Patently Obvious

Patents are useless and stifle innovation.  The only people who benefit from patents are patent lawyers and big companies with lots of money.

Some people think that when you take out a patent it somehow protects your idea from being copied by other people or companies.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  All you get when you take out a patent is a piece of paper which says that you have the right to sue anyone using your idea without your permission.

The cost of actually defending a patent is enormous.  What this means is that big business and those with lots of money can use the patent system to their advantage against small startup companies and individuals who don’t have the money to defend their patent.

In effect this means that big business can ignore patents on any ideas they use that are held by small companies or individuals knowing that they can afford to bankrupt the other party if legal action is taken against them even if they are in the wrong.

A company would rather pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to their legal department to break your patent than pay you a few hundreds or thousands of pounds in royalties.  Patents which are not owned by the company are something to be ignored or worked around or broken in court.

And then there is the issue of Patent Trolls.  Companies with lots of money who accumulate ownership of lots of patents with no intention of ever developing them into useful products, instead they wait until someone else develops the idea and then sue them.

I work for the NHS in a research department.

A few years ago we had an idea to help clinicians in Accident & Emergency with a problem they have fairly regularly.  When the patients airways are blocked it may be necessary to insert a breathing tube, if it is necessary then you only have a short time to get the tube inserted correctly before the patient becomes starved of oxygen.  What this means is that you have to get it right first time because you only get one chance.

The problem is that the throat splits into two tubes, the oesophagus which leads to the stomach and the trachea which goes to the lungs.  The breathing tube has to go down the trachea or the patient suffocates, but the anatomy is arranged so that things naturally go down the oesophagus so it is quite difficult to get the tube in correctly and takes a fair amount of skill on the part of the clinician or paramedic.

The idea we had was for a tube which fits inside a standard breathing tube, an inner tube with a small video camera and LED light mounted in the end with wires which could be pulled to angle or guide the end of the tube.  The clinician can actually see what they are doing.  When the tube is correctly positioned you pull out the inner tube leaving the breathing tube inserted correctly.  Video cameras are now small enough to make this possible.

We had this developed to the stage of a working prototype.  A small battery powered plastic box with an LCD screen and a tube which was waterproof which could be inserted into a standard breathing tube.

But there was a problem, the idea had already been patented.  A firm of lawyers in America had a patent on this idea (and a lot of other ideas) so the lawyers for our NHS trust decided that this project could not be developed because of the fear of legal action by the American law firm.

I wouldn’t mind but the law firm in America are just patent trolls, their intention is to patent many ideas and then when someone develops something which uses one of their ideas they will leap out from under the bridge and present them with a writ.  They have no intention of ever developing this idea, even if they did they have neither the expertise or the facilities to do so.

So patents actually stifle innovation.  This device could have been saving lives in British hospitals by now but instead it will not be developed because a firm of lawyers in America want to make a lot of money out of it someday.


The misnomer of ‘Software as a Service’

There is a type of deception which takes place where something is renamed to obscure what it is and to leave behind any negative connotations of it’s original name.

Like the Conservatives slowly privatising the health service but calling it outsourcing so that people don’t realise the health service is being privatised.

Another example of this deception is ‘Software as a Service’ which should really be called ‘Software Rental’, the people who push this idea don’t like the name ‘Software Rental’ because they would like to obscure the fact that you are renting software so they call it something that doesn’t sound as bad.

Let us call it what it actually is, Software Rental!

I can see why software developers like rental software because it provides them with a continuous revenue stream so they are pushing the idea but I have yet to hear any convincing arguments as to why it is good for the customers.  For the customers it is a continuous revenue drain.

The software companies claim that it is better because the customers get continuous updates to the software, but if the software worked properly in the first place it wouldn’t need fixing, and the continuous tweaks to the way things work and to how things look for the sake of novelty are just annoying and unnecessary.

There are two models for ‘Software Rental’ one of them is the model adopted by The Brain Technologies (TheBrain) where if you stop paying the rent then you are left with the version of the software you had when you stopped paying but it still works, but there are no updates.

This is not as bad as the other model adopted by Microsoft (Microsoft Office 365) where if you stop paying the software stops working altogether.  If you have a lot of data and documents produced by these programs then it is as if the company are holding your data hostage against your continuing payments.  This model is very bad.

The problem is that ‘Software as a Service’ may come to be seen as the norm in the software industry, this would be very bad for the users.

I hope this does not happen but I suspect a lot of people in the software industry might use the fact that Microsoft are using this model as justification to use it themselves.


More bullets for ISIS

There are a lot of problems in Syria and Iraq at the moment mainly caused by despotic dictators trying to impose their political views on everyone in their country and religious fanatics brandishing their worn out collections of old fairy tales and wanting to impose their religious views on everyone in the world.

It seems to me that any government which has the capability to manufacture it’s own ammunition would be able to cause problems for terrorist organisations like ISIS.

They could produce ammunition which looked exactly like normal ammunition but had a little something extra.

I’m sure it would be possible for them to infiltrate a batch of this ‘special’ ammunition into the supply chain and eventually ‘let them’ accidentally fall into the hands of ISIS or whichever bunch of idiots are causing the problems.

A cartridge (colloquially called a bullet) consists of the actual metal bullet attached to a shell casing full of gunpowder or cordite.  There isn’t a lot of difference between modern powder and the gunpowder which was used a hundred years ago.

This charge of low explosive burns very quickly but doesn’t actually explode, it creates a high pressure gas behind the bullet which propels it down the barrel and out of the gun.

If one were to replace this low explosive with high explosive but kept the look and weight of the cartridge the same then it would explode with much more force and damage the gun and possibly injure the person firing it.

But that would be too extreme. the person firing the gun would realise very quickly that their ammunition had been tampered with as would the group they were in.  They would probably stop using that particular batch of ammunition very quickly once they had identified the problem.

But if one were to put only a small amount of high explosive in just one in ten or one in a hundred of the cartridges then it could damage the chamber without being immediately obvious.  The terrorists who got the batch of altered ammo would have their guns wear out very quickly and they would start to misfire and jam.

If it were done very subtly then they might not even realise that anything was wrong.  They would just think that their guns were wearing out.  But if they did realise and retaliated against some of the scumbag arms dealers who are willing to sell ammunition to these idiots then that’s OK as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t know … maybe governments are already doing something like this.

Would we ever know?


Grammar Schools and Public Schools

Grammar Schools

So, the government has decided to bring back grammar schools.

The question which should be asked here and isn’t being asked as far as I can tell is ‘How will this be funded?’ are taxes going to be raised, no I don’t think so.

What is most likely to happen is that other local schools will have their budgets cut.

Who benefits from grammar schools?

The wealthy benefit to a much greater extent than those who are not so well off.  It is promoted by the government as a meritocracy where talented children can be helped to flourish whatever their background, but that is not what happens in practice.

What happens around existing grammar schools is that more well off parents get private tutors for their children to give them an advantage in the tests. So the intake is skewed in favour of the rich with a small proportion of children from less well off families who got in because they were exceptionally talented.

But this benefits the grammar school because these children are very easy to teach because of their innate talent and the school can point to them ans say yes we do take in children from poorer families.

Grammar schools are divisive for society, they will not benefit working class people, instead they will benefit middle class families who have enough money to afford private tutors for their children.

Grammar schools will not raise the oveall standards, they will polarise the education system by raising their own standards at the expense of other schools in the area.

The way to raise overall standards is to have a diverse mix of children from all backgrounds in a school.

Public Schools

It seems ridiculous to me that public schools get charitable status.  They are a bastion of elitism in British society offering very expensive courses to educate the children of rich families. There is no way that these institutions should qualify for charitable status!

The very flimsy justification for them getting charitable status is that they occasionally take in exceptionally talented children from poorer backgrounds and give them a free education.

Firstly they don’t do this for very many children, secondly they also benefit in the same way that grammar schools do.  The children have to be very talented to get in and this raises the overall standards for the school.

But the main reason is that it gives them the excuse to get charitable status and this is the main reason they do it, charitable status gives them huge financial advantages.

In my opinion public schools should have their charitable status removed (all of them) because it is not justified.

But nothing will be done.

A great many people with power in the government and in the civil service were educated in public schools and so nothing will be done about this.

As long as the establishment is full of public school alumni it will continue to be a bastion of privilige and elitism in British society.


Is the NHS safe in Conservative hands?

It seems to me that the Conservatives are trying to break the NHS by driving it into debt and reducing the workforce whilst privatising it gradually by the back door with as little publicity as possible.

Of course they don’t want to be seen to be destroying the health service because that would be politically unpopular.  But it is difficult to break the NHS without people realising what you’re doing.

The first thing they did was to decimate community health care and council services.  The people served by these services didn’t go away or stop requiring treatment therefore the burden of treating these people was dumped on the NHS causing already overstretched services to be swamped and budgets to become overspent.

Now Mr Hunt is trying to impose a contract on the junior doctors which will designate weekends as normal working days.  The modest pay increase included in the new contract will be more than offset by the reduction in overtime payments under the new contract, so it’s actually a pay cut.

But for the junior doctors it is not about pay, it is about the drive to fully staffed operation of NHS hospitals seven days a week with no extra staff and no extra funding.  And Mr Hunt says that he isn’t trying to make doctors work longer hours, errr ….  something doesn’t seem to add up there.

The drive to implement a seven day NHS is based on flawed statistics which misrepresent the real situation.  The NHS already works seven days a week.  Routine clinics and services are only run during the week but all the departments and services which are needed are staffed during the weekend.

The much quoted statistic about you being more likely to die if admitted at the weekend than if admitted during the week is deliberately misleading.  Many people are admitted during the week for a variety of reasons, most of which are the result of routine hospital visits.  However the routine services are not run at weekends so if you are admitted at the weekend it is more likely to be the result of an emergency.

People who are admitted as the result of an emergency visit are likely to have more serious problems than those admitted as a result of a routine visit and I would suggest that this is more likely to be the cause of the difference in outcome rather than any deficiency in the care at the weekend.

So why are the Conservatives and in particular Mr Hunt trying to break the NHS?

Is there perhaps some hidden agenda at work here?

Well in 2005 Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book, ‘Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party‘.  If we look at the chapter on health we see that the author said on page 78 – “Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain”.

I have read a copy of the book although I cannot post any more than a brief excerpt here due to copyright concerns.  It used to be widely available on the web but is disappearing fast as copies available on websites are mysteriously vanishing.  However it is still available in some places.

This book which was co-authored by Jeremy Hunt advocates the de-nationalisation of the NHS and the introduction of an American style insurance scheme were patients pay into their individual pots and decide how to spend it.  This gives grave cause for concern given that Jeremy Hunt is now in charge of the NHS.

Having a seven day NHS is not possible without adequate resources and staff, but if the real reason you’re doing it is in order to break the NHS so you can introduce privatisation as a remedy then it makes perfect sense!


A Virtual Hearing Aid

There are problems with hearing tests and the provision of hearing aids in poorer countries, but an alternative use of existing technology could provide a partial solution.

The project I did for my bachelors degree was the design of an audiometer.  An Audiometer is a device to test a persons hearing.

This audiometer was designed to run from batteries and used very little power.  It was designed for use in third world countries.  But unfortunately there were some problems.  The headphones used in hearing tests are very expensive so even if the audiometer could be made very cheaply the headphones would be the limiting factor in how cheaply the audiometer could be sold.

There is also a problem in providing hearing aids to people in third world countries, even if the aid is provided for free (which is rare) then the ongoing cost of batteries is often too much for some poorer people.

It seems to me that there are many mobile phones in the world, even in third world countries many people who struggle to find the money for food have a mobile phone in their pocket.  Also countries like India manufacture very cheap Android mobile phones.

Mobile phone manufacturers have done a great deal of research into making mobile phones efficient at playing music into headphones using as little battery power as possible.

It ought to be possible to program an application to take the sound from the microphone and play it through the headphones with the facility to adjust the volume, this ought to be a fairly simple application.  It might even be possible to include a graphic equaliser to adjust the frequency response.

If this were possible, especially if this app was available as a free download then deaf people in third world countries who already have a mobile phone could download a ‘virtual’ hearing aid for free.

Of course I would always recommend a professionaly done hearing test and I acknowledge that a mobile phone app is no substitute for a real hearing test and a properly prescribed hearing aid but healthcare in third world countries is seldom free and having some sort of hearing aid is better than going without anything, but only if it is your only option.

Because this idea has been put out into the public domain in this blog nobody can apply a software patent to the idea, they could copyright their own implementation of the idea but they could not stop anyone from writing a different implementation of the idea.

I have never written a mobile phone app so I don’t know how complicated it might be to write such an app but it seems to me that it might not be that complicated and it would certainly be of potential use to a great many people.

Who is up for the challenge?


The American Presidential Election 2016

2016 is election year and what a horrible choice the American people have before them, they can choose between an egotistical, narcissistic, racist demagogue whose politics seem to change to mould themselves to public sentiment or they could choose a corporate shill who will do what her corporate sponsors want because the money for her election campaign didn’t just have strings attached, it had bloody great chains attached and they will want their moneys worth.

Clinton’s corporate paymasters include media/entertainment companies whose stated aims include an end to net neutrality.

Neither of the candidates is fit to be president in my opinion.

The only one who was worth voting for was Bernie Sanders and his campaign was sabotaged by the Democratic National Committee, a body which was supposed to be neutral but which was in-fact well and truly in the pocket of the Clinton establishment.

Looked at this way perhaps Donald Trump isn’t that bad after all, it’s not that he is a candidate worth voting for it’s just that he isn’t quite as bad as Hilary Clinton.

But I don’t think he even wants to win the election, I think he just started this campaign to boost brand Trump without any intention of winning.

What a choice, heads you loose, tails you loose.