Monday, June 27, 2005

More Supreme Court Decisions
The Supreme Court has been busy lately. There's a couple of rulings that I wanted to write about.

Kelo v. New London
This was a pretty outrageous decision. It's amazing that the liberals of the Court would rule in favor of allowing large companies to claim property from low income residents all in the name of commerce. This case definitely has really pushed me away from the Democratic Party. I usually think that Democrats can make some stupid decisions because they try too hard to do the right thing. Minimum wage is a good example. They want to help more low-income people, so they go with a law that would seem to do that (though it actually does not.) However, the liberal Justices on the Court are definitely not like this. They are willing to increase government power just for its own sake, even if it hurts average people, like the residents in New London, and helps big business.
Personally I am generally opposed to imminent domain. It is never necessary in my opinion, so that even when it might be justifiable (building a road, canal, whatever) it is still not the best option. I could still live with it for public usage, like roads, etc. even though it is still very prone to corruption. I grew up in northwest Florida, and there is an old story there about why Interstate 10 does not go through the cities on the coast, Panama City, Destin, Ft. Walton Beach, etc. Instead it goes through very rural areas some 30+ miles north of the cities where all the population lives. This would seem like a poor design. Supposedly this was caused by Earl Hutto. He was northwest Florida's Representative in the House when Interstate 10 was built. Supposedly the original design was for I-10 to go southwest from Tallahassee and then along the coast where all the cities were. Hutto got it changed so it went through thousands of acres of rural land to the north instead. His reason? He owned the land in question and got double its market value courtesy of imminent domain.
All that being said, I can still understand imminent domain being used for things like an interstate. I cannot understand it being used to transfer land into private hands, such as in New London. I do not think The Constitution gives the government the right to transfer private property from an unwilling owner to another private interest. That totally seems like a Nazi Germany type of policy.

MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd.
This one just came in today. It was also somewhat surprising, as much for the decision as for the unanimity of the decision. It seemed the court really stressed on Grokster's advertising model as much as its business model. MGM was suing because of what people did with Grokster's software. The Court was concerned over how Grokster advertised their software. They did not seem to address the capabilities of the software. It was these capabilities that caused MGM to sue. Basically The Court stressed intent over action. To me, this really violates the Rule of Law. It would seem to suggest that somebody could produce identical software to what Grokster made, advertise it differently, and not be held to the same standard as Grokster. What makes it even more dumbfounding is that this was a unanimous decision. It's amazing that everyone on The Court would agree to this kind of duplicity and implicit violate of the Rule of Law. One can understand grade school children being anxious for summer, but The Supreme Court?
Seriously, this decision while somewhat shallow on the surface, is still likely to embolden a lot more legal action against software makers. As a software maker myself, the idea that I could be held legally responsible for anything done using my software is pretty scary. This decision does not state that -- The Justices were not willing to tackle that broader question, but chose to patronize the public by concentrating on Grokster's advertising. Still, the decision would only seem to encourage such a tactic, whether its by an industry trying to protect itself from a disruptive technology (such as MGM) or by parents of juvenile delinquents who happen to be fans of violent video games. We all know that in this country, just the threat of lawsuit is often enough to discourage people. There's going to be a whole lot more discouragement and in turn, a whole let less innovation because of this ruling, even it is eventually weakened when the broader issues are (finally) addressed by The Court.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

New Music
The past two months has seen a lot of new music from well known artists. I did a long review of the new Nine Inch Nails CD. Here's just a quick if the others:

Guero by Beck -- Beck tries to become Beck circa 1997. It's ok, but kind of boring.

Bleed Like Me by Garbage -- I actually liked their previous record, though it was considered to be their weakest. This CD has a lot of energy, but is kind of forgettable.

Mesmerize by System of a Down -- This CD is mind-blowing. Definitely less bass-heavy and more guitar-driven than previous CDs, but still their best. Can't wait for "side two" to be released later this year.

Out of Exile by Audioslave -- The beginning of this CD is really great. Much tighter than their first CD. The rest of the CD is a little hit or miss, but solid.

Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes -- I didn't like this CD too much at first, but now I love almost every song on it. I really disliked "The Nurse" at first, and still don't like that song. Everything else is amazing.

X & Y by Coldplay -- My biggest dislike with Coldplay's last CD was that they seemed to lose their sound a little from their first CD. X & Y is definitely more like Parachutes, but with several more patented Coldplay ballads. Overall very good, though a little too calculated.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Raich v. Ashcroft Decision

The long awaited decision arrived this week. I was definitely disappointed, but not very surprised by the decision. I was somewhat surprised by the vote, though. I thought that the more conservative judges would show their true colors and vote against Raich. I thought their states' rights stance was disingenous, that would side with the religious right over states' rights. I was wrong though. Two of the three who sided with Raich were Rhenquist and O'Connor -- two of the most conservative judges. All the so-called "liberal" judges (Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Stevens) sided with the fed. The majority opinion they wrote was even more infuriating -- telling cancer sufferers to look to Congress. Their willngness to side with Congressional power over Constitutional law is truly disheartening. I would not be surprised if Raich v. Ashcroft becomes more important historically than Wickard v. Filburn.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Apple and Intel
Yes it's the big news in the tech world. Apple is switching to Intel CPUs. It's a pretty shocking turn of events. It is very difficult to say if it is a good move or not. Here's what I think are the pros/cons:

  • No more IBM. Clearly this is as much about the falling out between IBM and Apple as it is about Apple suddenly becoming enamored with Intel. As Steve Jobs pointed out, IBM has not delivered on the clock speed for the G5 and has not delivered a G5 suitable for laptops. It's really no wonder for IBM. If you look at the direction they've headed, creating desktop/laptop processors just isn't part of their plans.
  • Intel is dedicated to desktop/laptop processors. Intel is once again battling hard against AMD for dominance on the desktop. Right now most people would agree that they are behind on the desktop, in terms of technology. However, they are clearly dedicated to furthering desktop CPU performance. They are also clearly ahead of AMD when it comes to laptops. Again, they appear to be dedicated to maintaining this lead. Intel's roadmaps for their desktop and laptop processors looks promising, especially now that they've finally letting the megahertz megamarketing machine dictate their designs.
  • Better compiler support. One thing people often overlook is how much effort Intel puts into their compilers. Their compilers do a very good job of optimizing for their platform. I don't know if Apple was really relying on GCC, but it was terrible at optimizing for the G5 (and the G4 for that matter.) This should really allow for better use of the underlying CPU by most programs (though there are some potential exceptions, see below.)
  • Lower prices? Apple got some good prices from IBM, by most accounts. So it's hard to say if they will get significantly lower prices from Intel or not. Still, Intel is always competing with AMD, and one would guess that switching from Intel to AMD would be very easy for Apple. So that would always be a card that Apple could play to drive a good bargain from Intel on the CPUs and chipsets. It's also widely known that Intel chips in for Dell marketing, and a similar subsidy would seem reasonable for Apple.
  • Rearchitecturing has historically cost Apple about half of its market share. It's very likely that they will sell a lot less Macs until the x86 versions are rolled out. So if you're a Mac user and need to buy a new computer this year or next year, but don't want to buy a PowerPC based Mac because its going to become really obsolete very soon, then what do you do? Buy a Dell of course. There goes the market share.
  • Developers are going to be upset. Jobs basically said that all developers using Code Warrior are screwed. That's most longtime Mac developers right there. Nobody likes being forced to switch to XCode. Developers aren't going to like the alternative either: sticking with Code Warrior and its PowerPC binaries and going through the Rosetta emulator (no matter how great Jobs says this thing is.) Apple saw this when they rolled out OSX. It took forever for Quark to be ported to OSX, and the Adobe products suddenly became much more at-home on Windows than on a Mac for the first time. All of this can cause people to switch to another platform, and even worse can cause Mac people to doggedly stay with the old platform that ran their apps better.
  • The x86 architecture. It definitely has its problems and limitations. People (including Steve Jobs) have been predicting its demise for a long time. It has stuck around because of backwards compatibility. If you remove that benefit, it's hard to understand why anyone would choose it.
  • Battling Hackers. Hackers everywhere are now dreaming of running OSX on the whitebox system they put together from parts bought on eBay and Newegg. Apple has already had to answer the question "Will OSX run on non-Apple hardware?" with a resounding "No!" Their rationale is obvious: they charge a premium for their hardware. So they will probably resort to a BIOS trick or maybe even using some kind of DRM built into the Intel processors they choose. I'm sure they will be very clever about it, but this is a losing fight. Just ask record companies, movie companies, or for that matter, Microsft and Adobe. Actually Apple should already know this. It is easy to defeat the DRM on songs sold from iTunes, just use the open source JHymn. This can easily become a time-consuming effort, putting up a new protection scheme only for hackers to defeat it a few hours later. Actually, maybe they did learn from iTunes and JHymn. Maybe they will put some protection scheme, but won't bother trying to constantly beat the latest hacks.