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Comment Driver Privacy Protection Act (Score 4, Informative) 1232

A gun is more like a car. If you want to own it and operate it there some regulations to limit the risk that your neighbors have to endure.

There are also rule about privacy of car ownership. Under federal law, you can't simply call up the DMV and find out the registered owner of a car based on the license plate. You have to have specified, limited reasons for doing so, and there are records kept of such requests: Driver Privacy Protection Act

Comment Fair enough (Score 1) 1013

I think it's funny you brought up the EMP scenario, since I mentioned it one of my other comments. I recently read Lucifer's Hammer... not an EMP, but a comet creating a post-apocalyptic world where guns were very important.

In large part I agree with you... gun violence, and violent crime in general, is on the decline, and so maybe we shouldn't do anything at all. How much effort should we exert on relatively rare occurrences?

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the most striking thing about this conversation (on /.) is what seems to me to be an anti-advancement attitude. Did musket owners feel the same way about self-contained ammunition? Will future people feel that way before phasers or whatever are widely adopted?

Comment That's empirically false. (Score 1) 1013

The vehicle death rate has increased since seatbelts and aribags were made mandatory; people feel safer, so they're more prone to do stupider shit.

That's simply empirically false. This chart and the associated statistics show that while the absolute number of deaths is increasing, the frequency of deaths is declining, a trend evident since the late 1960s at least.

Cars have clearly become more complex over the same period, and so there is no simple correlation between increased complexity and increased frequency of death.

Comment Re:We can make complex AND reliable things (Score 1) 1013

Do a bit of math to compensate for the differences in population and rate of vehicle ownership and it still holds true.

Does it hold when you include higher speeds, higher density of vehicles on the road, etc.? Does it hold when you compare vehicles before seatbelts and airbags were mandatory? Besides, the question isn't really about whether Model Ts were safer in their time... I'd wager a modern car with air bags and seatbelts is safer than most cars made prior to such requirements, including the Model T, would be today.

Further, your counterexample, which I assume was intended to demonstrate how ridiculous GP's statement was, actually serves to illustrate the point he was trying to make.

I realized after posting my comment that it wasn't really apropos, but didn't correct myself because the GP was an AC.

He seemed to be implying that the relative complexity of cars to guns is somehow responsible for the fact that cars kill more people than guns.

I don't see how that makes any sense. The reason cars kill more people than guns has far more to do with their ubiquity and daily use than the fact that they are more complex than guns. I don't see how complexity is relevant to the issue at all.

What I tried to communicate in my response to him, was that we in fact have examples where morecomplex devices kill fewer people (as you pointed out as well).

If I need to put a bullet in my assailant's arm before he's able to put two in my chest, I don't have time to check that the batteries are inserted correctly, the power switch is on, and the NVRAM holding my fingerprint ID hasn't been cleared.

Proper design can eliminate many of these potential problems. Presumably you already are going to, at a minimum, switch off the safety? Ensure that a loaded magazine is in the gun, and a bullet is in the chamber? Or maybe you left it loaded already.

IF (and I admit that it is a big if) it could be made reliable, and as simple to operate as switch off the safety, I don't see why it would be disastrous.

We put battery operated pacemakers inside peoples' bodies. Gentleman, we can rebuild guns. We have the technology!

Comment You missed the point (Score 2) 1013

If the device was a pacemaker then that's 3x the deaths due to failure. Why would people buy that product if it was 3x more likely to fail?

Because they gained some other benefit not quantified in the failure rate? E.g., maybe the less-failure prone pacemaker needs to be removed for battery replacement every three years, whereas the (slightly) more-failure prone one has a battery that lasts ten years?

Comment Re:We can make complex AND reliable things (Score 4, Interesting) 1013

There's no need to make things unnecessarily complex. The debate is really about what features we want.

BTW, cars are a hell of a lot more expensive to maintain these days.

I would actually like to see a historical dataset of automobile maintenance and operating costs (inflation adjusted), but I can't seem to find a decent source right now. However, even if that is true, again, there is a tradeoff. If there are gains in safety, efficiency, utility, and comfort, the added expense can be justified.

Just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should. This topic is kind of a straw man anyway; none of these measures would have stopped the bloodshed last week.

I'm not saying we should do it because we can, I'm saying maybe there are in fact good reasons to do, AND we can (since so many people seem to argue that it's impossible). Why is there such defeatism and resignation about the potential of technology in this area? It's irrational.

Second, the reason I was thinking about this RFID idea was specifically as a way to prevent what happened last week. If Lanza's mother had a key fob or implanted chip, Lanza would not have been able to use the guns without it. Could it still have happened? Sure. Maybe Lanza's mother would have given him his own fob. Maybe he would have taken her keys, or cut the chip out of her wrist. Maybe he would have cloned the fob himself. Any of those things are possible, but it would involve more time and effort, and introduce additional hurdles. If there is a process for obtaining a fob, maybe Lanza would not have met the burdens of the process. If he attacked his mother with a knife (because he couldn't use a gun), maybe she could have escaped and called the police.

Or maybe it still would have happened. Is that a reason to not consider any policy change? No. Maybe new policies and technology can prevent or reduce the risk of OTHER tragedies.

And if a hunter's gun doesn't fire when that nine point buck is in his sights, you're going to have one pissed off hunter who will never buy that brand of gun again.

This is why I suggested limited the requirement of such technology to only certain weapons. E.g., we don't mandate it for bolt action rifles.

But seriously, my main observation here is that so many people are spending lots of energy on inventing reasons for why nothing can be done.

Comment It's about tradeoffs (Score 1) 1013

Remember that when it fails, people DIE. One failure EVER is too many.

This is the kind of statement I'm talking about, though. Guns ALREADY fail.They occasionally jam and misfire. If they are not cleaned and maintained, they fail more often. We tolerate this unreliability because it is infrequent and we can keep it that way through maintenance.

Let's say you have a gun that is 99.99% reliable... so one out of every 10,000 rounds it jams or misfires. And now, we add electronic safety components to it, and with testing and good engineering, we produce a gun that is 99.97% reliable. So it jams, misfires, or fails to fire 3 out of every 10,000 rounds.

The question is, I think, whether that decrease in reliability is an acceptable tradeoff for the increase in safety gained due to only the owner being able to fire it. Nothing is perfect... but can we make something acceptable, where the benefits outweight the costs?

Comment But fundamentally, isn't it about a tradeoff? (Score 3, Interesting) 1013

Good try on the car analogy though, somebody had to do it.

Thanks :-)

You can't add electronics to a simple mechanical device and make it more reliable. Electronics are less reliable than simple mechanical things, so any such change is a step backward.

Okay, even if it is a step backward in theory, in practice, are we really not able to engineer something to an acceptable level of reliability? Guns already do not work 100% of the time. They occasionally jam and misfire. We tolerate this unreliability because it is infrequent.

Let's say you have a gun that is 99.99% reliable... so one out of every 10,000 rounds it jams or misfires. And now, we add electronic safety components to it, and with testing and good engineering, we produce a gun that is 99.97% reliable. So it jams, misfires, or fails to fire 3 out of every 10,000 rounds.

The question is, I think, whether that decrease in reliability is an acceptable tradeoff for the increase in safety gained due to only the owner being able to fire it.

Comment Re:We can make complex AND reliable things (Score 1) 1013

And more people die from cars than guns each year, which may or may not be an indication of where automobile complexity has gotten us.

I'm going to go with "probably not an indication" since that implication doesn't even make sense. You're suggesting that more people die in car accidents than from guns because cars are more complex than guns? Come on. Here's a logically equivalent statement: more people die from cars than from planes each year, which may or may not be an indication of where automobile complexity has gotten us."

Try again.

As for people not having time to make sure their gun is in proper working order... well, if you don't have time to do that, you probably don't have time to clean or maintain your gun either, which means it may not work when you pick it up.

Comment We can make complex AND reliable things (Score 5, Insightful) 1013

That's why you keep firearms simple - complex things break.

I find this to be an interesting sentiment coming from a technology oriented community like Slashdot.

Of course complexity can increase error-proneness. But if this logic is always true, why aren't we still driving Model Ts? Maybe it really is up for debate, but it seems to me that cars have became vastly more complex over the decades, but reliability is on the rise, and cost of maintenance has gone down.

Planes - planes are vastly more complex than in the past, but very reliable. And peoples' lives literally hang in the balance.

My point is, we can in fact make complex AND reliable things when we want to, and when we spend the time and resources required. Why are guns exempt from this?

FWIW, I know how to use (some) guns, and I agree with you... "grip recognition" sounds like something that at best, will work 99% of the time, which isn't enough. But surely we can do better than that.

Comment Is RFID such a bad idea? (Score 2, Insightful) 1013

First off, the limit you reference about shotguns I think only applies to bird hunting or something. At least, I used a pump-action Mossberg that held 5 in the tube.

But on to my real question... this is a technology-oriented community... yet we seem very quick to crap all over the role that technology could play here.

Would an RFID-based system, in which you identify yourself to the gun using public key cryptography, be such a terrible thing? Assuming the mechanism can be made reliable (and with enough work, why can't it be made reliable enough?), to me it seems like it wouldn't be a bad idea to limit the number of people who can fire the weapon. E.g., you and your spouse both have key fobs that allow you to fire the gun, but without the fob, no one else can fire it.

If the fob is the problem - hear me out - why not have the RFID chip implanted in your wrist? Imagine it - you pick up your gun, and you can fire it, but if someone else picks it up, they can't. To me, that actually sounds pretty cool and futuristic. It would eliminate the need for a lot of fight scenes in sci-fi movies, though.

I know, not everyone wants something implanted in their wrist (although in this community I'd expect more than the average number to be willing). Well, maybe this is something only required for semi-automatic pistols, etc.... if you want a revolver, no RFID interlock required.

There are all sorts of interesting solutions we could come up with. Police departments could use a department key, so that any officer could fire any other officer's weapon, but a criminal in a struggle wouldn't be able to fire the officer's weapon.

Of course, we all know there are flaws with RFID. Could someone, with enough time and effort, clone a key fob? Probably. With enough time and effort, any sort of system we could devise will be defeated. Maybe someone will set off an EMP and render all our smart guns useless. The better question is, what is the increase in effectiveness we gain by doing this?

We seem very willing to invent scenarios in which safety mechanisms would cause problems... e.g., "me and my friend were working in the garage when someone came up and shot me! I told my friend to get my gun and shoot back, but he couldn't because of the RFID interlock!" and use this as a justification to ignore the potential of technology in this area. But are these really realistic scenarios? Or are we trying to justify what we already want to believe based on anecdotes...

Obviously this is not a total solution by any means. It does nothing to address the large number of firearms already in circulation. Some people suggest buy-back programs (although I'm a bit skeptical of those, since it seems like the people who are least likely to use a gun are going to be the most likely to trade it in for cash, and good luck trying to get the government to spend any money on a new program right now)... maybe gun manufacturers could offer a trade-in program, where people can upgrade to smart guns.

To sum up, I think there are viable things that can be done, but for some reason, a lot of us like to invent reasons, no matter how far-fetched, for us to conclude that nothing can be done.

Comment Jack Thompson is already on the case (Score 1) 1719

I can see where this is going, and sure enough, Jack Thompson is already on the case. He or someone claiming to be him has been active in the comment sections of major newspapers, suggesting that this incident was motivated by violent video games.

Remember, it's not an ad hominem attack to point out that he was disbarred in Floria, because that fact is relevant to his credibility.

Comment No, you're not alone (Score 1) 46

Looking up a book, then browsing the ones next to it is great research strategy.

To some extent you can gain a similar ability if the library catalog allows you to browse the titles "on the shelf" (in this case, of course, they wouldn't physically be next to it)... but it's still not the same as being able to pick up the next title, flip to the table of contents, and see if it's relevant. This problem isn't limited to automated systems... many large or special libraries require you to request books individually, and they are brought to you by library workers (e.g., Library of Congress, European Commission library, most archives).

On the other hand, if this system allows them to keep many more books than they otherwise could, that's a good thing...

Comment Not just Europe, most of the world (Score 2) 129

The EU Directive is a result of the WIPO Copyright Treaty and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. Both those treaties require members to protect rights management information from alteration or removal and provide penalties. The U.S. has a similar implementation as the EU directive.

I'm not sure how Facebook's stripping metadata wouldn't violate the plain language of this law, but I'm sure they have some fine print somewhere that makes it legal.

Note that most metadata probably doesn't qualify, but I think on high-end cameras you can set up copyright information to be embedded in the metadata...

Comment I was there - it's not that slanted (Score 3, Informative) 153

I was at the CAP event this morning, and I wouldn't say the Ars story is that slanted. Did Kappos say that there is absolutely no improvement to be made to the US patent system? No. Are there some positive things going on at the patent office? Yes. However, he frankly came off as a total hack. Here is why:

He led off with a statistic about how "IP intensive industries" account for 40 million jobs, and 35% of GDP. Even if you accept the methodology behind those numbers, the vast majority of the jobs and GDP come from trademark intensive industries (e.g., retail) rather than patent intensive industries (or copyright). I called him on this in the Q&A, and he gave a politician's response (e.g., a non-answer).

He kept mentioning how "critics" don't have the "facts" but failed to even once suggest why high-profile innovative companies like Google are critical of software patents.

He claims that "Our founding fathers enshrined patent rights in our Constitution, an affirmative right here, that in other countries is only issued grudgingly. It’s one of the few, if not only, clauses in the Constitution that gives Congress the right to create personal property." This is inaccurate. The Constitution mentions that Congress has the power to secure to inventors their discoveries for limited times. It does not say that this must be done through patents, and it certainly does not analogize whatever method Congress chooses to property.

He claimed that "our IP system is the envy of the world." Well, I've actually talked to European Commission officials about what they think of our patent system, and they don't share his view. Actually, much of the world doesn't want our ultra-strong IP laws. Maybe he meant to say our "economy" is the envy of the world (although that's also a hard sell). He also seemed to think that our system was best because it was strongest... shockingly, I think there are a lot of people who don't think that strongest = best, yet he doesn't address this.

Essentially the bulk of his logic boils down to a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy: The U.S. has software patents, the U.S. has software innovation, therefore the software innovation must come from the software patents. This is logically false, and I would also argue empirically false.

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