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Comment: Usual assymetry (Score 1) 69 69

The Library of Congress being about preserving the cultural heritage of the US, it was an odd choice in the first place to give the Librarian of Congress a national regulatory function.

The real problem is the asymmetry: the costs of over-regulation are born by the public as a whole, but in very small increments. The notional costs of under-regulation will be born by obvious "aggrieved parties" with deep lobbying muscle. There's also the usual problem that assumes that the "stakeholders" in any copyright debate are just the people who stand to gain from extending copyright protection, but not the general public who enjoys the fruit of the copyright regime.

Comment: Competition is key (Score 5, Insightful) 76 76

Can anyone explain why Jeff Bezos is doing the same thing that SpaceX is already doing ?

Why is GM doing the same thing that Ford is doing? As long as there is a market for space launches, competition will align the incentives better than other arrangements. We'll get to see more different approaches tried, and find out what's best. Costs will generally go down.

If competition takes root, then in 30 years a suborbital ticket would be affordable to many of us.

Comment: Burden of proof (Score 5, Insightful) 140 140

Beyond the privacy problem, a key issue here is the problem of false positives. The system claims a 96% accuracy in detecting people in passenger seats, which is a huge error rate for sending people fines. A policeman can actually stop you and look in the car, which they have to do before writing a ticket.

The problem is that such fines are expensive to contest (you have to take time off work, show up to court etc). Many people will just pay. This is not a criminal prosecution situation where "presumption of innocence" in the legal sense is relevant, but the principle applies here too: you should hold the government to a high standard of proof here.

Comment: Computers matter in chess (Score 5, Informative) 237 237

The progress of computers in both power and miniaturization has had a strong effect on chess. The biggest effect is the end of the practice of adjourning tournament games. It used to be that games which ran long would be adjourned to the next day, but once overnight analysis by computer became a serious possibility (displacing overnight analysis by each player), the practice became pointless and now tournament games run continuously until they end.

The challenge of miniature devices both for chess analysis and for communication with analysis occurring elsewhere can't be so easily met by changing the rules, but diligent policing will help. Stricter no-cellphones-in-the-playing area policies would have to be implemented.

Comment: Why should they decide (Score 1) 216 216

I am not going to discuss whether CS should or shouldn't be a "core" subject in the schools. Rather, I am much more disturbed by the idea that Congress, in D.C., wants to decide the "core" subjects for every school system in the US.

First and foremost, regulating education is not a function entrusted to the Federal Government. It is a quintessential State issue. It is not the kind of problem (unlike, say, national defence or immigration) which must be solved at the national level.

I think that many people believes most states are "getting it wrong" on education (say, here, by not mandating enough CS classes), so they are hoping the Feds will fix it. But the states making bad choices ought not to be, on its own, a source of power for Congress. Some people imagine that, once Congress takes over, it'll be easier to get things right, since there'll be only one decision-making body not many, but this ignores the massive lobbying that will take over once convincing Congress suffices to influence the whole country. It is much easier for interest groups to dominate Congress than to dominate each State and school district separately.

Comment: Two separate issues (Score 3, Insightful) 397 397

  • There are way too many people going to college. Perhaps one-third of current college students are sufficiently prepared to learn anything and have the talents to make use of the learning. Society and most people would be better served if the enormous waste of people's time that is useless college would be eliminated in favour of people getting job experience.
  • Not enough people understand the world in quantitative terms. This is a problem with the K-12 system, not the universities. Mathematics is the primary language by which we describe the world around us (yes, literature is another, but our society is based more on toasters and trains and lightbulbs than on novels). The problem is not "STEM education" but a fundamental rejection by most of society of the way of thinking that has created our civilization. What is needed is not more people who understand quantum physics, but more people who can understand basic economic reasoning and aren't fazed by designing a multi-step process.

Comment: Re:Please ready Hobby Lobby before commenting (Score 1) 1168 1168

Duly noted. In detail, the government views the "morning after" pill as providing contraception, while the company views it as providing abortion. This has no effect on the way the Hobby Lobby ruling is viewed by the public or what it actually means.

Comment: Re:Please ready Hobby Lobby before commenting (Score 2) 1168 1168

Excellent question:

WTF are the air quotes for?

The word right is used today to denote two very different kinds of things. People talk about the "right to freedom of speech" but also about "the right to a living wage". Unfortunately, these are two very different kinds of legal arrangements.

Rights of the first kind (exemplified by the freedom of speech) are negative rights: rights to be free from interference by others. You can do as you please as long as you don't harm anyone. Respecting and protecting such rights is, in my opinion, a principal function of government.

"Rights" of the second kind (exemplified by the "right" to have your employer buy you a specific form of health insurance) are positive rights: they amount to an imposition on someone else to do something for you. In other words, they cannot be fulfilled without infringing someone's negative right to be free from interference. Positive rights are properly aspirational statements ("wouldn't it be great if people could have X even if they don't have X now?"), and are called "rights" as a rhetorical device: since we all agree that negative rights ought to be protected by the government, calling something a "right" creates the impression that it should be protected too.

When speaking about positive "rights", I use the word in quotes to highlight this distinction, and avoiding the rhetorical trap set by the proponents of such "rights".

In the case at hand, the employees of Hobby Lobby have every right (without quotes) to use their salary to buy contraception. They don't (and shouldn't) have the "right" to have Hobby Lobby buy them contraception. The owners of Hobby Lobby (acting jointly through the company) have a right to freedom of thought, and a right to dispose of their property (Hobby Lobby and its money) as they please, including by refusing to buy someone contraception.

Comment: Please ready Hobby Lobby before commenting (Score 1) 1168 1168

You are entirely wrong. The Hobby Lobby ruling said nothing about the workers submitting to the religious beliefs of the company owners. The workers retain full access to all medical serviced they wish. For example they are free to use their own money to buy contraception and abortion, and to buy health insurance that covers contraception and abortion. The only "right" the lost was the "right" to have the employer buy them contraception. The workers certainly have a right to be compensated for their labour (and they are!) -- but are not "submitting to the religious beliefs of their employer" by being paid their salary in cash instead of in medical services.

The only abuse here is that salary paid in cash is taxable, while salary paid in medical insurance isn't. But that is a problem created by Congress, and the solution is to remove the loophole. Decoupling health insurance from employment would automatically solve the religious liberty problem (if each workers bought their own coverage, the employer's religious beliefs wouldn't be relevant) and would mean losing your job wouldn't automatically mean you lose your insurance..

Comment: Your mean "Code you own"? (Score 2) 113 113

This is a software issue, not a hardware issue. Unless you propose to personally code the entire operating system and every application program, that is not practical.

That said, replacing the preinstalled OS with a free one is my first step when buying a new computer. Most recently I managed to buy a PC without an OS at all, but that's rare,

Comment: "Profit"?? (Score 2) 448 448

If you don't understand how university research is funded, please don't write article summaries for slashdot on that topic. This scientist is described as having "made a fortune" for receiving research funds – but this is research money, not personal money. In fact his institution was given the $1.2M, and he just got to direct how it the money was spent (hint: his mortgage in not an allowable expense). Possibly the grants were used to cover part of his salary (though TFA doesn't say so), but that is a normal use of research funds and there are limitations on that.

I agree that he should have declared this funding in the paper (because the journal asks that funding sources be disclosed), but this is not him getting rich. This is him getting his research funded. You have a missing link:

  1. Get research funds
  2. Spend them on research expenses
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

Comment: Key: beyond-the-standard-model physics (Score 1) 89 89

Specifically finding SUSY would be great for the people who predicted it. From the point of view of particle physics as a whole, the goal is seeing some physics not covered by the standard model. In any case unless you can write papers on the topic, it's useless to speculate what will be found. Since the accelerator already exists we don't need any hype about it.

However, if even this energy upgrade doesn't bring signals beyond the standard model, it will be very hard to ask for many billions of USD to build the next accelerator, based only on the hope of "we might see something".

Comment: Re:It's all about the incentive (Score 1) 227 227

Mickey Mouse (the character) is very much protected by copyright -- the copyright on the original cartoons featuring him (yes, as Steamboat Willie). The reason is that any work made today featuring this character counts as a derivative work of the original cartoon, and (fair use excepted) the right to make derivative works is vested in the copyright owner.

Once Mickey Mouse enters the public domain, anyone will be free to make their own Mickey Mouse cartoons, or Mickey Mouse lunch boxes, or Mickey Mouse theme parks. These may only be based on the version of the character in public domain works, but they'd still be competing with Disney.

Comment: It's all about the incentive (Score 5, Insightful) 227 227

In the abstract, the situation seems obvious. First, it's ridiculous to think that there are any marginal artistic works which are only created because the extra 20 years of protection in US law make them profitable, whereas they would not be made otherwise. Moreover, any such works can't be any good, so why worry about them? Second, it clearly makes no sense to extend the term of protection of already-existing works: they have already been created, so we don't need to provide the artists any extra motivation to create them.

What matters here, however, is not the setting of incentives for authors, but the incentives of trade negotiators. Here, the US is behaving rationally: if the US negotiators convince Canada and Japan to keep Mickey Mouse under protection for 20 more years, then more royalties will flow from Canada to the US. This may be bad for Canadians, but not so much for US citizens. More generally, since the US is a large source of popular entertainment but a (relative to its size) a small importer, it wants other goverments to fleece their own citizens in favour of US interests.

While I'm sad that Canada caved on this, Canada is a (relatively) small country next to a big one, and (for example) trade restrictions on lumber are far more significant to Canada than the copyright extension. I stil think they should have stood firm, but it's not such an obvious call as it seems.

A memorandum is written not to inform the reader, but to protect the writer. -- Dean Acheson