* Posts by Chris Fox

72 posts • joined 23 Jun 2007

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Exploding Power Bars: EE couldn't even get the CE safety mark right

Chris Fox

CE marking is a broken idea

“Similar issues can be found with power line communication (PLC) adapters, plasma tvs etc.”

The example of CE-marked PLC illustrates how broken the whole self-certification system is in the EU. Many (all?) PLC devices break rules on radio interference when used on standard domestic wiring, but all is supposedly well as the devices carry CE markings. This is despite the reality that self-certification that justifies the CE marking involved testing samples using “standards” that were never approved (because they were too lax), or measurements in an environment that did not replicate domestic wiring, or using interference thresholds intended for industrial, non-domestic use. It then seems that manufacturers are effectively allowed to “grandfather” the supposed CE compliance.

As I recall, a ruling in German appeared to suggest all was in order, so no other national authority is willing to do anything about these dodgy practices. In the UK, complaints about illegal PLC interference are dealt with using a crazy ad hoc procedure that involves the BBC (rather than relevant regulator, Ofcom), allowing Ofcom to report it has received no complaints, justifying its refusal to act. Even the IEEE is complicit in setting up standards for this crap without considering the wider issues.

The issue of CE marking is one where there is a clear case for EU reform, but unfortunately its this kind of “trust the manufacturers” crap that is supported by those who claim to be concerned about the EU.

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FCC boss Wheeler: Shove off, big dogs – let the small telcos play

Chris Fox

The FCC can “create more frequences”?

“The FCC chairman said that the upcoming wireless spectrum auction, designed to create more frequencies for use by wireless broadband networks, would receive additional rules on eligibility should the FCC commissioners pass his recommendations at the July 16 open meeting.”

The FCC must be more powerful than anyone imagined if they create more frequencies just by holding an auction... oh wait, you mean “sell off rights to more spectrum...”. Is Stephen Fry now working for The Reg by any chance?

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Microsoft makes Skype beach body ready with web browser beta release

Chris Fox

Re: Microsoft supports Linux better than Google

“Skype for Linux is top-notch for closed proprietary software. In a bizzaro twist, Microsoft is starting to provide better applications for Linux than Google.”

Of course, the cross-platform support from Skype pre-dates Microsoft's involvement. And “Top-notch” is not how I would describe Microsoft's support of the Linux version: there is still no 64-bit version, and, worse, support for ALSA has been removed under Microsoft's watch. On a typical 64-bit Linux installation, Skype requires a shed-load of multi-architecture support and duplicate 32-bit libraries to be installed, and various hoops to jump through if you don't want to be forced to switch your sound server over to Pulseaudio and allow Mr Pöttering to enter through the back-door.

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What an eyeful: Apple's cut price 27in iMac with Retina Display

Chris Fox

*fewer* pixels

If only Robert Baker had made one fewer proscription, up with this shibboleth we would not have to put.

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Relax, it's just Ubuntu 15.04. AARGH! IT'S FULL OF SYSTEMD!!!

Chris Fox

Re: systemd? Do not want. Try Voidlinux

I tried a number of systemd-free distributions on virtual machines and servers (including Gentoo, Funtoo, Slackware, Devuan alpha, Manjaro-openrc, Voidlinux). The smoothest so far has been Voidlinux, a rolling-release binary distribution, with XFCE 4.12 as the default desktop, which also works on a Pi2. Previously this distribution was an early adopter of SystemD, when it was just an init system. But it has switched to runit, which makes SystemD unit files look like a complicated tangled mess. Some things need a little bit of work, e.g. occasionally there may be bugs in some less commonly used packages, and you have to write your own init file if you use Openvpn, but with runit, that is just one line long...

If it really is about "fixing" init, then there are numerous excellent alternatives that aren't invading body-snatchers with half a millions of lines of undocumented and uncommented code, and no specification, maintained by a closed community for whom bug-fixing is seen as a pointless distraction that has to be sacrificed on the alter to the one true goal of never-ending function creep.

[Some Debian SystemD apologists keep saying SystemD is only a default in Debian Jessie, and other init systems can be used, but the debootstrap program has a trivial bug that means it fails to read the non-systemd options. The maintainer refuses to fix this obvious bug because "SystemD is the default". And then there are random programs and packages that are configured to pull in SystemD and related crap rather than treat them as optional dependencies (CUPS and XFCE spring to mind). Hopefully Devuan will fix this, at least for server-based installations, and Voidlinux makes a fine replacement for Wheezy on the desktop.]

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High-speed powerline: Home connectivity without the cables

Chris Fox

Re: Noise!

Indeed, my heart sank seeing this puff piece for such HF and, increasingly, VHF noise generating crap which demonstrably fails QRM regs., with manufacturers abusing the self-certification process, and "regulators" who fail to act, and then mangle the reporting procedures so they can claim there are no complaints. The reg should know better.

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America was founded on a dislike of taxes, so how did it get the IRS?

Chris Fox

IRS claims a global right to charge income tax on anyone

"Apparently the slightest association with the country can result in you being considered a tax payer even when you have moved back to your country?"

Indeed, no personal association at all is required: under rules that are supposed to stop global tax-avoidance schemes, IRS claims income tax on royalty payments made to you if routed through a US-registered part of an organisation, even if you are not registered with the IRS, have never visited the US, are not a US citizen, have had no dealings with the US-registered part of the organisation, have conducted all the relevant work outside the US, and pay all the income tax due in your own country.

You can avoid the IRS claiming this income tax... but only by first registering with the IRS... and that involves sending them your passport to them in the post for some unspecified period, assuming you even have one*... meanwhile the big players still avoid paying tax... It makes the injustice of that import duty on colonial tea seem like small beer...

* Anyone else noticed how No2ID won the battle against UK ID cards, yet lost the war, with biometric passports now being demanded for an ever increasing range of transactions with government, banks, and prospective employers, and with an ever decreasing choice of acceptable and viable alternatives? And now you need a biometric passport, with all the details logged in the US, just to avoid paying income tax to the IRS.

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Chris Fox

Re: Speaking of myths

Concerning the issue of tea, the officially sanctioned imported tea, as offloaded in an unconventional fashion at that party in Boston, was actually cheaper, after tax, than the existing untaxed "imports". That particular storm appear to be brewed up those who, at the time, would have been officially classified as "smugglers", seeking to protect their financial interests after being undercut by "legitimate" imports.

According to contemporary statements, the dispute initially appears to have been motivated by the desire of a few "traders" to maintain profits by gaining control of trade, and assuming the right to break treaties to grab land and resources. Taxation was just a side show. The latter of course became an important hook on which to hang various justifications and explanations, given that the general populace might actually have preferred cheaper British imports to the expensive black-market goods.

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Bulk interception is NOT mass surveillance, says parliamentary committee

Chris Fox

More sophistry: small percentage of bearers...

"GCHQ’s systems operate on a very small percentage of the bearers that make up the internet."

Right, more misdirection and sophistry..., I'm guessing that this "very small percentage of bearers" also just happens to carry most of the UK traffic (e.g. just targetting LINX gives access to the bulk of the traffic for the users of over 500 ISPs). Why waste time with the numerous minnows that carry a tiny fraction of the traffic, when a handful of bigger fish give you access to almost everything in the UK?

(And even if every UK ISP were being targetted directly, this would still be a "small percentage of the bearers that make up the [global] internet".)

If the committee actually understands this, then they are being duplicitous, if they don't, then they are incompetent. Neither is acceptable.

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VMware sued, accused of ripping off Linux kernel source code

Chris Fox

Re: Brilliant Photo!

Hmm, not sure I like the implication that Linux kernel developers are an invading alien army of screaming body-snatching mimics trying to take over the world... perhaps the image would be more appropriate for a piece about Systemd developers?

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Marconi: The West of England's very own Italian wireless pioneer

Chris Fox

Re: Marconi was a FRAUD and a PATENT THIEF

Indeed, the world of radio patents from 1890's onwards was as controversial as software patents today. Marconi was awarded a patent on his "black box", which turned out to contain the inventions of others. This was a major scandal at the time among those working on radio. And his patents on tuning were not novel; they just describe existing work of others. He was also supposed to be working for the GPO when he was making his refinements to radio, using public money and a team of GPO staff, but then refused to hand over the results of their work to the GPO, claiming it as his own. HIs first supposedly successful transatlantic transmission is also subject to serious doubt, and changes to make it work later (e.g. lowering the frequency) again appears to be based on the work of other. He ruthelesly expoited the Titanic disaster, claiming his radios had saved hundreds of lives (it is interesting that one of his associates at that time, Sarnoff -- who was embroilled in this story through some fiction about him somehow being involved as a telegraph operator -- was subsequently found to have misappropriated other inventions, including wideband FM, which ultimately lead to the sucide of the actual inventor).

Marconi is like Edison, Alexander Graham-Bell and other commercially successful "great inventors" who turned out not to have invented "their" inventions; he was very good at marketing, politicking, ruthlessly claiming the inventions of others, and gaming the patent system, and whose success seems to be based on lucky timing, combined with a complete absence of ethics or shame.

This is not to say we cannot acknowledge the achievements of Marconi and others for what they are; I just don't see why it is necessary to perpetuate these sanitised and fictionalised accounts, and continue to ignore or whitewash the more controversial aspects of their professional lifes. Doing so merely serves to belittle and ignore those who actually did the work on which the success of these "great inventors" was built.

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EU parliament bans Outlook app over cloudy security: report

Chris Fox

The application is a problem (given EU data protection obligations)

This should be seen in the context of compliance with EU data protection regulations and legislation. It is relatively easy to ensure internal email systems comply with EU data protection requriements, assuming secure protocols and good password policies are adopted, and servers are physically secure. And Microsoft has gone to great lengths to provide legal cover for EU-based organisations to allow them to outsource internal corporate email to Office365 (although there may be questions about how robust these assurances are). Either way, this app makes the whole thing moot by operating in a way that clearly in breach of data protection regulations; any EU-based organisation that allows staff to use this app for corporate email will almost certainly be in breach of data protection legislation.

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Sorry, Qualcomm, Apple – your patents don't scare us

Chris Fox

Not so safe after all

"At least many countries and regions have seen sense and declared that you cannot patent software, it is already covered by copyright."

Unfortunately things are not so simple as that. In many jurisdictions where "software as such" (i.e. the program text that you can copyright) is supposedly not patentable (as in, e.g., UK patent law and Article 52 of the EPC), it turns out that you *can* effectively patent software provided that you talk about (e.g.) the "technical effect" of executing the software.

In the UK and other European countries in which software is not supposed to be patentable there have been court rulings that uphold a bizarre interpretation of "software" and a "computer" where software ceases to be software when it is running, so is no longer excluded subject matter, and where, furthermore, a computer running a piece of software ceases to be a computer, but is instead a new technical artefact, which can be the subject matter of a patent.

As in the US, sophistry and reinterpretation often allow patents on software (and other abstract notions) in all but name, despite what at first appear to be clear and unambiguous prohibitions.

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Demon Internet goes TITSUP: Outage borks ancient ISP

Chris Fox

Re: AFTER 13:45

There were actually updates at 12:23 and 13:10. The article itself is a bit misleading: it seems to suggest that the notice had been pushed back from 12:30 to 13:45, when in reality it was the "12:30" notice (actually posted at 12:23) that provided the information that there would be *another* update after 13.45. The 13:10 notice stating service had resumed also said there will be a further update at 16:00... so now I expect the reg article will be revised again to say that the update has now been pushed back to 16:00. Demon, with its gradually declining customer service, is already quite good at annoying users without the reg having to distort the facts.

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DoJ's extra-territorial data demands: now Ireland is baulking

Chris Fox

A US DoJ shaped hole in MS's Office365 EU plans?

MS have been successful in touting for corporate Office365 business in the UK and elsewhere in the EU by claiming that locating servers in Ireland ensures that confidential and privileged information will be stored in compliance with EU Data Protection rules. They have been waving letters from the ICO to this effect. Even so, some law firms have expressed concerns about client confidentiality, and claim that they have official advice (also from the ICO) that data on MS servers in Ireland cannot consider to be safe. For those that have bought the MS line on data protection, their internal emails now cross national borders on undersea cables. MS claims the data is safe in transit as it is encrypted, but we know this does not necessarily follow. Of course, those keen to outsource and close down local facilities may not be that keen to look beneath the thin veneer of assurances, but MS might be panicking that its USP could be unravelling.

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Doctors urged to adopt default opt-out approach to care.data scheme

Chris Fox

Topsy-Turvy interpretation of DPA

"However, the Data Protection Act would still require patients to be given a full explanation of the options open to them, and why the GP has chosen to opt them out."

This really is a looking-glass world. The most obvious interpretation of the DPA is one where sensitive personal data is in the control of the individual, and explicit informed consent has to be sought before that data is passed on. Normally default opt-in to sharing sensitive personal information is considered unlawful. It then seems odd then to say that if GPs try to follow the spirit of the law are they are obliged to give an explanation, and inform patients of their rights, while those that act in a way that is prima facie at odds with the spirit of the law are assumed not to have any such legal obligations.

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Adobe spies on readers: EVERY DRM page turn leaked to base over SSL

Chris Fox

Darktable: alternative to Lightroom

"The only things that I can't find an alternative of theirs is Lightroom and Elements."

Have you tried Darktable (www.darktable.org)? Not perfect, but not bad.

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Amazon offers Blighty's publishing industry 'assisted suicide'

Chris Fox

Re: Poor little publishers!!

And when the Net Book Agreement collapsed, 500 independent UK publishers went out of business, and cross-subsidy of specialists works ended, meaning there is now dearth of quality-controlled publishing outlets and marketing expertise for anything except high volume novels and text books. Books are not a simple uniform commodity, and price is not the only important factor in this particular market. Even the rather crude US anti-trust laws recognise these subtleties.

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Chris Fox

Publishers cannot easily unite against Amazon

Publishers are now reluctant even to be seen in the same room together following the rulings on price fixing. Acting in a way that maintains prices is lawful under US antitrust law if ultimately it can be shown to help maintain choice and competition in products and suppliers. But the US courts completely disregarded this important detail in its rulings on the publishing industry, and consider low prices as the only measure of a fair market. In this hostile legal context, publishers would be right to be cautious about even being thought to be thinking about the possibility of acting jointly against a retailer who pushes down prices, even though the letter of the law suggests such activity can be justified in some important jurisdictions.

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HELIUM-FILLED disks lift off: You can't keep these 6TB BEASTS down

Chris Fox

Re: less helium than a balloon

Helium is cheap because the US govt is dumping all its reserves at knock-down price that has not changed since 1996, despite a massive increase in demand. This distorts the market. Given it's limited supply, and limited rate of capture, some estimate that the true market value of a helium party balloon should be close to $100. Once the US has no more helium to dump, expect the price to rise and availability to decrease dramatically. This proflicate use of artificially cheap helium will end with exorbitant running costs for MRI scanners, and anything else that involves superconducting magnets and very low temperatures. So expect many more undiagnosed brain tumors and the like, all for the sake of "privatising" this rare asset, and venting it off into space for a few seconds of amusement.

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MS Word deserves DEATH says Brit SciFi author Charles Stross

Chris Fox

Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

The fact that LaTeX3 intends to incorporate some features into the core, such as hyper-linking, does not mean those features are not already available through the extensive package library. Hyper-linking has been available in LaTeX for many years in both LaTeX 2.09 and LaTeX 2e (e.g. see the hyperref package). I recall first experimenting LaTeX hyper-linking around 20 years ago, before most people even knew what a hyper-link was. LaTeX3 is about reworking the core, and pulling some features from into the core that are currently implemented as packages. With LaTeX you can also do nice tricks like including live data and plots, or pushing data out to R and incorporating the results. But you have to know what you are doing (which might not be a bad thing).

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Foxconn must pay Microsoft for EVERY Android thing it makes

Chris Fox

Re: Not paying for patents

Indeed, patents have existed as long as there have been monarchs. The reference to the "Age of Enlightment" would be the 1624 Statute of Monopolies, which sought to constrain the (ab)use of "Letters Patent", crown-granted monopolies that were supposed to benefit the economy, but were actually just used by the crown as a way of raising funds without consulting that pesky Parliament, including granting "patents" on salt, starch, and other de facto pseudo-taxes (with the crown receiving payment for the patent, and the patent holder receiving payment from those "benefitting" from, or "infringing", that which was patented). What we may thing of as contemporary concerns about the uses and abuses of patents are actually older than patent legislation itself. It seems that an update to the Statute of Monopolies is long overdue.

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The truth on the Navy carrier debacle? Industry got away with murder

Chris Fox

BAE 89% on budget --- after being paid for features that are not delivered

It might be the case that 89% of BAE's programmes are on budget, but this may be a meaningless statistic if in reality the tax payer is paying massively inflated prices for features (such as "adaptability") that are not actually being delivered.

To some, the "89% on-budget" claim is not very surprising in a context where contracts and sign-off conditions are being negotiated and approved by a body and/or individuals that seem to align themselves more with the interests of the contract holder than those actually paying the bill.

This the problem with high-level complicity in corruption and fraud; it's just too easy to manipulate the official statistics etc. so that outwardly everything seems sufficient fine to rebuff casual enquiries, and divert attention (AKA "doing an Obi Wan").

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Anonymous hacks MIT websites after Aaron Swartz's death

Chris Fox

Draconian punishments (Re: Correct me if I'm wrong...)

@Ian Johnston

Yes, some states do use draconian punishments. For starters, there is thing that some states have called "the death penalty", which is especially troubling given the notoriously high false-postive conviction rate, especially for poor blacks. There are also many individuals serving life in California for committing three minor offences (such as stealing toilet roll etc, for which charges might have been upgraded above what the evidence supports in order to fall into the scope of the "three-strikes" legislation).

And when it comes to illustrations of the injustice of plea bargaining, there are cases such as the one involving the environmental activist Daniel McGowan, where federal and state prosecutors obtained a seven year sentence and a $1.9M fine for arson. This would almost certainly have been life if he had not changed his plea to guilty for some charges. And even with the guilty plea, it could still have been 30 years if the prosecutors had been succesful in having it reclassifying it as an terrorist offence. Contrast this with his "co-conspirators" facing exactly the same charges for exactly the same offences; by agreeing to plead guilty to a shoppling list of offences, and agreeing to testify against others named by the prosecutors, they were effectively let off with no material punishment.

The extreme consequences of refusing to agree to full cooperative plea bargaining can seem to make a mockery of the notion of justice, and end up looking like a form of forced confession. In the Daniel McGowan case, arguments have been made that plea-bargaining was used as a tool to rout out political dissidents, and dissent, rather than achieving justice. (Which seems to be supported by findings that police maliciously tortured fellow activists.)

Arguably, similar things happen in the UK, even at the lowest level (e.g. contesting an erronous fixed penalty notice carries a high risk of ending up with punative fines, legal costs, and a criminal record, especially when many magistrates are perhaps a bit too ready to accept the word of a police officer). It is worrying that the UK government seems keen to extend the use of plea bargaining.

As for Aaron Schwarz, he had been told he would face six months even if he pleaded guilty to every single charge the prosecutors decided to add to the list. And he would still face a hefty legal bill that he could not afford. Put yourself in his position, would you be happy to go to prison for six months, and plead guilty to things you think you had not done, and be branded as a convicted criminal for the rest of your life, or would you fight, but risk the technical possibility of 35+ years in prison? And this for someone who suffered from depression.

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'Leccy-starved Reg hack: 'How I survive on 1.5kW'

Chris Fox

Mainland UK officially 230V not 240V, and earthing is an issue

For many years now, the official mainland UK domestic single phase supply has been rated as a nominal 230V (with various tolerances, +10%/-6%, +/-6%, or +/-10%) rather than 240V. This is the same as the nominal supply for big chunks of continental Europe, whose nominal rating was increased from 220V to 230V at around the same time (perhaps with widened tolerances). Some overseas territories are still on 240V and 220V supplies.

(In practice, the measured supply at the socket is still likely to be closer to 240V in the UK, and 220V in much of the rest of Europe. Older UK equipment may specify a nominal supply of 240V. Equipment to be attached to the UK supply has to tolerate more than 250V. These ratings plates may explain why many think the official UK supply voltage is either 240V or 250V. Three phase supply is now supposedly 400V, although most three-phase warning plates still seem to refer to 415V.)

The article mentions adding a new earth. Adding a local copper earth to a modern PME supply can introduce lots of "interesting" high-current failure modes in the event that the supply cable develops a fault. It is always worth taking advice from the supply company and/or a qualified electrician before adding new earths and bonding points to a mains supply. Some earthing techniques that used to be common practice until quite recently are potentially lethal with a modern supply.

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Marvell: Ignore the $1BN PATENT JUDGMENT... Check out this new cache kit

This post has been deleted by a moderator

Android users: More of them than fanbois, but they don't use the web

Chris Fox

Re: Browser agents

But dx's supposed counter-example also includes "AppleWebKit" and "Safari", (as does Dolphin Mini on Android). The article does not give the precise methodology, but it is easy to see how such user agent strings from Mozilla and Dolphin browsers could be misclassified as coming from Safari on an Apple device. And then there is the small issue of Opera Mini, classified separately in one of the graphs, despite the user agent string normally revealing the underlying operating system. More evidence of flaky regex in the OS classifiers?

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Pristine WWII German Enigma machine could be yours

Chris Fox

bombe was designed by ...

The bombe is usually attributed to Turing, not Polish cryptanalysts. It automated his "probable phrase" attack.

The Polish cryptanalysts are usually credited with the different, but equally amazing feat of reverse-engineering the design of the military Enigma, using an attack based on a flawed operating procedure. This attack was aided by knowledge of the pre-war civil Enigma procedures, details of which had been leaked to the French. The German authorities knew of this leak, but failed to realise its significance for the security of the military Enigma, nor that Enigma's "no self coding" constraint itself leaks sufficient information to break the cypher. It was knowledge of the design of the military Enigma, obtained from Poland, and its "no self coding" constraint, that led to Turing's "probable phrase" attack, and hence the bombe.

It may be the case that Polish mathematicians had worked out the theory of the "probable phrase" attack, and the possibility of automating it, before Turing. It would be good to know if there is any evidence that they, rather than Turing, deserve the credit for these insights. Either way, it could be a bit misleading to say "the bombe was designed by Polish cryptanalysts".

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Googorola yoinks Android mobes off German shelves

Chris Fox

Obligation on Microsoft to negotiate a licence

Under the (F)RAND terms, Motorola is obliged to *offer* a licence. And they have done. Microsoft, in turn, is under an obligation to enter into negotiations. And they refuse to do so. Motorola has therefore satisfied its FRAND obligations, and Microsoft have not. Microsoft lawyers claim the FRAND terms are a contract, when in reality they are a commitment of negotiate a contract. If they really were a contract, then Microsoft, not Motorola, would be in breach for refusing to negotiate a price with Motorola.

Meanwhile Microsoft, Nokia and friends set up shell companies so that they can split standards-essential patent portfolios. This has effectively allowed Nokia, and others, to break commitments to cap total unit-cost FRAND licence fees for the standard-essential patents, commitments that were made as part of the standard setting process.

Microsoft and Nokia, et al. are thus exploiting loopholes in FRAND undertakings, and using corporate socket-puppets to extort potentially unlimited royalties from others, for patents that were supposed to be fee-capped, while refusing to pay FRAND licence fees themselves.

This is an issue that standards bodies really need to address; it's not just software-libre that has a problem with all these FRAND-based "open" standards --- an approach to standardisation which appear to be a fundamentally flawed fix necessitated by a basically broken patent system.

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New British tax-cuts-for-patents scheme criticised

Chris Fox

So ... not probably not

Hm, it is a serious mistake to assume that the UK and EU are free of the problems that plague the US patent system. Remember that USPTO is also governed by rules that supposedly prevent method and software patents. In reality, software patents *are* granted both in the UK, and by the EPO (which is expressily forbidden from granting patents to "software as such"), and many of these patents are as terrible, and obvious as any you find the US system.

And when it comes to tax loopholes, who says that the patent actually has to have anything to do with the income stream of the company, other than a contractual arrangement to pay a licence fee to itself or a subsiduary? It seems unlikely that Amazon, for example, is only making money from selling patented products as such, rather than merely channeling UK profits from book sales etc. through phantom patent royalities in Ireland.

The tax break is as irrational and muddle headed as the UK and EU patent systems. They go well together.

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eBay frets as right to resell comes under scrutiny

Chris Fox

Re: The small print is meaningless

The condition to not sell or lend a rebound book is normally seen in paperback edition. The condition on resale might stem from a desire to stop people buying (cheap) paperbacks, having them bound in hard covers and passing them off as (expensive) hardbacks. Such "passing-off" is probably covered by legislation on counterfit goods.

The condition on lending is perhaps intended to encourage libraries to buy the more expensive and more durable hardback version (which is often one of the larger markerts when it comes to more expensive hardback books). Under UK copyright law, lending, and renting is not permitted without the consent of the rights holds. But libraries are exempt from these restrictions...

Some, generally older, UK editions include a condition that they are not for (re)sale in the US. This might actually be because the US did not de facto recognise non-US copyright under the terms of the Berne Convention until surprisingly recently (1988). Some US citizens have tried (and failed) to argue that US law cannot uphold copyright terms for non-US works produced prior to1988: US citizens now have to pay to put on English plays that they might previously have performed without seeking the rights. (There is still an odditity in that if, and only if, you are a US citizen, you have no right to defend your non-US copyrights in the US unless you formally register them in the US. Nobody else has to register their copyright -- its as if the US legal system recognises the Berne convention for everybody except US citizens...)

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Steve Jobs is STILL DEAD

Chris Fox

Reality distortion

From what his biographer, Isaacson, has said about Jobs refusing surgery for nine months, it seems he paid a high price for believing in his own reality distortion field: “I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don’t want something to exist, you can have magical thinking…we talked about this a lot”.

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Americans stand against UN internet-tax plan

Chris Fox

Factual error: UK licence to watch live TV as it's broadcast, not to own TV

The article is misleading. You do not need a licence to own a TV in the UK. But you do need a TV licence to watch "live" television, as it is being broadcast, at your main or temporary residence, whether you are watching it on your own TV, a borrowed TV or streaming over the Internet on a computer, games console or mobile phone etc.

It is true that shops may register sales of new TVs with the licencing agency. But you don't have to pay anything if you never use the TV to watch live broadcasts. And conversely there are circumstances when you need a licence even if you don't own a TV.

(With all this messing up of easy-to-check facts, on top of the one-sided reporting, repetitive tired abuse, and the anti-science propaganda, The Register looks like Slashdot for the middle-aged Daily Mail reader.)

4
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Google in the clear on Oracle patents

Chris Fox

Re: The BBC as ever has got wrong

The jury was required to assume that APIs can be copyrighted, and were then asked to decide if Google's copying of the API infringed this hypothetical copyright. Given the judge's instruction, and the fact that nobody denies that Google "copied"(parts of) the Java API (by way of Harmony), the jury had no choice but to find that the Google would be guilty of copyright infringement if the API was subject to copyright. No evidence was offered to the contrary, as nobody except Oracle appears to think that there is a problem in copying an API. Members of the jury are now on record as saying that the felt the judge's instruction and the wording of the question meant only one answer was possible. It was a kind of a pointless question ("assuming black is white, is white also black?"), unless it was a legal manouver by the judge to reduce grounds for appeal by either party.

Although it is now moot, the patent case could also be said to be hypothetical, given that the jury was being asked to decide on infringement of patents that the USPTO has decided are invalid, subject to appeal, but were not aware of the disputed state of the patent claims -- e.g. dereferencing a symbolic reference at run-time and caching the result is surely an obvious trick to those skilled in the art (and whoever wrote the patent missed an obvious patent attorney trick of generalising the claim so that it covered all forms of dereferencing at all stages, which could have allowed Oracle to prevail, at least until the patent was formally annulled.).

On the question of whether the copying could be deemed fair use, the jury was split 9-3 in favour of a finding of fair use. The chair of the jury admits to taking Oracle's side, and trying to swing the rest his way. On the fair use question he managed to persuade two others to adopt his position (if weakly), so there was no agreement. In all cases the others prevailed.

There are US precedents that suggest APIs are not copyrightable, and also that copying for interoperability is fair use.

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British 4G mobile data rollout 'will mean NO TELLY for 2m homes'

Chris Fox
Facepalm

What was the point, again?

TV viewers, and secondary users, were obliged to pay to cope with the delights of the digital switch-over largely to free up spectrum that the government could sell off, but after all that they may still face the prospect of interference? Some people are not going to be very happy.

If the base-stations can avoid causing interference by having better filters, doesn't that suggest that without such filters they are causing avoidable interference? I thought there were rules about that. Are we to assume that Ofcom is once again incapable of applying them when they conflict with commercial interests?

5
0

Google ads 'misleading and deceptive'

Chris Fox

Re: It's not tricky at all

It does get messy quite quickly. Some companies claim trademark rights on things that cannot be (formally) trademarked in some jurisdictions (e.g. "WIndows" and "Word" in the UK), others claim overly broad rights (e.g. Virgin, McDonalds etc. seeking to stop others using the words "Virgin", "McDonalds", "Easy" etc. across all fields of activity around the world, regardless of the independent rigts of others to use those words). And different companies may have claims to the same "mark" in different jurisdication (e.g. "iPad"). Furthermore, some jurisdictions (e.g. US) require that trademark owners defend their asserted claim in order to maintain registration. This is a receipe for conflict when operating in multiple jurisdictions.

If Google is then obliged to rule on the merits of such overbroad and conflicting claims, it becomes a quasi-judicial authority in respect of global trademark rights. This is not good, especially considering its reputation for opaque procedures and aloof attitude in the face of well-founded concerns. And no doubt they will find it expedient to agree to the wishes of whichever party has the most money to take them to court, not which has right on their side.

1
2

Firefox gobbles H.264 to serve up vids to mobes, slabs

Chris Fox

And VP8 not properly specified

One significant problem is that there does not seem to be a proper implementation indepedendent specification of VP8. It appears to exist as nothing more than some poorly documented program, complete with bugs.

Google could have allowed time to produce a proper specification, perhaps with hooks to allow future versions to incorporate improvements, and fixes for known flaws (e.g. poor fine-texture detail), and to incorporate other methods as they fall out of patent. They could also have fixed the more obvious bugs in the implementation, and added documentation. Instead, they rushed things, and naively decided to treat the messy program they aquired as a substitute for a specification, whose bugs have become "features" that others are now obliged to emulate.

This kind of undocumented hackery with non-existant specifications may be fine for Google's in house software, but it is not what you should to do if you are serious about encouraging others to incorporate a codec in their own software and hardware, and for content creators to adopt it in their production work-flow. They really should have worked with people who know how to create proper specifications of standards which others can use.

(Still, there is always Dirac with low-loss compression, if you really need a patent-free high quality codec.)

0
0

The US patent yeast batch continues to swell

Chris Fox

Not just a problem in the US, unfortunately

Don't assume that software patents are only a problem in the US: they are also a long-standing problem in the UK and EU, although they have general evaded media interest. If we want to complain about the crazy US patent system, we should look at our own first.

Although Europe is often cited as an area where software is not and cannot be patented (e.g. by lazy journalists and politicians), this is wishful thinking. Patents on software have been granted in EU countries for many years, including by UKPO/IPO and EPO, despite what the legislation and treaties appears to say. And there are numous examples of bad software patents in the UK and EU that match the worst excesses of the USPTO.

The usual trick is to argue that it is only "software *as such*" cannot be patented. In the topsy-turvy world of EU and UK patent offices and courts, "software as such" is taken just to be some static representation of a program (and a computer is something which is capable of running a program). According to various rulings in the UK, the EPO and elsewhere, once a piece of software is running, then for the purposes of patentability it is no longer considered to be "software as such", and so can be patented (and once a computer is running software, it is no longer considered to be a computer).

In the UK there is also the additional trick of appealing to a "technical effect". Anything that has a technical effect can be patented, even software. Technical effects can include solving a problem that has a physical manifestation, or producing a measurable change in a computer system's behaviour.

So just as in the US, there are valid and enforceable UK and EU software-only patents that simply apply some combination of known data structures, algorithms and common techniques to a known computational problem. Such patents are granted provided the intended effect is identified, and the particular combination of methods does not turn up in any search for prior art relating to the given problem. Such software patents have been upheld on appeal (despite being obvious to those "skilled in the art").

So pretty much anything can and does go in the UK and some other EU countries, provided you use the "right" language, as in the US.

In my experience, there is not much point in complaining to UK MPs and MEPs about this sophistry and abuse of language in granting software patents, against the apparent intent of legislators. They invariable defer to the opinion of a colleague who has experience as a patent attorney. I have also found the UKPO/IPO to be rather obtuse and self-interested when dealing with such concerns. In my experience it wilfully misrepresenting the results of its consultations, and gives priority to the views and interests of patent lawyers, and US-based companies over those of software developers and companies based in the UK and EU.

0
0
Chris Fox

Original patent - non-sequitur?

Indeed, most software-related patents I have seen cannot be described as "original" (at least, not as mere mortals understand the word). They are usually just scraps of prior art bolted together with the appropriate legal obfuscations. These Frankenstein monsters are then brought to life by the patent offices' and attorneys' seemingly wilful misinterperation of the nature of software and computers. This allows all concerned to bypass the clear intent of the relevant legislation, and collect the appropriate fees. To my eyes it all just looks like a global protection racket, where those who have the power to fix it are in the pockets of the perpetrators.

3
0

Stallman: Jobs exerted 'malign influence' on computing

Chris Fox

Compelling ideas

Talking of "compelling ideas that count": how about the idea of open, free to use, platform neutral protocols that are the foundation of the Web? And what about the open source and free software on which the Internet was largely built? And small stuff, like Apache, MySQL and PHP etc. Do these not count? Perhaps ironically, without them, the parasitic services of iTunes and Facebook could never have been so successful. It is surely right to challenge those whose corporate ideas are to close everything off and return to a Compuserve-like world, if only to allow free and fair competition.

21
1

Three complains to Brussels over NFC exclusion

Chris Fox

No Flipping Clue

National Flight Centre, Nuclear Fuel Complex, National Football Convention, National Finance Centre, Network File Control, National Freight Corporation, National Fertilizer Corporation, who knows?

I wonder whether this is actually about some kind of "RFID" technology? There is nothing like a bit of confusing re-branding to make a flawed technology more secure. I seem to recall the UK Gov ministers avoiding the potential security and privacy problems with RFID tags in UK passports by the simple expedient of refusing to call it by that name. Perhaps the same thing is going on here, but it is hard to tell. In my view, an RFID tag by any other name smells just as bad.

0
0

Mozilla WebAPI: Champion of open source freedom

Chris Fox

Free-software philosophy forgotten?

It is nice to see some tacit support for the views of Stallman, the founder of the Free Software movement. But it is a shame they are not acknowledged. Concerns about more general notions of freedom lie at the philsophical heart of the Free Software movement, which has always been interested in defining freedom of software at a "higher" level, which encompasses protocols and APIs etc. It was essentially the Johnny-come-lately "Open Source Initiative" advocates who sought to dump the wider philosophical concerns of Stallman and the Free Software movement, and took access to the source, and avoidance of the word "Free" as being the only important issues. It is strange to see the OSI being alluded to as the "old guard" (that makes me feel really old) and how successful they appear to have been at eclipsing public awareness of the wider concerns that were, and remain, integral to the notion of Free Software proper.

9
0

Google+ bans real name under ‘Real Names’ policy

Chris Fox
Big Brother

Nonconforming?

What counts as "nonconforming" In a multicultural context, and who gets to decide?

To describe a name as "stupid" because it does not comply with one cultures norms concerning what names should look like could count as prejudice.

As others have pointed out, many cultures have no family names. In some cultures there are other expectations about what counts as a non-conforming name. For example, if Google were based in a country were all first names must be drawn from an approved list (e.g. based on the names that appear in the Bible, or similar), or in a country were a full "wallet name" appends the names of parents and grand-parents etc. to your first name, would it be acceptable for it to reject all names that fail to meet those criteria?

Even in cultures with family names, these are sometimes historically recent impositions that came about through conquest, empire, and subjugation, or the desire for bureaucratic convenience etc. It seems that in this context Google is acting imperial power that is seeking to impose its own narrow-minded world view for its own bureaucratic convenience.

Seeing the problems that it causes for end-users, and the evidence that Google is bowing to the needs of other third parties, one can only wonder whether this half-baked "real-name" policy is ultimately for the convenience of law-enforcement agencies in the US, China, UK and elsewhere, who are known to have an interest in tracking online conversations and being able to attribute them to real people without troubling themselves with the pesky details of judicial oversight. Perhaps Google should just go the whole hog and just start issuing ID numbers and photo identification?

9
1

LG Optimus Black

Chris Fox

SIP not taken off?

"SIP VoIP ... still waiting to take off."

Hm, I guess if you don't use SIP (or perhaps more likely, don't realise when you or you place of work are using SIP) it may seem appropriate to describe it as still waiting to take off, in the same way that those who don't use Skype might describe it as still waiting to take off...

And if you want a choice of providers, who can provide free incoming POTS numbers, cheap POTS terminated calls, and the option of treating your mobile as just a regular extension on your (virtual) PBX, all using open standards, with open source clients and exchanges, then SIP would appear to be a *much* better option than Skype. The SIP client in Andriod 2.3. is quite nicely integrated with the dialler, and uses less battery than the Skype client. (My only grumble is that it does not currently play well with ekiga.net due to a difference in expectation about how to do NAT traversal, but sipdroid works fine.)

0
0

Microsoft, Nokia, and RIM's wasted R&D billions

Chris Fox

Generics were not invented by MS funded research

Microsoft's funding of research led to the invention of generics in the same sense that it lead to the invention of object orientated programming. I.e. it didn't. This really is just another case of MS buying in pre-existing expertise on a pre-existing idea that had pre-existing implementations. And unfortunately it is not clear that the claims for type-safety in the .NET implementation are all that they appear (it is not easy to retrofit genuinely type-safe polymorphic methods to a run-time environment that was not designed to support the appropriate type-constraints), not that such technical niceties seem to bother those who write the marketing blurb.

Even so, putting aside concern about dubious claims to have "invented" things, and to own "intellectual property", I think it is good for companies to have research groups, even they don't do the hard conceptual ground-work themselves (that is what the universities should be doing, if only the government would let them).

6
0

Card surcharges face super-complaint

Chris Fox

Real money

Concerning the exchange of bank notes for "real" money (in England and Wales):

"... the value of the pound has not been linked to gold for many years, so the meaning of the promise to pay has changed. Exchange into gold is no longer possible and Bank of England notes can only be exchanged for other Bank of England notes of the same face value." [From the Bank of England's FAQ]

So if the definition of "real" money is what the Bank of England gives you if you offer a note for exchange, then that would be, er, a bank note of the same face value that was presented for exchange.

The only time this exchange is useful is when you find a stash of notes of a very old "withdrawn" design that a regular bank refuses to exchange. (But in such cases you may find the "real" value to a collector is higher than the face value.)

0
0

Google open video codec faces second challenger

Chris Fox

Codec Code Conceptual Confusion

"Note that often these kinds of codec are implemented in silicon chips in graphics cards, phones, and set-top-boxes. This frees up the CPU to do more interesting things, or to power down and save battery, or to simply be a slower, cooler and cheaper CPU (respectively). So non-software patents are involved too"

I might be over-interpreting things, but this aside appears to suggest that an algorithm burnt into firmware (or grid array etc.) is not software, and an otherwise general purpose computer is not a general purpose computer if it is following said algorithm burnt into firmware, or functionally equivalent silicon.

This is not a trivial point. Unfortunately it is *exactly* this kind of conceptual confusion that opened the door to software patents in the EPO, despite an explicit ban on software patents: The patent sophists argue that once a program is in a computer's memory ready to be executed it is no longer "software", as such, and that once a general purpose computer is running a specific program it is no longer a "mere" computer. On this confused account, supported by the EPO, what appears to be software can thus be patented as long as you describe it using the right form of words.

Consider exchanging "silicon chips" with "firmware + cpu". To agree that, for example, 'patenting a piece of silicon which implements a codec algorithm is not the same as patenting software' is to accept an instance of the argument that 'patenting (all) executions of (all) implementations of an algorithm is distinct from "patenting software" as such' (where the latter is banned by the EPO treaty, but the former allowed by EPO examiners).

I don't mean to pick on anyone, but those against software patents need to take care to avoid tacitly acceding to the very same arguments that are used to justify software patents.

2
0

'Smear agricultural land with human poo'

Chris Fox

Cynicism

Why the cynical tone and "scare quotations" in the article? As Dave Bell says above, peak phosphorus is a real problem, even if some IT journalists appear not to have heard about it before The soil association is just one of many organisations that are concerned with it and its impact on humanity. The scarcity of supply is one reason why the UN condones export tariffs on phosphorus. Without some form of recycling or alternative sources, agricultural production will most likely crash. Many would think that recycle sewerage is somewhat preferable to mass starvation, and yet more wars over limited resources.

1
0

Ofcom mulls popular number charge

Chris Fox

Er, like 056?

There already is a UK VoIP area code (056), and a corporate area code (055), although at present there is not much incentive for VoIP providers to encourage use of the 056 code over a geographic code. Some providers, such as Voipfone do give you a free 056 number, and charge for a geographic one, but others, like Sipgate, hand out geographic numbers for no charge. Calls to 056 destinations may sometimes be charged at a higher rate depending on the calling network. For example, from BT payphones you only get 55s for 10p to a 056 number, as opposed to 900s for 10p to a geographic number, even though 056 calls are charged like 01 calls from domestic BT lines.

0
0

Ten... sub-£50 budget MP3 players

Chris Fox

Clip+ supports FLAC and OGG

... and it appears as a USB mass storage device, using a standard mini-USB connector. You can also find instructions for replacing the "non-replaceable" battery, although it looks fiddly.

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