Topic

More on plane loading

In thinking about plane loading again, where I suggested they paint the rows in reverse order on the carpet where people line up to board, it occurs to me that in reverse order by row may not be the most efficient boarding order.

When each person gets to their seat, they tend to stop there to put away luggage, blocking other people in their row or further back. If they block the people in their row they make them block the people in the next row and so on, which is not efficient.

The most efficient order might be to do all the windows first (starting with the rear), then the middles and then the aisles. (Modify as appopriate for widebody aircraft.)

This way everybody does the luggage loading in parallel, as nobody is stopping them, then another column moves in. The first-row window passengers might block the last row middles for a short time but it would be minimal.

However...  read more »

American Express threatens me over joke on web site

On my rec.humor.funny web site, I maintain the newsgroup archives, including this 13 year old joke entitled American Expressway.

Today I got one of those bullying "cease and desist" letters from American Express's law firm, ordering me to take down the joke for trademark infringement. Here's the text of the cease and desist

Do these guys know who they are trying to bully? I guess not, here's my response to them:

You can "Screw More" with an American Express Lawyer

Do you know me?

I built a famous company with a famous name, and then satirists made fun of me by taking advantage of the constitutional protections afforded parody when it comes to trademark law?

That's why I retained Leydig, Voit & Mayer, Ltd, the "American Express Lawyers." Should you ever feel your reputation lost or stolen by free speech and satire, just one call gets LVM to write a threatening cease and desist letter -- usually on the same day -- citing all sorts of important sounding laws but ignoring the realities of parody. Most innocent web sites will cave in, not knowing their rights. LVM will pretend it has never read cases like L.L. Bean, Inc. v. High Society and dozens of others. There's no preset limit on the number of people you can threaten, so you can bully as much as you wish.  read more »

Official Candidate Picker

I recently tried one of those online surveys that tries to tell you which candidate is actually most in line with your policy beliefs. These are fun, but subject to bias.

In keeping with my New Democracy category, I started wondering if there was a way to make this process official, and unbiased. It's an interesting process because often these surveys surprise the voter, who, based on campaign ads or peer pressure don't realize they are highly in agreement with a smaller-party platform.

Here's one suggestion for a way to make it non-biased. Each registered candidate could submit a policy statement that they think differentiates themselves from the other candidates. After all are submitted, they would be revealed and the other candidates would decide how they themselves want to be scored by the proposition. (The submitting candidate would be classed as strongly agreeing.) You don't want to put in a motherhood proposition that everybody agrees with as it won't differentiate you from others.

After this we go another round, candidates can submit entries which either continue to differentiate them, or refine or rebut earlier proposals. You can go several rounds, though you don't want the survey to be super-long.

Then voters can take this survey and it will tell them how close they are to each candidate, on the whole and issue-by-issue.  read more »

Redeem transit tickets for Carpool lane permits

Carpool lanes exist to reward those who work to reduce congestion and pollution with a faster trip. I know that's good every time I look out my window and can't see the hills for the haze. Some areas allow zero-emission-vehicles (electric cars etc.) to also use carpool lanes with a solo driver, reducing pollution if not congestion.

Proposals have been made to also allow solo drivers of hybrid cars into the lanes, as well as solo drivers who simply pay a fat fee for a permit. Let me propose an interesting variant of these payment ideas.

Let people pay for part of their capool permit with used commuter train tickets. A person who rides the commuter train takes a car off the road just as much as a person who carpools. If used train tickets (for longer trips) could be credit for a carpool permit, this would encourage people to take the train "most days" but still use their car when it's called for. You could allow only redemption of your own ticket (such as a monthly pass) or any ticket, in which case a market would develop with people paying transit riders for their ticket stubs. This would effectively mean the solo drivers would subsidize the transit riders, even making their trips free. Which is part of what we want to have happen here.  read more »

Telling good patents from bad

Many people feel there's a patent law crisis underway. The Patent office has been granting patents that either seem obvious, or aren't the sort of thing that should be patented. Some advance that software shouldn't be patentable at all, just as mathematics is not patentable.

I don't go that far, for reasons I will explain. But I have found a common thread in many of the bad patents which could be a litmus test for telling the bad from the good.

Patent law, as we know, requires inventions to be novel and not obvious to one skilled in the art.

But the patent office has taken too liberal a definition of novel. They are granting patents when the problem is novel, and the filer is the first to try to solve it. As such their answer to the new question is novel.

The better patents are ones that solve older problems.

Amazon was one of the earliest internet shopping operations. So of course they were among the first to look hard at the UI for that style of shopping, and thus were first to file an invention called one-click-buy. But one-click-buy was really just an obvious answer to a new problem. The same applies to XOR cursors, browser plug-ins, and streaming audio and video.

Some patents, however, are deserving. I remember seeing CS professors give lectures in the mid-70s about how Huffman coding was provably the be best form of data compression, even after Ziv and Lempel published their paper on their compression algorithms. They took a very old problem and came up with a new answer. Key management in cryptography was a 2000 year old problem, and Diffie, Hellman and Merkle came up with a bold new answer. (As did cryptographers at British intelligence, but I still don't think this makes this obvious.)

While it would not solve every problem, I think if patent examiners asked, "How long has somebody been trying to solve the problem this invention solves?" and held off patents when the problem was novel, or at least applied more scrutiny, we would have a lot less problem with the patent system.

Many people simply say, "we should not allow patenting of software."

This has always bothered me. To me, software and hardware are the same thing, and the rest of the world is slowly realizing that. The virtual world is the real world, and having one law for that done in software and another for that done in hardware is a poor course to take.  read more »

Being a privacy nut

Those of us who opposed the TIA and other programs were recently branded as "privacy nuts" for doing so. Hiawatha Bray wrote that it was stupid to quash this sort of research just because it might lead to abuse.

Nonetheless, it is important to understand that this is exactly the role
of the privacy advocate.

Protecting privacy is one of the most difficult tasks in the civil rights
pantheon for several reasons. One is that people are rarely concerned about
privacy invasions until after they have taken place. The consequences of
privacy invasion are often subtle as well, even after the fact. The
simple fact that you know you are being watched alters your behaviour in
subtle ways, causes self-censorship of all sorts of speech and activities.

After all, who acts the same home at dinner with their mother than they
do out on their own at college for the first time away from her eye?

Thus it is important not only that the government not engage in general
surveillance. It must, like Ceasar's wife be _seen_ to not engage in
such activity. Anything that gives the public grounds to fear they
are under surveillance impinges on freedom. Even if the watchers are
well intentioned and well behaved and don't exceed their authority.

But of course, even though they may be well intentioned, countless
evidence shows they do exceed their authority, and not infrequently.

Thus we come to the next princple. That we must not build the
infrastructure of the police state. We must not make it be that the
action needed to have a real police state is to flip a switch or
change a policy. Perhaps the risk that the switch will actually be
flipped is one in 100 in your judgement. To me the cost of such a
state is so high we must not even let that level of risk go by.

Instead, let us always have those who would want a surveillance state
have to do both things -- change the policy and create the infrastructure.
Let us not do the hard work for them.

San Jose Bike Route Airport to Downtown

Pardon the local entry boring to those outside this valley.

San Jose is seeking something "distinctive" for the airport remodel. Let me suggest something I have not seen anywhere else, something that would say something about the area.

San Jose has a bike trail that, except for a short gap, runs along the Guadalupe River from the airport terminals to almost highway 280. The part along Airport Blvd is unpaved, the rest is paved and landscaped. Step one would be to complete this trail and pave the unpaved part. Until the gap can be filled in, create some clearly marked bike lanes. Also do a lane on San Carlos, Park or San Fernando to lead to the convention center and downtown hotels.

Next: Franchise or subsidize specialty one-way bike and electric scooter rentals at both ends. Have regular bikes with towable trailers or trikes, and have electric powered bikes and scooters (again with luggage capacity) for those unwilling to get in some exercise. Make the rental cheap, like a few dollars each way.

This is worth doing just for the polution it would avoid with all those folks taking cabs. (Let's face it, people are not using the shuttle to the light rail much.) It would actually be faster in may cases than either of those methods, especially during rush hour. It would expose the visitor to something other than the highway trip. With San Jose's weather, it could operate well most of the year.  read more »

Support public/private in 802.11 access points

Almost everybody has a WiFi (802.11) access point these days. Some leave them open by accident, some deliberately, some turn on encryption or other security. Being open can be nice to neighbours and wanderers, though it can also be abused, and if you have insecure machines on the local NAT, it's risky.

I propose pushing home NAT/WiFi boxes to, by default, work in both open and closed modes. They would support two NAT networks, independent of one another. One network would be for inside. Connecting machines on the inside network would need the WEP encryption key, or in lesser-security mode, be on the approved MAC list. Machines without the authentication would go on the external, open network.

The two networks might have two different SSIDs if the box can broadcast both of them, or it might be easier to have one broadcast SSID and one non-broadcast one.

Traffic for the external network would be given low priority, so that internal network use is never slowed by external use.

In other words, other than ISP complaints, there would be no reason not to do this. It would be good for giving access to visitors to the home or office, and also mean free wireless almost everywhere in the world.

Foresight Conference

The weekend of May 14th, I will be attending (and MCing for part of) the Foresight Senior Associates Conference. This conference is always a lot of fun, with many at the edge (and beyond) ideas about nanotech, AI, anti-aging and other related topics. It's run by my friends Chris Peterson and Eric Drexler and their Foresight Institute. You may have read Eric's book "Engines of Creation."

They are offering readers of my blog a $200 discount on attending. To attend, you must be a senior associate, which requires a $250 annual donation, so the discount just about compensates for that. If you're into futurism, this is a fun place to be.

Accelerometer in Cell Phone for emergencies

In writing the previous entry, another idea came to me that I stuck at the end which is worthy of its own entry. Place an accelerometer in your cell phone that will detect a violent event, such as a car crash or bike crash. Similar to the detector already in the car that triggers the airbag.

Upon detection of the event, the phone would start beeping for about 30 seconds warning about the emergency. If there is no emergency, you would press any key to stop the call. Otherwise it could call 911.

However, it would need to be sure not to trigger an emergency just because you dropped the phone or threw it or went flying when you turned a corner in your car. However, if this can be arranged it could be a handy feature to sell as a cell phone extra.

Why don't cell phones have USB?

In line with earlier thoughts about univeral DC power, let me ask why cell phones haven't standardized on USB (or a mini-USB plug) as an interface?

USB provides power. Not as much as some chargers, but enough to get a decent rate to many phones. And it has data, which can be used for phone control and configuration, speakerphone and headset interfaces, address book sync, ringtone download, memory card download, data-modem connections to PCs and anything else, all with one standard plug.

Every cell store has a rack of scores of adapters, chargers and cables. Each time you get a new phone they want to sell you new accessories, I guess. We have a standard. Why don't we use it, or extend it enough to be used.

(I'll admit it's not a good headset interface due to USB's silly master-slave protocol, since to connect to the PC the phone would be a slave, and to connect to the headset it would be the master. But this can be worked around, and I'll tolerate an extra headset jack.)

See below for some interesting safety ideas...  read more »

Efficient airline passenger loading

Many know that Southwest Airlines has some of the best on-time records and plane turnaround times. Some of this comes from the fact that without reserved seating, people can board the planes more quickly.

It seems to me it should be possible to board planes quickly even with reserved seating. Here's how...

For a simple system, draw on the carpet a diagram of the largest plane that uses the gate. Except put the rear of the plane up by the door, with numbers counting down to the front. Have a 2nd area for 1st class if you need to keep them boardig at their convenience. This can be just a line with row numbers, and a marker that puts window seats near the line, aisles further away.

When boarding is called, passengers stand in the line for their row, and sorted internally as noted, so window seats go first. Then just empty the line into the plane. Being out of place in the line will be very obvious on the plane. If people line up over their row number, you'll never wait while people load their stuff to get to your row, unless you're late for the boarding call -- which few people are today due to crazy security rules.

You hae to decide if premium frequent flyers and "people needing extra time" should go first or not as they do now. My view is that the pre-boarding needs are minimal, and that even a slow child or senior will be better placed with their row than pre-boarding, but pre-board can still be allowed. I also think the frequent flyers would rather have a plane that boards and leaves quickly than get on first, except for one issue -- overhead storage. However, even if you let us get on first, doing this for the rest of the passengers still will streamline things.

You could also just print a series of numbers on the carpet. People would be given a card with their number and expected to stand by it, showing the card. The cards can have a clear colour code making it impossible to hide which group of 12 you are in. In this case, you can assign low numbers to 1st class, pre-boarders and frequent flyers, and just sequence up by seat otherwise. Again, zip on the plane almost as fast as leaving it. That means boarding closer to take-off, and faster turnaround, which is good for everybody.

Offshore patient monitoring

As you might guess from the prior entry, somebody I know recently had an ICU visit. The hospital had to cut back staff, laying off nurses' aides and hiring some extra nurses, then making them do the former work of the nurses aides (changing sheets etc) because of regulations forcing them to have a higher ratio of patients to nurses. So, more nurses per patient but the nurses end up doing less actual nursing per patient because they are doing the work the aides did. Clever, no?

Anyway, to add fuel to the offshore outsourcing debate, I wondered how practical it would be to outsource patient watching. A trained nurse in a lower-income area, possibly on the other side of the world, would watch a patient via a live video feed and data feeds of all the instruments. If they see a problem, they would send an alert to a physically present nurse or doctor. They could see and talk to the patient, if the patient is responsive.

Since the bandwidth would be expensive for this, I imagine a lower-res video for real-time, though still good enough to see important things with remote pan and zoom control. However, on-demand they could jump up the bandwidth during an event. They would also be able to send a command to replay something they saw in full-resolution, with some delay.

To do this the local recorder would record the full resolution video, even HDTV, and keep it for an hour on a hard disk. It woudl transmit a lower-res version live. Since most hospital beds are static scenes this would compress well. Motion, instead of causing artifacts would just call for more bandwidth from the total pool. However, when the watcher says, "let me see the last 10 seconds" the patient's recorder would re-transmit it in full HDTV if necessary.

But the main point is the overseas workers might be so cost effective that you can have near full-time monitoring of a patient by a skilled professional. In many hospitals and nursing homes, the staff might visit only once every few hours, perhaps every 15 minutes at best. You can die in 15 minutes.

Of course it's spooky from a privacy standpoint to be watched all the time, this would not be for everybody. And better instrumentation that's non-intrusive and can detect emergency events quickly would be even better. Though nothing will do as well as a trained person right now. This might also allow more effective home care, though of course in that case it might be too long before an ambulence arrives if an emergency is seen on the monitor. And you had better hope your internet connection does not go down.

Still, there's a lot to say for home care, considering just how many people die or suffer greatly due to hospital-caught infections. As I noted earlier, they are the 4th leading cause of death.

Cheaper beds to move patients

A lot of patients sit in hospitals unable to move, and as such they develop tremendous bedsores and other problems. My grandmother lost a leg to this (and the resulting hospital-caught infection) many years ago. (Hospital-caught infection is the 4th largest cause of death in the USA, after heart disease, cancer and stroke.)

Today I saw one answer, a fancy bed that uses inflatable chambers in the bed to adjust the patient. Seems like a good plan, but the kicker is the bed costs $1000/day to rent. This bed is good in an ICU with a patient hooked up to tons of tubes and wires, but for the more stable stroke and paralysis patient, it seems there could be something much cheaper.

What about a U shaped bed with curved side walls that simply sits on a track with a geared motor that can rotate it left and right to flip a patient over? The U sides could be lowered by the hospital staff to remove the patient from the bed, though in fact the motor might also be able to turn the bed to roll the patient onto a gurney for transport.

Also handy would be cushions on a conveyer belt. Such patients, and I have known several, often move down the bed if the back is tilted up for them, and they have to be lifted and moved back up. This could also help. For many patients it could all be under their control, with safeguards of course to avoid going too far.

The value of being moved is well known, the problem is how to make it cheap enough so that all these patients can have it. Perhaps the inflatable concept can be made cheaper. Typical airbeds aren't that expensive and the principles are similar. Does being "medical grade" really jump the cost of the bed to $300,000?

How can the US have been a player in new Iraqi constitution?

The new constitution of Iraq says:

Article 7.

A) Islam is the official religion of the State and is to be considered a source of legislation. No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the rights cited in Chapter Two of this Law may be enacted during the transitional period. This Law respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice.

This constitution was signed by Iraqis, but can anybody doubt that the USA played a large role in bringing it to be, a role beyond toppling the Saddam government?

How can this be legal. No agents of the USA are permitted to take actions respecting the establishment of any religion. The 1st amendment does not just say "In the united states." I would say that US agents must play no role in creating foreign governments which have established churches.

The Iraqis, on their own and soverign, may decide to have an official religion. But they are not on their own here. I have no doubt it was Iraqi desires which led to the introduction of this article, and that the US probably didn't want it.

But the US is required to not just not want it. They are constitutionally forbidden from playing any part in it, I would say. Besides, the whole point of the 1st amendement is it doesn't matter what even the majority of individuals want with regards to religion, they are not to be given their way. It doesn't just say "in the USA." No agents of congress, including the military, may engage in this.

Of course, all this means is somebody could sue in US court that the US government violated the 1st amendemnt. It's not clear what remedy could be granted them.

Political action in anger

The recent attacks in spain appear to have affected the outcome of the election. Some say the voters rejected the pro-US stand of the former government. Others say they rejected the botched handling of the early investigation. Whatever reason, it seems the terrorist attacks altered the election, since the government was considered fairly solid before, and experienced quite the upset.

This, and the PATRIOT act in the USA convince me that to defend against the emotional response we all feel to terrorism (that being its goal) we should consider constitutional amendments to limit political action in times of great anger and emotion.

This amendment would first set to declare a major violent event -- a terrorist attack, or the start or major escalation of war hostilities within the country. The supreme court would get to declare when such an event had taken place.

Then the following rules would apply:

a) Should the event take place within one week of an election, said election shall be delayed by 2 weeks, such delay to be done no more than twice.

b) Any law passed by congress within 30 days of the event which significantly relates to the event, including any law relating to expansion of police or military powers shall remain in force for no more than 6 months. After 5 months congress may elect to renew or redraft the law.

More on generic domains, and poli-spam

There has been some discussion of the generic domain proposal on slashdot (alas mostly incorrect because they didn't read the underlying essays.) The posting here was also posted on
CircleID
a DNS discussion site, and there are multiple comments.

As noted, my blog entry was primarily a summary of views related to the proposal of yet another generic TLD. Mistakenly I gave the .yahoo example making some people think I was proposing just giving TLDs to big companies, which is the exact opposite of the proposal. Those who wish to comment should see actual proposal to break up ICANN to see where I'm coming from.

Additional not on Political Spam: John Gilmore wondered if it might be unconstitutional to limit the number of E-mails each candidate got to send to the voters in their district. I doubt that's true, but it turns out it's not needed. If voters have easy opt-out links and an opt-out web site, candidates that overwhelm voters with messages would quickly be unsubscribed to, losing their chance to get their message out closer to the election.

It's also not necessary to provide email for ballot propositions. They are not really in need of campaign finance reform in the same way. Those who donate to a proposition do so only to help it win. They may have ulterior motives for that, but they are not doing it to get influence with a candidate later on other issues, which is the CFR problem.

Otherwise doing ballot propositions seems harder, since it is hard to see who would be the "official" opponent (though election books seem to do something here.) Everybody deserves a say, but open mail lists clearly would not work.

New mobile domain another bad idea

You may have seen a new proposal for a "mobile" top-level domain name for use by something called "mobile users" whatever they are. (The domain will not actually be named .mobile, rumours are they are hoping for a coveted one-letter TLD like .m "to make it easier to type on a mobile phone.)

Centuries ago, as trademark law began its evolution, we learned one pretty strong rule about building rules for a name system for commerce, and even for non-commerce.

Nobody should be given ownership of generic terms. Nobody should have ownership rights in a generic word like "apple" -- not Apple Computer, not Apple Records, not the Washington State Apple Growers, not a man named John Apple.

Rather, generics must be shared. Ownership rights can accrue to them only in specific contexts that are not generic. Because the word "Apple" has no generic meaning when it comes to computers, we allow a company to get rights in that name when applied to computers. A different company has those rights when it applies to records. More than this, different parties could own the same term with the same context in two different cities. There is probably a "China Delight" restaurant in your town.

We hammered out the rules to manage such naming systems literally over centuries, with many laws and zillions of court cases.

Then, when DNS came along we (and I include myself since I endorsed it at the time) threw it all away. We said, when it came to naming on the internet, we would create generic top level domains, and let people own generic names within them.

Thus, "com" for commerce has within it "drugstore.com." Centuries of law establshed nobody could own the generic word "drugstore" but when it comes to names used on the internet, we reversed that. No wonder that company paid near a million for that domain as I recall, and at the record, the inflated number of 7.5 million was paid for business.com

The old TLDs have that mistake built into them. On the internet, we are the only EFF organization because we were first. Nobody else can be that.

The new TLDs continue that trend. Be it .museum, which allows one body to control the generic word museum, or a new proposal for .mobile.

Because of this, people fight over the names, pay huge sums, sue and insist only one name is right for them.

I maintain that the only way to get a competitive innovative space is to slowly get rid of the generics and allow a competitive space of branded TLDs for resale. .yahoo, .dunn, .yellowpages, .google, .wipo, and a hundred other branded resellers competing on on even footing to create value in their brand and win customers with innovative designs, better service, lower prices and all the usual things. I presume .wipo would offer trademark holders powerful protections within their domain. Let them. Perhaps .braddomains would, when you bought a domain, give you every possible typo and homonym for your domain so people who hear it on the radio won't get it wrong typing it in. Perhaps .centraal (former, non-generic name of the now defunct "RealNames" company) would follow their keyword rules. I know .frankston would offer permanent numeric IDs to all. Let them all innovate, let them all compete.

We're nowhere near this system, but I didn't just make up the idea of not owning generics. I think centuries of experience shows it is the best way to go. I wrote this today in response to the .mobile proposal, but you can also find much more on the ideas in my site of DNS essays including this plan to break up ICANN, and essays on generics and also the goals we have for a domain system

Political Spam == Campaign Finance Reform?

I’ve maintained for some time that while most spam is commercial, whether something is spam is not dependent on it being commercial. Charity spam, religious spam and political spam are just as bothersome as Viagra spam.

However, fellow EFFer Larry Lessig challenged me on this by asking whether we might want to allow political spam. Spam is super-cheap to send (that’s one reason it’s a problem) but as a very cheap form of advertising it could be an equalizer when it comes to campaign expenses, since a candidate would low-funding could spam almost as well as one with boatloads of special interest money. That’s unlike TV advertising, where the better funded candidate wins the game.

I have to admit that the current way elections are funded and political influence is bought and sold is a much more important problem than spam, so this is a question worth looking at.

Of course, it would be stupid for a politician to spam, even though they have exempted themselves from the spam laws. Spam generates such ill will (appropriately too) that I think a spam campaign from a candidate would backfire. Plus, I really don’t like the idea of regulating spam based on what it says — If it says one thing it’s banned, if it says another it’s OK.

But is there a germ of something worthwhile in here? What if the election officials managed the mailing list and voters had to be on it, for example.  read more »

On Nader running and third parties

I've been reading a number of pieces, both before and after, on the evil of Ralph Nader running for office. The arguments for the harm that could come to Nader's cause if
he "spoils" the election are possibly quite valid. I doubt Nader is
unaware of them; perhaps is he more aware of them than anybody.

But I continue to find great dismay in those who tell him not to
run. Perhaps it is my perspective as a non-citizen of this fine
country, since in my country, and many others, strong third parties
are common, and it is common for them to change the outcome of
an election.

The argument to Nader seems to say, "You should not run because you
might make a difference." In this case a difference other than the
one he wants to make.

But with this philosophy, that third voices may only be heard in
U.S. politics when hearing them won't actually make a difference, the
U.S. will never hear more than 2 voices, and indeed 2 similar voices.
(There was a nice paper on Dave's mailing list not too long ago which
demonstrated how a 2 party system pushes both candidates to the middle.)

Exercise your political will, you tell Nader, only when it can make
no difference. If you ever get popular enough to actually alter the course of
an election, back off.  read more »