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Comment Re:Constitution (Score 1) 568

They are allowed to tell their lawyer, it says so right on page 2: "IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that no person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI or NSA has sought or obtained tangible things under this order other than to . . . (b) an attorney to obtain legal advice or assistance with respect to the production of things in response to the Order . . . ." Don't know why this keeps getting repeated. The order is disgusting enough without making things up about it.

Comment Cloud Storage, ironically, sounds safer (Score 1) 802

Seems like his mistake was putting it on his own hard drive; he should have stored everything in an encrypted volume somewhere publicly accessible in the cloud. Access the file from a couple of different IP addresses every now and again. The more people have physical access to the file, the stronger your argument that decrypting the file would give the government something it can't already prove, i.e., that the file is yours. Just make damned sure you trust your encryption.

Comment Learning to evade filtering software is valuable (Score 1) 646

When I have kids (our first is due November 28), I plan to use filtering software not because I don't want him to see, but because I'm hoping he'll try to get past the filtering software. Evading online censorship (and covering his tracks) is going to be an important skill when he's older, and I feel it's my responsibility to prepare him with a curriculum of progressively more draconian censorship measures for him to learn to break. Some parents dream of high school graduation; I dream of the day my son gets his porn on virtual machine connected through TOR and remembers to reset the VM to a clean snapshot when he's done.

Submission + - Hubble To Use the Moon To View Transit of Venus (

astroengine writes: "On June 5 or 6 this year — the exact time and date depends on where you are in the world — Venus will be visible as a small black circle crossing the disk of the sun. Usually, the Hubble Space Telescope would have no business observing this event — the sun is too close for its optics. But plans are afoot for Hubble to observe the reflected sunlight bouncing off the lunar surface during the transit. As the sunlight will pass through the Venusian atmosphere, the transit will provide invaluable spectroscopic data about Venus' atmospheric composition. This, in turn, will help astronomers in characterizing the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars."

Comment Re:For this you want a professional product (Score 3, Insightful) 387

It is, however, Turbo Tax which is lobbying for the IRS not to publish their own web-based E-Filing software:

Steve Ryan, a lawyer for the tax-preparation industry who negotiated a deal that has the IRS promising not to set up its own Web portal for e-filing, says his argument was simple. "When the government becomes my competitor," Ryan says, "then I have every right to run an ad that says 'Big Brother is watching your keystrokes.'" I nearly choked when I read that. "Big Brother is watching my keystrokes"?! WTF? Of course they are, that's the point. They're not just watching, they're recording every value I enter into the form, so they can keep it in a file with my name, address, and social security number on it, and then use against me in a court of law! They get the exact same information if I use TurboTax, the only difference is TurboTax gets to watch my keystrokes, too, and then charge me for the privilege.

Comment Re:Violation of Facebook ToS (Score 1) 396

No, it's not illegal to encourage someone to break a contract (might be tortious interference, I guess, but hard to see how). But now that Congress has got its hands on the issue, I can't say I'd be surprised if the solution to this is a MP/RIAA-pleasing "It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly facilitate, solicit, encourage, or require as a condition of employment the violation of any End User License Agreement." Because hey, why draft a narrowly-tailored law that addresses privacy concerns when you could use the issue to sell the public on a much broader law that would please a powerful lobby?

Comment Re:Where Does It Claim to Be Under US Law? (Score 1) 328

Indictment by a U.S. grand jury necessitates that he was indicted for violating some U.S. law. U.S. grand juries can't indict for violating foreign laws; for that matter, a Maryland grand jury couldn't even indict for violations of Virginia law. How specifically the prosecutor tortured U.S. law to apply extraterritorially here is one of many head-scratchers about this case, though.

Comment Re:Question (Score 2) 354

No, traditionally "the location of your car, driving around in public places" is not reasonably considered private. ("A person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another." United States v. Knotts, 460 U. S. 276, 281 (1983)). The interesting thing about Justice Sotomayor's concurrence is that she left the door open to revisiting this in a future case. ("[B]ecause GPS monitoring is cheap in comparison to conventional surveillance techniques and, by design, proceeds surreptitiously, it evades the ordinary checks that constrain abusive law enforcement practices: limited police resources and community hostility." Slip. Op. concurrence at 3 (citation omitted)). She ultimately agreed with Justice Scalia that because there was an actual physical trespass here, the Court didn't need to reach that. ("We may have to grapple with these “vexing problems” in some future case where a classic trespassory search is not involved and resort must be had to Katz analysis; but there is no reason for rushing forward to resolve them here." Maj. Op. at 12.)

Traditionally if you were walking around on a public street you would expect that it would be possible for you to run into one of your friends, acquaintances, co-workers, or indeed, a police officer. If you were on your way to or from robbing a bank when that happened and that person ended up being a witness against you, you would call it bad luck, but you wouldn't say it was unreasonable invasion of privacy by the state: although possible, the improbability being meaningfully observed while in public colored our expectation of privacy. The police could follow your every public movement, of course, but the crushing cost of paying officers to follow you round the clock is beyond what most police departments could afford for any but the most serious offenders.

However, with omnipresent surveillance cameras, gps-enabled devices, and complete electronic records of our every transaction, we are fast leaving the realm where your public movements' being observed could be chalked up to bad luck and entering the era where the state can know everything about you with minimal cost or expense. And from reading this opinion, it seems like all the justices are in agreement that they are going to have to grapple with this soon.

Comment First Break in the Seven Day Week Cycle (Score 3, Interesting) 140

According to wikipedia (admittedly with a "citation needed") the seven day week cycle has continued unbroken for almost two millenia, despite numerous readjustments in the date over the centuries. So although skipping even a whole bunch of dates is not unheard of (e.g., Thursday, October 4th, 1582 followed immediately by Friday, October 15th when the Gregorian calendar was adopted), this seems like the first time in a long time that the day after Thursday hasn't been Friday.

Comment Re:What the hell is wrong with you? (Score 1) 218

You know, I've heard the "China and the US are too interdependent to go to war" theory a lot, and while on the whole I'd say you're probably right, there's this nagging doubt at the back of my mind. The exact same sort of hubris-filled sentiment was very common in the run up to World War I: the great powers are far too economically entwined, war would be catastrophic for businesses, no one would let it happen. The fact that it did is still so mind-boggling that almost a century of the best minds have struggled to explain what caused it. Take a look at the "further reading" section on Causes_of_World_War_I. So while I agree that it would be suicidal, a war between the US and China can't be completely ruled out just because it would be so colossally stupid. Off the top of my mind, I could see things deteriorating if some or all of the following things happen in 2012:
  1. China's massive property bubble collapses; China's new middle class, whose life savings is mostly tied up in real estate, loses everything; instability ensues.
  2. China botches the planned handoff in leadership from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping.
  3. A pro-independence candidate wins in the 2012 elections in Taiwan.
  4. North Korea collapses; refugees stream across the border; US crosses the 38th parallel to secure nuclear materials, then decides to stay a while.
  5. One or more EU countries is forced into an unplanned, unmanaged exit from the euro, disrupting the global financial system.
  6. US passes significant protectionist trade policy targeting Chinese imports and/or currency.
  7. Some quasi-state supported cyberterrorists in China exceed the scope of whatever authority they're given by the murky command structure and hack a high-profile US company or defense institution.

To reiterate, I think war is unlikely, even if all of those things were to happen. But I think it's important to realize that just because war is not a rational decision doesn't mean it can't happen. Things have a way of spiraling out of control when you don't expect it.

Comment Re:Rather Petty, Adobe... (Score 3, Insightful) 485

Steve Jobs can't say "I told you so," all Android users knew he was right (or should have, anyway): flash is crap and we wish the web would switch to something better. But we're not going to be the ones to cut of our noses to spite our faces by going without flash while it is still so pervasive on the web. Steve and his devoted market segment are making the sacrifice for us, and at the same time driving content providers away from flash while I get to enjoy the convenience of still being able to use the flash content from websites who haven't switched. I have nothing but gratitude for that. I'd never buy an Apple product, I don't agree with the man's business practices, and I think the godlike homage he's gotten in the past few weeks since his death unfairly ascribes to him a lot of technical knowledge more properly attributable to the Woz. But credit where credit is due, he repeatedly had the balls to say "this is an outdated technology, we're switching to something better, backward compatibility be damned. Our users will follow us through the rough transition and be glad of it." See OS9, the floppy drive, the PS/2 keyboard and mouse, and soon, hopefully, Flash.

Comment Increase the Size of the House of Representatives (Score 1) 341

There's no constitutional requirement that the House be limited to 435 members, and in fact it was historically increased after each census until 1920 or so. As a result of the fixed number of Reps, the ratio of people to representatives has exploded from what the framers originally intended (around 40 or 50k to one) to an average of 700k to one, with disproportionate representation given to people who live in states with less than 1/435 of the total US population because of the requirement that every state have at least one. 435 is a comparatively small number of targets for lobbyists and special interests, and it allows incumbents to become too easily entrenched. With modern technology like televised (and video recorded) debates and committee hearings, remote voting, etc., coupled with a major overhaul of the House rules, it seems like it should be possible to manage a House with a thousand or 1500 members, maybe more. Reduce the influence of special interest money by reducing the influence of individual representatives, making it no longer cost effective to buy one off. At the same time, you increase the power of the general populace: since a representative will be less attractive to special interests, he'll have focus more on pleasing his constituency to maintain his job--a constituency which will then have easier access to his time and attention. This is how the system was supposed to work in the first place, the artificial cap on representatives has just knocked it out of whack.

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