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Supreme Court: Companies Cannot Patent Parts of Naturally-Occurring Human Genes

The Associated Press on this Supreme Court ruling:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that companies cannot patent parts of naturally-occurring human genes, a decision with the potential to profoundly affect the emerging and lucrative medical and biotechnology industries.

It’s nice to see some sanity coming out of the US patent system.

See also Germany’s Parliament two months earlier.

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Is Europe Loosening Up Austerity’s Iron Clasp?

Yanis Varoufakis two weeks ago:

Suppose that I were to demand of you that, by the end of August, you should be able to run the 100m sprint in less than 10″. Suppose further that, to give you a firm incentive to lift your ‘game’, I whip you continually.

That sure sounds like Europe…

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AAUP Sees Online Teaching as Threat to Professors; Misses the Forest Behind the Tree

The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Colleges broadly threaten faculty members’ copyrights and academic freedom in claiming ownership of the massive open online courses their instructors have developed, Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors, argued here on Wednesday at the group’s annual conference. […]

“If we lose the battle over intellectual property, it’s over,” Mr. Nelson warned. “Being a professor will no longer be a professional career or a professional identity,” and faculty members will instead essentially find themselves working in “a service industry,” he said.

Excuse me for a moment, I need to cry him a river.

Here’s Paul Krugman in “White Collars Turn Blue“… nearly 20 years ago (the column was to be phrased as if it had been written a century later):

The celebrity economy. The last of this century’s great trends was noted by acute observers in 1996, yet somehow most people failed to appreciate it. Although business gurus were proclaiming the predominance of creativity and innovation over mere routine production, in fact the growing ease with which information could be transmitted and reproduced was making it ever harder for creators to profit from their creations. […]

How, then, can creativity be made to pay? The answer was already becoming apparent a century ago: creations must make money indirectly, by promoting sales of something else. […] Technology forecaster Esther Dyson got it precisely right in 1996: “Free copies of content are going to be what you use to establish your fame. Then you go out and milk it”. In short, instead of becoming a Knowledge Economy we have become a Celebrity Economy.

Still, the celebrity economy has been hard on some people — especially those of us with a scholarly bent. […] Today, […] teaching jobs are hard to find and pay a pittance in any case; and nobody makes money by selling books. If you want to devote yourself to scholarship, there are now only three options (the same options that were available in the 19th century, before the rise of institutionalized academic research). Like Charles Darwin, you can be born rich, and live off your inheritance. Like Alfred Wallace, the less fortunate co-discoverer of evolution, you can make your living doing something else, and pursue research as a hobby. Or, like many 19th-century scientists, you can try to cash in on scholarly reputation by going on the paid lecture circuit.

Prescient, isn’t it?

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Don’t Track Us!

DuckDuckGo passed 2 million daily searches today.

Via Mike Koepke.

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Inconsistent Unnesting in PostgreSQL

I thought this was a bug earlier today… It’s not. So here goes in case anyone else ends up scratching his head.

PostgreSQL features some set returning function:

# select i from generate_series(1,2) i;
 i 
---
 1
 2
(2 rows)

Syntactic sugar also allows to use them in select statements:

# select generate_series(1,2) i;
 i 
---
 1
 2
(2 rows)

The same internals allow to unnest an array:

# select i from unnest(array[1,2]) i;
 i 
---
 1
 2
(2 rows)

Which also works in a select statement:

# select unnest(array[1,2]) i;
 i 
---
 1
 2
(2 rows)

Note that placing set returning functions in a select statement are by no means a recommended practice — on the contrary. Nonetheless, the functionality is occasionally convenient when querying the pg_catalog or when working with a questionably designed schema.

Anyway, this also works with multiple generators:

# select unnest(array[1,2]) i,
         unnest(array[3,4,5]) j
         order by i, j;
 i | j 
---+---
 1 | 3
 1 | 4
 1 | 5
 2 | 3
 2 | 4
 2 | 5
(6 rows)

Until it doesn’t…:

# select unnest(array[1,2]) i,
         unnest(array[3,4]) j
  order by i, j;
 i | j 
---+---
 1 | 3
 2 | 4
(2 rows)

I don’t know about you, but I expected a cartesian product there.

It turns out, the generators stop yielding rows, not when they’ve expanded the entire cartesian product, but rather when the series generators all end at the same time. In other words, when they reach their smallest common multiplier.

As a result, the following statement yields 2 * 2 = 4 rows:

# select unnest(array[1,2,3,4]) i,
         unnest(array[1,2]) j;

And this one yields 3 * 4 = 12 rows:

# select generate_series(1,6) i,
         generate_series(1,4) j;

For the expected 24 rows, use:

# select i, j
    from generate_series(1,6) i,
         generate_series(1,4) j;

And starting with Postgres 9.3, prefer using lateral queries anywhere you would have considered using a set returning function in a select statement.

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WWDC 2013: iTunes Radio in Pole Position to Reinvent Yet Another Industry

And thus concluded the WWDC 2013 keynote. Actually, not. But that was my own takeaway.

Craig Federighi cracked a few jokes about the lack of skeuomorphic elements in iOS7’s new design. The best line was Phil Schiller’s “can’t innovate anymore, my ass” while introducing the new Mac Pro.

There were OSX Mavericks, the new MacBook Air and the new Mac Pro, iWork in the cloud, iOS7 and more. I take it you’ve already heard about each by now if you care. I’ll defer to John Gruber and Wired for lucid commentary on iOS7.

The fact that power efficiency and battery life were omnipresent throughout the keynote seems newsworthy to me, but it didn’t seem to catch the attention of tech pundits.

  • The new 13″ MacBook Airs feature Intel’s new Haswell chip. They boast a mind-blowing 12-hours of battery life, up from 7. (I’m assuming the figures are with OSX Mountain Lion installed.)
  • OSX Mavericks boasts an entire set of battery usage optimizations. Some low level, some higher level. They promise to extend that battery life even further.
  • iOS has its own set of battery utilization optimizations. It’s finally allowing all apps to multitask as a result, allocating CPU cycles to them based on your usage patterns.

Siri’s adoption of Bing caught my attention too. It’s the latest iteration of Google leaving iOS defaults — for better or worse. In case anyone from Apple reads this, it would be sweet to get DuckDuckGo too.

iTunes Radio

The biggest news in my humble opinion was iTunes Radio.

Yes, it’s a Pandora look-alike. Or a Spotify look-alike. Or a Google unpronounceably-long look-alike. Or a whatever look-alike. If you’re thinking this, you’re simply missing the point.

This is different.

When Steve Jobs introduced iTunes’ new logo, he quipped that iTunes generated more music sales than CDs did. Apple can strong-arm the music industry into palatable deals. They’re the only ones who can.

Then, there are 300 million iTunes Match users who get the ad-free iTune Radio service. And 575 million iTunes users in total, most with a credit card on file. (The figures are from Apple’s keynote.)

That’s 300 million customers who already paid for streamed music. This is more than a proven market. It’s a customer base. 300 million users who will get immediate and free access to a new ad-free Radio service. Most of which, I suspect, will actually use it.

And there are another 275 million users to tap into, who get the free ad-supported service in the meanwhile.

Plus growth.

The thought must have sent chills through the spine of radio execs at large — both streaming and traditional.

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Apple Throws Out the Rulebook for Its Unique Next-Gen Mac Pro

Apple Insider:

In previewing the professional-level computer, a rarity for Apple, it is assumed the company wanted to assuage concerns from some pro users who felt neglected after the company built multiple iMac and Mac mini refreshes without offering any major boost to the Mac Pro.

Agreed. I cannot recollect Apple offering a sneak peak at a product in any of its recent keynotes. Usually, they ship a few weeks later at the very most.

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Innovation Is 99% Copying

Ryan Block, writing for TechCrunch:

If genius is, as Edison said, 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, then perhaps innovation is 1% invention and 99% iteration.

Mm. Innovation is more like 99% copying and 1% improving.

Don’t just take my word for it. Innovate a bit, and you’ll eventually come to that conclusion too. New ideas seldom come out of nowhere. Typically, you improve the art — you copy first — by borrowing ideas you’ve seen elsewhere — you copy again.

Now, can we please get over this copying versus innovating nonsense and move on?

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How Much Investment Is Optimal?

Michael Pettis, insightful as always:

I can go on but I think my point is relatively clear. The social capital model suggests that there is some amount of investment that is wealth enhancing for any economy, depending on its ability to absorb and exploit the benefits of that investment. Beyond this amount, however, it can be difficult for an economy that scores lower in social capital to take full advantage of investment, in which case the additional productivity generated by higher levels of investment are low, and are more likely to be exceeded by the cost of the investment.

Raising the amount of investment, in this case, is wealth enhancing up to some point, beyond which it can become wealth destroying. At that point it is far more efficient to improve the institutional ability to absorb investment than to increase investment itself (although, because this is intimately caught up in social and political power structures, it can be brutally difficult to do so).

He nails it towards the end:

If you believe, however, that China’s very low level of social capital has long ago made its investment strategy obsolete, the consequences and implications are radically different. It suggests that China has overinvested beyond its capacity to utilize these investments economically, and so there are hidden losses on bank balance sheets created by the failure to write down physical capital to its true value. In this case Chinese growth cannot help but drop significantly as these losses are finally recognized and as investment levels are sharply curtailed.

The real challenges for China, if you believe in the social capital constraint, are not about maintaining high rates of growth in the short term but rather of raising the levels of social capital in China. This is much more difficult and much more likely to be virulently opposed by the elites whose ability to constrain economic efficiency is precisely at the heart of their wealth — which consists of appropriating resources rather than creating resources — and of their power. It is, however, the only real way to sustain growth over the medium and long terms. […]

Not only will China’s real GDP growth drop as China shifts towards a different growth engine, but it will drop even more as China is forced to recognize the hidden losses buried in its debt levels.

While it does, methinks it’ll also face the issue of keeping export-driven businesses alive in a context of rising wages.

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WWDC 2013 Expectations

John Gruber:

Tim Cook, one year ago, to Walt Mossberg: “We’re going to double down on secrecy on products.”

12 months later, here we are, on the cusp of WWDC 2013, and nobody outside Apple seems to have any idea what Apple is set to show tomorrow.

For the impatient, it looks like Apple will stream a live video of the Keynote.

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