Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Windows Subsystem for Linux (Ubuntu on Windows)

Well, this is something!

  • This is the news that got the biggest applause at Microsoft's big event today
    Microsoft partnered up with Canonical, developers of the mega-popular Ubuntu Linux operating system. Thanks to some technical wizardry work by the two companies, Windows 10 now has a way to run Ubuntu software.
  • Developers can run Bash Shell and user-mode Ubuntu Linux binaries on Windows 10
    This isn't Bash or Ubuntu running in a VM. This is a real native Bash Linux binary running on Windows itself. It's fast and lightweight and it's the real binaries. This is an genuine Ubuntu image on top of Windows with all the Linux tools I use like awk, sed, grep, vi, etc. It's fast and it's lightweight. The binaries are downloaded by you - using apt-get - just as on Linux, because it is Linux. You can apt-get and download other tools like Ruby, Redis, emacs, and on and on. This is brilliant for developers that use a diverse set of tools like me.

    This runs on 64-bit Windows and doesn't use virtual machines.

  • Ubuntu on Windows — The Ubuntu Userspace for Windows Developers
    A team of sharp developers at Microsoft has been hard at work adapting some Microsoft research technology to basically perform real time translation of Linux syscalls into Windows OS syscalls. Linux geeks can think of it sort of the inverse of “wine” — Ubuntu binaries running natively in Windows. Microsoft calls it their “Windows Subsystem for Linux”. (No, it’s not open source at this time).
  • Ubuntu (not Linux) on Windows: How it works
    A Microsoft spokesperson explained, "We built new infrastructure within Windows, WSL, upon which we run a genuine Ubuntu user-mode image provided by our great partners over at Canonical, creators of Ubuntu Linux. The result is that you can now run native Bash on Ubuntu on Windows."
  • Ubuntu’s bash and Linux command line coming to Windows 10
    We're still trying to get the inside story on what Microsoft has done here, but what we've known for several months now is that the company has developed some Windows kernel components (lxcore.sys, lxss.sys, presumably standing for "Linux core" and "Linux subsystem," respectively) that support the major Linux kernel APIs. These components are not GPLed and do not appear to contain Linux code themselves; instead, they implement the Linux kernel API using the native Windows NT API that the Windows kernel provides. Microsoft is calling this the "Windows Subsystem for Linux" (WSL)


    Our understanding is that these are not recompiled or ported versions of the programs (as are used in tools aiming to provide a Unix-like environment on Windows such as Cygwin) but instead unmodified programs. Microsoft is describing this in terms of providing a Linux-like command-line environment at the moment, but from what we can gather, there's little fundamental restriction to this, potentially opening the door to running a wide range of Linux programs natively on Windows.

  • Android and iOS apps on Windows: What is Microsoft doing—and will it work?
    Windows has long included the ability to support multiple API families through a feature called subsystems. The Win32 API that almost all Windows software (including Universal Windows apps) use is obviously the biggest and best known of these APIs, and in modern versions of Windows is in fact the only API. But historically, there have been others. The very first versions of Windows NT included, of all things, an OS/2 subsystem that supported certain kinds of OS/2 applications. It was a relic of history, a product of Microsoft and IBM's once cooperative operating system development.
  • Latest Windows 10 Redstone Build 14521 May Have A Linux Subsystem
    WalkingCat has initially revealed the mystical Linux subsystem files in a Twitter post.

    what the hell ? Windows 10 14251 has lxcore.sys and lxss.sys ? aren't they part of Project Astoria ? and for Mobile only ?

This will be interesting news to follow!

David Patterson is retiring

Another computer science legend, Berkeley's David Patterson is retiring after a 40-year academic career: 40-Year Goodbye: A Last Lecture and Symposium

Here's the agenda for the one-day symposium, which certainly looks intriguing: 40 Years of Patterson

James Hamilton has a nice writeup on his blog.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Stuff I'm reading

One thing about a rainy first half of March: my allergies this weekend are Out Of Control!

  • Unsigned Deals and Roguish Bonds

    Bloomberg's Matt Levine might be the best writer you haven't heard of, and Friday's column was Levine at his best, as he worked to illuminate the arcane corners of modern Financial Engineering with his characteristic tongue-firmly-in-cheek style.

    Among various other topics, he digs into the Credit Suisse news:

    What is most conceptually wonderful about this trade is that Credit Suisse is selling investors the risk that Credit Suisse is committing fraud. But what if Credit Suisse is committing fraud when it sells the bonds? Can the bondholders sue Credit Suisse for fraud? If they win, do they have to pay Credit Suisse back? It is a Möbius strip of liability, a Klein bottle of derivatives, a mathematical object that exists solely to prove that any formally complete system of capital regulation is inconsistent, or at least weird.
    Levine, of course, has been writing wonderful material about the financial world for years, and Friday's article references two other wonderful Levine essays:

    • Marvel At The Derivative On Its Derivatives That Credit Suisse Wrote To Itself
      Credit Suisse has sold CDS to itself on its derivatives counterparties – if any money changes hands it will go from CS, to the CDS seller, back to CS, which may explain why it was able to find someone to write such a weird CDS contract. If CS’s other counterparties’ spreads widen then Credit Suisse will have an offsetting gain on the CDS that it bought, but because of the accounting differences it will not have an offsetting, offsetting loss on the CDS (sorry, “credit support facility”) that it sold. It has transformed a mark-to-market CVA exposure that would reduce its net income (and, thus, regulatory capital) if counterparty spreads widen, into an accrual thing that won’t reduce capital until there are actual defaults on CS’s actual derivatives.
    • Mourn For The Derivative On Its Derivatives That Credit Suisse Wrote To Itself
      The capital regulators decided that their trade was not an economic contract, so it won’t have the capital effect they wanted, so it would appear to be back to the drawing board.

      Delightfully they do seem to be going back to the drawing board, rather than conceding defeat; IFR quotes someone in the bank as saying that “continued evolution of the Basel III rules is likely to require some modifications to the hedge. These changes are already well advanced.” This may work out yet. My faith in Credit Suisse is diminished, but not destroyed. You can come back from this, Credit Suisse. You have to. For all of us.

Meanwhile, in other things to read...
  • From QA to Engineering Productivity
    SETs initially focused on building tools for reducing the testing cycle time, since that was the most manually intensive and time consuming phase of getting product code into production. We made some of these tools available to the software development community: webdriver improvements, protractor, espresso, EarlGrey, martian proxy, karma, and GoogleTest. SETs were interested in sharing and collaborating with others in the industry and established conferences. The industry has also embraced the Test Engineering discipline, as other companies hired software engineers into similar roles, published articles, and drove Test-Driven Development into mainstream practices.
  • Google DeepMind's AlphaGo: How it works
    Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) is an alternative approach to searching the game tree. The idea is to run many game simulations. Each simulation starts at the current game state and stops when the game is won by one of the two players. At first, the simulations are completely random: actions are chosen randomly at each state, for both players. At each simulation, some values are stored, such as how often each node has been visited, and how often this has led to a win. These numbers guide the later simulations in selecting actions (simulations thus become less and less random). The more simulations are executed, the more accurate these numbers become at selecting winning moves. It can be shown that as the number of simulations grows, MCTS indeed converges to optimal play.
  • GDC2016 FlashBackward
    MMOs gave you game guilds. They gave you free to play. They gave you the profession now called community manager. They birthed the farming game that became social gaming. Would there be bitcoin today without the paths first explored by gold sellers? There certainly wouldn’t be a Minecraft without MUD.

    Aspects of MMOs gave you Facebook itself: a world with no world there, one that maybe hasn’t listened closely enough to the old lessons on player rights and governance. What is Twitter but public chat for the world? What is Facebook, LinkedIn, but your character sheet, reinforcing rather than challenging our notions of identity? We are all avatars now, but perhaps our worlds are a little more mundane.

  • Amidst of the Rubble of Bedrock City: The rise and fall of the Flintstone empire
    During a visit last summer, both parks were more like ghost cities. In what was supposed to be the high season for both parks, you could have Bedrock City almost to yourself. In South Dakota, a small family explored the fake town, while another took a ride in Fred’s car, famously operated by foot. (In this case, it was operated by a small motor.) If you wanted, you could poke your head into the oval openings of a custom cutout board and take pictures pretending to be the freakishly strong Bamm-Bamm, holding a massive stone barbell over his head using only the tip of his index finger.


    In Arizona, the sound of The Flintstones theme song blared across the flat expanse of park from the patchy sound system of the movie theater in which no one was watching old Flintstones episodes. No one waited in line for the brontosaurus slide either. A few handfuls of adults roamed from house to house taking selfies, petting the goat inexplicably penned up near the entrance to the park, or sitting in the small but pleasant garden that Linda planted in the nineties, after her husband had passed.

  • Shuffling Michigan
    Their approach is to resize each county by population (# of total votes would be good, but no good could come of remaking these on the fly as votes come in), and try to keep the overall shape of the state. Unfortunately, in so doing, they shuffle the counties around any old which way. The Lower Peninsula of Michigan has 68 counties in reality, the Upper Peninsula has 15. But Decision Desk HQ has shoved most of the counties into the Upper Peninsula, which now has 58, vs. 25 that remain in the Lower Peninsula.

    This means that we can’t really see spatial patterns, which is sort of the point of having a map. Notice how, on the NYT map, the gold-colored counties that went for Cruz are mostly clustered in the west. The Decision Desk HQ map keeps some of them there (in yellow), but scatters the rest of that cluster around the Upper Peninsula. The two purple counties both went for Kasich, and Decision Desk HQ would have us think they are neighbors (which would be an interesting thing to note as far as spatial patterns go), but in fact they’re the two teal-colored counties on the NYT map that are on opposite sides of the state.

  • Why does the United States keep killing #2 in ISIS?
    As Zack mentions, there may be reasons why the #1 is harder to find and kill, but I would suggest a complementary hypothesis. At many points in time there is more than one #2, just as corporations may have a variety of Executive Vice Presidents.

    If you a leader of a terror group, do you really want a well-defined #2 who is a focal alternative and who can move to overthrow you? Or do you prefer seven competing #2s, with somewhat unclear status, whom you can play off against each other, or make compete against each other, and offer various sticks and carrots and promotions of influence against each other?

    And let’s say that one of these #2’s is killed. How will the United States report this? “One of seven #2’s has been killed”? Or perhaps the easier to communicate and more important sounding “We have taken out number two.”

  • National Hero
    There is nothing glorious about any of it. People don’t die gloriously for their beliefs. They die instantly or silently or crying out in pain.

    The notion of tactically risible but symbolically meaningful blood sacrifice is one that angry and stymied young men have always embraced, not least this week in Brussels. There is nothing new about disenfranchised twenty-somethings appropriating the images and ideas of whatever religion they happen to grow up around to tart up the essentially adolescent idea that blood cleanses, especially the blood of others.

    What we now call radicalisation is simply the age-old desire of the young to believe in purity; to believe in it so completely that it comes above human life. But purity does not exist. Humanity isn’t good enough at any single thing to make it more important than the irreplaceable consciousness of just one of us.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Firewatch: a very short review

Although I bought Firewatch when it first came out, about two months ago, it sat on my (virtual) shelf for a while, waiting patiently in my Steam account for me to find some time.

The reason for that is that, when I first got it, I started playing it a little bit.

But I quickly realized that Firewatch is not the sort of game you can step into and out of. It is the sort of game where you want to immerse yourself and be swept away, sort of like one of those books that you save up until you know you're going to have a big chunk of time to dive in and explore the book.

In fact, comparing Firewatch to a book is a pretty reasonable thing to do, I think.

Although, Firewatch is very definitely a video game, perhaps best classified as a "first-person mystery adventure". It is set in the Wyoming wilderness, about 25 years ago, during a long hot summer, in which you find yourself taking a summer job as a wildfire lookout, keeping an eye over a remote wilderness area, patrolling, watching for fires, keeping an eye out for trouble.

And trouble, there is.

Moreover, it turns out that you're not actually a very good wildfire lookout, nor are you very good at keeping trouble away (well, what did you expect? It was a summer job; you had no experience!).

So you wander around, try to understand what's going on and why, and report in.

You report in a LOT; in fact, the entire game involves your discussions, over the radio, with your supervisor, named Delilah. Delilah is also a fire lookout; she works in the next tower over from you, and she is the one who hired you.

And you also wander around a LOT, because you have a lot of wilderness to monitor, and there is a lot there to see. And where you go, and what you see, and what you do when you see it, is fun too, because the artwork in the game is delightful: understated, with just the right sort of "feel" to let you slip away and imagine yourself out there, with just a backpack, a flashlight, and a radio, hiking up an unknown trail for the first time, wondering what you will find around the bend.

In a lot of ways, Firewatch is like reading a thriller, except that you can affect the outcome, by making different decisions. In particular, when you talk with Delilah over the radio, you will find that you have certain choices about what to say, and whether to even call Delilah or not, about the various situations that arise during your summer in the Wyoming wilderness.

And that's what makes Firewatch a game, rather than a book, because you don't just follow the story, you ARE the story.

I'm not really doing a great job at describing Firewatch, so let's grab some quotes from some others who have tried to describe it:

  • Firewatch: The Kotaku Review
    If you want to strip it back, all you really do in Firewatch is run around the woods. You talk, and sometimes you’ll need to climb up or down something, and very occasionally there’ll be a door to open or a tree to cut down, but for 95% of your time interacting with a controller or mouse in Firewatch, you’re doing nothing but moving through an empty landscape.

    Which sounds terrible! And yet, your movement in Firewatch is simply a means of giving the story space to play out. Aside from a few very brief (and distant) confrontations you are entirely alone throughout Firewatch. It’s just you, your fat fingers and the Great American Wilderness.

  • The video game Firewatch and its origins in 1980s text adventures.
    While it’s common for players of mainstream games to skip through dialogue scenes in order to return more quickly to the action—a sign of how ancillary those words really are—the dialogue in Firewatch isn’t just there to just adorn or enrich the game. It is the game. Despite the pleasures of traversing its magnificent, three-dimensional landscapes, the heart of Firewatch is a conversation, one that unfolds across a walkie-talkie over the course of a summer. The choices you make, the stories you tell, the questions you ask, the ways you open to Delilah or don’t, listen or don’t—the sum of all of it is a relationship, because that’s what relationships are.
  • Friendship and paranoia are explored in “Firewatch”
    Upon settling in the watchtower, you are introduced to Henry’s new boss Delilah. Delilah is not seen; rather, you talk with her via the park service’s radio. Delilah then gives you your first task, kicking off your ability to explore the park’s glades, canyons and cliffs. As you roam, you’ll radio your discoveries back to her, and answer her questions by choosing from a list of responses.

    What unfolds next is a tale of loss, paranoia and friendship where you get to gently steer the narrative by deciding how Henry interacts with Delilah. How much of Henry’s personal history do you want to reveal? What kind of advice do you give Delilah when trouble hits? “Firewatch” asks you to forge a relationship while simultaneously forging across a dangerous rockslide.

  • Video game reviews: Indie games 'Firewatch,' 'Unravel' fall short
    Most of the story in "Firewatch" emerges from those conversations with Delilah. The only "gamelike" obstacles occur when Henry has to chop down a tree or climb some rocks, and those are accomplished with one push of a button. Eventually, Henry stumbles upon some nefarious doings in the forest.

    While Henry and Delilah try to solve the mystery, he does a lot of walking. And if I wanted to spend the weekend hiking, I might, you know, go hiking.

I can see that Firewatch isn't for everyone.

It probably isn't even for most people.

In fact, it is probably the sort of game that would most appeal to a middle-aged man who spends too much of his time in an office, behind a computer, but who loves to read and who dreams of those occasional times when he actually gets out into the Real World to walk around and explore and see things, and who can even stop for a moment and wonder: what would his life have been like, if he'd taken a summer job as a ranger, long long ago.

So yes: I AM the target audience. (I wonder how they knew; surely they didn't make a whole video game just for me? It can't be that there are any other people like that, right?)

Having just finished Firewatch, I am probably just going to let it sit in my head for a while.

But I can imagine I might go back to Firewatch sometime later, and try it again. Have a different adventure, take a different path, make some different choices.

Just think, what might that be like ... ?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sponsored content

Here's a fascinating article by Jacob Silverman on The Baffler's website: The Rest Is Advertising

Silverman starts by describing how he got what appeared to be a breakthrough in his languishing journalism career:

I was a little stunned: I’d been writing about tech matters for years as a freelance journalist, and this was far more access than I was used to receiving. What was different? I was calling as a reporter—but not exactly. I was writing a story for The Atlantic—but not for the news division. Instead, I was working for a moneymaking wing of The Atlantic called Re:think, and I was writing sponsored content.

Unfortunately, after all was said and done, the experience led him to conclude that large forces were at work, leading the world of journalism down a dark path:

And so it is that American journalism, in this late decadent phase, has come to mistake its biggest rivals for its dearest sponsors. Now that visibility, which can be bought like so many ad impressions, is won by gaming search and social platforms, publishers are no longer just hosting or appeasing advertisers; they are also competing with them. They are employing the same sponsor-pleasing jargon, vying for the same resource—attention—in the same newsfeeds and timelines, and scouting the same talent.

Silverman closes, though, by looking, gamely, for a silver lining:

For that amount of money, you could hire five smart thirty-year-old writers, especially if you’re not drafting through the traditional Ivy League patronage system. You could pay a bunch of writers to actually write.


As of now, there’s a glut of young writers circling, anxiously wondering if they’ll ever have more to show at the end of a year than a bunch of 1099s, double Social Security tax, and a few new Twitter followers. If journalism hopes to recuperate itself as a viable career, it will have to find a way to let some of these people in and to keep those who want to stay. Otherwise, the advertisers wait, and their pocketbooks are bigger.

The entire essay is compelling, if grim.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Technology and ethics

I keep thinking I should write an essay about this myself.

But although I have strong views on the subject, I'm not a strong enough writer.

Happily, other people are.

Don't miss these three articles:

  • Trackers
    A couple of weeks ago I went to the local shopping centre looking for a thermometer. After entering one store upon leaving without buying anything a tracker was assigned to me. I didn’t think much of it at first, but he followed me dutifully around the shopping centre, took careful note of how I walked. Whenever I visited a store he made a note in his little black book (he kept calling it my profile, and he didn’t want to show me what was in it so I assume it was actually his, rather than mine). Each of those stores of course assigned trackers to me as well and soon enough I was followed by my own personal veritable posse of non-descript guys with little black books making notes.
  • Bitcoin and Diversity
    The importance of understanding the inherently political nature of rules goes deeper than simply saying diversity is important; it also gets at how we as an industry should think about solutions. It is tempting to argue that companies should simply double-down on meritocracy and ensure they are selecting the best possible candidate; remove human judgment to the greatest degree possible. But then it must be asked, on what criteria would hiring decisions be made? Specifically, who would be making these neutral “rules”?
  • Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization
    An examination of the nature and consequences of these uses sheds light on the implicit logic of surveillance capitalism and the global architecture of computer mediation upon which it depends. This architecture produces a distributed and largely uncontested new expression of power that I christen: ‘Big Other.’ It is constituted by unexpected and often illegible mechanisms of extraction, commodification, and control that effectively exile persons from their own behavior while producing new markets of behavioral prediction and modification. Surveillance capitalism challenges democratic norms and departs in key ways from the centuries long evolution of market capitalism.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

It's not just a game, ...

... it's an opportunity to get out those wood-working tools!

Yay! More Chef's Table!

Here's some good news from Netflix: Netflix's 'Chef's Table' Returns for Second, Third, and Fourth Seasons

Chef's Table, the critically acclaimed show created by filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) is coming back to Netflix this spring. The digital network will release 16 new episodes of the series divided into three seasons, and the line-up of featured chefs reads like a food obsessive's wish list: Alex Atala (Dom, Brazil); Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn, SF); Enrique Olvera (Pujol, Mexico); Grant Achatz (Alinea, Chicago); Alain Passard (L'Arpege, France); Michel Troisgros (Maison Troisgros, France); Nancy Silverton (Mozza, LA); and nine others (find the full line-up below) will reveal their motivations, challenges, success stories, and failures in what Gelb calls an entirely new kind of food television: "It's really a show about people. We don't give explanations on how to cook things. It's psychological, character-driven film-making."

I loved Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and thought the first season of Chef's Table was even better, so this is very good news, in my opinion.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Intellectual property and crossword puzzles

ESPN's 538 site ran a fascinating article recently about intellectual property and crossword puzzles (two things that each interest me): A Plagiarism Scandal Is Unfolding In The Crossword World.

Since 1999, Timothy Parker, editor of one of the nation’s most widely syndicated crosswords, has edited more than 60 individual puzzles that copy elements from New York Times puzzles, often with pseudonyms for bylines, a new database has helped reveal.

Apparently, a computer hobbyist named Saul Pwanson assembled a database of published crosswords, more than 50,000 of them, and wrote some linguistic analysis software to try to analyze the crossword puzzles.

And then a crossword author named Ben Tausig learned about this analysis, and drew attention to it, and now people have been trying to decide how to interpret the results, and what they might mean.

The article investigates a particular similarity in great detail. A crossword published in 2001 contained three "theme" answers:

  1. Drive up the wall
  2. Get on one's nerves
  3. Rub the wrong way

The clue for each answer included the word:

  • exasperate

Then, 10 years later, another crossword puzzle was published (by Parker), that contained the same three theme answers, and in that puzzle, the three answers all had clues which included the word "exasperate," too.

The question the article raises is: is this wrong? That is,

  • Is it technically wrong? Did it violate some sort of law? Could it have violated some sort of law, if certain things had been handled differently?
  • Is it morally wrong? Did the 2010 author inappropriately reuse somebody else's work without given proper credit? Was it some sort of plagiarism?

These are both reasonable questions, although I think the answer to the first is pretty easy: intellectual property law these days is so broad, and so vague, and so permissive, that almost any creative act can be viewed as an intellectual property issue of some sort.

You can't go five clicks on your browser without bumping up against some sort of intellectual property issue: musicians sue each other over hit songs; cell phone software companies sue each other over swiping left or right; political campaigns sue each other over the color schemes of posterboards displayed in suburban front yards.

So let's concede that yes, given the current state of intellectual property law, some law, somewhere, has undoubtedly been violated.

But what about the moral aspects? Did the 2010 author do something morally wrong?

Those three phrases are extremely common. Why, I probably find myself saying either "that drives me up the wall," or "that really gets on my nerves," or "that gets under my skin," at least once a week.

But what about the word "exasperate?" It's a very nice word. And, I must say, if I was trying to help, say, a twelve year old sixth grader learn the meaning of the word "exasperate", I might say "you know when your friend gets on your nerves?" Or when she says something that makes you see red? That means she was "exasperating".

Why, I just typed "exasperate" into my browser, and what did it return?

  • get on someone's nerves, ruffle someone's feathers, rub the wrong way
The whole controversy strikes me as touching many of the same topics that arise in intellectual property law in areas like software patents.

People think that they can "own" an idea; that they should be able to patent the idea and nobody else can have that idea without the permission of the "owner".

Which I think is rubbish, both for practical and for moral reasons.

The practical issues are that we don't have any good ways to prevent people from having ideas.

The moral issues involve my belief that an idea is an abstraction of something doesn't actually exist until you communicate that idea to some other human being, at which point you have necessarily and irrevocably shared that idea with that other person.

That is, philosophically, I believe that the notion of an "idea" is inextricably linked with the concept of communication; you have to communicate an idea to give it existence, and that communication involves some other human at the other end.

So when Tausig says that

Parker’s duplication of 65 New York Times themes during his tenure “is a gross violation”
it doesn't get very far with me. A gross violation of what?

I concede that plagiarism is a complex subject.

But when I see

Kevan Choset, a lawyer and crossword constructor, told me, that there are “extremely strong arguments” that crosswords are protected by copyright law. But are individual components of crosswords protected? “If they are taking entire themes along with the shape of the grid along with a substantial number of clues and answers, then that would be actionable copyright infringement,” Stephen McArthur, a copyright and games lawyer in Los Angeles, told me
all I see are lawyers trying to make money.

If somebody in 2010 did indeed deliberately and knowingly copy a set of themed clues from a 2001 crossword, well, shame on them.

On the other hand, 10 years is a long time, and people who work on crossword puzzles are a literate and creative group.

Perhaps, like me, they find themselves saying "ruffled my feathers" fairly regularly, and they wonder to themselves: how many different metaphors for "irritated me" have people come up with over the years?

Who can say, exactly, how the human brain works? Maybe that other person, 10 years later, had the same idea, and tried to use it themselves.

I'm powerfully persuaded by Pwanson's own comment that

“It’s hard to construct a good crossword,” Pwanson said. “It’s art.”
And now that we've gone back from lawyers to artists, it's important to remember what Pablo Picasso said, fifty years ago: When there's anything to steal, I steal, or, perhaps, the better-known re-phrasing of Steve Jobs:
Picasso had a saying -- 'good artists copy; great artists steal' -- and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.

Over at CNet, Dan Farber dug into the issue in much greater detail, sitting down with Phil Schiller and others to talk about it in depth: What Steve Jobs really meant when he said 'Good artists copy; great artists steal'

I asked about Jobs' statement and the seeming contradiction between suing competitors and being shameless about stealing ideas.

"I think that's been misunderstood. Copying means -- I believe this is what he meant when he said it because we talked about it back then -- doing the same thing," said Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing. "I think what he meant by 'steal' was you learn, as artists have, from past masters; you figure out what you like about it and what you want to incorporate into your idea, and you take it further and do something new with it. I can see why people might confuse that with the current use people have for that phrase. You don't just say, 'I want something that looks just like yours and I'm going to sell it too.'

"Great people actually understand at a deeper level what makes something great and then build on the shoulders of that and build something even more marvelous and take it further," he added. "I think that's the case. We all learn from everything in our industry. It doesn't matter what field you are in, but copying is literally just taking and doing the same thing."

Monkey see, monkey do.

Schubert used Beethoven's work; Beethoven used Mozart's work; Mozart used Haydn's work; Haydn used Bach's work; Bach used the work of thousands of others before him, over thousands of years.

This is how brains work.

And even Jobs seemed to understand this tension between learning from somebody, versus merely aping them:

As Jobs said in prefacing his statement about Picasso and artists: "Ultimately, it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things in to what you're doing."

The puzzle that Parker published in 2010 is not a copy of the one that Will Shortz published ten years earlier. It has the same three theme answers, yes. But nearly everything else is different.

And Adele's Hello didn't steal from Tom Waits. And Lionel Richie doesn't own the word "Hello", either.

Intellectual property law is a ferocious tool. Paul Kantner actually wrote my favorite Crosby, Stills, and Nash song: Wooden Ships, but due to intellectual property law it had to be kept a secret, and the album credits the song to Crosby and Stills. Although I've listened to, and loved, that song for 40 years, I didn't learn until just a few months ago that Kantner actually wrote it.

I didn't learn about it until Kantner died.

And then it could be talked about, because the lawyers didn't care anymore.

In my preferred outcome, our world is one in which crossword puzzles, smart-phone dating apps, guitar melodies, and campaign slogans are all types of communications, necessarily involving both two parties, who are sharing abstract concepts, whether these are: "these phrases express the same concept," "I think you're cute," "get off the sofa and DANCE!" or "I like Ike".

And abstract concepts shouldn't be things that humans own.

They should be things that humans share.

Oh, wait, "get under my skin" wasn't in either of those puzzles.

Maybe I should copyright it.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Is this for real?

Heavy Rain, Feet of Snow Target California as "Miracle March" Atmospheric River Weather Pattern Arrives

When looking at the Sierra Nevada in detail, there is the potential for 6 feet or more of snow at the highest elevations during the next 14 days. Keep in mind, however, that this is a very long range outlook so there is uncertainty, but it does provide an idea of the amount of snow we could see over the course of time.

I guess that, in 300 hours or so, we'll know...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Intellectual property

Electrical tape, canvas cover landmark Yosemite names

Using plastic strips, canvas and what appeared to be pieces of heavy-duty electrical tape, workers covered up decades of history early Tuesday from the face of Yosemite National Park.

The historic, wooden “Curry Village” sign that welcomed visitors to their tent cabins was covered with a canvas- and rope-sign contraption, declaring the site to be “Half Dome Village.”

Street signs in Yosemite village that once directed visitors to the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or the Ahwahnee Hotel were transformed into pointers toward the “Yosemite Valley Lodge” and “Majestic Yosemite Hotel,” respectively.

Maybe you own a collector's item now?

The “Yosemite National Park” T-shirts that had been selling at half off Monday were gone from the shops due to the fact that Delaware North has trademarked the phrase.

Go climb a rock.