Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Comments

top

Is 'Fair Use' Unfair To Humans?

peterwayner Re:Copyright itself is problematic for technology (259 comments)

We choose to treat intellectual property like real property because the system works. Or I guess I should say that it works better than pure anarchy.

If you can show me a working system that encourages people to synthesize information and share it with the population, I'll sign right up. But right now the Wikipedia is the only example I can see and it has many limitations. (It's also protected by copyright and I wonder whether it would work without copyright.)

about a year ago
top

Is 'Fair Use' Unfair To Humans?

peterwayner Re:Copyright itself is problematic for technology (259 comments)

Actually, it's society's fault. I could just as easily say, "It's the file sharer's job to figure out how to get material for free. Extending loopholes to protect a sharing model isn't something that we should justify."

Plenty of laws protect business models. The cops stop us from looting stores and I'm happy for that. I like stores. I like to be able to buy food and things I need. Now you might argue that vegetables will just grow on their own. Sprinkle some seeds and then nature does the rest. That's true, but I'm happy to protect the business models, no matter how flawed, if they're providing a service.

about a year ago
top

Is 'Fair Use' Unfair To Humans?

peterwayner Re:Copyright itself is problematic for technology (259 comments)

Are there really plenty of others? The Chicago Sun Times recently fired their photography staff. Is there some wellspring of photographers rushing to take pictures of all of the news events? Oh sure, a few people will upload pictures to Flickr of some big events, but I don't see anyone getting out of bed at night to cover the fires or disasters.

And it's not just about profit. I want to encourage talented artists to make a profit so they'll be able to afford to take time off from work and make more art.

about a year ago
top

Is 'Fair Use' Unfair To Humans?

peterwayner Re:Copyright itself is problematic for technology (259 comments)

Actually, the artists are allowed to have monopolies. It's in the constitution.

But your use of the word "monopoly" is unfair because they don't enjoy monopolies in the classical sense of the word. If an author writes a book on the civil war, the author can't stop others from writing a book on the civil war.

A more accurate word is "property" because the law gives the artist much the same rights as a carpenter or a plumber. Just as a team of carpenters can put a lock on the front door of a house that they built, copyright gives the artists the right to control their work. How many homes would carpenters build if any old squatter could just rush in and live for free after the last nail is driven home? I'm happy to give carpenters and other workers what you call "a monopoly" on their work because I want the world to have houses. And I also want the world to have books and that's why I'm happy to give the artists control over their work. It's the ethical thing to do.

about a year ago
top

Is 'Fair Use' Unfair To Humans?

peterwayner Re:Copyright itself is problematic for technology (259 comments)

Well, then what is the solution? How would you pay the authors, musicians and photographers? Or will they need to get day jobs to fund the work while the aggregators get rich?

about a year ago
top

Is 'Fair Use' Unfair To Humans?

peterwayner Re:Image metadata is the answer (259 comments)

While I agree that some history is locked away in books that can't be copied, I think that many, many writers and artists are only able to devote time to their work because copyright allows them to charge for access to their work. All of the new books at my store-- including plenty of non-fiction-- is protected by copyright.

The only counter-example I can think of is the Wikipedia. While it is quite good, it has a strange reliance on copyrighted work. It requires all information to be based upon a citation to a real publication-- a publication that's usually protected by copyright.

about a year ago
top

Peter Wayner Talks About His New Book, Future Ride (Video)

peterwayner Re:Interesting concept (28 comments)

I think we're going to see some clever work come out of Hollywood that may answer your question. The regular car chase is a bit tired, but it's going to be different when the robots drive the cabs. "The Fifth Element" was pretty cool. I think we'll see some more that try to answer the question of what to do when you can't get away.

about a year ago
top

Peter Wayner Talks About His New Book, Future Ride (Video)

peterwayner Re:how will they handle bad drivers? (28 comments)

I think the benefit for the casual drivers will be big. We're already seeing the explosion of companies like Uber and Zipcar. I think we'll see plenty of self-driving robots acting as cab companies.

about a year ago
top

Peter Wayner Talks About His New Book, Future Ride (Video)

peterwayner Re:Bad answer to the bridge question (28 comments)

Yup. You're right. And they have regular cameras too to do pattern recognition. Plus, they can communicate with each other to relay news to the cars that come behind them. There are multiple sensing vectors, as the AI guys might say.

about a year ago
top

Peter Wayner Talks About His New Book, Future Ride (Video)

peterwayner Re:anything new that wasn't in popsci 20 years ago (28 comments)

I don't know if there's much in it that wasn't in Jules Verne more than 100 years ago. :-)

But I did try to bring together some basic numbers that offer some context to help readers think about some of the ways that the autonomous car can change society. It's a deliberately short and simple book. It's more of a seed that helps the reader crystalize his or her thoughts.

about a year ago
top

How Ubiquitous Autonomous Cars Could Affect Society (Video)

peterwayner Re: grand father laws? (369 comments)

Ah, I used to have an 86 Porsche. It was a great car and cheaper than my wife's Honda-- until I had to have the front rack and pinon replaced. Sigh.

about a year ago
top

Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

peterwayner Re:there are other scale up isses that computer po (50 comments)

Can you elaborate? Which kind of networking issues? The advantage cars have is that they're only concerned with the cars that are nearby or about to be nearby. They don't need to worry about all O(n^2).

about a year ago
top

Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

peterwayner Re:cars... how about trains first? (50 comments)

If you check out some of the airports like Orlando or DFW, the trains are automated. It's largely a union and a political thing. They could be automated but the cities choose to create jobs instead.

about a year ago
top

Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

peterwayner Re:Secondary and Tertiary effects (50 comments)

Exactly. Those are great examples.

And that's why I started writing the book. The secondary and tertiary effects are going to be fascinating. Why put up signs if computers will use GPS to know where they are? There will be so much more freedom for everyone young and old. It's going to be a big change. Almost bigger than the Internet.

about a year ago
top

Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

peterwayner Re:moving to a rent a car system may not work that (50 comments)

You're right about problems with rentals and shared things but the problems are slowly being solved. I've had great luck with Zipcars. People who abuse the cars are kicked out of the program. The cars of the future may have a video camera watching them at all times and the car company may just dig it up if there are questions about smoking or abuse. The privacy will suck but maybe people who want a clean car will choose to have the camera running.

The other sharing systems are doing a good job policing the issue and so I'm pretty sure we'll see workable systems.

about a year ago
top

Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

peterwayner Re:Black Swan (50 comments)

Exactly. Google is putting plenty of miles on their cars and they're finding quite a bit of success. The DARPA Grand Challenge cars are almost a decade old. We're switching over from science to engineering. Marketing won't be long.

about a year ago
top

Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

peterwayner Re:Black Swan (50 comments)

Yes, you're right. Boston and NYC are nightmares. But then again computers can do certain things better than humans. They handle scale up more gracefully. A human might be able to process a number of pedestrians and dangerous items, but the human brain maxes out pretty quickly. If a computer can track one pedestrian, it can probably track 10,000 too. The scale up is just linear. You just add a bit more computing power. If the Google car can handle SF with a certain number of processors, I'm pretty sure it can handle Boston or NYC with twice as much computer power. At least that's my off-the-cuff guess.

about a year ago
top

Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

peterwayner Re:Never gonna happen (50 comments)

And we can create even more tools that offer a gradual evolution. We already have a database of all of the roads. With a bit more precision, we could build a device that could tell whether you're following a common path that others have taken before or if you're drifting into the way of oncoming traffic.

There are some, though, that suggest that gradual evolution may be more dangerous than jumping directly to fully autonomous vehicles. As the humans have less and less to do behind the wheel, their mind drifts elsewhere. They start texting more, working on their nails, or occupying themselves with other things. The car is usually doing a good job taking care of things. But the problem comes when the humans are called to do one of the few things they're supposed to do. If their mind is elsewhere, there could be a crash.

about a year ago

Submissions

top

Manga Guide to Electricity

peterwayner peterwayner writes  |  more than 5 years ago

peterwayner writes "Comic book lovers in search of a deep understanding of electricty can now turn to the "Manga Guide to Electricity", a beginner's textbook filled with cartoon characters struggling to learn about volts, watts and joules. At first I thought it was a gimmick, but after reading it I've started to see it's a good step forward in textbooks.

The book begins with a typical Manga premise: a young girl from an alternative world is magically transported to modern Japan with her robot. She's failing her exams at home and for some odd reason they send her to learn here on Earth. Oh she comes with her electrically powered robot who is her only way to get back home again. Gosh, I hope the robot doesn't get injured and need an electricity sensei to fix him.

It's not important because the story only serves to set up a teacher-student relationship for the book. In other editions from the Manga series from No Starch Press, a young girl pines for a good looking guy from a distance. Then, in a twist designed to get the book moving toward the right goal, we learn that the guy knows plenty about statistics. They're all pretty contrived.

So the girl meets her tutor and starts to learn the basics. The text begins with "What Is Electricity" (volts, joules, etc) and finishes with examining how electricity works. It's got most of what you need for most beginning science courses.

There are five major sections: What is electricy, what are electric circuits, how does electricity work, how do you create electricy and how can you conveniently use electricity. You're not going to get a job at Intel by the end of the book, but you'll know more about what they do.

All of the action is a give and take between the girl and her tutor. He introduces the topic, she doesn't understand, he refines, she questions, he answers, and finally she gets it. Victory! The characters celebrate like they just defeated some villain.

After getting past the novelty and the excessive cuteness (kawai!) of Manga art, I started feeling like the technique was ideal. Most textbooks present the information as a fete acompli spelling out that in the past, geniuses discovered that the world is This Way. The authors may try to break down the topics into manageable chunks, create a workable taxonomy, and deliver each part with plenty of pictures, but it's still one author telling the audience what to think.

That omniscience is still present in the voice of the sensei, but the girl's voice turns the narrative into a dialog by speaking what the readers are probably thinking. The all-seeing wisdom of the Great Oz is replaced by Socrates and Plato. One famous editor I know told me long ago that the secret of a good magazine piece lies in simulating a dialog by anticipating the questions the reader will probably be asking and then answering them in the next paragraph. This format forces the author into imagining the reader and placing them in the structure of the book.

While I ended up loving most of the book, I felt like the story line and dialog were a bit too simplistic. All to often, the girl's lines boil down to either saying she's confused or announcing that she gets it. It's rare for her to have truly good questions that push the tutor to admit the limitations of statistics. She does offer some obvious ones, but I think it would actually slow down the book if she were too clever.

Does the girl get back home? Will the robot be fixed? Just what do those silicon and boron atoms do in a semi-conductor? Are electrons in a wire like boxcars behind a locomotive? Is the ending satisfying and final? What? And write away the chance for a sequel? No Starch Press is also publishing translations of Manga guides to Physics, Calculus, Statistics, Molecular Biology and other topics.

Bio: Peter Wayner is the author of Translucent Databases , a book about building privacy-preserving databases, Disappearing Cryptography , a book about hiding information, and many others."

Link to Original Source
top

What can I do about book pirates?

peterwayner peterwayner writes  |  more than 5 years ago

peterwayner writes "Six of the top ten links on a Google search for one of my books points to a pirate site when I type in "wayner data compression textbook". Others search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking around for suggestions. Any thoughts from the Slashdot crowd? The free copies aren't boosting sales for my books. Do I (1) get another job, (2) sue people, or (3) invent some magic spell? Is society going to be able to support people who synthesize knowledge or will we need to rely on the Wikipedia for everything? I'm open to suggestions."
top

What do I do about websites distributing my books?

peterwayner peterwayner writes  |  more than 5 years ago

peterwayner writes "I recently noticed that some of my books are widely distributed on places like Pirate Bay. They're so widely distributed that typing "wayner data compression textbook" into Google returns ten pages and none of them are selling my book. Some are devoted to other books, but the bulk of the results are filled with sites like ExtraTorrent pushing a big download "Great Science Textbooks". While it's a great complement to be included in such a list of books, it pretty much confirmed that I won't be able to pay the rent or support my family writing these books as I have in the past. If others found success giving away books, it's eluded me and I'm guessing that the hype is what really drives sales. (The proliferation of digital readers is going to really hurt the viability of this mechanism.) So I've started asking people for advice. Do I (1) get another job, (2) sue people, or (3) invent some magic spell? Is society going to be able to support people who synthesize knowledge or will we need to rely on the Wikipedia for everything? I'm open to suggestions."
Link to Original Source
top

peterwayner peterwayner writes  |  more than 7 years ago

peterwayner writes "If you're jazzed by the communitarian impulses driving Wikis, idea agora, Web 2.0 and other collaborative happenings, you'll be pleased to know that the new book Wikinomics is a great gift for that boss, spouse, or friend who doesn't quite grok it yet. The only logic bomb hidden in this statement is that much of what is wonderful in this book is wonderful because it's a book printed on pulp and written by two and only two authors. That is, the book is good because it's not a wiki.

This statement isn't exactly true. The authors, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, have a wiki site at www.wikinomics.com devoted to the book. You can edit the wiki and have your say, but that's not what they're asking folks to buy. For the price of the book, you get a well-designed collection of thoughtful anecdotes stitched together by two talented business writers and polished by a good editor. They've made a good attempt to cover most aspects of the topic and they do an excellent job of explaining why the ideas are important for CEOs that are struggling to move their business forward. All of this is almost as portable as an iPod , dramatically less expensive and guaranteed never to need new batteries.

The tone of the book is bright and optimistic about how openness and wiki principles will help companies. We hear about how the wikipedia covered the London subway explosions, the way that Innocentive is opening up the R&D process for companies and the surprising inventiveness of Google maps users. The descriptions are thorough and well-researched, as far as they go, and when they're done going, the writers summarize them well. It's clear that the writers feel that the word "wikis" should be the new one word answer that CEOs should trot out when faced with the kind an impossible question, the kind of question that they the answered with "Internet" during the 1990s and "China" after the turn of the millenium.

The great advantages of the pulp-bound book become clear as you work your way through the text. In one section, for instance, Tapscott and Williams dismiss Jaron Lanier's worry that wikis can devolve when a smart mob develops the the same kind of "mass stupidity" that brought us Pol Pot or the Stalinist movement. "The winners will outnumber the losers", say the authors and conclude that Lanier "ran afoul". I don't really agree with the easy way that they dismissed the danger and if I had a wiki edit button in front of me, I would change the text to amplify Lanier's warnings. I've watched the mob rule delete perfectly good information from the wikipedia for no other reason than it wasn't "notable". The revision wars are legendary and any savvy wiki reader knows that skirmishes are more common than we would like. The well-meaning editors at the Wikipedia have probably destroyed more knowledge in the name of notability than the book burners of history. At least it's still there in the article history. But since Tapscott and Williams wrote a book that doesn't come with a wiki edit button, the text is better off because I didn't glue in my own divergent rant.

The optimism of the book is contagious and it would be a shame for it to be limited by a neutral point of view. Wikis organize casual information like how to install software , and this is the kind of job that is very important to business. Wikis may just be the wrong tool for, say, capturing political truthiness, but the book gives several good examples of how they energize corporations by making it easier for divisions, groups, and project teams to cooperate without going through traditional channels. If a business wants to formalize its collective intelligence, a wiki offers an ideal amount of flexibility.

If the book needs any editing, it would be to add more skepticism. At the beginning, they hint that they will address the kind of concerns that led Bill Gates to wonder about how society will pay for innovation if there's no profit incentive, but analyzing the limitations of the wikiworld isn't really their goal. There's little discussion of endeavors that have largely failed like Wikinews. That experiment with collaborative reporting had two articles on the day I wrote this and one article on the day before. (December 19 and 20th).

I've begun to feel lately that there is a real danger that free information will drive out paid information in much the same way that economists note that cheap money drives out the dear.

It's probably too early for us to have a firm grasp on the downsides to the wiki world and so it might be unfair to expect the book to be much of a buzz kill. One of the biggest logical problems I've found with the wikipedia is the inconsistent way that the movement treats traditional scholarship. On one hand, we're supposed to revel in the way that the wikipedia is often better than traditional mechanisms, but on the other hand the wikipedia gives more weight to outside sources. On the day I wrote this, the guide counseled, "Avoid weasel words such as, `Some people say ...' Instead, make your writing verifiable: find a specific person or group who holds that opinion and give a citation to a reputable publication in which they express that opinion." If the wikis become good enough to rival if not replace original sources, where will the wikis find the outside beacons of authority? Any strict logician will realize that there's a danger of proving 1=0 with this system, although I realize that all grown ups know that life is filled with logical inconsistencies like that.

The book, for instance, doesn't really question why the Wikipedia worked but the Wikinews didn't, something that no one may really know. The tone is closer to Ray Kinsella than Crash Davis. It celebrates Cory Doctorow, the famous editor of BoingBoing.net, a wonderful blog that I read daily. The authors explain how Doctorow gives away digital copies of his books because "his problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity."

Perhaps that's true, but a deeper question is how the wikis, mashups, and mixes will find their benchmarks of authority, their geodetic markers in memespace, their means of support. To test this danger, I wrote this greasemonkey script to count the words in a webpage between certain tags. On the day I wrote this, the admittedly imprecise script found 11788 words on the front page of Boing Boing, of which 6472 were between <blockquote> tags. That's about 50% borrowed text.

So far, this non-stop homage, this pantheon of fair use sells ads and seems to do quite well — Wikinomics suggests that BoingBoing's "readership now eclipses most mainstream media outlets." So why bother playing by the old school rules when you can just let others do the work while you push the boundaries of fair use and make money? There is a real danger that the original sources will find themselves starved for air as the Wikipedia and others fair use devotees suck up the top search rankings.

This may be why I think the book was right to bring these wiki worlds to the business community. At first I thought it was rather cynical to package up the wiki ideals into a neat bundle for the business leaders, but now I think that businesses are the ones who can really use and support the ideals. We now know that wikis can't be trusted for important, contentious areas of truthiness like politics, news, history, or any place where there's a difference of opinion about the facts, but it can still be ideal for semi-closed environments with outside means of support. I can imagine that wikis would be great for a corporation that needed to manage communication between the two divisions in different states. Openness gets rid of the natural inertia of bureaucracies. And it's clear that every company should have a wiki devoted to the user's guide so the customers can add what the manual writers never anticipated. Wikis allows one groupto move ahead without asking another "mother may I". The umbrella business can pay the bills for keeping the lights on.

My guess is the folks in business who need to get things done may be the only ones who support the wikiconomy in the long term after the average joe gets a bit bored and tosses the wikis onto the pile of amusing distractions with the CB radios. The businesses are the ones with the real incentives to embrace the values of wikiness. And if you've spent a few years in the cubicle trenches, you know that words like "truthiness" have a certain ring to them.

Peter Wayner is the author of Translucent Databases and 12 other books."
top

peterwayner peterwayner writes  |  more than 8 years ago

peterwayner writes "There are few corners of the world that are more closely associated with the word "nerd" than comic books and physics. Despite the large overlap in the fan base, the two disciplines seem doomed to live forever in different corners of our minds. Superheroes don't have to obey the laws of physics and that's probably what makes them so attractive to the poor physicists who labor long and hard in the hope of making those laws work correctly. James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, has produced a book, "The Physics of Superheroes" (now in paperback). The surprise is that the two don't behave like matter and anti-matter. They don't explode on contact.

There's no reason to spoil the book. You'll have to read it if you want to know why Superman can't change history, how Magneto becomes Electro when he runs, and whether Spiderman could really do those amazing things with spider silk. Some of the chapters are devoted to celebrating the accuracy of the comic strips by working through the physical equations. Much of what the comic book writers imagined is actually pretty reasonable. These sections bring new discipline to those old debates over who's stronger, bigger or most capable.

Other sections spell out just how wrong some of the assumptions are. Even when he's deflating the hopes of those kids who wish they could fly like Superman, he uses the disconnection with reality as a chance to riff on some what-if questions. What if Superman came from a planet that had a gravitational field 15 times stronger than earth? Would he be able to leap tall buildings? And then what would happen to a planet that was 15 times denser than earth? Would it fly apart as it rotated? Could you build one by just making a bigger version of Earth? What if you put some superdense material in the center of your new Earth? These are the questions that Kakalios works through.

The core theorem or narrative device of the book (choose your point of view) is that comic book authors can't bend too many rules. In fact, they usually can't get away with breaking more one or two. Then the hero must live a conventional life in our world and that's what makes it interesting. Spiderman may have a superstrong webbing, but he's still as vulnerable to depression as the next man. Batman may have unlimited wealth, but that won't bring back his parents. To paraphrase Robert Frost, comic book authors aren't playing tennis without a net.

In this world, science and comic narrative aren't bizarro versions of each other. Stories are sort of like free-form experiments where the scientist tries to change just one thing and measure the results. From this viewpoint, there's little difference between the two disciplines. A comic book is just a shorthand version of a scientific experiment.

This link implies an interesting and perhaps dangerous notion: science is just a longhand version of comic books. Sure, the folks at the cell phone companies have been striving mightily to make real that button on James T. Kirk's chest. That's the good news. But what about the darker notions? Anyone who's dealt with the side-effects of supposedly safe drugs like Vioxx knows that the bench scientists are as constrained as the comic book authors. They've got to come up with research that satisfies their customers and provide a simple resolution before that customer loses interest. (And won't those scientists come up with an ending for the debate about the link between cell phone-brain cancer before a jury does?)

But such speculation may kill the fun in the book. It's really just an excuse to toss around some equations and ask "what if" with a bit more rigor. This book may not be a grand, unifying theorem for the big plots of comic books and the big theories of science, but it's a neat first cut. It's as fascinating as much for its nuts and bolts description of physics as its offhand way of mixing together mathematical frameworks with narrative understanding.

Bio: Peter Wayner is the author of 13 books like Translucent Databases and Disappearing Cryptography ."

Journals

peterwayner has no journal entries.

Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?