File sharing may be dead in the US.

The Supreme Court of the United States has unanimously decided in MGM v. Grokster that internet file-sharing services may be held responsible if their software is primarily intended to illegally share music and movies:

“We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by the clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties,” Justice David H. Souter wrote for the court.

This seems to ignore the 1984 Betamax decision that Sony could not be sued over consumers who used its VCRs to make illegal copies of movies. Otherwise why would the machine have had a Record button?

These are people who don’t want you to be able to share files:

In the closely watched case, supporting the effort to sue the companies were dozens of entertainment industry companies, including musicians Don Henley, Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks, as well as attorneys general in 40 states.

These are people who want to have themselves be heard:

About 20 independent recording artists, including musician and producer Brian Eno, rockers Heart and rapper-activist Chuck D, supported the file-sharing technology to allow for greater distribution of their works.

I know where I’ll be spending my money.

More can be found at Forbes, MarketWatch, Red Herring, and PC World.

We’re used to it.

The New York Times has an article entitled Florida County Ending Support of Gay Events:

The Hillsborough County Commission approved by a vote of 5 to 1, with one abstention, a policy that directs the county government to “abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating” in gay pride recognition or events. The measure was passed on June 15, after a Gay and Lesbian Pride Month display at the West Gate Regional Library here upset some library patrons.

Predictably gay rights advocates are upset:

The county’s policy has angered gay rights advocates across the country.

“From a national perspective we haven’t seen anything like this,” said Paul Cates, the American Civil Liberties Union’s director of public education for lesbian and gay rights.

Community leaders here said the policy damaged recent efforts to promote the Tampa region as being multicultural and diverse. Addressing an arts group the day after the commission’s vote, Mayor Pam Iorio of Tampa said: “Gays and lesbians are part of our diversity and deserve our respect. That is a value that I hold dear. We should build on tolerance, not intolerance.”

I really don’t understand. The county is not anti-gay; it is merely avoiding the promotion of gay pride events.

Gays and lesbians may be part of diversity, and they certainly deserve as much respect as anyone else. But perhaps gay pride events are not the best way to do that. If they want to be treated like everyone else, then perhaps they could act like everyone else. How many straight pride events have you heard of? And how politically incorrect would that be?

Be gay, be straight, be whatever you want to be. But do so in the course of everyday life. There’s no need to make a big fuss about it. This reminds me of an episode of the Simpsons in which a gay pride parade is going past their house. One of the gay people on a float yells out “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!” Lisa yells back “It’s been 10 years. We’re used to it!”

Toronto Unlimited.

After 13 months and $4 million, Toronto, Canada has a new brand – Toronto Unlimited:

What makes Toronto such a uniquely interesting place is answered by a constantly growing list: its innovative architecture, its theatre district, the hundreds of ethnic restaurants, the character of its neighborhoods, its accepting legislation, a multi-talented workforce, museums that are themselves works of art, the stories of its street corners, its cleanliness, the International Film Festival, the parks, the lake, the celebration of humanity. . . In short, Toronto is a city built with and for the limitless imaginations of the people that come here. And it is these people that make Toronto the city of imagination.

Other than the International Film Festival, how is this different from any other major city?

When one of my friends in Boston came back from a hockey tournament in Toronto, he described it as a town with horrible traffic, poorly marked freeways with signs in French, high priced hotels and restaurants, and a 15% tax on everything. Obviously he wasn’t in any of the 14 focus groups.

Effective cross-selling.

Union Energy, the company I rent my hot water heater from, came to replace said hot water heater the other day. Later that night, the company called to tell me about their rent-a-furnace program. I explained that my furnace was less that five years old, and they thanked me for my time.

The hot water heater had a little problem, so they sent a repair person today. After checking the heater he looked at the furnace and asked if I had heard about the rent-a-furnace program.

Obviously this company takes care to ensure that its customer service folks make their customers aware of their services, If I had needed a new furnace I probably would have signed up.

Instant photography from the past.

The instant gratification that digital cameras bring have displaced the usefulness of the former champion of instant photography – the Polaroid camera. Future generations will grow up without knowing the joy of paying a fortune for special film so that you can take a picture, lay it aside and wait for it to develop, and have an ugly photo that most people would be embarrassed to put in their photo albums.

Never fear! Technology has come to the rescue in the form of Polaroid-o-nizer. You can now take any photo and turn it into a Polaroid facsimile. Just make sure that you aren’t violating any photographer’s copyrights.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

My oldest son is currently enrolling in second year classes at the University of Waterloo, using possibly the worst class scheduling system ever designed in the history of the universe. Ok, skipping the hyperbole, it is incredibly bad and horribly non-intuitive.

A totally text form-based web application, it requires you to select the course by discipline and number, and then search for it. That search returns a text list of four digit class sections numbers, four digit labs and tutorials if applicable, time slots, and current enrollments.

You have to write down the choices that are not full, along with the time slots, then go to a separate screen and enter the information. If you have a course conflict you can’t change the class. You must delete the class and re-enter it.

It takes up about an hour of painful manual work to schedule five classes. This kind of application making you do all of the work with no automation – gives the web a bad name. For a university that claims to produce excellent engineers and computer scientists, it’s pretty embarassing. Perhaps they might consider having this redesigned as a term project.

About 20 years ago I had my own company that designed class scheduling systems. The user could select a number of classes and they would automatically scheduled. The user could then reschedule them if they so desired. Surely twenty years later the university can do better.

Microsoft and RSS.

Microsoft plans to extend its support for Really Simple Syndication (RSS):

Microsoft on Friday will announce it plans to deepen its support of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) Web publishing standard, which is commonly used by bloggers and news organizations. Specifically the company is proposing an extension to RSS that will provide support for ordered lists of information.

In his posting yesterday well known blogger Dave Winer said Microsoft now has a team in place specifically focused on the syndication standard and that RSS will likely be taking on a central role in the company’s strategy.

So what does that mean for Atom?

Google seems to be the only major company choosing Atom over RSS.

As for Microsoft, I assume that the browser will now attempt to generate an RSS feed from any web page it sees. That’s a but presumptuous though. Perhaps not everyone wants an RSS feed.

Acceptable infringement?

The Business 2.0 Blog noted that RIM is getting some vindication from the U.S. Patent Office:

After agreeing to a $450 million settlement with tiny patent-holding company NTP, Blackberry-maker Research in Motion is finally getting some vindication from the U.S. Patent Office, which in a highly unusual move agreed to re-examine the patents in question and has invalidated four out of five of them.

As an inventor, I am bothered by the implication here that it is acceptable to willfully infringe an existing patent if you don’t agree that it is valid.

I’m certain the story would be a lot different if someone infringed on the BlackBerry’s patented keyboard.

I have “Jennifer Aniston” brain cells.

My kids tell me thatt I watch far too many Friends reruns, but it turns out that there is a scientific explanation for this. I have at least one “Jennifer Aniston cell” in my brain:

“For things that you see over and over again, your family, your boyfriend, or celebrities, your brain wires up and fires very specifically to them. These neurons are very, very specific, much more than people think,” says Christof Koch at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, US, one of the researchers.

In the 1960s, neuroscientist Jerry Lettvin suggested that people have neurons that respond to a single concept such as, for example, their grandmother. The notion of these hyper-specific neurons, coined “grandmother cells” was quickly rejected by psychologists as laughably simplistic.

But Rodrigo Quiroga, at the University of Leicester, UK, who led the new study, and his colleagues have found some very grandmother-like cells. Previous unpublished findings from the team showed tantalising results: a neuron that fired only in response to pictures of former US president Bill Clinton, or another to images of the Beatles. But for such “grandmother cells” to exist, they must invariably respond to the “concept” of Bill Clinton, not just similar pictures.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

A Canadian parliamentary panel believe that tax breaks are needed to increase productivity in Canada:

The report of the Senate committee on banking said that Canada, which almost matched the United States in productivity about 10 years ago, has now fallen 15 percent behind it in terms of productivity per worker.

“That’s not just that Canadian workers aren’t working hard, the real issue is that there is not enough capital investment per worker in our economy compared to the United States. That all goes to the question of tax incentives,” said Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein, the committee chairman.

Canada has sunk to 18th in productivity growth among countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. In the 1950s, it was fifth.

A couple of days ago a CP story quoted Statistics Canada on the productivity problems:

On the downside, Canada’s labour productivity has been substantially below that of France, Japan and the United States.

But the very next line reverses that:

The agency says, however, that Canada is keeping up with, and in many cases surpassing, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Finally the article notes Canada’s economic growth:

As Prime Minister Paul Martin is fond of pointing out, Canada led the G8 in economic growth between 2000 and 2004.

But Statistics Canada themselves made this comment on April 14, 2005:

Canada’s growth, which amounted to 2.8% last year as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), was below the global average of 5.1% as determined by the International Monetary Fund. However, the global average was the best in 27 years, powered by continued strength in the United States and China.

The United States easily led the acceleration common to all the G7 nations, as its real gross domestic product rose 4.4%. The gain defied widely held concerns about the sustainability of US growth in the face of record high oil prices and a record trade deficit.

The United Kingdom was in second place with 3% growth, just ahead of Canada and Japan. Continental Europe continued to lag with gains of less than 2%, although this was an improvement on negligible growth in 2003.

Okay I’m confused. What is the truth?