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White House Wins On Spying, Telecom Immunity

YIAAL The real story (658 comments)

Bush sold this to the Democrats by telling them that it represents a "more European" approach to surveillance. Which is, largely, true.

Of course, the Europeans don't have the U.S. Constitution. But Congress seldom troubles itself with such problems.

more than 6 years ago

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Don't Get Too Comfortable—Nationwide License Plate Tracking Will Be Back

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  about 6 months ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "In Popular Mechanics, a report on how the Department of Homeland security has withdrawn its bid-request on a nationwide license-plate scanning system, with this warning:

The federal government's retreat in the face of pressure from its citizens is a good thing. But let's not stop there. We should not rely on public outcry to beat back this national plate-scanning idea when it inevitably resurfaces, perhaps under the cover of secrecy next time. And there's no need to wait to find out whether the courts get this issue right—or wrong. . . If Americans want to protect their privacy, we need strong legislation that limits the kind of data the government can gather, how long they can keep it, and what they can do with it. And if I had my druthers, the law would be backed up by substantial civil and criminal penalties for violations, with civil damages to be borne by the offending officials, not the government. Fear of personal liability may be what it takes to discourage abuse. How much privacy and freedom will Americans have in the 21st Century? The answer is the same as for previous centuries: As much as we insist on, and not a bit more.

How much will people insist on?"
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Why The NTSB Is Wrong About Cellphones

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 2 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "After a multi-car pileup involving two school buses, the NTSB is urging states to ban all cellphones and personal electronic devices in cars, even hands-free phones. But on looking at the NTSB report, it appears that the big problem was a school bus driver who was following too closely, and another school bus driver who wasn't watching the road. Why is the NTSB targeting gadgets instead of bad drivers?"
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The War On Photography: Legal Analysis

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 3 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "We've seen increasing numbers of stories about photographers facing arrest or assault by police and security officers simply for taking pictures — often pictures of law enforcement misconduct. Although photographers have a legal right to take pictures in pretty much any public place, this article by Morgan Manning concludes that the legal remedies for violations of that right are inadequate and often entirely unworkable. Is law-enforcement education the solution, or do we need new civil rights laws — maybe with attorney fees and heavy damages — to protect photographers from being hassled?"
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The New Era in Space Access

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 4 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "Writing in Popular Mechanics, Rand Simberg reports from the Space Access Society conference, and writes that the new era in space access is starting:

The era is being ushered in by a radical (at least to many) change in space policy by the Obama administration. It is not, as many in the media, and even in Congress have mistakenly and even hysterically characterized it, an "abandonment" of human spaceflight, or a "surrender" to the Chinese or Russians (pick your paranoia). Indeed, that is a bizarre interpretation of a plan that includes the extension of the International Space Station to 2020, and likely beyond; the acceleration and encouragement, with billions of dollars, of near-term commercial human spaceflight; and the development of the myriad technologies required to get humans to the moon, the asteroids and ultimately to Mars and its moons. Rather, it is a recognition that, half a century after the beginning of the space efforts, it has become a technologically mature (in performance and reliability, if not in cost) endeavor, and that NASA should shift its focus from the mundane task of getting people a couple hundred miles up into low Earth orbit, to the much more challenging issues of how to get them beyond, letting private industry pick up the slack, as they've done for the delivery of multi-hundred-million-dollar satellites for a couple of decades now.

Simberg says that there's much more enthusiasm from space activists and space entrepreneurs than most media coverage of the new Obama policy has recognized."
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Virgin Galactic Spaceship the Tip of The Iceberg

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 4 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "The Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two rollout got a fair amount of attention, but Rand Simberg, writing in Popular Mechanics, says it's just the beginning:

Despite all of the Virgin-focused hoopla, there is a lot more going on in Mojave these days than just Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. And even for those two companies, there is more to space going on in Mojave than suborbital tourism. . . . XCOR Aerospace, located next door to one of Scaled's hangars, continues to develop its own suborbital tourist vehicle, the Lynx. While it won't initially get all the way to the 62-mile altitude considered to be the threshold of space, it will still allow long weightless periods for its passenger and a smaller experiment, with the opportunity to go higher and longer with follow-on versions. Meanwhile, just a couple of blocks down the road, Masten Space Systems, fresh off its recent surprise win over Texas' Armadillo Aerospace in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Landing Challenge, plans to start flying to altitudes far beyond the meager few hundred feet needed to win that prize. According to business development manager Michael Mealling, "about half of next year's flights will be in the 1500- to 10,000-foot range. Toward the end of the year we'll be breaking through the 100,000-foot [about 20 miles, or about a third of the altitude needed for official spaceflight] barrier."

Are we seeing a critical mass of innovative space companies, something like the explosion of computer companies in the mid-1970s? Let's hope it's similarly fruitful."
Link to Original Source

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Survivalism: Not Just for the Soldier of Fortune

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 4 years ago

YIAAL writes "Survivalism has gone mainstream, as has a lesser culture of increased self-reliance in the form of gardening, "off the grid" power sources, etc. In this TV interview, Popular Mechanics editor Jim Meigs talks about what's happening and why."
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Budget Problems Produce Useful Ferment at NASA

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 4 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "Writing on the Popular Mechanics website, Rand Simberg reports from the Space 2009 conference. While NASA's plans for a heavy lift vehicle are looking ever more tenuous, previously excluded players are coming forward with genuinely creative — and commercially oriented — ideas that will do more for less.

ULA's plan is to develop propellant depots, lunar injection stages, and lunar landers derived from the existing Delta IV and Atlas V launchers, and to launch all the pieces with those vehicles (or perhaps slightly larger versions of them). The proposed lunar lander has dual-axis thrusters, allowing it to use main propulsion vertically for most of the descent, and then rotate for a horizontal landing. This puts the astronauts much closer to the lunar surface for safer entry and exits. The depots are placed in low Earth orbit and in the Earth-moon Lagrange point L2. ULA claims that their plan will provide a robust launch architecture, with two human-rated vehicles (rather than depending on one, as NASA has with the shuttle, and with its plans for Ares I) . . . . These ideas, from "A Commercially Based Lunar Architecture," one of the ULA papers, would have been heretical a few months ago . . . These papers may well mark the final nails in the Ares and Constellation coffin, signaling that this fall could see yesterday's heresy become tomorrow's new conventional wisdom.

Will these new ideas catch on? Or will NASA defend existing rice bowls to the end?"
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Interview: Hugo Award Winner John Scalzi

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 4 years ago

YIAAL writes "In this television interview, Hugo award winner John Scalzi, author of Old Man's War and Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, talks about the state of science fiction, why Robert Heinlein's teenage protagonists are better than J.D. Salinger's, and the importance of apocalyptic fiction in encouraging people to retain some actual skills. Plus, Star Trek design critique. Money quote: "All Holden Caulfield did was bitch, bitch, bitch. Put him behind the controls of a starship and he'd implode from stress.""
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Are gamers immature? Or rational?

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 6 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "Are gamers immature? Or rational? Kay Hymowitz unleashed a screed aimed at single "child-men" who play computer games instead of marrying and settling down. But advice columnist Dr. Helen wonders if they're not acting rationally, given that marriage isn't as good a deal for men as it once was. What do you think? Wedlock — or Wii?"
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Robert X. Cringely on spectrum auctions

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 6 years ago

YIAAL writes "Writing in Popular Mechanics, Robert X. Cringely looks at the upcoming auction of spectrum currently used for soon-to-be-defunct analog TV. "Why are all these companies so excited? Because the 60 MHz of spectrum that's about to be auctioned is the last prime real estate for mobile communications that will be available in the U.S. for decades to come. . . . Some pundits (that would be me) think Google will bid to win its spectrum block, then will trade that block to Sprint/Nextel for some of that company's 2.5-GHz WiMAX licenses that are far better suited for data." Plus, the prospect of offering unlicensed data service in the "white space" between existing broadcast channels."
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Bob Zubrin on Breaking OPEC with FlexFuels

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 6 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "Bob Zubrin — probably better known to Slashdot readers for as President of the Mars Society and inventor of the Mars Direct mission architecture — has turned his sights to energy with a new book, Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. Zubrin's plan isn't especially driven by new technology — instead he calls for a requirement that all new cars sold in the United States be flexfuel vehicles capable of running on gasoline, ethanol, or methanol in any combination. That technology already exists, and Zubrin says it would cost about $100 per vehicle to deploy. This would create competition among fuels and fuel producers, and allow alternative fuels to compete without having to set up a nationwide infrastructure of pumps and stations. (Plus, you can make methanol out of kudzu.) Zubrin is interviewed here on the book, and here's an article about his plan from The Register, and another item from MSNBC's Alan Boyle. Zubrin makes a strong argument, and it would be nice to see people asking the Presidential candidates about his plan."
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A Legal Analysis of the Sony BMG Rootkit Debacle

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 6 years ago

YIAAL writes "Two lawyers from the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology look at the Sony BMG Rootkit debacle: "The Article first addresses the market-based rationales that likely influenced Sony BMG's deployment of these DRM systems and reveals that even the most charitable interpretation of Sony BMG's internal strategizing demonstrates a failure to adequately value security and privacy. After taking stock of the then-existing technological environment that both encouraged and enabled the distribution of these protection measures, the Article examines law, the third vector of influence on Sony BMG's decision to release flawed protection measures into the wild, and argues that existing doctrine in the fields of contract, intellectual property, and consumer protection law fails to adequately counter the technological and market forces that allowed a self-interested actor to inflict these harms on the public." Yes, under "even the most charitable interpretation" it was a lousy idea. The article also suggests some changes to the DMCA to protect consumers from this sort of intrusive, and security-undermining, technique in the future."
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U.N. Moving to Take Over the Internet?

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 6 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "Claudia Rosett reports on the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro to the effect that the United Nations is looking "to confiscate management of the World Wide Web and turn it over to the same grand conclave of UN potentates whose members include the web-censoring likes of dissident-jailing China, monk-murdering Burma, terrorist-sponsoring bomb-making Iran, and 2008 members-elect of the Security Council, Libya and Vietnam." Sounds bad. Proceedings are being webcast at this link, so you can watch and make up your own mind."
Link to Original Source
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Mandatory Keyloggers in Mumbai's Cyber Cafes

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 6 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "Indian journalist Amit Varma reports that Mumbai's police are requiring Internet cafes to install keystroke loggers, which will capture every keystroke by users and turn that information over to the government. Buy things online, and the underpaid Indian police will have your credit card number. "Will these end up getting sold in a black market somewhere? Not unlikely.""
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James Lileks on Videogame Addiction

YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 7 years ago

YIAAL (129110) writes "We're hearing more talk about videogame addiction again, but Star-Tribune columnist James Lileks isn't having any of it: "If everyone who was addicted to games spent six hours in front of the TV every night, what would we call them? Right: normal. . . . Every kid has a misfit stage, unless they're a pearly-toothed Class President type. Every kid spends some time in a fantasy world. In the 50s they worried terribly about comic books, and the effect they had on tender minds; kids were getting hooked on the gore and horror. It's always something. The difference today: we develop names and syndromes and diagnoses, which somehow makes basic human behavior seem like a mechanism we can fine-tune back to perfection." How about less social-engineering and more leaving people alone?"
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YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 7 years ago

YIAAL writes "How big a threat to record companies is the so-called "Analog Hole" in digital copy protection? That's the question that professors Douglas Sicker, Paul Ohm, and Shannon Gunaji tried to answer in this paper. Conclusion:

Although the analog hole has been widely decried by content providers, surprisingly little is known about fundamental aspects of how it operates. Can average users exploit the analog hole, or is this limited to sophisticated users? Does analog hole copying significantly degrade the quality of music or video? Will people pay for music that isn't a perfect digital copy? Intuitions and guesses abound, but nobody has ever conducted a study to answer these questions. . . . What's the analog hole worth? Based on our survey, twenty-four cents. That's how much less our respondents were willing to pay for a music track when a perfect digital copy was replaced by an analog hole copy. Although our results need to be replicated on a larger scale, they suggest many conclusions that have never before been proved: people are willing to pay for less-than-perfect analog hole copies of songs; people will pay much more than half the price of a typically-priced digital music file for its degraded alternative; and even self-avowed "pirates" show a willingness to pay for digital music, albeit at prices well below today's market standard of ninety-nine cents a song.
In a blog entry about the study, Professor Ohm (love the name) wrote:

What does this all mean? If it wanted to, the music industry could probably price discriminate in the way we've described. If it offered lower-quality music downloads for less money, it would probably find a market. Although lower-quality tracks are no cheaper to produce than the standard-quality tracks sold today, lower-quality files are usually smaller, resulting in less bandwidth to distribute, leading to possible cost savings. Also, lower-quality tracks may be good enough for an iPod but not for a home audio system, which could possibly spur multiple purchases of the same song by the same consumer. More likely, the music industry will follow the lead of the EMI/Apple deal, and attempt to price discriminate for higher prices, if at all. It is unclear whether our result is generalizable to that situation.
I'm guessing that it is. Of course I don't know much about making money from downloadable music. But then, neither do the record companies, by all appearances . . . ."
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YIAAL YIAAL writes  |  more than 7 years ago

YIAAL writes "Bill Hobbs reports on a Tennessee bill that would require that allegedly defamatory material on the internet be removed within two days of a complaint being made. The bill provides:

An owner or licensee of a web site or web page shall have fifteen (15) days to remove any defamatory statements about a person from such web site or web page; however if the owner or licensee has been given notice that such statements are defamatory then that owner or licensee shall have two (2) days from the date of the notice to remove the statements from the web site or web page, whichever is less. Failure to remove defamatory statements as provided in this section shall create a presumption of malice intent.
As the poor grammar suggests, this may not have been very well thought out, and it's almost certainly invalid under any reasonable interpretation of Federal (and Tennessee) constitutional law, not to mention the Communications Decency Act. But it serves as a warning that politicians remain anxious to shut down Internet criticism — and, of course, "reasonable" interpretations aren't always the interpretations we get in these cases. Were this bill to take effect, web publishers would basically be forced to remove material upon any charge that it's defamatory, as the risk of not doing so would be higher than most commercial concerns, or impecunious bloggers, would be willing to face."

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