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Comment Programmer ethics? (Score 5, Interesting) 119

I've often wondered about the programmers who write these software packages.

The stereotype programmer is young, bright, scientific, idealistic, and concerned for global issues.

And yet, big companies have no problem staffing teams to write the software for predator drones, Carnivore, Total Information Awareness, and other packages which are used to violate human rights.

Where do these "programmers of dubious character" come from?

Many programmers say (when I ask) that they have high moral standards - more so than (they say) the average person. And yet, they work on all sorts of sketchy things.

Can anyone explain the disconnect? Is there a level of "bravery" associated with morality (ie - I'm against *this*, but not willing to lose my job over it)? Are moral arguments here (for example) just blowing smoke?

Comment On the subject of guns (Score 1) 450

Apropos the gun control debate, note that the media is starting to paint Christopher Dorner with mental illness.

In particular, this quote from The Daily News:

"His chilling statements, found on his Facebook page, portray a deeply intelligent and opinionated man, one who promotes gay rights and gun control, but whose mind has unraveled, likely due to mental illness, paranoia and possibly unresolved trauma, experts said Thursday."

He wasn't mentally ill before the incident, or when he was with the LAPD, but he is now that they want to catch him.

We've seen a number of these "I've got nothing to lose, I'm going out with a bang!" cases recently. What's with that? Has there always been spree killings, but weren't reported widely until recently? Has something changed in society?

(I've often wondered what Aaron Swartz could have done, assuming he believed his life was over & had a year or so of long-term scheming to plan something.)

Comment Movie ratings (Score 1) 270

In older times, movies were subject to censorship.

The history is long and involved, a struggle between powerful parties, but the long-and-short of it was that many state and local "censorship boards" would cut movie scenes which were below the community moral standards.

Predictably, this led to inconsistent views applied across wide geographic areas - censors bragging about how they had cut "the kiss" from "Gone With The Wind", and so on. ("You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.")

The end result was a mess. No two areas saw the same movie, artists complained bitterly about the integrity of their vision, movie makers were discouraged from breaking new ground and so on.

Around the 1960s the movie industry adopted a saner approach: allow any movie to be made, and assign content ratings so that people know what to expect.

That put the decision of "what to see" in the hands of the individual viewer - it neatly sidesteps the conflicting viewpoints of community standards. Everyone gets the freedom to make their own decisions, there is no need for centralized control. Community standards are what the community chooses to see.


Perhaps we should adopt a ratings standard for pornography. With computers and the internet, a ratings system should be straightforward; for example, with four levels of explicit and some attached categories for style.

The porn industry might welcome such a standard: it would help their customers better navigate the topics, and reduce accidental outrage. It would present a framework for automated control at a personal level; ie - parents can set the computer to prevent displaying sites/movies with certain ratings to the kids.

The only debate would be in assigning (and enforcing) the ratings.

With a clearly defined set of descriptions, that's a much simpler task than censoring the internet.

Comment Re:Unjust enrichment? (Score 1) 145

Just out of curiosity, how do you feel about Mastercard and Visa refusing to process donations to Wikileaks?

Cutting Wikileaks off from public support is effectively punishing them, but they have not been even accused [officially] of a crime.

Applying your ideas to the physical world: it is just as much a privilege to have your products on sale in a supermarket. The supermarket decides what they accept in their store, and if they don't like your product - or want to remove your product - they don't need anything like a warrant, or do they?

It's not that companies shouldn't be allowed to choose their vendors, it's that companies shouldn't be allowed to impose arbitrary rules, shouldn't be able to impose unjust prejudice, and shouldn't be able to engage in cronyism.

If I were a produce vendor, and if I could satisfy the supermarket's requirements for amount and quality, and if the supermarket had space and a need to display wares, then yes they should be required to display my produce. They should not be able to refuse my custom for any reason that they can't apply to all vendors.

It's a little different with Google, because Google has no space limitations and no product limitations, but the principle is the same.

They are not refusing a vendor because of a generic rule applied fairly and blindly to everyone.

By your logic, clubs should be able to prohibit women members, landlords don't have to rent to gay couples, and bars don't have to serve blacks.

That's the difference.

Comment Unjust enrichment? (Score 3, Insightful) 145

Sounds to me like the Moon+ Reader author should sue LitRes for Unjust Enrichment.

Also, seriously: Google taking action on an illegal app without judicial oversight?

This should be handled in exactly the same way as law enforcement requests: show the warrant first. (Or in this case, the judgement against.)

Society is quickly descending into a feudal corporate arms race. These sorts of shenanigans should be stomped on with both feet. If you can't compete fairly, then you shouldn't be in business.

Comment As needs be... (Score 4, Insightful) 299

I thought the only essential needs were food, water and shelter.

That's true, along with air and sleep*.

Also, needs are defined in different ways depending on circumstance, with no consensus. Certainly food is a need, but is sunshine? We get vitamin D from sunshine, and diet can't make up for lack. Sex is a biological imperative, but can at any time be put off until later.

Needs also form a sort of "hierarchy", where once you are satisfied at a certain level, adding more at that level will gain you nothing. A company can't raise morale by making the bathroom even cleaner than it is - once the bathroom is "clean enough", extra work makes no appreciable difference. Once you have enough to eat, having more doesn't make you happier.

"Safety" is also a need, and depending on the school of thought it comes before or after food and water.

Once you have several layers of needs met, you reach the layer of "self actualization", which is loosely "the need to accomplish something".

That's what this proposal addresses - the need for people to better themselves, and to do something useful with their time.

This proposal is a good idea in many ways - ethically, economically, technically, environmentally. There's no down-side that I can see.

To take one example (economics), new businesses arise from innovation built on infrastructure. This type of infrastructure will foster an enormous boon in productivity, business, employment, and general well-being of people in the country.

In the same manner that the Interstate Highway System fostered economic progress by giving companies easy access to cheap product delivery.

This is exactly the type of project that centralized government should be doing - it promotes growth, increased productivity, jobs, and general welfare. It's of benefit to the people, and not pork directed to specific selected companies.

*I hope this doesn't read as snarky - that's not my intent.

Comment Accepting certified letters (Score 5, Informative) 347

You shouldn't have accepted the certified letter.

Certified letters have to have the sender noted on the slip that you get from the post office. Sometimes the post office doesn't do this (I have to remind my postal carrier all the time), but if you return the slip with "WHO IS THE SENDER?" written on it then they will fill it out properly and redeliver it.

If the sender isn't someone you know, or with whom you have a business arrangement (and from whom you might be expecting such a letter), don't take delivery. Don't send it back "refused delivery", just don't go get it. You can claim that you were out of town, never got the note, never had time to get it, or otherwise had a legitimate excuse. They can't do anything unless they have proof of "notice of service", which means that they have proof that they contacted you for the suit.

A certified letter is proof of service (ie - you were served with the letter), and they can use this to file suit against you.

If you don't accept the letter, they have to hire someone to personally hand you the notice. This costs them money - in my area the sheriff charges $80 for serving letters. The sheriff will get to it "when he gets to it", which in practice means anywhere from 2 weeks to never.

(As a personal anecdote, some bank in NYC decided from their internal records that they had been paying my NH property taxes for the last 5 years, and "would I just enclose a check for this and send it back"? I never accepted any of their certified letters, and they couldn't be bothered to send a person out to deliver the notice personally. Eventually they gave up. I had cancelled checks going back 5 years, but couldn't convince them otherwise because "their records showed payments for the last 5 years.")

This is one way to deal with frivolous lawsuits. If the lawsuit is genuine, then these sorts of barriers won't matter and you can address the legitimate legal issues. If the lawsuit is genuine and is something that you should address, then they should have no problem sending you information in a regular letter, which isn't considered proof of service.

I know this advice will cause the real lawyers here to cringe and complain, but then again they don't have any good ways to block frivolous suits.

Comment Fight Fiercely, Harvard! (Score 1, Offtopic) 264

Fight fiercely, Harvard, Fight, fight, fight!
Demonstrate to them our skill.
Albeit they possess the might,
Nonetheless we have the will.
How we shall celebrate our victory,
We shall invite the whole team up for tea (how jolly!)
Hurl that spheroid down the field, and Fight, fight, fight!

Fight fiercely, Harvard,
Fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do!
Oh, fellows, do not let the crimson down,
Be of stout heart and thru.
Come on, chaps, fight for Harvard's glorious name,
Won't it be peachy if we win the game? (oh, goody!)
Let's try not to injure them, but Fight, fight, fight!
And do fight fiercely! Fight, fight, fight!

(by Tom Lehrer)

Comment Some obvious observations (Score 4, Insightful) 436

I just wanted to point out some really obvious things

There is an wide chasm between "Non compos mentis" and "mental health issues". Note that the 2nd term isn't "mental health disorder" it's "mental health issues".

How will "mental health issue" be defined for this purpose? Is a prescription for antidepressants sufficient for gun confiscation, or does it require a diagnosis of an actual disorder. Will a judge be involved in the ruling, or will the police make the determination? Will it be "confiscate first, check later"?

Will a doctor's word - patient "X" is on antidepressants - be sufficient for the police to come and confiscate arms? Will the confiscation last forever, or can a person be deemed "cured" and get their guns back? Will this cause people to hide real mental health issues for fear of having their property confiscated?

Many people with "mental health issues" have broken no law. This means the government will be taking away the rights of a group of people based on a warm-fuzzy "it seems like the right thing to do" attitude. We could just as easily restrict blacks from having firearms because blacks commit more crimes than whites in this country.

People make a lot of hay over the "social contract". It turns out that our ancestors made a social contract which was explicitly put down on paper and said that you could have your centralized government so long as the people can keep guns.

You cannot break that contract directly, you have to change the constitution to do it - that's the rules, and everyone has to abide by them. If you don't believe in the constitution, then the social contract is null and void, and we might as well do away with the federal government.

And where is state governance in all this? What if some states (Texas comes to mind) simply don't want to restrict gun control in this manner? The constitution explicitly states that the federal government can't take this right away.

And finally, you know that this will be abused by law enforcement to extreme levels. Cops will be grabbing guns off of everyone they see claiming "well, he looked like he had mental health issues". Prosecutors will dig up any thin hint of a mental health issue to justify keeping the guns, and no one will be able to get their property back - ever.

This whole issue is a train wreck waiting to happen. Especially since, given the statistics, it will cause more children to be hurt (on average) than relaxing restrictions.

Comment Verisign is a US company (Score 1) 138

I just now searched my browser history & couldn't find the message. (I'd love a Memex plugin for Firefox.)

My registrar gets .net domains through Verisign, which is a US company, and I believe that's the issue. They had a nice diagram showing ICANN -> Verisign -> (My Registrar) which shows the problem.

I believe the text also read something like "these agreements bind you to Verisign and ICANN", then went on to explain how Verisign is a US company, how the government could step in and do nasty things, you have agreed to this situation, &c. The note mentioned ".net" and ".com" domains.

Comment Internet tradition (Score 5, Insightful) 138

The US is driving business away with a weighted stick.

People hold beliefs about other countries and people for a very long time; in many cases, long after the belief has had any meaning. For example, "the French surrendered", "Germans are Nazis", "Chinese products are crappy", "Japanese cars are like finely-tuned watches", and so on. Think of any nation and it comes with a satchel of beliefs held about its people.

The US is getting an odius reputation for business and tourism. The overall message we send is: "don't come to the US for anything". Businesses are leaving the US in droves, preferring to operate in more friendly areas.

When the US is known worldwide as "business unfriendly", it'll be nigh impossible to turn that around even if the situation changes.

This is what our government is doing for us. It's effect on productivity (and employment) is obvious.

(As a personal anecdote, I recently registered a .net domain, and the registrar (in France) had me click through a strongly worded message stating that the US could demand all sorts of privileges from the domain. Essentially, they stated that they could not guarantee my privacy or the safety of my data when registering a .net domain.)


Submission + - Turning the Belkin WeMo into a deathtrap (hackaday.com)

Okian Warrior writes: As a followup to yesterday's article detailing 50 Million Potentially Vulnerable To UPnP Flaws, this video shows getting root access on a Belkin WeMo remote controlled wifi outlet. As the discussion notes, remotely turning someone's lamp on or off is not a big deal, but controlling a [dry] coffeepot or space heater might be dangerous. The attached discussion also points out that rapidly cycling something with a large inrush current (such as a motor) could damage the unit and possibly cause a fire.

Submission + - Why Petting Feels Good (sciencemag.org)

sciencehabit writes: Social beasts—humans, elephants, chimps, dogs, and cats—seem to enjoy being caressed. Neurobiologists have now taken a step toward pinpointing neural circuitry underlying this pleasant sensation. Using genetically engineered mice, they demonstrated that a specific class of sensory cells in skin reacts to gentle stroking but not to a pinch or a poke. In addition to helping to identify similar cells in people, the findings could "lead to a drug or lotion that might make you feel better," suggests the study's leader.

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