Speaking of software patents, alarming smoke alarms, and computer upgrading

by Rob Tiller

_DSC8190Last week I spoke at a symposium on patent law and digital technology in Winston-Salem sponsored by the Wake Forest University Law Review. I used my air time to raise some questions about the value of software patents and the premises of the patent system. You never know when a seed may sprout. The audience seemed engaged, and the comments I got were appreciative.

It was nice to get back to my childhood stomping grounds, and nice to have a chance to see my oldest friend (going back to fourth grade), Jim P. Even as a child, he had a remarkable talent for building things, whether model planes, cars, or forts in the woods. He found his calling as a builder, and among other things has built major structures for Wake Forest U, including Farrell Hall, which he showed me around. He was in the midst of building an addition to Reynolds Gym, and I got to see the architectural and engineering drawings and scheduling boards.

It is not often that I undertake a household upgrade or repair more complicated than hanging a picture. But I’ve had to raise my game a couple of times this week.

When I got home on Friday evening, the smoke alarm began making a very loud high-pitched squeak, signalling that it needed a new battery. Sally, who had dealt with this issue before, was away visiting her sister. I got out the step ladder, climbed up, and reached high, wondering how long it would be before someone found me if I fell off. I managed to unscrew the device from the ceiling but couldn’t locate the battery, even after considerable pushing, twisting, and prodding. So I called Sally, and she gave me a couple of crucial tips.

Eventually I got the 9 volt battery out and a replacement battery in. But I put it in the wrong way, and had a tough time getting the hatch open again. After that was all done, I heard another loud squeak. It turned out I’d repaired the wrong alarm, and had to do another one. Then it turned out that that also was the wrong one, and I had to do a third one (in which I put the battery I took out of the first one).

I was quite technically proficient at smoke alarm battery replacement by the end of this process. If you have problems with a First Alert smoke detector, I may be able to help.

In fact, I’ve been on a bit of a roll with repairs and upgrades. After concluding recently that my MacBook Pro laptop needed more RAM, my first thought was to find a repair shop, but I couldn’t find one that looked self-evidently reliable. After consulting with friends and colleagues, I ordered 16 gigs of RAM from Amazon, watched a YouTube instruction video, read a couple of sets of instructions, and unscrewed the back. I wondered, would I destroy the computer? I would not! There were a few moments of pushing and poking, and then it slipped into place. I felt fairly competent. The computer seemed noticeably zippier.

I also upgraded from Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 to Photoshop Elements 13. I’ve come to respect the editing algorithms of version 11. I used to think of the auto functions as a less-than-honorable crutch, but I’ve come to view these tools as sort of a partner in making good photos from RAW format images. I’m still testing the new version, but am generally pleased so far.