Gone Amok: Software Slide Lock Patent Wars

Software “locks” have been with us for years. In fact, they’re just digital child-proof safety cabinet latches.

Litigation over who can own and patent design concepts, even when centuries old, is completely out of control.

It’s instructive to glance at a quick Google search for “slide lock patent” — you’ll get over 4 million hits.

Almost every “object” in our modern software graphic user interfaces has an exact analog in the old-fashioned mechanical world of cabinets, drawers, handles, pulls, latches, catches, files, folders, desktops, and locks.

From today’s SlashDot:

“In a move that is likely to have wide-ranging implications for patent rulings around the world, a High Court Judge in the UK has ruled that HTC did not infringe on a number if Apple’s patents. ‘He said Apple’s slide-to-unlock feature was an “obvious” development in the light of a similar function on an earlier Swedish handset.’ Two other patents that Apple had claimed were infringed were ruled invalid, while a third was found not to apply to HTC. A statement from the Taiwanese firm said: ‘HTC is pleased with the ruling, which provides further confirmation that Apple’s claims against HTC are without merit. We remain disappointed that Apple continues to favour competition in the courtroom over competition in the marketplace.’ Apple declined to comment on the specifics of the case. Instead it re-issued an earlier statement, saying: ‘We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.’”

I’m not taking sides here, partly because Asia is notorious for disrespecting American software copyrights and patents. Mostly, on a deeper level, something is horribly out of control across both oceans. We’re all trying to patent drawer pull analogs and the “look and feel” of natural woodgrain laminates.

The evolution of the software slide lock has been long in coming. Its design purpose was to provide a protective control someplace in between completely open access and a compete userid/password lockdown. The idea is to prevent the user from accidentally triggering an action or changing a setting they didn’t intend to, without being overly intrusive.

  • DOS and Linux users will remember the ubiquitous command-line question “Are you sure (Y/N)?”
  • Mac and Windows users will remember the old two-button “dialog boxes” that used to pop up, asking us, “You are about to permanently change your Administrator Password,” presenting the iconic “OK” and Cancel buttons.
  • Since Snow Leopard or somewhat before, Apple had adopted a graphic symbol of a tiny padlock. You had to click that symbol before you could change a user setting or preference. You could click the symbol again to re-lock.
  • Currently I see the new “slide locks”in the Apple Store, and on my iPad. Its larger size facilitates “gesture” inputs on touch-screens. The requirement that we intentionally slide a slider to unlock, further safeguards against unintentional unlocks on either smart devices or older Mac and PC mouse-click technologies.

There are many ways to write a better or faster algorithm, app or entire operating system. I strongly support copyrights and patents for original software code. I’ll grant there are few things more discouraging than writing a snazzy new software slide lock, only to see it go viral a few months later. We also saw these same issues back in the 1950′s as car manufacturers shamelessly copied styles from others, but we never saw Buick suing Lincoln or Packard because of the occasional, more-than-passing resemblances of their chromed front grilles.

Making litigation even more fractious is the fact that patent systems differ worldwide. The same infringement lawsuits must often be filed in China, Holland, the UK, Belgium, and the USA.

I suspect a solution will need an international consortium of legal and industrial cooperation. It may require complete removal of protection for purely cosmetic enhancements which intentionally mimic older mechanical hardware analogs. Or, it may evolve a new limited-term patent category for intangible puffery, say, for one year. That would allow some design exclusivity without stymieing creative design.

Let’s think one last time about the cabinet and furniture hardware industry. For “pulls” – handles to open drawers, cabinet doors and the like – we can think of the hundreds and hundreds of available designs we’ve seen. Chromed. Brass. Round. Square Ornate old English, Scandinavian minimalist, and on and on. The older we are, the more designs we can remember. And then there are the matching hinges – concealed, ornate, heavy-duty, and so forth. How far should laws allow the patent system to go?

The basic design process was all the same: start with a mechanical drawing or wax sculpture. Make a die or investment casting. Stamp or cast them out by the hundreds of thousands, in catalogs featuring thousands of different designs. If we’d opened all those designs up to the patent and litigation process, would we ever have made it into the 21st century? Whether fabricated by investment casting or software subroutines, They’re all just handles, latches, pulls, and locks.

We need to clean up our byzantine, gone-amok legal systems that determine what can be patented, not to mention freeing up choked worldwide legal systems which really should be deploying their resources on much more pressing concerns.

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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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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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Great First Impressions of iPad2

I ordered my own iPad2 on Wednesday October 5. I only found out later in the day that Steve Jobs had just died.

We’ve all had a chance to review his life on TV newscasts, TV specials, online articles and analyses, and tributes. The number of tributes exceeded anything I hoped for or expected. Even at news sources I normally distrust, coverage was positive yet balanced and told a remarkable story that will be retold many more times in coming decades. I think iPad2 turned out to be a brilliantly fitting way to launch the post-Jobs era. It embodies all the design elegance, under-the-hood power and user-friendly simplicity he devoted his life to.

October 17 NEW YORKERToo few of us read and enjoy The New Yorker perhaps, but as one dedicated fan of that magazine, I can recommend their October 17, 2011 online article “How Steve Jobs Changed,” by James Surowiecki. Surowiecki is an accomplished writer and financial analyst who writes the magazine’s The Financial Page. Read Surowiecki article

But this post is about my first impressions of my iPad, even though its rationale is for me closely connected to reading my weekly The New Yorker on iPad and, eventually, all my other periodicals.

I was introduced to my first hands-on iPad experience by a friend whose eyesight issues may be worse than my own. He bought iPad to help rectify that. I find myself limiting reading sessions with print periodicals, either because of poor-quality newsprint, or lighting and glare issues with high-quality glossy magazine pages such as are mailed to me by The New Yorker and National Geographic. My friend says he can’t read a regular newspaper at all any more. I get all my in-depth news online, and for free, at sources such as BBC, Huffington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, PolitiFact and MarketWatch.

I’m fine with reading news on computer flat-screen panels. But I never cared for being chained to a computer chair to read books or magazines at length. I’ve already started downloading my The New Yorker issues to iPad, and find them eminently easier to read and navigate than those paper editions. This is a vast improvement over early industry efforts to find a suitable ebook format for periodicals.

I ordered the basic 16GB Wi-Fi model iPad. I don’t have 3G on my Verizon account and I’m unwilling to pay the monthly charges for it. 3G is great for iPhone, perhaps, and for people always on the go. Even if 3G was free, my lifestyle is such that I’d seldom be in a location where I’d have any need for it. Obviously, if you are “mobile” – move around a lot away from home and take your devices with you – the Wi-Fi + 3G model would be best for you. Continue reading

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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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BIOS & Conclusion: Multiple Causes

Welcome to Comcast browser greeting

unwelcome Welcome to Comcast (click image)

This concludes the saga of “BIOS Won’t Boot“, a most unfortunate sequence of events occurring on April 1 (yes). The story was posted here April 8.

On April 11, Sunday afternoon, the second day of my return from Phoenix, you couldn’t tell there had ever been any issue(s) on my Castro Valley machines, and I didn’t have to spend a nickel to replace any hardware, either. It’s always nice to have the spare 3V CR2032 BIOS battery I bought for this occasion in Phoenix, wouldn’t you think? But I didn’t need to use it.
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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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WordPress server on Mac localhost

First test WordPress installation on local Mac machine. Click image for 1024x768 view.

First test WordPress installation on local Mac machine. Click image for 1024×768 view.

Pictured above is a test WordPress installation running on a desktop Mac. It’s running under a free development environment for Mac called MAMP.  No internet connection or remote server uploads are involved at all.

WordPress is the popular free web blog engine that evolved into an excellent website platform. If the page pictured above looks familiar, that’s because Summitlake.com (and thousands of other sites) are running under WordPress. Continue reading

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Use Wireless Router as “Repeater” Station

I had seen mention on the internet that it was possible to use a wireless router on your home network without replacing the existing wired router-firewall and CAT5 installation. Most of my machines are already wired into my “blue cable” ethernet LAN (which is much faster).

Unlike an earlier experiment a few years back, this router had excellent range. It’s an ASUS WL-520GU broad range wireless router I picked up on the cheap on a whim at a NewEgg sale, but I never spent the time to try to work through the setup. Continue reading

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