Scan Books at Home: Google Releases Open Source Material for Book Scanner

Book Scanner DIY-style for about $1,500. Wow. Locker Gnome reports that Google has made the specs for the Linear Book Scanner open source. The device is not perfect but even with its flaws (some torn or folded pages, some skipped ones, issues with which books work on the default modes) the price is quite a drop. Locker Gnome sys that the device can scan 1,000 pages in about 90 minutes. Now put on your Google hat. First launch, some flaws, but overall solid iteration. Hmm. Open source it. Ah yes. Let many folks tinker and soon the device will be cheaper, work better, and viola, more analog will be digital data. Mmmm digital data. Yummy. Before folks think only of copyrighted books, remember that the fellow who made some DIY plans for a book scanner that used old cameras and some wood, but needed a human to turn pages, helped developing countries too. Preservation of archives, public records, and many works that are analog but would benefit by being in digital form comes with cheaper, easier tech like these two options. Oh to be capable of non-infringing uses now that fall is here.

Calling Klingons and Romulans, Cloaking Now Available (Sort of)

According to the BBC, “Scientists have succeeded in “cloaking” an object perfectly for the first time, rendering a centimetre-scale cylinder invisible to microwaves.” OK this method works only for microwaves, works only in one direction, and not for visible light. Nonetheless, “The design principles that make the cloak work in microwaves would be difficult to implement at optical wavelengths. But microwaves are important in many applications, principally telecommunications and radar, and improved versions of cloaking could vastly improve microwave performance.”

The advance is cool to me in that the ideas started in 2006 from a paper on “transformation optics.” with an implementation of the idea coming that year as well. So the science fiction world of true cloaking is not here, but the fact that a few folks did some basics science, a test application followed fast, and now a full version of the microwave idea is in place within seven years is rather great. The practical side of the work may mean that funds are coming quickly from industry and the government. I am not sure which. Still I love the idea that one of the oldest fantasy/sci-fi bits of magic, invisibility, is a little closer to reality.

Some Tech 101 (maybe 201) about How Google (and others) Go Offline

A few days ago, Google went offline. You may have missed it. Jennifer Rexford at Princeton pointed folks to this article about the specific event. Better yet, the article goes into the way the Internet works (well the routing part which was the issue) and how to fix it. One thing that jumped out at me is that humans, yes HUMANS!, are still a big part of the system, and that trust or maybe a Social Life of Information play big roles along with the hardware and software. One of the people who identified the source of the issue called (not email, phone, Paul Ohm and Mike Madison who note my preference for phones) someone they knew at the source. I post the details below as I think it shows the way the system works:

The solution was to get Moratel to stop announcing the routes they shouldn’t be. A large part of being a network engineer, especially working at a large network like CloudFlare’s, is having relationships with other network engineers around the world. When I figured out the problem, I contacted a colleague at Moratel to let him know what was going on. He was able to fix the problem at around 2:50 UTC / 6:50pm PST. Around 3 minutes later, routing returned to normal and Google’s services came back online.
Looking at peering maps, I’d estimate the outage impacted around 3–5% of the Internet’s population. The heaviest impact will have been felt in Hong Kong, where PCCW is the incumbent provider. If you were in the area and unable to reach Google’s services around that time, now you know why.

Building a Better Internet
This all is a reminder about how the Internet is a system built on trust. Today’s incident shows that, even if you’re as big as Google, factors outside of your direct control can impact the ability of your customers to get to your site so it’s important to have a network engineering team that is watching routes and managing your connectivity around the clock. CloudFlare works every day to ensure our customers get the optimal possible routes. We look out for all the websites on our network to ensure that their traffic is always delivered as fast as possible. Just another day in our ongoing efforts to #savetheweb.

Bye, Bye Big Brands, Twinkie, Ding Dong: Hostess Brands, Inc. Liquidating

Ghostbusters, Die Hard, my lunch in grade school all had Twinkies (OK my lunch also alternated with Ding Dongs). In Ghostbusters the Twinkie symbolized psychokinetic energy, in Die Hard it substituted for a cop’s doughnuts, in my lunch it was I guess dessert but substituted for real food. The Wall Street Journal reports, however, that the era is over. Hostess Brands, Inc. is seeking permission to liquidate the company. It’s attempt at reorganization has failed. According to WSJ, “A victim of changing consumer tastes, high commodity costs and, most importantly, strained labor relations, Hostess ultimately was brought to its knees by a national strike orchestrated by its second-largest union.”

There are real people, places, and assets behind these brands. 18,000 workers will lose their jobs. 36 plants will close. The facilities and land will be sold. There is product inventory too. “Loaves of bread and plastic packages of icing-filled desserts” need to go. WSJ suggested that big box stores will be where the food stuff ends up. I remember when Coke changed its formula and folks hoarded the original Real Thing. I wonder whether that will happen with Twinkies. (Given the supposed shelf-life of a Twinkie, a strange pastry cellar built for and owned by some fanatic seems plausible to me).

And, Hostess Brands will sell…its brands. That is where the most money may be made. As I point out in From Trademarks to Brands, brands are not the same thing as trademarks. In the early days of trademarks, one could not sell a brand without the facilities. Today the brand as assest is a given. Selling it as thing is sanctioned by the law even though such practices do not do well within the law economics explanations for trademarks. I argue that a way to understand the move from direct competition to anonymous source, the growth of goodwill, and the expansive view of merchandising and licensing can be explained by brand practices much more than Landes and Posner’s law and economics view. (64 Florida L. Rev. 981, 1009-1019).

I wonder how folks will perceive the sale. If a company buys the name Twinkie or Ding Dong and then makes the cakes with different ingredients or sources for the ingredients, will that matter? What if the taste varies? What if in a year people think Hostess still makes Twinkies and buys the brand based on that error? Is that confusion we care about? Maybe we should not care about any of these. Then again if someone buys Twinkie and uses a new recipe, and then someone makes Twinkies with the original recipe, should that be allowed? Probably not but why is unclear. A healthy market that assumes rational consumers should be able to let information about such variances drive the market, right? Of course we don’t do that in trademark law.

Hmm, perhaps some sugar will help fuel thinking through these points. Better get Twinkies and Ding Dongs before this incarnation is gone.

Schneier Calls Out Papers on How Terroristist Groups End

Bruce Schneier noted some research by Rand about How Terrorist Groups End. The abstract

Abstract: How do terrorist groups end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that terrorist groups rarely cease to exist as a result of winning or losing a military campaign. Rather, most groups end because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they join the political process. This suggests that the United States should pursue a counterterrorism strategy against al Qa’ida that emphasizes policing and intelligence gathering rather than a “war on terrorism” approach that relies heavily on military force.

likely rings true to many who question the use of drones etc. (The comments on Bruce’s page get into some of this point).

To me the fact that RAND put the paper out is interesting. I can never tell whether RAND or what RAND is about. It would seem that claims that RAND is only going to support the government’s goals might be challenged here. Also Bruce calls out the work of Max Abrahms who in 2008 and 2011 addressed these ideas as well. I urge you read the 2008 post and here is the 2011 abstract

The basic narrative of bargaining theory predicts that, all else equal, anarchy favors concessions to challengers who demonstrate the will and ability to escalate against defenders. For this reason, post-9/11 political science research explained terrorism as rational strategic behavior for non-state challengers to induce government compliance given their constraints. Over the past decade, however, empirical research has consistently found that neither escalating to terrorism nor with terrorism helps non-state actors to achieve their demands. In fact, escalating to terrorism or with terrorism increases the odds that target countries will dig in their political heels, depriving the nonstate challengers of their given preferences. These empirical findings across disciplines, methodologies, as well as salient global events raise important research questions, with implications for counterterrorism strategy.

Bruce was cool enough to include a link to the paper.