Monthly Archives: March 2006 - Page 2

Cryptic Data

A recent comment on Slashdot pointed me towards a free data encryption utility. TrueCrypt is an open source Windows and Linux data encryption utility. With this utility you can create an encrypted virtual drive or encrypt an entire drive transparently. With support for a number of popular encryption methods and source code transparency TrueCrypt is probably a good bet for people who really need to keep some data private.

Amusing Tripod

Digital media writer Jake Ludington has published directions for making a “Bottle Cap Tripod“. His tripod is inspired by a commercial Japanese product that sells for $20. This is an interesting idea but I wonder how well these tripods hold up a camera. It seems to me that the center of gravity on one of these is just going to be too high to hold the camera stable as a true tripod would. What might be a better descriptor is a monopod which helps holda camera steady but is not self supporting. Nonetheless this is an interesting excercise in homebrew camera mounts. I can think of a lot of interesting things you could put a tripod mount on such as spring loaded clamps commonly used in woodworking which would be a great way to temporarily mount a camera.

Chipmunk BASIC

Chipmunk BASIC is a freeware BASIC interpreter especially suited for the Macintosh OS. One benefit of this particular interpreter is that it includes graphics support on Macintosh computers and availible versions can run on systems as old as Macintosh System 6.0.7. Ports are availible for Linux and Windows but these are strictly command line driven and do not support graphics. One drawback that I see is the program is freeware but not open source. There is a real lack of native open source applications for vintage Macintosh systems and it would be nice to see the source for this interpreter be made availible.

Cryptic Voice

In Episode 30 of SecurityNow! Steve Gibson spoke about possibly writing his own VoIP encryption tool:

I’ve been considering maybe doing a little VoIP encryption tool myself, just because it would be nice to be able to have a conversation. I mean, not that I have anything to hide, but it’s just – it’s creepy thinking that you might be listened in on, and you’d like to know that that’s not happening.

This got me wondering about what kinds of encryption tools are out there for standard VoIP protocols. The two things I immediately turned up were Zfone, a tool by Phil Zimmermann (of PGP fame) for encrypting SIP conversations and RFC3711.

One issue with Zfone is that it currently only supports Mac OS X and Linux systems, but a Windows XP release is scheduled for mid-April. Phil has also published an RFC on the ZRTP SIP encryption he used for Zfone.

deals with securing VoIP voice traffic (RTP) though a new protocol named SRTP.

Look for more activity and controversy surrouding the encryption of VoIP traffic. I would hope to see a single standard for encrypting this traffic be hammered out and then included in hardphones as well. The lack of encryption at the hardphone is going to be a hurdle that muct be cleared before widespread adoption will take place.

Fast Forward

Lots of applications beyond web surfing and email (especially those with two-way traffic) require you to setup “port forwarding” to bypass your NAT broadband router. One site that has instructions for a great number of applications and routers is They have great graphics that show you step by step what you need to change in your router settings for the specific application you want help with. Next time you need to know what ports to forward for a specific protocol or where to find the port forwarding settings on a specific router take a look at

Capping Patents

We’re going to cap off our recent string of patent related articles with this charm from the folks at Right-to-Create. Here they discuss how patents played a role in the development of early aeronautics and how the entire thing was put to rest by the government during the first World War because of national security concerts. While the discussion about the NTP patent on technology used in the Blackberry is somewhat moot now that those two parties have settled this article still provides some interesting insight.

The Wright brothers won every patent case they fought, and it did them absolutely no good. The prospect of a fortune wasn’t what motivated them to build an airplane, but ironically enough they could have made a fortune had they just passed on the litigation.

In the end the Wright Brothers spent so much time in court that the advances they had made in flight technology were soon surpassed by their contemporaries. Certainly a painful lesson to learn.

Note that this article doesn’t get into the controversy surrounding who really made the first heavier than air flight. More on that can be found in this Wikipedia entry

Nothing New Here: Patents and IP Holding Companies

You think that companies setup for the sole purpose of holding patents on intellectual property (IP) are a new pain? Think again. Way back in 1879 lawyer George Selden or Rochester New York started the patent process of the horseless carriage or automobile.

Sensing that the time was not right for a horseless carriage, he delayed issuance of the patent until 1895, by which time a young automobile industry was growing in the USA. Although he had no interest in manufacturing his invention, he was very interested in benefiting from it. Under threat of suit, almost all of the manufacturers took out licenses from Selden, or from the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM), to whom he sold the patent.

One manufacturer who refused to license the technology was Henry Ford’s motor company. There was a long drawn out trial before the patent was declared invalid for all but one specific type of engine that was actually not used by anyone making automobiles.

Who will be the Ford of the current generation? Who is strong enough today to stand up to the huge IP corporations and call their bluff? Of course it did help that in the late 19th century you had to produce a working model to get a patent. Perhaps we need to reconsider how easy it is to get a patent today.

The Last Lone Inventor: How Philo T. Farnsworth Invented Television and Died Penniless

One of the books that has been on my reading list for a while now but that I just haven’t been able to get to is “The Last Lone Inventor” by Evan I. Schwartz which details the invention of Television by Philo T. Farnsworth.

As the story goes the major labs were having a hard time making television work when farmhand Philo T. Farnsworth noticed the horizontal lines drawn across his field by a plow. Eventually this led to the invention of the scanning cathode ray tube (CRT) commonly called television. What followed is a tale of intrigue, deceit and a lengthy courtroom battle pitting radio giant RCA and broadcasting king David Sarnoff against the “Last Lone Inventor”.

Both Sarnoff and Farnsworth died in 1971, and the contrast couldn’t have been greater. Farnsworth was broke, severely depressed, and largely forgotten, while Sarnoff left behind a bountiful estate and was widely commemorated as a pioneer and visionary.

Wired has an adaptation of the book on their website which is worth a read, of course if you’re really interested be sure to check out “The Last Lone Inventor” by Evan I. Schwartz.

Inventing the Telephone

Many people know that Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both filed a patent for the telephone on February 14, 1876 with Bell beating Gray to the patent office by just a few hours. Fewer know of Antonio Meucci who invented the telephone in Italy about 1850. Upon his arrival to the United Stated Meucci submitted his design to the New York District Telegraph Company which shelved the idea. Fed up with the run around from NYDTC Meucci finally submitted a patent cavet in 1871 which is less expensive than a patent but grants fewer rights and expires in three years. In 1874 Meucci had no money to renew the cavet and so he lost out on what was possibly the most popular invention of the period.

For his part, Bell offered to sell the patent outright to Western Union for $100,000. The president of the company balked, countering that the telephone was nothing but a toy. Two years later, he told colleagues that if he could get the patent for $25 million he’d consider it a bargain. By then it wasn’t for sale.

More information on the patent history surrounding the invention of the telephone can be found in this article at

Patently Absurd

I have recently read an excerpt from an interesting letter by Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson regarding the concept of patents.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

The ideas of Jefferson apply to more than the modern definition of patents. Indeed, it could be argued that Jefferson is against the entirity of so-called “intellectual property”. He does point out that an individual may keep an idea to themself, something we might now refer to as a “trade secret”. In any event, if you’re interested in intellectual property and the problems surrounding it the full excerpt is worth a read and included below.

You might also be interested this piece at the “Right To Create” blog which attempts to explain how our broken patent system is actually costing us economically rather that stimulating invention. This is another interesting read.
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