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Comment Re:Eventuality? (Score 4, Interesting) 381 381

It has the advantage of once having been worth something. People have a fondness for it. It might tempt back some of the old users. Social networks have an advantage in that they're worth more when more people are there, and that history might just barely let them leverage that.

The main value of the site, at least to me, was always its user base. I didn't RTFA because the commenters would often be able to give me a better summary of what was really going on. Especially when TFA was clickbait; I could see why it was clickbait without having to read it myself. Or for sciencey stuff that's out of my domain, Slashdot often had people who could explain it at my level. (That is, more than the average layman, but less than a grad student in that field.)

I'm not gonna get my hopes up, but I'll note that I'm still here, though mostly lurking. There may be others waiting for an improvement to the site's management to contribute more.

Comment Re:Glad somebody is taking columns seriously (Score 1) 67 67

Especially with the large number of small devices in the mix. Increasingly, web sites are targeting tiny screens. Which actually makes the column feature moot; this feature would have come in handy a while ago.

Fortunately, if done properly, it degrades nicely. Small screen, one column. Wide screen, several columns (which has advantages over scrolling, since it's easier for the eye to jump a column than to keep track of a position during a scroll.)

Comment Re:Help me here: where does the "new" C14 come fro (Score 1) 108 108

It comes from cosmic rays, which are roughly constant over time. They're not completely constant, and so we already have to calibrate our C14 tests. (There's a whole bit of weirdness in the way we report dates as the calibration itself has been refined over time, and when you read an old document you need to know exactly how it was calibrated.)

But the variations in intensities happen over centuries, rather than years. And instead of covering the whole world, it's going to be localized by the varying factors of how much CO2 was emitted (as well as nuclear bomb testing, which has been making dating confusing for quite some time).

It may not be all that important, since it applies mainly to new objects, and we don't really need to date them if we actually know how old they are. And very recent objects are always problematic with respect to carbon dating; it's usually precise to decades, rather than years. But archaeologists from a thousand years from now may find this era very confusing.

Comment Re:Cue the global warming b.s. (Score 1) 108 108

It's not gonna help, though. Climate change doesn't wipe out humanity. It may wipe out other, less tenacious species. And it'll kill tens, maybe hundreds of millions of humans, and cost into the trillions of dollars. You might count it as just punishment, but it won't eliminate the problem. (It might teach them a lesson... but I doubt it.)

Comment Glad somebody is taking columns seriously (Score 4, Interesting) 67 67

I find the lack of columns one of the more striking failures of CSS design. They don't appear to have consulted with anybody who actually knew anything about why things get laid on on a page the way they do. Line lengths are one of the more important factors in determining how easy it is to read something; the eye has a hard time tracking back on wide texts. Default layouts try to compensate with wide spacing, which just wastes a lot of space (and looks, at least to me, very unappealing).

I look forward to other browsers implementing this, so that web page designers (especially for responsible web pages) start using it instead of the hacks and design compromises they're currently forced into.

Comment DEC for DTP (Score 1) 615 615

Well, I wasn't the one using it, but in late 1998, I was working at a printer -- a big industrial one, with huge lithographic presses. The prepress department there was transitioning to using Macintosh G3s for DTP work, and I was there to help with that. The reason for the transition was that their old DTP needs had been served by some sort of DEC minicomputer.

It was about the size of a fridge, with dual 8" floppy drives, so I'm hoping it was a MicroVAX, but I don't recall. Each workstation wired into it had a VTerm, as well as a Barco graphics monitor and a mouse. You'd type in commands to their DTP software on the VTerm, then view the work as a line drawing on the Barco (all it was capable of -- photos had to be pasted in by hand) and adjust it with the mouse.

They'd been using the thing since the early 80s, but apparently it was breaking down and they were having trouble pulling people out of retirement to fix it, and that, plus the new digital press they were building, forced the transition to Macs.

The company got bought some years later, but is still in operation, so I guess things more or less worked out.

Comment Re:This is outrageous (Score 1) 267 267

You are, I assume, aware that the days of the Alexandria library copying all works that entered the city were well over a thousand years before the printing press was even developed, let alone copyright created.

You were the one who claimed that most would-be pirates were discouraged from doing it prior to the invention of the printing press. Guess what? The high cost of making copies (and the relative lack of literate people to share them with, assuming that the author himself was even literate) discouraged authors from writing things down too.

Also, creators who did not want their works copied could prevent Alexandria from copying them by simply not going into the city

Wrong. You're conflating authors with their works. The only sure way an author could prevent Alexandrians from copying their works was to not create works in the first place.

If they created works, even if they were not written down, nothing stopped someone else from writing it down. (For example, Socrates never wrote anything; what we know of him comes primarily from the writings of his student, Plato; Another example is from the days of Elizabethan theater, when printers would have people dictate the scripts to plays, sometimes actors who had memorized the lines, sometimes just people with good memories who had been in the audience)

If works were created, written down, and shared with anyone, there was absolutely nothing that could keep the scrolls from getting copied or moved. Consider Virgil, who wrote fanfic (The Aneid) based on the epic poems of Homer (The Illiad and The Odyssey), but wanted all the copies burned; this was ignored, and the world is better off for it.

Fundamentally, it's the same issue with secrets, or any other information. The only way to control the spread of it is to either convince other people to respect your wishes (which they may or may not do according to their own self interest, and other factors), or to never tell anyone.

I don't think we can credit copyright with the increase in the number of works in existence in recent history, as compared with ages past. The real credit is probably owed to increases in literacy, improved artificial lighting, the development of printing (as well as improved paper and ink to support it), greater leisure time available due to a variety of technological and social advances, increases in the internal stability of much of the world (hard to sell books when bandits rob every wagon, or war ravages the country), etc. Copyright can be nice, but it gets way more credit than it deserves.

Copyright (by which I mean largely the form that it exists today and not as a collusion contract created by publishers) had an intended purpose that was to maximize the enrichment to society that can be obtained by the society having access to diverse kinds of creative works, and offering the creators of those works some means of controlling their works for at least a limited time at least gave many of them an incentive to not resort to self-censorship as their main form of such control.

Authors really just don't engage in self-censorship as a means of control. Copyright, from an author's point of view, is a way to recoup their investment. If they can't do that, they have to have other jobs that take time away from creating. Potentially, those jobs take away all their time from creating, so they don't create. It's rare as hell to find someone who is interested in creating works, has the financial means to do so without having to worry about the cost (and opportunity cost), yet refuses because they're a control freak. I'm confident that the sorts of authors you've identified are so rare as to not be worth concerning ourselves with.

As for the purpose of modern, authorial copyright (as opposed to the old stationers' copyright), you're almost entirely right: I'd only say that mere access is not enough. Rather, copyright is intended to provide an overall benefit to society by increasing the number of works which are created and published, while imposing the fewest and shortest restrictions on the public. It operates by providing some temporary benefits (whose actual value is determined by the market) to authors, but this is merely a means to an end, not an end in itself. If copyright were actually meant to benefit authors, it's clear that it has never done a good job of it at all. The stereotype of the starving author exists for a reason.

As a side point on the matter of controlling works for a limited duration, I am compelled to add that I do strongly believe that copyright durations are far too long today, and should be shortened drastically, by no less than a factor of 2, maybe even more, and with very minimal, if any opportunities for extension.

Personally, I would drop terms to a year, with numerous opportunities for renewal, but with overall maximum lengths that were still quite short (probably no more than 20 years or so, and less in the case of some types of works, such as computer software). The reason is that when we had renewal terms, many rights holders failed to renew, evidencing a lack of desire for longer copyright on their part, and getting works into the public domain faster through their inaction. Since everyone winds up as happy as they wanted to be in that scenario, I see no reason not to return to it.

Regarding maximum lengths, you may be interested to read the following paper on the subject:

Comment Re:This is outrageous (Score 1) 267 267

Copyright is just an extension of the exclusivity that creators had over a work that creators enjoyed in the days before the printing press. Copying was hard enough and error prone that natural checks and balances tended to discourage most (but admittedly not all) from engaging in unauthorized copying.

What the hell are you talking about?

Unauthorized copying was absolutely standard practice everywhere in the world until the 18th century, and most places until well into the 19th and 20th centuries. Hell, some places, like Alexandria during the days of the famous library, made it government policy; any books that entered the city had to be turned over for the library to make copies of, if the librarians wanted.

And it's a good thing too, since every written work we have from antiquity which wasn't carved into stone or clay survived only thanks to unauthorized copying -- often many generations of copying, by many different copyists. Even then, we've lost a tremendous amount of material.

As for the difficulty of copying books by hand, that was equally difficult for everyone, whether authorized or not, so it didn't deter piracy.

As copying became easier, the only thing that was left was to either shrug and disregard it (in which case many creators would resort to self-censorship as a means of holding onto their exclusivity), or to manufacture a legal structure by which people who disregarded that exclusivity for at least a certain period of time could face punitive action for such behavior.

Copyright originated because publishers printed books (often without authorization; the authors had no rights) but didn't like to compete amongst themselves. So the publishers set up a cartel whereby they would agree which of them had the right to print a particular book. The author had no real say. And the government cooperated so long as they could censor anything they didn't like. It wasn't until substantially later that this system fell apart -- because people didn't like the monopoly -- and a replacement based on authors getting the rights was suggested. (And then the publishers fought that when they were unable to fully control it in the way that they had before, and even now publishers are the real powers behind and beneficiaries of copyright; authors need publishers far more than publishers need authors)

Comment Re:This is outrageous (Score 1) 267 267

Yes. Ownership of anything -- a physical object, a certain exclusive right, a theoretical amount of money that lives as bits and bytes in a database somewhere -- is just a concept we have invented to help society function, like any other legal or financial instrument. We might all agree (or at least most of us would, I hope) that physical ownership is a useful concept and we should respect it and not commit theft, but ultimately that is just a social norm, enforced through other social norms such as laws and courts.

That's true. The problem you face, however, is that the social norm concerning creative works appears to be that it's perfectly okay for ordinary people to do things that constitute copyright infringement, at least if they aren't doing so for direct financial gain (i.e. if they aren't selling the copies). If the law were to reflect this social norm, copyright would not be as interesting an issue as it has become in the past 30-40 years. Instead we see copyright holders suing individuals, and trying to control the Internet so as to indirectly control individuals by limiting their options, so as to preserve the laws that enable a particular market, regardless of whether or not they conform to social norms.

But professional copyright infringement, where you're actively ripping off works for substantial profit, can be a criminal matter, punishable in criminal courts with fines and jail time. And that's what we're talking about here.

And it looks as though even for a sort of infringement that most people would agree should be illegal, the copyright maximalist faction is still going overboard. I certainly would agree that professional, profit-oriented copyright infringement ought to be prevented, but I would not go so far as to say that it would ever be appropriate to put someone in jail for as much as ten years over it; it's just not that important. Punishments should not be so draconian, especially given that it seems unlikely that it will accomplish a damn thing. A better solution would be to reform copyright so that there's less of a point in engaging in professional, profit-oriented infringement, rather than the current strategy which is to simply make it high risk, high reward. For example, just as repealing Prohibition undercut the mafia, and just as drug legalization and decriminalization undercuts criminals in the drug trade, legalizing some copyright infringement by people acting not for profit, and thus able to act openly, could undercut professional infringers.

Copyright is a reasonable economic instrument, in my opinion, at least until we find a better model for incentivising creative work that does at least as good a job.

Well, I'd point out two things here. First, there are pre-existing incentives that act independently of copyright; in many cases, copyright is not the primary incentive, and in many cases copyright is not even a necessary incentive.

Second, I agree that copyright is useful, but we ought to regulate how much copyright we have, and for how long it lasts, with an eye toward its utility. I'd bet good money that adding a ten year sentence for certain copyright infringements, and even enforcing it, will have zero meaningful effects on how well copyright serves society. Therefore, such punishments are inappropriate. Indeed, we ought to pare copyright down to the point where it has both the fewest restrictions on the public with the greatest incentivizing effects. Given the economics of the various copyright-related fields, I think you'll find that this would involve no criminal punishments, minimal civil penalties, minimal restrictions on individuals, and copyright terms of far shorter length than we see now.

Those professional infringers are sure making a lot of money doing something that supposedly doesn't cost the legitimate rightsholder anything.

I don't think that's true. Sure, I know about the lifestyle of someone like Kim Dotcom, but he's something of an outlier. Benny Glover made some money, but I don't think you'd say it was a lot.

Making counterfeit anything, and selling it to someone who knows it's counterfeit, only makes sense if you sell it for a very substantial discount below the legitimate price. The negative effect on the legitimate supplier, if there's any at all, is going to be far greater than the positive effect for the counterfeiter.

Comment Re:Crash Mitigation (Score 1) 549 549

It's extremely impressive that they can do this without making to many false positives or negatives. Just picking faces out of a scene is already a dicey proposition. Being able to model "human" versus "non-human" when you get only a side or back view is a nifty trick, one we associate with full intelligence and not just heuristics. And you need to get it right the vast majority of the time, since if you get pareidolia'd into thinking that a piece of junk or a pothole is a human, you're going to need a lot of supervision. Or worse, mis-identify a human as a piece of junk and run over it.

It's clear that they're getting it right enough, often enough, and I'm really looking forward to letting them chauffeur me around. So apparently they can get it close enough without full AI. I wouldn't have said beforehand that I was certain it was possible.

Comment Re:Number one! USA! USA! USA! (Score 1) 382 382

It really is quite amazing to me that the one place that has an ideological interest in not believing in climate change (and the economic push to ensure that nothing is done about it) is the one place that's actually getting colder. If I were the type to believe in such a thing, I'd feel like somebody was playing a cosmic joke on us.

I don't think that the Republican party would really be taking all that different of a stance if the southern US were hitting heat records year after year... but it sure does make it easy on them to justify that stance to the public. To accept that it's going on requires believing in government reports rather than the evidence of your eyes, and since they've spent the last four decades insisting that the government has it out for you, they get a kind of perfect storm for denialism.

Comment Re:if you ask a geek (Score 1) 363 363

Hell, I've been through a few places where there are no left turning lanes, so if someone is trying to turn left traffic grinds to a halt.

Driving in DC's "arteries" is broken-field running, jumping into the right lane to get around people turning, then jumping left to get around cars that are somehow allowed to park on the arterial roads in some spots. It's really quite abysmal.

DC's traffic largely due to more cars than lane miles, but a fair bit of it is due to poor design that leaves a lot of pavement underused. I'm really looking forward to letting a computer do it. Computers could coordinate a far better system without having to build a lot more asphalt.

How much net work could a network work, if a network could net work?