February 24, 2007
MP3 Madness — Why Microsoft's patent infringement is, in the end, meaningless
Step back a minute and consider what the Sturm und Drang is all about: the fact that a jury has just ordered Microsoft to pay $1.52 billion in damages to Alcatel-Lucent for patent infringement — stealing the technology (called MP3) used to compress music into the smallest possible digital file without losing (significant) sound information.
Consider also that the reason MP3 became popular is that computers were once much slower, internet was mostly dial-up and painfully dilatory compared to broadband, and information capacity was thus far more limited than at present, with the near future bringing the prospect of essentially instantaneous transmission speeds both within and between computers and servers, as well as essentially limitless storage capacity.
Which means that the need to compress music files will disappear, and so you'll be able to have CD-quality sound instead of the compressed version your iPod puts out.
Which is why I say that the whole brouhaha over who owns MP3 is an argument over stuff that's well over — except in the minds of the headline-crazy press and media.
Tricked-out Plant and Garden Clips
From the website:
- Garden Clips
Forget flimsy strings — easy-to-use clips support plants without damaging stems.
Save time when gardening — staking your plants with these clips is quicker and easier than using plastic ties or string... and they won't crush the stems.
No more fumbling with bits of twine or twist-ties — use these plastic clips to support plants without damaging their fragile stems.
The smaller opening grips the stake and the wider opening supports the stem or branch without bruising, leaving room for growth.
Ideal for staking tomatoes or training climbing plants.
"Save time when gardening...."
Huh — gardeners I know like the fact that time becomes a non-issue when they're most engaged.
15 for $4.95.
Game over: Wikipedia defeats Britannica
"In the past year, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that 'anyone can edit,' has been cited four times as often as the Encyclopedia Britannica in judicial opinions, and the number is rapidly growing."
There's been a back-and-forth about which source was more authoritative, but the debate appears to be over.
Here's Sunstein's piece.
- A Brave New Wikiworld
In the past year, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that "anyone can edit," has been cited four times as often as the Encyclopedia Britannica in judicial opinions, and the number is rapidly growing. In just two years, YouTube has become a household word and one of the world's most successful Web sites. Such astounding growth and success demonstrate society's unstoppable movement toward shared production of information, as diverse groups of people in multiple fields pool their knowledge and draw from each other's resources.
Developing one of the most important ideas of the 20th century, Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek attacked socialist planning on the grounds that no planner could possibly obtain the "dispersed bits" of information held by individual members of society. Hayek insisted that the knowledge of individuals, taken as a whole, is far greater than that of any commission or board, however diligent and expert. The magic of the system of prices and of economic markets is that they incorporate a great deal of diffuse knowledge.
Wikipedia's entries are not exactly prices, but they do aggregate the widely dispersed information of countless volunteer writers and editors. In this respect, Wikipedia is merely one of many experiments in aggregating knowledge and creativity, that have been made possible by new technologies.
The Central Intelligence Agency disclosed the existence of its top-secret Intellipedia project, based on Wikipedia software (and now containing more than 28,000 pages), in late October. The agency hopes to use dispersed information to reduce the risk of intelligence failures. NASA officials have adopted a wiki site to program NASA software, allowing many participants to make improvements.
In the private domain, businesses are adopting wikis to compile information about products, profits and new developments. The Autism Wiki, produced mostly by adults with autism and Asperger's syndrome, contains material on autism and related conditions. Wikileaks.org, founded by dissidents in China and other nations, plans to post secret government documents and to protect them from censorship with coded software.
But wikis are merely one way to assemble dispersed knowledge. The number of prediction markets has also climbed over the past decade. These markets aggregate information by inviting people to "bet" on future events — the outcome of elections, changes in gross domestic product, the likelihood of a natural disaster or an outbreak of avian flu.
In general, the results have proved stunningly accurate. For elections, market forecasts have consistently outperformed experts and even public opinion polls. (If you want to learn who is likely to win the Oscars, check out the Hollywood Stock Exchange at http://www.hsx.com.) Many companies, such as Google, Eli Lilly and Microsoft, have created internal prediction markets for product launches, office openings, sales levels and more. At Google, which has disclosed some of its data, the aggregation of dispersed information has yielded remarkably reliable forecasts.
Interest in open-source software — software whose "code" is available to users, so that they can improve it as they see fit — has also risen dramatically. But the idea of open source is not limited to software.
Open-source projects, some of which are emerging in medicine and biotechnology, dispense with the protection of intellectual property law so that numerous users can contribute to improvements. In the domain of health, open-source biotechnology projects such as Bioforge.net might end up saving numerous lives, especially but not only in poor countries. Well-funded projects claiming the protection of intellectual property law will often do much worse than cheaper ones that benefit from widespread collaboration. Other experiments involve open-source cars (http://www.theoscarproject.org), open-source cellphones, open-source toys (http://mindstorms.lego.com) and even open-source voting machines, which are designed to reduce the risk and appearance of fraud.
Of course, collaborative projects can go badly wrong. Pranksters have altered Wikipedia entries to say that Tony Blair's middle name is "Whoop-de Do"; that David Beckham was a Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th century; that the golfer Fuzzy Zoeller had abused alcohol and drugs; and that John Seigenthaler, a respected journalist, was thought to be involved in the assassinations of both Kennedys (before absconding to the Soviet Union).
The falsehoods about Zoeller and Seigenthaler were no laughing matter, and more serious mistakes, endangering reputations or causing financial losses, are possible. Anyone can vandalize an encyclopedia that "anyone can edit." No less than stock prices, prediction markets may be subject to manipulation. And in medicine and biotechnology, as elsewhere, intellectual property law may be needed to provide adequate incentives for innovation.
But the track record of the new collaborations suggests that they have immense potential. In just a few years, Wikipedia has become the most influential encyclopedia in the world, consulted by judges as well as those who cannot afford to buy books. If the past is prologue, we're seeing the tip of a very large iceberg.
Cass R. Sunstein teaches at the University of Chicago and is the author of "Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge."
More and more "you get what you pay for" may become — as they say inside the Beltway — inoperative.
From the website:
- 24-Pocket Pantry Organizer
Turn a door into a pantry.
Instantly gain organized storage on your laundry room door, create an space-saving pantry in the kitchen, organize supplies in the craft room, even add extra storage to a closet door.
In just minutes, without using tools or punching holes in the door, you'll have space for all sorts of things!
Made of polyester-cotton twill, this organizer adjusts at the bottom to fit most doors.
Support rods at top and bottom won’t interfere with door closure; ties on the sides attach to a doorknob.
See-through polyester mesh pockets.
Fits over a door up to 1½" thick.
20"W x 70"H.
I need this book
I just happened on it — can you get it here yesterday?
For years I've been plagued with a seemingly endless series of subpar performers on my crack research team — Shawn Lea, my research chief, does what she can without complaint but hey, you know what they say about how difficult it can be to make chicken salad if you're not given the appropriate ingredients....
Anyhow, I'm hoping that reading this book and putting to work the lessons to be learned therein will improve my retention rate, which currently equates to a complete turnover of my team every 7-8 days.
It's hard to inculcate company values in that short a time.
Pet Peek — Finally, your dog can keep tabs on what's going on 'out there'
From the website:
- Pet Peek™
Give your dog a view of the outside world.
Satisfy his curiosity in a safe and responsible way.
This acrylic domed window is easy to install and gives your dog a great view of what's happening beyond the fence and lets him keep tabs on the neighborhood!
Made of durable acrylic, it is easy to install — just mount over a hole in the fence.
It juts out five inches to give him both front and side views, yet protects people and pets on both sides of the fence.
May help reduce barking if he can see what’s going on outside the confines of the yard.
Space several along a long fence, or one on each side.
Trim ring and mounting hardware included.
12½" dia. x 5" deep.
When Issey met Jasper
Above, Issey Miyake's new "Track — Men's S/S 2007," available at the flagship store (802 Madison Avenue, New York City; 212-439-7822).
Jasper Johns' 1975 etching, "4."
Auto-On Drawer Illuminator
From the website:
- Micro Utility Light
No more dark drawers, closets or cabinets — open them and this super-bright light comes on automatically!
Now you don't need to turn on the bright, glaring overhead light to see inside your sock drawer!
This mini light goes anywhere — tool box, cabinet, closet, etc.
No wires or installation — attaches with gripper or magnetic tape (both included) and runs on button batteries (included).
The two white LEDs will never burn out.
2" x 1" x 5/8".
Two for $9.95.