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Comments

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'The Door Problem' of Game Design

bzipitidoo Re:Article is empty (266 comments)

She skipped right past the first parts of game design to focus on minutae. Made good points, but about implementation details, not game design.

What game designers must do before worrying about doors is, well, design. What is the game about? Killing bad guys? Racing against competitors? Collecting money or points? Solving puzzles? Exploring worlds? Building things? The tricky part is picking the mechanisms. The question isn't which doors are supposed to open or have windows, it's whether doors are an appropriate and fun method to make reaching the goals, whatever they are, challenging without being impossible. Or they are a necessary evil to deal with limitations.

To find out if a game play element is possible and balanced and fun requires analysis and testing. It can be done in an agile way, making some elements, testing the game play, then making changes. For one example of unbalanced games, can look way back to the early Ultima games. In Ultima 2 and 3, the heroes were so powerful they could easily kill all the non-player characters in an entire city, without consequence, because to reduce memory usage on the computers of that era, the design simply loaded the initial state every time a city was entered. (Not that they couldn't have easily set aside just one bit, an "evil bit", to track whether the heroes were no longer heroes, but for whatever reason, they didn't.) Consequently, an easy way to get more money was kill the enitre town and take all the treasure, exit then reenter and do it all over again, until the player was satisified with the haul of loot. Tedious but effective. Not what the designers wanted, I'm sure, but they did go so far as to make the best of the problem by making a few towns especially juicy to loot. Ultima 3 especially was criticized for being too easy.

Or, design is often done in an ad hoc manner. As an example, many fantasy MMORPGs have a crafting system which the players can use to make equipment. These are a sideline to the main goals of progressing through the fantasy world, doing quests and gaining levels. The way MMORPGs implement it, crafting is dull, tedious, and limited. The players can't employ imagination to create novel items, they are restricted to a small set of fixed recipes. The game designers couldn't allow much latitude on crafting, or the players could and would make items so powerful that they completely unbalance the main game. It'd be rather like crafting and using machine guns, while the rest of the fantasy world continues to use swords and bows. Or the whole fanatsy world advances, and then it's not fantasy anymore. A crafting system that is just a little more realistic could inadvertently allow such things. After all, in real life, what stopped the people of the Middle Ages from having guns? Lack of knowledge, nothing more. The players will all know about modern technology, and will not be held back through ignorance, so the game designers have to resort to other methods. Science Fiction is not much help. A crafting system that allows novelty could likely still be used to break the game.

6 hours ago
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WRT54G Successor Falls Flat On Promises

bzipitidoo Re:$409.99 WHAT THE FUCK (104 comments)

Commodity networking for anything more complicated than a switch has been garbage for years. To keep the price down, the manufacturers are brutal about reducing CPU specs and speed, then pushing them to their absolute limit so they're constantly in danger of overheating. They cut the RAM to the minimum as well. They also spend as little as possible developing and debugging the firmware.

And they lie. They like to try to sneak changes past the public by keeping the model numbers the same while totally changing the innards. They will change only the "revision" number, as if the total redesign was only a minor change, and not print this on the box. I once bought the famous Linksys WRT54G, and found it was junk. Couldn't even ping reliably through a wired connection, never mind wireless. My old router (a Netgear RP114, no wireless capability) worked fine, so it was definitely not anything else. I found out why. When I bought it, Linksys had just moved from revision 4 to revision 5. Revision 4 was the good one, with Linux. Revision 5 had half the RAM and was running a very buggy firmware on VxWorks.

Just a guess, but from my own experiences, maybe as many as 1/3 of the routers out there are so poorly made that they never work properly or well, or if they do, they don't last long, dying from overheating in the first year. Including that Linksys WRT54G revision 5, I've taken many a router back within the first 3 days because they just did not work, even after updating them with the latest firmware offered on the vendor's website. Of the ones that do work, sometimes have had to work hard to make configuration changes through their web interface. The web pages sometimes do not load properly because the router suffered a brief instant of overheating, perhaps, or because of a bug, hard to say. The Trendware routers I've seen have particularly bad interfaces that make Metro look nice by comparison. I could put up with that, if they at least worked well, but no. The latest piece of junk I'm having to deal with is an Arris DG860, supplied by Time Warner, which figures. It will drop wireless connections for no apparent reason, and may start working again a moment later, or may need to be reset by power cycling it.

9 hours ago
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Expert Warns: Civilian World Not Ready For Massive EMP-Caused Blackout

bzipitidoo One other word: denial (270 comments)

Yes, the article is sensationalist. While EMP could be a real problem, a bigger problem is that any attack that could generate a big enough EMP to knock out the electronics over half a continent would likely cause much worse problems, like World War III and Nuclear Winter. Even if it only costs a little bit, is it worth the effort to guard against EMP? Computer security is another area that you have to constantly ask if it's worth the trouble, and will proposed measures actually help? Yes, we've had many embarrassing security breaches, but that could be better if the alternative is to spend so much on security that it's cheaper to suffer the occasional breach. However I think the consensus is that we would spend less if we invested a little more in security.

Also, we have a lot of other, worse problems we're not doing much about either. Climate Disruption. Asteroid impact. And as for healthcare, how about the AIDS denial in South Africa?

We have also noted for some time that we have a lot of infrastructure that's vulnerable to terrorism. Terrorists could blow up a few critical bridges (or maybe just close a couple of lanes), poison water supplies (maybe by peeing in them), bomb stadiums when a big game is on, torch oil refineries and terminals, and no doubt many other things. Why hasn't this happened? Is it that they're trying but our security services are unsung heroes who have already foiled dozens of plots we never heard about? Or more like that the threat isn't that big, as the effort it takes to pull off something like that is more than is appreciated?

2 days ago
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I expect to retire ...

bzipitidoo sometimes work doesn't pay (322 comments)

Small employers have ripped me off a few times now. Whenever they want to pay you as a contractor (handled by the 1099 form in the US) instead of as an employee (the W2 form in the US), watch out. Mind, though, the W2 isn't proof against employer cheating either, it's only a little more protection than the 1099.

Startups will share the risks without properly informing their workers and getting consent to do so, and at the same time arrange not to share the rewards, should they be successful. The first official word you may get that the company is failing is that they can't make payroll, and this of course occurs when they owe you a month of pay. They knew money was running out and that if sales didn't pick up or more like start, they would be unable to pay everyone, but they refuse to talk or think about that because that's defeatism. Just before the end, they will likely crank up the stress levels, try to drive everyone to work extra extra hard. They're deluding themselves that mere hard work can get through the crisis, when the problem is that their idea was actually not much good. When it doesn't work, the crying and wailing comes out of the closet. How can you whine about the month of pay they owe you, when their precious business failed? Can't you see they're hurting more than you? Oh, and they'll beg you to keep working for free. Surely the business will succeed with just a little more time and effort.

Only way I've found to avoid getting screwed by a failing startup is to read between the lines. If it's not going well, get out before the money runs out. If they're lying to themselves, they sure aren't giving it to the workers straight. The government can't help you. Yeah, you can sue the employer, and win, but if the business really is broke you will get nothing. Compared to collecting, suing and winning is easy.

Life isn't fair that way. Hard work often isn't rewarded. The Protestant Work Ethic sometimes is a cruel delusion. All those conservatives who think "get a job" is the magic that separates a good citizen from a lazy mooching bum ought to experience failure after failure.

4 days ago
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The Security of Popular Programming Languages

bzipitidoo Re:Subtle attack against C/C++ (188 comments)

I wonder if zeroing out memory can go even deeper than the OS. Like, why not have RAM that can zero itself on command? Just turn off the DRAM refresh for a fraction of a second, and viola!

Memory moves have been made much faster by bypassing the CPU, for instance with hard drives with the DMA mode rather than PIO mode. So they are using a DMA from a /dev/zero device or more like a 4k page of zeroes to a range of memory? What you're describing sounds like an excellently lazy method. Zero newly allocated the memory when it is the object of a pagefault, not eagerly when allocated. Though nowhere near as bad as a PIO (or just PO?) method of pushing zeros out of the CPU and into memory, I'm guessing that is still a small performance hit. Is it?

about a week ago
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Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes?

bzipitidoo Re:Had to do paper for a few years (386 comments)

Oh yes, Tax Act tries to use that to prod you to upgrade from the free version. In the free version, you can't print to a file, you can only print to a printer. This is easily gotten around with a utility like PDFCreator.

PDFCreator can't help with tax websites that won't let you efile unless you pay, but it can get you around ones that try to hold your data hostage and not allow you to save to disk, only to paper.

about a week ago
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The Security of Popular Programming Languages

bzipitidoo Re:Subtle attack against C/C++ (188 comments)

From the start, the design of C emphasized speed and efficiency over all else. "Trust the programmer" was one of the mottoes. If the programmers are doing something weird, assume they know what they're doing, and maybe print a warning, but allow it. C was, by design, weakly typed, and minimalist, especially when it comes to checking for errors because such checks take time.

Often, we've seen efforts to improve C's safety that were eventually sidelined because they were a performance hit. The iostream library is safer, but much slower than stdio. Which one do people prefer? stdio! C libraries are full of routines that do not do bounds checking, for the sake of performance and simplicity. gets() is an infamous one. The language itself is so easy to to use insecurely. Pointers can be set to point absolutely anywhere, and those places both read and written at will. If the OS, with help from modern CPU memory management facilities, didn't set boundaries and kill programs whenever they stepped over the bounds, there'd be nothing to stop them.

Another idea was adding instructions to dynamic memory allocation to do memory wipes. Before freeing the memory, the computer was instructed to zero it out. This resulted in as much as a 10% performance hit, and was quickly abandoned. Wiping memory has been proposed at the OS level as well. But there are always apps that don't need that because they aren't doing anything sensitive.

That brings up a big problem with the article. Where should responsibility for security lie? With the OS? I think trying improve a language's security is the wrong approach. That's what they sort of tried to do with Java. It's like trying to prevent bank robberies by securing the steering wheels of all potential getaway vehicles. Yes, make languages easier to use and less prone to bugs, but don't specifically target security.

about a week ago
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Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes?

bzipitidoo Re:Had to do paper for a few years (386 comments)

Try Tax Act. The free version will nag you to upgrade, but you don't have to, and they no longer put income limits on the efiling.

Limits were always one of the many stupid things the IRS did. The IRS wants everyone to efile, not send in paper, becuase it saves them money. Then they try to charge extra for efiling, which drove people to file paper. Also heard that the chances of being audited are lower for paper filings, another reason not to efile. I didn't know about being forced to go with paper to deal with identity theft, but it figures. We've never had that problem, and we've always gone with whichever way was cheaper. We were not going to pay an additional $15 or whatever the charge was, to efile.

about a week ago
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IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

bzipitidoo Re:Taxation (631 comments)

Yeah, I've experienced that. They owed my parents a refund, and didn't pay the full amount. No explanation was given, not even so much as a note saying that they were keeping back some money. We checked and rechecked the figures, could find nothing wrong, and thought it must be a mistake on their end.

Took several calls to figure things out. It wasn't a mistake in their math. The previous year, my parents changed banks, and had problems updating the information with EFTPS, the US govt's electronic tax payment system. They tried to take money from the wrong bank, and penalized my parents for that. The penalty wasn't $30, like a bank might charge, no, it was 2% of the amount they tried to withdraw. Makes the banks look friendly and reasonable by comparison. They waited nearly a whole year between imposing and collecting the penalty. Make it more difficult to learn what the issue was.

about a week ago
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Jenny McCarthy: "I Am Not Anti-Vaccine'"

bzipitidoo Re:Appeal to authority is not good enough (588 comments)

It's hard to guess what to fear the most, with all the conflicting information and the certainty that organizations have concealed and buried information, and blocked studies. Cigarettes have been known to help smokers keep their weight down, and some become obese after quitting. We know nicotine is addictive, and we know the entire tobacco industry lied to congress about it. We know they embraced propaganda and lies as a mere tool for furthering their business, and they show no concern about their reputation, acting as if they really believe they are behaving ethically. The worst part is that the public has grudgingly allowed this behavior out of a sense of indifference and powerlessness.

Other industries have sat up and taken notice. They have embraced ther own programs of willful ignorance and disinformation. Big Oil and Coal sought to discredit facts about Global Warming. Wall Street has done its utmost to stop markets from being policed, and is still doing it even after the disastrous downturns known as the Dot Com Crash and the Great Recession. The Telecoms Industry is still pining for the glory days of Ma Bell, trying to take control of the Internet in the same way that Ma Bell used to control the telephone network, hoping to wreck network neutrality rules. Big Media, Big Pharma, and the likes of Monsanto and Microsoft are in bed together over intellectual property laws, spreading as much confusion as possible over the issue, with perhaps "copying = stealing" being the most notorious lie.

History is not much comfort. Big Tobacco didn't invent anything new with their "doubt is our product" disinformation and propaganda campaign, they merely improved and adapted to new communcation channels. In the past we've had notorious incidents such as the Radium Girls. People used not to even know what radioactivity was, then didn't understand for years how toxic and dangerous radiation is. We know much better know, but we still dabble in nuclear power in neglectful and unsafe ways. It's not that nuclear power can't be used safely, it's that it won't be. Can people be trusted to run a nuclear power plant responsibly? Not to cut corners, build inadequately, skimp on safety, defer maintenance, delay inspections? In the wake of Fukushima, it seems the answer may be "no". Asbestos was another recklessly used substance. Then there are the pesticides and herbicides DDT and Agent Orange and the chemical known as dioxin and their damaging effects, as told in Silent Spring.

Those are only the biggest, most well-known lies. Bisphenol A has finally been subjected to the glaring light of negative publicity, but there are many others, phthalates for one. Bisphenol S may not be much safer, being more stable under heat and light, but still too good at mimicking estrogen once loose. How about lead in faucets? We've known that lead is toxic for years, but incredibly, we're still using it to deliver not just any water, but drinking water! They've rationalized the use of lead as safe because it is alloyed with other metals, and claimed not to leach out. The industry has cozened regulators into accepting tests that are far too forgiving and unrealistic. What few honest studies there are about the matter that haven't been squashed and suppressed suggest that they are wrong, and lead does leach out, and in enough quantity to cause health problems. Mercury in dental fillings also leaches out. At least we've stopped the use of leaded gasoline.

Jenny McCarthy is a muckraker, but it is the background of lies and deceit that empowered her.

about two weeks ago
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'weev' Conviction Vacated

bzipitidoo Re:sad day for those who don't like 4chan trolls (148 comments)

Microsoft makes an especially good example of the results of ignoring security for convenience. Does AT&T deserve leniency and approval for trying to make life convenient? Not when they could have easily had the same convenience with real security.

Why should the law jump when AT&T whistles? Consider this scenario. Alice leaves the door to her business unlocked, and the lights on, and Steve observes this. Steve sends a fake invitation to Bob for an after hours party at Alice's business. Bob goes, and enters. For some extra fun, Steve also tells Bob where some food is, and that he should help himself to it. Alice throws a fit and calls the police. Now what? Obviously, it's overzealous to arrest Bob for trespassing and looting. The police might do so anyway, for several reasons. Maybe they have to follow a policy that emphasizes getting control of every situation as fast as possible, and so they burst in with guns drawn, scream at Bob and throw him to the floor, and tazer and handcuff him for good measure. Maybe Bob was stupid, should've been suspicious and knocked first, or not gone at all? But that's expecting a lot of Bob. If Alice had simply locked the doors, Bob would've been unable to walk in, and the entire incident would've come to nothing. Alice should shoulder some responsiblity for not making things as clear as easily possible to Bob. No, a "no trespassing" or "closed" sign with hours is not good enough, not when it is so easy to just lock the door. A locked door is the clearer, more universal message, and very easy to do. Not everyone reads the same language, and some can't read at all.

The process of obtaining the PII was sufficiently complicated as to make it readily apparent that the information obtained was not for public consumption.

No, it isn't safe to assume that. Add one more thing to the scenario above. Steve programs a web page to hide all the complexity, so that Bob can't readily tell he has stumbled into something private. Again, it is so easy to stop both Bob and Steve by just locking the door.

about two weeks ago
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'weev' Conviction Vacated

bzipitidoo Re:sad day for those who don't like 4chan trolls (148 comments)

that the security measures were woefully inadequate is beside the point

On the contrary, we cannot have the law being abused to take the place of security. Too many people would fake the security and rely on the law to make it work. Too many are already doing exactly that. It's a costly and unreasonable burden upon the public. Pay for your own security. That includes designing a reasonable system, implementing it properly so that actually works, and performing tests and audits. Just because perfection is hard is no reason to excuse sloppy security work. DRM, for instance, fails the reasonability requirement. We have had our publicly funded police forces and courts misused to confiscate prescription drugs, improperly demand license fees from users rather than producers (SCO scared and bullied a few users into paying for a license to use Linux), and of course conduct a massive campaign to hold back technology in the name of stopping piracy. ISPs are pretty well free of being burdened with requirements to keep years and years of logs, for fishing expeditions, but there is still danger it could become the law.

It is also better not have doubt about whether some security effort was meant to be real but was bungled, or was indeed faked and, after being breached, is claimed to have been a real effort all along and therefore the breaches are worthy of prosecution. This is especially true on a system that is not experimental, but is instead an implementation of well known, effective methods. AT&T wasn't doing anything new, no, they just plain blew it. Saves us all a lot of time and money arguing over a pointless aside.

We even have cases of security law being gamed. We don't need someone setting up a honey pot to snare particular victims, then running to the law to complain that mean, bad people broke in, ask that the seeming perpetrators be thrown in prison, and kick back and watch as the full paranoia and wrath of the law is released upon their enemies.

Owners should install working locks on their doors and use them, not demand that the government spend enough money, no matter how much, to watch every door all the time because they can't be bothered to spend the trivial amount of money needed to have a working lock.

about two weeks ago
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Comcast Takes 2014 Prize For Worst Company In America

bzipitidoo Monsanto is an Intellectual Property extremist (195 comments)

Heck yeah, we know who Monsanto is. They're the scum who want to patent plant reproduction, and sue farmers for farming. If anything can give a company lots of bad press everywhere, not just in geek circles, it's victimizing innocent farmers with complicated legalese over a grossly obvious right. Aside from the huge problem of that ultimately leading to needing their permission to eat, they don't care if that also leads to the RIAA and MPAA winning the right to force DRM on everyone, and Big Pharma patenting our own genes and us having to pay them license fees just to exist. And some thought paying a levy for breathing the air was draconian.

about two weeks ago
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Interview: John McAfee Answers Your Questions

bzipitidoo Re:Damn Fascinating (124 comments)

I've always wanted to take a road trip south out of the US. Drive to South America, see the Amazon, Brazil, and Argentina, visit the telescopes in Chile, swing back through Peru and look at Incan ruins. But it has never seemed even remotely safe to try it. Also, it still isn't possible to drive the entire distance. There is no road connection between Panama and Columbia, so you must employ a ferry, or stop and turn around there. Is that why your plan is to turn back there? I hear that Columbia is especially unsafe, and your ferry ride should bypass that entire nation. A gringo driving through Columbia is just asking to be kidnapped and held for ransom.

It's a different world, this attitude of dealing with corruption by playing along, working within this system and its unwritten rules. Wouldn't be better to change the system, rather than help perpetuate it by participating, no matter how unwillingly? McAfee wanted to travel, without waiting for such corruption to be cleaned up. Admittedly the wait may be a very long one. The West has changed its approach in recent years. Now businesses based in the West have many more legal obstacles against playing the game and bribing authorities, on the idea that corruption will never be cleaned up as long as the powerful can so easily profit from it, and that allowing it to go on is too costly to everyone else.

about two weeks ago
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Dyn.com Ends Free Dynamic DNS

bzipitidoo Re:Viable Replacement? (242 comments)

Yes, and disingenuousness. They say they are ending the free service because there is too much abuse. Google, Yahoo, MS, and others can still offer free email, despite all the spam, but Dyn can't continue the free version of a service that is much simpler and easier to manage than email? And, wasn't there plenty of abuse 5 years ago, 10 years ago? They could handle it then, and now they can't?

about two weeks ago
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Why There Are So Few ISP Start-Ups In the U.S.

bzipitidoo Re:For God's Sake, Internet is a LUXURY not a UTIL (223 comments)

That's like saying the US didn't need railroads either. Before the Ttranscontinental, there were 3 basic ways to travel between the east and west coasts. 1) Overland. Time: almost 6 months at first, then down to 4 months as the trails improved. Might not make it if attacked by Indians, or you became ill with cholera, or you took a wrong turn and ended up lost and dying of thirst in a desert, or trapped and starving and frozen in a snowed shut mountain pass. 2) Take ship around the southern tip of South America. Time: 4 months. Safer than overland, but still somewhat risky, uncomfortable, and more expensive. 3) Take ship to Panama, cross, then continue on another ship. Time: 1 month, if lucky and there was a ship wih room on the other side. The Transcontinental took 1 week. Also, the army had to maintain and man forts all over the west, at great expense, to protect citizens from Indians. Took too long to travel, they had to be near at hand. When the railroad came and "annihilated space and time", the forts were no longer useful and were quickly abandoned.

Like the railroads did, the Internet saves huge amounts of time and money. The phone system can't gather and deliver data at any efficiently remotely approaching the Internet. Call brokers to check commodity prices, are you mad? Takes many hours to check everywhere by phone, by which time some prices would change. Instead, what farmers did was simply not check everywhere, they would only check a few local dealers. And as for snail mail, please. Same day delivery is fantastic, for goods. But for information, it is hopelessly outclassed.

about two weeks ago
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Why There Are So Few ISP Start-Ups In the U.S.

bzipitidoo Re:falling behind (223 comments)

I thought it was: 1st world = the West-- the US and its allies, 2nd world = USSR and its allies, 3rd world = non aligned-- all the nations that weren't interested and didn't want to take sides in the Cold War, and even resisted pressure to choose a side. Most of them also happened to be very poor, which reduced the interest of the 2 sides in them.

about two weeks ago
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The Problem With Congress's Scientific Illiterates

bzipitidoo Re:The symptom, not the true problem. (509 comments)

Among the 5 democratic candidates for a US Senate seat where I live was one who campaigned on the idea that Obama was trying to impart Islamic values to our school children, and should be impeached. She got 2nd place, and will be facing the 1st place candidate in a runoff.

How do we get through to supporters of that sort of thing just how uncool that is?

about three weeks ago
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Your Car Will Tell You How To Hit the Next Green Light

bzipitidoo Re:Its called paying attention (364 comments)

This kind of anti-social road operation is common. Many merchants want people sitting at the intersections where their stores are, with nothing to look at but the stores. Rich and politically well connected businesses can get traffic lights added to the entrance of their businesses. I know of at least one country club that serves the superrich, and not only did they get a stoplight, it also severly favors their entrance, truning green for them the instant anyone wants out, and screw the 6 lanes of traffic on the major street. Toll road operators want free side roads to be inadequate, badly maintained, and jammed with traffic lights. Revenue hungry cities are always running speed traps, red light camera programs, and the like, and calculatedly neglecting problems such as foliage that blocks signs.

Charles City, Iowa had a place where 3 streets cross the highway, and all 3 have traffic lights. But, not the same style of traffic light. The 2 on the end have the lights hanging from arms that reach over the highway, while the middle one has only a vertical post and buildings right at the corner, all which makes it harder to see. Of course the lights are mistimed, so that when the 2 on the end turn green, the one in the middle turns red. There's a bypass now. Olney, Texas had 3 lights, 2 in their tiny downtown area, and 1 about a mile down the highway, nearly impossible to see because it was a temporary that hung from a wire, and the trees on either side had grown out over the highway and obscured the traffic light. You could not see the light until you were less than a block away, and even then, you had to know where to look. I heard an allegation that completion of I49 through Alexandria, Louisiana was delayed for several years by a local politician who owned a restaurant on the old road.

about three weeks ago

Submissions

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Not a crime?

bzipitidoo bzipitidoo writes  |  more than 4 years ago

bzipitidoo writes "
  • Loitering
  • Speeding
  • Shoplifting
  • Copying
  • Presenting hacks at a conference
  • Refusing to divulge passwords
  • Drugs
  • Sexting
"
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Laredo to be largest city with no bookstore

bzipitidoo bzipitidoo writes  |  more than 4 years ago

bzipitidoo writes "The last bookstore in Laredo, TX (population 230,000) is closing, which fact may be played up as a sign that civilization is declining, at least in Laredo. Is this a tragedy or a blessing, or neither? The city still has public libraries and Internet access and through that Project Gutenberg and online ordering of books. The bookstore is only a business-- it isn't devoted to raising the level of culture, or literacy, it is only there to profit. Perhaps this is only a sign that bookstores are obsolete."
Link to Original Source
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The topics covered in Communications of the ACM

bzipitidoo bzipitidoo writes  |  more than 6 years ago

bzipitidoo writes "The flagship publication of the Association for Computing Machinery, the professional society for Computer Scientists, is Communications of the ACM. In the 1970's CACM had many articles of technical and scientific interest. In the 1980s, CACM shifted emphasis, and today its articles are mostly about the business and management of software engineering. The next most common subject is security and military problems. The remainder tend to be mushy social science in tone, and often have a tie in to business or security. Is that all the ACM thinks Computer Science is? CACM shouldn't be an Applied CS in Business and Military Special Interest Group journal, as the flagship journal, CACM should be a general CS journal. If one never reads any other journals in CS, one could wonder whether CS is becoming "played out", with every year bringing fewer and fewer research papers about algorithms, or programming languages, or other fundamentals of CS, and that's why CACM has shifted emphasis. But then something like the June issue of Scientific American, which was a better issue on CS than any CACM issue in the last decade, comes out. Or, something big happens, such as the solving of Checkers. What's with the ACM and their main publication?"

Journals

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Public digital libraries and the law

bzipitidoo bzipitidoo writes  |  about 4 years ago

The advantages of a digital library over a traditional book repository are tremendous. No more need for multiple copies of popular books, no reason to have late fees, due dates, charges for lost or damaged books, or indeed the entire system built around library cards and records for tracking who has which books and when they are due. Anyone could download a copy of anything, anytime, and do so without interfering with anyone else's access. Stacks and shelves filled with tons of paper books would all be replaced with computers. This would take less space, and perhaps less maintenance. And it would allow all sorts of extra functionality, such as the ability to search, and have hyperlinks to related works. Card catalogs and cumbersome indexes of magazine and journal articles would not be needed. Also, can handle different sorts of data, such as books and movies, with the same system. Cities could save a bundle.

Currently, though technically doable, this magnificent vision is politically impossible. Copyright law stands squarely in the way. I cannot see any way to have a digital library that is freely accessible, and copyright law. It is the ability to copy any info quickly that makes a digital library so much more powerful, useful, and cheaper than a print library. We should abandon copyright law, and compensate and encourage artists with other means. The benefits of public digital libraries, and of the free exchange of ideas they could promote, are worth much more than copyright law. But because we do have this antiquated legal regime, the few digital libraries that exist are mostly behind paywalls or are private, and contain very small, highly specific collections, and we cannot see the full benefits. Copyright law must be retired.

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bzipitidoo bzipitidoo writes  |  more than 4 years ago

Some people instead advocate reforms such as limiting the length of these monopolies (to something like 5 years), not granting so many frivolous patents, not allowing the patenting of software, and reducing the penalties for violations. All those are good reforms to Intellectual Property (IP) law. But I think they don't go far enough, and the root of the problem can be summed up with one word: monopoly. Anti-trust efforts aim to eliminate monopolies, not mitigate them.

Even very short duration monopolies are enough to retard progress. That still provides grounds for expensive lawsuits and threats over alleged violations. By removing patents and copyrights altogether, we remove all basis for these complaints, and save us all a lot of legal expenses. We also save hugely on enforcement and the costs of a larger justice system. If anything should anger us, it is the misuse of our own police forces, paid for by us, in support of these businesses highly dubious ends. And most of all, we stop what has become the primary uses of IP, the blocking of competition and the robbery and extortion of the disadvantaged. People who want less government should support the abolishment of current IP law. As matters stand, many businesses have realized that building a portfolio of patents for defensive purposes is less costly than having an "IP gap". The quality of the patents does not matter, all that matters is that they have some of this peculiar form of currency, and so the quality has lately been poor. The least costly route is total disarmament, where no one need budget for patent portfolios.

Supporters of IP display a blind religious fervor that these laws are a net benefit, that they achieve the intent of advancing science and promoting art enough to justify the costs of these monopolies. I have never seen a reasoned argument, with honest statistics, in support of this position. Of the rational studies I have seen, most focus on one aspect, and conclude that the status quo is indeed bad. We need a study of the real costs and benefits of the current system, versus some alternatives.

What replacements do I propose? Nothing, or patronage. Nothing is of course the easiest, but the intent of the patent system was to buy off inventors-- give them something in exchange for revealing their secrets, and if there is no incentive of any sort for that, many will keep as many secrets as possible. A worse outcome is that people won't bother inventing or creating art. This fear is perhaps overblown. Nevertheless, we can strike a balance to encourage the creating of as much art as we can stomach. A patronage system can provide the incentive. A payment is a far less damaging thing to give inventors and artists than a monopoly. The next problems are valuation and collection. We can surely work out ways of figuring compensation amounts that are as fair as possible, given the huge difficulties in guessing how valuable an idea will turn out to be. Collection is the other big problem, with the first notion being a tax. But there are other ways. A levy can be agreed upon. And it need not be government that does the collecting, valuation, or disbursement, nor the people who pay directly, it could be quasi-governmental private entities managing the system. And paying into it would be advertisers and manufacturers of equipment that benefited from the knowledge, and charities.

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first post! :p

bzipitidoo bzipitidoo writes  |  more than 7 years ago Apparently I'm not invisible anymore! I have some fans-- and freaks! /wave! I've been spending a little less time on Slashdot the past 2 weeks to spend a little more time on another hobby at http://www.gassavers.org

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