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Ask The Bad Astronomer 412

Astronomer, author, columnist, and successful populizer of science Phil Plait, perhaps best known as The Bad Astronomer, is a regular sight on Slashdot for his unusual ability to find lucid explanations of esoteric scientific claims and controversies. Phil has graciously agreed to answer Slashdot readers' questions, so ask him below about space, science, debunking conspiracy claims, and anything else that makes sense. Asking more than one question is fine (and encouraged!), but please separate unrelated questions into separate posts, lest your questions be moderated down.

Comment Re:Correction: (Score 2, Informative) 423

Actually, these rules don't affect whether or not it was legal before.

This rulemaking power is built into the DMCA, and don't have any retroactive effect that as far as I can tell.

These exemptions are only for a limited time of three years. Assuming it was illegal before to jailbreak, it is would now be legal until the exemption fails to be renewed. However, actions could still be filed on jailbreaks from last week, for instance.

Comment Re:iPod Touch and Playstation 3 Linux? (Score 2, Informative) 423

No, it wouldn't apply to the iPod Touch or PS3.

The exemptions are limited to exactly what the Librarian puts in their rules. Because the rule in question only mentions "wireless telephone handsets', it would not apply to iPod touches or PS3's.

The provision is as follows:

Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.

The full list of exemptions is here

There is a video game exception, but it only applies to those on PC's and only if used for security testing.

Comment Distribution of jailbreaking tools still illegal (Score 5, Interesting) 423

Note that the Librarian of Congress Rulemaking provision only exempts the circumvention provisions of the DMCA. The Librarian cannot exempt individuals from the distribution provisions of the DMCA.

So, while you can now legally jailbreak your phone, it would still be illegal to distribute the software program itself.

Comment Re:Breaking news! (Score 5, Informative) 232

Google just posted to their blog what they're doing.

They're redirecting all their users to http://google.com.hk/ and are maintaining a China service availability page to update on the status of their services in mainland China.

They also plan on maintaining their presence in China for sales and development, though they say that sales will be dependent on whether the .hk page is blocked.


Authors Guild President Wants To End Royalty-Free TTS On Kindle 539

An anonymous reader writes "The president of the Authors Guild has launched a rant in the NY Times about how the Kindle 2 provides Text-to-Speech capabilities that, oh the horror, allow the user to have any text on the Kindle read to her. Roy Blunt, Jr. moans that this is copyright infringement of audio books, and that Kindle users should be forced to pay royalties on audio even though they've already paid for the text version of a book! Amazingly he harps on about how TTS technology has become so good that it may replace humans — and then uses this to argue that it's unfair for Kindle to provide TTS! I think the Authors Guild need a new president — someone less of a Luddite, and more familiar with copyright law." (See also the Guild's executive director's similar claims that reading aloud, royalty-free, is an illegal function of software.)

Comment Re:that's nice... (Score 1) 231

I think they're just trying this out as a "more thorough" program:

From the article:

The current two-fingerprint arrival system is being used in 115 airports, 15 seaports and 154 land border checks. About 100 million fingerprints have been taken so far, and more than 34,000 people whose names showed up on U.S. watch lists were denied entry, Wright said.

They'll probably expand the program later on. Yes, I don't see the value either...

Comment Re:Um... (Score 1) 214

That doesn't make any sense. SSL assumes you know VeriSign's public key and it is incorruptible. The bank's certificate would be signed with VeriSign's key. The whole point of SSL is that VeriSign is the weak point, and you have to assume that they are unspoofable.

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You mean you didn't *know* she was off making lots of little phone companies?