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Don't Tie a Horse To a Tree and Other Open Data Lessons

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the made-sense-at-the-time dept.

Government 109

itwbennett writes "Baltimore this week became the first city to hop on the open data bandwagon with the launch of the Baltimore Decoded website. The site makes the city's charter and codes more accessible to the public and will eventually include information on court decisions, legislative tracking and city technical standards (e.g., building regulations, zoning restrictions, fire codes). The site also offers a RESTful, JSON-based API for accessing the data. ITworld's Phil Johnson dug in and found these lesser-known Baltimore codes: You can't hold more than 1 yard sale every 6 months, you can't tie a horse to a tree, and you can't have fruit on a wharf. What you do with this information is up to you."

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109 comments

No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323529)

What kind of place is Baltimore if their "openness" doesn't allow horse/tree connectivity? I realize it's probably IP/patent related, but geez folks, can't we work this out?

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (5, Funny)

chromas (1085949) | about 9 months ago | (#44323547)

can't we work this out?

Neigh.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (3, Funny)

SCPRedMage (838040) | about 9 months ago | (#44323589)

Hay now, do we really need these stupid puns?

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (3, Funny)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about 9 months ago | (#44323609)

Stop it with this childish game right now! Or do I hoof to put you down?

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323647)

Trot and stop me.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323675)

Your mother sucked an equine's dick when she was vacationing in the Netherlands, bobbing til ol' Trigger blew his goo in her cheeks that went "gloomp!"

She was sure horsing around, eh? Eh?

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323701)

Stop it with this childish game right now! Or do I hoof to put you down?

Stop trying to rein us in.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (4, Insightful)

plover (150551) | about 9 months ago | (#44324391)

Stop trying to rein us in.

Thank you! That is the first time this month anyone on slashdot has correctly spelled the phrase "rein in".

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about 9 months ago | (#44327777)

I would have tied my horse to a tree, but I was rained in and didn't want to get wet.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

plover (150551) | about 9 months ago | (#44328081)

If the Queen goes to visit the Royal Baby and abdicates the throne to become a full time grandmother, Charles will reign in her stead.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44329339)

If the Queen goes to visit the Royal Baby and goes by horse drawn carriage, the chauffeur will rein in her steed.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

mpe (36238) | about 9 months ago | (#44329739)

If the Queen goes to visit the Royal Baby and abdicates the throne to become a full time grandmother, Charles will reign in her stead.

The baby in question is her great grandchild. Also were she to abdicate the next in line would be her nephew, David Armstrong-Jones.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44329889)

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323595)

Horses use LTE-A and 802.11ac. One thing is about horses is they're all champs with the bits.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

intermodal (534361) | about 9 months ago | (#44327269)

I was wondering why I keep checking Slashdot and then I found this comment section. Bravo, my good chaps!

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324255)

If it's an apple tree, then the horse might take a bite out of the side of an apple, thereby accidentally infringing on a certain well-known trademark.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 9 months ago | (#44324313)

What kind of place is Baltimore if their "openness" doesn't allow horse/tree connectivity? I realize it's probably IP/patent related, but geez folks, can't we work this out?

Probable actual reason: A horse tied to a tree will gnaw on the bark. If they gnaw away a ring around the trunk, the tree will die. If it is your tree, on your own property, fine. But if it is my tree, and I have not given you permission, or it is a tree on public property, it is perfectly reasonable for it to be illegal for you to tie your horse to it.

The other laws seem reasonable too. What if you neighbor starts collecting goods and holding a garage sale everyday? When does it become a commercial enterprise in a residential area? I am not sure I would draw the line a twice a year, but if zoning means anything, they have to draw a line somewhere.

Fruit on a wharf attracts fruit eating insects, which can spread to/from ships, encouraging the transfer of invasive species. It is a reasonable law.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324349)

Probable actual reason: A horse tied to a tree will gnaw on the bark. If they gnaw away a ring around the trunk, the tree will die.

God damn, how long are you leaving it tied there? It'll be close to starving before it starts to do that.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324401)

If you tie it to the same tree every day, it won't last.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 9 months ago | (#44324517)

Probable actual reason: A horse tied to a tree will gnaw on the bark. If they gnaw away a ring around the trunk, the tree will die.

God damn, how long are you leaving it tied there? It'll be close to starving before it starts to do that.

It depends on the size and type of tree. Many trees have thick bark and bitter sap. Other trees, such as fruit trees, have thin bark and sweet sap. A horse can kill an apple tree in less than an hour.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 9 months ago | (#44325895)

God damn, how long are you leaving it tied there? It'll be close to starving before it starts to do that.

It depends on the size and type of tree. Many trees have thick bark and bitter sap. Other trees, such as fruit trees, have thin bark and sweet sap. A horse can kill an apple tree in less than an hour.

Also, horses are kind of like people: they have distinct personalities distinct tastes and they are generally noticable different from one another. Some horses just love to chew on wooden things.

I used to live moderately near some horses. They were kept in a big field with no shortage of grass. Nevertheless one of them had chewed half way through the fence. These are old, dry wooden fence parts. There was no sap in them at all.

Also I only ever saw one of the horses chewing at it.

I think it's a question of personal taste. Some humans like chewing stuff too (which is why gum is quite popular).

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 9 months ago | (#44328597)

I live in a house built in 1830. The garage was probably once a stable. One of the posts in the framing - an 8 x 8 piece of lumber - is oddly sculpted, apparently nibbled to a depth of 2 inches by a horse.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324739)

It'll be close to starving before it starts to do that.

I don't have much knowledge of horses; I've only ridden once in fact; but on that one ride we were told not to let your horses chew on stuff by the side of the trail. If we were riding slowly enough, it became a problem and I literally had to rein her in a couple times. No, they weren't starving. They're grazing animals and will graze, nibble, chomp at anything. I didn't think they'd go after tree bark; but if it's the only thing a mouth level, then I guess they do.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44325317)

You are aware of the fact that you can make up rationalizations for *everything* in retrospect??

Rule: "You are not allowed to breathe air when you see something green while somebody honks."

Rationalization: "Yeah, you see, when somebody honks, he tries to warn you. If something is green, it could be nasty mold. You don't want to breathe that in. You might get sick or die. I think it's a reasonable law and totally worth it. Besides: Naturally, everybody will follow those laws automatically, because they are so obvious and everybody is told all laws in school."

Am I the only one who thinks all laws that one doesn't know about should not only be illegal, but the maker of said law should be punished hard for making it?!
New rule: It is not a law, until EVERYBODY who is affected by it has understood it fully, and agreed to it. (Assuming that you can get expelled from a place if you don't agree with the others there, or go into special care in case you are unable to understand/explain. That specifically includes the maker of a law that isn't accepted by anybody.)
Another new rule: English, motherfucker! Speak it! No lawyerspeak & co. Otherwise the law is invalid.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44325737)

while that would makes sense it currently works like this

1) make so many new laws every year that it is flatout impossible for any 1 person to have read them all (forget understood and considered)
2) have courts hold 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' as a legal axiom
3) jail anyone you want, anytime you want (you can always find a reason)

welcome to modern tyranny, it's a lot more subtle then old-style tyranny, but ultimately you're still screwed if the powers that be want to screw you.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 9 months ago | (#44328679)

It is not a law, until EVERYBODY who is affected by it has understood it fully, and agreed to it.

So laws against rape and murder and burglary aren't possible until all rapists, murderers, and professional burglars agree with them. Please think before posting.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 9 months ago | (#44326737)

Probable actual reason: A horse tied to a tree will gnaw on the bark

Makes sense. How about this law from my state? "You cannot chain your alligator to a fire hydrant."

Wow those were some crazy times...

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 9 months ago | (#44329003)

How about this law from my state? "You cannot chain your alligator to a fire hydrant."

I just googled for this, and found people from Alabama, Arkansas and Michigan claiming that this is the law in their state, but none of them citing any actual law. Which leads me to believe it is just an urban myth and isn't actually a law anywhere. Do you have a citation that says otherwise?

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44328365)

I agree, that the yard sale restriction is reasonable for, as you say, separating residential and commercial space.

It seems that the horse/tree thing maybe should specify that you cannot tie a horse to a tree that you do not own.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

tragedy (27079) | about 9 months ago | (#44331269)

Depends. Does it count as the same yard sale if it's the same stuff and you sell it on both Saturday and Sunday, or are those two separate yard sales? What about two successive weekends? For that matter, if you start at 9:00 AM, then it starts to rain around noon, so you pack up and move everything inside, then move back outside after the rain and start selling again, does it count as a new yard sale?

You make a reasonable sounding point for a fairly oppressive law. I think there's way too much of that sort of thing these days. If someone is violating zoning laws by turning their yard into a store, you can prove that it's more than a yard sale by showing that they have wholesale suppliers making deliveries, digging into their tax records, etc. You don't need a law like this.

Re:No Horse/Tree Connectivity? (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 9 months ago | (#44326463)

I'd imagine that if someone rode their horse into town the would be tempted to tie it to a convenient tree. Then, pacing around, bored waiting the horse would end up girdling the tree! That was probably a very good law a bit over 100 years ago.

Yes, I know I was responding seriously to a joke.

Reoccuring (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323539)

What about a single reoccuring yard sale. Is that legal?

Re:Reoccuring (1)

Guinness Beaumont (2901413) | about 9 months ago | (#44323615)

Or the larger exploit, an ill-defined duration of said sale.

Re:Reoccuring (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323725)

Okay, one SIX MONTH yard sale every six months. Make sure it is available 24/7 and the city would have to take their yard sale law and shove it.

3.11? Nope, 404. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323637)

404 not found in many -- maybe most -- links. This site was probably tried to a linux tree. Linux for non-working government groups perhaps. ::grin::

Two problems (0)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 9 months ago | (#44323641)

"We have a need to structure all this data. I know, lets use JSON!" "Great, now you have two problems."

JSON and REST and XML and all this other crap is just lame.

Re:Two problems (4, Insightful)

Shados (741919) | about 9 months ago | (#44323681)

XML may be an over engineered piece of crap, but while JSON isn't perfect, its pretty darn simple and "just works", with very few gotchas... REST is just "use http the way it was designed to be used and not one bit more".

Not too sure where the problem is.

Re:Two problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44325303)

I personally recommend a very simple binary form of markup that is just as much human-editable as ASCII or UTF-8:

Define a "tag" as a single UTF-8-like value as identified, followed by another UTF-8-like value, whose ord() value is the length of the containing data that follows right after.
That's it.

You can reserve one specific tag, e.g. "X" as the "XML translation table", and have it contain a mapping from tag values to XML names, or a URL to such a mapping.

And you can reserve another specific tag, e.g. "R" as the "RelaxNG (C-style) schema" for the document. Containing either the schema itself, or a URL to it.

An editor would simply transform it into XML upon reading, and from XML upon writing. Just like characters are transformed from values into vector graphics or bitmaps for display.

The schema would of course be used for validation.

It's extremely flexible, simple, clean and fast. In fact, the first time I used it for a web application, was in 2003.
And with a bit of modification, it can even read EBML.

Re:Two problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44327145)

You're describing something very similar to the old IFF-based formats (RIFF, AIFF, etc.).

They start off with a four character code (packed as a 32-bit unsigned integer, so byte order matters). That's followed by a 32-bit unsigned integer indicating the number of bytes in the payload of that "chunk". The chunk payload follows after that. Each chunk's payload can be either nested chunks or data, but not both.

These files have been around for decades. The 32-bit format is limited to a 2GB file size because some of the crappy implementations used signed byte counts, but you could use 64-bit ints/uints instead.

Examples are: old Amiga image and audio files (original IFF), Apple AIFF audio files (AIFF) and compressed AIFF (AIFC), WAV/AVI (RIFF), Excel XLS (BIFF)

A slightly more complicated version of the same idea is the old Apple Resource Fork Format. It worked similarly, but employed a flexible-but-complicated lookup table scheme.

I've used both of these in .Net within the last couple of years. They're great flat-file schemes for desktop applications. They were also quite fun to figure out and build.

Re:Two problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44327905)

Uuum, my format would be hierarchical. Tags would contain other tags. Like XML or EBML.

And yes, the reason I used UTF-8 characters, was exactly so it wouldn't be limited to 4GB.

But yeah, other than that, every format in that style has an instant +1 in my eyes.

Re:Two problems (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323685)

your right heaven forbid they provide the data in a format easily accessible to 3rd parties, so said parties can create tools that integrate local standards and laws into there software.

shame on them

In case i was unclear i'm saying you are a fucking moron

Re:Two problems (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323727)

heaven forbid they provide the data in a format easily accessible to 3rd parties, so said parties can create tools that integrate local standards and laws into there software.

It's Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you.

Re:Two problems (2)

diamondmagic (877411) | about 9 months ago | (#44324809)

And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but JSON isn't usually RESTful (there's no hypertext).

REST is a perfectly fine network architecture, it's designed to support forward-comparability and be self-documenting. But most people have no clue what it means.

Like Twitter. Their website is more RESTful than their so-called REST API, it's despicable.

Re:Two problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44325189)

Yes, instead of using accessible open standards they should have written an app for some proprietary telephone brand and tied it to a "social" website. Apparently they worried about doing things right, not about being called "just lame" with no further explanation.

It is a crime prevention measure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323649)

Omar been robbing every public official he could find of their open data. Apparently, stealing city codes en masse is more profitable (and illegal) than robbing drug dealers.

Know the law (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323687)

Finally, A cit where you can figure out what it legal under the city's laws. Now only if you could access the county, state and federal regulations it might be possible to obey the millions of pages of laws that you are subject to. That would be nice, but under common law, you also need all the historical records! Some of those may or may not have existing documentation, and it may be privately held.

We have a legal system that accumulates laws. I'd prefer one that actively put in some re-factoring and simplification work instead of implicitly including all historical laws and decisions, overriding what is changed. How much law can we possible need? It has to be less that what we have.

Re:Know the law (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323723)

It is that way by design. It's difficult to control a law abiding populace, so pass enough laws to make everyone a criminal. Some one gets uppity or steps out of line, you've already got 'em.

Re:Know the law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324051)

It is that way by design. It's difficult to control a law abiding populace, so pass enough laws to make everyone a criminal. Some one gets uppity or steps out of line, you've already got 'em.

But I don't like that design. Its like python's std lib if we were stuck with python 2 for 200+ years. Having 20 versions of everything is not the solution!

Re:Know the law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324233)

Then don't worry! They're moving towards a "we can arrest and hold you for as long as we like with no reason, trial or outside communication" model (ie. the patriot act). They we might have some traction cleaning up the other laws!

Re:Know the law (2)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 9 months ago | (#44325651)

It's quite a short-sighted view, though. Once everyone's a criminal who faces prison for doing nothing but it being their turn to be made an example of, the rule of law becomes meaningless. There are only two results; Martial law, as in Egypt / Syria right now, or anarchy / tribalism as in the Congo. Neither is a stable state.

Re:Know the law (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about 9 months ago | (#44327397)

I think you vastly underestimate people's capacity for doublethink and other forms of self deception.

A person can break the law every day but, the law he breaks isn't so bad, he never gets caught because its not one of the really important ones. The other people, the ones who get caught? They were usually doing other things too, or being reckless.

Doesn't matter if we are talking about speeding, pot smoking, or turning back the clock a bit and going with Sodomy laws. Have you ever thought about the implications of having found out that double digit percentages of the population engaged secretly in acts that social norms and laws considered perverse and illegal? Because that is exactly what Kinsey's data revealed.

I mean, now we look back and its little surprize so many people engaged in oral sex, or that such a high percentage of men had a homosexual experience at some point in their life.

Re:Know the law (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 9 months ago | (#44328833)

FWIW, Kinsey was a perv, and part of his purpose in making his studies was to normalize degeneracy. Nonetheless, your very inspecific "double digit percentages" could be as low as ten percent, and I agree that's not surprising.

Re:Know the law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44323841)

Finally, A cit[sic] where you can figure out what it[sic] legal under the city's laws. Now only if you could access the ... federal regulations

Hmmm. What's wrong with http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collectionUScode.action?collectionCode=USCODE ?

Re:Know the law (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324013)

Finally, A cit[sic] where you can figure out what it[sic] legal under the city's laws. Now only if you could access the ... federal regulations

Hmmm. What's wrong with http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collectionUScode.action?collectionCode=USCODE ?

You also need the judicial interpretation, you know that thing Aaron Swartz purchased par of your us (PACER)? Its still not fully free.

Some other omitted things:

"The U.S. Code does not include regulations issued by executive branch agencies, decisions of the Federal courts, treaties, or laws enacted by State or local governments. Regulations issued by executive branch agencies are available in the Code of Federal Regulations."

So there are still some secret treaties, as well as not so secret ones that are missing from that in addition to the PACER data.

Re:Know the law (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 9 months ago | (#44324315)

Lacks FCC/FAA/IRS laws (code with force of law). The NEC is "law", but not available publicly. Many regulations carry force of law, but can only be known by paying a private company money for a copy. Is it fascism? Private companies get to make law, though that's more at the local level, the federal regulations are made by federal organizations.

Re:Know the law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324227)

It's a fundamental problem with legislative democracy. There are other possible systems. Lord Coke, the eminent jurist from England who first introduced the concept of judicial review, adopted by the Founding Fathers (England went the way of parliamentary supremacy), once suggested that judges should be the primary law making body. (Lord Coke pissed off the King enough times that he eventually got kicked off the bench.)

He basically thought that judges were just plain smarter. But there's another argument to be made--when judges make law they're faced with real controversies and real people embroiled in a real dispute about law and justice. Judges cannot ignore facts because they must justify their opinion by explaining how the facts justify a particular outcome, politicians face lobbyists and never have to justify their law beyond, maybe, a sound bite.

Legislatures try to cure both real and fictional ills. Judges can only address real, manifest ills.

I propose that we remove the ability for legislatures to pass general criminal and civil laws. They should be restricted to taxation and spending and divested of ordinary powers of social regulation. Judges should be the primary crafters of laws regulating private life--limited, of course, in that these 'laws' are simply rules crafted and applied in the context of real disputes--and legislatures only given a veto or some secondary role so that aberrant rules could be fixed efficiently and quasi-democratically.

I believe this system would work much better. For one thing, if a politician wants to fix or change some supposed societal ill, his only weapon would be through public spending with commensurate public taxation. There would be no freebies--he couldn't just criminalize a bunch of stuff, pat himself on the back, and claim victory. To be sure there would be many ways to game the system (the power to tax being the power to destroy... blah blah blah), but clearly it would be much, much harder.

It would also likely result in more constitutional amendments--as the only way to effect large changes in social policy--and almost paradoxically such a system might turn out to more truly democratic than current representative democracies.

Finally? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324821)

I don't know where you've been living, but the last 5 cities I lived in, both big and small, had their laws available online. Maybe not in some fancy searchable thing with an API, just a bunch of html pages for each section. When I got screwed over by a landlord years ago, and had to see what the actual local laws about renting said, I picked up the habit of reading renter-tenet laws in every city I moved to.

Re:Know the law (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 9 months ago | (#44326473)

Considering Baltimore has made it legal to be an illegal immigrant, it seems odd that the would have any restrictions at all.

I no longer visit Baltimore for that very reason. You get me for not having enough money in the meter but you let Paco and his compatriots roam the streets at will.

Re:Know the law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44327337)

Two laws are necessary.

1) Do not hurt people.
2) Do not deprive someone else of what is theirs.

Anything else is excess.

Law #1 applies to physical harm as well as other trauma, and can adequately stigmatize everything from murder to car accidents to kiddie porn to smog. The majority of violations of this law are criminal.

Law #2 applies to loss of use of property and rights, and can cover things such as theft, vandalism, failure to yield, freedoms (all of them!), copyright infringement (and other "IP" violations), and fraud of all types. There are probably an equal number of criminal and civil violations in this category.

The only existing law that I know isn't covered by these two laws is the speed limit law. Speed limits neither harm nor deprive. They're roughly equivalent to pre-crime, and should be abolished. The penalties for things that are covered by these two should be strictly enforced, thus your speed isn't a problem until something actually happens.

These laws also recognize the fact that, by nature, law enforcement must be reactive (not proactive) or else they'll become oppressive. Of course, convincing the modern police state to be reasonable and simply stop existing is a lost cause. So good luck simplifying the law.

Re:Know the law (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 9 months ago | (#44328907)

#1 implies #2.

Severe speeding falls into the category of "reckless endangerment", like firing a pistol into the air in midtown Manhattan. Do you really think that should only be illegal if the bullet hits someone?

Re:Know the law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44330809)

#2 covers cases that #1 does not, such as copyright infringement. Financial loss is not harm, it's denial of use. Harm is physical or psychological damage to a person. #1 covers slavery, it should be noted.

Speeding is not reckless endangerment if nobody's around to be harmed. And if someone is around to be harmed, then it's not the speeding that caused the problem, but likely some other actual violation. Like failure to yield, most commonly. Or failure to keep control of one's vehicle. Or any of a boatload of other things that are already considered "bad". But achieving a high instantaneous velocity is not a crime.

And it should go without saying that everything is allowed if it's not disallowed and that you cannot commit a violation against yourself. Those just fall into the "duh" category.

A step in the right direction (5, Interesting)

BetterSense (1398915) | about 9 months ago | (#44323735)

Laws should be tracked, with dependencies, by an apt-like system. Anyone should be able to query what is illegal, without a lawyer. Automated systems can flag unfairness, conflicting laws, and obsolescence.

Lawyers and judges' jobs would be reduced to addressing bugs.

The whole lot should be committed to a git repository (git-blame anyone?). New laws should take the form of pull requests.

Re:A step in the right direction (2)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#44323827)

This [xkcd.com] always ends badly.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 9 months ago | (#44325933)

Honestly, no.

While I think flagging fairness and conflicts is way beyond the realms of possibility, the law is actually currently implemented as a bunch of versioned documents.

Basically laws can be amended, repealed or pass some sunset provision or interpreted by a judge.

We have good tools for gealing with versioned documents.

The tools would help to provide a sane, organsied way to access all the relavent information.

Technical solutions never work for social problems, but library organisation is essentially a technical problem and certainly does admit a technical solution.

Re:A step in the right direction (2)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 9 months ago | (#44324029)

That's just utterly naive. The law is organic it has to be because it is intended to model human behavior. The idea that you could devise a programmatic way to detect unfairness is laughable - different people have different ideas of unfairness all the time. If people can't uniformly decide on what constitutes "fair" there is no way a computer could without alienating a whole range of people.

The law will always be full of short-comings and automated tools can help to reduce them, but anything beyond that is a recipe for a level of tyranny like the human race has never seen.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 9 months ago | (#44324145)

Like, there are no alienated people already? For starters, how about that group of people who are railroaded with stupid, asinine laws that do NOTHING for society, other than provide tools with which to "get" someone in disagreement with powerful people?

Edward Snowden's case is pretty damned complicated, and he probably is in violation of some laws that would normally make sense. But, government is wheeling out all sorts of idiot laws to charge him with. Snowden seems to be alienated quite well, already!

Re:A step in the right direction (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324035)

Little known fact: the United States Code is not the definitive compilation of Federal law. The definitive compilation is the "United States States Statutes at Large", which is basically an append-only journal of all of laws passed by Congress. Updates to this log are "traced" by clerks who then update the United States Code appropriately. The USC originally was entirely the handiwork of these clerks because Congressional bills were (and to some extent, still are) basically just random statements of law disembodied from context. These clerks have to organize and codify those statements into something that can be used as a proper reference.

These days many laws are written as diffs against the USC. But these diffs are still appended to the official journal and subsequently applied by the clerks to the code.

These clerks are basically system administrators for the legal machine. They can't read your e-mail, but they could do lots more nefarious things, and no doubt have. It would be the height of ignorance to believe that none of these clerks hasn't inserted or redacted anything. And who else would pour through the journal looking for inconsistencies.

I've personally found interesting tidbits in court opinions. 150+ years ago, court opinions were published by private companies, and 200+ years ago things were often quite shady. Many times there were multiple reporters transcribing oral opinions for publication. As a law student, lawyer, or judge you never really question whether the reporter erred in their transcription.

Fortunately for the skeptical and inquisitive, Google Books has scanned a tremendous amount of old legal report volumes. On more than one occasion I've found different transcriptions of an oral opinion from different reporters (i.e. two different reporters in the court room transcribing arguments and judges' opinions) with material discrepancies that, had one transcription become more popular instead of the other, could have substantially altered the course of laws that we still apply today.

(I'm too lazy to go back to my notes and find these. It's not like they would have altered the course of civilization. Just changed various esoteric rules in Contracts, Torts, etc.)
 

Re:A step in the right direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324261)

(Other AC) ...and don't forget about regulations. Not only are congressional bills "random statements of law disembodied from context" (as you say), the executive has the ability to rewrite regulations whenever it wants to, criminalizing and decriminalizing behavior on a whim. When it comes to some hot-button issues, language in regulations has sometimes come directly from lobbyists or political appointees who have the president's favor.

In other words...sometimes, the decision of "what's illegal and what isn't" ultimately originates from a political hack who doesn't even realize that he's creating law. How would the apt-like system work if not even the lawyers can figure out what the law was really supposed to mean?

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44324139)

As someone who just graduated law school and is studying for the CA bar I agree about the tracking part - legal research is a bitch, especially if you don't have access to LexusNexus or Westlaw. However, lawyer's would still end up being needed for more than just bugs unless you're talking way more advanced programming and processing than is currently possible.

I mean, I graduated from a top 20 law school and without access to WestLaw Or LexusNexus navigating California's Penal Code just for information on firearms is really frustrating.

Re:A step in the right direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44327877)

However, lawyer's would still ... I graduated from a top 20 law school....

ORLY?

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 9 months ago | (#44328985)

However, lawyer's would still end up being...

If this is the quality of grammar available from future lawyers, anyone using a lawyer is doomed.

Re:A step in the right direction (2)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | about 9 months ago | (#44324187)

I have seen such a suggestion numerous times, and still have to remind people:

The people who make the laws have to either implement such a system, or require that it be implemented. Either way, they will fuck it up beyond any value due to endless compromises between the new guy who wants openness, and the old guy whose career was nearly ended by his naive interest in openness early in his career.

I'm not discounting the possibility. In the highly unlikely event that it happens, I am doubting it will work anywhere close to what you want. And probably will be worse. So you're going to need some specifics on the implementation, or you're just hoping for sunshine and unicorn farts.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 9 months ago | (#44324319)

All there needs is a simple feed-back loop. "This law is invalid because XXX" or "This word in this law means XXX", and that ruling enforces that law at that time for that case, and applies for all other applications of that law for the next 90 days. After 90 days, the entire law is stricken (and recorded as such in the official registry of laws). If the law was "good" then the legislature needs to re-pass the law with revised wording, officially editing the registry of laws.

Re:A step in the right direction (2)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#44324405)

There's lots of incorrect assumptions in these comments, but I'll just pick on yours. The first essential problem is that the law is not a logical system although it has some appearances of one, because that's what makes it possible to even begin to make some sort of sense of things. But, even if it were a logical system, it would run into what I like to call the Goedel problem - the Incompleteness Theorem, which states very roughly, any logical system powerful enough to describe itself is incomplete. This means that there are statements that are true but unproveable, and statements that are provable but false, and statements that not even be assigned a truth value (that may appear at first glance to be either true or false).

Just for starters, "This statement is a lie." I visualize all this as a pair of trees, one black and one white, that start from 'true' and 'false' and attempt to cover all of a decision space. It turns out that there are places that can not be reached by either tree, and parts that are in one or the other depending on the angle you look from.

The second essential problem is that a law may require a person to act a certain way, but in a particular circumstance that may be a bad idea. For instance, it is certainly illegal to push someone out a window against their will - but what if you happen to know the room is about to explode? Should you break the law? (This is also why Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics can not be programmed in, but only established the same way our present legal system works - have the robot make a judgment, with the proviso that if they guess 'wrong' in a particular circumstance, they might be punished. This provides a motivation for the robot to do the 'right' thing, and to try to figure out what the right thing is, incorporating knowledge of law and ethics and whatever else might factor in.)

Finally, the legal system has to be viewed as a kind of neural network or similar 'living system' (complex adaptive systems are cool) composed of a large number of 'entities', that continuously tries to converge on an optimum in the context of a continuously varying environment.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 9 months ago | (#44324479)

You said a lot of words, but didn't say anything. Why would a direct feedback of Judge's findings into the body of the law (eliminating the need to follow findings as well as the law) break anything? You said nothing that contradicted (or even addressed) my point, but disagreed with it none the less.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#44324583)

Sorry. :) To the extent you're correct, what you describe (other than the 90 day timeframe, which is impossible), is pretty much what we have with judicial review, which extends your concept to include a mechanism for appeal.

What I was trying to express was that almost every comment in this thread has an essential assumption that laws form a logical system, and can be determined to be either 'correct' or 'incorrect'. And it ain't that way. Even if it could, it would not be able to cover all the possible circumstances. (I would have used 'cases' but for the duplicity of meaning.) In that sense, your comment is not one of the more problematic ones - as noted, it's closer to what we have in practice, if I understand your meaning (your comment is a bit confusing to me).

A big part of the explosion of laws and regulations is due to the continuing effort to expand and refine them to cover every possible circumstance, which (as I was trying to express) is impossible. So we continue to chop the logic finer and finer, but in the process we actually create more ways for the real world to not quite fit the law. Every refinement and branch creates more end points from which eventually branches will be needed, and human activity will be further proscribed, channeled and constrained.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 9 months ago | (#44325027)

To the extent you're correct, what you describe (other than the 90 day timeframe, which is impossible), is pretty much what we have with judicial review, which extends your concept to include a mechanism for appeal.

A 90 day time to pass a law isn't impossible, The USA PATRIOT Act was passed in 3 days (or a month, depending on your definition of when it was introduced). A well-outlined change to an existing law shouldn't be that hard, right?

What I was trying to express was that almost every comment in this thread has an essential assumption that laws form a logical system, and can be determined to be either 'correct' or 'incorrect'.

I agree with that. That's why my "solution" was based on the current model and changed nothing but minimum work to eliminate case law.

A big part of the explosion of laws and regulations is due to the continuing effort to expand and refine them to cover every possible circumstance, which (as I was trying to express) is impossible.

Yes, it is impossible. But just because something is impossible doesn't mean it shouldn't be striven for.

Re:A step in the right direction (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 9 months ago | (#44324455)

In a world where the law was alike to computer code - utterly black and white and able to be compared one-to-one with reality, such a thing would make sense and work.

We don't live in such a world.

Re:A step in the right direction (2)

pr100 (653298) | about 9 months ago | (#44324829)

The law, especially in common law jurisdictions like the US, England and a lot of the Commonwealth, does not work just by knowing the statutory rules. There are rules that exist independently of any statute. For example in England (I don't know about the US), murder is not a statutory offence - you won't find any act of Parliament that creates such an offence. It is a creation of the common law.

You therefore need to know all the relevant judgments to get a read on the way things are likely to go in a particular case. These are not necessarily expressed in clear, declarative terms. Judgments meander around mixing up the facts of the particular case with the legal principles involved, surveys of relevant authorities and bits of whimsy (read, for example, Denning's judgment in Miller v Jackson). In England at least it often happens in the higher courts that each judge will write a judgment. They will not all agree - sometimes there will be dissenting judgments. Sometimes judgments will agree about the outcome but for different reasons. Hence it can be hard to understand the legal principles on which the decision was reached.

Now, whilst in some areas it's probably possible to make an expert system that helps in some cases, you'd be crazy to rely on such a thing if you've been charged with a serious offence or have some significant civil dispute. And it's not just a question of trying to figure out which way it's likely to go - the way it's argued in court can make a big difference. You need to muster all the different arguments, based on legal authority, that support your position.

"open law" state? (2, Informative)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about 9 months ago | (#44323869)

Baltimore is following the lead of Maryland which, earlier this year, became the third open law state,

WTF? Maryland law (both statutes [umd.edu] and COMAR [state.md.us] ) has been on-line for years.

And Baltimore City code [baltimorecity.gov] has also been on-line for a while.

Maybe this is a nicer interface or something, but pretending that putting laws on-line is some kind of breakthrough is counterfactual.

yard sale (3, Insightful)

Khashishi (775369) | about 9 months ago | (#44323917)

If there were no limit on yard sales, then people could just set up a shop in a residential zone.

Re:yard sale (1)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 9 months ago | (#44324157)

You mean like the northeast? I cruised through there about 15 years ago and going from Maine to New Hampshire was like driving past a continuous yard sale. As a tourist, I found it quaint. If I lived there and had to see that all summer long, It'd get on my nerves.

Re:yard sale (2)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#44324413)

A friend of my brother years ago did do that. These two hippies were short on rent, so they went around the neighborhood and and scrounged up a bunch of free stuff, then held a garage sale. It went so well they did it again the next week, and the next. After a year the city told them they had to either quit or get a business license. By then they had already rented a storage unit to keep their inventory, so they went the next step and opened a storefront and called it 'Antiques and Funk'. Last I talked with him (about 1980) he was bitching about the 'hippies coming in and shoplifting'! :D

Fruit on Wharf... (2)

Andhesaidtome (2738249) | about 9 months ago | (#44324045)

The ordinance does not preclude fruit from being on a wharf, just allocates the responsibility for its removal to the Harbour Master if it becomes a nuisance. Given the submission looks like a selfie for ITWorld I'm not surprised there was no fact check.

Laws should automatically expire. (2)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 9 months ago | (#44324143)

If a law isn't enforced in 10 years (maybe 20), it should automatically expire. If the city/county/state/federal government wants to keep an unenforced law on the books, it should have to be passed again like any other new law.

Re:Laws should automatically expire. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44325141)

Simple solution: Find some way to pass a constitutional amendment that says every law must be read aloud by a human at normal speed (no fair using an auctioneer) for at most 8 hrs/day at the start of each legislative session. The reading of a given law can be interrupted by a vote to remove it; otherwise no new laws are permitted until all the old laws have been read. Furthermore, any legislator that's absent for more than 5% of the reading should be immediately removed from office (no cell phones, laptops or other electronic distractions shall be permitted during the reading of the law, and sleeping counts as absence).

p.s. Yeah, there would need to be some kind of graceful sunset provision to keep this from producing anarchy after the first session. :-)

Re:Laws should automatically expire. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44327157)

No, anarchy is a good thing. People are perfectly capable of getting along.

Yes, anarchy is great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44328433)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeSgBL7gpAk

I think society needs a backup plan however.

Re:Laws should automatically expire. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44325805)

If a law isn't enforced in 10 years (maybe 20), it should automatically expire.

Makes no sense in general. Consider this example: "No perspn must cause toxic waste to enter any public watercourse".
No case for 10/20 years (maybe because the law is working and has severe penalties?), so now you're free to poison the waterways. WTF?

They've gone too far (3, Funny)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 9 months ago | (#44324875)

I know the phone companies don't like tethering, but this is ridiculous.

re: Baltimore vs. tethering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44325039)

IMHO, it's mostly McNulty's fault, but you can also thank Freamon and Pryzbylewski.

Yard Sale Rule (1)

digitalhermit (113459) | about 9 months ago | (#44326433)

There's a similar rule in many places. Supposedly the law is to stop folks who use their front yard as a business. I once lived a few houses away from someone who did this often and it was a nuisance. The family also sold cars and every few weeks there was a new vehicle with a 'For Sale' sign on their lot.

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