The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX

Following a recent thread on ILUG, I was reminded of what I consider an invaluable resource for LaTeX: The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX (or LaTeX in 139 minutes – you’ll have to read it to discover why 139).

This document held a place of esteem on my desk during my research years in UCD and I am very grateful to its author, Tobias Oetiker. I think I still have a coffee stained version somewhere in the house…

Is It Anyone’s Business Whether or Not I Read Their E-mail?

I got an e-mail today from a third-party on behalf of a mutual customer. This person wanted to remind me that his e-mail to me the day before “was opened 22 mins 7 seconds after [he] sent it to [me]” and he was wondering if I had made any progress.

How did he know that? There was no message box advising me that the sender had requested a read receipt and asking if I wanted to send it. There was however a warning from my e-mail client (KMail) advising me that there were external references embedded in the HTML e-mail message. Like a fool, I disregarded this warning and clicked to display these references the first time around.

When I got his reminder I went back and examined the HTML content. At the end of the message was a link to an image on http://img.msgtag.com/. When this image is loaded, it notifies the sender that their mail has been opened along with the time elapsed from sending the mail to when it was eventually opened. MSGTAG is the company that provides this service in this instance.

I was annoyed about this. Damned annoyed. Someone e-mailing me had surreptitiously embedded an external image in an e-mail to for the express purpose of identifying when I opened his mail _without_ my permission and in violation of my privacy. It’s nobody’s damned business when or even if I have read their e-mails.

That information should be requested via the long established mechanism of requesting read receipts allowing the recipient to decide whether or not to notify the sender that their message has been read. In my case it’s not that hugh an issue – generally speaking I would not load external references. But what about the 90% or more of less informed users who would or whose clients wouldn’t even ask first?

With my somewhat limited knowledge of the Data Protection Act I am quite convinced that this is in breach of it. I’m not a lawyer and would love the opinion of one on this.

Back On-line

Hello folks,

After almost a years downtime, I have resurrected this blog (now under new software – WordPress) and re-populated it with my old posts.

The last ten months have been pretty hectic. I started a new job with an Irish telecommunications company and helped create their ISP from scratch. I also purchased a house in Dublin and completely renovated it. All of this kept me away from my blog and other hobbies.

Hopefully I’m back for good. Stay tuned for some rants 😉

Software Patents – Some EPO Figures

The software patents issue is coming to a head and with this in mind I thought it was time to back up one of the main arguments with some figures from the European Patent Office (EPO).

The argument being that large international companies have been prospecting for the past few years through the EPO by taking out patents on business methods and algorithms in anticipation of EU Directive COD/2002/0047 coming into law. The purpose of this directive is to “harmonise and unify” the patentability criteria of Europe’s patent offices and give effect to the EPO. Unfortunately this directive, as it stands, contains loopholes which would make all business methods and software ideas legally patentable.

Our argument is that if this directive is passed it will stifle innovation and competition. These large companies will have an enormous advantage over their smaller competitors through their amassed patents. The threat of patent litigation alone will dissuade SMEs from innovating. It should also be known that the big U.S. and Japanese I.T. companies have formed cartel-like patent sharing agreements of which the E.U.’s SMEs cannot afford to join.

I have been asked to back these assertions up with figures by a number of journalists. The EPO publishes annual reports so let’s look at the statistics from 2002 and 2003. There is no one category that says “Software Algorithms” or “Business Methods”. There is, however, category G06 – “Computing; Calculating; Counting” which contains many sub-categories including “Eectrical digital data processing”, “Recognition of data; Presentation of data; Record carriers; Handling record carriers”, etc. The number of patents issued/filed for Ireland, Great Britain, Japan and the US in these years and in this category were:

IE GB JP US
2003 46 428 1563 3643
2002 33 401 1293 3601

Patents found in this category include many of those listed on http://webshop.ffii.org/ including #1 on the list: “a method of ordering services, like booking hotel rooms” [over the Internet] (EP0738446) and a “network-based sales system includes at least one buyer computer for operation by a user desiring to buy a product, at least one merchant computer, and at least one payment computer” (EP0803105).

I think these figures speak for themselves.

One last thing. A common argument made is that if this directive does not pass then U.S. companies will not invest in R&D programs in the E.U. Well let me ask, what the hell have they been doing here for the past twenty years? If the directive does not pass, the status quo is maintained. Microsoft, IBM, Sun, etc will continue their existing and new R&D programs here in Ireland and throughout the E.U. Just as they always have.

What will your good deed be today?

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) is the statutory body of the Irish State that is charged with all aspects of the collection, processing and distribution of blood supplies and related products. Unlike some other countries, all blood donated in Ireland is purely voluntary with the only reward being a sense of altruism.

Last Friday they made a special request as the national blood stock was low and all elective surgeries throughout the country had to be cancelled. The response from the public was immense and stocks are quickly returning to normal.

They still need more – this week and every week. If you are looking to tick off your good deed for today then consider dropping into a local donation clinic.

I gave my eleventh donation in just under four years yesterday. And I won’t lie to you. It’s not fun. But it’s also not torture. The best description would be “not pleasent”. And the feeling of having done something good for nothing cannot be bought. If you hate needles as much as I do then you’d be allowed tick off a full week’s worth of good deeds!

In the words of the IBTS’s Thank You card:

A blood donation costs nothing but gives much,
it enriches those who receive
without making poor those who give.

It happens in a flash
but the memory of that gift will last forever.

None is so rich and mighty that it can get along without it
and none is so poor
that it cannot be made rich by it.

It cannot be bought, begged borrowed or stolen
for a blood donation is of no earthly good to anyone
until it is given away.

1 out of every 4 of us reading this will need a blood transfusion at some point in our lives. It could be you.