Sunday, October 15, 2006

Article on Patenting Software

I have posted a draft of an article entitled "You Can't Patent Software: Patenting Software Is Wrong" on my website at

I have been working on this, off and on, for years. Perhaps now I will have a little more time to pay attention to this blog.

Friday, September 29, 2006

TIAA-CREF computer problems

This article was recently published on the RISKS e-mail list ( Risks-Forum Digest Tuesday 26 September 2006 Volume 24 : Issue 44):
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2006 14:34:00 -0400
From: "Peter D. Junger"
Subject: TIAA-CREF Payment Delays Because of New Computer System

On 6 Sep I faxed the paperwork to TIAA-CREF requesting a withdrawal from my retirement account expecting that it might take as long as a week before the money was wired to my account. It is now 25 Sep and I am still waiting.

I have spoken to several consultants about this problem. The first just said that it should not have taken that long and that he would see if hecould get it expedited. The next consultant was more forthcoming and said that the delay was caused by the fact that TIAA-CREF was installing a newcomputer system. (I had earlier been told in another context that the old system was written in COBOL back in the 1960s.)

Later consultants told me that as a University's account is transferred to the new system, withdrawal applications from retirees from that University have to be processed manually, rather than by the computer system. That strongly suggests that as more and more accounts are transferred to the new system the delays will get longer and longer.

There apparently has been no public announcement of this problem. (At least I found nothing in a Google search.) When I mentioned this to one of the consultants, she said that information that there was going to be aswitch-over to a new system was sent to account holders last year, but, when I pointed out to her that that announcement said nothing about delays, she said that she did not believe that they had been anticipated.

When I asked what happened to people who couldn't make a mortgage payment or something like that I was told by one of the consultants that TIAA-CREF was reimbursing people who had to pay late charges because of the delay. He didn't say what they did for people whose credit reports were damaged or those who lost a deal because they could not come up with a down payment in time or something like that.

One of consultants also told me that it might be six months before the switch-over to the new system was complete.

The consultants, who were all very considerate, all said that they had no contact [with] the people responsible for the actual processing of the withdrawal applications.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Congeries of Cons

The other day I heard on the TV, while I was trying to take a nap, some talking head discussing how the Republicans had framed the word "liberal" so that it now has almost exclusively negative connotations and how the Democrats had not succeeded in coming up with s similar frame to use against the Republicans.

And that got me to thinking.

It seems to me that there is one term -- "Neocon" -- that describes a group of people on the right who -- what with the war in Iraq and all -- are almost universally despised. The trouble is, of course, that the Democrats can hardly get away with applying the label "Neocon" to all their opponents, for most of them, however distasteful they may be, are not exactly Neocons.

But, thinking that, I suddenly realized that even if they are not Neocons, all of those opponents can be framed as some sort of "cons" and justly smeared with the opprobrium that is attached to their "Neo" congeners.

So here is a list of "cons" of various sorts. (I have not bothered with definitions, since normally they will not be needed when the labels are applied.)

Neocon, Retrocon, Quasicon, Me-Me-Con, Mexicon, Texicon, Psuedocon, Econ, Geocon, Globulcon, Paleocon, Scardycon, Killercon, Wimpycon, Whoopsicon, Contracon, Lexicon, Hemi-Semi-Demi-Con, Republicon, Anticon, Greedycon, Anti-Americon, Bullycon, Bellycon, Jellycon, Parasiticcon, Crypticon, and Idioticon.

I could go on, but I'm sure that you get the idea.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lieberman & Rovian Tactics

Senator Lieberman lost the Connecticult Democratic primary to the almost unknown challenger Ned Lamont, and on the last day before the election Lieberman's website went down -- sort of.

Lieberman's staff immediately claimed that the site had been "hacked" and had been subjected to a Distributed Denial of Service Attack -- two inconsistent explanations of what went wrong (although it is possible that there were two separate attacks).

Lamont's staff reportedly offered Lieberman's staff space on their web server until the problem could be resolved, but Lamont never received any reply.

Instead, Lieberman accused Lamont's campaign of being responsible for the dastardly deed and accused Lamont of Rovian tactics, demanding a statemen from Lamont repudiating the hacking, a statement that apparently had already been issued by Lamont.

It appears that the most likely cause of the outage was that Lieberman had not purchased enough bandwidth to handle the demand on the last day of the election. In any event, the server has been back up for a long time -- and may never have been down -- although all it says now is:

This account is under construction Please check back soon. It will be available shortly. Thank you.

It should, however, only have taken an hour or two to get the web pages back up on the old server, or on a new one -- like Lamont's. The only explanations that anyone seems to be able to think of for this delay is that Lieberman's staff did not have any backups of the material on the web site or that Lieberman wants the site to stay down so that he can continue to accuse Lamont of hacking and Rovian tactics -- in other words that Lieberman's campaign was unbelievably incompetent or that Lieberman himself is using what he would call Rovian tactics.

I think the country is very lucky that Lamont won.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Circling Chicago

I went to Santa Barbara over the Memorial Day weekend to see my mother.

The flight from Cleveland was uneventful--extremely and uncomfortably uneventful, since the connecting flight from Chicago to Los Angeles was delayed for six hours or so by bad weather between the two cities. An hour or so of the delay was even spent sitting on the runway at O'Hare, waiting for permission to take off.

The return flight was even more uneventful, since, because of thunder storms over Chigaco, I was some twelve hours late in getting back to Cleveland. I even had a four or five hour sleep, of sorts, in a chair at O'Hare, before I could get on a continuing flight to Cleveland.

Were that all, I do not think that I would comment on the trip.

There was, however, one happening that I find mildly interesting.

The thunder storms over Chicago lasted so long that the plane had to be diverted to Madison, Wisconsin for refueling--a process that took surprisinly little time. But then the plane just sat there while the pilot waited for the computer data that would tell him the weight of the fuel and where it was distributed in the plane and, I guess, other information that he needed before taking off again for Chicago.

Finally the rear door of the plane--a door that proclaimed that it was only to be opened in emergencies--opened and an agent came in carrying a large stack of computer print-outs, which was delivered to the captain up in the cockpit. And then the agent departed, again through the rear door, and, after a while, we took off again for Chicago.

I couldn't see whether the agent carrying the print-outs was wearing sneakers, but when I asked a flight attendant why they were using such a high-tech way of getting the data to the cockpit, she explained that there was way too much data to relay in any other fashion. So I guess that the good old sneaker net is still alive and well.

As the saying goes, "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I've been busy

I have been busy doing administrative and secretarial tasks at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple, trying to get the new computer at the Temple to work properly, and on my article about software patents that seems to be going so well that it suddenly needs to be completely reorganized.

What I had not really realized up to now is how totally lacking in logic and persuasiveness are the decisions of the Federal Circuit permitting software to be patented. It's shocking to me that almost everyone--including legal academics--have just accepted those opinions as stating the law even though they are directly contrary to earlier decisions of the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

To Nuke or Not to Nuke

I find the news most confusing.

The President has labeled the reports that his administration is considering a nuclear attack on Iran as "wild speculation."

Now if this amounts to a denial, considering President Bush's reputation for honesty, it would seem to confirm the reports. On the other hand, considering the President's reputation for authorizing the leaking of classified materials whose contents he knew to be false, one would reasonably believe that the reporsts are false and intended to deceive either the Iranians or the American public--or both.

Somehow I am reminded of Nixon's claim when he was president that he wanted to frighten the Russians by making them think that he was crazy.

Minor Catastrophes

As I recovered from the loss of my internet connection and the need to replace the tire shredded by a pothole, I had a new catastrophe of sorts.

My regular doctor had diagnosed a small skin cancer on my forehead and wanted me to go to a plastic surgeon in order to have it removed. This struck me as overkill, since a little scar would not be likely to harm my appearance. But there is no point in arguing with a doctor. So when my doctor gave me the name of a plastic surgeon--a certain Dr. Green--and his address and phone number and I dutifully made an appointment with him.

As it turned out, it was almost impossible--at least for me--to find the entrance to Dr. Green's office building, and I must have spent a least thirty minutes driving up and down the road on which that office fronts. I thus turned up for the appointment only three minutes before the scheduled time rather than a half hour early as I had planned. And I was, as one would expect, feeling very frazzled, although that did not seem to increase mv blood pressure.

Dr. Green turned out to be a very pleasant.

But he also turned out to be the wrong Dr. Green; he was an oncologist, not a plastic surgeon.

And that made me feel even more frazzled, although it was not, of course, as serious as having the wrong leg amputated or something like that.

I prety much spent the next day in bed and am by now almost completely recovered.