Developer Week in Review

Google takes the moral middle ground, Hollywood turns to Turing, and an April Fool's gag turns real.

Spring came in like a lion here in the Northeast, with an April Fools’ Day mini-blizzard, even though Lion itself isn’t due to be released until summer at the earliest. While I waited for more hospitable weather to emerge, I’ve been huddled indoors working on a Kickstarter project with my son, and I will now shamelessly plug it: It’s a high-powered replacement for the Wii sensor bar, designed to let you sit comfortably at the other end of a room while you use your Wii. You can read more about it here if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, there were the usual interesting developments in the developer world.

Google: Now promoting gray as a moral choice

Like most major technology companies, it can sometimes be hard to judge where Google lies on the moral spectrum. However, the King of Search took moral ambiguity to a new level this week with a press release that basically said:

  • Software patents are evil
  • But all the other cool kids are doing it.
  • And if we don’t get some, we can’t defend ourselves.
  • So we’re making a move for the Nortel patent portfolio.
  • And if we get it, we’ll use it to protect open source, sweetness and apple pie, but in ways we aren’t spelling out precisely.

It’s nice to say that acquiring the Nortel patents will protect Android and Chrome from patent attacks, but unless the portfolio is placed in a trust it will remain a weapon that Google can use against anyone they choose. Unless they are legally fenced off, Google could break their word at any time. I’m not saying that they would, but if they suddenly decided they wanted to take out the iPhone, for example, they could point the patent missile at Apple, and all the iOS developers would get caught in the crossfire.

The real solution, of course, is to get rid of the loathsome things all together. But in a political climate where former RIAA lobbyists become federal judges ruling on file sharing cases and corporations are writing international intellectual property law using the U.S. government as a proxy, my hopes that this will get fixed anytime soon are low.

Can Hollywood pass the Turing Test?

News has emerged of a feature-length documentary in production on the life of Alan Turing. If there’s a figure in computer science who needs to be better known by the general public, Turing is certainly a good candidate. However, if the trailer is anything to go by, it doesn’t look like it’s going to break any box-office records. Consisting entirely of talking heads, das blinkenlight computers and photo stills, it won’t give “Freakonomics” or “An Inconvenient Truth” a run for their money in the audience captivation department.

There are lots of early computer pioneers who deserve better exposure, such as John von Neumann and Alan Kay, and it would be great if someone did a Connections-style series linking how we got from Babbage to the iPhone. Turing’s story has particular pathos, because of how his sexual preference set events in motion that robbed the world of a gifted computer pioneer, but it doesn’t look like this movie is going to tell it in a way that will appeal to a general audience.

April Fools’ on Google’s April Fools’

It’s become a yearly ritual for Google (along with ThinkGeek and Slashdot and myriad others) to flood the web with fake products and stories on 4/1. This year, one of Google’s fake product announcements was for Gmail Motion, a product that would let you operate Gmail using body language. Some folks over at USC thought it was a great idea, so they decided to implement Google’s interface, using a Microsoft Kinect:

It was a cute idea, but I think they should have put their efforts behind this gag Google product, which I’ve been dying to see appear in the real world.

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topic: Programming
  • GeoffT

    Your proposal for Google to put the Nortel patents into a trust won’t work. They are not buying them just so they and open source user can use them. A key part of the rationale and justification for the expense is that google can use their ownership of the patents as leverage for a cross license settlement (as opposed to a money based license) when they (or Android users) get sued by others for patent infringement.