Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Google has always been about choice

There is considerable interest and concern about the dominance of Google. While is it is true that they are everywhere, on the computer, on the phone, crawling the World Wide Web and collecting terabytes of content, they have always been mindful of choice. They are now the subject of an FTC investigation for antitrust on two fronts. One for Google's alleged anti-competitive use of patents to ban certain products from the US market and second, for their dominance in search.

What follows is a letter I wrote to the FTC in response to the threats that these investigations pose:


I have read in the news that you're considering an antitrust investigation into Google for their use of patents to ban certain products from market. While most of the news concerning FTC antitrust investigations of Google centered on search, it is only today that I learned that your department is considering an investigation of the alleged abuse of patents by Google.

With regard to Google's dominance of search, I think it is worth considering that it is nearly impossible to eliminate the competition in search. While FairSearch complains that Google is dominant in the search industry, they miss an important point: If I want to use a different search engine, I can. As long as robots can crawl websites, anyone can build a robot to crawl websites, compile the results and make them available in a search engine.

It is important to note the loose alliance between Microsoft and FairSearch. Microsoft has an undeniable interest in gaining access to Google search algorithms. If access to Google search algorithms were to be made public, Microsoft would argue that since it is not dominant in search, that it should not be required to disclose Microsoft search algorithms. This entire campaign is designed to keep Google on the defensive through attacks from proxies like FairSearch.

With regard to your pending patent investigation, it should be noted that Microsoft has sought and secured patent license agreements with every Android manufacturer except one, Motorola Mobility. Microsoft and Nokia are working with a third party, MOSAID, to extract licensing fees from Android and Linux developers. This is well documented in litigation Microsoft initiated against Barnes and Noble - B&N has since settled with Microsoft. When 2 or more companies work together to eliminate competition through anti-competitive practices, such as patent trolling, isn't that a basis for antitrust investigation? 

Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle, and Apple are all giants in the tech industry. Google is the upstart and is the target of a concerted series of legal attacks against Android and Google in general. They are all using patents, a form of regulation, to mitigate or neutralize the competitive threat that is Google. Microsoft has already been convicted of using their industry dominance to eliminate choices in computer operating systems. Apple is poised to do the same. Nokia is losing market share due to some very poor management decisions. Oracle is dominant in the database industry and seems somewhat unhappy that it missed an opportunity to create a smartphone operating system. All of them are relatively old companies and have found that "when you're young, you innovate, when you're old, you litigate" in the tech industry. They are all litigating against Google/Android.

Google doesn't need to use patents to compete. Google has only used patents defensively and will retaliate against those who use patents against Google. A casual observation of the Motorola Mobility litigation will show that Motorola Mobility litigation has only been targeted at those who initiated litigation against Android or Google. Google doesn't care which operating system I use on my computer. Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle and Apple all seem very concerned that I might decide to use Android or Linux on my computer or smartphone. They have all chosen to exercise litigation rather than innovation as a means of competing against Android and Linux. 

I think that the apparent collusion between all the major industry players working against Google is a far more worthy target of investigation for antitrust concerns than anything that Google is doing. Google is agnostic about which device or which operating system we use to search. Google only wants to make it easier to use Google search, no matter how we do it. My experience after trying Bing, Yahoo and even Alta Vista, is that Google search offers the best search experience I have ever found. Google supports open standards better than any other company. Open standards promote competition. When Google uses open standards, open source software and leverages openness to compete, that is no crime.

I urge you to reconsider your investigations of Google and instead, investigate all of the companies that are litigating against Google. Are they communicating with each other? Are they timing their lawsuits with each other? What do they have to gain, collectively, against Google? Is is fair for a group of companies to gang up on Google for competitive advantage?

These are questions I urge to you consider before you launch an investigation or any lawsuit against Google.

Thank you.

Scott Dunn

[End of email to FTC]

So, what do you think? Did Google break antitrust laws?

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Powerful Proposition

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to watch an amazing video of a lecture given by Dr. Daniel Nocera. It's an hour and 18 minutes long, but it is totally worth it because there is real hope for mankind in that video. What is it about? It's about new technology that allows us to capture solar energy and store it for future use.

I read about Nocera's work a couple of years ago. He and his team have done some pioneering work in the field of artificial photosynthesis. Notice that the work is government funded. Why didn't the private sector come up with this first? Maybe they were too busy thinking about maximizing profits before humanity.

Here are the basics:
  • Use a light activated catalyst to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.
  • Capture the hydrogen and store it for use later.
  • Burn the hydrogen to power the home.
  • Use the hydrogen to fuel a car or use power generated by burning the hydrogen to charge the car.
Imagine a world where every home has a power source independent of the power company. Imagine an economy independent of the hydrocarbon fuels we now use. Now imagine that all of the infrastructure we used to use to distribute power as electricity and fuel is no longer needed. Artificial photosynthesis would free up giant chunks of the economy dedicated to distributing oil, gas and coal. It would also free up all the money, time and effort spent designing nuclear power plants and passing commission reviews of each plant. The health benefits of such change would be enormous.

The jaw grows slack just considering even some of the possibilities. The only new tech is the catalyst - everything else is off-the-shelf parts. Artificial photosynthesis decentralizes energy production. Imagine what happens to political power when energy production is distributed by the sun.

The math presented in the video is pretty simple. We burn about 12.8 TW of power today - every day. the sun delivers 1000 TW to the earth. On land, we get about 800 TW. By 2050, we will need another 28 TW to keep humanity humming. We won't be able to build power plants fast enough to keep up. But we can fit up homes with this system to scale out billions of little power plants that run off the sun. 

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have shown very much interest in clean energy. This is especially true of the Republicans. Perhaps they forgot about Richard Nixon. Maybe they want to. While the Democrats have shown some interest in clean energy, even some lip service, I don't see them talking about a game changer like artificial photosynthesis that has been around for two whole years. Maybe they're not ready to talk about it yet.

If I were running the Green Party, *this* would be my new platform: Personal Power for everyone is attainable through artificial photosynthesis. If the Democrats and Republicans won't touch this, the Green Party will be happy to take over.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Freedom of Religion

I've been thinking about religious freedom. The success of this nation depends on religious freedom. In almost every other country where people are not free to practice the religion of their choice, even not to practice at all, we find a certain homogeneity, a demand for purity and uniformity of thought among all. This lack of pluralism limits the views that can be considered in political discourse and discourages expression of dissenting views.

So it is with a heavy heart that I find that the Republicans, that Grand Ol' Party, have been promoting the idea that the United States is a Christian nation. The platform of the Texas Republican Party offers a good example. I find it hard to believe that the matter is even a subject of debate when the Constitution is so clear in the First Amendment on its face. Their words leave little doubt as to what they mean to say.

The passage, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is important enough to be the opening clause of the First Amendment. Yet, platforms of the various state chapters of the Republican Party make it clear that not only do they believe that this country is a Christian nation, they want to tear down the wall that separates church and state. That is really scary.

I wonder if they have considered the ramifications of what would happen to this country if they managed to make the United States in their vision of a Christian country. What about everyone else?

Many of the founders of this country were Christian, to be sure, but they came here to escape the religious tyranny of the King of England. They came here to practice their religion as they understood it to be. They found what works for them and stuck with it. Though many of them were Christian, some devout, they all knew the danger of a state established religion.

We have modern day examples of the danger of state sponsored religion. One need only look to Iran to see the ultimate conclusion: complete and total subjugation of women, dissent is either completely absent or hidden, and anyone who is not actively practicing the state sponsored religion is cast in a second, lower class. Is that what the Republicans are preaching? That is my impression. 

I don't want to see a state sponsored religion in these United States and I hope I never do. I do want a diversity of religions, which we now have. For it is only through human exploration of spirituality in all of its forms that we arrive at a state of mind better known as peace.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Would you like your regulation to be public or private?

I have to wonder what the GOP is talking about when they go on and on about reducing regulation. For example, during the prohibition years, there was no effective way to regulate the alcohol industry since it all went dark. Because there was no 3rd-party referee to handle grievances, the competitors resorted to gangland violence. Legalizing the business and taxing it brought it into the light and made it easier to regulate as well as providing relief for innocent bystanders. Are they suggesting that we return to a prohibition-era economic environment that is "free of government regulation"?

I'm not aware of any GOP politician that has acknowledged that when you remove government regulation, private law and regulation come into play (if you've seen one do that, let me know). Consider for a moment the recent ruling from the Supreme Court that permits corporations to eliminate the right to class action lawsuits in their terms and conditions for use of their services. That ruling has emboldened corporations to introduce their own forms of regulations. This is particularly evident among cellular phone companies with their data caps, sharing plans, and customer data sharing arrangements. Net Neutrality? Totally neutered.

In this context, I have to ask, which source of regulation does the GOP prefer, government regulation or private regulation? Either one can become quite onerous if we let them. The difference is that I can vote out the guys in government who set policy. I can't do that with corporations. In corporations, the members of the board of directors make decisions that set policy. Even if I own stock, I don't really get a say in their decision making process. Worse, corporations are a creature of government, below everything and everyone else. At least they should be.

Several Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rulings have turned our relationships with corporations upside down. The first ruling came in 1890 when the SCOTUS recognized corporations as persons. Second, the SCOTUS has ruled that corporations can make unlimited political contributions without disclosure because money is speech. The third came with a SCOTUS ruling preempting a state law that prohibited the exclusion of class action suits in contracts. Don't even get me started on patents.

The GOP lacks complete sincerity and honesty if they continue to omit private regulation in debates of public policy on the subject of regulation. I wonder if they will ever bring it up.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Redwood Road

I'm a California native by birth and I've been driving for 33 years, 28 of them in California. I've seen a lot of pretty nutty driving in California, but the things that I've seen in Utah make California pale by comparison.

As a California native, I'm used to seeing people drive pretty much the same all year round. But here in Utah, things are different. In summer, drivers can be aggressive, rude and even indifferent to the plight of other drivers. But when the snow comes in winter, the same drivers suddenly get all polite.

One notable exception would be SUV drivers. While I'm doing 20-25 MPH on the freeway in heavy snow, some SUVs are blazing by at 40-50 MPH. I remember asking about snow tires for my first winter here and I learned that common sense would serve me better than snow tires. Those SUVs? From time to time, I would pass them in a snowstorm as they faced oncoming traffic the wrong way on the freeway after a spin-out or on the side of the freeway – the wheels are spinning, but they're upside down. Tire salesmen I've talked to referred to that phenomenon as “SUV confidence”.

On the way to work one day, I was cut off by an SUV. As we came to a stoplight I saw that there was a bumper sticker on the back that said, “SUV drivers do it without looking!”. Fair enough. I considered that to be a fluke and went on my way. Only a few minutes later, another SUV cuts me off. This SUV had a different bumper sticker that read, “If you don't like the way that I'm driving, get off the sidewalk!”

Hmm. Is this the start of a trend? I'm less than a half mile from work when a giant, pearly white Lincoln Aviator abruptly pulls in front of me to be first in line at the next red light. Sure enough, their bumper sticker makes a finer point with, “What was that?”

Anyone familiar with the Redwood Drive-in Theatre on the west side of Redwood near 3800 South knows what a circus that place can be. Lines can form beyond the curb and extend from the entrance and back up to the north end of the block. In the painted center island in front of the theater, lines can form and back up the other way to 3800 South. Numerous times, I've seen multiple vehicles making simultaneous, desperate left turns in front of me or other drivers with less than a second or two to spare just to get into or to leave the theater. And that is just for the swap meet. I've come to think of them as the Stunt Drivers of Utah.

One particularly interesting habit I've seen looks like this: a driver on a side street will make a left turn to merge into traffic on the opposite side of Redwood Road. But he's not using an ordinary island as a place to wait for traffic to clear so he can merge. No, that won't do, no sireee! Instead, he's waiting in a left turn lane – facing the wrong way. I've encountered this head on and when I see them in front of me, I'm like deer stuck in headlights. The other driver? He does this every day and knows exactly what to do. He checks his mirror, waits for the traffic to clear, and then merges safely, like nothing special had happened.

The most curious incident I've seen though is very similar to the example above, but with a twist. A driver makes a left turn from the apartment driveway at 3860 South to head north on Redwood Road. He is facing the wrong way in the left turn lane but proceeds anyway. It's dark, so as he proceeds up along the left turn lane, he doesn't notice the small island in front of him on approach to 3800 South. He takes out a small post and strands his car on top of the island with the tires straddling the island. When I came upon him he was on his cell phone calling for help.

After seeing that, I found that my nomenclature was inadequate to describe some of the drivers of Utah. Now I think of them as the Stunted Drivers of Utah.

Drive safely.