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Comment Re:So when government does it, it's okay? (Score 3, Insightful) 429

But then again, do we really want a system where the prosecutors feel free to enforce a law or not based on their own preferences?

That's already the case, and it's EXACTLY what created the scenario with Swartz (and countless other victims of our "justice" system). The fact that prosecutors have that kind of leeway is part of what allows insane laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to remain on the books.

Of course, the government loves laws like that, because it lets them really throw the book at people they don't like (or threaten to do so in order to obtain an easy plea bargain). When practically everyone's a criminal and enforcement is selective, they can do whatever the hell they want to anybody.

Comment Guys, I got this. (Score 2) 386

I highly recommend turning your RSS items into emails. You can then read them from any IMAP client (or via webmail), and you get synchronization for free.

There's at least one web-based service that'll do this for you (feed2mail), but I've had good success with running feed2imap as a cron job.

(Disclaimer: I wrote my own feed2imap-like tool, which is what I'm actually using now. It's not ready for public consumption, though.)

Comment Re:The debate is moot. (Score 1) 484

...what about older users? Should we just dismiss their needs?

If their "needs" are to have every app look and behave exactly like some obsolete physical object, then frankly yes. Old people are not incapable of learning or adapting, and they've already had to do just that for many years now.

Are interfaces really encumbered because they feature a wood-textured background?

Bit of a strawman, there. When Apple revamped the Address Book app for Lion, they made it into a "book". Gee, sure looks nice! But suddenly you couldn't use the old three-pane view (which showed more information and was just better at navigating many contacts) because it didn't fit into the "book" metaphor. Not only that, but being a "book" implies lots of things that you couldn't actually do with Address Book. As John Siracusa wrote in his Lion review:

Address Book goes so far in the direction of imitating a physical analog that it starts to impair the identification of standard controls. The window widgets, for example, are so integrated into the design that they're easy to overlook. And as in iCal, the amazing detail of the appearance implies functionality that doesn't exist. Pages can't be turned by dragging, and even if they could, the number of pages on either side of the spine never changes. The window can't be closed like a book, either. That red bookmark can't be pulled up or down or removed. (Clicking it actually turns the page backwards to reveal the list of groups. Did you guess that?) The three-pane view (groups > people > detail) is gone, presumably because a book can't show three pages at once. Within each paper "page" sits, essentially, an excerpt from the user interface of the previous version of Address Book. It's a mixed metaphor that sends mixed signals.

The three-pane view is kinda back in Mountain Lion, but you still can't adjust the relative sizes of the panes (presumably because the two sides of a real book are always the same size). This restriction makes no sense for a digital contact app and makes the app less useful, but it's dictated by the designer's slavish devotion to the book metaphor. A minor thing perhaps, but as a designer, you should know that these little things can quickly add up to make a product utterly (and needlessly) frustrating to use.

Comment Re:Extrapolation (Score 3, Insightful) 926

Exactly right. Any idiot can make a model that fits past data, but these models all mysteriously disappear when their predictive power is put to the test (only to be replaced by newer, "better" models that simply reflect more recent events).

The fact that these guys released their model before it had a chance to predict anything doesn't inspire confidence.

Comment Numbers & market incentives (Score 5, Interesting) 134

We all can see that the Internet is getting slower.

Can we? I'd suggest that most people are unaware of any such trend, perhaps because it has happened too gradually and too unevenly. Indeed:

A full solution has to include raising awareness so that the relevant vendors are both empowered and given incentive to market devices with buffer management.

Exactly. Consumers don't know or care about low latency, so the market doesn't deliver it (that plus lack of competition among ISPs in general, but that's another kettle of fish).

We need a simple, clear way for ISPs to measure latency. It needs to boil down to a single number that ISPs can report alongside bandwidth and that non-techies can easily understand. It doesn't need to be completely accurate, and can't be: ISPs will exaggerate just like they do with bandwidth, just like auto manufacturers do with fuel efficiency, etc. What matters is that ISPs can't outright make up numbers, so that a so-called "40 ms" connection will reliably have lower average latency than a "50 ms" connection. That should be enough for the market to start putting competitive pressure on ISPs.

What kind of measure could be used for this purpose? Perhaps some kind of standardized latency test suite, like what the Acid tests were to web standards compliance? Certainly there would be significant additional difficulties, but could it be done?

Comment Re:Why is this needed? (Score 1) 199

When asked what happens when there is no viable competition - say for a drug that can save lives but which is administered in private clinics so as to keep competing pharmaceuticals from gaining direct access to the drug - his reply was that he would then just grab a gun, go to that clinic, and get some of that drug himself and woe the person who would get in his way.

In the general case, that's extremely unlikely to happen barring threat of violence (by the racists or by the government). It takes only one entrepreneur, looking to scoop up easy profits ignored by the racists, to crack a market wide open. At that point the racists face the choice of being out-competed, or dropping their prejudices and adapting to reality.

In the case of a trade secret that a single company holds, there are several responses. One is that the rest of the market is likely to reverse-engineer or otherwise duplicate the secret quickly, given all the potential profits at stake. Another is that such a cure is more likely to be discovered by a non-racist than by a racist, because the market punishes irrational discrimination as described above (meaning there should be few successful, racist drug companies). Yet another is that if such a racist company discovered a miracle cure today and was prevented by law from selling it only to certain races, mightn't it just destroy the formula instead (since we're assuming it's willing to ignore potential profits)?

It's a bit like the what-if objection to private property: "What if some rich guy buys up all the land in the world, becoming its de-facto ruler?" Yes, that's "possible" in the sense that the definition of private property doesn't preclude it; but it has never come close to happening and is so unlikely to ever happen (for various reasons, including that the price of the last few parcels of land would be near-infinite) that it doesn't constitute a realistic objection.

Comment Re:"Dimwits" unlikely to win support (Score 1) 410

I don't think the media industry execs are ESR's intended audience; it is likely impossible to convince them. As Upton Sinclair said, "it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

Unfortunately, this is the exact reason why the letter will also have no effect whatsoever upon its intended recipients.

Comment Where's the evidence? (Score 2) 72

Let's step back a moment and examine the bigger picture. Lots of people support patents because they believe patents encourage innovation, and indeed that's more-or-less the Constitution's stated purpose in granting Congress the power to issue them:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

But here's the question I have never, not even once, seen a patent advocate address: where is the evidence that patents actually promote innovation (i.e., that they cause a net increase in inventions, discoveries, etc.)? Indeed, there are some compelling arguments being made against patents and other forms of intellectual property, like Boldrin and Levine's Against Intellectual Monopoly, mentioned previously on Slashdot. Should we not demand that such a costly and disruptive regime as the patent system be supported by hard evidence that it actually does what it's intended to do?

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