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Comment While we're on the topic... Orbiter (Score 4, Informative) 76

Check out Orbiter - without a doubt the most realistic (and incredible) space flight simulator around. My little brother has basically taught himself orbital mechanics using Orbiter and online tutorials for the game (if you can call it that!) The real deal - Hohmann transfer orbits and spaceflight mechanics-type concepts I'd never heard of.

When I saw "the space game", I thought for sure they were talking about Orbiter. If "designing your own route to Jupiter" is something you're interested in, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Comment Re:Why the press does a bad job (Score 5, Interesting) 489

I sometimes wonder if perhaps government needs another wing,

an executive, a legislature, a judiciary and another wing(investigative?) with the job of (but not monopoly on)letting everyone know what the hell the other 3 are up to

I'm often surprised (and impressed) by how well the CBC here in Canada and the BBC in the UK objectively report on government actions and policies. Both of them are government-owned entities, but they seem to provide a much more critical lens on that very government than the private commercial news broadcasters do. It's really counter-intuitive.

Comment Article contents (Score 1) 386

...for future reference when the article gets locked:

Copyright and wrong
Why the rules on copyright need to return to their roots

Apr 8th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

WHEN Parliament decided, in 1709, to create a law that would protect books from piracy, the London-based publishers and booksellers who had been pushing for such protection were overjoyed. When Queen Anne gave her assent on April 10th the following year—300 years ago this week—to “An act for the encouragement of learning” they were less enthused. Parliament had given them rights, but it had set a time limit on them: 21 years for books already in print and 14 years for new ones, with an additional 14 years if the author was still alive when the first term ran out. After that, the material would enter the public domain so that anyone could reproduce it. The lawmakers intended thus to balance the incentive to create with the interest that society has in free access to knowledge and art. The Statute of Anne thus helped nurture and channel the spate of inventiveness that Enlightenment society and its successors have since enjoyed.

Over the past 50 years, however, that balance has shifted. Largely thanks to the entertainment industry’s lawyers and lobbyists, copyright’s scope and duration have vastly increased. In America, copyright holders get 95 years’ protection as a result of an extension granted in 1998, derided by critics as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”. They are now calling for even greater protection, and there have been efforts to introduce similar terms in Europe. Such arguments should be resisted: it is time to tip the balance back.

Annie get your gun

Lengthy protection, it is argued, increases the incentive to create. Digital technology seems to strengthen the argument: by making copying easier, it seems to demand greater protection in return. The idea of extending copyright also has a moral appeal. Intellectual property can seem very like real property, especially when it is yours, and not some faceless corporation’s. As a result people feel that once they own it—especially if they have made it—they should go on owning it, much as they would a house that they could pass on to their descendants. On this reading, protection should be perpetual. Ratcheting up the time limit on a regular basis becomes a reasonable way of approximating that perpetuity.

The notion that lengthening copyright increases creativity is questionable, however. Authors and artists do not generally consult the statute books before deciding whether or not to pick up pen or paintbrush. And overlong copyrights often limit, rather than encourage, a work’s dissemination, impact and influence. It can be difficult to locate copyright holders to obtain the rights to reuse old material. As a result, much content ends up in legal limbo (and in the case of old movies and sound recordings, is left to deteriorate—copying them in order to preserve them may constitute an act of infringement). The penalties even for inadvertent infringement are so punishing that creators routinely have to self-censor their work. Nor does the advent of digital technology strengthen the case for extending the period of protection. Copyright protection is needed partly to cover the costs of creating and distributing works in physical form. Digital technology slashes such costs, and thus reduces the argument for protection.

The moral case, although easy to sympathise with, is a way of trying to have one’s cake and eat it. Copyright was originally the grant of a temporary government-supported monopoly on copying a work, not a property right. From 1710 onwards, it has involved a deal in which the creator or publisher gives up any natural and perpetual claim in order to have the state protect an artificial and limited one. So it remains.

The question is how such a deal can be made equitably. At the moment, the terms of trade favour publishers too much. A return to the 28-year copyrights of the Statute of Anne would be in many ways arbitrary, but not unreasonable. If there is a case for longer terms, they should be on a renewal basis, so that content is not locked up automatically. The value society places on creativity means that fair use needs to be expanded and inadvertent infringement should be minimally penalised. None of this should get in the way of the enforcement of copyright, which remains a vital tool in the encouragement of learning. But tools are not ends in themselves.

Comment Re:Fly-by-wireless-link for the win! (Score 1) 522

I'm not going to justify these actions, they were horrendous. Nonetheless, they were all done for the purpose of ending the war.

Are you joking? You think the "insurgents" are doing this because they just enjoy war for its own sake?

Mod parent up. Everyone wants to end the war (any war); each side just wants it to end in a particular way.

Comment Re:Verizon is doubling the phone-subsidy to $350.. (Score 1) 520

Virgin Mobile here in Canada is (i'm guessing) the same idea; they use other carriers' towers, you buy the phone at Wal-Mart.
And seriously (not to be a shill) but their pre-paid service is vastly cheaper than any of the competition where I live (Saskatchewan). I thought the prices were pretty comparable, then I realized the other providers add service and 911 fees on top of the prices they advertise, and charge that much again for call display or voicemail. I pay $20 a month plus $0.10 a minute with unlimited texting, call display and voicemail; it doesn't get much better considering how little I talk. Not sure about their data plans though. I just can't see why people get 3-year phone plans... crazy.

Comment Finally! (Score 2, Informative) 81

My older brother is the design head for the University of Saskatchewan team, the front-runners of the past competitions. Suffice to say they're really excited about it, since this competition has been delayed month by month since about a year ago! It'll be neat to see everything actually all come together.

You can watch a sweet (if cheesy) video about the team on their website.

Scientists Learn To Fabricate DNA Evidence 256

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that it is possible to fabricate blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor, and even to construct a sample of DNA to match someone's profile without obtaining any tissue from that person — if you have access to their DNA profile in a database. This undermines the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases. 'You can just engineer a crime scene,' said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper. 'Any biology undergraduate could perform this.' The scientists fabricated DNA samples in two ways. One requires a real, if tiny, DNA sample, perhaps from a strand of hair or a drinking cup. They amplified the tiny sample into a large quantity of DNA using a standard technique called whole genome amplification. The other technique relies on DNA profiles, stored in law enforcement databases as a series of numbers and letters corresponding to variations at 13 spots in a person's genome. The scientists cloned tiny DNA snippets representing the common variants at each spot, creating a library of such snippets. To prepare a phony DNA sample matching any profile, they just mixed the proper snippets together. Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, says the findings were worrisome. 'DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,' says Simoncelli. 'We're creating a criminal justice system that is increasingly relying on this technology.'"

Comment Re:As a Canadian, my thoughts (Score 1) 394

people should have ownership over ideas

I disagree.

Any ideas that I have are, to a considerable (possibly entire) extent, inspired or formed by the ideas that I've been exposed to prior to coming up with "my own" ideas. Really, when you think about it, can any creator take 100% credit for whatever it is they produce? Take philosophy for example, when someone writes up a book with some new philosophical theory, it's guaranteed that the ideas of philosophers going back centuries contributed to the new work.

Maybe the best example is chord progressions and jazz music. A whole pile of great jazz tunes were based on the chord progressions of songs by old timers like Gershwin - jazz artists would take the exact same chords, write new melodies, and improvise great tunes out of them. Imagine though, if copyright law had included chord progressions - jazz music as an art form would likely not exist. And really, why shouldn't chord progressions be copyrighted too? After all, Gershwin came up with some great ones. But the loss to society and culture would have been severe (although nobody would have noticed at the time). And at the same time, Gershwin when he wrote those chords would have been inspired by the musicians of his time that he listened to. So jazz musicians ripped off Gershwin (and other tin pan alley composers), and these guys ripped off previous composers, and society benefited enormously from all of that.

That's something that's all the more apparent today, since something created in one part of the world can be immediately visible worldwide, and won't be forgotten for years. For culture to grow and thrive, you need to be able to rip off, build on, and be inspired by the artists, creators, and inventors that came before you or are your contemporaries. That doesn't happen nowadays.

But the idea itself? You don't deserve to be paid just because you thought about something and put it on paper.

Well, maybe paid a little for putting together previous creators' ideas in a new combination. But in exchange, you have to let other people do the same with yours.

Also, a bizarre but fascinating exploration of perpetual copyright and the future, by Spider Robinson:

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