Wobbly footballs and electronic pants

A typical haul from the postbag...

Letters You know what? Writing a story about open source stuff is a bit like poking at a beehive with a stick. You know you'll get some kind of response, but it is often hard to tell whether it be a load of honey, or an angry bee sitting on your nose:

What exactly do you mean by "circumvent some of the commercial difficulties of the Open Source license (the GPL)" ?

Do you mean the limitations to stop companies taking thousands of man-hours of other people's work, adding a few extensions of their own, and selling the whole lot at extortionate prices? The GPL makes it perfectly clear how commercial interests fit with the open source software, including the right to sell it for any price you want - as long as you make the source available.

For mass-market software, such as Open Office or Linux Mandrake, there are a lot of people who see the GPL as meaning "free as in beer" - and that is a right that they have under the GPL. For more specialised software, such as large databases, it's not a real issue as long as the prices charged are reasonable - the customer gets what they pay for in terms of service, support, and lower risks.

Renting out GPL'ed application time on servers is just another type of service - they are not "circumventing" anything, since the providers are following the GPL. You could perhaps argue that since the ASPs are not required to provide the source for GPL'ed extensions or modifications they write (since they are not distributing any binaries), that they are trying to avoid the "spirit" of the GPL - but again, this is perfectly valid under the GPL.

And it's not a new idea - web and email hosting has worked this way for many years.


"In theory if their sales are climbing then their unit costs are trending down, but the consumer rarely sees the costs fall. "

I find that statement a little disengenuous. I agree with your theory, and I agree with the statement that the consumer rarely sees the cost fall.

It's not unreasonable (though it severely limits the number of vendors constrained by the statement) to qualify that with the fact that he consumer in some cases also does not see the costs rise over time, effecting a net fall in costs after consideration.

(like some areas of consumer electronics, the price does not actualy fall but the device becomes more feature rich)


I was impressed by your analysis but my many years experience as a conultant points a big hole in your logic. The larger the organization the more risk adverse they are and only apply a solution provided by an 'approved' vendor.

What this really means is they are only amenable to the marketing efforts of the larger vendors who put on good dog and pony shows for top mangement accompaned by always expected perks. Reason goes right out the window.

It's easier not to think and take a risk. The few times I tried to apply a new technology or bring in a new vendor I usually lost both the client and the battle.


In response to news that the Recording Industry Ass. of America has failed to get the Supreme Court to review its P2P challenge against Verizon:

Actually Hollywoods lobbying clout is rather diminished these days:

They had the gall to employ a democratic head-lobbyist rather than a republican and got a rather smaller bone in the free-for-all pork law that was passed this week.


News, also, that other mobile lottery operators are unimpressed with The National Lottery's efforts in the area:

It's disappointing that Camelot haven't come forward with anything more innovative considering the potential already emerging in Java games.

I am intrigued to see how consumers repond to the 20 pence per text charge when customers of the Manchester Mobile Lottery only pay their standard rate SMS charge, which can be as low as three pence.

Ultimately, Camelot has missed a trick. We think the real opportunity is to introduce new types of game which are relevant to the mobile channel, not just replicating access to existing products at a more expensive price.

Ian Milligan Million-2-1

Next, the fabulous news of more functional underwear that we had ever anticipated. Probably not available in M&S anytime soon:

I have to wonder how many false call outs the ambulance service is going to get for someone taking their pants off!


And where do they suggest you keep the batteries for these wonder pants?


We can actually answer this one: there is, apparently, a small pouch supplied with the underpants, so users need not avail themselves of nature's own battery cavity.

Football's coming home, but only in a wobbly line:

The comment from your footy-loving friend stuck a chord with me and presumably with others who follow baseball. Fans of this other fine sport will know of the specialist pitch known as the "knuckleball", a niche trick whose popularity is sadly declining but which is entertaining indeed when practiced well.

The most famous remaining practitioner is one Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox. It works on exactly the same principle as the kick your friend described; the idea is to throw the ball at a moderate pace with as little spin as possible. Apparently, the pitch works best in evening games on windy days. The lack of spin allows all sorts of things to happen to the ball, caused (according to various experts) by things like wind and moisture and atmospheric pressure.

This is a good explanation. When the pitch is thrown successfully, it is virtually impossible for anyone - the pitcher, the batter or the catcher - to know what's actually going to happen to it. Watching the world's best hitters swing wildly several inches away from a gently-thrown ball that crosses the plate dead centre is a continuous source of amusement for knuckleball aficionados.

Its decline in popularity is probably due to the fact that it's rather tricky to pitch, and if you get it wrong, what you wind up with is a gently-thrown pitch with just enough spin to cause it to fly straight and true and very, very predictable. The likely result of *this* is Derek Jeter hitting the thing into orbit, which tends to happen to knuckleball pitchers with depressing frequency.

When it works, though, it's a thing of beauty.


A reader puts forward an alternaltive hypothesis for the naming of the Coral Consortium, the new association of "consumer electronics companies, one computer company, a DRM specialist and one of the content majors":

You theorize that they took the name Coral because "...but perhaps it's the way a coral under water seems to branch out and connect seamlessly to the next."

That may well be right, but in the context of the DRM our RIAA and MPAA would want, I see another parallel. Have you ever noticed the way a coral reef is a community that is built exclusively on the skeletons of others and has only a thin veneer of life on the outside.


We took the revolutionary BioNav™ in-car navigation system out for a road test. We experienced an unprecedented level of consumer feedback from our review:

Hi Lester,

r.e. the BioNav, I managed to get hold of an early prototype model that I've been using for a while and thought you might be interested in my experiences :-

I'm going to attempt a journey from Leamington Spa to Ross on Wye this evening with my BioNav finding the way for me. I must admit that I'm a bit dubious about getting to my destination though, as this particular BioNav has completed the journey on a number occasions before, but has yet to repeat a route.

When it struggles, I have tried a "soft" reboot as you suggested on a number of occasions and have even resorted to a "hard" reboot with a rolled up road atlas a couple of times, but my unit just doesn't improve after a reboot. Perhaps mine is broken as needs trading in for a newer model?

One thing that I have found that helps though is equiping my BioNav with "laptop and GPS unit" plug-in. Although this certainly helps, the BioNav really goes to pieces when the laptop battery runs out.

All the best,


Dear Sir,

Due to your recent article on the BioNav, I wish to propose you review the "BackSeatNav." This unit autonomously seats itself in your vehicle and will constantly scan the vicinity for any and all dangers to the driver - in addition to having the common direction giving capabilities of it's peers.

The BackSeatNav will give loud warnings not only about red lights passed and turns that occurred five minutes ago, but will also alert you when you drive into questionable areas of town. Immensely useful when you live IN a questionable area of town.

I am expecting to obtain a high-end Italian version in late November. Consuming only Illy and sugar, this model will make comments such as "Dovevi giri a destra" while pointing it's indicator to the rear of the car; "Che schifo;" "Sei un rompicoglioni," as well as the ever popular "Mamma Mia."

Please contact me if you are interested in road testing this unit.

Sincerely, Alex McDiarmid

It was unlikely we'd get through the whole of letters without some reference to the launch of Froogle, so we thought we'd keep it light hearted:

"[And wine is technology related exactly how? - Ed]."

....it's a lubricant.



The term "Froogle" (or at least "Frugal") has already been used as a verb, in one of my favourite jokes:

My 8 year old came home from school with a piece of homework - she had to write a story using the word "frugal". I looked up the dictionary with her and told her that to be frugal is to save or preserve. This is the story she wrote: "One day a beautiful princess was taking a swim in a river. The current was too strong, and she was swept away. Just then a handsome prince came riding along. The princess shouted "Frugal me! Frugal me!". So the prince frugalled her, and they lived happily ever after.


Seems like a good note to end on. Enjoy the weekend! ®

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