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Off the Record with Scientology

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:36

A few months ago, I was reading a journal article on Scientology which noted a conversation with a spokesperson for the group who answered some questions and then (presumably after talking to his superiors) became unhelpful and refused to go on the record any further. It seems like an odd pattern to intentionally follow, but as I read a story about the latest Scientology campaign aimed at silencing its critics, I noted the spokeswoman who was interviewed played that same game:

She goes on to write that “Marty Rathbun is a defrocked apostate removed from any position in the Church for malfeasance nearly eight years ago and has no firsthand knowledge of its activities.”

Contacted by phone later, Pouw declined to comment further and would not speak on the record about the Office of Special Affairs or other details mentioned in the email Rathbun references.

Perhaps this is because they have only a few, prewritten responses and when those run out the spokespeople do not have anything they are able to say?

Patent Reform

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:51

Thom Holwerda over at OSNews is bit overzealous in his campaign against patent enforcement — he'll defend companies that are blatantly and directly copying Apple in ways that are totally unnecessary — but his list of suggested patent reforms has a lot of good ideas. Most notably, this:

Patent applications must be accompanied by a working prototype that must be presented, in person, by the inventor listed on the application, to the patent office. This makes it impossible to file patents on ideas that have not yet been implemented or productised, and will serve to greatly reduce the number of vague and/or bogus applications.

The payoff is clear: so-called “patent trolls,” whose main business is extorting money out of actually productive companies by patenting often obvious ideas and then waiting to find someone to sue, would have to either start being productive themselves or move on. In some sense I can see a working prototype requirement as being too steep for high tech patents, after all, an inventor may wish to have the protection of a patent before seeking manufacturing partners. On the other hand, perhaps a compromise would be to require those requesting a patent to produce a working prototype within a certain probationary patent window or face loss of the patent.

Similarly, Thom is right that software patents can be stunningly vague and that such overly broad patents should be rejected. Nonetheless, I do not think the solution is to eliminate software patents entirely, but require them to be restricted to a particular implementation of an idea, not a broad concept that can be achieved via many different methods.

Happy Independence Day!

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:52

I hope all of my American readers had a delightful Fourth of July filled with family, friends, food and (wherever possible) fireworks!

Hybrid Devices

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:16

Bill Gates “speaks on”: Microsoft Surface and the “other” tablets:

“I actually believe you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a rich ecosystem of manufacturers and you can have a few signature devices that show off, you know, wow, what's the difference between a tablet and a PC.

As nice as the idea is in theory, so long as Metro and Classic Windows are almost like two different systems that can run parallel on the same system, I don't think Microsoft has found the “best” of any world. Whether having a traditional Windows “experience” next to the tablet interface is something people will want will be telling when Windows 8 comes out.

The E-Ink Gideons

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:54

According to the Telegraph, one hotel is replacing the hard cover Gideon's Bible that is so familiarly located in any given hotel room with a Kindle preloaded with the Bible:

From today, all 148 rooms at the Hotel Indigo will contain a Kindle e-reader pre-loaded with a copy of the Bible. The hotel is claiming to be the first in Britain to offer such a service.

I wonder how they keep all of the units charged and safely stored within the rooms?

Roberts Switched Views?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:22

An insightful article on the process behind the Supreme Court's healthcare decision:

Some informed observers outside the Court flatly reject the idea that Roberts buckled to liberal pressure, or was stared down by the President. They instead believe that Roberts realized the historical consequences of a ruling striking down the landmark health care law. There was no doctrinal background for the Court to fall back on - nothing in prior Supreme Court cases - to say the individual mandate crossed a constitutional line.

The Sentry Post

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:08

Here is a pithy tidbit from John Calvin that I was mulling over tonight as I thought about the new Sunday school classes that are starting tomorrow:

“Therefore each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.”


By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:46

It is hard to believe that the iPhone landed five years ago today. I remember heading out to observe the launch day festivities and trying an iPhone for the first time — it felt like using something out of Star Trek. However, as nifty as it was even at a demo kiosk, the iPhone was significantly different from anything before it, and so it was hard to figure out precisely how useful it would actually prove to be. I wrote about my buyer's indecision after I succumbed to the temptation to buy one.

While very little about the iPhone was “innovative” when the first generation model's features were placed in isolation, putting them all together into a very thin, capacitive touch screen-only device was strikingly innovative. Often times, these are the best sorts of innovations: ones that take a pile of good ideas that are sitting scattered around and putting them together into something new that has a cohesive vision. Before the iPhone, smartphones weren't terribly easy to use and presented users with a very strong step backwards in usability from the mouse driven interface of a desktop computer. With the iPhone, suddenly common tasks such as web browsing were as easy, if not easier, to do on a phone than on the computer.

That's why the iPhone made such a big impact. It is also why these stock growth statistics look as they do.

My Desktop from Ten Years Ago

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:34

I ran across this screenshot today and thought it was interesting. This is what my desktop on my computer looked like ten years ago.

Interfaces have definitely improved since then.

Are these Legal Aliens?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:52

An interesting set of survey results from National Geographic:

Nearly two in three Americans think President Barack Obama is better suited than Republican rival Mitt Romney to deal with an alien invasion, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Good to know.

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