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Why There's No Nobel Prize In Computing

NetSettler Re:Nobel Prize could replace software patent syste (229 comments)

Perhaps. But even so, if there were only one or two patents issued per year, it'd have been easy to see the duplication. As it is, there's a sea capable of hiding much more duplication.

more than 3 years ago
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Ask Slashdot: Best Certifications To Get?

NetSettler Counterpoint (444 comments)

I'd like to offer some counterpoint. There is some truth to what you say, certainly. Fluency/competence is important in both arenas. However, quite a number of years ago (1990), I made the observation (in the context of a discussion about intellectual property and whether copyright should apply) that literature is essentially a "divergent" activity and that programming, being an engineering activity, is "convergent". That is, if assigned an English paper to write, there's a very high chance that you will be graded down if you turn in the same answer as someone else. By contrast, if assigned a piece of code to write, you will often be graded down if you turn in a different answer than someone else.

This should give you pause as you consider things like copyrights and patents, given that the engineering activity wants to guide you to both copy and independently create works similar to what others have done, while that's not true of literature, yet the same copyright property laws span both of these areas. There's something odd about that.

Anyway, independent of the IP issues, there are good reasons that we want engineers to learn to do similar things and writers to do different things. So I don't doubt that you're right that there is some overlap of skill and activity, but I wanted to point out that the skill of being a writer of literature and of being a writer of code also have some really material differences.

more than 3 years ago
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Why There's No Nobel Prize In Computing

NetSettler Nobel Prize could replace software patent system (229 comments)

I've long suggested that what we should do with software patents is dispense with most of them and instead turn the quest for software excellence from a race to make inane patents into a competition for an elite prize, such as the Nobel. It would eliminate many bogus patents, plus no one would be confused about what was patented and what wasn't, since almost nothing would be patented. I'd have maybe given Nobels for things like RSA encryption or LZW compression, for example--things that took a work to create, aren't likely to be independently created and really serve people. The "prize" could be getting the patent, which most things would not get—though a maximum 5 year term would be best, any more is too long in the modern world of computers. Getting a patent would mean you didn't need a monetary prize, which would make the award cheap to offer. :)

more than 3 years ago
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Cheap GPUs Rendering Strong Passwords Useless

NetSettler Re:Ha Ha, mine goes to 11 (615 comments)

we need to move to two-factor authentication schemes ASAP.

And by this I assume you don't mean first letting the attacker guess our regular password and then second letting them guess our cousin's middle name or some such other bit of info trivially available from facebook or ancestry.com. :)

Sigh. I've bargained down to where I'd think it a major step forward if there were at least a law against using the word "security" as part of the name for those stupid fixed-set questions. It's probably more than one can hope for to actually forbid their use.

more than 3 years ago
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Researcher Claims Magnets Can Affect Blood Viscosity

NetSettler subtle issues (175 comments)

As a treatment in an emergency to quickly resolve a bad situation on a temporary basis, it sounds fine. As a therapy to hold back trouble, it sounds less fine. Not that the same isn't perhaps true of aspirin in some ways but since one can quantify the effect here and since one might not see as many negatives, I predict this will get used with less reservation than aspirin. What holds people back from using aspirin more is the fear of side-effects, but if you were assuming there were fewer to this, you might be inclined to lean more heavily on this one's stated capacity limitations. It eliminates a margin for error such that if a person really regularly took advantage of it, they'd be well over the maximum limit and any failure to use the magnets would sound fatal. Moreover, it won't surprise me if it creates some situation in which a bunch of aligned things, while normally they work well, can also create unexpected kinds of clots or other problems not previously possible to create in more chaotic systems. It certainly doesn't sound as glowingly positive to me as a term like "drug-free therapy" is supposed to imply. It sounds more like the potential pitfalls are hidden in different places, like the way nuclear radiation is "drug-free". Not that we're talking radiation effects here, but we're definitely not talking automatically safer than drugs, either.

more than 3 years ago
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Amazon Pulling Out of Texas Over $269 Million Tax Bill

NetSettler Re:Enough of this (811 comments)

But they still owe the State of Texas $269 million

I was looking for a comment by someone noting this. It seemed unlikely someone (corporations are people, too) could just leave and be absolved of taxes.

they were supposed to be collecting that money from their customers

Thanks for making this point, too. I wonder, though, if this is just posturing to create negotiating room for special treatment in exchange for protecting some jobs. It could even be an orchestrated bit of theatre to offer foundation for some politician's "government overhead is hurting business" claim.

What's most troubling to me is that there is little harm to businesses for such temper tantrums. It may seem good to their bottom line to make such threats, but at the end of the day even if it improves their bottom line it comes at great cost to communities. And they did sales, should have known this was a cost, were permitted to pass the cost visibly to customers, so I just don't see how they were wronged and why this tantrum is righteous.

more than 3 years ago
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Is an Internet Kill Switch Feasible In the US?

NetSettler Re:The kill switch would be the biggest threat (339 comments)

Perhaps they should just slow the net down in that case, since it's really speed that's the problem. Things happen too fast in an attack so if you can just make things run in slow-motion, you have time to act. Oh, wait, we already have a way to slow things down: We can just give up on net neutrality. Then we'll have slowness built into at least part of the system from the get-go--no need for a switch. At first it will be a bummer being on the slow net and envying the guys on the fast net getting data back and forth at lightning speed, but when viruses get released, they'll go first to the people on the fast net and the "little people" on the slow net can just sit and watch and take notes, so that eventually when the virus traffic "trickles down," they'll be ready, not to mention thankful to have the premium people out there on the front lines as the First Adopters for the virusware. (Yeah, I'm just kidding, but...)

more than 3 years ago
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New Chinese Rule Requires Real Names Online

NetSettler Re:Why do you need to be anonymous at all? (193 comments)

  • It may also be necessary for the personal safety of people who are being stalked, doing whistleblowing, or even just dating and wanting to chat without committing.
  • It can be necessary to express any unpopular political opinion. Note that popular opinions require no protection but that if we assume that what's popular never changes we can just have one vote and then be done and never vote again. All political change begins as a minority viewpoint. For example, labor organization is more easily suppressed if one can keep the organization from ever happening. The movement to stop a war might start small.
  • For some public figures, it allows the freedom to relax and speak without having their political motives challenged or their well-known credentials inappropriately applied since their voice is not as loud as when it is their well-known self, and since anonymous speech is evaluated for the worth of the statement rather than for who said it.
  • It allows the underappreciated option of having an opinion you might later want to change without being quoted for life.
  • It allows one to perform an act like shopping without having marketers of the future be able to log the action as a sign of potential interest.
  • On juries (and in paper review for refereed scientific and technical journals, for that matter), anonymous voting is considered a way of encouraging frankness and honesty.
  • In voting for politicians and political initiatives, it is considered a way to assure that votes are hard to buy or force because compliance with an improper promise or attempted coercion is not possible to track.
  • Certain people will not approach a help desk for things like medical care, contemplating suicide, or other issues if they don't believe it's anonymous.
  • Some people are just shy and prefer to speak anonymously.
  • Some religions teach that it's more humble to contribute money, time, energy, etc.) anonymously, not drawing attention to self.

more than 4 years ago
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NYTimes Confirms It Will Start Charging For Online News In 2011

NetSettler Re:The Significance of the Recession in Publishing (368 comments)

The old print papers can't survive. Their cost structure is too high, their product is stale before it's off the presses,

I wasn't talking just about print publishing, I was talking about "the media of the day". In fact, in writing the sentence you quote, I was as much talking about TV and how TV news took a back seat. (As illustrated, for example, if you prefer non-print media, in the movie Network or the Earth to the Moon's episode on Apollo 13.) It's all the same. The issue of getting distribution to work is a problem they've actively confronted on the web. They get news out as fast as anyone. But that's not the problem. The problem is people don't value news, or that the market model for valuation is wrong. They will value it if it goes away. They'll say more should have been done. They're just making a gamble they won't have to value.

It's the same as what's going on with the environment. When it goes away, people will say we should have done more. But right now they're engaged in a dangerous gamble that doing nothing is enough. It is inappropriate to conclude from this dangerous gamble that no one cares about having news or having a biosphere. It just means market models are not sensitive to all the correct variables. They favor the high-order-bit-of-the-moment and have no way of very usefully assigning proper value to the "stealth" (lower order, but up-and-coming) bits, the ones that will be tomorrow's high order bit in a world that's full of, if you'll pardon the nerdy pun, bit rot.

The problem of capitalism is that it assumes that it's perfectly ok for people to be whimsy, and for many things it is, just not all. News is something that can't be left to the whims of the market. Which is why I focused on the issue of profit centers.

And, incidentally, I'm not anti-capitalism. I have no agenda to make the world socialist or anything like that. I just see capitalism as a tool with limitations like any other tool, not as a religion. Capitalism only works when the market's use of money maps correctly to people's real interests. And I simply worry that treating news like any other entertainment is very, very bad in a democracy that relies on voters to have good information in order to make good choices.

more than 4 years ago
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NYTimes Confirms It Will Start Charging For Online News In 2011

NetSettler The Significance of the Recession in Publishing (368 comments)

It won't work. They already know this - they've tried it before. Stupidity is doing the same thing you did before and expecting different results. "This time it's different!" Yes, it is. Much more competition, the Great Recession, high unemployment. 3 more reasons to fail. The industry needs massive consolidation - like maybe 90% of the print papers folding.

Actually, I think the real rule is that stupidity is trying the same thing you did before in the same circumstances and expecting different results. But the circumstances are not the same, as you indicate. Now it's true the outcome may not be different, but it's not true that it's obvious that the outcome will not be different.

What's ironic and sad about the fact that you cite the recession is that one reason there's a recession is a lack of jobs. And the lack of jobs is created by a lack of money to hire people, including at the New York Times. They are not wanting to charge because they want to stick it to you, they want to survive and to keep people employed.

So if you think the recession matters--and you must, since you cited it as relevant here--then you should buy a subscription. And tell your friends to. And soon if everyone does, it may be seen as a valid business model.

Imagine that--paying for content. I know it sounds quaint, but think of the implications: The actual producers of content would be benefiting for the content they actually produced. Why on Earth would you be smugly suggesting it was somehow better for people to be feebly rewarded by advertising dollars, which (a) doesn't reward the content producers really, (b) does reward the advertisers when they didn't do anything except pay feeble amounts that don't buy a cup of coffee for most content producers, and (c) drags the entire industry off in search of content that advertisers like instead of in search of content that end-users want.

Forget the pay scheme. I, the end user, want to read stuff because it's good to read, not because someone can find a way to make a buck on accessories for it. I don't want people preferring to write about the planet Saturn rather than the planet Jupiter because there's a car named Saturn that might put up its ads next to remarks about the planet Saturn. I want people to write good stuff about any topic they want and then to get paid in proportion to their goodness. Like used to happen. Quaint? I think not. More like lost rationality.

Yes, it might not work. But like getting a decent health care system, I'd rather see them fail trying than give up because it's a lost cause. Don't be defeatist, be encouraging.

One final point: These are people among the most trusted in the world to report on politics. If they fold because you insist they have old-fashioned ways and should yield to the "advertising" model of free content, the problem is that we may soon find that advertisers are trying to sway them away from things that good reporters need to cover. What then? The news industry suffered a serious blow in the late 60's or maybe early 70's, don't quite recall, when news went commercial and had to show a profit. That's a tough thing. But at least let them show a profit on their actual news, don't make them have to contort news content to be profitable on some other basis. If not for them, do it for us: the citizens. When things go wrong (oops, they have: economy, health, climate change, wars, torture, ...) it may turn out to matter.

And news is not just any industry. I'm actually not sure most industries are served by lack of variety, but certainly the news industry is not. So your admonition that a leading free-thinker in news should "consolidate" seems ... well, short-sighted.

more than 3 years ago
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Microsoft Patents the Crippling of Operating Systems

NetSettler Two Prior Art stories on Feature Restriction (394 comments)

Here are two more recollections in case they help:

When I worked in the mid 1980's, probably around 1986, at the now-defunct Symbolics on MACSYMA, a symbolic algebra system that lives (in an alternate timeline/universe from what some know today as MAXIMA), there was one customer who wanted a special deal and someone was foolish enough to sell it to them. The customer explained that they did not plan to use all of MACSYMA (who ever uses all of any language?) and so wanted to only pay a proportional fee for the parts of the language they planned to use. So we did extra custom work in compliance with the contract in order to build a special version of MACSYMA that had only parts of the functionality and we had the ability to unlock individual functions when they realized they had asked too little. It had to be specially administered, specially QA'd, etc. It was a huge lot of extra work. And they paid us less for it on the theory that they were not using the full thing. Bleah. (It was a brilliant query for the customer to ask but stupid for us to accept. I knew it was a disaster from the moment they said it. We should have just written it off as an error on our part and given them a full license at reduced price.)

Although MACSYMA as a user application is not an operating system by the traditional meaning of the word, I have heard programs as varied as APL and Emacs described as "operating systems" because for some users they were the only thing the user planned to really use on the machine and they wanted to use all things from within it. It's not a stretch to say that MACSYMA qualified similarly as an operating system in that regard, and would be an example of prior art if foolish one-off custom contracts counted as such.

Even earlier, when I was at MIT, I think around 1980 or 1981 (I have records but not handy as I write this), after Scheme was invented but before it was integrated into MIT's programming classes, Gerry Sussman taught a transitional version of his class that was not yet 6.001 / Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs in its final form. One term he used a Lisp dialect that I had conjured on the spur of the moment (it was missing tail recursion, which drove Sussman nuts, but it was all he had on that platform at that time, so he went with it). For editing programs for this hacked up Lisp, I hastily conjured together a little editor out of TECO which was similar in command set to Emacs but was hardened to be not customizable or extensible so we could document something simple for students. I hate to characterize others' emotional states, but I think it's fair to say that Stallman hated it and got really mad at me for calling it MinEmacs because he said it was not an Emacs. He said he didn't care about the command set being Emacs-like because that didn't make something an Emacs, and that it could be a vi command set for all he cared as long as it was exensible and customizable. I explained that there were things students would trip over that they didn't want them to. He wrote a library called NOVICE that was the compromise and that kept a profile of users preferences, disabling commands by default but when you invoked them asking you if you knew what you were doing and allowing you to proceed if you answered yes. This seemed reasonable and I think it was used by many people. This was still TECO-based Emacs on the PDP-10. Later, when he created gnu emacs, he built that functionality into the core system. But basically, the NOVICE library for TECO-based Emacs, and later the gnu Emacs stuff generally was a system that had a protected set of commands that could be selectively re-enabled. It differed only in politics--the re-enabling was not held centrally by the vendor (in true Stallman fashion) but was instead left to the individual. But technologically, it seems to me that the concept is really the same as what is discussed in the summary of this topic. I didn't read the patent.

So maybe some of that would be useful as prior art.

There are a great many ways in which I part company with Stallman politically on the free software matter, but I totally agree with him that software patents are a mess. For more on my thoughts about software patent reform, see my 6-Jun-2005 WIPO feedback.

more than 5 years ago
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What Should Be In a Technology Bill of Rights?

NetSettler Re:Lets see... (247 comments)

This list of ten is not bad. Some terms are a bit vague. What "one's own hardware" is or "any device" is might require refinement. Item 9 is controversial and its presence would likely sink the proposed bill of rights, losing the others with it; I'd leave it out even though I like it conceptually for most purposes. There are cases where anonymity breach is important to allow; they're just rare. Item 10 might have a minor glitch over the definition of "speech", but no worse than the First Amendment already has.

When I saw the original article's title, I wanted to rush to promo my thoughts on Universal Business Access. Looks like its article 2 addresses it a different way, which is probably mostly ok. But the original article has problems for me in Articles 3 and 4. Article 3 looks well-meaning but likely to be full of problems; I can easily imagine a need for exceptions. As for Article 4, if someone's not being forced to buy the closed source software, I don't see why more than just market dynamics is required. Putting these kinds of things in a Bill of Rights seems a little off. Mostly I think rights should be things that can be asserted against the state (or a state-like monopoly provider like an ISP or cable provider), not against individuals and they shouldn't be full of details that might need to change.

Your list of 10 looks to be in better syntactic form for a bill of rights.

more than 5 years ago
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New Data Center Will Heat Homes In London

NetSettler Science, and how regular people talk about it (204 comments)

No, it will PRODUCE exactly zero power (unless you want to set foot in negative-number territory). It might SAVE nine MW of power that won't be used to heat homes anymore, but it isn't producing anything except heat.

With "science" reporting like this, it's no wonder our world is slipping back into the superstitions of the Dark Ages.

True, but I think this war has already been lost. Have you noticed how much difficulty they're having labeling new energy-efficient light bulbs for people who think "watts" are a unit of brightness?

more than 5 years ago
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Warner Music Pushing Music Tax For Universities

NetSettler Affordable and yet... (375 comments)

It would only cost $2 to $10 a month (still in the works, they want our input)... what more do you guys want?

I have to say this sounds a lot to me like a person who is very frugal going out to dinner with a bunch of other people who order extravagant food options and then having someone want to split the bill at the end.

I mostly don't listen to music. $2 to $10 per month is $25-$125/yr or $100-$500 over the course of a four year college. That's about $90 to $490 more than I would have paid if buying a la carte every piece of music I wanted to buy. That's money I could have spent on things that matter to me.

Will you be as excited about anteing up $2 to $10 per month to cover some routine cost that I pay for and that bores you to tears, just to bring my price down?

To employ a musical reference, does the phrase "tyrrany of the majority" ring any bells?

Tell me why it isn't just fair that people should pay for what they use?

more than 5 years ago
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Is Open Source Software a Race To Zero?

NetSettler Limited Upside (729 comments)

The only problem with your rational is that if all the competition was from commercial entities, and not from people willing to work without compensation, then the bottom line would not be zero. Yes, competition would force the price lower, but the limit would be considerably nonzero. In theory all the competitors but one would eventually be weeded out as the company with the most efficient infrastructure (assuming the product quality was equal amongst all competitors) managed to sell the product for the lowest possible price while still maintaining the ability to pay for its business costs.

I had a similar thing happen to me as what is described in the article. I wasted a half a year developing something that was undercut by a free offering that came out of the blue.

The problem with free software is that one cannot predict if/when it will arrive, so you need to assume it always will arrive soon. It's bad to bet on there being an ability to charge anything for what you've asked. (There's a big difference between anything and nothing. One of those scales way better.)

It's not like making a really nice desk out of wood, where you know in the end you'll be able to sell it for something, even if you have to lower the price a little.

And if you have to give software away and hope for consulting revenue, then what you're saying is the software creation industry no longer exists, there is only a software maintenance industry. What will happen if you give away a well-written piece of software is that others will take it over and maintain it. Of course, if you've obfuscated it or left bugs in it or made it hard to extend, you might have a shot of still being needed for a while to maintain it. Is that what we want to claim we as a society want to encourage? Creating things that are just not complete enough to take and use?

more than 5 years ago
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Fast-Booting Text-Editor Operating System?

NetSettler The MIT Lisp Machine's "instaboot" feature (660 comments)

I think the people saying to use hibernation/sleep features are probably closest to right for most practical purposes now. I thought I'd add a historical side-note...

In the 1980's, MIT Lisp Machines were often used in demos for visitors from funding agencies. Probably mostly people from (D)ARPA. And things would often go wrong. Things had to reboot.

Now instruction times were a lot slower then, but you'd be surprised how little boot times have changed over the years. Seems like every time someone speeds up the hardware, they also slow down the speed of booting of both at least the operating system and maybe also the programs. So normal booting was a process of 30 seconds or a minute, as I recall. And that was inconvenient for these demos.

So someone worked out a way that you could do something called instaboot. You'd load up everything you needed and would save the image, kind of like going into standby mode on your computer. But it was intended to be restarted multiple times. When you started, it would just pull in the pages that you needed first to let you run, pulling in other things you needed on demand.

You could save it in whatever state you wanted, for example with the editor already loaded and started. Even with files loaded ito editor buffers if you wanted, though that obviously ran the risk that if you later edited them on two subsequent occasions, you might get a conflict. But that was up to you. Nothing kept you from trying.

The effect was startling. You could reboot the machine and be up and running in about a second, maybe two. The only evidence was that the screen would change and would kind of bounce (some sort of sync pulse or degaussing thing or something, I never quite knew what that was).

So demos were always loaded and saved, then booted into. When the demo went bad, you just hit reboot. It was so fast, people would notice something had happened but often wouldn't know what. "Just garbage collecting," we would say. Well, it was sort of true. Rebooting is a particularly efficient way to garbage collect.

For some reason, that feature was not carried forward into later models of the Lisp Machine. It was only there on the CADR at MIT (and perhaps the LM-2 and the TI Explorer and LMI Lambda, I'm not sure, since I never used those, though they were repackaged variants of the same thing). It didn't go into the Symbolics 3600 nor later series machines.

more than 6 years ago

Submissions

NetSettler hasn't submitted any stories.

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Stupid Web Formatting (Slashdot user pages)

NetSettler NetSettler writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Am I the only one that sees on his Slashdot home page, a set of "menu items" under Last Journal Entry that go vertical in the last column? That is, "Friends' Journals" appears vertically arranged, one letter per line, instead of horizontally, unless I make the browser window really quite wide (I'm guessing 800 or 1000 pixels). I shouldn't have to stretch the window so wide to get a rational view of the page.

Click here to see an example of what I see in Internet Explorer 7 when I view my page.

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Recovering previewed posts after web browser failure

NetSettler NetSettler writes  |  more than 6 years ago

I just lost yet another draft post because of my browser losing ("Operation Aborted." after pressing Preview), and was unable to press Back on my browser to recover. And yet, I know the bits had gone to them, and with little effort they could be saving the preview until my next preview comes... perhaps even only if I'd set a profile option saying I was willing to let them do that, if they were worried about privacy.

Is there any reason at all that Slashdot couldn't allow me to see my unfinished drafts within a small (or large, if they could handle it) time after I return anew?

Am I the only person who's ever wished for this?

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Managing Non-Technical Bugs in the Slashdot paradigm

NetSettler NetSettler writes  |  more than 9 years ago

I find myself puzzled about how to feed back ideas into the "Slashdot process" about how to make that process better. So I'm thinking aloud here.

I asked about this a long time ago, and I was told to submit reports to SourceForge. But since the reports I submitted were not technical but process (for example, remarks about what moderation keywords should be permitted--I had some new ones to suggest), the SourceForge people were (probably rightly) confused about why I was bothering them.

Last night, I received my first report of meta-moderation having decided one of my moderations was inappropriate. To me, this is plainly a bug, and yet I can't figure out where to submit the report. The bug isn't that someone disagreed with me, or even than many people did. The bug is that they decided they disagreed with me based on the outcome and their inferred notion of why I had moderated as I did, rather than by actual communication.

The fact that the moderation system provides no way for me to say "This was a judgment call, but here let me explain my reasoned opinion." makes it very likely that people who haven't thought as deeply (and yes, I dare suggest that sometimes that will happen) will not understand my choice. It also means that when someone overrides me, they are not asked to explain their rationale to me so I can't tell if they are thinking clearly. ... And in reverse--I am robbed of the ability when meta-moderating to explain why I thought something inappropriate.

I still think I was right and the many meta-moderators are wrong, but that's of little consequence. What is of consequence is that there is no dialog going back and forth which might lead to more enlightened moderators and more enlightened meta-moderators. Instead, people just get more and more entrenched because each camp is sure the other camp is comprised of idiots--the natural effect that always happens when there is blocked communication over use of a necessarily shared resource.

But at the meta-meta-level, the problem is that Slashdot has no procedure for nor place for discussing what might make Slashdot procedures better. Things that are not out-and-out technical bugs seem to have no place at all. And so I'm just making my remarks here, in case they get heard and maybe something gets triggered. Or in case someone knows of a feedback facility that I don't.

I actually think Slashdot has an overall wrong theory of how to manage moderation, etc. However, I respect them for having worked through a theory and tried it, and I think there's value in that even if it isn't what I would have done. It's something about which reasonable people can disagree. And even within a paradigm I myself might not have chosen, I think there are local optimizations that could be made that are appropriate to the chosen paradigm to make it work better. That's what I'm trying to do here.

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