The Smorgasbord
Monday, 9. May 2005
I love my India

I just read this AP report. I still haven't recovered.

Only a quarter of condoms made in India are used for sex, most of the others are used to make saris, toys and bathroom slippers, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

The condoms are valuable to manufacturers because of the lubricant on them. Sari weavers place the condoms on their thread spools and the lubricant on the prophylactics is rubbed off on the thread, making it move faster through their sewing machines, the newspaper quoted an Indian industry official as saying.

Sari makers also turn the condom's inside out, place them on their fingers and use the high-quality lubricant to polish gold and silver threads used in the traditional Indian women's outfits. India manufactures more than 1 billion condoms annually to check population growth and curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

... Link

Thursday, 5. May 2005
A case for Semaphores

Jeremy Stribling was in the news recently because he pulled a hideously funny prank. His story kicks off when Stribling, a computer science student at MIT, was invited to speak at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI). Much as the conference sounded impressive and the delegates heavy weights, Stribling figured something was not right. Working on a hunch, he teamed up with two friends and created a piece of software that generates gibberish while sounding sufficiently scientific.

The outcome was Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy.

No prizes for guessing. The tub of crock was accepted and the organizers wrote in asking Stribling to make a presentation.

That was all the evidence Stribling needed to prove this conference only pandered to the delegates' vanity. He didn't waste much time in letting the media know what rubbish passed off in the guise of academia. To make matters worse for the organizers, he put the software online. I'm not sure what the fate of the conference is. But from whatever I've read in various reports, the organizers have ducked for cover.

Incidentally, when I tried out the software, here's what it came up with:
'A case for Semaphores' by Charles Assisi, Marco D'Souza and Sveta Basraon.

Abstract: Compact modalities and Scheme have garnered minimal interest from both security experts and cryptographers in the last several years. Given the current status of pervasive modalities, biologists compellingly desire the emulation of fi ber-optic cables, which embodies the appropriate principles of operating systems. In this paper, we verify that despite the fact that SMPs and scatter/gather I/O are rarely incompatible, the well-known heterogeneous algorithm for the improvement of the Turing machine is optimal.
Interested? Try this link

That pretty much explains why I've stopped attending conferences. The monotony apart, the whole thing fits into an incestuous cycle.

Smart alecky venture capitalist/investment banker makes presentation on one of the following - India will be the center of the world by 2010 creating 500 million jobs and $10 trillion or some such arbitrary number, or - How to leverage core competencies by utilizing BPOs effectively or some such assorted rubbish

Idiots in the audience raise their hand and ask inane questions. If the speaker is a fi rangi, questions are fired in a faux Punjabi/Gujarati/Tamil-Bay Area accent.

The media jots all of this diligently and reports the next day of how Indian IT is conquering the world. Idiots in the conference read these reports and feel good they were there. The VCs and investment bankers smirk at having taken everybody for a ride. And the reporters gather at the Press Club every weekend to exchange notes on who was the stupidest of them all.

I say, give me the New Economy Bullshit Generator any day. Available on bullshit.html, I've been a regular here for a few years now. Each time you click on 'Make Bullshit', it generates lines I can swear I have heard over the years. Sample this: 'syndicate real-time schemas', 'empower robust web services', 'benchmark vertical infrastructures', 'transition revolutionary schemas', 'incubate out-ofthe-box markets', 'redefine bleeding-edge paradigms','productize ubiquitous applications'.

Déjà vu anyone?

... Link

Wednesday, 4. May 2005
Patently Absurd

Early in April, the Indian Parliament voted to drop an incredibly stupid clause from the Patents Bill, 2005. This clause, if passed, would have allowed software companies to own patents in India.

So what’s wrong with software patents, you may wonder? Isn’t it much the same as copyrights? It isn’t. Allow me to use an analogy to explain why the idea is a stupid one. Imagine me strolling over to the patents office tomorrow with a battery of lawyers. My team and I convince the officers there that I, at CHIP, originally thought up a computer magazine and ought to own a patent to it. The officers are convinced and award me one.

Having done that, I walk over to my competitor’s offices and tell them that by running a computer magazine, they are violating patent laws. So, either they shut down, or create a clone of what I have and pay me royalties. If I tried something as asinine as that, either the competition or you will lynch me.

Precisely the reason why music, literature, art and software programs were traditionally not awarded patents. What they have instead are copyrights. Which is why, Mark Twain could not patent humorous fiction. If he did, we wouldn’t have had P.G. Wodehouse.

Why then in the devil’s name are America and a handful of software companies like Microsoft lobbying so hard for software patents?

The earliest recollection I have of software patents and the furor that followed was August 1999. That was when Refac International sued six companies including Microsoft and Lotus for infringements. Refac argued in court that it owned patents to a process called ‘natural order recalc.’ What this process does is common place in spreadsheet software. When you make a change in a calculation on a spreadsheet, the change is applied throughout the document. That was the first time software developers figured that patents could exist on everything from sequences of machine instructions to features of the user interface. The courts predictably threw the suit out and life got back to normal.

The idea though refused to die and has raised its head often enough on various occasions. The most recent ones being when staked is claim to cookies - those little pieces of code that reside on your machine to help sites identify you when you visit them. The resulting public outcry forced Amazon to back off. And then there was the celebrated case when British Telecom made an outrageous claim that it owned hyperlinks on the Internet and that anybody using hyperlinks ought to pay them royalties.

What terrifies me now is that Europe is wilting under pressure and after having resisted for so long is warming up to the idea.

Take my word on this - if patents are allowed, software development as we know it now will simply cease to exist.

At times like these, I wish the Americans and Europeans had Leftist parties in their parliaments like we do. Had it not been for them, we would have gone the patents way.

And no, I’m not a Leftist. I am a social democrat with libertarian principles.

... Link

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