A few recent articles on steriods

My position on steroids in sports is pretty well established, but I know how much you all love hearing more about it. So here are a few recent articles.

Lance Armstrong: Victim?

This sounds like a review of the USADA’s prosecution of Lance Armstrong, but really an examination of their power and their role as a quasi-governmental agency that operates without the oversight and Constitutional constraints that a government agency would have.

Roid Age: steroids in sport and the paradox of pharmacological puritanism

Here’s a long and somewhat academic article that goes even deeper into the history of steroids and the ironies of their use. The author concludes:

The irony is that we punish severely the people who could use steroids the most, the athletes who have the most legitimate need for them if they are to recover and perform at the levels we like to watch on television and in stadiums. Using steroids because we no longer get the same erections we once had, or because a middle-aged man has less energy than he did at twenty (or a woman has less libido than considered ideal), is increasingly considered normal, while the list of substances banned for people like Mark McGwire grows longer and longer, the invasive tests intended to expose any transgression more and more extensive. As a society, we suffer from a paradoxical pharamacological puritanism, expecting medical technology to change our lives and yet demanding that it not change our games.

 

Lightbulbs and patent trolls

I’m always searching for good analogies that highlight what’s wrong with software patents. I don’t remember where I saw this, but I like it.

We all know the story of how Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. He knew the basics of what he needed to invent: something that would glow consistently when a current was applied to it, but wouldn’t burn up too quickly. The idea for this had been around for fifty years, but no one had been able to make it work practically. He and his assistants tried some 3,000 different ways of making it work, and finally figured out how. And thus the modern lightbulb was born, with Edison as its inventor.

Flash forward to modern software patents. Edison isn’t the inventor, and doesn’t receive the patent or any accolades. Instead, some guy fifty years earlier has the idea for an incandescent lightbulb and describes it without having any practical way of making it work, and just sits back and waits for Edison to come make it a reality. Welcome to the modern patent troll.

Traditional patents are granted for the method by which an invention accomplishes something – the specific filament, for example, or a machine that works in a particular way to do something. Software patents are granted for the concept that the software accomplishes, not the actual code that accomplishes is (that code is still protected by trademark). Amazon’s (in)famous one-click patent doesn’t cover the actual code written to make one-click happen (there are many ways one could write that code), but covers the idea of writing code to make that happen.

If we applied modern patent practices a hundred years ago, Eli Whitney wouldn’t have patented his actual cotton gin, but the idea of using a machine to separate cotton fibers from seeds, regardless of how the machine was designed or built. Edison wouldn’t have had to spend time figuring out how┬áto build a working lightbulb, or patenting the specific method – the vague idea would have been enough.

Edison famously said that invention was 1% inspiration and 99%┬áperspiration. Today’s software (and many hardware) patents are awarded for inspiration, not perspiration.

I’m posting stuff on Tumblr

Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted much on this blog in a while. Actually, I’ve never posted on this blog very often. Regardless, I’ve started posting things over on my Tumblr blog. It’s mostly funny stuff, so if you’re into that sort of thing, go check it out.

One challenge I’ve always run into with this blog is the desire to write very long, comprehensive and considered posts. Almost articles. They are difficult for me to write. So I have a whole list of half-complete draft posts and very few completed posts. Things with titles like “Who make the decisions?” and “What I don’t like about DRM” and “A conservative argument for progressive taxes.” Maybe I’ll write them at some point. Maybe I’ll get better about writing long posts.

Regardless, Tumblr is more about quick funny posts. I’m trying to be better about updating it. At some point in the future, you will see it integrated into orum.com, or maybe even taking over orum.com. We will see. Until then, it’s over there.