Freesteel Blog » 2008 » December

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 at 9:38 pm - - Weekends

It’s been a long journey back through places not usually visited, following a week of cross country skiiing. Here’s Becka trying out my patented between-the-legs ski-poling in places where it’s so steep the splay of your legs has you bending backwards with your arms wide apart to place the poles on the conventional outside of the skis. She wasn’t convinced.

Back in Oslo there’s more public sculpture than in any city I’ve been to, especially with all those not-of-this-world ones in the Vigeland Sculpture Park which I’d like to know more about. Here’s a photo of some flying divers from behind the bus station.

We went overnight on the Oslo to Copenhagen ferry (which we heard is the notorious booze cruise for Norwegians in the summer, as confirmed by the bottle opener screwed to the wall in the bathroom), were warned twice against pickpockets in Denmark by the captain’s announcement, caught a swift train to Esbjerg, hiked up to and back from the aquarium and the fiske museum three miles to the north of town, got the ferry to Harwich, missed the first train by minutes, and got bogged down by the second train being canceled along the way, resulting in a tedious three hour journey in a bus which inefficiently visited all the intervening train stations no one wanted to go to because they weren’t organized enough to separate the people who wanted to go direct to Cambridge from those who wanted to go elsewhere into the two separate vehicles.

Lots of catching up to do here in Cambridge. I’m in London from 4th to 6th while Becka goes to an EPS Conference for psychologists.

Sunday, December 28th, 2008 at 7:55 am - - Whipping 2 Comments »

Francis’s application to the £40million 4iP fund for a full rebuild upgrade of PublicWhip, including paid-for design by professionals who might know what they’re doing, plus investment in motion text editing, and implementation of all the features we’ve been dreaming up for the past five years that we haven’t had time to do, got answered on 22 December with:

Dear Francis,

Thank you for submitting your proposal to 4iP. Unfortunately, we’ve chosen not to proceed with this idea for the following reasons:

The differentiation between this project and its predecessor, and the differentiation between it and TheyWorkForYou, are not clear enough.

Do check out the aims of the 4iP fund and our submissions guidelines ( and please keep submitting your proposals.

Best wishes for your future submissions,

By the way, here’s the full list of points from the aforementioned 4iP guidelines numbered for convenience and without it’s cool stylesheet that makes inline links come out the same as bold text:

  • (1) 4iP is hunting for tiny, risky ideas as well as big, crunchy ideas.
  • (2) 4iP will help turn fabulous ideas into delightful running code quickly.
  • (3) 4iP will help products showing promise to deliver way more impact.
  • (4) 4iP won’t support products or projects on an ongoing basis.
  • 4iP wants proposals from as wide range of people and companies as possible. Nobody is too small, nobody too big. Nobody is too close, nobody is too far away.
  • (5) Your idea could make you a millionaire; your idea could earn you a knighthood for public service, but never turn a profit. Either way 4iP is interested in helping you get started.
  • (6) 4iP loves connecting people and organisations that otherwise would never get to work together.

4iP will ask the following questions before deciding whether or not to go with a proposal:

  • (7) Will it deliver 4’s public purposes?
  • (8) Will it stir things up in 4-like fashion?
  • (9) Does it meet a user need? Does it scratch an important itch?
  • (10) Is it 100% native to digital networks, with its centre of gravity in participation or collaboration?
  • (11) Can it thrive without ongoing financial support from 4iP
  • (12) Can it thrive without cross promotion from TV channels?

A few areas of particular interest

  • (13) “Hidden gems”: helping people discover stuff which could change their lives
  • (14) “Digital democracy”: new ways to let everyone keep an eye on money and power
  • (15) “Amplifying voices”: new ways to empower those communities that media could never previously reach.
  • (16) “Wise crowds”: connecting people who need to know stuff with people who know it already
  • (17) “Tools to make trouble”: developing disruptive media tools, then putting them in the hands of people that need them most.

To me it seems like PublicWhip fits all seventeen criteria perfectly (commenters to this blog are invited to disagree as long as they cite the number), so I guess we can conclude that our years of hard and materially un-supported graft on this project has merely succeed in converting it into something too old and uncool for these sorts of characters to associate themselves with. Maybe if we hadn’t done anything with it over the past five years, and only doodled bits of it on paper with crayon, we might have gotten it past this first frigging round of consideration. To me, the rejection really reads like:

Sorry folks, but your proposal isn’t new and interesting enough for us cool dudes and our awsomely huge forty million quid public service themed fund. Please take it away and bring us something we’re actually interested in. No, we don’t give a toss about what you do with it now, because it’s nothing to do with us.

In a better world, these media-savvy top-of-the-game and well-connected dudes could have provided a more humane project-centred rejection letter along the lines of:

Thanks for giving us a chance to be part of your proposed PublicWhip 2.0 revamping, which we know you’ve worked on for five years and which does appear to fit with many of the points listed in our guidelines. Unfortunately, we’re trying to steer clear of projects like this which have been around for a while, so we don’t feel we can go forward with it ourselves. However, as it’s obviously important and useful that someone carries on with it in some form or other, we recommend you try instead submitting your application proposal to one of the following organizations or foundations who might be of some assistance. Best of luck with it there,

Coincidentally, the 15 December 4iP blog post addresses the issue:

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word” – Most ideas, by now, have been not been given the green light… Where we can, we also try to help identify who else might be interested in the idea.

That link takes you to a pointless twitter post, which says:

4iP rejected my proposal, but also included some really sound advice about the idea, even though the idea wasn’t really suited to 4iP. Cool!

How useful.

And I’m thinking: What if all the potential funders in this “new” media sector take an equally self-centred attitude of chasing only after the cool new concepts that can be made temporarily hot enough to make the big impact when implemented and launched as fresh material into the celebrity-fixated cynically credulous media?

They can’t help us, like they claim they helped that twitter poster, by identifying who else might be interested in the idea, because they don’t know anyone!

We’ve blown it then, haven’t we? Better get back to work. There’s something liberating in the conclusion that you really are on your own.

I’ve now got two days of ferry journeys back from Oslo to England via Copenhagen. I have to finish the second round of elevation sketches in tunnel, then maybe work on the mother of all constant scallop bugs in hsmworks, and then perhaps a bit more work on the pylons conversion of undemocracy. At least Becka won’t accuse me of “wasting my time”, as a walk round the top deck of the ship is not considered as worthwhile as another 42km XC ski run along the Peer Gynt trail.

Thursday, December 18th, 2008 at 11:48 am - - UN, Whipping 2 Comments »

I’ve been working pretty hard converting the underlying undemocracy website to using the pylons web framework on a version on my local machine. Then I noticed that the main parser wasn’t working (it was still trying to grab A-62 documents instead of A-63 documents) and fixed it. This brought in about 20 General Assembly transcripts, (linked here) including all the annoying ones at the beginning of the session where all the world leaders get escorted to the rostrum to say their bit and don’t have their nation’s name in brackets after their name in bold. It takes a lot of hand editing to do, because I’m not willing to commit to parsing the standard introduction:

The President: The Assembly will now hear an address by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was escorted into the General Assembly Hall.
The President: On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Ahmadinejad:I am grateful to the Almighty for granting me another opportunity to be present at this world Assembly…

Way back in the mists of time when the United Nations was founded, the United States insisted that it be hosted on their soil (to make it all the more easy to bug their offices), but it could only work if they agreed that the site be international diplomatic territory.

In 2007, during the two year presidential election campaign, when the lies are flying thick and fast, the US presidential candidates all weighed in with their condemnation of the United Nations for allowing President Ahmadinejad’s visit to the the General Assembly, as they quite reasonably counted on and contributed to the ignorance of the electorate with regards to international law.

This year (last September) one of the defeated candidates, Hillary Clinton wrote this nasty piece of work in support of the protest at his 2008 visit where he staged “his hateful propaganda against Israel and the United States”. The link is above. He mentions God too many times. Here is some of what he says:

Today, the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool it and its supporters have created. The Islamic Republic of Iran, while fully respecting the resistance of the oppressed people of Palestine and expressing its all-out support for it, submits to the Secretary-General of the United Nations its humane solution, based on a free referendum in Palestine to determine and establish the type of State in the entire Palestinian lands.

Hillary Clinton is now the US’s Secretary of State designate, the nation’s chief diplomat. Still stirring things up and participating in hate and propaganda.

What a load of rubbish.

Robert Mugabe also flew in to New York to give his speech. Without Peter Tatchell there to attempt a citizen’s arrest, everyone was okay with it.

No politician got out there to condemn it, etc.

It’s a shame our media is such an empty-headed pack of stenographers just copying down the words of the politicians’ latest wheeze without posing questions about the purpose of their selectivity. I don’t get to ask questions of politicians, only journalists do. And the politicians are evidently quite happy with the desperately low quality we are currently served with.

Friday, December 12th, 2008 at 1:25 pm - - Cory Doctorow, Whipping 6 Comments »

Being Part 2 of the annual Freesteel Cory Doctorow season.

Not everyone gets to write a fortnightly column for a leading national newspaper in the UK. Newspapers need to sell copies, and nothing sells them better than puffed-up celebrities like Cory Doctorow, regardless of whether they have anything to say.

Fortunately, Cory Doctorow does have something to say.

Unfortunately he says the same thing over and over again, even when he knows there are better topics that ought to get more coverage. It is this consistent waste of a prime-time mind-share that makes me want to cry. I don’t know whether it’s laziness, inability to comprehend what’s important, or what. But anyway…

Let’s start with the message he’s been telling people his latest book is about, as best expressed in this podcast recorded in September by one of dis-information projects within the fake institute that employs my long time friend and blogging partner, Myron Ebell. (Refer to this subsequent discussion for clarity on what parts of the Ebellian doctrine they believe Cory is misguided about.)

Cory explains the plot of the novel in terms of a three point plan for political salvation:

  • 1. Take control of your technology from the corporations and the state. You can do this by promoting free software ideals and resisting spyware.
  • 2. Learn to call bullshit what it is. If you don’t understand the mathematics of improbable events, the politicians will be able to persuade you to surrender your liberties based on questionable justifications.
  • 3. Get involved in the democratic and electoral process in order to change the laws and lock-down your gains in terms of civil liberties.

Having lacked any technology worth taking control of, and rarely having believed what politicians say (owing to a habit of looking things up), I’ve put a lot of hard work into Step 3, originally with the webpages PublicWhip and TheyWorkForYou (which was proudly endorsed by Cory Doctorow in 2004), as well as a number of more recent projects and actions that are reasonably out of the ordinary, yet wholly justified.

Not many people know about these projects, in terms of who is doing them and how they are built on tiny resources at hand and virtually no institutional support, but they represent a minuscule movement of a handful of citizens who are attempting to take back their democracy using internet means — just the sort of thing you’d imagine Cory Doctorow would get excited about.

And you would have thought that in the 27 articles that he has written for The Guardian newspaper since July last year, he would have had time to spare at least one single sentence giving the mass readers the low-down of what’s going on, what the potential is, and why it needs support, but he hasn’t, has he?

In order to write this post, I read every single Cory Doctorow article in The Guardian on the Edinburgh to Liverpool train following my three day visit to Glenrothes. If democracy is suffering in the UK, I am determined it’s not due to my idleness.

Synopses of Cory Doctorow’s articles

  • 31 July 2007 – Copy killers
    The digital rights management industry is lying to us about the point and effectiveness of their wares.
  • 4 September 2007 – Pushing the impossible
    Perfect copyright protection technology is an imaginary concept, like taking your spaceship past lightspeed.
  • 18 September 2007 – Free data sharing is here to stay
    The real shape of the information economy contradicts the mistaken metaphore of Intellectual Property.
  • 2 October 2007 – Online censorship hurts us all
    The DMCA is used more effectively as a tool for censorship than to prevent copyright infringement, and that’s much more threatening.
  • 24 October 2007 – Is the blockbuster on the way out?
    The whole intrusive proposed copyright protection regime that takes away our freedom and prevents smaller scale creativity cannot be justified in the interests of blockbuster movies, which anyway should adapt to the new situation like the video games industry did (with its multiplayer network gaming) or it deserves to die.
  • 30 October 2007 – Why a rights robocop will never work
    Technology to detect and prevent uploads of copyrighted material is a boondoggle.
  • 13 November 2007 – Warhol is turning in his grave
    The 60s pop art icons breached what we think of today as copyright law all the time when building their collages. To add insult, we now have “No Photography” signs all over the galleries which display this art. Cory wasn’t even allowed to photograph the “No Photography” signs themselves, because their typography and layout was subject to copyright! (He should have claimed to have designed the sign, although it was uncredited, and then he could have gotten away with it.)
  • 27 November 2007 – Downloaded BBC programmes should be forever
    DRM is impossible to implement on open source software, and current practice tries to give us fewer rights and opportunities than we got from our technologies in the last century.
  • 11 December 2007 – Downloads give Amazon jungle fever
    Why is Amazon so good at retailing physical products but one of the worst for e-books? Cory doesn’t know or speculate.
  • 15 January 2008 – Personal data is as hot as nuclear waste
    Cory proposes surcharging CCTVs with the clean-up and compensation costs for when the data being collected isn’t properly cared for and leaks out like toxic waste.
  • 29 January 2008 – Copyright law should distinguish between commercial and cultural uses
    Cory proposes reintroducing a form of “folk copyright” that worked before the age of the internet, when no one got into trouble for sharing their fan fiction and other stuff. He promotes the Access to Knowledge (A2K) treaty proposal at WIPO as a breath of sanity in the copyright debate.
  • 21 February 2008 – “Intellectual property” is a silly euphemism
    The term IP is intentionally misleading to embue the owner of it rights they would have over physical property that perhaps they shouldn’t with digital information.
  • 11 March 2008 – Time to fight security superstition
    An argument about how encouraging us to question the effectiveness of security regimes imposed by the government would make us safer in the end.
  • 9 April 2008 – How ISPs throttle legitimate internet users like you and me
    ISPs are keeping costs down by discarding bittorrent packets which their customers have paid to be delivered.
  • 29 April 2008 – How to stop your inbox exploding
    An unenlightening article about how he manages his email life that should have contained a lot more useful tips than it actually does.
  • 20 May 2008 – The odds are stacked against us
    This is his standard summary of the mathematics of rare events, including the paradox of the false positive.
    Incidentally, the Journalisted project is designed to make journalists accountable by indexing all the pieces they write in a way that allows them to be tagged. Cory could have called on people to tag all articles in which the journalist misleads the public about the mathematics of rare events, in order that the data could be used to — fairly — damage their reputation, but he didn’t, did he?
  • 17 June 2008 – Surveillance: You can know too much
    Over-surveillance makes criminals harder to detect because you’re swamped with too much data.
  • 1 July 2008 – Warning to all copyright enforcers: Three strikes and you’re out
    An observation of the one-sidedness of copyright enforcement. Corporations would be more responsible if there were penalties against making hugely damaging breach of copyright allegations that turn out to be false.
  • 15 July 2008 – Copyright enforcers should learn lessons from the war on spam
    Spam countermeasures have had unintended consequences.
  • 29 July 2008 – Illegal filesharing: A suicide note from the music industry
    Another digital sharing of pop music rant.
  • 26 August 2008 – Identity theft: Our dodgy love affair with utility bills will end in tears
    Slice of life story about using gas bills to verify your identity.
  • 9 September 2008 – Is Google Firefox hunting?
    Taking control of your technology.
  • 24 September 2008 – DRM: Sony’s Open Market consortium is a wolf in sheep’s clothing
    DRM on music.
  • 7 October 2008 – Database nation
    This is about how the new biometric ID laws announced “last week” that may encourage him to emigrate from the UK just as his grandparents were forced out of Russia years ago by the prevalence of state surveillance. He’s mentioned Singapore a few times as a likely place to move to. I hate to say it, but I don’t think he’s done his research…
    Incidently, this was brought into force by this 2008 vote by MPs in Parliament, which the Conservative Party walked away from, and about which he could have urged his readers to get democratically involved, but he didn’t, did he?

  • 22 October 2008 – Free and open source software lets you laugh in the face of recession
    Take control over your technology.
  • 31 October 2008 – Bebo kids will value privacy when they see adults do too
    Improbable events, and getting a grip on the government spying it’s used to justify.
  • 6 December 2008 – Will EU repeat US copyright error?
    A very reasonable case against the unjustifiable European copyright extension which is for the benefit of a very small number of very rich corporations, but results in an immeasurable amount of collateral damage.
    Incidentally, there are ongoing campaigns against this copyright extension which he could have chosen and pointed people to, but he didn’t, did he?

I can’t disagree with the message in any of the articles. They are all well-written, reasonably put, and faultless in themselves. Newspaper articles are usually pretty good, because they employ copy-editors.

But getting out of the copyright rut in order to cover something more crucial to survival is probably pretty difficult for the public intellectual who has made so much hay out of it in recent years.

After all, if a highly trained academic like Lawrence Lessig can make a big public announcement in the summer of last year about how he is ceasing his copyright law related activities to concentrate on important issues that are a matter of life and death, such as political corruption, and then proceed to give a talk to the Carnegie Council three weeks ago called Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy about the usual irrelevant horseshit, then it’s no surprise that Cory can’t do it, and instead continues to sound like a broken record.

Who knows? It could be a lack of confidence. Maybe if I were to write a series of articles for a major newspaper, I’d also stick to subjects I could lay claim to know really well, so I didn’t get caught out looking stupid. After all, you’re there to look clever and get yourself rated as a celebrity expert. And all your friends and colleagues are happy, because at least someone is saying these things in the mainstream media where there is so little outlet.

And they don’t think that because there’s so little outlet, maybe it would be better not to waste it on something so trivial as copyright issues every day all the time.

It wouldn’t do to take risks and cover something else. You might have to quote something said or done by someone else. And these articles are all about you, aren’t they?

Friday, December 12th, 2008 at 12:58 am - - Whipping

Way back in the mists of last year, our esteemed UK Parliament voted twice to build another round of nuclear powered nuclear missile carrying submarines aimed at god knows what.

The decision was made somewhere, it made no sense, and all our democratic representatives fell into line like so many hired actors given the ridiculous premise that a famine-struck North Korea on the other side of the globe is going to bomb us if we don’t have nukes on permanent alert.

The motion was proposed by Margaret Beckett, who said:

Why does this country need to retain its nuclear weapons? I am inclined to turn the question on its head and ask instead whether this is the time for us to abandon our nuclear deterrent, or to deny future Governments and Parliaments the ability to maintain it. It is true that the cold war has ended. Actually, it had ended before the existing deterrent came into service, as it had been ordered some years before. It is also true that, as of today, we do not identify an enemy with both a nuclear capability and the ability and intent to use it against our vital interests.

Many of the Labour Party members, historically anti-nuclear until Tony Blair triangulated the life out of them, didn’t agree we should build yet more nukes, but Blair had the votes of the opposition Conservative Party, who can be counted on 100% of the way behind any war or military deal.

There was, however, one notable dissenting voice in the Conservative Party. Michael Ancram said:

The truth is that the idea of automatic reactive mass obliteration, which was so fundamental to the concept of mutually assured destruction, does not wash any more, and people in the west would not accept it. Yet Trident’s credibility rests on it. To me, Trident was a deterrent of the 20th century; it is not a deterrent of the 21st. We should be looking for something more proportionate and therefore more credible, and that might well not be nuclear. If we need time to do that, we should make that time.

If the deterrent is nuclear, should it be Trident? Trident was originally chosen because it was mobile and invisible, and therefore invulnerable to pre-emptive strike. We are told that that is still the case today. But will it still be invisible in 20 years? That is the crucial question. Do we believe that, by then, advances in technology will not have found a means of tracking submarines underwater from space or from the sea itself? If so, Trident will be redundant and the massive expenditure will have been wasted. Are we prepared to bet against that?

Are there alternatives? Having chosen Trident, the Government are determined not to weaken their position by conceding that there might be alternatives. I understand that. They have a case to make.

After paying tribute to his colleague, Malcolm Rifkind disagreed, and said:

The worry about the new states seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, such as Iran and North Korea, is that they do not have the tradition of restraint—until recently, India and Pakistan did not even introduce a hotline to minimise the risks associated with nuclear weapons. To imagine that this country’s security would somehow be safeguarded in a world in which new nuclear powers are coming forward and in which, were the advice accepted, western Europe was to be the one region that not only did not have the capacity to deal with such threats but had by its own choice ceased to have that capacity, would be very foolish.

Why am I going on about this?

Well, just now I found out about, and straight away signed the Global Zero declaration:

We, the undersigned, believe that to protect our children, our grandchildren and our civilization from the threat of nuclear catastrophe, we must eliminate all nuclear weapons globally. We therefore commit to working for a legally binding verifiable agreement, including all nations, to eliminate nuclear weapons by a date certain.

Among the prominent signatories are Malcolm Rifkind and Margaret Beckett.

I would really like to ask them: What is their goddamned point?

I collect this voting data so that people can ask them to explain themselves when they roll into these new nuclear disarmament conferences, as if they didn’t just eighteen months ago put their names onto the decisive roll committing to the completion of a major nuclear weapons project for the year 2030.

The Global Zero FAQ explains:

Zero is a laudable goal, but is it realistic?

It probably wasn’t — until recently. In recent months, the threat of proliferation and nuclear terrorism has led to a growing chorus of world leaders calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons — including conservative realists and military leaders. And the public supports them: recent polling shows that the worldwide public, including in the nuclear weapons countries, overwhelmingly favors Zero. This new and unprecedented support for Zero from key governments around the world has made reaching this goal — while still difficult — possible. The alternative — continuing with the status quo and the ongoing spread of nuclear weapons — is not a realistic solution to the problem.

So what’s going on?

Have there been any nuclear events I don’t know about in the last two years to have got the attention of the power elite? You know, like the accidental launch of one of these rusty old mega-death missiles that are kept on stand-by in their silos for no good reason? Such an event would be exciting enough to get people’s attention and make them realize that we can’t go on living with this, and that this joke has got to end before a lot of people get seriously hurt, and the public quite reasonably blames them for it.

I don’t know. Maybe something did occur, and was covered up. And the word has come down from the political elite of a change of policy. And now these puppets, Malcolm Rifkind and Margaret Beckett, are just acting it out like it’s their idea all along. And as long as nobody asks them to explain what changed their minds and what’s going on behind it, we’ll just get along fine. We’ll continue writing letters to our MPs, and it will continue to have no use, because they’re the wrong people to be talking to. These MPs do know who we should be talking to, who they take their orders from, but we don’t demand they be honest about it with us.

If we don’t start paying more attention, Parliament will deteriorate into a rump as grotesque as the US Electoral College. By the way, they meet on Monday to officially appoint the new POTUS.

This dance of people and offices, with so many professionals owing their allegiance to an office whose holder can be substituted at any time gets stranger every time I think about it.

Thursday, December 11th, 2008 at 12:40 pm - - Machining 2 Comments »

This machining strategy appeared in Vero’s machining strategist a couple of years ago, though it bears a lot of similarities to a Work NC strategy I was shown way back in 1994 when I was driven from NC Graphics all the way over to Depo in Germany to see the product with a view to making our own system that had as good a capabilities. In 1994 Work NC it was a lace pattern, with the toolpaths zigzagging perpendicular to what you see in the above image, but the idea and implementation is the same, bar a surprisingly small change in the code.

Years later we had something in machining strategist that found the complex boundaries of the rest material and ran a constant scallop stepover cycle from them, which was very hard to program and suffers from all sorts of problems of sharp changes in direction and wide collapse areas half the time. This more morphed result was what users really wanted, but of course I always knew better, so I didn’t make it back then.

The attraction with the scallop stepover is that it theoretically works everywhere, no matter how complex the area. Users could draw their ideal results on something straightforward like in the picture, but they didn’t seem to be concerned that the idea didn’t generalize very effectively when things got complicated, as they always do.

(I don’t know that, actually. It’s possible that 99.99% of parts were as simple as the above picture, but then they don’t produce bugs, and then they don’t get sent in, and then I don’t see them. I only got to see an exponentially increasing sequence of utter bastard parts as the years progressed and CAD systems could sprew out double the number of surfaces every 18 months, which would break everything.)

So here goes. New machining strategy under very early development which someone else has managed to make work. Lots of work to be done projecting the small tool to the surface where it belongs, planning the structure (in high level python), and smoothing it, and I’ll probably try and do it for toroidal cutters instead of only spheres. That will at least represent progress, rather than merely being copycat. Of course, 99.99% of users are probably perfectly satisfied with doing this machining with a ballnosed cutter, though I don’t get to see this, because I’ll hear about the 0.01% who’d quite like to try it with a toroidal cutter and are unaware of the 10X more grief it takes to code for this tiny unpopular case.

Sunday, December 7th, 2008 at 9:42 am - - Machining 2 Comments »

This week was spent walking to and from the soulless Ibis hotel on the autobahn to the Euromold trade-show hall.

As I was proud of my new Five axis tilt algorithm, just invented, I had printed it out in colour with a nine step description and distributed copies to whomever I thought was interested.

This is not what people normally do at trade-shows, where you’re supposed to try and keep your technology secret from the competitors, and so on, because it’s supposedly bad for your business when everybody else copies your ideas.

Nuts to that.

The problem with this CADCAM business is that the software is fully stagnated. Many of these companies don’t have any programmers left who could make any use what you give them. Even if I was handing out a fully debugged C++ public domain implementation of all the algorithms on a CD, they probably couldn’t compile it.

And those few who are actively developing any relevant software at all are probably going to be able to work the ideas out from the results, if they’re paying attention, so you might as well explain it to them in person so you can get some feedback — which you won’t if you just wait for them to copy it.

All the stands were the same as last year, in the same places, with the same people handing out the same leaflets. No one has gone bankrupt yet. So much for the recession that’s going on now.

I have a major blogging backlog to clear, so this has to be it for now. I’ve got a lot of comments to make about five-axis algorithms in the coming months.

Frankfurt was plastered with these Jamie Oliver dinner posters advertising some event in a set of round tents by the hammering man sculpture. I couldn’t tell what it was about. The journey home was fueled by a two litre carton of over-sweet red tea water and one greasy pizza slice from Brussels train station. I got a double seat on the overnight bus from London. Shame I didn’t sleep though.

Thursday, December 4th, 2008 at 4:34 pm - - Machining 3 Comments »

Check out the online version of our STL slicing application.

I’ve used ajax for calling a server script to do the actual slicing.
The link should also work in Internet Eploder (I’ve tried it in version 7).

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008 at 9:31 am - - Cory Doctorow, Whipping

I’m on a train journey to Germany, so it must be Cory Doctorow season.

The pointless good-for-nothing time-wasting Etech 2008 conference happened last March in San Diego. Instead of watching it on-line, Cory Doctorow flew all the way there to the hotel from London for a couple of days and was interviewed in the lobby by adoring fan Mitch Wagner where he raved about the keynote speech by Saul Griffith on the engineering of climate change.

Unlike all his lazy legions of fans, I’ve produced a transcript for you who have no time for this to skim through:

Mitch: So what do you see at the show that looks interesting? You’ve been here a couple of days.

Cory: I actually think the first keynote is the one that made the biggest impression on me. That was Saul Griffith’s take on climate change as an engineering problem. Basically, lets look at the parameters of climate change. How much carbon can we put in the atmosphere? What happens when we put it there? What happens when the climate changes as a result of it? If we’re going to put N tonnes of climate changing carbon into the atmosphere and no more, how many Joules does that generate in coal, how many Joules does it generate in oil, how many Joules does it generate in nukes? How many Joules are left in the ground? Just kind of running the numbers on Joules on energy, then figuring out what we need to do as an engineering problem to save our bacon.

Mitch: So what was his conclusion? Are we all going to be burning dung in the future to power our laptops?

Cory: I have a feeling that burning dung is a bad idea. Actually, his conclusions were pretty interesting. He said that most people in America are going to have to cut their consumption by 10 times, but that doesn’t mean we have to put on hair shirts. This is not a cry to ‘live simply’. As Alex Steffen from World Changing says, “We don’t need smaller footprints, we need better handprints”. We need better tools. And Saul said, “I took a look at the stuff that I wanted to do in my life. I want to commute less. I want to excercise more. I want to eat better. I want better stuff. I want stuff that lasts longer and is better made.” And it turns out that if you eat more healthfully, live closer to work, live closer to your loved ones, take more time to enjoy your surroundings, and buy better goods, your energy consumption falls by 90%.

If you live in a better house and in more comfortable circumstance, your energy consumption plummets. So, he said, basically I looked around and I didn’t need to be an acetic. I needed to be decadent. I needed to live a kind of simoritic existance where I eat delicious meals all the time and kind of took it easy, and had some leisure in my life, and spent time with my loved ones, and exercised every day by walking to work or cycling to work. And when that was all done, I would end up having adjusted my energy consumption that was sustainable for the planet.

This hand-print nonsense has been showing up in Cory’s monologue for about two years. He’s citing to this Alex Steffen blogpost where he explains how much better it would be if our lifestyle tended to heal the ecosystem rather than destroy it.

You don’t say.

It would be nice if flying latrines hurled across an east African slum grew roses, but they don’t.

The podcast of Saul Griffith’s Etech 2008 talk has just come on-line, which means we get to hear the input data of this incident — those of us who chose not to waste 4 tonnes of CO2 with a 12 tonne warming effect on this frivolous trip to a California hotel to either meet with a bunch of people who lived too far away from to work with, or had come along from home with you in the first place.

Here’s the bit of Saul’s speech which is crucial:

If you read BP’s State of The Environment Report, Exxon’s State of The Environment Report, the Stern Report, IPCC reports, they all have some page that talks about the consequences of what happens with different temperature rises. And they’re interesting to me. You’d say that all reports are written by people who don’t want to be laughed at when they hand in their homework. So they’re very conservative by definition.

So when they talk about consequences, they give very dry one-line answers, like: “At one and a half degrees we’ll lose 10% of species. At two and a half degrees we’ll lose 15 to 40% of species. At three degress, one to four billion people will face water shortages. At three and a half degrees 50% of species lost. At four degrees entire cities including London, New York, San Francisco are lost to sea level changes.”

And what I find astonishing about all the reports is that not one of them thinks one step beyond their statements. You know, 10% of species lost or 25%, starts to look like ecosystem collapse. When ten to a hundred million refugees try to walk over a border, it’s not just one line in a report. I don’t think there’s been a case in history where ten million people try and cross a border without a war.

So you could say that if anything, everyone is underestimating what’s going on.

This is true. This is predicted. Events like this have happened both in the historical and the geological past. The fact that our puny minds, warped by our wholly deranged and decadent culture, are incapable of imagining it with enough force to feel threatened to do something about it is ultimately our own downfall.

What we are going through now is leaving a mark in the fossil record that will be visible in a billion years time when all the continents are different. We do not appreciate this.

Why pick on Cory Doctorow?

Good question.

Here we have a man who wields an enormous cultural influence through his BoingBoing blog where he promotes the clear message that it’s cool to fly 200,000 miles for — as far as one can determine — nothing more than to feel the love from an audience as he rabbits on about the latest well-worn and ultimately irrelevant copyright injustice he’s just heard about.

He associates himself with the internet, yet never, ever insists that his lectures be conducted through what is now easily accessible video conferencing technology.

He has built up the social connections to be able to publish fast-selling popular Science Fiction books where he has the opportunity to help us to imagine with enough vividness the approaching and detailed future laid out for us by the scientists. But instead he wastes it on rubbish novels bunged off in two months flat that are out of date and politically ignorant of the phenomena that they portray.

He has recently had a baby who, if she is experiences a reasonably good life-span, may live to see the end of the century when the climate change consequences are really cutting in.

He writes a fortnightly column in a national British newspaper where he gets to talk about whatever he feels we need to know.

He is intelligent, reasonably enlightened, informed, and the closest thing we have to a public intellectual in this age.

And he is about the most regressive influence I can identify in our society when it comes to facing up to this challenge.

Everything converges perfectly into his character: the job as a science fiction writer (you couldn’t make this up), the provable level of knowledge, the inherited stake in the future, the lack of financial conflict of interest in terms of employment by an oil company, and the fact that so much of this man’s life is left littered around the internet that you can piece together exactly what he has to know.

In 500 years time, people are going to look back on this era, and think WTF!

This will be because as anyone who looks back on the distant past will notice that the years tend to telescope together. To us the year 1510 is indistinguishable from the year 1520, but that doesn’t mean the people in 1510 had any idea what was going to hit them in 1520, any more than we know what’s going to happen in 2018.

In 2508 I predict that human historians (if the species survives) would be wise to study the case of Cory Doctorow’s life and work as evidence to explain what is going on now. There is nothing special about him, beyond the fact that enough incidental material about is life may be preserved and could be available to rule out all the usual excuses for denial, such as conflict of interest, lack of intelligence, or unavailability of the alternatives.

Such scholars will be able to create theses and theories about the era because they will know what is coming up, and we don’t. Hopefully, they will have a better understanding of the human condition by then — in the same way that our modern scholars have a better understanding of chemistry than the people who lived in the fifteenth century.

I find it impossible to guess what is going on in Cory Doctorow’s mind in the sense that to me it is possible to resolve all the inconsistencies between what he knows and what he does.

What I do know is that if the message can’t get through to him, then it can’t get through to anybody. So his opinion is relevant.

It’s not going to happen it in time.

Because we are the Carbon Weevils.

Monday, December 1st, 2008 at 12:49 am - - Machining 2 Comments »

If you want to look at a picture of successful constant scallop algorithm, you can see it here on the Surfcam Inc website where they call it “3D Offset Milling”.

With the names Alan Diehl, Stephen Diehl, Bryan Diehl, and Larry Diehl listed as some members of the Surfware team, one can be forgiven for believing that this is a family business.

Now, I’m all for family businesses, but as a programmer who has suffered years of writing these constant stepover scallop algorithms, it would be nice see a kind word about the poor sap in the back room who has experienced similar suffering to me in their attempt to perfect the same miserable algorithm.

This is a note to him (or her): You think you’re doing well, because everyone in the company knows you and thanks you for your work. But when you get another job, no one will know who you are or what you’ve achieved. You won’t realize this at first, but eventually you’ll discover that you are a nobody. People like us need to develop a presence of some kind that connects our name to this hard work, or we’re screwed. Because we’re not writing Open Source Software, our employment contract robs us of access and ownership of our work. And without a public note acknowledging our existence, our authorship and credibility is stolen too.

This isn’t Surfware’s fault. It’s the way things are done, and the way we, as programmers, seem to have gotten used to putting up with. It’s not like this in the movie business, where every fourth tea’s maid for the assistant lighting fixture technician’s gaffer taped best wardrobe opener gets his name in the credits.

What is Surfware’s fault is that they’ve applied for, and received on 11 November 2008, a software patent for their Engagement Milling technology embodied in TrueMillTM.

They don’t include a link or host a copy of their patent documentation on their website, so here it is, US Patent No. 7451013. They also hold Patent No. 6704611 of 8 March 2004, proving that they’re making a habit of it. They claim:

This patent protects the intellectual property and proprietary technology that we have developed over many years… [It] provides strong protection for current and future versions of TrueMill.

According to my records, I’ve been all over this case since 2005, as well as the wider threat of software patents, even to the extent of determining that Vero Software, who are no wish-washy liberals, doesn’t like them.

I wonder what they say over at Celeritive Technologies where Surfware’s former VP of Product Design, Glenn Coleman (named in both patents), former Surfware’s Systems Architect, Dr Evan Sherbrooke, and former Surfware CEO Terry J Sorensen have been holed up Cave Creek, Arizona with an online implementation of their version of an engagement milling algorithm known as VoluMillTM.

I touched on their business model at length in this post in May, following the bringing to my attention of it during last year’s Euromold 2007.

I always felt it appeared on the market a little too quickly, but never expressed it in words. And knowing what I know now, having authored a fast and reliable engagement milling type algorithm of my own that actually works, I can report that there isn’t enough money in it to make a living.

Nevertheless, on their website appears some news:

Celeritive Technologies, Inc. files a patent covering the key technical innovations in VoluMillTM, its revolutionary toolpath engine.

As usual, no link. I wonder how they had time to write it instead of developing their code. Let me see…

… Nope, I can’t find it. However, the fine list of inventions emanating from Cave Creek, Arizona includes a Method and System for Parsing Languages (check out the random rambling at the bottom of the page), and a Cat tower with separable transportable bed, inset corrugated scratch pad/fabric base, and washable woven fabric covers. My God, what progress!

Note to the US Patent Office: You’re not helping! You’re as bad as those sub-prime credit rating agencies who marked all the Wall Street Ponzi-style financial instruments as triple-A-star investments owing to deep conflicts of interest due to being paid per item rated. Unfortunately, with software patents there will never be a day of reckoning. The damage caused will always be too distributed. The problem will get worse and worse, but there will not be a crisis that…

Oh… What’s this? My search engine queries seemed to have hit something

Plaintiff: Surfware, Inc.
Defendant: Celeritive Technologies, Inc., Terry Sorensen, Glenn Coleman, Evan Sherbrooke and DOES
Case Number: 2:2008cv06753
Filed: October 14, 2008
Court: California Central District Court
Office: Western Division – Los Angeles Office
County: Los Angeles
Presiding Judge:
Referring Judge:
Nature of Suit: Torts – Property – Other Fraud
Cause: 18:2510 Wire Interception
Jurisdiction: Federal Question
Jury Demanded By: Plaintiff

Unfortunately, I can’t get any more because I don’t have a PACER account which would allow me to get billed 8 cents a page. If this is how it is in the legal system, no wonder they don’t see the point of net neutrality.

Still, I’ll find out what’s going on another day. Or a good friend can look them up and mail me the documents.