Sunday, January 25, 2004

I took a walk this afternoon. I'm out of English Breakfast tea, and planned to get some more from Peet's Coffee and Tea on Solano Avenue. It takes me just under half an hour to walk there from my home in El Cerrito at my normal clip. I'm not sure whether it took more or less time today, as I was trying to walk and read at the same time. Eventually, I gave up on that idea as too hazardous; there are just too many dog leashes stretched across the walkway (not to mention too many cars in crosswalks, or parking meters and lamp posts along the sidewalk).

I had a bite to eat and read for a while at the Cactus Taqueria near the top of Solano, then turned around and walked home. I didn't stop at Peet's. I took a different route home than the one I usually follow, and my wanderings took me through the center of Kensington, past the old mission-style chapel. The view from there is beautiful, even on a cloudy day like today. The sky was slate grey with clouds, but I could still see the Bay, the bridges, and Albany Hill.

After I returned home, it occurred to me that if I'd planned to pick up cheese as well as tea, I could have been part of a Wallace and Gromit episode. All I'd need would be a dog. Okay, I'd need some improbable tools and perhaps a herd of sheep, too, but it's the thought that counts. And the tea and cheese counts, too.

I shared a dinner of chili and rice with Patxi and Esther this evening. Esther made cornbread. She replaced the usual vegetable oil with olive oil -- necessity being the mother of invention -- and the result was quite tasty. We also had grated cheese laced with jalapenos for the top. It was delicious. As I was preparing the rice, Esther commented -- not for the first time -- how odd it was that Patxi and I prepare rice in a pot. It seems that many of my friends who eat a lot of rice use a rice cooker, and are a little bemused that we would prepare decent rice without such a gadget. In fact, Patxi and I do have a rice cooker, but it invariably burns the rice, and so we rarely use it.

Otherwise, today was a lazy sort of day. I thought I might do some work, but I was distracted and instead spent the time reading about cascading style sheets and about various GUI toolkits. I also spent some time reading various articles about intellectual property. There was a NY Times Magazine article on current battles over copyright, and I'd recently filled out a member opinion poll for the US ACM policy arm regarding legal protections for data collections. And it all set me to thinking.

The ACM poll results, last I looked, were very telling. About 80 percent of the respondents strongly agreed, and another 10 percent agreed with the ACM's position that current legal protections are adequate. But software developers have depressingly little clout when it comes to the actions of Congress and business. The SCO law suits seem to me more about businesses hiring lawyers to march to war than about any real point of technical merit. Diebold would be in far better shape if only they listened to their programmers before releasing their voting machines. Large companies can afford to engage in patent warfare, and they do so -- but the programmers I know agree almost uniformly that software patents as posed now are just foolish. And so it goes.

The current environment in the US with regards to copyrights and with respect to cryptographic export restrictions means that some software projects are migrating abroad -- and no longer accept input from American programmers. Those who warn of cyber terrorists urge industry and academia to address problems with the current computer security infrastructure, but judgements based on laws like the DMCA discourage researchers from pursuing those same problems. Similarly, various agencies seem to feel it's important to ensure the existence of another generation of researchers competent to analyze physical threats, whether they be biological, nuclear, or whatever; but at the same time, foreign graduate students who come even close to those areas face intimidation and woe, and domestic students... well, it seems that more domestic students want to go into business than into science or engineering.

After all, business is where the money is.