Author Archives: Robert Marsanyi

Why won’t they release the vaccine patents?

My friend Dave Winer (haven’t actually met, but I feel like we have a conversation going) asks for a simple explanation for why the pharmas won’t release the IP for the Coronavirus vaccines to the public domain, to alleviate the shortage in supply,

It’s clear that this is needed. But my understanding of why it’s not in the companies’ interest is: the tech behind the new mRNA vaccines is potentially much more general, to be applied to all sorts of disease. It’s taken years to develop, and the COVID vaccine is just the first instance of its being (fabulously) successfully applied to a real world problem.

Companies are concerned that, by teaching anyone to make it, they’re effectively foregoing any ability to make a return from future applications of the same tech.

In Support of Richard Stallman – Introduction

False accusations were made against Richard Stallman in September 2019. They started a cascade of difamatory reactions that spread like wildfire, fueled by misquotes and misrepresentation of events in mainstream headlines, blogs, and social media that ultimately led to Stallman’s resignation from his positions at Mit and the FSF
— Read on stallmansupport.org/

I signed the support letter. It’s a bit involved, making you fork and merge a text file with your name and website in it. I find Stallman provocative, thoughtful and worth listening to.

Replace the harbor bridge?

My friend Roger disses a proposal to add a walking/cycling structure to the Auckland Harbor Bridge. I think he’s right, especially since one of he points he makes is that the structure can’t handle it.

Not surprising, given its age. And what about rail? There isn’t any transit rail on the North Shore, because it has to come over the top of the harbor. Trans-harbor transit is a bus on the harbor bridge taking lanes away from commuter traffic, or a foot ferry.

Time for some Biden-style infrastructure spending? Time for a new multimodal bridge?

R. Crumb is alive and living in the South of France

For nearly 30 years, the American counterculture icon Robert Crumb has lived with his family in a remote French village. In an interview there, he talks about making the Bible a feminist text and his brushes with political correctness
— Read on www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-rare-interview-with-robert-crumb-on-pc-culture-and-his-trump-voodoo-doll-1.9113809

The interview is in Haaretz!

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama | by Nathan Thrall | The New York Review of Books

Under the shadow of the Israeli separation wall, one man’s quest to find his son.
— Read on www.nybooks.com/daily/2021/03/19/a-day-in-the-life-of-abed-salama/

This is important enough that the Review is making it freely available for the next two weeks, over the period covering the Israeli elections.  As the editor of the Review says, the author is debunking the uncritical assumptions about the situtation, such as

“the view prevalent among American elites that in Israel-Palestine there are two national movements—Jewish and Palestinian—that have equally legitimate legal and moral claims to the same piece of land, which must be divided in the form of a partition”

But the lived reality is that of an intentional apartheid state. As he says,

“Every aspect of that analysis is wrong,” he told me. “Because most of the liberal elite support a two-state partition, the starting point of their understanding is not the reality on the ground but rather their preferred ‘solution.’ I wanted to put aside these ideological framings and simply describe reality as it exists today: Israel not just controls but fully administers over 90 percent of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and the Palestinians have very limited autonomy in the remaining less than 10 percent.”

The discussion of the schism amongst the liberal Zionists and the traditional and religious factions is illuminating. And the story overall is a tragedy.

Good Open Source this morning

A few thoughts while listening to the latest Open Source podcast, “The CRISPR challenge“.

Isaacson, and to some extent Hurlbut, elided the difference between science and applied science.  Isaacson especially talked about things like curiosity as an absolute good, for example, but that tends to be a feature of the former, not the latter.  Experiments into how the universe works may, but don’t necessarily have to, lead to research and development, design and implementation, commercial distribution, all of which tend to be a separate activity often undertaken by completely separate groups motivated especially by things other than raw curiosity.

Science is not created in a vacuum, but in a manner supported by government, commerce, society in general.  It’s not the heroic individual in a home-basement lab, any more than a CEO is the heroic individual who creates the future.  Most (?) of it is funded by governments as a practical exposition of societal aims, through organizations like the NIH.  Without this funding, the infrastructure that enables people like CRISPR researchers doesn’t exist.

As a counter-example, look at drug chemistry.  R&D into hallucinogens was halted decades ago in the US because society, as represented by their government, decided it was not something they wanted to support.  As such, the research became marginalized and slow.  Not arguing this was the correct outcome, we have a “war on drugs” instead of non-harmful designer drugs from the local pharmacy, but the basic research doesn’t happen just because it can.

Ben Hurlbut is a great find, thanks.  Very thoughtful exposition of the case for more work on our part, to understand how these kinds of development have worked in the past, how people have thought about and talked about it and what we need to consider beyond the stories we’re hearing.  The aside on the US’s enthusiasm for technical fixes rang my bell: the pandemic will be solved by biotech, vaccines and drug resesarch; the food crisis will be solved by GMOs; we can build plant-based beef substitutes to fix the agricultural component of the climate emergency.  In all these cases, the common denominator is that by doing these things we don’t have to change anything about our own behavior or ways of thinking about ourselves, a task for which we have many fewer tools than the technologists.

Lyden’s podcast is one of those tools.  Thanks.

What were you thinking?

I’m looking at the page of icons on my iPad I have for the 13 services I use to get video. Each app has a different way of controlling the volume. Each one has a different location for the Chromecast function. Some remember where you left off, some don’t. Some put the things you’re watching front and center, some don’t.

Years ago, we had UI wars, until the Mac showed us that if you forced developers to do all the common stuff the same way the users wouldn’t have to learn a different interface with every program they ran. Apple got quite draconian about it, and we all benefited.

Now I can’t even tell what part of the screen area is going to behave like a button on a layout, and what is just a static image or bit of text. UI is crap, because every designer thinks they’re doing it better than anyone else.

If my car worked this way, and reconfigured how I drive it based on which roads I was on, I wouldn’t drive. Is this not obvious to UI/UX people?