Friday, March 09, 2007

This spring, the Patent and Trademark Office is launching a new initiative that has been hailed as "revolutionary." Under a pilot project, patent examiners at the PTO are beginning to use a web-based system to access information about applications, information that would have been beyond their fingertips under traditional review methods. Rather than rely primarily on scientific writings and archival patent records, the new system is oriented around the idea of community peer review. In this regard, the system resembles Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It also incorporates features from eBay and, most notably a rating system that allows users to evaluate one another's contributions.

The idea here is to use digital technology to enhance, from the bottom up, the expertise of the patent review process and to make the process more accountable and transparent to the outside public. It is a far cry from the traditional, paper-based process, where patent examiners have sometimes been prohibited from even using the Internet, lest they inadvertantly reveal proprietary secrets during the course of their online searches.

If you are wondering why a government agency would open itself up to the outside world in this way, here are some pretty telling statistics. Last year, 4,000 examiners handled a record 332,000 patent applications. The PTO's ability to conduct thorough reviews is understandably rather limited under these circumstances. What, then, does the agency have to lose?

Although I am intrigued by this marriage of government, politics, and technology, I wonder just what a difference the new system will ultimately make. Here's a guess. Every now and then, an application will come along where the PTO faces a significant information deficit and the relevant experts clamber to weigh in collaboratively on the key issues, thereby producing a better process and outcome. In most instances, however, the examiners will do just fine on their own and the community peer review system will add little of value. This is not to say, of course, that such a result would be a bad thing. If information technology can help government agencies solve some of their hardest problems, then it is serving a very useful purpose. From my point of view, we need more of this kind of potentially transformational project, so long as it goes hand-in-hand with careful empirical scrutiny of actual patterns of behavior. That way, we can embrace the innovations that appear to work over time and across contexts, and jettison those that are long on promise and short on results. Stay will take many, many years to figure all of this out...


Wednesday, March 07, 2007


For my birthday, my friends who moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania came to my party. I have three friends in that family, and at the party they went as Lewis, Ray, and Raven. They got me a cute puppy that is a pug (my favorite kind of dog) and a few other things. The pug had a tag on it...and inside the tag was a piece of paper...and on that piece of paper was a code. I went to a web site which is called There I typed in the code, filled out a form, and made his name Duke. The animal I adopted (Duke) is a pug that looks like the stuffed animal that I received. On the web site, everything is animals. You can play games, get jobs, and do many other things. I haven't really explored other things on the web site beside these things...but I will soon! This present was awesome! Thank you Jacob, Justin, and Arianna!!!


Monday, March 05, 2007

(Laser) Tag, You're It!

For his 10th birthday party, Z invited a bunch of friends to Shadowland. This is a place where you can go, kids and adults alike, to play laser tag. For me, an interesting little sidebar to all of this mayhem was checking out what alter egos the kids chose for their adventures. Here's the list. Can you guess which one is Julie and which one is Z? (One, I think, is pretty straightforward; the other perhaps less so.)



Separation of Church and Sport?

The other night, Fr. Greg came over to watch a college hoops game with us. Now, under normal circumstances, this would be no big deal. But check this out...Fr. Greg has given up television for Lent!

As you might imagine, this all made for quite an interesting scene. Fr. Greg, sitting on Natuzzi (in Song Wei's normal spot)...watching us watch the game! He would, of course, sneak in the occasional glance. But this was very limited, as Z was acting at times as the Lenten police.

At other times, though, Z was a willing infidel. Like the point in the game where he gave Fr. Greg a spy glass. This is a little device that is kinda like a periscope. So Fr. Greg could be "looking" at the wall, but "watching" the game. Understandably, he did this only very briefly and surely for the kids' entertainment purposes. As he likes to say, "Catholicism is not a religion for wimps!"

So here then is a question. If a person in this situation were to use a spy glass during March Madness, would they be breaking their Lenten sacrifice? Your thoughts?


Sunday, March 04, 2007


Does anyone out there still watch TV shows as they are originally aired? We live, after all, in the age of DVDs, iTunes, and Tivo/DVRs. For us, what this means is that we essentially never watch a program as it is regularly scheduled.

Take 24, our current favorite series. Right now, we are in the midst of watching Season 5 on DVD. Yes, there is a downside to this, as we are about a year behind the episodes now airing. But we can, of course, quickly catch up on the current season (should we choose) via other digital technologies.

Watching 24 this way leads to some pretty exhausting viewing experiences. What do I mean? Well, the episodes come four to a DVD. So what this meant last night, for example, was that at about 9:30, after the kids went to bed, we popped in the DVD and didn't breathe for about an hour. (Will Jack get the recording implicating the president? Or, more to the point, who will die in the process of the successful acquisition?)

But things didn't end there. Desi, as she always is wont, put the pressure on to watch a second episode before turning in. Alright, no's still fairly early on a Saturday night. But then repeat this dynamic after the second episode, and do it one more time after the third. Before you know it, we've blown through the entire DVD. Can you say 1 a.m.? (Sidebar: We made it to 8:30 mass this morning.)

My only restriction on all of this fun? Under no circumstances can we ever bring home a DVD on a weeknight. We just don't have the self control to pull the plug on the CTU gang when there are more twists and turns at our fingertips.

Oh yeah, there is one other restriction. No one can ever, ever buy us the entire next season of 24 on DVD. Do you have any idea what that would do to this family?