Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?

Comment Re:Archimedes had calculus (Score 1) 153

On the other hand, there are plenty of examples where portions or the entirety of the Bible were translated in the years 1000-1500, and the Church didn't do anything to the translators. It only became a significant controversy after the whole Luther thing and the Counter-Reformation.

Translation of the Bible was a significant controversy in England, more then a century before Martin Luther started the ball rolling for the Protestant Reformation in 1517.

The Wycliffe translation of 1382 would eventually become associated with the Lollard Heresy.

The Oxford Convocation of 1408 banned further translations being made without approval.

The first person burned at the stake for heresy in England was a Lollard, in 1410.

Comment Re:wtf? (Score 1) 228

You're welcome.

Another point I forgot to mention is the issue of folks working Swing Shift. There are lots of IT people, grocery store workers, military, police, nurses, doctors, and so forth whose shifts are during the night. These folks tend to be asleep during part of the day (typically 8am-4am, or so), and are likely to be affected by daytime noise.

This poses a tough problem for society, since it wouldn't make sense to completely disallow things like lawn mowers and lots of other equipment that make noise. At the same time, it's not a good thing when a doctor working the emergency room at night isn't at his or her best because of daytime noise.

Better building standards help some of these people: many of the improvements to building codes over the past few decades - intended to get better heating/cooling performance - also help with reducing noise. Of course, those folks with forced air heating/cooling systems (which are pretty common in the USA these days) also have to deal with the noise of that system.

I've occasionally worked night shifts, and have friends who do it permanently. The typical solution to the noise problem is to try to talk with one's neighbors: considerate neighbors will generally be willing to accommodate shift restrictions. It complicates their life a bit, especially when somebody is trying to get work done before it rains.

Comment Re:wtf? (Score 1) 228

I don't personally use a leaf blower, but I've never been bothered with the noise from two-stroke petrol leaf blowers. It's just a part of fall.

Other people are bothered by them. It's not just the noise that bothers people, it's the sociopathic mindset that leads some people to think they can do whatever they want without consequences, because other people aren't real to them. Many human beings do not react well to aggression or perceived aggression from sociopaths: this sort of thing seems to trigger defensive responses that can cause situations to escalate in ugly ways.

In general, noise is a big problem for society, and it is a problem that is fundamentally married to technology, which is why I'm pleased to see this discussion happening on Slashdot. You will likely find issues with respect to noise in any part of the world, first world or third. Our technology lets us easily produce sound levels that can (and do) damage hearing beyond possibility of repair. It's traditionally been a bigger problem in the third world, due to unregulated work conditions and industrial noise, but rates of hearing loss among children in the first world are up 30% today from even the 1980's and 1990's.

The traditional model is that sound amplitude and duration lead to permanent hearing loss (somewhere around 80dB), but the science behind this is sketchy IMHO.

Unfortunately, even this model is not being adhered to. I find that many DJs and club managers will play music that violate the US federal laws with respect to noise in the workplace: they're not just at the limits, they're way beyond the limits. Live bands are even worse - it seems like a lot of musicians are deaf enough they don't understand how loud they are being. A decent sound level meter will measure this: I've measured a live band at over 100db, from outside a building with the doors closed, which implies a maximum exposure of 15 minutes to be compliant with US law. Given that the sounds inside are probably at least 3dB higher, that drops to 7.5 minutes!

The club managers, restaurant managers, and so forth that are allowing this to happen on their watch are being really stupid, since not only are they potentially liable under federal law (a club is a workplace), but also probably liable under state laws regarding assault and battery. One could also make an argument against this in terms of fundamental rights, from a 9th Amendment perspective.

There is hearing protection available, but it isn't clear how well it works, especially over the long term. Worse, having to wear it can be a source of stress in itself. Further, most people don't automatically carry hearing protection with them to places like restaurants.

There is now evidence that lower levels of sound can lead to serious health risks. A 2008 study by Dr Lars Jarup and others in the EU measured blood pressure increases in response to both nighttime airplane noise, and road traffic, and developed a model that suggests long term exposure to much lower sound levels (even under 50 dB, the threshold at which most people wake up) can cause stress, hypertension, increased risk of heart attack or stoke, etc.

It's almost like the human animal evolved in a dangerous environment, and as a result monitors the surroundings even when we're asleep, and can trigger initial stages of fight or flight reactions (which come with the potential for the body doing long term damage to itself), whether we consciously realize it or not!

Even before this study, there was no doubt that many people find unwanted noise in their environment annoying and stressful, which is why many places around the world have noise ordinances in residential areas (55dB is fairly common at night). Evidence has been steadily accumulating since the 1950's that long term stress has physiological consequences, which is a fancy way of saying that exposing people to it isn't very different from punching them in the face.

Noise in the workplace is also a big concern: there's a lot of equipment now that requires massive cooling, and noisy fans are being used to do that (fan sounds under 50dB are known to annoy some people). If, as the evidence suggests, lower noise levels can lead to health issues, then is a big problem from a workplace health and safety perspective. Worse, people change how they talk in the presence of ambient noise, often unconsciously. It's called the Lombard effect (1911): both amplitude and other voice characteristics change, and the net effect can make a conversation pretty annoying to other people in the vicinity (and the culprits may not realize how loud they are being, which can make a bad situation worse).

All this can be bad for ordinary people, but it's especially problematic for those with hearing disabilities. Most people understand that it wouldn't be right to steal the crutches from a crippled person, but many have problems generalizing to the idea that one has to be careful about deliberately creating noise that will cause problems for the hearing disabled.

There is also evidence that environmental noise has measurable cognitive impact. People don't seem to think as well in the presence of noise, judgement suffers, children in in portions of a school that are exposed to more external noise pretty consistently tend to have lower test scores, and so on.

In short, noise in the environment is a big problem, and we need to pay more attention to this issue. It should be addressed directly, and hence the leaf blower issue should be addressed primarily from a noise pollution issue and only secondarily from a chemical pollution issue. This doesn't mean one can't use leaf blowers at all, of course, but society needs to help people use them with better judgement and appropriate consideration for others.

Comment Re: Voluntary? (Score 3, Informative) 428

In addition, it is not what you or I find reasonable. The Constitution spells out that it is what the court decides those words mean.

A common misconception.

We find in Article III Section 1: "The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour". Also, we find in Article VI that they are required to swear oaths upholding the Constitution: "all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution".

Thus, there are limits on the ability of the court to decide what "those words mean". If in so deciding, they are either engaging a behavior that is not good, or in violation of the "Oath or Affirmation", then they are in fact not acting within their legal authority.

As the Bill of Rights provides for unspecified rights "retained by the people" (9th Amendment), and "reserved to the people" (10th Amendment), it follows that the people have a say in determining whether either of these conditions has been met.

Further, the mere existence of unspecified rights "retained by the people" inherently places limits on the authority of the Supreme Court. If the judges were to decide to ignore the 9th Amendment, then there would be no rights retained by the people. But that's a contradiction, and creating contradictions in the legal system is unethical practice of law, and certainly a violation of a fundamental and universal right in any society based on the rule of law. Think of this as the legal equivalent of a proof by contradiction, as you might find in Euclid.

This also follows from the early history of the Bill of Rights: if people were prepared to trust the entities defined by the pre-Bill of Rights Constitution, then there wouldn't be a need for a Bill of Rights. But the Supreme Court is one of those pre-Bill of Rights entities, and hence the Bill of Rights - by it's mere existence - must be viewed as also placing limits on the Supreme Court. They may be the Supreme Court, but they are not the Supreme Law of the Land.

For example of the "good behavior issue", if the way a law is implemented involves ethical conflict of interest with respect to the legal profession (this is true for many laws in existence today), and reasonable alternatives exist, then we can assert that allowing such a law to be implemented and enforced is unethical practice of law on the part of the legal professionals in federal office. Clearly unethical practice of law is not good behavior.

In the current political and legal climate, where most politicians are lawyers, most lobbyists are lawyers, and a lot of money is received by politicians from various organizations of lawyers in the form of campaign contributions, that creates an especially great burden on those persons selected for judicial office (by those same politicians) to recognize the importance of not allowing laws involving ethical conflicts of interest that work to the benefit of the legal profession.

The fact that this has been looked at and decided by the courts makes it constitutional.

Not true. There have been many Supreme Court decisions that were not valid. Some of these have been reversed. Others have not.

Classic historical examples such as the decisions that upheld slavery, and the Jim Crow Laws. Even at the time of the Constitutional Convention, everybody with a functioning brain knew that slavery was wrong (just go look at the speech by Morris of NY). So certainly the Supreme Court decisions that permitted slavery to continue were invalid.

Another thing to consider is the Nuremberg Precedent, which basically says that government officials have a responsibility to do the right thing in spite of what the law or their hierarchy says. Certainly a right to expect this can be asserted under the 9th Amendment, and as such, this creates an individual responsibility to do the right thing even when the judicial hierarchy, including the Supreme Court, says otherwise. As such, whether a law, process, procedure, order, and so forth is constitutional is not simply a matter for the courts.

If you believe that most politicians are corrupt, then it follows that the selection process for high judicial office is likely to result in people in those positions that aren't going to act as ethics requires. Given what a big mess the US legal system is from an ethics perspective, it appears that this is actually happening (and pretty common). This in turn means it is extra important for everyone else to be thinking for themselves and questioning authority, even refusing to recognize that authority, and not just accepting that "the courts make it constitutional". This was exactly what happened, of course, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-1960s.

Comment Re:Don't hold your breath (Score 1) 242

These are not the same carriers purchased twenty years ago - look at the available tech that they can now stuff into one.

20 years ago, I paid $3000 for a 133MHz computer, with 64MB of RAM. Today, I can buy a 3GHz computer, with 4GB of RAM, for $300.

There's a basic principle of economics that differs in the two cases. It's called economy of scale. Basically, if you can produce a lot of something, you can afford to charge less per item.

People (and businesses) have designed and produced millions upon millions of computers. It's not just laptops, netbooks, tablets, and desktop computers, either. In this day and age, almost every new car, cell phone, printer, microwave oven (and all manner of other appliances) has a computer of some sort embedded in it. There's a lot of overlap between these computer systems, which combines with the large numbers being produced to considerably reduce the costs.

There are some really high cost items involved in producing computers, but this isn't always obvious to the consumer, of course. A fab for producing chips typically costs at least a billion or so, and that doesn't count the ongoing costs to operate it. Even just a high quality oscilloscope or logic analyzer could be a substantial fraction of a million (if you want something reliable that can handle high frequencies). In the typical case, the high costs of the items (and people) needed to produce the computer are more than compensated for by the number of computers sold.

We can't afford to build millions of aircraft carriers. Even if we could, there wouldn't be any point in building them. What would we do with them? Put one in every back yard, in the kid's swimming pool?

Worse, these are staggeringly complex systems. Even a World War I warship is vastly more complex than most people can even begin to imagine (unless they've studied the design of those ships), but the modern stuff dwarfs the complexity of the older ships. In many ways, a warship is far more complex than a computer.

Worse, these ships need to be massively over-engineered, to handle the sea environment, to operate under all kinds of ridiculous conditions, to make the nuclear plants safe, to protect the crew from all the other dangerous stuff aboard, to handle battle damage, and so forth. The requirements on a ship that needs to be able to stay at sea for months at a time are very different from the requirements for a consumer computer. You're not just building a city at sea, but one where lots of complex specialized systems need to be able to interact with one another in situations and ways never dreamed of by engineers doing civilian design.

Secrecy can also add a lot to cost. Patents add to costs as well, and these are probably far more of a burden for the design of military systems than civilian, again because of the economy of scale issue (the patent owner has to collect as much as they can from a few customers, instead of a much smaller amount from many).

Also, you can't reduce many costs by using overseas resources: nobody wants their military dependent on services provided by some other country. The ability to do this in the civilian sector has a huge effect on reducing the price of items, such as computers: chips and other electronics are routinely designed in the USA, then manufactured and tested overseas.

The net effect is, to buy the ship, you have to pay enough to lots of different companies for lots of different components - very little of which can be used for anything else - to justify the complex engineering and manufacturing effort needed to build these things, plus all the overhead associated with any business (marketing, management, accounting, law, etc...). Even the overhead is probably far higher when building warships than it is for civilian products.

The demand for the engineering and manufacturing resources needed to do this doesn't necessarily scale with common measures of inflation, which are pretty narrowly focused. In other words, any given measure of inflation isn't necessarily going to tell you much about how the cost of things should change, if those things are depending on the cost of items and services that aren't in the measurement.

No doubt there's a lot of corruption, of course (the US legal and political systems are riddled with ethics problems), but it's not clear that has changed in any significant amount in the past couple decades. I suspect one must look elsewhere to account for the differences in cost over the past twenty years.

Comment Re:Am I the only one...? (Score 1) 175

I have read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. All at least twice. Loved them. And still I have no quarrel with any of Jackson's movies.

I'm happy about what was left in, taken out, twisted or invented. I'm happy with how many films there were, and how long.

I'm not entirely happy, but on the whole it's clear that Jackson did a very professional job, appropriate to the medium. Like any good story-teller, he adjusted the story to the medium and the audience. Tolkien, as a good story teller himself, would no doubt have understood.

The decision to have 3 movies for the Hobbit was a good one: it's a long book by most standards (especially compared to the norm from that era), and there's a whole lot of material (even aside from all the extras that appear in the appendices to the Return of the King).

I haven't listened to the director's and actor's commentary for the Hobbit yet, but now that the extended edition is available I'm looking forward to doing that. The commentary for the LOTR was pretty informative, and I came away from it with a lot more respect for Peter Jackson. Perhaps the extended edition of the Hobbit will address some of the things I wasn't entirely happy about (much as happened with LOTR).

Comment Re:+1 for privacy supporters -1 for gun control (Score 1) 620

The County Judge dismissed based on the notion of protecting one's privacy, yet I'm not sure one has a reasonable expectation of privacy when outdoors

This is a common misconception.

If you hike, you are outdoors. You may need to relieve yourself, so you step behind the cover of some trees.

There is certainly a reasonable expectation of privacy there.

If a photographer were to follow a random stranger behind such a tree, then attempt to record them, they would be lucky to not get their camera thrown off the nearest cliff ("freedom of the press" and any laws to the contrary notwithstanding).

Some people would doubtless feel the photographer and not just the camera should go over the cliff (perhaps as an alternative to a long, costly, uncertain legal battle which would primarily work to the benefit of a frequently unethical legal profession).

If one steps behind a tree while hiking in a national forest, one not only has an expectation of privacy outdoors, but in a location that is a public place by definition.

Thus, an expectation of privacy can exist in public. You can doubtless find many other examples of this.

There are thus two fundamental issues with respect to all sensors and recording equipment:
1. When can this equipment be legitimately used? and
2. What can be done with any recordings that are made?
(This topic includes specifying security precautions that must be taken with respect to such data.)

So far, there aren't clear rules in the USA, which leads to abuses like the current situation. As a result of the US Bill of Rights being open-ended (with unspecified rights "retained by the people" under the 9th Amendment, and "reserved to the people" under the 10th Amendment), a strong right to privacy can certainly be asserted under the highest law of the land. But, exactly what we mean by the word privacy needs to be fleshed out a bit, to help people to know what is - and is not - appropriate.

Comment Re:LOTR (Score 1) 167

After all, D&D was really an interactive version of Tolkein's world to begin with, wasn't it?

No, though Tolkien's work had some influence and helped create a market for the game.

Gary Gygax was an avid war gamer, a published author of articles on wargames, and a developer of wargaming rules. The D&D game evolved out of wargaming rules for medieval-style battles - knights, archers, that kind of thing.

You can see this even in just the cover description from the early rules: my copy of Greyhawk says "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures". Similarly, if you read the history of the game you'll find references to the "Castle & Crusade Society", part of the International Federation of Wargaming. I believe GenCon - the convention people now associate with D&D - was originally the Lake Geneva Wargames Convention.

Gygax, a major bookworm, drew upon a wide variety of ideas in comic books and in early science fiction and fantasy (much of which predated Tolkien), as well as mythology (predating Tolkien by thousands of years). For example, I see gargoyles, chimera, griffins, and medusae in one of the early rule books (none of which are to be found in Tolkien).

Many people seem to think that Tolkien created fantasy, but there are many earlier and contemporary works in this genre. For example, the first "Conan the Barbarian" story (Robert Howard) was written in 1932, the characters "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" (Fritz Leiber) were created in 1934, and the Hobbit would only be published in 1937.

The key innovations that Gygax (and others) developed from earlier war games were to reduce the army size to focus on a small number of heros, to add fantasy and science fiction elements, and to have the idea of an ongoing game (the "campaign").

Dave Arneson, the other major participant in creating the game, was probably the first to add science fiction elements, as part of his Blackmoor campaign (which I understand grew out of his wargaming sessions). This, of course, was very different from anything in Tolkien.

You can still dig up copies of the old rules and see the wargaming elements (it helps if you're already familiar with old school wargaming). As the game evolved, the wargaming-style rules started to disappear. The use of miniature figures, for example, stopping being important, the wargamers had lots of these, and terrain to go with them, but as the game moved beyond wargaming it started to attract players that didn't have or want any of this stuff.

In today's RPGS, it's been my experience that we tend to get two different styles of play: some groups emphasize the role playing, others emphasize the gaming (rules and tactics). The latter approach is much closer to the original game, but both approaches can make for reasonable and enjoyable play sessions. Many current gamers are firmly wedded to one camp or the other, and this greatly complicates producing new or updated RPG rule sets, as the two groups want fundamentally different things in the rules they use. For example, to the groups that emphasize role playing, complex rules (a long tradition in wargaming) just get in the way, while to the groups that emphasize tactical play, these actually provide more freedom and opportunities for tactical creativity.

Comment Re:1980 called and wants their story back (Score 2) 77

This story is about approximately 35 years old stuff. (I think Rogue came out in 1980)

The ADND Dungeon Master's Guide (a book first published in 1979) had a pretty complex random dungeon (and wilderness) generation system, so the idea is certainly nothing new. There may have been even earlier variants on this theme, I haven't read all the earlier books.

The ADND system was intended for use by a human, but I'm sure lots of people ended up writing computer variants (most of which probably never got published).

It's always nice to have people publish their versions of this kind on thing. There's still lots of room for innovation in this area.

Comment Re: Programming (Score 1) 616

Calculus and differential equations are need for doing simulations of physical processes

This is a bit outside my experience, as all I've done there is a 3D physics engine for a game. Even then, I suspect all you need to know are the equations and a few well-understood approaches to integration, actually understanding the math (or the physics) doesn't seem necessary. (Though I'll admit that it is helpful.)

I suspect that what the original poster is referring to is a bit outside your experience. A lot of simulation involves going far beyond cookie-cutter recipes, and you might have to do quite a bit of work to even get to the point where you can apply the recipe. As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer (integration would be the hammer) than every problem looks like a nail...

In general, you can hack together simple models without really understanding math, and for many things that will work well, but you have to expect some serious bugs lurking in the underbrush. Numbers on computers can not necessarily be represented exactly (particularly for scientific or engineering simulation), and this can lead to compounding errors which will sooner or later torpedo your program (the integration will give the wrong answer, and your simulation goes wildly astray).

To understand and address this issue, you don't necessarily need to be able to read and understand a text on "Numerical Analysis" (which would require being able to read and do proofs, there's no other way to read a true math text), but you at least need to be able to read something like Ronald Mak's book on Numerical Computing (which is a great easy introduction to the topic, using programs to illustrate math ideas in place of proofs).

Simulation is hard in general, and tends to dive into math pretty quickly.

You don't necessarily, for example, need a Kalman filter to predict movement, but it sure comes in handy for some applications. If you don't understand how the filter works, you won't be able to assess it's strengths and weaknesses for particular applications. Eli Brookner's book goes into the details and many options, and the math isn't too bad, but it's definitely present.

This is part of the topic known as "digital signal processing", which is a major engineering specialization in its own right and just loaded with math. A lot of modeling relies on it: many real systems have feedback and understanding some DSP is fundamental to simulating many of those systems (you might have to dip into control theory as well). Richard G. Lyons book is a good start for getting your feet wet on the DSP: he makes the math about as easy as anybody can (and the first edition is probably still freely available from his web site).

Yet another issue arises from the fact that the real world is non-linear. To model this, you need to understand first what that means, and second how and when to linearize. Only then can you get to the point where an integration can (might!) be appropriate. For an example of this is done for electric circuits, Lawrence Pillage's book is a classic. There are direct techniques for doing non-linear modeling as well (as Thomas R. Turlington's book discusses) but the math gets very dense and these techniques have some major limitations.

In more general physical simulation situations, you tend to get into differential equations or even partial differential equations. Often the PDEs have no known exact solution technique (you can't come up with an equation that gives the solution, or what is called a "closed form", which means you can't apply your cookie cutter integration), so you'll have to resort to one of the many techniques that mathematicians and scientists have developed to work around that issue.

Even knowing which technique to pick (in terms of what is likely to succeed for your problem) is likely to involve quite a bit of math, let alone how to successfully implement it on a computer. There are often many possible models, with different characteristics or tradeoffs. Entire books have been written just on the subject of modeling/simulating just bipolar transistors, or just MOS transistors, with hundreds of pages on different models, loaded with equations.

Many problems have no known solution that converges in a reasonable time (go look up P versus NP). In such cases, you need to be able to come up with other techniques, such as hueristics. Even understanding the fundamental issue here requires some math, let alone creating and evaluating the heuristics.

Then there's the issue of chaos theory, and whether or not you need to address chaotic effects in your physical system ...

Comment Re:Readily adapatable to military use is NOT a req (Score 1) 698

So imagine using as precedent a case that was never even defended against. So what were the precedents established?

1.The Second Amendment protects only the ownership of military-type weapons appropriate for use in an organized militia.

2.The "double barrel 12-gauge Stevens shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches in length, bearing identification number 76230" was never used in any militia organization.

You missed the most important precedent. It's a subtle one, and most people miss it, but it is absolutely critical for understanding the current state of the US legal system.

By creating a ruling that directly contradicts the written text of the Bill of Rights the Supreme Court chose to put a major contradiction into US law.

For legal professionals to create contradictions in the law, or to be involved in writing or enforcing law that does this, is always unethical practice of law, without exception. Contradictions make the law harder for non-professionals to understand, and that creates a long term artificial demand for the services of legal professionals, hence the ethics issue.

Even the appearance of contradiction would have been a problem, and to make matters worse, the court ignored the well documented history behind the 2nd Amendment and ownership of arms in Colonial America.

It follows that the legal authority of the court in this case was actually limited to telling the government a constitutional amendment would be required before the law they had passed would be legal. That's inherent in the oaths the judges swear when they accept positions with the court.

Further, the right to ethical practice of law being one of the most important rights protected under the 9th Amendment (under any reasonable statement of such a right, even the appearance of conflict of interest must be avoided if alternatives exist), the judges not only violated their oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights, but by their example effectively gave carte blanche to the legal profession to ignore major ethics issues in the law. US law is now riddled with ethics problems, and while we can't blame all of that on Miller (Slavery, aside from the moral issues, was certainly ethically invalid, as were the Jim Crow laws), this case does serve as a very damaging precedent.

Worse, rights retained by the people under the 9th Amendment, by definition, can not be taken away by any entity of government. That's the whole point of having the Bill of Rights be open ended! This was such as fundamental issue (and so critical to overcoming the opposition of the Anti-Federalists) that James Madison actually put it in the document twice, in the 9th Amendment (rights retained by the people) and also in the 10th Amendment (which provides for unspecified rights reserved to the people). By ignoring the right to ethical practice of law, the court effectively created a second major contradiction in the law!

It's ironic, because less than a decade before the events at Nuremberg, the US legal hierarchy was effectively giving the US legal profession a precedent that would allow them to ignore the concept of individual responsibility with respect to major ethics issues, while claiming hierarchical absolution ("my superiors said it was ok"!), something that has largely remained true to this day.

This has certainly had a chilling effect on a wide variety of rights that can reasonably be asserted under the 9th Amendment, such as the right to privacy, but there are broader implications. Not only do we now live in the "Land of the Lawsuit", but there are all kinds of other problems in US federal, state, and local law that trace directly to the willingness of the legal profession -- following the example of the Supreme Court set here and in other cases -- to ignore major ethics issues.

It's not an accident that, for example, the federal tax code is 2700 pages long, a length and complexity far beyond any reasonable size, allowing a lot of loopholes to be hidden in the law, loopholes that lawyers and politicians get paid to write and implement. Similarly, many of the patent and copyright issues that come up here on Slashdot are complicated by legal ethics issues inherent to how these laws are written and implemented. Then there's the right to roam and the right to travel, both of which arise under the 9th Amendment but are often infringed in US law (even Britain finally recognized the right to roam, after a decades long civil rights movement). I could go on with lots of other examples, but a little research of prior Slashdot discussions will quickly bring these up. The net effect on the US legal system, and thus on society, is very bad.

Irregardless of where one stands on the right to bear arms question as it applies to today's world, the decision in the Miller case is one no rational person can stand behind. Those who believe the right to bear arms should be more strongly limited should focus their efforts and getting a new Constitutional Amendment. Anything else does tremendous harm to society.

Comment Re:Except (Score 1) 72

If I were in a position of authority I would propose a gradual transfer of power from the private sector to a national central bank. Something like an increase on the fractional reserve ratio for all private enterprise by 2% per year until it hits 100. "New money" should then only be lent out by the central bank through private institutions acting as brokers. Profits from loans then go into the public treasury. Interest rates can then be controlled by a central authority who's core interest in is the welfare of the people, rather than shareholder profits. Periods of increased economic growth would result in increased social and public infrastructure spending, while periods of slower growth result in higher rates that help deflate bubbles and encourage saving.

There are fundamental problems with this scheme. The first is that a central authority is always far more subject to corruption than a large number of smaller entities. In many ways, centralizing things simply makes a bigger, easier target for the predators out there (some of whom usually end up in control of it).

The second is that no central authority knows what is best for the people. In many cases, nobody knows what's best. The world is a complex place, and there are many different viewpoints. A decentralized system has advantages here.

These will remain fundamental truths for the foreseeable future, and thus no central authority can be trusted to look out for the welfare of the people.

Humanity has had a really poor track record with central authorities. Study 20th century economic history for the gory details: there's the Soviet Union, India, China, and many smaller countries that have tried the central authority scheme and failed.

Further, you'll find examples on a smaller scale in the history of many countries, where bureaucracies functioning as central authorities, with respect to some particular economic aspect of society, have also failed to look out for the welfare of the people. Consider the history of water development in the USA, involving the US Army Corp of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, for lots of examples of how central authorities go wrong: Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert is a good introduction to this.

Similarly, we can see many examples of bad decision making in the history of large corporations: the executives in these organizations make a lot of really bad blunders because the organizations are too big and the executives too out of touch with the reality of their business (refer to the industrial psychology literature for examples). Any centralized authority will have the same kinds of problems.

Further, if you follow the history of invention and discovery, you'll see that a lot of things that ended up being really useful and important weren't predicted in advance. Having private access to funding is an often underrated benefit of the decentralized economy.

The outlook for any scheme involving massively increased central authority is dismal. There are better places to focus one's energy for those concerned with improving the public welfare. A vastly simplified tax system -- one that was truly progressive instead of just pretending to be -- would help a lot for nations like the USA. Cleaning up corporate law would help a lot as well.

Comment Re:Fuck you. (Score 1) 618

Do advertisements add enough value to my existence to compensate me for the time lost? Not rhetorical, I think it's a good question.

It depends on whether or not you have opted in, but even then there are limits.

If you opt-in, then clearly you are willing to see some sort of ad. You've indicated that you value being exposed to an ad, even if you don't know what it will be. That's probably the only value measure we can make here.

But it is an entirely different manner when one obscures the landscape with over-sized billboards, puts flashing signs next to a road (or people waving signs), goes door to door (or calls somebody) to sell a product or religion or political candidate, sends somebody junk mail, and so forth (assuming one hasn't given the recipient of the marketing the chance to opt-in).

Drivers along a road do not have the chance to opt-in, and it is often very difficult even for people in their homes to prevent this kind of activity. Not everybody has the option to fence out the world, and no fence is perfect.

There are a number of potential rights in play here, but the most fundamental is that civilized societies shouldn't allow people to steal portions of another's life. The human lifespan is finite, and time lost is precious and irreplaceable and hence extremely valuable: not allowing others to steal a portion of our lives is simply a rational recognition of this universal truth. This is why we categorize things such as kidnapping, murder, or robbery as crimes. In the last case, the robbery steals a portions of a person's life because it steals money or goods which took time to accumulate (and will take time to replace, if they can be replaced). This is why only opt-in approaches to marketing make sense: anything else effectively involves stealing a portion of a person's life.

Further, as a society, we don't necessarily allow people to opt-in themselves (or their dependents) to some things. Hence, even an opt-in system will have limits.

For example, raising the volume on a commercial during a video (to attract the attention of the audience, as a marketing technique) could result in pain or hearing damage to the audience, especially if they are elderly and have to up the volume due to hearing loss just to make out words from the non-commercial content. This could and should be regulated (perhaps even requiring voice and non-voice audio on different "channels" that are defined such that AV equipment can apply different levels of volume to them), even if one has opted-in.

Only the sociopaths don't see this. By definition, a sociopath is a person to whom other people aren't real. By attempting to steal a portion of other people's lives, the people who try to force ads on others are demonstrating their contempt for others, and thus their belief that others are not real.

All the people who engage in the list of activities above, and many other variants, are sociopaths.

Having some commercials while watching TV may be the only reason I have something to watch on TV, I can appreciate that. But in the past decade or more, commercials have consumed such a large portion of the time of TV, that it was no longer worth the time investment to be constantly interrupted, taking 30 minutes of my time to watch a 15 minute show.

Even here, there is a critical issue that is often not acknowledged, namely that society is choosing to give some entity associated with the TV show an exclusive monopoly (possibly excepting fair use or other rights). Since this is an entirely artificial right -- a privilege really -- it is entirely reasonable to limit what can be done with that monopoly.

With today's technology we (society) could easily require these shows be released in two formats, with one ad-free, allowing that version to be at a higher price to make up for the loss of advertising revenue (perhaps according to some formula determined by law), as a condition for granting copyright. We might even let producers release the two versions at different time (perhaps separated by a year). Failure to do this brings the whole concept of copyright into conflict with fundamental rights, and of course copyright is in the inferior position when that happens.

Comment Irregardless of the cause (Score 1) 304

Irregardless of the cause, the wildfires do pose health risks.

Those who have been lucky enough to avoid one may not understand how much smoke exposure is possible here. During a fire, the roads can be completely jammed, forcing people evacuating to be exposed to high levels of smoke for many hours. Significant amounts of smoke can go right through the air sealing on cars: a good respirator for every family member belongs in one's evacuation kit if one lives in a fire-prone area. After the fire, the smoke can stay in the air at lesser but still potentially dangerous levels for months after the fire.

Nobody really understands what health impacts these two different types of exposure will have, but for some people they could be serious. Just going to work means breathing potentially toxic air throughout the day for months at a time, since most workplaces will not have good air filtering (private residences can use air cleaners, which help quite a bit in my experience). This exposure can potentially cause long term lung damage.

To make things worse, the smoke toxins may interact in a non-linear manner with other airborne toxins present in many workplaces. The cumulative health effect may be considerably greater than the exposure to any single toxin would cause. The safety standards for exposure to things like asbestos (common in many older buildings) almost certainly underestimate the danger thresholds because the standards did not take into account having multiple toxins present in the air at the same time.

It is likely asthmatics and others with existing lung damage will be particularly susceptible to further lung damage.

In all likelihood, though many people may be experiencing long-term work-related injury as a result of breathing toxic air in the workplace following wild fires, this will not be handled by existing laws that protect workers, or agencies such as OHSA. Rather then adding further fuel to the climate change debate -- basically political posturing that does more harm than good -- it would be nice if the president actually did his job and tried to do something about the potential problem of lung damage resulting from breathing toxic air.

If we don't have good test and measurement equipment for determining the impact of fire-related toxins on the lungs, we should be researching what needs to be done to make that equipment. If we don't know how to medically treat lung damage, then we should be researching that. Given that entire communities are affected by this issue, it seems appropriate that the government should have some major role here, rather then relying on every potentially impacted individual paying for their own health care (and any research that may be required to fix problems).

Comment Re:Just Askin' (Score 1) 367

I think it's pretty clear that the intent behind the second amendment was the perceived need to have a well regulated militia. In other words, if you want to carry a guns, sign up to join the national guard.

This myth has been thoroughly debunked. There are numerous quotes from the key figures alive at the time that completely discredit this position. I'll let you do the research, since doing so will help you fill some gaps in your historical education.

Like it or not, individual ownership of firearms was accepted as an individual right at the time (and long after), and was associated with political freedom. This didn't mean weapons couldn't be taken from criminals, within reason.

There is also a long history behind this position, tracing back through British history. It's not an accident that most people in the Robin Hood stories are carrying weapons, and know how to use them. The audiences that heard these stories accepted this as normal and appropriate. In Britain, the traditions were different than they were in many other places (where only the nobility could carry arms). The British often saw themselves as superior to others in part because of this. Certainly, they were much freer than those in many parts of the world (particularly places where serfdom survived until the 19th century). These British traditions evolved into a belief or philosophy that ownership of arms was an integral part of being a free person, which would eventually be expressed by the US descendants of Britain in their Bill of Rights.

In US Colonial times, some jurisdictions required (by law) every household to not just have arms, but also to carry them to public meetings (including church services), to make sure that community was armed in the event of a surprise Indian attack.

For that matter, privately owned ships were routinely armed. In some cases, they were well enough armed to fight off warships.

If you wish to oppose the right to bear arms, do so for other reasons than a misunderstanding of the text and the history.

Slashdot Top Deals

Established technology tends to persist in the face of new technology. -- G. Blaauw, one of the designers of System 360