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Comment Bendix G-15 (Score 1) 620

The oldest computer I programmed was a Bendix G-15, a computer that used a drum for memory and vacuum tubes for logic. I stumbled on it at Cal Poly, a college in California. They said they had traded a jet engine for it.

The documentation for the computer ended with a letter from Bendix saying that Control Data had taken over responsibility for the computer line, and it was henceforth to be known as the CDC Bendix G-15. When I returned to the main part of the campus I told some students that the engineering lab up the hill had a Control Data computer..They were very impressed—they were making do with an IBM 360, whereas Control Data Coropration was well known for their fast comptuers.

Comment I too get someone else's e-mail (Score 1) 213

My name isn't very common, but there is a retired medical professional in California who shares it. I occasionally get e-mail on my gmail account directed at him: I have watched him retire, visit resorts and get his fancy car serviced. I once printed out some correspondence directed at him and sent it to his home address using the US Postal Service, but nothing changed. Sometimes I reply to the e-mail explaining that I am a computer programmer in New Hampshire, not a medical professional in California, and once I got a very polite response thanking me for pointing out the problem. Usually, though, I get no response.

Comment Re:There is another possibility too.. (Score 1) 188

International law firm ReedSmith weighs in on this point as well: '[O]nce the Department begins to audit and assess customers located within the city, many of those customers are likely to demand that providers collect the tax going forward. As a result, many providers will likely feel the need to register to collect the taxes, despite lacking nexus, and despite having strong arguments against the Department’s expansive interpretation of its taxing ordinances.'"

International law firm ReedSmith does not appear to have had experience with New Hampshire. When Massachusetts leans on providers who operate in both states to collect Massachusetts sales tax when a Massachusetts resident buys something in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire legislature leans back, making such reporting by the New Hampshire branches illegal.

Some years ago Massachusetts stationed an observer near the parking lot of a New Hampshire liquor store. He would write down the Massachusetts license plates of cars in the lot and relay them to a state trooper just across the state border. When the cars reported would cross the border they would be stopped on a pretext, and fined for having untaxed liquor in the car. New Hampshire stopped this practice by busting the parking lot observer for running a numbers racket.

I predict this case will be similar. The providers will resist collecting the Chicago tax, and if Chicago leans on them, other jurisdictions will lean back.

Comment homes are costly even without a mortgage (Score 1) 940

I live in a modest home in suburban New Hampshire. I've lived here over 40 years, so my mortgage is paid off. Government in New Hampshire is mostly paid for by property taxes, so I probably pay more than homeowners do in places where government has other sources of revenue. My home is worth about $350,000 and I pay a little over $8,000 per year in property taxes. In addition, maintenance, including replacing furniture, averages about $8,000 per year, and fire insurance another $1,800. The furniture replacement cost is highly variable: the average over the last few years has been about $3,500 per year but in 2013 it was less than $1000. You get that kind of fluctuation when you have an old house.

"Suburban" in New Hampshire means you have paved roads which are plowed by the town in the winter but you are not within walking distance of stores and restaurants. "Urban" means you don't need a car for shopping, and "rural" means you plow your own unpaved roads.

Comment Re:Tax Policy Problem (Score 1) 940

When costs scale with the number of people and revenue doesn't, it's inevitable that zoning will end up discouraging new residential construction, particularly high density residential contruction.

This is captured by the aphorism "Trees don't send their children to school".

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

I definitely agree that the ability to make commentary anonymously is, and should be protected. I do not agree that intentionally dishonest commentary should be protected, whether it is anonymous or not.

The problem, from the point of view of the accuser, is that he does not trust the court system to judge his intentions. Even though he is honest, he fears that the powerful person he has accused will hire a skilled lawyer like Paul Bergen to persuade the court that he is lying.

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

Even though I tell the truth, I am still subject to extra-judicial retaliation if someone powerful is hurt by the truth.

Not via libel laws, you're not. And that's what this discussion is about. In the U.S., truth is often described as an "absolute defense" against libel.

Perhaps I misapprehended the subject of the discussion. I was discussing the value of anonymity when issuing accusations.

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

In any case, even if malice were certain, I do not think it is a good idea to unmask anonymous speakers, even if a court decides that the plantiff would likely prevail in a defamation suit. I feel that the privilege of anonymous criticism of the powerful is precious to our freedom, and I would rather let 1000 liars go unpunished than chill the speech of one Deep Throat.

But this is what I have already said several times: anonymous criticism IS perfectly legal. It's anonymous LIBEL that is not. Criticize all you want, as long as you are telling the truth. But you don't get to legally call somebody a murderer, or a pedophile, or even a thief if you know it isn't true. You keep failing to make the distinction between real criticism and lies.

Even though I tell the truth, I am still subject to extra-judicial retaliation if someone powerful is hurt by the truth.

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

But again, why should you be able to tell lies about people anonymously? What is the reason?

You should be able to tell the truth anonymously, all you like, with no repercussions. And guess what? Legally, you are. But you still haven't explained to me why you should be able to lie.

Why should there be a different standard for anonymous speech than there is for any other speech? Why should you be given a pass for dishonestly damaging someone's reputation? What possible societal benefit is there to that? I don't see one.

If you tell lies about other people publicly, no matter how much you may dislike them, you should fear retaliation. You have injured that person. And that injury can sometimes be very severe.

But again, as long as you stick to the truth, you are covered. The truth is a defense against libel.

It is all too easy for powerful people to persuade the courts and the public that their detractors are evil, and should be outed (if anonymous) and punished. That is the fear that causes accusers to try to remain anonymous. Even if an accusation can be proven true, that will not defend you against extra-legal retaliation from the powerful person, unless the truth is so damning that he loses his power.

It is not the ability to lie that I am defending; that is just a consequence of defending the ability to speak the truth without fear of retaliation from those who are hurt by the truth.

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

See? The law isn't as bad as you seemed to think it is. People don't get to break another's anonymity in court for no reason. They first have to show that they would likely prevail in their defamation suit first.

That's the law's way of ensuring that anonymous speech is legitimate, but only to the same legal extent that any other speech is legitimate.

I think your circular argument gives the court too much credit. You assume that there must have been a showing of malice because that is required to prevail against a public figure, and decide that because the court granted the action, there must have been a showing of malice.

Perhaps I am reading the document incorrectly, but it seems to me that the court granted the unmasking action based on the speech having been a factual accusation that Bill Hadley had broken the law. I don't see the question of malice being addressed explicitly in the document, though since it references section 2-615 malice might be covered there.

In any case, even if malice were certain, I do not think it is a good idea to unmask anonymous speakers, even if a court decides that the plantiff would likely prevail in a defamation suit. I feel that the privilege of anonymous criticism of the powerful is precious to our freedom, and I would rather let 1000 liars go unpunished than chill the speech of one Deep Throat.

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

Look... there have been many legal cases over this issue. Let's say you're a public figure. If the circumstances amount to strong evidence that there is actual malice involved (which does happen sometimes), then the injured party can get information subpoenaed in order to find out who said it. Legally, it's all based on reasonable levels of evidence, not just some ability to willy-nilly subpoena anyone you want.

There was a case in the news not long ago, in fact it was mentioned here on Slashdot. (I'm not going to take the time to look it up, though.) After seeing the evidence, the judge ruled that the plaintiff was likely able to show genuine malice, and so agreed to issue a subpoena for information about who the individual was. If the judge had found insufficient evidence of malice, he would not have issued the subpoena.

In this case, though, the standard for breaching anonymity was that the accuser stated as a matter of fact that the accused had committed a crime. See paragraph 26 of the decision, which is liked to from the story. I think that standard is far too low.

Here's a hypothetical example: the writer says, "I'm doing this because I think you're a low-life hateful/awful/dangerous person." (As opposed to, say, "I have evidence you've actually done something wrong.") Or "I'm doing this because you seduced my wife", etc. So for this example, a personal vendetta of some kind. If the statements are false, and the writer admitted that it was done for personal reasons, or personal gain of some kind, that's generally evidence of malice.

But again the point is: there has to be evidence before a subpoena my be legally issued.

A person who has inside information about nefarious deeds, but who is, because of his position, vulnerable to retaliation, should be able to speak anonymously.

They can. The law allows them to. What the law does not allow, is malicious, defamatory speech. As long as you're telling the truth, there is generally nothing to fear: truth is a near-absolute defense against libel. But if you're lying, and especially you're lying for opinion-based or selfish reasons, you'd better watch out.

That's the way it is. And frankly, that's the way it should be.

As long as you are telling the truth, and can prove it, you have nothing to fear from the law. There are other forms of retaliation, though, such as losing your job or being shunned by your friends. I don't think Deep Throat would have spoken out about Watergate if he could not have been assured of anonymity. By the standard that this court applied, Nixon could have filed an action to seek his accuser's identity, since he was accused of breaking the law.

If an anonymous accuser provides evidence enough to prove that his allegations are truthful without his testimony, then there is no need to unmask him. If he doesn't, he can be ignored.

I think that the cost of being lied about anonymously and not being able to punish the liar, is less than the cost of being unable to accuse a powerful person of having committed a crime while remaining anonymous to avoid retaliation.

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

Quite the opposite. It was run by every major news outlet. It was dinner table talk at my friends house. It was discussed at work. And in general it has gotten a boat load of coverage for something very unsubstantiated.

I'm not saying everyone in the public agreed. They most certainly did not, and given my observer bias of cynical and skeptical people I hang out with I would say most of them didn't believe the story. But that's not the problem, the problem is that this has gotten lip service AT ALL. If something is unsubstantiated then why would it be run by every major news outlet? Why would there be an hour long session on the topic by talk show radios?

People in general have short memories and it doesn't take long to confuse them. That is exactly why public relations campaigns are so effective. You can ruin someone based on nothing very easily, as anyone who has been accused of stalking children on Facebook can attest to. Your common sense does not protect a reputation from public perception.

I think the cynical and skeptical people you hang out with are more representative of the general public than you credit. The issue is covered by the media because it gets them attention. They don't care about the truth, they care about getting people to listen to their advertisements.

Yes, it is possible to ruin someone with a completely untruthful public relations campaign. However, forbidding anonymous speech doesn't prevent that. Even if it is well known who is telling the lies, and even if he is sued in court for defamation and is convicted, the damaging allegations are still out there, and still causing harm. Indeed, a court case might increase the harm by causing more people to become aware of the lies.

Comment Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233

What you're overlooking is that the unmasking is coming after the court has essentially already declared that the speech in question is defamatory (which isn't a protected class of speech). There have been appeals, the anonymous person has sent lawyers to appeal on multiple occasions (which does make one doubt the "it's some random yahoo" hypothesis - Timmy's parents aren't likely to be footing the bills for lawyers to protect his identity). Reading the ruling, it's pretty clear that Mr. X has effectively *had* his day in court, and the judges are basing this ruling on the fact that they believe the posts in questions to be defamatory.

So the system is working pretty much as intended - "Fuboy" (the alias of the person who posted) has had his identity protected through the entire process, and only after substantial judicial review (which includes the judges deciding if the case has merit and a reasonable chance of success - read: it's actually defamation), has authorized revealing the name. Not to mention that at each step, he's had the ability (and has availed himself) of legal representation to attempt to quash the subpoena.

To your root point, I agree that anonymous speech is valuable. But part of that value is that it can't be used as a shield to hide behind when doing actually illegal things.

I overlooked it because, like the typical slashdotter, I hadn't read the opinion until now. Notice in paragraph 26 that the court is concerned about the constitutional right of anonymous speech. Apparently, any statement that can reasonably be construed as accusing someone of committing a crime triggers the loss of anonymity. I don't think that is good enough. Paragraph 26 also hints that other courts apply a stricter standard, so apparently there is not uniformity on this rule. I advocate a much higher standard: no matter what is said, the privilege of anonymity is absolute.

Here is a hypothetical example to illustrate my point. A person using the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood writes a comment on the web site of the New England Courant in response to a story about the Queen of England, calling her a tyrant. Tyranny is, of course, a crime, so this comment accuses a person of a crime. The local representative of the Queen files a rule 224 petition to learn the name of the accuser. The court rules that the statement is defamation and outs Benjamin Franklin.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec