Defending Patents Against Patents

Some news in the tech patent world yesterday, where Jared Favole and Brent Kendall reported in the Washington Post (Obama Plans to Take Action Against Patent-Holding Firms) that

The White House on Tuesday plans to announce a set of executive actions President Barack Obama will take that are aimed at reining in certain patent-holding firms, known as “patent trolls” to their detractors, amid concerns that the firms are abusing the patent system and disrupting competition.

Mr. Obama’s actions, which include measures he wants Congress to consider, are intended to target firms that have forced technology companies, financial institutions and others into costly litigation to protect their products. These patent-holding firms amass portfolios of patents more to pursue licensing fees than to build new products.

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement


The Fairphone—A Good Start at Ethical Hardware

Casey Johnson at Ars Technica (“Fairphone” looks to give power back to customers):

The “Fairphone,” a phone that purports to approach smartphone design in the most ethical way possible from every conceivable angle, opened for preorders last Friday. The phone uses only conflict-free resources wherever possible, it has an open design, and it is marketed in a transparent way to customers.

Starting small.  Android only, Europe only, and about $400.  As a product, it probably won’t have a huge impact in and of itself. Hopefully it will serve as a very successful proof-of-concept that we can do tech in a way that both respects everyone involved (trying to improve practices along the way) and is financially viable.


© Fairphone

Ooops, I Did It Again! I’ll Never Get SEO Right…

I was just reading some advice on how to increase web traffic and make sure your blog gets noticed on search engines. I’ve been feeling guilty that now that I’m no longer Freshly Pressed, my little old blog doesn’t get more traffic.

The first rule seems to be using popular web keywords in the title and throughout the article. If you don’t use popular terms, then the site won’t be “search engine optimized” and no one will find it.

I’m in trouble. Somehow, I don’t think “cat piano,” Athanasius Kircher, Plato, or the year 1904 fit into the “hot keywords” category. Nor that Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure reference.

Do I need to write more columns about Justin Beiber and President Obama? Or do I just consider this a “first world problem” and get back to writing?

Things Are More Modern-er Than Before…It’s Computers!

After Apple’s most recent earnings call, the company’s stock fell and pundits began another round predictions about its immanent demise.

In response to the hyperbole and Chicken Little-ism, Sloan Schang wrote funny piece at The Bygone Bureau imagining what Jerry Seinfeld would have said if he was CFO of Apple. It ends with:

OK, I need to wrap this up. But first, raise your hand if you use a computer. That’s what I thought. Have you tried doing anything without a computer lately? It’s impossible. You want money from the bank? ATM computer. You want gas for your car? Pump computer. You looking for a news story explaining why your shares dropped 5% even though our gross margin was over 40%? Computer computer. You want to find out what you can do to shrink that eye pod? WebMD. Anyway I guess what I’m saying is, we’re in the right business, people.

Apple aside, that hits the hidden role of tech in the mundane right on the head.

Fighting Poverty by Removing the Extortionist (I Mean Legitimate Businessman)

From David Talbot at Technology Review, a brief story about how something that seems so simple can make such a big difference.  In India, hundreds of millions of people have essentially no access to basic banking and credit.

‘People who have no access to credit at all—like really small farmers—pay sometimes up to 10 percent per day. They literally take 100 rupees’ worth of goods from a vendor and have to give back 110 rupees in the evening. If they have even a tiny shock one day—a tiny accident—and can’t pay back the vendor, it is devastating.’ Around the world, she explained, ‘A lot of poverty comes from having not even the tiniest amount of financial slack.’

To address this need, folks from Xerox Research Center India have been developing banking kiosks that will be able to transcribe and translate written transaction slips, and then communicate with banks through low-bandwith satellite connections. Such a system could enable banks to establish presences in remote locations that are not served now, providing opportunities for people in the most tenuous situations a better chance at subsisting.  As Talbot put it:

If it works out, it means more farmers and would-be entrepreneurs can say “no thanks” to the local mafia charging ten percent a day.

This might mean that a lot of those lender/vendors may see their profits fall, but I’m ok with that. I like it when —metaphorically speaking—the hens get a bit more leverage against the wolf at the door.

Storms Take Down Tech, The Physical World Remains Relevant

A severe patch of storms that rumbled across the Eastern U.S. [on Friday night] — leaving [thirteen] people dead and millions without power — also disrupted an Amazon Web Services data center, affecting service for social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Netflix, which host their services at Amazon’s data centers.

Netflix and Pinterest had recovered most of their service by [Saturday] morning. The worst affected appeared to be Instagram — the Facebook-owned social photo-sharing service remained offline for many users as of this morning, and as of 11 am PT, it hadn’t updated users on its status since its initial service failure. Some users reported on Twitter that service had been restored for them, while others said it remained offline.

via Storm Knocks Out Amazon’s Power, Takes Down Instagram, Netflix.

There are lots of funny quotes floating around from people who found themselves unable to overcome the crushing boredom of down web services. For tech junkies, Barb Darrow had an interesting analysis of the outage for cloud subscribers over at GigaOm (including a link to her story about AWS outage two weeks ago). Four our part, we were awakened by the edges of these storms here in Philly on Friday night. Scary stuff here, so I can’t imagine the scene down there. And I wasn’t online, so didn’t notice any interruptions myself.


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