Thursday, February 28, 2013

Death to the Patent Trolls?

The advent of “patent troll” companies has seriously perverted the already-perverted world of intellectual property law.  These companies acquire portfolios of patents (or the rights to those patents) with the intent to prosecute companies alleged to be infringing them.  The key word there is “alleged”.  Patent trolls are frequently accused (almost certainly accurately) of bringing actions that they are sure to lose – because they know that the accused companies will often (most of the time, in fact) pay a settlement just to make the lawsuit go away.

Many have noted that the patent trolls are enabled by a feature of American law: that the winner of a lawsuit like this still pays their own legal expenses.  Under English law, the loser pays for both sides legal expenses.  This “loser pays” system greatly discourages frivolous lawsuits, as the side with a good defense is willing to pay for that defense, knowing that if they win the other side is going to pay the entire expense.

Now that same “loser pays” system is being proposed for the U.S. – but only for suits brought by patent trolls.  Defining a patent troll is trickier than it might appear.  Here's an article about the proposed bill, and here's the EFF's statement of support for it...

Visualizing Formerly Invisible Motion (and More)...

Through a technique dubbed “Eulerian magnification”, computer scientists are getting better at producing stunning, informative visualizations.  The video tells the story, and there are more details in the accompanying storyThis search will show you many more videos produced via Eulerian magnification.  What an awesome new tool!

World's Nerdiest Marriage Proposal?

I was skeptical until I read it.  This is one physicist's written marriage proposal to another physicist.  Partial clip below; click on the link to read the whole thing.  Awesome!


For nearly 20 years now, “Siggy” (more formally, “Eight Sigmas”) has been a big part of our life.  We purchased this stock '96 Toyota LandCruiser in 1995 using some of the money we made from our stock options after Stac's IPO.  We had to order it (and wait several months to get it!) because we wanted the four-wheeling features that were then available (most especially the differential locks) from Toyota. 

Siggy was our ride on many adventures throughout the Western U.S.  It took us in safety and comfort on freeways and on extremely rugged back-country roads.  Perhaps the most challenging thing we ever did with Siggy was a wonderful vacation in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado (where we're going again this summer).  With Debbie, my dad, and two dogs (Mo'i and Lea) we roamed all over those mountains – never meeting a trail we couldn't take, and never feeling the least at risk.

But poor Siggy is now too old and decrepit to safely take us into the back-country any more.  With nearly 300,000 miles on it (with never a major repair!), the engine is now on its last legs.  Replacing the engine would be quite expensive, and the rest of the vehicle is worn as well.  Really the entire drive train should be replaced, and that just didn't seem practical.  So last week we researched all our options and chose a new ride: a 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser, bright orange and white.  This time we're not going to keep it a stock vehicle – we bought a very basic model (just the off-roading package) and we're going to add aftermarket gear to make it a really capable and safe off-road vehicle.

I drove Siggy to the dealer (in El Cajon) to meet its fate as a trade-in.  It was a sad drive; Siggy is just chock full of wonderful memories for us.  I shed a few tears, and at one point almost turned around to take it back home.  But what would we do with an old, beat-up LandCruiser?  In the end, I decided I'd hope that somebody on a tight budget would buy Siggy and fix it all up in a labor of love.  I hope that's what happens, anyway...