Do Juries Have No Place In the Patent System?

I read a proposal today that essentially suggests taking expensive patent trials (a la Apple-Samsung) out of the jury system, putting these disputes into the loving hands of an “expert tribunal” instead.

Readers are free to check their own resources and form their own conclusions. Below is my own comment, which I posted to GigaOM.com today. It is still in the moderation queue – a necessary evil these days – but I felt it worth repeating.

I think the proposal to replace juries with a tribunal of experts in patent disputes is more dangerous than the ills it proposes to remedy. (1) the patent system is itself a legal process, and to exclude plaintiffs from due process would be wrong. (2) Empaneling a jury free of bias and susceptibility to being swayed is the job of the trial attorneys; (3) ”Experts” can be biased too, but there is no appeal from that, and (4) a panel of programmers would look at the code, determine that different subroutines and methods had been called, and conclude that therefore it is impossible that a look and feel issue could have been copied.”

– Alex Forbes

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LINKS:

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Playing .wmv Video Clips on a Mac

This is for Mac people who want to play those .wmv files we receive … I’m mostly on a Mac platform now, so I didn’t have a way to view Microsoft .wmv movie files on my Mac. Apple uses QuickTime. I had to port the movie over to my PC.

There is a $29 conversion utility by Flip4Mac for Mac QuickTime, but I never edit movie files. I found a free player-only version at Microsoft (embedded below), and it worked seamlessly for me. (Reboot your Mac after installation):

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Danger: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

We keep seeing articles about the new proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. I’ve long been opposed on principle to copyright piracy. As an author, webmaster and occasional utility software programmer, I have no sympathy for content pirates of any age or motivation. I agree that software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft are a serious worldwide problem. On the other hand, previous industry efforts to combat piracy have been anally self-serving at the expense of end users. They penalized legitimate consumers and distributors,. They were flagrantly draconian. So, now that Congress is trying to get into the act again, I finally decided to read up on SOPA.

This bill would allow copyright holders or the U.S. Justice Department to seek a court order which goes against internet providers (instead of just against individual offenders) when websites are accused of “enabling” copyright violations or counterfeited goods.

The bill does require a court order before enforcement of its provisions. But by all accounts the bill is poorly written and vaguely worded. So it should not be too hard to find sympathetic judges to issue those orders based on personal interpretations of loosely worded law.

One of my questions was: what would prevent copyright holders from seeking redress now? The Millennium Digital Copyright Act currently allows copyright holders to ask internet providers to take down specific content that’s in obvious violation of copyright law. In fairness, many providers view this as infringement of First Amendment rights, or an impossibly onerous burden of policing and adjudication, or both. Most would not be expected to be too cooperative with efforts to involve them in efforts to censor their subscribers’ content in any way. And they have a point. This kind of censorship, so prevalent in the far east and parts of the middle east, is used to strengthen totalitarian regimes and neutralize or eliminate dissent. It appears SOPA would partially dismantle protections for websites that act in good faith.

We should not miss noticing this is just a new example of one segment of our “free enterprise system” trying to legally ensnare another segment into doing its bidding.

SOPA advocates claim the bill is not aimed at sites like YouTube which host all manner of content (usually excerpted snippets) uploaded by the public. But, SOPA does not appear to have any protections that would prevent action against a site on the YouTube model if a plaintiff felt like it.

So it is strange indeed that the SOPA bill was introduced by Lamar S. Smith, Republican U.S. Representative from Texas. Smith’s own website prominently banners his aim of “lifting the burden of regulations that is strangling small businesses.”

The “counterfeited goods” provision is also interesting. It has nothing to do with online piracy as the public understands it; it has to do with the intellectual property of the pharmaceutical industry (drug patents), such as Pfizer, which is involved in committee hearings. SOPA could completely block U.S. citizens from gaining online access to Canadian and other international pharmaceutical sites. It is currently already illegal to ship prescription drugs from outside the U.S. whether or not a legitimate doctor’s prescription is supplied. SOPA could prevent you from even viewing those sites:

True censorship:

SOPA would allow judges to order internet service providers to block access to certain websites to customers located in the United States by checking those customers’ IP address, a method known as IP blocking. There have been concerns that such an order would require those providers to engage in “deep packet inspection”, which involves analyzing all of the content being transmitted to and from the user, and which could lead to an invasion of those customers’ privacy. — Wikipedia

When Congress placed new restrictions on fees banks could charge retailers for debit card usage, a Bank of America spokesman howled this was “unwarranted interference” with the bank’s ability to conduct its business. BofA then announced its intent to impose a $5 monthly “swipe fee” on its customers, but backed in face of a howl of public protest and boycotts.

The Republican Party, the party of favor for corporations and big business, has long charged moderates and liberals with exactly this kind of “unwarranted interference,” going so far as to claim Big Government is destroying America. Yet, where their own business and lobbying interests are concerned, conservatives and their sponsoring corporations are capable of being even more interventionist than their more moderate political opponents. SOPA isn’t just bad law. SOPA doesn’t actually accomplish what it claims to do. What it instead accomplishes is disturbing. It’s a stealth attack on freedom – a very dangerous thing for business, the country, and informed citizens of any political persuasion.

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Office Outlook 2011 for Mac Error Code -3176

Outlook cannot find the server. Verify the server information is entered correctly in the Account Settings, and that your DNS settings in the Network pane of System Preferences are correct. Error Code -3176

In researching this error I noted quite a bit of chatter from other Office for Mac users. Microsoft’s own support page for this issue was unhelpful. Google’s Help forum listed a similar issue but my problem was with my POP accounts, not with Google’s IMAP account. Solutions seemed in short supply. I had this problem on my MacBook Pro running Lion 10.7.2 – but not on my Mac Pro desktop with the same app, OS and settings.

Microsoft suggests checking to see you have an internet connection. If you are reading their web support page, they helpfully point out that you already do. They suggest checking your DNS setting in Networking, and rechecking your server and port settings in Outlook “Accounts.” All of mine were correct and agreed 100% with the Outlook for Mac 2011 settings on my Mac Pro.

My Apple MAIL works fine with the same settings. My settings also worked fine for years under Office 2007 and Windows 7.

Remember, this is Microsoft, not Apple. Others had tried all this without getting any closer to the problem.

I resolved my issue with what I call the “Dave Anguay Method.” Dave taught me this trick many years ago. He was setting up new networked workplace printers on our corporate PC laptops on a Windows server. If you can’t get the setting to work, don’t waste time asking your Administrator to “fix” it. Delete the bad account or connection, and re-add it.

I deleted my 3 inoperative POP mail accounts and re-added them manually. Everything works fine. Thanks again, Dave.

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Evernote – Remember Everything

Evernote is “a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving.” The corporation is described as a “Creator of a multi platform note taking application for mobile devices. The site include product information, a company blog, and support services.”

I am a great note–taker: to-do notes, checklists, reminders, dashed-out thoughts and drafts for that Great American Novel. As I use different machines for different locations and tasks, finding where I put that note is not always that easy. Yes, I do file syncs, but not every day. I also use (and thoroughly recommend) the indispensable Dropbox for Cloud file syncs across multiple devices and locations.

But I’ve wanted to get away from that text file syndrome for a long time. Individual text file notes are under-the-hood equivalents of Post-It Notes on the refrigerator. Notepads and note organizers have long been a dime a dozen. I even wrote a crude one in C once. Apps come and go so fast I went back to huge folders of text files back in the 1990′s.

I hope Evernote sticks around. I found it by accident in the Apple App Store, while looking for something compatible with the Notes app that comes on the iPad. I found Evernote instead, which is much, much more robust. It’s available for Mac, PC and mobile devices: iPad, iPhone, Blackberry and DROID. I now have it on all my computers. Best of all, they all talk to one another via the Cloud. No more file syncs, no more lost notes. This isn’t a full review, but …

I’m already awarding it Summitlake’s Five Stars. Five stars

As I wrote a nephew,

This app is VERY cool. Free. Check it out!

http://www.evernote.com/

I have it installed on iMac, Mac, PC, and iPad. Everything autosyncs on their private Cloud. You can also access your notes on a secure web page. No more file transfers. Notes, pictures, even audio I think. Creditable text editor. Reminders, lists, Great American Novel. Not recommended for bank and credit account numbers :-) Organize by multiple Notebooks.

And I hope you’ll check it out too. Below is a screen shot of my app (Grabbed on the iMac) with my starter set of my own notes. A place for everything at last, and everything in its place. You can subcategorize your notes by Notebooks, and you can create as many of then as you want. You can access the same notes in the same format anywhere on any machine or platform, and you can also access your notes on the Web. You can export backups of your notebooks to the local hard drive.

Users are even assigned a free individual email address which will post directly to your free Evernote account. And so you will still find it on any one of your Evernote machine or device installations next time you open Evernote. Not bad for a free app.  This app (and the services behind it) are certainly worth a bona fide retail price.  I can’t even find where I might send a PayPal donation. I think the implementation of this idea is pure genius. Cheers!

Evernote

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Steve Jobs: The Man Who Changed Everything

In my Wednesday October 5th memorial article I said a few words for Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak brought personal computing out of the science labs and back offices and into average American homes in the 1970′s. The Macintosh, a brilliant synergy of great hardware and a user-friendly software interface, created a sea change in home computing which still raises our expectations today.

As I predicted in that article, only days after the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs, even hardball political commentary broadcasts like Inside Washington were rediscovering how many ways Steve Jobs will continue to influence how we conduct our daily lives. One commentator said that people who used to read real newspapers and real magazines now read the online edition on their iPad. I’d like to take that a step further and say I know people who never used to read real newspapers or real magazines, who’ve started devouring serious professional news resources on their laptops and iPads.

It really doesn’t matter if one does or doesn’t “like” Apple. Some of us have a contrarian distrust of anything that becomes too iconic, too popular, or attracts anything that smells like a cult. Some people may feel all the credit given to Jobs somehow diminishes the real innovations of the many others in other competitive industries. And of course most homes, and the entire business community, still run on the Windows platform. Continue reading

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Graphic Converter for Mac

Graphic Converter for Mac -  5 Star Rating - Summitlake Consumer pagefive stars

Back in the dawn of digital photography in the 1990′s , we used to send film to Seattle Filmworks for processing. By return US mail we’d get back negatives, prints and a floppy disk of images in a proprietary compression file format called .SFW. With the included software, one could save those as JPG images. They were pretty crude digital images – to fit on a floppy disk, they had to be! With prints and negatives long misplaced, these images are often the only surviving photographic records of a decade of our lives.

Recently I discovered many of those old JPG images had become corrupted. Photoshop couldn’t open them. Photoshop couldn’t open the .SFW source files, either. This is like losing a piece of one’s family history. I began my web search for a solution. The old Seattle Filmworks software may still be available, but it hasn’t been supported since Windows 98.

To my utter surprise, I found that an application called Graphic Converter. Graphic Converter? That’s like locating an old friend you lose track of a decade ago. I used to use it on the Mac. I purchased it and installed it on my Mac Pro and recovered all my files.

Graphic Converter is an extraordinarily powerful and intuitive imaging software app. It does anything and everything one needs to work with images: edit, crop, color balance, file conversion, slide show, and much more. If I’d realized it was available and still being improved, I’d never have bought Adobe Photoshop Elements for Mac, which costs three times as much.

The new Graphic Converter is even more powerful and intuitively engineered than before. It was the ONE app I truly missed when I left Mac for Windows in 1997 (not returning to Mac until 2009). I was so happy with the new product I wrote Lemke Software to express my delight. App creator and software designer Thorsten Lemke wrote back from Germany asking if he could use my letter of thanks on his Customer Statements page. Of course he could – it’s the least I can do. Below is an excerpt from my letter of thanks for such a fine software product.

This is just a note of thanks for a great product. I used Graphic Converter from about 1995 to 1997 and it was the best Mac app I ever used… I didn’t have to use a manual or Help file to do it. Graphic Converter is as logically designed as ever! It is also the only product other than Photoshop I have ever trusted to edit my photo images, and your product performs a lot of functions Adobe doesn’t.”

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Random Header Images

Random header images have returned to our Summitlake.com Home Page. That’s the page-wide banner image at page top. Home page visitors see a new image with each visit. We select these at random from a collection of about 40 custom images. I created these from my library of personal photos, including many not posted elsewhere. Visitors to other departments continue to get a static image (it never changes) which helps visually to determine what department we’re currently viewing. The rest of this article contains an image displaying what those iconic department images look like, and technical details mostly of interest to WordPress geeks.

I hope you enjoy the 40 or so new custom Home Page header images. I created them new from Photoshop crops of the my favorite personal library images.

The image below displays the static banner header images for our nine satellite “departments”. The Astronomy header photo is from a NASA image of the Helix Nebula. All other banners currently used on this site are crops from personal digital photographs and 35mm slide scans. (No image is shown below for HOME as it’s the department with rotating random images.) All personal images are copyright, so it would not be cricket to post these images elsewhere.

Department Banners

Department Banners

Random banner images are built into WordPress as of version 3.2, eliminating the need for custom programs and plug-ins.

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SPAM: “Adobe” Reader emails

I recently received an email from a friend: Good morning Al: How important would it be for me to download this? Do I really need it?

A non-clickable image of the “Adobe” email follows. See how many things you can find wrong with it! Below the picture, you’ll find my answer to this common question.

Bogus upgrade invitation (picture)

If this email were real, you wouldn't want to click any links it contained!

Good morning!

The short answer is, no. The email you received is SPAM, or worse :-( so hope you did not click that link! (If you did, run your anti-virus program!)

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BIOS Won’t Boot!

I’m in Phoenix at the moment, returning to the Bay Area tomorrow. I’m staring at my newly rebuilt Windows 7-64 PC, which is working great. It’s dawning on me that when I shut it down tonight I won’t need to say good-bye. Taxes are due in a week and my PC up north died.

I’ll be packing the car tonight for the drive north. In addition to the usual travel stuff,  I’m packing (1) a CR2032 3V Lithium CMOS battery, and (2) this PC. I just lugged this PC down here to Phoenix last month. Since I’m moving here soon anyway, lugging the PC back north with me just seems counter-intuitive.

Yes, I also have a fast Mac Pro up north, but all my tax stuff is on the PC.

Usually, when I post one of these “this happened to me” articles, there’s a moral to the story. In this case, I don’t know what it is yet. The PC failed just when I had to get a night’s rest for an early morning drive south. If I had to guess what the moral of the story will turn out to be, NOT forcing Windows shutdown with the Power Button would be high on my list!

Here’s the story (or what I know of it so far), excerpted from a letter to a friend. There’ll be a follow-up post once I do the diagnostics and fix the problem with whatever it takes.

I have a new Windows7-64 up north too, and I love it, but I may have to do all that over again too, if not very lucky, as soon as I get back next Friday.

Less than 12 hours before I had to leave for Phoenix, I was on the phone with Comcast cable/internet to get them to reset my new modem again. Some browser intercept feature of theirs was hijacking my browser on all 3 CA machines – a Mac and two PC’s.

Their tech guy reset the modem, got customer service to update something or other that should make the “hijack” screen go away, and he had me shut down and reboot the machines. This fixed the problem in the Mac and the old XP machine. The Win-7 machine refused to shut down. After several minutes, I forced it off with the 5-second Power Button trick. I don’t like to do that, and normally don’t.
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