Friday, September 15, 2006


Dilemma re: IP

Last week The Guardian (and Libé) reported that, after the contamination of American long-grain rice (a shipload of which was blocked in Rotterdam this week, by the way, having been test positive by French and Swedish labs),
Government scientists are to investigate claims that traces of illegal GM rice have been found in food products on sale in the UK. Green groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace said yesterday they had found the GM contamination in three packets of noodles and rice sticks bought from speciality stores in London's Chinatown.

The products were imported from China, where farmers have illegally planted large amounts of unapproved experimental varieties of rice genetically engineered to be resistant to insects.

Personally, I don't own any patents, and that probably makes it easier for me to oppose their application to certain types of inventions, particularly to algorithms and living things. Patent clever procedures for executing genetic modifications if you must, but not the resulting beings.

On the other hand, it is tempting to hope that the Chinese violated someone's patent on this rice, and can be pressured to cease and desist from growing it.

Hopefully, an EU embargo will suffice (maybe the Japanese will detect the same tainting and embargo, too), so GMO IP will not be useful.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006


Rules, Rules, Rules!

At least one web site I've frequented initially registered users identified only by e-mail address (I'm not sure there was even a password required, they just wanted to know who was consulting their content and send us newsletters and conference announcements); they added a "username" later, and now it and a password are required to log in. Problem: I've never added a username for myself (nor did they impose one).

This morning I tried to use the site; confronted with the login panel, I clicked on "I forgot my password", entered my e-mail address and was told a new password and activation procedure had been sent. Sure enough, an e-mail arrived promptly in my inbox. It contained a new password and a link to click to activate the password. I clicked. Password successfully updated. Please log in. Right. I entered my password, leaving the username blank (as it plainly was in the e-mail): login failed. I tried again, putting my member ID number in place of the username: login failed. I was annoyed that their procedure had not envisaged this case. After all, how clever does one have to be to realize that if someone who is recognized as a registered user (e-mail address in users table) says they can't log in, you send them what they need to log in. If they need a username as well as a password, you make sure they have one. You do not send an email with a password and a blank username. But they did. A site specializing in "Business Rules", a methodological technology for using logic to improve business process effectiveness and efficiency. Doctor, heal thyself!

Oh well, I thought to myself, I'll just re-register. After all, membership is free. And so I did, only to be told that "Sorry, but that e-mail address is already registered to a user." How clever of them! To avoid redundancies when they send their conference announcements and other newletters they require e-mail addresses to be unique among their users. But not clever enough to deal with unset usernames.

P.S. I wish sites would indicate whether usernames appear anywhere, and if so, where, so one can decide whether use something cute/hip/fun and easy to remember, or something serious to impress other users.

UPDATE: The webmaster, informed of my situation, entered my username and sent me another new password, within a couple of hours. When I wrote a "thank you", he even wrote back "you're welcome, thank you for using the site"!

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Saturday, September 09, 2006


Mind-Boogling Search Results

I use the most popular (and populous) search engine on the Internet quite often; I thought I knew how. Now I'm not so sure, because its logic does not correspond to what years of set theory and symbolic logic have conditionned me to expect.

Here's what happened. I searched for a phrase: "get the net". The resulting list included several categories of pages: some about fishing, some about the film "Wayne's World", some about the Internet and some about Microsoft's ".net".

The first unexpected result is the inclusion of ".NET Framework Developer Center: Get the .NET Framework 1.1". "Get the .NET" is not the same as "get the net" even when converted to lower case; " ." is not the same as " ". Punctuation is essential in phrases, and should not be ignored when seeking matches. I may disagree with the rule applied, but I can understand what happened.

The second and more problematic result came when I refined the previous search by adding "Wayne" as a criterion; there might be some pages about anglers or informatics experts named Wayne, but mostly I should get the pages about the phrase in the film. Indeed, that is what the search results seem to be, but wait a second! After excluding all the pages from the first search which do not contain the word "Wayne", the new search returned more pages! A list of 266,000 is a subset of a list of 148,000.

Determined to understand how this could be, I hypothesized that, whereas queries on a list of terms automatically require all terms from the list, a query mixing a phrase and a term could return pages with either the phrase or the term. If that were so, a query on "Wayne" alone should find 118,000 (266000-148000). Tada! No way: 147,000,000. The previous result set cannot be the union of the result sets, nor the intersection of them. What is it?

To recap the results of the various searches:

about how many pagesQueryRemarks
about 145,000 "get the net" -Wayne.Ergo, 3,000 were excluded by the condition '-Wayne'
about 148,000 "get the net"
about 266,000 "get the net" Wayne17,000 were excluded, but why?
about 249,000 "get the net" "Wayne"
about 147,000,000 "Wayne" None excluded (vs. next row), or 17,000 of 147,000,000 was too insignificant to mention.
about 147,000,000 Wayne
about 142,000,000 Wayne -"get the net" 5,000,000 were excluded for containing "get the net".

Anyone with a plausible explanation, please comment!

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Let Us Eat What?

According to the International Grains Council,
World grain supplies are forecast to tighten in 2006/07 as production falls and demand continues to grow. The production forecast, at 1,575m. tons
(1,599m.), is marginally lower than last month, mainly because of the deterioration in prospects in the EU. The consumption forecast is also lowered, to 1,626m. tons but, despite a reduction in feed use, remains 13m. tons above the 2005/06
total. This reflects a further steep rise in industrial use, notably for ethanol.

European wheat production is down, due to the early summer ante-canicule canicular weather (heat wave) and the cool, wet canicule (hampering harvest in France).

Prior to the 02/03 season, stocks of wheat were 199 million tons, enough to cover consumption for a third of a year (120 days). At the close of 06/07, they are reckoned to be only 117 million tons -- ten weeks, down seven weeks from five years earlier. But then, on the bright side, we can continue to deplete stocks at this rate for another six or seven years! We'd better eat our cake while we can.

MAIZE (CORN): Higher estimates for the US and
China, reflecting favourable growing conditions, lift the global 2006 maize production estimate by 4m. tons, to 696m., therefore exceeding last year’s 693m. However, this remains well short of forecast consumption of 723m. tons, up by 25m. from 2005/06

Second best year of the past five, yet production only covers fifty weeks of consumption. Production has exceeded consumption only once in the past five years, and even that (04/05) year's harvest would not have covered this year's consumption. Cumulative production 02/03-06/07: 3332 million tons. Cumulative consumption: 3375 million tons. Stock change: 43 million tons reduction. Current stocks: 100 million tons -- seven weeks of cover at current consumption rates. We'd better hope growing conditions stay favorable in China and the US and improve elsewhere.

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Friday, September 01, 2006


Avatar Assistent

I found the source of my avatar! Firefox saved urls of this and other downloads in a log. It is at avatar-assistent. I used it to make one for one of my daughters, but probably did not make the best choices: she says mine looks like me, but hers isn't pretty enough! Maybe she'll make her own sometime.

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