Chad Perrin: SOB

15 October 2007

Do GNOME and Samba violate the terms of GPLv3?

Filed under: Geek — apotheon @ 09:32

Jaqui Greenlees has some interesting things to say about the new GPLv3. I’m not sure how it would play out in court, but according to him G.N.O.M.E. and Samba violate the terms of GNU-GPL Version 3.

Didn’t I hear somewhere that Richard Stallman actually uses the G.N.O.M.E. Desktop Environment? I guess he will have to remove his preferred ui to be in accordance with the GNU-GPL Version 3.

Technically — legally — he doesn’t, of course. It’s only when you start distributing code that a license like the GPL comes into play. On the other hand, if GNOME actually violates the terms of GPLv3, I’m sure Richard Stallman would be first in line to turn in his foot icons for a “compliant” GUI environment.

I should really give the official GPLv3 a closer look. I haven’t given it as close a look as I should since a proposed version or two ago. This sure has given me more reason to be interested in doing so.

14 October 2007

corn kills

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 03:17

Ironically, it looks like farm subsidies in the US may contribute to the decimation of US food production. In particular, corn subsidies appear to be to blame. Corn is subsidized for a number of reasons, including as a politically correct response to global warming alarmism (because it’s politically expedient to push corn-based ethanol as the solution to gasoline use in cars). The biggest reason corn subsidies are among the highest subsidy outlays in US agriculture, however, is the simple fact that once you start subsidizing an industry sufficiently it grows a strong lobby.

It might be fun to watch a corn vs. cotton lobbyist death match — not only because it’s always fun to watch such a bunch of unscrupulous bastards gouge out each others’ eyes, but because there’d be fewer of each for a while. It would unfortunately only be a temporary solution, though, because there’s so much money in the agricultural subsidy business that new lobbyists could be had in seconds, with no shortage of applicants for the job.

None of this explains how corn subsidies are going to destroy US agricultural production, however. Here are some facts that should draw it all together for you:

  1. There basically aren’t any “feral” honeybees any longer. The vast majority of honeybees live in hives maintained by apiarists (aka “beekeepers”) who raise bees professionally, not only as a hobby or to produce honey, but for the very important purpose of making sure crops get pollinated. The reason there aren’t any significant numbers of wild honeybees any longer is simply that they’ve been killed off by loss of habitat, pesticides, and similar effects of growing civilization.
  2. Corn subsidies lead to greater numbers of corn farmers and corn farms, and to far more territory being given over to growing corn. We “need” all that corn for ethanol, high fructose corn syrup, and all the rest of the uses to which it has increasingly been put just because there’s so damned much of it (thanks to the subsidies). By the way, high fructose corn syrup is probably worse for you, and more fattening, than sugar — but it’s everywhere in the US (including in most bread and in supposedly “diet” oriented cereals like Special K). Nobody can effectively prove what effects HFCS has because the organization in charge of that sort of thing (the FDA) is part of the same organization that kowtows to the corn lobby (the gub’mint).
  3. This year, the number of honeybees in apiarist hives has been dropping precipitously. When I say the number of bees dropped, I mean you should imagine the honeybee equivalent of scenes from The Quiet Earth and 28 Days Later, with empty streets in a hauntingly silent world, devoid of human life. In this case, it’s the honeybees that are eerily absent — which doesn’t seem like all that alarming a thing until you stop to consider the problem that without honeybees we start needing to figure out some way to replace a third of the food consumed by US citizens. The really scary thing about the drop in bee population, however, isn’t that they’re dying. Nobody can find their bodies. They’re just disappearing.
  4. Most corn grown worldwide is of a genetically engineered variety that produces its own pesticide, a chemical called imidacloprid. This is a neurotoxin that interferes with normal brain function in insects so that neurotransmitters build up to toxic levels leading to paralysis and death. This should in theory only affect pests that infest corn, as it requires some buildup, but in even much smaller doses it interferes with the “homing” instincts of honeybees that allow them to find their way back to the hive. I guess that might explain the “disappearing, not just dying” problem — a honeybee gets dosed with a smidgen of imidacloprid, gets lost, and wanders off in the wrong direction, never making it back to the hive. Eventually it dies of old age, if nothing else.
  5. Bee numbers were already alarmingly low, thanks to other recent hits to the population of bees. Genetically engineered corn growing in every back 40 thanks to out of control subsidies may be the biggest threat yet, however, as apiarists are reporting losses around 80% or more, with heaviest losses occurring near cornfields (which happen to be most sustainable in much the same areas as apiaries). Current managed bee populations are about half of what they were 25 years ago, but nothing of which I’m aware on the order of an 80% loss in one year has occurred before the threat of imidacloprid developed as a systemic pesticide in genetically engineered (and patented, of course) corn.

Of course, government will almost certainly decide that the only solution is to subsidize beekeepers — which will only compound the problem, and/or shunt it off into some other area that will then later “need” to be subsidized as well. Whatever solutions are developed, they certainly can’t involve turning up our noses at a lobbyist. That would be political suicide.

There’s a little bit of hope even under such dire circumstances in government. For instance, it’s possible that solitary alfalfa leaf-cutting bees might be able to fill in some of the gaps left by a diminishing hive-dependent honeybee population. Unfortunately, it’s pretty uncertain whether any bees are safe from the negative effects of imidacloprid, as bumblebees seem to be following in the footsteps of honeybees.

So, next time you fill up your environment-friendly “flex-fuel” SUV (that you got with a government subsidy), just remember that you could be contributing to the deaths of millions of honeybees, the decimation of US crop production, and as yet unspeculated ecological disaster. Doesn’t that make your environmentalist political feelgoodism all warm and fuzzy at night?

5 October 2007

Is patent law overhaul bad for startups?

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 02:53

In a word: No.[1]

Basically, the argument goes like this:

  1. The current patent law “overhaul” makes it more difficult to patent software.

  2. Big corporations like Microsoft have been subject to patent litigation lately because of small patent trolling “startups”.

  3. Everybody knows Microsoft is evil, so anyone fighting Microsoft in court is more likely to be good — especially if it’s a much smaller company.

  4. Sing it with me: Patents are the “foundation” of “our way of life”, this I know, ’cause the pharmaceutical companies tell me so.

  5. Thus, this patent law “overhaul” is bad for small startups.

Of course, that’s all poppycock. The truth of the matter is that patents favor companies with the money to acquire them and the money to defend them in court. Small startups are not in that category. Patents are, in effect, a tool for maintaining the economic status quo — not of increasing opportunity for up-and-comers who want to change things.

Reducing the power of software patents, and the ease of getting software patents, is good for small startups. The only exception is patent troll startups, which produce nothing and simply leach off of others.

So why are corporations like Microsoft behind patent law reform . . . ?

Simple: software patents are so awful for the software industry that everyone wants to get rid of (some of) them — everyone but the patent trolls, that is.

The questions that must be answered before coming to a final conclusion about whether this patent overhaul is bad for small startups, in the real world, are these:

  1. Is there some rider or loophole in the law that adds to the power of large corporations to squeeze out the little guy by getting and keeping patents more easily?

  2. Does this change in the law affect everyone across the board, or does it just make it more difficult for small startups to get new patents while keeping things as easy as ever for the “big boys”?

I haven’t seen any evidence of #2 at all. Of course, it doesn’t take any evidence for me to start imagining possibilities for #1.

[1] . . . assuming the patent law overhaul does what it is advertised as doing. That’s always a question you have to ask when it comes to legislators.

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