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The Issue of Intellectual Property and The Free Culture

Motto: “From the earliest days at Apple, I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software, we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected, there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” (Steve Jobs, as quoted in the biography by Walter Isaacson)
We are safe to assume that Bill Gates has the same philosophy when it comes to Intellectual Property for the simple fact that he made a fortune from IP. And many other Internet or media moguls do. The issue is not however as simple as Jobs described it for the simple fact that the Internet changed all the rules of the game when it comes to IP in some spaces.

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

Culture and Entertainment. In the cultural spaces, for example, the assumption from which most people start when they consume culture today is that culture should be free. Free open-air concerts, pirate websites and free content available on the Internet have created an idea in people’s minds that anything related to culture should be free. While in theory we can agree with this, there will always be the question of who’s paying the creators? Creating quality content takes time, talent, and dedication. The authors might have spent maybe years trying to create something valuable, but they are not able to cash. The solution is never free culture. It also can not come in the form of overpayment. How many of the movies you have seen lately were worth the price of admission? Regardless of the quality most of the DVDs cost almost the same. Let’s examine the case of the movies a little bit. I’ve just checked for some prices on the street and on-line and guess what I found? The last asian gore, a classic Dolph Lundgren feature, a simple chick flick and the last Tarantino costs the same. While this might be good news for somebody collecting movies in huge quantities regardless of the genre, in general it’s just a fact that helps the piracy even more, because some of the afore-mentioned movies might be of interest for purchasing just for the fans. Renting them on or offline is the usual solution, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The solution is deceptively simple: change the pricing and purchasing options. But how? Charging for quality is subjective (you never know how much somebody would pay for a certain movie) and also against the free culture mantra by all means, even tough it’s common practice (please check the pricing for the movies that won Oscars against those who haven’t, what do you notice?). This will remain an open problem, but purchasing options are definitely changing: from iTunes to Amazon and Hulu, entertainment and culture are available through all channels. We will not dive further into the pricing problem that is faced by the entertainment industry now. We will explore it with another occasion. One thing is clear: the desire for Free Culture and the mass adoption of piracy was not the public saying that they don’t want to pay for something, but rather the public saying that they are tired to eat crappy content and to search for years for certain albums or movies for the simple fact that the entertainment giant refuses to re-edit them. In certain countries where the payment was low and there was also a cultural gap (see former communist countries, for example) piracy flourished because publishing giants were ignorant when it came to their countries.
What happens to the software industry? Be warned that industry people and common people might understand different things through free software. As defined by Richard Stallman, Free Software is open software, software that comes with the code, but not really unpaid software. If you want you can have free software for which you pay. How does this sounds? Counterintuitive for sure. Free software is also software offered for free legally, software for which you don’t pay money. And of course, while we don’t like it, illegal software is also free, but nobody responds for it. Now here lies the true value: who responds for this software? Who responds if this software ruins my computer? If nobody does it, then you shouldn’t be using it because you don’t know if it’s safe to use it.
Intellectual Property at its strongest: Patents. Well this year was all about patents. Every major company had to fight at least a dozen process against patent trolls, but also against other major companies. It seems like nobody plays fair anymore. Without patents there will be no protection for new ideas, on one side, but also no source of income for inventors. And as we noticed already, it takes time and money to do something well. Patents are the real engine of the economy. They stimulate competition. Without them we will all be a bunch of copy/pasters, reduced to what the establishment already offers us, without any real capacity to bring disruptive ideas to the market. And yet even leading companies choose to eliminate it from their practices. We should all consider a patent as a recognition of his creator, an homage, as well as a guide to the invention.
Free Culture or Fear Culture? Free Culture is a recipient for disaster in any space. Can you image tourism thriving in a world of Free Culture? Not really. There is however a thriving fear culture that prospers in the shadow of Free Culture, a Fear Culture, a culture of people that are so scared by new ideas that they prefer to steal instead of experiment.

November 3, 2011 Permalink

Brain Movies

Since forever we are attracted to paradigms like Mind Over Matter. It’s not because of science fiction stories, but rather because of convenience. It’s so easy to sit on the couch and turn on the lights or the TV using only your toughts. We are not there yet (not according to the published articles), but new developments show that science fiction can sometimes become reality. This time is not Mind Over Matter, but an answer to the old question: How do we see? How does our brain constructs the world we see?
According to the current issue from the journal Current Biology, Professor Jack Galant and his team reported that they created the first video clips that reconstruct the visions of the brain. This is a historical experiment that proves that the signals from our brain can be used to recreate what we see. Basically what they did is show different movies to different subjects and record their blood flow through the brain using fMRI techniques (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging systems). They have used these signals to recreate what the brain paints by using voxels (volumetric pixels). This is similar to what a painter does. In fact their results are quite similar to some paintings for the moments, but in time they will improve. If we have a large enough database we will get images that are closer to reality. It is practically the first step toward recreating the movies produced by our brain.

The images are like a Van Gogh picture

The images are like a Van Gogh picture

It is a known thing that we can only perceive what our brain allows us. While the system is just a prototype, the results were impressive. Imagine what can be done when this system will be improved: a killer will not be able to lie, we will share our experience with our partner (in a couple, for example), kids will be able to see how the lives of their parents or grandparents were, and so on. Such a discovery should have been on front row everywhere, but it was reported mostly through tech blogs. Makes you wonder what happened to the media these days. We do live interesting times, don’t we?

September 25, 2011 Permalink

Apple: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. The Show Must Go On, even without Jobs

It takes time to recover after such a huge news. It almost feels like The Beatles have disbanded again (should we remind you that it took years until Jobs brought The Beatles catalog to iTunes?). Steve Jobs steps down as the CEO of Apple, and, as expected, the new CEO is Tim Cook. While he doesn’t seem to have the same presence like Jobs, Cook was the interim CEO for all the periods when Jobs was unable to fulfill his duties due to health or other problems. While both Jobs and Cook assure us that the best is still to come for Apple, the previous days felt like a sad one.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Who was this guy, anyway? A college dropout who changed the consumer electronics space, music and film forever. He was also the CEO of Pixar, the computer animation company behind hits like Toy Story or Cars (later bought by Disney) and Next (later bought by Apple). For me, at least, he was also the guy who delivered the most famous speech in recent memory: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish (at Stanford University).

His evolution can be traced precisely to that famous phrase from the last issue of the Whole Earth Catalog: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. This is precisely what you need to do if you want to remain relevant for your whole career. If you want to be able to innovate your whole life. Jobs understood this since college. He always did what he wanted and also connected the dots.  He started with philosophy and dreams. Since he founded Apple he battled the other IT titan, William “Bill” Gates, for the supremacy. He was only able to win the war when his rival retired, but that’s another story. It’s what he did during this whole period that transformed him into perhaps the biggest CEO superstar we ever saw.

In the first phase he launched Apple and introduced design into the PC era. All web designers take notice! Perhaps the best remembered thing from those times is the Apple II and the Mac (launched through Ridley Scott’s visionary 1984 commercial). After he was thrown out from his own company he continued to innovate at the helm of Pixar (at first short animations then full-featured movies) and Next (on one of these computer Sir Timothy Berners-Lee wrote the first version of the WWW we know today). Back to Apple, for the next 15 years (until this week), he wrote history: iMac, iTunes, iPod, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Air and the retail experience. Just few products, but the waves they started have changed the world. This means they have: the best music player (hardware, software and store: iPod, iTunes), the best operating system for mobile devices and the best mobile devices (iOS + iPhone or IPad), the best laptops (is there any doubt on this one?), and so on. In fact we should write a book about the man and at least several books about Apple’s products and services to give justice to what Jobs has done at Apple in the last 15 years (not that his first tenure was bad, but the second was just history).

While we do feel a little bit sad that the next CEO is not the other superstar from Apple, their Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive, we know that Apple still has lots of things to say. If Jobs was able to pass at least a part of his life philosophy to the Apple employees (and we are confident that he was able to do that) than we do not need to worry, Apple’s future is in good hands. We just need to remind them, that now since they are number #1 and there is no reason to continue to Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, they have to do it, if they want to remain there. Goodbye Steve Jobs. Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish forever!

August 26, 2011 Permalink

Earth: Past -> Present -> Future (Gaia)

August 15, 2011 Permalink

Water on The Moon


Since man first touched the moon and brought pieces of it back to Earth, scientists have thought that the lunar surface was bone dry. But new observations from three different spacecraft have put this notion to rest with what has been called “unambiguous evidence” of water across the surface of the moon.

The new findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, come in the wake of further evidence of lunar polar water ice by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and just weeks before the planned lunar impact of NASA’s LCROSS satellite, which will hit one of the permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s south pole in hope of churning up evidence of water ice deposits in the debris field.

The moon remains drier than any desert on Earth, but the water is said to exist on the moon in very small quantities. One ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would hold about 32 ounces of water, researchers said.

“If the water molecules are as mobile as we think they are — even a fraction of them — they provide a mechanism for getting water to those permanently shadowed craters,” said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the three studies in Science on the lunar find, in a statement. “This opens a whole new avenue [of lunar research], but we have to understand the physics of it to utilize it.”

Finding water on the moon would be a boon to possible future lunar bases, acting as a potential source of drinking water and fuel.

July 14, 2011 Permalink

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