Friday, October 28, 2011

Intellectual Property, the Internet and Law

Intellectual property (IP) very often represents the hard work of talented people, and those people understandably want to protect their work from theft. Who can argue with that? I’d bet that we can all agree that we’d like to “stop online piracy,” and “protect IP.” But the House bill (Stop Online Piracy) and the Senate bill (Protect IP) by these names are not the answers we need. I believe that they are the result of well-meaning but poorly informed members of congress listening to narrowly focused input from entertainment industry lobbyists without also listening to people knowledgeable about the Internet and about the risks of blunt instruments on complicated systems.

Most troubling is that it appears that if these bills become law, intellectual property holders claiming infringement can cause entire sites to be taken down. These proposals fail to recognize the realities of the way things actually work on the Internet. The problem goes beyond a lack of due process (though that by itself seems like a big problem). The larger problem is that the proposed legislation involves a simplistic view of the Internet with remedies that could easily cast too wide a net. Independent entities hosted at the same site, with content unrelated to the infringement claim, could be taken offline or otherwise made unavailable. This could cause real harm to innocent parties.

Enacting all that these bills propose would result in dangerous overreach through law. The texts of these bills describe not surgical actions available following due process, but a big hammer to be wielded by almost anyone far too easily. It would ask a great deal more of web site operators and ISPs, while making (non-infringing) parts of the Internet seem less available, predictable and reliable.

It’s possible for reasonable people to be against the theft of intellectual property and yet still to find proposals such as Protect IP and the Stop Online Piracy Act to be wrong-headed and dangerous. I’m one of those people.

Do you have an opinion on this topic? Please leave us a comment!


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

(R)evolution in Higher Education

Disclaimer: Though my day job is at a university, my blog is my own and written on my own time. The following thoughts are mine and do not represent the views of my employer (as far as I know).
I’m fascinated by the prospect of evolution, and even revolution, in the way higher education might take place in the future, in part fueled by Internet technologies and the digital representation of information and art. I believe that the relationship between student and university, and between teacher and university, may be profoundly redefined in the coming years.

Future generations of college students may expect higher education to meet their needs in more familiar and nimble ways – in the ways that online social media and mobile phone applications help them to organize their days, find services, search for jobs, and more. Customized and at their fingertips.

Students may demand a transformed higher education experience in which they and their professors interact both online and in person, on flexible schedules, and as independent agents associated with (perhaps several) traditional universities in less rigid ways. They may want to take more control in creating custom programs of study rather than choose from a limited set of degree programs that any particular college or university might offer. They may wish to take advantage of courses offered at two or three or four colleges and to assemble a "package" that works for them. Rather than sacrifice human interaction for online-only distance learning, this approach may actually expand the number and diversity of people with whom they interact in person (and online).

An example may help. Imagine a student who wants to combine computer engineering, international business and law, and psychology all toward feeding her interest in an international enterprise or humanitarian project that will work with numerous governments around the world. She decides that she wants education and training that includes courses from Stanford, Penn, and MIT, but that also draws substantially from nearby state schools and community colleges to get the full set of courses and distribution credits needed to form a complete program of study and to get the credits to graduate. She attends many classes in person, on more than one campus. For other classes, distance education approaches are used.

I envision a future in which all of that may be possible, or even common. I believe that some colleges and universities will figure out their evolving roles, and how to deliver to meet changing demand sooner than others. Those which evolve may capture “market share” in forward thinking students and star faculty. I'm watching to see when and how such programs begin to become available to tomorrow's students, and I'm optimistic about that future.

Discussion questions:
  • What are the real differences in this model when compared with higher education today?
  • Would you prefer this model for yourself or your children?
  • What will it take to get there? Will there be a slow evolution, or will a few schools take a big leap?

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ayn Rand

The Philosophy of Ayn Rand in the 21st Century

Russian novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982) can be a controversial figure. She has a diverse and devoted following. I count myself as among those significantly influenced by her ideas.

I have two excellent friends who are interested in discussing the impact of Rand’s philosophies on modern thinking. My friend S was inspired by Rand to be the best at what he does. He finds purity of purpose in doing what he does extraordinarily well, despite the compensation not being all he might wish. My friend L, on the other hand, is deeply offended by the excesses of those in the US financial sector that point to works of Ayn Rand to justify their Gordon Gekko greed. This blog post is dedicated to these two friends.

I have to start by making it clear that I’m not a Rand scholar. Actual Rand scholars may certainly take issue with my interpretation. If they do, I hope they’ll post comments here! That said, I do have some thinking based on my own reading of Ayn Rand novels and essays.

My read of Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged is that they are a celebration of creativity, excellence and personal focus. The heroes of these stories are extraordinary people who are clear-thinking and who act (tirelessly) to realize their visions. They create unique and tangible excellence. They are selfish – but not in the common sense of that word. They don’t act in their own interests to the detriment of others. Rather they know and understand who they are (their “self”) and act informed by that knowledge. They are true to themselves. They think about their inventions, their art, their engineering, their craft – not about riches. Though they would say that they deserve to be paid if what they create has value.

When I think of contemporary real life people who might fill that hero role, I think of Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), Elon Musk (Tesla Motors, SpaceX), Ted Turner (Turner Broadcasting and America’s Cup racing), and Steve Jobs (Apple, Pixar). Leave a comment with your own suggested additions to that list.

Those men I listed acquired great wealth, but did so by creating things of worth and by expertly delivering on their vision.

The villains in these same Ayn Rand novels are the “second handers.” Second handers are those who leach value from those who create, while creating nothing of value themselves. The very worst of the second handers are those who are capable (and often intelligent and competent), but create nothing new themselves.  They hope to acquire wealth on the backs of those who create.

What of the Wall Street wizards who created complex (and perhaps misleading) financial instruments derived indirectly from products, services, and real estate of real value? Did they create something new of real value? I know my answer. 

The philosophy of Ayn Rand is complex and, I think, often misunderstood. For those interested in a more thorough study of Rand, I suggest the web resources of the Ayn Rand Institute. There you can find, among other things, Objectivism discussed in the author's own words.

I fully expect that not everyone will agree with my interpretation, and look forward to comments on this post. 


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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Think Different

Farewell to Steve Jobs, who always encouraged us to "think different."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Apple iPhone 4S Scorecard

The new Apple iPhone was announced today. It’s known as the iPhone 4S, which I listed as one of the possibilities, though I thought iPhone 5 more likely.

Time to review the accuracy of my recent predictions:

On Sept 6, I predicted
1. Retina display, largely unchanged (Correct)
2. 8 Megapixel camera (Correct)
3. Versatile wireless chipset (Correct)
4. Late September announcement (Incorrect)
5. Availability on or about October 14th (Correct – Oct 12th)

On Sept 13, I predicted
1. Increased screen size (Incorrect)
2. Addition of Sprint and T-Mobile in the U.S. (Incorrect – Sprint, but not T-Mobile)
3. 3G only, no 4G yet. (Correct)
4. No change in storage. 16G and 32G models. (Incorrect. 16, 32 and 64G)

Overall I was 5 for 9. A great batting average in baseball, but a failing grade in the classroom.  I'll hope to do better next time.

Other important features of the iPhone 4S are higher performance through the A5 processor, a better lens and improved photo handling, and the Siri voice command system.

Will you be buying a new Apple iPhone 4S in the next few months? Leave a comment and tell us why or why not.


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