David Madore's WebLog: Quickies

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This joke from the rec.humor.funny newsgroup has a moral which relates to the red tape problems I was recently recounting. Which leads me to mention the fact that Brad Templeton, the founder of rec.humor.funny is also chairman of the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, probably the most important defender of electronic freedom. One of the things the EFF fights, together with the League for Programming Freedom, is software patents. For a futuristic view of the dangers of software patents, I recommend reading The Right to Read by Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation (and original author of Emacs among other things). Basically the problem with patents is that some people have been patenting things that are so absurdly trivial that they have become simply a weapon to use against the competition rather than (as they were supposed to be) a way of avoiding that technology be lost in trade secret. We of the OCAPI oppose abusive use of patents to stifle creativity; and certainly I encourage Europeans to sign the No e-Patents Petition by the Eurolinux Alliance: it is not necessary for Europeans to follow the footsteps of every American stupidity we can find. When Jean-Loup Gailly invented the “deflate” compression method used by gzip (an Internet standard under the name of RFC 1951), he had to do an extensive amount of research to carefully avoid a great number of known compression algorithm patents. The very notion of avoiding a patent is an absurdity: a rightfully granted patent should describe something that one does not have the slightest chance of “stumbling upon” by accident. Anyway, talking about patents leads me to mention the Xiphophorus (now Xiph.Org) Foundation, a non-for-profit organization that has produced a parent- and royalty-free audio compression format called Ogg Vorbis that produces better quality (or higher compression rates, depending on what is kept constant) than the ubiquitous MP3. The Xiph.Org teams are now working on producing Ogg Theora, a free video compression format (not exactly patent-free, but the patents have been given to the Xiph.Org foundation by On2 Technologies in a way that will ensure that the codec is forever freely usable by all, even for commercial / for-profit purposes). An even longer term effort is Ogg Tarkin (currently dormant), a wavelet-based codec / format.

Enough of this. Another joke from rec.humor.funny (note, incidentally, that Pál Erdős is now deceased) gets me, in a complete non-sequitur, to the subject of mathematics. The Norwegian governement created, in 2002 to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Niels Henrik Abel, the Abel prize in mathematics, clearly an attempt to create an equivalent of the Nobel prize for mathematics (the Fields medal is often considered as the Nobel prize for mathematics, but there are important differences between the Fields medal and the Nobel prize, not the least being that Fields medalists may not be over 40). The first and so far only recipient of the Abel prize is Jean-Pierre Serre (among many other titles member of the French Académie des Sciences). Jean-Pierre Serre was the youngest recipient of the Fields medal (at the age of 28), and now he is, as a friend of mine jokingly pointed out, at the age of 76, the youngest recipient of the Abel prize. Very impressive.

Enough, it is later than I thought. Having given Google some links for thought, I will now let it digest them and go to bed. If you want more information about (nearly) anything or (just about) everything, just follow the last two links. Isn't the Web wonderful?

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