it cannot even be properly considered a debate.  Neither side (for the most part) is interested in even establishing ground rules.  This is pretty obvious just by looking at the labels the two sides have chosen for themselves – who isn’t for choice?  Who isn’t for life?  Just about everyone who isn’t a raving psychotic regards these two things as generally nice things, and yet to involve yourself in the conflict you must, by definition, take up a position that is antithetical to one of those nice things.  If you accept the position of “pro-life”, by the foundational principles of the opposing team, you’re now “anti-choice”.  If you accept the position of “pro-choice”, by the foundational principles of the opposing team, you’re now “anti-life”.

This is patently ridiculous, I don’t know anyone who is “pro-choice” who actually goes around killing random living things in an attempt to eliminate all life, and I don’t know anyone who is “pro-life” who wants to put a computer chip in everyone’s brain to enforce Absolute Compliance with The True Way.  Interestingly, however, I know plenty of people on both sides of the debate who actually consider all of their opponents to be exactly like that.

This is a perfect example of where effective rhetorical techniques have been used to actually attack and destroy the capability of reasoned dialogue.  Decades of spin have actually worked at removing shared context between these two sides.  The people who feel most strongly about the conflict have a vested interest in forcing undecideds in the middle to come on board their bandwagon.  At the beginning, framing your position to make it attractive to the center gets people on board with your program.  After time, however, when the middle is carved up, it is no longer about attracting new people who might be persuaded to think the way you do, it’s now about destroying the opposition.

The unfortunate result is that a fairly complicated issue is now reduced to a steaming pile of platitudes that have literally less than no meaning.  Look at the political comment threads on a social news site like Digg or Reddit and you’ll get a nice view of several different steaming piles.

This was illustrated so well in the recent Presidential debate.  At one point, Senator McCain actually used “sarcasm tongs” when using the phrase, “health of the mother”.  Why would he do this?

Well, to the “pro-choice” crowd, the “health of the mother” is a very, very important point in their foundational view of the conflict.  Their reasoning is that people should never be legally forced to put themselves in a situation that can be sufficiently dangerous to their own existence.  Seems reasonable.  To the “pro-life” crowd, however, the “health of the mother” isn’t about the health of the mother at all; to them, this phrase has been re-contextualized by “pro-life” leaders to mean “liberal doctors get to decide arbitrarily that the fetus can be killed, because it can always be rationalized as being for the health of the mother.”

On the flip side, the pro-choice movement generally regards any attempt to limit abortion accessibility as fundamentally wrong, as it could be abused to force a woman to give birth against her will.  Outright banning of second-term abortions, or banning of particular procedures is no longer a question of allowing a viable fetus to be removed and supported on its own or the merit of the procedure, it’s “chipping away at abortion rights.”  Inside the pro-choice movement, it’s fairly difficult to discuss nuance in cases; is it morally wrong to abort a second term fetus that may be able to survive on its own if the conception was the result of rape and the mother is not at risk?  That’s a legitimate question, but it requires people to examine what it means to be a mother, to be a person, and inherited guilt… all of which are very difficult metaphysical questions.  If there is a reasoned debate inside the pro-choice community about when and where it is appropriate for society to judge the source of the pregnancy as being relevant to the decision that the mother should be able to make, it first requires the pro-choice community to admit that society has some right to influence that decision, which opens the door to the possibility that society may impose a tyranny, and that can’t be considered.

The core issue here is a lack of trust.  Since the two sides of the conflict have steadily eroded the shared context between the two groups while strengthening the shared context inside its own community, each side can now easily (albeit erroneously) rationalize anything the other camp says as being completely untrue; neither side is willing to concede that any proposition put forth by the opposing side has any grain of truth to it.  Are there doctors who will perform an abortion for reasons other than saving the life of the pregnant woman?  Certainly; this must be true.  Does this mean that every abortion performed for the “health of the woman” is performed for absolutely trivial reasons?  No; of course not.  However, for either side to admit that these things are true undermines their foundational positions, and thus must be ridiculed as unlikely or impossible or irrelevant rather than accepted for the truth that it is.

Rhetoric can be the mortal enemy of reasoned debate; misused, it destroys shared context with the people that do not think like you do, and strengthens the contextual bonds with people that do think like you.  It allows two sides to load the same phrase with diametrically opposed connotations, which further obfuscates the ability of people to communicate clearly with each other.

Tangent – this is why people like PZ Meyers bug me; because they are making no attempt to find any sort of common ground with anyone except people that already agree with them, and they make no attempt to present their positions in a way that fosters trust with those that disagree – indeed, they go out of their way to destroy the possibility of trust with those that disagree.  It is impossible to foster reasoned dialogue with someone if they have no reason to trust you, and it is impossible to actually end a conflict with anything other than violence without using a reasoned dialogue and a healthy debate.

Unless you just wait for the other side to die of old age.  Sometimes, the issue you’re debating is one that requires a bit more in the way of timely resolution, however.

Posted October 30, 2008 by padraic2112 in philosophy, politics

For Next Year’s Balloon Festival   4 comments

Every year, Albuquerque holds a balloon festival.  I’ve never been, but will undoubtedly go one day.  Here’s a typical view of a balloon launching…

Justin just bounced the below to me via email, and I suggest that the owner enter this in next year’s festival…

If you only knew the power of the Dark Side!

If you only knew the power of the Dark Side!

Posted October 28, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise, Vinnie

There Can Be Only One   4 comments

From Absolute Vanilla, via Meg, the 1 Word Meme (answer each question with one word).  It’s not a very good meme, really… too much shoehorning.

  • Where is your mobile phone? Pocket
  • Where is your significant other? Work
  • Your hair colour? Gray
  • Your mother? Liberal
  • Your father? Conservative
  • Your favourite thing? Time
  • Your dream last night? Boring
  • Your dream goal? Equilibrium
  • The room you’re in? Office
  • Your hobby?  Sleep
  • Your fear?  False
  • Where do you want to be in 6 years? Professorship
  • Where were you last night?  Bed
  • What you’re not?  Bubbly
  • One of your wish-list items? Quiet
  • Where you grew up?  Hometown
  • The last thing you did?  Work
  • What are you wearing? Clothes
  • Your TV? Off
  • Your pets? Sequestered
  • Your computer? Computing
  • Your mood? Exhausted
  • Missing someone? Yes
  • Your car?  Parked
  • Something you’re not wearing?  Hat
  • Favourite shop?  Hobby
  • Your summer? Short
  • Love someone?  Emphatically
  • Your favourite colour?  Green
  • When is the last time you laughed?  Earlier
  • Last time you cried?  Yesterday

Posted October 28, 2008 by padraic2112 in memes, noise

Just Look At This Place, It Looks Like A Damn Pigsty!   4 comments

From Megan and Ann, apparently today’s theme is workspaces… and since I’m busy manually installing three different machines that don’t fit under my normal support umbrella, there’s lots of time to blog between hitting “next”.

Disclaimer – every year, I end the summer season by cleaning out my office in preparation for the start of the fall term, which begins at the very end of September/beginning of October at Caltech.  Once term starts, everything goes to hell until, well… about now.  So what you are about to see is *not* indicative of my normal office surroundings.

I do tend to be more disorganized than Ann, but it’s not usually anywhere near this bad.  Of course, that just means that there’s lots of stuff to look at in the pictures…

Here is my office door, personalized according to geek systems administrator minimal requirements:

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons

The comics are a smattering of PhD, Order of the Stick, Wondermark, XKCD, and Dilbert (see the links page).  That’s the Onion article title “Study Reveals Pittsburg Unprepared For Full-Scale Zombie Attack” in the lower right.  My favorite Onion article, the Gillette Five Blades, is alas NSFW.

Here’s what my office looks like from the doorway:



You’ll get closeups following.  Here’s my desk:

Command And Control

Command And Control

Pictured: a professor’s new laptop (a 1420, currently being back-ported to XP, see the previous post), my kinesis keyboard, a wireless logitech mouse, and 22″ monitor hooked up to a RHEL box, a logitech web cam that only works under Windows, and my Fujitsu laptop running XP Tablet PC 2005.  The desktop (visible on the lower left) has a copy of When WIll Jesus Bring The Pork Chops sitting on top of Overcoming The Five Disfunctions of a Team.  Carlin’s book is subpar relative to his earlier stuff, but the Disfunctions book is stellar.  That’s a NiCad battery charger right about where my right foot would be if I was sitting at my desk in this picture.

Next up, just to the left of the desk, is a couple of file cabinets covered with stuff:

yeah, this needs to be reorganized

yeah, this needs to be reorganized

Scattered around in this photo: a USB DVD+/-RW drive, a jar of computer screws and jumpers, a pencil jar, spare hard drives, a box of crayons I keep forgetting to take home for Jack, a pile of Communications of the ACM magazines, a spindle of DVD-Rs, a pile of installation CDs that need to be put away, cleaning wipes for LCD flatpanels, a dozen gigs of RAM for various hardware platforms, and a copy of Tom Clancy’s Every Man A Tiger – the story of Chuck Horner, Air Force commander during Desert Storm.  For people critical of the current Iraq war, I recommend you read this book.

The whiteboard, just cleaned this morning coincidentally, with various to-do lists:



Just to the left of that, a machine setup/diagnosis minidesk:

beta quadrant

beta quadrant

Pictured here: a rat’s nest of cables necessary to connect a workstation to that monitor and one of the two keyboards on the desk (PS/2 and USB), a lab machine that’s currently being updated (see the to do list), my labeler, some canned air, and the tail end of my Giants pennant that I’ve had since I was about six.

Then a floor bookshelf:

archives (part I)

archives (part I)

Here we have various photos of my wife and family, a pile of IS-related schoolbooks on top of a broken laptop, more RAM, a hard drive that needs to be shipped back to Seagate, another laptop that needs a basic install, and all my old RPG rulebooks and Dragon magazines that I don’t have space to store at home.  At Caltech, they represent a badge of nerdiness that helps me to interact with the customer base.  Really.

Above that bookshelf, the wall-mounted one:

yes, I have a lot of books

yes, I have a lot of books

Bottom shelf, left to right: Windex and SImple Green (just out of frame) a jar of computer bits and pens, my undergraduate mathematics textbooks, a bunch of Linux and Windows related books, and on the far right a pile of ITIL framework books.  Middle shelf, left to right: delicate task wipes (just out of frame) – great for cleaning your glasses, btw – a collection of books about LaTeX, my old Windows 2000 Active Directory books from Microsoft Press, and about 80 meters of Cat 5e cable (with a bag of RJ-45 ends).  Top shelf, left to right: bins with various bits (these are actually labeled correctly and usefully), a Sega Genesis in the box (yes, it works), more delicate task wipes, and a Planters Peanuts jar full of cable ties.

Next, the corner before you get back to the door:

pandora's box


Here we’ve got a network protocol map (just for color), my minifridge (stocked with Fresca at the moment), a box that has a Nintento Game Cube and a bunch of additional game console crud in it, the computer bits cabinet filled with nice organized trays of spare parts, three dead rackmount servers, a tool kit bag (barely visible at the bottom there), my old 22″ monitor in a box going back to the factory for an RMA, and a CaseLogic binder filled full of driver CDs and recovery disks that I like to keep handy.

Finally, the last bit before you get back to the door:

archive (III)

archive (part III)

Here you can see the incredibly noisy fan I have to run all day in order to keep this office tolerable with multiple machines running, a dead computer that needs to go to e-waste (also on the to-do list), my Saitek joystick that I used to use when I played Battlefield 1942 six years ago, more spare hard drives, a pile of video cards, and hidden in the middle on the floor a quarter sized copy of the architectural drawings for the new IST building.

Needless to say, cleaning all this up is a huge project…

Posted October 24, 2008 by padraic2112 in memes, work

Installing Windows XP on a Dell Inspiron 1420 laptop   4 comments

My earlier post on how to roll-back-a-Dell-Inspiron-518-to-XP gets quite a few hits, so I’m adding this one for a different model.  Unlike the previous post, this one concerns a laptop, and requires a few additional steps.

To perform this install, you will need:

  • a USB floppy drive
  • a USB flash drive
  • an XP installation CD
  • a working network connection
  • patience

Boot your laptop into Vista, then launch the Control Panel, and make a note of the following devices if they’re different from what I have listed here:

  • Video Device (in my case, this is an Intel Mobile 965, XP driver available here, file name R181739.exe)
  • Intel Mobile Chipset (XP driver available here, file name R153997.exe)
  • Ricoh Chipset – media card (XP driver available here, file name R141246.exe)
  • Modem (in my case, this is a Conextant HDA D330 MDC V.92 Modem, XP driver available here, file name R167368.exe)
  • Modem Utility – optional (XP version of the utility available here, for that Conextant modem, file name R148605.exe)
  • Network Devices (in my case, this is a Broadcom Netlink Fast Ethernet, XP driver available here, file name R155246.exe)
  • WIreless Devices (in my case, this is a Dell Wireless 1395 WLAN Mini-Card, XP driver available here, file name Dell_multi-device_A17_R174291.exe)
  • Bluetooth Devices (in my case, this is a Dell Truemobile 355 Bluetooth, XP driver available here, file name R127314.exe) – this one is tricky, there’s no link to it on the Inspiron 1420 page.
  • Audio Devices (in my case, a Sigmatel 92xx, XP driver available here, file name R171789.exe)
  • Dell Touchpad (the default XP driver will work, but there is added functionality you can get with the Dell driver, XP driver available here, file name R165804.exe)

Then connect your laptop to the internet, and download all of those files, saving them to your USB flash drive.  You’ll need those later.  If you have devices other than these (there are a lot of different configurations for the 1420), you may need to find the XP drivers for those devices on the Dell Support website for the Inspiron 1420.  Note, however, that if you miss something this is not a terribly big deal, as long as you get the wireless or wired network drivers correct, you can always connect to the Dell Support website at that link *after* you’ve installed XP and find the driver for your mystery device.

Then you connect your USB floppy drive (you’ll also need a floppy, btw), and download the XP mass storage driver for your laptop from the Dell Support website.  Run the executable, and unpack the driver files to c:\temp\intel, and then copy the contents of that directory onto your floppy drive (, iaahci.inf,, iastor.sys, you don’t need the text files).  Then open your CD tray and insert your Windows XP installation CD.  Close the CD tray, and reboot your laptop.

At the BIOS loading screen, hit “F12” to pull up the boot order – the default is to boot from the hard drive.  Boot from the CD drive.  In a few seconds you’ll see “Hit any key to boot from CD…”, hit the keyboard (not too hard), and then the XP installation will begin.  At the bottom of the screen you’ll see “hit F6 to add a storage driver”, HIT F6.  The XP installation will load a few drivers, and then ask you if you want to add a storage driver.  Hit “S” to load the mass storage driver.  This will read the iastor file(s) off of the floppy drive, and prompt you with four options for mass storage drivers, two desktop drivers and two mobile ones.  Unless you’ve chosen two hard drives as an opion, you want the Mobile AHCI driver, not the RAID driver (you’ll get an error if you choose the RAID driver and you’ll need to start over).

Assuming you’ve gotten this far (it could fail if the floppy drive or disk is broken, and you’ll have to create a new floppy from inside Vista and start over), you’ll move on to the next step of the installation.  Blow away all of the existing partitions, unless you want to keep the Dell Diagnostic partition (it’s the smallest Fat32 one).  Then install XP following your normal XP installation guide (there’s a ton available on the Internet, I’m not going to write up a specific one here today).  After the installation is complete boot into XP, connect your flash drive, and install the XP drivers for all the devices that you downloaded above… then enable the firewall (if your XP installation disk is pre-SP2), connect the XP laptop to the Internet, and download the four gajillion XP patches and update your laptop.

Posted October 24, 2008 by padraic2112 in hardware, OS, tech, Windows

For VinMan   6 comments

Look what I found today, digging through an old pile of junk!

For the non-college friends… no, I didn’t draw this, it was a friend.  It’s an old, old joke.

Remember This?

Posted October 22, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise