Monday, April 5, 2010

A lack of agreement...

I listen to both NPR and talk radio daily. Both are informative and insightful on different subjects, and both are likewise infuriatingly myopic on certain subjects.

Today, the myopia appears (to my eyes) to come from talk radio in the form of a conversation about drugs (particularly marijuana), and their legality or lack thereof.

This is just my opinion, but I had to disagree (as I always do on both this issue and the issue of Tattoos) with Michael Medved and one of his two guests...well, both of his guests, actually, but mostly one of them.

Typically, on his show, there will be a proponent from each side of the issue, and this was a typical discussion. The usual boilerplate arguments were given from both sides...drugs are bad, and more legal drugs are more bad...drug regulation means more control and costs less...regulation means more use...regulation means less criminal activity related to drugs...etc, etc.

The thing I disagreed with in particular today was a seemingly simple statement by the anti-legalization/regulation guest, in which he said that a large percentage of kids said they did not use drugs because they were illegal, and they were afraid of how that would look to friends and family.

I immediately thought of a different approach that has been even more successful...namely the war on tobacco.

If the main thing keeping kids from pot, etc, is jail, and the main thing keeping kids from smoking is advertising, then which campaign is more successful? Why is criminal punishment supposed to be the best way to address drug use?

It is exceedingly difficult (at least it was for me) to find reports comparing anti-smoking advertising to smoking rates (although reports on what people say is effective or reports on smoking rates themselves abound).

Anti-smoking ads started in the 60's, and that's coincidental to when data for smoking rates seems to begin, so lets just say that the two are related. Without showing causation, we can say that during the time that there have been anti-smoking advertisements, adult smoking has dropped from about 43% of the population to about 20%. Reported smoking among high-school students peaked at about 36% in 1997, and has dropped to about 20%, as well.

That ain't bad.

Unfortunately, the numbers for gauging efficacy of the legal system in curtailing illegal drug use are far more murky for other reasons. Most reports skew heavily one way or the other in terms of expected outcome, methodology, and results. Because of that, let's try to use the same comparison for marijuana (that way we don't have to worry about nebulous "overall" drug use numbers).

Historically, we have about 10 more years of controversy surrounding marijuana (1950's prohibition being a good starting point). Since then, there has been some level of legal opposition to marijuana use. Usage (college students who had at least tried marijuana) peaked in 1971 at 51%, up from a level of 5% in 1967. In 1997, the level was 31%. In 1999, 38% of high school seniors said they had smoked marijuana within the past year. That number was down to 34% in 2005. I'm looking for a more comprehensive set of statistics, but I don't have any reason to believe they're wrong.

Again, we have a problem with comparing numbers reasonably (peaks at different times, different sources for data, etc), so any conclusions have a degree of opinion to them.

With that said, going from 51% to 34% is pretty good progress, too.

So, what's the difference? Whether people go to jail strikes me as an important one. Also, whether pre-adults become engaged in criminal activities other than drug use (who's selling the drugs?) seems to be different. Can't buy pot at the local BP station. We've poured money, lives, and manpower info enforcement that, it seems to me, would have been better used elsewhere.

You're free to disagree, and I'm sure some do, but I'll just have to say that on that count, there is a lack of agreement between us.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Practising Law Institute - Patent Practice Center - Responding to Groklaw Regarding Bilski

Practising Law Institute - Patent Practice Center - Responding to Groklaw Regarding Bilski

I read the following paragraph (among others) in the linked article:

The other main objection I have to the Bilski decision is that we now have to live in a fantasy world where software is protected if and only if it is connected to hardware. So the hardware takes primary dominance and the software, which is what makes the device work and breathes life into the tangible piece. It is terribly disingenuous to force one to call software something other than what it is in order to get protection for it. This will just lead to manipulation and obscure reality. Why must we live in a world of make-believe?

My response...

Reading this post has frustrated me a little...

You *write* is an instruction manual meant to be read by computers to enable them to perform some particular task (akin to "The Joy of HomeBrew", but in code).

When one *discovers* a new algorithm (you can't create something that's simply waiting to be found), it enters the world of human knowledge as a recorded idea. Ideas, in and of themselves, are not patentable. Ideas that lead to the development of physical devices that perform a specific function are also not patentable, but the machines may be.

That crossroads is where things have gone awry. Companies that sell products historically protected their new products via patents. Developing a new engine or widget requires physically creating something, and outlay of resources for physical stuff. Patents protect the companies investment in development of those wdgets.

In software development, newer companies said, "Hey, we're inventing stuff, and it took us hours and hours and lots of money to develop this", and reasoned that patent protection ought to be available. The fact that the resources spent were purely thought and man-hours (not tangible, physical object creation) was ignored.

Following this logic, one could argue that portions of movie scripts that represent a completely new plot element might be patentable. That is no less absurd than the idea that software that represents a newly-discovered algorithm might be patentable.

a+b=c is an algorithm, x*y=z is an algorithm. Does the fact that someone was the first to discover that a+b=c mean that they can enjoy a temporary monopoly on the process of addition? At its essence, that's what the argument over software patents is about.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Kdenlive - Open Source Video For Linux

Kdenlive - Open Source Video For Linux

Looks like jumpcut for the home PC...I may have to get a machine set up to try this out...

I Chat, Therefore I Am... | Technology | DISCOVER Magazine

I Chat, Therefore I Am... | Technology | DISCOVER Magazine

So, what happens when two machines start up a conversation in a chat room? I've heard far less coherent conversations from real humans...

Sunday, May 6, 2007