The Daily Parker

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The hidden truth about astrology software

After the shocking disappearance of the Olson time zone database yesterday (described here and here), some things have become clearer overnight.

o The wonderful land of Oz has stepped up. Robert Elz, an Australian computer scientist who has actively supported the tzinfo project throughout, has revived the time zone mailing list maintained at the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). My, but the list was active overnight, with dozens of people volunteering to host the database, move it to non-U.S. servers, and continue to research and develop it.

o The current database is available from an Australian site at (This is the version running on Weather Now.)

o Astrolabe, Inc., the mom-and-pop Cape Cod outfit responsible for this insanity, has a suddenly-popular Facebook page upon which hundreds of people have expressed themselves. (I wonder if the company will figure out how to disallow wall postings? Oopsi.)

o Software developer Curtis Manwaring, CEO of Zodiasoft Technologies in Las Vegas, claims that he and Astrolabe have had a running fight for years about ownership of various software implementations of time zone data. Says Manwaring:

Gary Christen (CEO of Astrolabe) tried to hire me on three separate occasions and I refused. When Astrolabe obtained the ACS Atlas (when ACS went bankrupt in July 2008), I was concerned that I wouldn't have an atlas for my software anymore. The last time that they tried to hire me, the ACS Atlas became leverage to coerce me into working for them because I had no guarantee that they would give me access to the ACS Atlas. When I refused the last time, I managed to obtain a verbal agreement that I would send my customers to them for a special discount on the ACS Atlas and was relieved for a while. But over the next several months, my customers started complaining about the run around they were getting on the special deal that Gary promised my customers. Eventually one of my customers said that he thought that Astrolabe was trying to make me look bad and disadvantage my business by making it difficult to obtain the stand alone version of the ACS Atlas which is required by my software (but not Solar Fire which has the ACS Atlas bound with it). He was so fed up with the run around Astrolabe gave him that he formatted a database of latitudes and longitudes for me and asked me to add it to my software. That got me back on the issue of researching time zones after which I found the Olson time zone database. I subsequently found from the Olson sources that the ACS data was extremely unreliable, much more than I previously thought.

Note to Curtis, Gary, and everyone else involved in this nonsense: there's a difference between software, which enjoys copyright protection, and data, which does not. This is established, black-letter law in the U.S. (and in most other countries). The fact that both of you produce products that use the same data does not in itself constitute copyright infringement.

What this sounds like—and I'm sorry, Curtis, but you're in it up to your neck—is that you're both amateurs, and your narcissistic dispute has started claiming innocent lives. Arthur Olson and Paul Eggert were trying to help people, as part of the open, collaborative effort we in the software community like to call "open collaboration."

Now, I write software for money, and in fact I have a time zone factory written in .NET, that reads and parses the entire tzinfo database so you can use it in .NET applications. (Send me an email if you want to license it!)

But here's the thing: I know it's a lot less expensive for someone to license my tzinfo parser than to roll their own. Like, two or three orders of magnitude less expensive. And if someone else writes a better parser, they might take my customers away—but that's not copyright infringement (unless they actually use the same C# code or documentation), that's creation.

Speaking of professional software development, I have to start billing now. I'm glad Robert Elz has stepped up, along the dozens of other volunteers, to keep this hidden but vital software project going.

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