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Comment Bad examples (Score 5, Insightful) 317

Bridges often have unused structural elements: walk-ways made unsafe by modern traffic levels, maintenance accesses unused for safety reasons, supports made redundant beyond the factor of safety by bridge improvements, etc. Chips and boards too: FPGAs with 10% utilization, chip designs re-purposed with functional components disabled, subsystems replaced in boards by new designers not confident enough to remove the old design, etc.

Cruft in software is more often removed because (1) software has a potentially longer lifetime than hardware and (2) it's a lot easier to remove an uncalled function from a program than a girder from a bridge! Software cleanup should be an expected and planned part of a project's life cycle.

Comment Re:Special people, special privileges (Score 1) 353

I agree that the shield laws should be expanded, for the same reasons you laid out. I'd prefer to see it happen through legislation rather than reliance on precedence set by rulings like this one, but at least we're likely to see some progress. As for political name-calling, I don't know if the privilege to hide your sources can be used to dodge libel charges anyway - but politicians could always use thicker skins!

I think it's reasonable for bloggers to push for leveling of the journalistic playing field, and I hope that those who take their roles as amateur journalists seriously get the respect they deserve.

Definitely. And with the decline of print media, it's bound to get cleared up sooner or later. Hopefully sooner!

Comment Re:Special people, special privileges (Score 1) 353

With journalism we're talking about restricting the right to have an opinion and speak the truth.

No, we're not. We are expressly talking about the Shield Laws that exempt journalists from disclosing the sources of their facts; not their right to disclose facts in general. It is the applicability of the Shield Laws to non-print media and amateur journalism that is in question.

It's a balance of what is good for the state right now (getting information used to catch and prosecute illegal activity) and what is good for the state long term (protection from undue threat of exposure for whistleblowers, leaks, and sources). The history that led to the creation of Shield Laws clearly indicates that we the people want a balance. People whose roles are critical to a progressive society may be afforded the privilege of freedom from subpoenas - in limited situations. But we also don't want to de-claw subpoenas as a tool of justice by giving everyone carte blanche exemption.

Regardless, freedom of speech is secure (well, as secure as it is regardless of this issue!) and this is strictly about being forced by a court to disclose sources.

Comment Re:If not the government, then who? (Score 4, Interesting) 353

How about we don't have special rights for special people? Everyone gets the same rights regardless of whether or not the government or someone else feels like a particular class of people shouldn't have them.

Think for a minute. No special privileges granted to police officers to enter premises in case of emergencies, carry weapons openly, or detain people against their will despite not witnessing a crime? No special privileges granted to fire-fighters to restrict people from entering their own homes or to enter someone's home without permission? No special privileges granted to ambulance drivers to go through red lights?

We give government the power to grant privileges to some people that we do not want granted to all people.

I think the point you were trying to make was that everyone should be afforded the protection of the Shield Laws, not just journalists. I disagree; the privilege to withhold information from a court, despite due process being followed via a subpoena, is powerful. That privilege should only be given to people whose refusal to disclose information about potentially criminal activities is, despite appearances, a good thing for the state and its people. This boils down to people whose jobs are beneficial to the state and its people and who rely on public trust and confidential communication to do their jobs effectively. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, maybe some others. And the importance of confidentiality and trust and whether or not information was given in the context of those jobs is examined when the Shield Laws are relied upon.

Comment Re:Bogus (Score 1) 353

If we want to continue to give the press special privileges, someone has to determine who is and is not press. The alternative is to let everyone rely on the Shield Laws. We don't want that because it would significantly undermine the power of the court to ascertain information via subpoenas. Joey "The Wrench" Rigatoni calls his Facebook profile a blog and can't tell you who posted "I killed Jimmy Hoffa" on his wall.

The definitions of "media" and "press" are evolving and the court system is intentionally slow-moving. This unfortunately comes down hard on journalists (and not-journalists) during the transition period.

Comment I cautiously support "Journalist Licenses" (Score 1) 353

The protections given to journalists are not those of free speech - we already have those - but rather the shield laws that allow journalists to legally withhold information relating to the fact-gathering process. That's a weighty privilege afforded to few other professions and I don't think it should be handed out to every blogger or rag writer without compromising the court system and subpoenas.

I would cautiously support a "Journalist License" because I think it would more clearly define the rights of journalists and provide security and confidence to sources. I would insist on the following points.
  • - A Journalist License should be available to any journalist who meets a reasonable standard of fact-checking and professionalism in reporting, regardless of chosen media or corporate association (or lack thereof).
  • - A "Journalist License" must not be an impediment to the anonymous publication of information.
  • - The granting of a Journalist License must not include any personal investigation into the journalist.
  • - It must not be possible to cancel or invalidate a Journalist License. It may expire, but re-issuing must not impose any additional requirements.
  • - Disclosure of a Journalist License must be optional at all times.
  • - A journalist must not be afforded or denied any due process or rights as a result of holding or not-holding a Journalist License, except for the "Shield Laws".

There's a lot of potential for abuse by government, but formalized simply and clearly I think it could be done right. That said, I would read very carefully before supporting any attempts to implement such a license.

Comment Re:Recycling (Score 1) 278

If you cannot do what you like with you hardware then you obviously do not own it.

You can't legally saw the barrel off your shotgun, remove the airbags from your car, or torture your dog. We give government the power to make laws abridging our use of our own possessions. I think modding should be legal, with exceptions as necessary (reselling a car without disclosing modded brake-control firmware, for example), but I don't think the definition of ownership is the right way to argue the point.

Comment Re:Jailbreaking consoles (Score 2) 278

Honestly, I can't imagine it'll be that huge an implication. Just because it'll be legal doesn't at all mean Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony need to make it easy, nor does it stop them from ruining old jailbreak methods with new firmware, like what they do now, to whatever effectiveness it does.

If it's legal it can be widely advertised and freely undertaken. If jailbroken phones are desirable, their legality will create a market for jailbreakable phones and (with time) vendors will try to expand into that market.

Comment Re:Wasn't this already done? (Score 3, Interesting) 278

It appears that provision was intended to prevent "tie-in" sales. A Businessperson's Guide to Federal Warranty Law gives the example of vacuum cleaner manufacturers requiring branded vacuum cleaner bags to keep the warranty in effect.

Because the firmware on your phone is not (yet) a monetized product distinct from the phone itself, I suspect requiring a specific vendor's firmware does not fall afoul of the spirit of the law. Also note that the vendor is allowed to void the warranty because of damage caused by incorrect service or modification, which I would assume can be extended to damage caused by buggy third-party firmware.

Comment Uh, well, I guess they made their point (Score 1, Insightful) 561

Greenpeace said the break-in aimed to show that an ongoing review of safety measures ... was focused too narrowly on possible natural disasters, and not human factors.

Reasonable and responsible activists would have hired safety and security experts to write a report, lobbied a politician to present it, and run a media campaign to raise awareness. But hey, they made their point: there are dangerous radical groups in France that will break into nuclear power plants. They even pointed out one in particular, called Greenpeace.

Comment Shredders are good enough for classified docs (Score 5, Informative) 94

NSA-approved shredders are good enough for destroying classified documents up to TS; the shredded remains do not need to be controlled. The shreddings are fine enough that no piece of output can contain a single glyph at any reasonable font size. The shreddings of even a single piece of paper are shuffled together by the action of the blades. These shredders aren't cheap, but I bet they'll stand up to state-level threats of reconstruction for the next 10 years or so.

If that's not good enough, some locations use burn-boxes - never trust a machine to do thermodynamic's job!

Comment If you can't handle CS1 without hand-holding... (Score 1) 606

Frankly, if you can't handle CS1 without hand-holding, maybe you're just not cut out for Computer Science. I've found that professors are much happier to take extra time on concepts once you get into the later undergrad material and grad school research-oriented topic - the hard stuff - but have little patience for introductory courses.

After all, why should a professor dumb down a relatively easy course for 200 students when he or she could accelerate it for 100 students? Prove your ability on the easy stuff and the professor will spend more time on you when you get to the difficult stuff.

Comment Re:Evils... (Score 2) 248

So the US and Russian Federation toast the stock they have. 5 years later the People's Republic of China or North Korea release a mutated weaponized smallpox that no one else has a vaccine for.

Does having a tiny bit of old smallpox in a vial somewhere give you a significant advantage in making large quantities of vaccine for new mutated smallpox?

According to TFS the US is ordering 14 million smallpox vaccine doses and I don't think they're relying on the current smallpox vials to make them. It seems to me that we could kill off smallpox but still be ready to produce vaccines if a new strain broke out.

Frankly, I think the odds and resulting damage of some nation hiding weaponized smallpox all these years and intentionally releasing it are overshadowed by the odds and damage of the US accidentally releasing or losing the stored vials. Autoclave the thing and call it a day.

Comment What's the real research question? (Score 1) 159

It seems to me that the real research question is "how can one stranger teach another stranger a natural language using a less powerful shared language?" For instance, how can I teach you English when the only language we share is basic gestures?

Some theoretical work on communicating the rules of complicated languages using very limited languages would be interesting. The fact that they used robots is hardly important; anybody can stick a speech synthesizer and speech recognition on a PC and call it a day. The underlying problem is the same.

When I hear "Robots used in [10-years-out research topic x]" I think "If they were serious about research topic x they'd be working theoretically - they're nowhere near ready to start worrying about implementations!"

Maybe that's unfair, but it seems that there's a world of cool theory to be explored on this topic, and unless they plan on having the robots do the work, I don't see many breakthroughs coming from the authors.

Comment Annoyed me to the point of abandoning Firefox (Score 1) 447

I don't know if it's still the case, but when it first came out there was a bug with Linux ext3 filesystems (actually more of a ext3 bug or design decision conflict with Firefox) that imposed 10-20 second lock-ups every few minutes. After a few days of that Firefox was replaced with something a little more lightweight in general. Sometimes I just want to browse the web - when my netbook is being made unusable by the web browser, I've got a problem!

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