2007-06-22

Abandon patents!

Emily sent me an article on GM crops which at first plunged me into confusion. I find the whole GM thing very complicated and hard to think about. Then it struck me that the whole situation would be simplified and improved if the idea of patents were abolished.

One of the dangers of GM is that the GM companies own the patents surrounding the technology, and can lock farmers into a monopoly arrangement. This is analogous to the software world where 'proprietary lock-in' means the customer is forced to deal with only one vendor. I think it's clear that software patents should be abolished, but maybe all patents should be abolished!

2007-06-21

Player of Games

I found out that Janos was a fan of Iain Banks. I asked him, 'what's your favourite Banks sci-fi book then?', he said it was Player of Games. I thought I'd read them all, but when he outlined the plot I realized I hadn't. Excellent!

PoG is an excellent book, second only to Use of Weapons in the Banks oevre. There's no tedious navel gazing, no wasted words, the tension is maintained throughout. Brilliant insights into the relationship between humans and other sentient machines. I think the best writing is where the author has a lot to say, and a relatively short space to write it. That isn't to say I'm blindly in favour of short books. As Einstein said about scientific theories, they should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. In fact this maxim also applies to software.

PoG was written in 1989, and as I was reading it I was listening to a Pixies best-of CD, which I remember from the early 90s. I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia for the days of listening to the Pixies at my friend's house while we played snooker (he always won).

Anyway, I think Banks has played Risk and games like it. They're a feature of his writing, and he writes well about them. Does anyone want a game of Risk?

2007-06-18

The Seymour Tapes

I saw Tim Lott on tv once, he was taking part in a discussion on one of those arts review programmes. He dominated the argument, talking forcefully, almost agressively. Armando Iannucci was there (seemed a bit unsure of himself) and also Andrew Davies. Davies was Lott's main opponent, but no match for him.

In The Seymour Tapes, Lott writes about a bloke who secretly films his family. At one point he had a dilemma in that he saw a misdemeanor by his child, but couldn't confront him with the evidence because that would reveal how he obtained it.

This is similar to the government's problem with phone tap evidence. In the government's case they should either do nothing, or they should go ahead and present the evidence.

2007-06-16

A Graveyard for Lunatics

I fancied reading one of Malcolm Bradbury's campus novels, but what caught my eye in Bath Central Library was Ray Bradbury's A Graveyard For Lunatics.

Ages ago in the summer, probably 1992, Steve from Uni invited me out to his parents' house in France. There were two books there that I read, Whitley Strieber's Communion and a book of short stories by Ray Bradbury.

A Graveyard For Lunatics is written in a theatrical manner, where all emotion is exagerated, characters are extreme, and events move much faster than in real life. It's set in the 1950s and I think Bradbury is old enough to remember that era. The frenetic, knockabout dialogue doesn't to me have the ring of the 1950s, but what do I know? I'd have said Catcher in the Rye sounded too modern but it was actually written round about then wasn't it?

I have one query about the plot. Why didn't they go and see the 'blind' woman who was with the beast at the restaurant straight away?

Which reminds me of a plot flaw in 28 Weeks Later. Have you seen that film? It's great! The problem is, when the father comes to see his wife when she is strapped down in the hospital, there is *nobody* guarding her, and no nurses in attendance!

2007-06-14

Corporations are amoral...and that's ok

I intended to write how corporations are amoral and only concerned with profit, and this isn't a bad thing. Corporations are best seen as a force of nature like the sea. We rightly compel corporations to follow laws, and it's the laws that convey our morality, and the laws that channel this force of nature for society's benefit.

However, Terry Macalister's article, 'In it for the money' says it much better than I can.

2007-06-10

Public Transport 2.0

I've long been annoyed at how bad public transport is, and I've long been mulling over an idea to make it actually work. I've put up an article called Public Transport 2.0 explaining the idea. Let me know what you think.

2007-06-08

The limits of free speech

Andy left a comment on EU holocaust denial ban, that really posed the question: what, if any, are the limits of free speech? I remembered an interview with Noam Chomsky where he said:
In brief, speech should be protected up to participation in imminent criminal action. So if you and I go into a store to rob it, and I say "shoot," that's not protected.
I think I'll go with that.

2007-06-05

The Watcher

My friend Zoe moved house recently, and was offering people books that otherwise would be thrown out. One of the books I took was 'The Watcher' by Jane Palmer. I think I'm probably missing the point somewhat, but it read like a children's book. Not that that's a bad thing, but was it Palmer's intention?

It kept my attention engaged, and there were some genuinely humorous moments. At one point the android is reprimanded by its creator:

'You did nothing You are totally useless. You will dismantle yourself and cease functioning. You cannot even be trusted to collect elementary information about the planet.'

'I can walk under water. [...] And I've got a good job in the police force.'

One of the things I didn't like was the idea of people having spirits. It reminded me of the agent detection theory of God and spirits that I first read about in Stephen Pinker's 'How the Mind Works'.

del.icio.us

It seems a good idea to store your bookmarks on the web, then you always have them with you, whatever computer you're on. I had a look at bookmarking websites some time ago, and for some reason decided they weren't that good. Sarah at work got me thinking about them again so I signed up to del.icio.us. It's working well so far!

2007-06-03

Single sign-in for the web

One of the tiresome things about the web is remembering so many different usernames and passwords, and having to enter them all the time. Today I just signed up for an OpenId with MyOpenId.com. It'll mean that for participating web sites I'll only have to sign in once. Great!

There are a lot more opportunities that arise from having a web identity. I haven't really digested the implications yet...

2007-06-02

Should I sell my car?

My car sits in the garage unused. It's in good working order and I've got a licence to drive it, it's MOTed and insured and everything. I've got two reasons for selling:

1. My car runs on a fossil fuel and so contributes to global warming.
2. One could easily have (cause?) an accident.

and I've got two reasons for not selling:

1. Life requires the use of a car from time to time, and I'd inevitably end up getting lifts from other people and not be able to give them lifts in return. I'd feel bad about that. Yes, I could always hire a car, but that would rule out spur of the moment trips, which is one of the joys of driving.

2. Everything involves risk, and I don't want to fall victim to the runaway train fallacy.

I think that since my car is unused it means I've already made up my mind. Now it's just wasting money.