Monthly Archives: March 2010


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Tokbox gets super-sized group video meetings

Video chat service Tokbox is launching a new meeting service that lets businesses and large groups set up large-scale group chats.

Originally posted at Web Crawler

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Inventor Claims He Got Patent 20 Years After Filing… But Details Missing

Samkash sends over an odd story out of the Houston Chronicle, concerning an 82-year-old physicist named Roy Weinstein, who supposedly received a patent 20 years and three days after he applied for it on a type of “super magnet.” There’s an awful lot about the story that doesn’t seem to add up, however. At first, I thought that the patent couldn’t even be valid, because patents today expire exactly twenty years after they’re filed. So a patent granted 20 years and three days after filing would, amusingly, have expired three days before it was granted (figure that out!). Except… then I remember that this only applies to patents filed after 1995. If I remember correctly, patents filed before that are given 17 years from when they’re granted. So, it’s entirely possible, if improbable, that the patent was granted and is now valid.

So I went looking for the patent… and I can’t find it (Updated below). Perhaps someone with better tools and experience can find it, but I’ve got nothing. According to the article, the patent was applied for in 1990 and then granted on February 23, 2010. But if you do a search for Roy Weinstein, you get three main results. One is a patent that was applied for in 1991 (5,289,150), but the inventor on that patent isn’t Weinstein, but another guy named Mario Rabinowitz. It just cites the work that Weinstein has done in passing. Also, that patent was granted back in 1994. So that’s not it. I’ve found three other patents that do list Weinstein as the inventor (6083885, 6525002 and 7026271), but those were filed for in 1998, 2000 and 2003, and all issued anywhere from one and a half to three and a half years after being filed.

I can’t find any patent that Weinstein applied for in 1990 or that was granted in 2010 — though, again, it is entirely possible that I am missing something. Thanks to Greg Fenton for pointing out the actual patent, 7,667,562. If you go into PAIR and search on that patent (tragically, and for no clear reason, the USPTO does not let you link directly to PAIR results) you can search on that patent and see the long, drawn out history of that patent. It shows just how many times patent examiners rejected the patent. Over and over and over again.

But the story continues to be bizarre. According to the article:

The patent lets Weinstein move forward with commercial development of his supermagnets that, when chilled to super-low temperatures, can produce a field with the strength of 2 tesla, billions of times stronger than the magnet on your refrigerator.

Weinstein’s magnets are about the size of a stack of five dimes, weigh an ounce, and cost $300. Commercially available electromagnets that can produce a comparable magnetic field weigh two tons and cost $60,000 to $100,000, he says.

The implication here, of course, is that for the past 20 years, this technology could not have been commercialized without the patent — but that’s ridiculous. Of course you can commercialize without a patent, and if the cost savings are really so incredible, there would have been tons of ways to make money, even sans patent. On top of that, it sounds like his other patents may be in the same basic field, so if he was really worried about protection, why not use those patents as well? But the whole claim that he couldn’t commercialize for all this time just doesn’t add up. And, frankly, if it’s true that he decided to not do anything with this supposedly amazing technology just because he couldn’t get a patent on it, it would make him an incredibly spiteful man to purposely deny the world some useful technology.

Weinstein said he is developing a $7 million agreement with Round Rock-based TECO-Westinghouse Motor Co. to construct a 1 megawatt motor that will be a prototype for a 10 megawatt version. The company declined comment.

I’ve done plenty of business deals in my time, and I’ve never heard of anyone publicly announcing to the press the terms of a deal before the deal was signed — especially a deal like a $7 million agreement with a single inventor. Perhaps such a deal is being worked on, but let’s see what actually comes out of the negotiations first.

The story also claims that the patent only got approved when Roy’s son started schmoozing the patent examiner in question, and apparently wore him down on the idea that the idea may have been obvious considering how many products already used similar technologies:

Instead of communicating by letters, Lee Weinstein called the patent examiner directly and struck up a relationship. He assuaged the examiner’s concerns that a patent for the magnet would cover too many existing technologies and might restrict billions of dollars in trade.

“To be honest, this is an area of science that almost certainly a patent examiner wouldn’t understand,” Lee Weinstein said. “It’s deep physics. I tried to help him understand that by granting a claim this wasn’t reaching out and covering some technology it shouldn’t cover.”

This seems rather insulting to the patent examiner in question, but also highlights how if you talk a good game, apparently the USPTO is willing to grant you patents.

Anyway, it seems like there are lots of holes in this story. Hopefully someone can point us to the patent, and maybe we can look over its history in the USPTO’s PAIR system — but I’m still at a loss as to why the lack of a patent meant the technology couldn’t be commercialized.

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YouTube’s big redesign goes live to everyone

January redesign test going out live to all on Wednesday. The new look simplifies things, while making some fundamental changes to how the site works.

Originally posted at Web Crawler

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The Patent System Does Not Scale

For the past five years, one of the points we’ve raised repeatedly in discussing the problems with the patent system is the simple fact that patent examiners don’t scale. The system we have today where every invention needs to be reviewed and approved by examiners at the Patent Office is inherently unsustainable given the general pace of innovation, which increases rapidly. And for a patent office to actually handle that kind of thing, it would need to keep increasing its staffing levels, while hiring the absolute top of the top. That’s simply impossible. Honestly, the very idea that you would have a group of people “certifying” every invention is pretty absurd when you think about it — and it’s a point we’ve brought up a few more times over the years, because it’s important, and doesn’t get much attention.

So, it’s great to see others are starting to make this point as well. Red Monk analyst Stephen O’Grady has a great post explaining that it’s because of that scalability issue, that he’s against software patents (he limits it to software given that being his own experience area):

The reason I am against software patents is, by contrast, very simple. It’s not rooted in philosophy, it doesn’t involve theories of good or evil; it’s not even about debating what is likely to spur more or less innovation.

I am against software patents because it is not reasonable to expect that the current patent system, nor even one designed to improve or replace it, will ever be able to accurately determine what might be considered legitimately patentable from the overwhelming volume of innovations in software. Even the most trivial of software applications involves hundreds, potentially thousands of design decisions which might be considered by those aggressively seeking patents as potentially protectable inventions. If even the most basic elements of these are patentable, as they are currently, the patent system will be fundamentally unable to scale to meet that demand. As it is today.

In addition to questions of volume are issues of expertise; for some of the proposed inventions, there may only be a handful of people in the world qualified to actually make a judgment on whether a development is sufficiently innovative so as to justify a patent. None of those people, presumably, will be employed by the patent office. Nor are the incentives for fact witnesses remotely sufficient. Nor will two developers always come to the same conclusions as to the degree to which a given invention is unique….

If we acknowledge that this is the case, which I believe one must if the available evidence is considered, then it is no longer possible — whatever your philosophical viewpoint — to be in favor of software patents.

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Sony Deletes Feature On PS3’s; You Don’t Own What You Thought You Bought

It used to be when you bought a product, you owned it. Simple, right? And once you owned it, you could do what you want with it? But, lately, thanks to digital products and an always connected world, many companies have changed things around — so the products you thought you owned, you actually rent. But, it can go even further than that, where a product you thought you owned can be irrevocably changed without your permission, long after you bought it. Take, for example, the recent story of Sony deleting a feature on the PS3 that let users (not owners, apparently) install other operating systems, such as Linux. It’s going away. Sony announced that when the next PS3 firmware upgrade comes along, it’ll wipe out this feature, whether you used it or not. The only way to avoid that is not to upgrade, but that will also greatly limit what you can do with your PS3.

So why is Sony retroactively taking away a feature that it sold to people? Apparently because some people might possibly use it in a way that Sony didn’t intend. The EFF has the whole backstory:

The backstory is that Sony provided the Other OS feature in order to support IBM’s Cell Project, which produced the PS3’s CPU and made it practical to use PS3 consoles as compute nodes for a scientific supercomputer. The U.S. Army did just that, buying more than 2,000 PS3s to build a supercomputer. Lots of hobbyists also made use of the Other OS feature, using it to write their own games and creatively repurpose their PS3s.

Recently, however, a hobbyist named Geohot announced that he was able to use the Other OS feature along with a bit of soldering in a manner that gave him more control over the PS3 hardware than Sony had intended. Sony responded with the “upgrade” that removes the Other OS feature.

This is, frankly, obnoxious — and I half wonder if there will be a lawsuit over this. People were sold one thing and then Sony retroactively decided to take away a feature that some found quite useful However, I imagine that in a world of interconnected devices, stories like this are going to become more common. Isn’t it time that someone created a movement to highlight what products you actually own once you’ve bought them?

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Paywall/Open Debate Applied To University Education As Well

DV Henkel-Wallace writes

“The New York Times has a good article about Open Courseware (how universities are putting their material online for anyone to use as they see fit). Unusually, the article has an accurate and pithy summary of how the movement started and evolved. It is still a little incredulous that such a thing can really exist (“On a philosophical level, the idea of making money from something available free might seem questionable.”). But it is clear: a little ecosystem is building around this educational material.

What’s most interesting, is how the same arguments that have already arisen around the “big data” areas like music, film and news appear in this smaller area as well. When MIT launched OCW, they directly addressed the CwF+RtB issues by pointing out that people attend schools for additional reasons than just the syllabus. But some people still don’t get it: a professor from the Tuck School of Business still feels that putting the syllabus out there will let the magic out, claiming that it’s “obvious” that an “exclusive experience” is appropriate.

The best quote: “It’s pretty hard to imagine how an elite institution like us or like Harvard or Stanford or any of the other top schools would stay in business if they didn’t have some aspect of the program that was still relatively complicated and difficult to get to,” Mr. Argenti said. And thus they lock some of their content behind a pay wall.

Perhaps they should do a case study of the newspapers and how the pay walls have worked out for them.”

DV’s summary above is great, but I wanted to highlight one more specific point from the article, which is a quote from James D. Yager, a dean at Johns Hopkins University, who basically presents the other side of the story from Professor Argenti, by actually articulating the difference between the content (infinite) and all of the scarcities that the content makes more valuable:

“We don’t offer the course for free, we offer the content for free,” Mr. Yager said by telephone in February. “Students take courses because they want interaction with faculty, they want interaction with one another. Those things are not available on O.C.W.”

Exactly. That’s the point, and it’s too bad that a professor at Dartmouth (which is generally a pretty good business school) would so confuse the basic economics of information, and not realize that even if all of the course info is free, there are always aspects that are scarce.

Separately, James Schirmer points us to a related article concerning how some liberal arts schools are using Open Courseware to improve their own programs. It’s sort of taking a look at the other side of this overall debate, noting how liberal arts schools can improve their curriculum by having professors use OCW as a resource. Now, the OCW critics will claim that this takes away from the big schools that put content into OCW, but again, that’s misunderstanding the market, and assuming a zero-sum game, rather than an ability to expand the overall pie, recognizing that better education programs across the board are a good thing that open up many more opportunities than they take away.

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Middle Box Links

Worst name ever, but I was having a hard time naming it and that seemed to fit the bill. This is the end result:It covers a variety of things I thought were interesting:jQuery 1.4’s new element creation syntax which is pretty cool and we haven’t covered Writing a little plugin to prevent repeated code (and keep […] Continue reading

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Scammers Using Mock Copyright Lawsuit Threats To Get People To Download Malware

With companies like Digiprotect, Davenport Lyons and ACS:Law busy sending out tens of thousands of so-called pre-settlement letters that threaten people (often on very little evidence, if any) of copyright infringement, but allow them to pay up to avoid a lawsuit, is it any surprise that out-and-out scammers are jumping into the game as well? Ben alerts us to a warning from US-CERT of a new email scam, which involves the scammers sending out legitimate looking emails pretending to be from a law firm, telling the recipients they’re being sued for copyright infringement. The details are supposedly in a file at a URL provided in the email. When a visitor goes to that URL and downloads the file, they get malware instead. Yes, it appears that the malware scammers are now learning from the best in the business…

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Reference Highlighting in Visual Studio 2010

There is a nice feature in Visual Studio 2010. It’s called Highlighting Reference.

How this feature works is when you are working on your code in the editor and click on a symbol (class, object, methods, properties, variables), then all instances of the symbol are automatically highlighted. This makes it very easy to locate where a symbol has been used in that document.

You can use CTRL+SHIFT+DOWN ARROW (move down) or CTRL+SHIFT+UP ARROW (move up), to navigate through the highlighted instances of that symbol.

Here’s an example that highlights all instances of View() on the page when i click on any one of the references.


If for some reason, you do not see the highlighting, make sure that the feature is turned on by going to Tools > Options > Text Editor > C# > Advanced


Change Highlighting Reference Color

If you are not happy with the color used for highlighting, then you have an option to change it. To do so, go to Tools > Options > Environment > Font and Colors > Make sure ‘Text Editor’ is the chosen option in the ‘Show settings for’ section > Choose ‘Highlighted Reference’ in the Display Items List Box and use the Custom button to change the foreground and background color.


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Firefox coders propose fast-graphics deadline

Direct2D support on Windows could be available in a preview release of the open-source browser under a proposed second-quarter goal.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

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