September 27th, 2006


Patents -- Threat or Menace?

[Before I start, a Happy Birthday to siriel!]

Been too quiet lately -- I just haven't been in the mood. Need to post something, just to shake the rust off. Okay, let's see if I can provoke a discussion by throwing out some strong assertions.

Assertion: the patent system is, at this point, doing more harm than good. The point of the thing was to spur technological advance and dissemination in the public interest; at this point, in most fields, I believe it's hindering those public interests more than helping them. I'm certain that's the case in programming and related fields of high-tech, where patents are mostly a nuisance. (Yes, yes -- I know the old saws about patents protecting the little guy against the big ones. Far as I can tell, that's mostly nonsense: the big ones can afford better lawyers to deal with the problem, *and* they hold far deeper patent arsenals, so it helps them at least as much.) I'm less certain about other fields, but I'm coming to be suspicious even there.

Thus, I'll say (perhaps over-broadly): we would be better off as a society if patents as we know them didn't exist. Discuss.

TiVo questions

So here's a question to the TiVo users in the audience (I know there are a bunch of you out there):

I've got a Panasonic DVR that I'm quite happy with -- the UI suits me, it's got a big hard drive, it makes it trivially easy to burn stuff to DVD, and it doesn't attempt to be smarter than I am. It has only one drawback, but that's a *big* drawback: it only deals with two-digit channel numbers. Given that my cable actually has tons of channels beyond 99 (including all of the premium stations), that's a real limitation on what I can record. This is particularly an issue as I contemplate the second season of Rome, which is going to happen eventually.

So I'm idly curious about whether a TiVo would do better. Specifically, while I think I'd leave the Panasonic in place, I'm thinking of replacing the seldom-used VCR with a TiVo. That would allow me to hard-drive multiple shows at once, which is occasionally necessary. I think it would be worth it *if* it deals with the things that the Panasonic doesn't.

So the questions are:

1) Does TiVo deal properly with three-digit channels? (I suspect the answer is yes.)
2) Will a TiVo control my cable box? This is nearly as important, because the premium channels have to go through the cable box to get decrypted. The VCR (and, indeed, the Panasonic) has a "cable mouse" attachment that will change the channels on the cable box when needed -- does the TiVo have something similar? (This, I'm less sure about.)

Information about these questions (or suggestions of alternative ways I could configure a system that does what I want, including some device other than a TiVo) is solicited from unimind...