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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Registering a colour as a trademark

As plenty of people have already noticed, governments are increasingly willing to grant monopolies on the use of ideas on bases that seem less and less reasonable. I have recently discovered a claim that scales new heights of absurdity:
Royal Mail, the Cruciform and the colour red are registered Trade Marks of Royal Mail Group plc. Royal Mail Group plc, registered in England and Wales, Number 4138203. Registered office: 148 Old Street, London EC1V 9HQ.
(Inconveniently the number shown is the Companies House registration number for Royal Mail Group PLC, and The UK Patent Office has a less-than-straightforward search interface, so I've not been able to locate the registration itself.)

Permitting the registration of logos, non-generic trade names, even novel smells all make some sense, but an entire colour, and a primary one at that? I assume (and hope) that Royal Mail is simply exaggerating its claim.

Releton Search, an adjustable Google/Yahoo hybrid

This is kind of cool, although not obviously incredibly useful. Releton provides you with a typical search entry box and results page; it's results are a combination of Google and Yahoo results. What's interesting about it is the slider at the top of the results page which allows you to control the mix; it starts at 50:50 and updates the results in real time (ala AJAX) while you slide it back and forth to adjust the weighting between Google and Yahoo.

(via eHub)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Debian, /etc/network interfaces and hotplug

Getting the A768i to work as a USB net device on 2.6.12 turned out to be pretty straightforward, once I worked out how. The trick is that to get hotplug to play nice with interfaces you must either tell hotplug to attempt to control all interfaces (there's a configuration option somewhere that escapes my recollection at this moment) or add an explicit mapping in /etc/network/interfaces. To do so:

iface usb0 inet static

is straightforward: it provides the configuration for the host end of the interface (the phone is and

mapping hotplug
script grep
map usb0

is the magic glue to provide the "bring this up automatically when plugged in" behaviour.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"like the captured spy"

I came across a quote somewhere in recent reading (I don't recall where) that tickled my fancy. It was, then-US-EPA director, William Ruckleshaus's observation on what might happen when a risk assessment pointed to a need for dire action. The full quote is:
When the action so forced has dire economic or social consequences, the person who must make the decision may be sorely tempted to ask for a "reinterpretation" of the data. We should remember that risk assessment data can be like the captured spy: if you torture it long enough, it will tell you anything you want to know. So it is good public policy to so structure an agency that such temptation is avoided.
I suspect that many opinions, assessments, estimates and analyses have a similar characteristic. Now I have a concise simile for it.

(The quote comes from Ruckleshaus's address to Princeton University on 18-Feb-1984 as reported under the title "Risk in a Free Society" in "Risk Analysis" (the journal of The Society for Risk Analysis) 1984; 4(3):157-162.)