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Comment: Attempts to limit users typically backfire (Score 1) 195

by damienl451 (#46201795) Attached to: Is Whitelisting the Answer To the Rise In Data Breaches?

The powers that be had the great idea of launching a policy of locking down PCs where I work. Which is ridiculous considering that we're a large research university and that, believe it or not, bureaucrats can't predict what researcher X in lab Y will want to put on their computer. Because users were unable to do anything on their own, the IT people were spending a lot of time going from one office to the other installing the software that people needed. It lasted for maybe a week, at which point some "helpful" IT person decided that it was much easier to just give "trusted" users the admin password! However, that was the XP era and people soon realized that they could not easily install .msi packages for instance because you could not just right-click, "run as admin" them. But if you were logged in as admin, you could install everything easily.

So, eventually, lots of people started using the admin account FULL TIME and leaving the password in plain sight on post-it notes. So, to "improve security", we went from people using regular user accounts, with a small risk of their machine being infected/compromised, to people logging in as admin with full rights on the machine. What a great improvement!

I suppose that white-listing may solve the problem if it's really impossible to do anything. But it's 2014 and you can't predict what people will want to use.

Comment: Re:This is backwards (Score 1) 264

by damienl451 (#45251799) Attached to: France Moves To Protect Independent Booksellers From Amazon

How is this any different from the present situation? Do you think that Amazon will print books that have gone out of print because they were too old and are being kept in copyright limbo by the publisher? Do you think that independent booksellers carry those in their inventory? Obviously not since no publisher will want to reprint a book whose copyright status is not clear. That leaves used copies, which Amazon also sells. Your argument makes no sense whatsoever: if a publisher wants to keep a book in print, they can do so whether they go all digital or not. But if a book turns out to be unprofitable, which version is more likely to remain available: the print version that must be kept in a controlled environment and will take up valuable shelf space, or the electronic version that can be sold at near zero marginal cost?

Your last sentence is also fact-less bigoted drivel.

Comment: Re:In other news... (Score 2) 264

by damienl451 (#45251757) Attached to: France Moves To Protect Independent Booksellers From Amazon

But prices are higher in France for best-sellers, which is what really matters for most people. Take Plonger, the latest recipient of the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française. It's a 448-page hardcover book that retails for EUR19.95. Now take Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries", which received the 2013 Man Booker Prize. It retails for GBP9.49 in the UK (EUR11.12) or USD16.74 (EUR12.12) in the US. That's almost twice as much, for half the number of pages.

But perhaps the difference is due to them being two different books, and very recent ones.

So you can also compare translations of the same book: let's have a look at 1Q84. In the US, you can get the paperback version for USD13.10 (EUR9.49). In France, you can get it for EUR9.12. So it's about the same price. Except that the French version only has Book 1, and Book 2 and 3 cost the same price. Which means that the book is three times as expensive.

Obviously, you can find other, less popular books that are cheaper in France than abroad. So there's no across the board increase in prices, you're right. However, there are distributive effects that should be taken into account. If niche (read: more intellectually rigorous) books are more affordable, this primarily benefits higher-educated, wealthier consumers. In practice, the French model asks the masses to subsidize the consumption habits of the educated rich.

Comment: Re:Long distance travel (Score 4, Informative) 168

by damienl451 (#45168709) Attached to: Black Death Predated 'Small World' Effect, Say Network Theorists

There are other ways that the plague could spread. Yes, someone infected with the plague would die before reaching their destination. However, ships also carried cargo, which could be contaminated. Standard procedure was to quarantine ships and their cargo but, understandably, there could be pressures to rush things because people didn't like their precious fabrics to be kept on an isolated island for forty days, especially since they could easily get damaged in the process.

This is how the Great Plague of Marseilles began: a ship laden with cargo belonging to important people was not quarantined according to procedure. Unfortunately, it had come from the Middle East where the plague was rampant and it starting spreading through the city.

Comment: Re:This is not EU law... (Score 1) 246

by damienl451 (#45103991) Attached to: EU Court Holds News Website Liable For Readers' Comments

Why should they interfere? It's not like there's a great moral principle at stake here. Every country has some limits on free speech. The ECHR is only there to make sure that these limits don't go too far and start limiting legitimate but controversial forms of speech. If legitimate, substantiated criticism of companies or people were made illegal, the ECHR would side with the defendant. There is in fact case law about this: English courts had found people guilty for written a pamphlet critical of McDonald's, and the ECHR ruled against the UK because Article 10 protects free speech.

I think virtually every country agrees that it's a bad idea to let people ruin someone's reputation by spreading false information. But they disagree about whether they should assume that people acted in good faith and make it very difficult for the offended party to sue, or whether they should make it a bit easier. It's not a matter of human rights but of striking the right balance between encouraging people to express themselves freely and making sure that others don't get hurt in the process. Different countries will come to different conclusions about where to draw the line.

Comment: Re:Political Correctness has no place in Kernel De (Score 1) 1501

by damienl451 (#44295551) Attached to: Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language

The problem is that it's pretty useless to tell people who think that it's possible to strongly disagree and voice one's opinion clearly without making people feel like crap, that they too can be verbally abusive.

Analogy: someone is being picked on for being a nerd. They're fed up with the beatings and they go to the principal. The principal tells them: don't worry, I have the solution for you. From now on, you're free to hit them back as much as you want. You won't be punished for it. Is that a good solution? I don't think so. The "nerd" doesn't want to beat up anyone. He wants to be in an environment where there will be no beatings. In theory, "everyone can beat up anyone they want" sounds like a wonderfully egalitarian plan. In practice, it's a gift to bullies since they're the only ones who want to be beating up people.

Same thing here. People who want to be polite and treat others as human beings don't care that they're allowed to be verbally abusive too. They don't want to and won't be. The only people who benefit from that kind of " free-for-all" policy are those who are already inclined to abuse people.

Comment: Re: Then let the "wizards" go (Score 1) 1501

by damienl451 (#44295449) Attached to: Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language

Do you seriously base your evaluation of the consequences of verbal abuse on a cutesy saying that you learned as kid?

I'm glad to know that you think you could never be harmed by verbal abuse. I'm also willing to bet that nobody with power over you ever decided to abuse you. Perhaps you should get acquainted with what people who suffered workplace harassment have to say? Do you think they'd agree that " sticks and stones..."? Or perhaps they were all weaklings who got what they deserved?

Comment: Re:Verbal abuse and physical abuse ... (Score 1) 1501

by damienl451 (#44295381) Attached to: Kernel Dev Tells Linus Torvalds To Stop Using Abusive Language

That's not what he's saying. Cows and human beings are both mammals. Does that mean there's no difference between cows and people?

Verbal and physical abuse are not the same either. But they have enough in common that it's meaningful to classify them both as "abuse" . "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" must be the most deceptive proverb ever. Word *will* hurt you if you're subjected to a constant barrage of verbal abuse and are publicly humiliated on a daily basis. Why do you think decent people " go postal" and start shooting their abusive boss and the co-workers who didn't help them? Why do you think people commit suicide in the locker room? The line between physical and verbal abuse is rather blurry since verbal abuse can also have physical consequences.

Comment: Re:This Is Considered News?? (Score 5, Insightful) 303

by damienl451 (#44203113) Attached to: Why Protesters In Cairo Use Laser Pointers

If it were so easy, many South American countries would have become as prosperous and democratic as the US since their constitutions were basically copies of the US Constitution. Yet, somehow, it didn't really work.

You can see the same in many former British colonies. If you read their Constitution, you'll see that they're not much different from what you find in any modern democracy. Bill of rights, checks and balances, constitutional protections for both negative and positive rights. They also inherited the common law tradition and much of their legislation is copy-pasted from UK legislation circa 1960. It's so similar in theory that UK-trained lawyers can usually practice with minimum to nil extra training, as most of the legal education is done from UK textbooks and case books anyway.

Yet, in practice, it's quite different. Sure, you have the same theoretical protections, but they do little good when everyone is free to ignore them. It's nice to tell the courts that they have to be independent and fair, but how do you guarantee that?

"They need to adjust their system, institute checks and balances", etc. is all wishful thinking. It's about as useful as telling a developing country that all they need to do is grow. It's true but pretty useless as far as advice goes. The tricky part is knowing how to move from the equilibrium where the law is widely ignored, where formal checks and balances don't work, where the constitution is not worth the paper it's written on, to a better equilibrium. As far as I can tell, no-one has yet found a magic recipe for that because things are usually the way they are for a reason. It's not like bad institutions just spring up at random: they are usually people who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, and we were able to see times and times again that removing whoever happens to be in power doesn't do much to solve the structural problems and can even lead to worse outcomes (Iraq? Libya?).

Comment: Re:because desktop linux is a toy and novelty (Score 1) 1215

by damienl451 (#44039359) Attached to: What Keeps You On (or Off) Windows in 2013?

Agreed. USB audio is especially tedious to get to work reliably and, more importantly, easily. I use a Linux PC with Ubuntu Studio to record speeches and occasionally play some background music. Our mixing board has a built-in USB audio interface that should "just work" (at least it does in Windows). With the Linux PC, we have to jump through many hoops to get it to work. Basically, it never shows up in Pulseaudio, so we need to use JACK and link it up to PulseAudio. Which means that we have to start up the JACK daemon (yes, it can be automated, but it's USB audio and it might not always be connected when we turn on the PC), then go to the PulseAudio settings to tell it that the JACK sink should be used. And, of course, we need to do all that before we start any other program, or else we get no sound and we have to restart the application.

So, yes, sound works. But it's a pain and I wouldn't want to have to explain how to do all this to someone who's not very computer literate. They'd just tell me "why on earth can't we just use Windows". And they'll come away with the (justified) idea that Linux is really not user-friendly and definitely not for them.

Now, perhaps there are ways to solve these problems. Perhaps there's a guide somewhere that shows that I've been doing things wrong. But that's exactly the point: something as basic as sound should work out of the box and shouldn't require the user to do anything that a reasonably competent person could do.

Comment: Re:So... let's tax it. (Score 1) 689

by damienl451 (#42744451) Attached to: Does US Owe the World an Education At Its Expense?

Should there also be a tax on exports? Because, after all, every time an American company sells a car overseas, it's one car that is not available to US consumers. Foreigners are competing with the US for the goods that they produce and we need to stop sending our stuff overseas!

Notice how ridiculous this argument is? Everyone realizes that exports are good. Even people who really, really hate free trade (those just complain about imports).

Well, this is in effect what you're saying. You're complaining about one of the most successful export industries in the US, one that sells services worth billions of dollars annually. And it's even better than selling cars and other widgets to foreign consumers because these people actually pay to come spend money in the US. For a few years, they'll be paying tuition AND buying food, clothes, beer, etc.

Next thing you know, you'll be complaining about the tourism industry too?

Comment: Re:Couldn't we just charge them tuition? (Score 1) 689

by damienl451 (#42744163) Attached to: Does US Owe the World an Education At Its Expense?

You have absolutely no idea what these doctors are doing with their money. Perhaps they're sending thousands of dollars back home each month, which is much, much more valuable than an extra pair of hands. If they come from genuinely poor countries, the number one thing that people need is money. They're at a level of development where the main constraint on improving life expectancy and life in general is not whether there are a few more doctors but whether there is basic infrastructure in place (e.g. proper water sanitation), there is enough money to afford basic medications when needed, there is money to buy nets or get your house sprayed, etc. A few more doctors might improve things at the margin but what good is it to know what problem you have if you have no money to purchase the drugs to treat your condition?

At any rate, it's simply not true that letting foreign doctors work in the USA has a negative effect on their "own" communities (with scare quotes because, after all, perhaps these people now consider the USA their home). If people know that there is an opportunity to go to the US if you study medicine, they medical studies will attract more and better students. However, not all of these students will eventually go through with it. There are lots of regulatory barriers, some people simply decide that, after all, they'd rather stay with their parents/family/friends, etc. So, even though some people go abroad, there might still at the end of the day be more doctors than there would have been if immigration was impossible. This is what studies have found with nurses in the Philippines for instance.

Also, you have no idea what it is to live in a low-income country and should be careful before telling people from there that they are 'greedy' if all they want is what you apparently take for granted as an inhabitant of the first world.

Comment: Cross-Subsidies (Score 1) 292

Cross-subsidies are routine in telecommunications. We don't hear industry representatives arguing that the fact that you can't subscribe to individual TV channels but have to make do with bundles. This means that some people (i.e. those who watch a broad range of channels) benefit, while others might get a better deal with à la carte bundles if the could just get the one or two channels that they actually watch. If we're concerned that some TWC customers might get a worse deal because they don't watch Netflix and have to pay for it, then we should be just as concerned that these same customers have to pay $16 to go from the basic package to the one with 200+ channels even if they're only interested in one or two extra channels.

In fact, such arrangements are ubiquitous in all sectors of the economy. We're not outraged that a restaurant that offers free valet parking is spreading the cost over all patrons, including those that came by taxi. We're don't think it's unfair for malls to offer free bathrooms even if we never visit them but still pay for them. We're not mad at McDonald's because they give away free refills and we never use that opportunity because we're not as thirsty as other people. Etc. Etc.

Comment: Re:Net Neutrality (Score 4, Insightful) 292

The author is a shining example of all that is wrong with lobbying and the regulatory process in the developed world. According to his bio on the website, he was "Wireless Bureau Chief" and "Wireless Legal Advisor" at the FCC. So he was responsible for developing and implementing policies that directly impact wireless telecommunication companies. Then, in 2008, he resigned and immediately became CEO of a trade organisation representing the interests of... wireless telecommunication companies. And I mean "immediately" as in there is no gap whatsoever in his resumé. According to his LinkedIn, he resigned in August 2008 and began working for the other side that very same month (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/fred-campbell/11/524/862).

Now, I don't know Fred Campbell and I'm not suggesting that he did not always act in a professional manner. But is it not disturbing that an industry would be allowed to recruit high-ranking government officials whose daily decisions could have great impact on their profitability? This gives FCC staffers very bad incentives, as you might not want to alienate the people who can give you your next, much more lucrative, job. Why do we turn a blind eye to the blatant conflicts of interests that it creates. And it is pervasive in all heavily regulated areas (another example from the FCC: Meredith Attwell Baker). The revolving door is an all too common reality and we're doing nothing to stop it.

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.

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