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July 13th, 2006 - Adventures in Engineering — LiveJournal
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2006-07-13 17:32
  Subject:   "The Internets are not a truck - they're a series of tubes - big tangled tubes!"
Public


http://www.boingboing.net/2006/07/03/tshirt_design_the_in.html


Proudly presenting: the Sen. Stevens techno remix, aka "Why cooperating with The Governments is impossible." ;]

And The Daily Show is on the spot as always.

Some days I feel bad for poor, clueless legislators. Today... is just not one of those days. Heheh.

(Previously)

(Stolen from triggur)
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Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2006-07-13 19:03
  Subject:   [MeFi] The US Patent system is utterly broken.
Public

USPTO 708502000: A method and apparatus to perform efficient software-based integer division. The equivalent of a hardware-based integer division operation is enabled via a reciprocal multiplication operation that is facilitated by a minimum combination of multiplication (and/or add) and shift operations.

http://www.freshpatents.com/Method-and-apparatus-for-efficient-software-based-integer-division-dt20060504ptan20060095494.php


So, doing integer division by combining multiplication then bit shifting is about to be patented.


Is it... Obvious? Bleedingly.

Is it... Novel? About as novel as 4th grade math.

Is there... Prior Art? The first people to invent binary computer probably understood and used this trick, so that takes us back to Claude Shannon in, oh say 1937. And this trick was surely in use back in the 1970s as well. But if you're talking about documented uses, someone has already found a published article from 1991 that explained this technique. So that would be provable prior art from at least 15 years ago.


Being able to patent algorithms is wrong-headed, period. And Business Method patents (currently allowed) fall into the same category. If two people independently discover a series of steps to solve a problem, there is no reason the one who discovered it second should have to pay the one who discovered it first. You are not entitled to money just because you happened to be lucky and be the first to stumble across something. "Discoveries" aren't supposed to be patentable anyway - only actual inventions. Patents should only be granted on devices and aparatus. Never on ideas, algorithms, or business methods.

Patents are broken. Instead of encouraging innovation, they're preventing it. The only people getting rich off patents are patent lawyers. Nothing against patent lawyers - some of my friends, etc. But I abhor the necessity, especially when it's a transparently bad system that's hobbling the free market and being paid for out of everyone's tax dollars.
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Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2006-07-13 22:58
  Subject:   Modern agriculture would probably be unsustainable without oil.
Public

I’ve already mentioned that we humans take 40 percent of the globe’s primary productivity every year. You might have assumed we and our livestock eat our way through that volume, but this is not the case. Part of that total—almost a third of it—is the potential plant mass lost when forests are cleared for farming or when tropical rain forests are cut for grazing or when plows destroy the deep mat of prairie roots that held the whole business together, triggering erosion. The Dust Bowl was no accident of nature. A functioning grassland prairie produces more biomass each year than does even the most technologically advanced wheat field. The problem is, it’s mostly a form of grass and grass roots that humans can’t eat.

So we replace the prairie with our own preferred grass, wheat. Never mind that we feed most of our grain to livestock, and that livestock is perfectly content to eat native grass. And never mind that there likely were more bison produced naturally on the Great Plains before farming than all of beef farming raises in the same area today. Our ancestors found it preferable to pluck the energy from the ground and when it ran out, move on.

Today we do the same, only now when the vault is empty we fill it again with new energy in the form of oil-rich fertilizers. Oil is annual primary productivity stored as hydrocarbons, a trust fund of sorts, built up over many thousands of years. On average, it takes 5.5 gallons of fossil energy to restore a year’s worth of lost fertility to an acre of eroded land—in 1997 we burned through more than 400 years’ worth of ancient fossilized productivity, most of it from someplace else.


http://www.harpers.org/TheOilWeEat.html

Society is going to change drastically, perhaps fundamentally, when the oil finally runs out. Even now we expend 6 or 7 calories worth of transport energy (in the form of gasoline) to make and sell each single calorie of food. This is unsustainable in the long run if oil is a finite, non-renewable resource - which it is.
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