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Why United States Patent Reform Has Stalled

tambo Patent "reform" (139 comments)

I posted an article describing the "why" a month ago. Totally not surprised that the current reform efforts exhibited the same arc.

That general model is exactly why this initiative collapsed as well. Several aspects of this reform - such as "attributable owner" rules, i.e., implementing laws that require patent applications to reveal the real party of interest in the case, as a measure addressing shell companies - were supported by large interests that benefited from them, and opposed by large interests that didn't. The result is stalemate, just as we've seen countless previous times in the patent "reform" discussion.

The only measures that make it through the "reform" system are mild improvements that don't affect some entities differently than others. And even those can be difficult - e.g., the first-to-file change in the America Invents Act is great for well-funded enterprises, but more problematic for small businesses. In that case, large enterprises simply steamrollered the opposition with lobbying cash.

The upshot is that the "reform" sytem is, itself, deeply dysfunctional. An additional tragedy is that efforts that would objectively improve the patent system for everyone, such as giving examiners more time to perform their examination and implementing more accountability for technically incorrect arguments, get lost in the struggle.

about 3 months ago
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US Secret Service Wants To Identify Snark

tambo tl;dnr - (213 comments)


NSA
NSA
NSA hates Poe's Law
They have a fight
Poe's Law wins
Poe's Law.

about 3 months ago
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Microsoft's Ticking Time Bomb Is Windows XP

tambo An easy choice... (829 comments)

The key to this dilemma comes down to one word:

"Microsoft will face an unenviable choice: Stick to plan and put millions of customers at risk from malware infection,"

I don't think that Microsoft actually considers these people "customers." I think MS very distinctly considers them non-customers of their flagship product, since they have not purchased any of the four latest versions (Vista, 7, 8, 8.1). All of Microsoft's customers should have followed its exhortations over the last five years to spend a few bucks and upgrade dump their now-13-year-old OS.

It's indisputable that across the computing industry, the perceived mandate of legacy support for next-gen OSes is increasingly feeble. In non-desktop markets - e.g., consoles and phones - the presumption was never there to begin with (starting with the Super Nintendo!) Web programming exhibits similar tendencies - how many Java applications from back in the day won't run on modern browsers? And won't that include the entire Silverlight platform in a few years? The tendency is that the river of upgrades will carry all projects of significance along in its current, and the projects that gather on the banks (i.e., don't receive newest-OS upgrades) are... detritus. For right or wrong, that's the view.

about 9 months ago
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The Post-Lecture Classroom

tambo Re:Ugh (169 comments)

> Flipping the classroom and making you work in teams are completely different things.

That's true, but you've missed my general point, which is: For students who are good at learning on their own - i.e., the cream of the crop - class time spent on verifying that they are learning the material is a complete waste of their time.

That is actually my biggest complaint. Typically, I would spend two hours in a traditional lecture learning, and four hours outside of class with independent learning and skill development. Instead, I now spend six hours outside of class learning everything on my own, and four hours in class proving it.

One of the most important skills to be developed in academia - particularly at the undergraduate level - is the ability to learn independently of a classroom agenda. Being asked to spend several hours per week in class working problems for the instructor, so that he/she can help with problems (or, as in my case, baby-sit the progress of the class), is not only inefficient for people who can learn on their own - it actually discourages the development of this skill: students don't need to be diligent about mastering their skills on their own if the classroom time is solely used to push them through the process.

1 year,5 days
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The Post-Lecture Classroom

tambo Re:Ugh (169 comments)

> It seems to me you have only learned half the lesson this method of pedagogy is meant to teach. Why don't you find the other well-prepared and conscientious students in your class, work with them, and shut out the losers?

Because the teams are assigned arbitrarily and we can't switch. We are required to sink or swim with the other schlumps in our team, irrespective of any differences in effort or intelligence. End of story.

1 year,5 days
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The Post-Lecture Classroom

tambo Re:Ugh (169 comments)

> Count your blessings. You never understand the material half as well as you think you do until you have to explain it to someone else.

I would love to have the option to develop that skill - e.g., voluntarily forming or joining study groups, or signing up as a tutor or teaching assistant. But in my case, I'm essentially required to teach slacking students to protect part of my grade. Thanks to the group structure, there is absolutely no recognition that some students are bailing out other students.

I am working three times as hard as my teammates - learning the material on my own, and then spoon-feeding it to them - and yet, we are all getting the same grade. Please tell me how I am "blessed" to be in this situation.

1 year,5 days
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The Post-Lecture Classroom

tambo Re:You have to reevaluate your goals (169 comments)

> You think, you could learn material just by consuming and memorizing them. This is often thought by students just out of high school, sometime even with older students. However, this is bullshit.

I think I can handle independent study just fine. I passed two bar exams through study-at-home materials.

MY point is that one of the most important skills to be developed in academia - particularly at the undergraduate level - is the ability to learn independently of a classroom agenda. Being asked to spend several hours per week in class working problems for the instructor, so that he/she can help with problems (or, as in my case, baby-sit the progress of the class), is not only inefficient for people who can learn on their own - it is actually a handicap for this skill: students don't need to be diligent about mastering their skills on their own if the classroom time is solely used to push them through the process.

1 year,5 days
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The Post-Lecture Classroom

tambo Ugh (169 comments)

I'm currently three weeks into a Physics class that's modeled on this concept. Let me tell you what it's like.

In theory: Students review the lecture material on their own time. In class, the instructor presents some Physics problems on the topic. The students work through them together in teams and learn from each other, and the instructor reviews each team's work to help them get past sticking points.

In practice: I review the lecture material on my own time. My classmates do not. They show up largely unprepared, and when presented with a basic problem, simply stare at it until someone else explains the entire problem to them. Typically, that means that I end up teaching my classmates Physics, and then showing them how I solved each of the problems. I need to do that, because a significant part of my grade is based on the performance of my team - i.e., the average of individual quiz scores of the members of my team.

The instructor routinely harangues students to come to class prepared, and is assigning increasing amounts of busywork to be performed outside of class to ensure that work is being done.

So for me - a very reliable self-starter and independent studier - this class model means that in addition to learning all of the material on my own, I also have to (1) spend several hours in class teaching the material to my classmates, (2) have my grade dragged down by my team members' poor performance, and (3) have to complete additional work outside of class to prove that I'm keeping up. In other words, of the 10+ hours a week that this class is requiring, LESS THAN HALF is spent learning the material and honing skills; the rest (including the 4+ hours of class time) is simply wasted, thanks to this poorly implemented learning model.

1 year,5 days
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Analyzing Congress's Multiple Approaches To Patent Reform

tambo Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. (58 comments)

1) News flash: Competing patent reform bills have been trudging through and/or stuck in Congress for most of the past two decades. It's a constant race among snails to see which one actually crosses the finish line.

This isn't surprising, because patent law serves multiple industries that widely differ in their characteristics and ideal uses of patents. The result is competing bills by big pharma, GMOs, big oil, the semiconductor industry, software companies, etc. The big players in each industry want to skew the whole system in their direction, and don't much care if it adversely affects other industries. (Contrast this with the copyright industry, which is a struggle between ALL media owners and ALL consumers... guess which side wins those struggles, every time?)

2) Like any piece of hotly contested and highly profitable legislation, many of the "reform" bills are intent on "reforming" the patent system straight into the trash. case in point: Many of the initiatives suggested by Barack Obama a few weeks back would rapidly exacerbate the troll problems that they suggest solving.

about a year ago
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Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

tambo Re:Really! (333 comments)

> Sounds like an ugly hack to avoid modifying software to call the 'set expiration time' function.

Often, what looks like an "ugly hack" turns out to be an elegant, lovely solution for a peculiar scenario.

In this case, the solution doesn't require modifying software, the file system, the network protocol, or other metadata. That might make it more appealing than the "obvious" solutions to the problem.

about a year and a half ago
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Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

tambo Re:I'm Sorry, but... (333 comments)

> Sure, but automatically deleting temporary files ?!?

Is every book entitled "Pirate Adventure" about the exact same story?

You can't just read the title - you have to read the claims. There's a whole lot more specific detail in the independent claims than "automatically deleting temporary files."

about a year and a half ago
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Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

tambo Re:I'm Sorry, but... (333 comments)

> The USPTO is supposed to support itself with fees [uspto.gov]. The largest fee is for reexamination, creating a financial incentive to grant bad patents (which are likely to be reexamined).

That makes no sense when you look at the statistics. About 1,000 reexamination cases are filed every year. By contrast, the USPTO receives about 500,000 new patent applications every year. The total revenue from reexamination wouldn't even put a dent in the examination process.

Here's how it actually works. When you file a new patent application, you pay an examination fee. That examination fee gets you a little ways down the road (typically two office actions), and if the case isn't allowable by then, you pay another fee for a Request for Continued Examination, which gets you another two office actions. Etc. If you reach the point where the application is ready to be issued, you pay an issue fee, and you get your patent.

In other words - the USPTO funds itself by charging you every time it needs to do something for you, and the costs line up with the amount of work required by the PTO. It's exactly like a car mechanic, right? A mechanic has no interest in doing bad work now in the hope that you'll come back with more expensive work later. It just charges you, today, based on the service that you're asking for, today.

about a year and a half ago
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Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

tambo Re:Or the summary is misleading propaganda (333 comments)

> There's a fine line between clever and stupid. If an average programmer reads the explanation, and "Doesn't get it", it could be either. Most patents are very poor explanations for what they are about.

But the "average programmers" here aren't motivated to try to understand it. They are motivated to find that the patent is worthless, because that's what the submitter wrote about it, and that's what they are predisposed to believe. So they are prone to glance at the application and say, "well, the claims have been mangled by lawyer-speak, but it's basically something about deleting temp files, which has been known since the 70's."

about a year and a half ago
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Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

tambo Re:Or the summary is misleading propaganda (333 comments)

> When someone advocating a position lies to me, as this submitter did, I figure the reason they are lying about the issue is because they realize that the truth doesn't support their position.

I don't think it's flat-out lying. I think it's an example of the echo chamber effect.

The community believes that patents suck, that patent examiners are inept, and that patentees are using clever tricks to patent things that aren't new. So upon encountering any new patent, the submitters here don't do the hard work of reading the patent, parsing through the difficult claim language, and determining what it's all about. Instead, they read the title, maybe glance briefly at the abstract and the claims, and come up with a "basically, it's (something really simple)" summary, and post it as evidence of their beliefs about the patent system. A bunch of commenters then accept that summary without consideration, since it's yet another example of "bad patents," so they post a supporting rant about patents and increment their mental "bad patents I've seen recently" counter by one.

Of course, that process is flawed if the summary is an oversimplification of the claimed technique. Like this submitter concluding that the very specific technique presented in the independent claims is "basically, it's deleting temporary files," or "basically, it's deleting temporary files based on a modification date." But it's accepted without question because it supports the beliefs of the group. Hence, echo chamber.

about a year and a half ago
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Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

tambo Re:Really! (333 comments)

> If you had a distributed file which kept a timestamp on each of several separate chunks, how would you go about deciding when to automatically delete it? My guess is that the solution you would come up with quickly is basically the one in the patent.

Well, there are several ways you could deal with that problem. Here are some of them:

  • * Deal with each chunk separately. Just let each machine decide when to delete its chunk.
  • * Consider all of the chunks to have been modified as of the latest modification date on all of them. Sort all of the temp filed by modification date, and cull the oldest ones first.
  • * Consider all of the chunks to have been modified as of the earliest modification date on all of them. Sort all of the temp filed by modification date, and cull the oldest ones first.
  • * Consider all of the chunks to have been modified as of the average of the modification dates. Sort all of the temp filed by modification date, and cull the oldest ones first.
  • * Consider all of the chunks to have been modified as of the file date listed in the shared filename. Update the modification dates accordingly, and then let each machine deal with its chunk independently of the others.
  • * Consider all of the chunks to have been modified as of the file date listed in the shared filename. Update the modification dates accordingly, sort all of the time files by modification date, and cull the oldest ones first.

...etc. There are many, many variations on this technique that you might imagine. The one described in this patent is different from all of them:

deriving a file time to live for the file from the path name; determining a weighted file time to live for the file by reducing the file time to live by an offset, where the offset is determined by multiplying the file time to live by a percentage of memory space storage quota used by the user profile; selecting a latest modification time from the modification times of the plurality of chunks;...

...which is why the patent was issued.

about a year and a half ago
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Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

tambo Re:Really! (333 comments)

> This is supposed to be new....

If by "that" you mean the invention described in the title - "Automatic Deletion of Temporary Files" - then, no.

Patent titles are as meaningful as book titles: you wouldn't assume that two books entitled "Pirate Adventure" relate the same story, right? It's the same with patents: a completely new type of automobile engine might have the title, "Automobile Engine."

If by "that" you mean the invention described in the independent claim, which is this -

1. A computer-implemented method comprising: selecting a file having a path name in a distributed file system, wherein the file is divided into a plurality of chunks that are distributed among a plurality of servers, wherein each chunk has a modification time indicating when the chunk was last modified, and wherein at least two of the modification times are different; identifying a user profile associated with the file; determining a memory space storage quota usage for the user profile; deriving a file time to live for the file from the path name; determining a weighted file time to live for the file by reducing the file time to live by an offset, where the offset is determined by multiplying the file time to live by a percentage of memory space storage quota used by the user profile; selecting a latest modification time from the modification times of the plurality of chunks; determining that an elapsed time based on the latest modification time is equal to or exceeds the weighted file time to live; and deleting all of the chunks of the file responsive to the determining.

...then presenting that invention as "new" seems legitimate. There are several details in here - dealing with a temporary file as chunks across several file stores, each chunk having a different modification time; and determining the "weighted file time to live" based on the last modification time and the percentage of consumed file quota - that seem completely new.

The author of this Slashdot post appears to have glanced at the claims, reached the conclusion that "basically, it's about deleting temporary files," and posted this rant about how the patent office granted a patent for "deleting temporary files," inspiring yet another wave of diatribes about the patent office based on a faulty assumption. Not surprising - this kind of tilting at windmills, based on factually incorrect interpretations of patents, is a daily occurrence here.

about a year and a half ago
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The End Is Near for GameStop

tambo lolwut (393 comments)

> "If none of the consoles can play used games I could see the price of games coming down. AAA titles may come out at $45 or $50 instead of $60."

:lol: Right. Because when publishers eliminate the only legitimate source of price competition for their titles, they will become benevolent toward their customers and cut the price out of... good-naturedness? Rather than, you know, jacking up the rates for Halo XVIII through the roof, because they know that customers would sell a kidney to play Master Chef again?

about a year ago
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Professors Rejecting Classroom Technology

tambo Re:'submit via e-mail' (372 comments)

Let me get this straight: You're asserting that because email is susceptible to flaws, it's de facto inferior to handing in a hard copy? ... which is apparently flawless?

At least the vulnerabilities of email can be addressed. If the university's mail system is applying some false positive spam rules to legitimate email sent within the mail system, that flaw is demonstrable, repeatable, and correctable. By contrast, there is simply no solution for "yes, I turned it in / no, you didn't."

about a year and a half ago
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Professors Rejecting Classroom Technology

tambo True at GMU (372 comments)

Coincidentally, this was posted two hours after my EE lab TA asked us to ignore the directions at the end of the lab assignment about submitting it to Blackboard, and instructed us NOT to submit it via email. Instead, we were directed to submit it via hard copy. To be clear, these lab assignments involve programming in a $200+ mathematics package. And these instructions were given in the computer lab, surrounded by tons of machines that have internet access... but no printer. I can't even begin to imagine the logic behind that decision. I mean, Blackboard sucks, but isn't email submission (using the GMU email system that that we are required to use for classes) more convenient for everyone, more environmentally friendly, AND verifiable?

about a year and a half ago
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Australian Police Warn That Apple Maps Could Get Someone Killed

tambo Re:Apple bashing (452 comments)

Yeah, this.

Mid-2011, I was driving through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado along a road that would around the outside of a canyon. My GPS told me to take a right turn onto "Route 82d." You know what was off to my right? Nothing. A steep degrade, through a bunch of trees, and ending up in the canyon maybe 50 feet down.

I was so shocked by it that I turned around, drove the route again, and captured it with my phone: link

Bottom line: Don't blindly trust your GPS.

about 2 years ago

Submissions

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A new commerce model for the software market?

tambo tambo writes  |  more than 2 years ago

tambo (310170) writes "I've been thinking a lot recently about how software is sold. I've felt that the pricing of software has been pretty crazy for a few decades, but I haven't been able to specify the basis of my feelings.

Today, the crux of the problem finally occurred to me: Standard models of capitalism are unsuitable in the absence of scarcity.

As we all learn in Economics 101, standard models of commerce are based on the laws of supply and demand — based on the idea of achieving an optimal price point for a particular article. Both of these curves are critically based on scarcity — the concept that the transaction is about a particular, physical article. The supply side is critically driven by the cost of creating that particular article — the labor and materials needed to manufacture it, the shipping of that product to a store or customer, and associated costs (the costs of building the factory, maintaining a retail store, etc.) And the demand side is critically driven by the idea that only (n) number of articles are available, and that the price should be set to the highest value that (n) customers are willing to pay. In a nutshell, the point is to maximize the utility of the scarce number of goods by providing them to the consumers who want them the most.

None of these concepts apply to a market without scarcity... like software.

Software is increasingly deployed electronically. Consumer-level storage capacities continue to grow at an astounding rate (1 terabyte drives for $100?!), and bandwidth and server costs continue to drop. As a result, the per-item cost of deploying a piece of software to a customer is essentially zero. (Sure, deployment servers and bandwidth cost money, but it's trivial on a per-software-deployment basis — especially with economies of scale for consolidated libraries like Steam and the App Store.) Additionally, the traditional model is deeply economically classist: only rich people can afford the best software, and even though computers are increasingly affordable, poorer users can't actually afford the software. (Are the copyright lawsuits inherently economically classist? Do they disproportionately target poorer computer users, who may resort to piracy to obtain software that they can't afford? Should we regard this as a socioeconomic inequity?)

Viewed from a pure utility perspective, the market should not be organized to ration the deployment of the software, but to deploy the software to everyone who wants it.

This doesn't mean that supply and demand aren't relevant to this market. They are still relevant — they dictate choices about what products may be developed — but they need to be reformulated in the absence of scarcity.

Things that won't work:

* Free-as-in-beer software. Professional development and quality cost money. There has to be some sort of payment mechanism.

* Pay-what-you-want software. These models never work well, because there is no incentive for customers to pay more than the absolute minimum.

* Centrally sponsored and dictated software, where the owner of the distribution system declares what software is to be created next. Again, these models never work, because centrally predicting demand is always inaccurate, if not outright corrupt.

Here's my idea: A software repository with a flat monthly user fee, where developer royalties are apportioned based on popularity.

Here are the details:

* For a flat periodic fee, each customer gets total access to the entire software library. They can install whatever they want — no quotas, no holds barred. Their choices determine demand, and their demand is limited only by their time and interest. Better still, because there is no incremental cost for new software, there is no reason for a user *not* to try any particular product.

* The owner of the distribution platform takes a cut to cover its administrative expenses, but the vast majority of the collected funds go back to developers *in proportion with the popularity of the product*. That is, the subscription revenue collected from customers each month is apportioned to developers based on the use of their products for that month.

Benefits of this system:

* High utility through unlimited deployment. Everyone who wants a piece of software gets it.

* Economic equality. Again, everyone who wants a piece of software gets it — regardless of their socioeconomic status.

* A tight coupling of developer payment to demand — and to *continued* demand. If users keep using the software, the developer keeps getting paid, even though the customers don't need to keep paying *specifically* for the software.

* A more efficient reward system that is not pointlessly limited by inapplicable concepts of scarcity. Instead of losing sales to customers who are priced out of the market, developers benefit from the broadest possible deployment.

* An end to piracy. There is no need to pirate the software when it is free for all subscribing customers. Demand can be better gauged than conventional sales numbers that do not reflect pirated deployments.

* An end to the secondhand software market. Used software markets are inefficient, but are necessary to offset the pointless dependency of the current market on scarcity. (Poorer users who can't afford the retail price can use the software cheaper, but later, and only when retail-purchasing customers are done with the software.) This inefficiency is eliminated in this market — every deployment directly benefits the developer.

* A focus on value. Developers do not need to choose projects based on sales figures. Rather, developers strive to produce software that will achieve the broadest deployment — i.e., the highest popularity, based on the best value presented to customers. Accordingly, this model kills many "features" that benefit the developer at the expense of the user, such as paid-for ad-based sponsorship, sales of private user data, paid-for downloadable content (which is another form of socioeconomic inequity), and unwarranted "leased software" schemes (which often extract ongoing money from a customer without a return of value).

The biggest problem is cheating: a central repository is a potential source of corruption, as we've seen in Apple's draconian control of the availability of products on the App Store. The central repository might also lie about demand in order to skew royalty payments and control the market or sell private user data (a la Facebook). This could be offset by making the central repository an unaffiliated, open organization — maybe a nonprofit. Even better, its administrative costs could be totally sponsored by a government, thereby eliminating the motivation to seek additional funds.

Thoughts?"
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Long-Range Wireless Keyboard/Mouse?

tambo tambo writes  |  more than 6 years ago

tambo writes "Friends, Slashians, countrymen — lend me your eyes (and fingers)...

I've just bought me'self an excellent LCD TV. I'd love to be able to access my home server from it for many reasons (music, video, surfing, MAME, etc.) — but my home server is in another room, 30 feet away from the TV and 50 feet away from the couch.

I've acquired some gear to send PC audio and video wirelessly (over the 5.8GHz range), so that's all good. My challenge now is trying to send input wirelessly to my PC from fifty feet away. I've thought about getting a wireless USB hub, but that would introduce an additional wireless hop that would probably add to the input latency (and might interfere with all the other wireless gear in my pad.) My best bet now is to get a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that have an unusually good range, and some of the Logitechs seem to qualify, but it's a gamble.

Advice? Many thanks!..."
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Buy.com censoring reviews to sell products?

tambo tambo writes  |  more than 6 years ago

tambo writes "I picked up a pair of speakers (JBL's On Air Control 2.4G) from Buy.com that turned out to be lousy. I whipped up a comprehensive review of the speakers with a fairly neutral tone that described several weaknesses justifying a low rating (one star out of five), and submitted it to Buy.com and Amazon. Amazon posted it immediately. To my surprise, Buy.com didn't — my review was never posted, or even acknowledged. Resubmitted a few weeks later — again, nothing. Meanwhile, Buy.com displays a three-sentence review of the product awarding five stars across the board. Is Buy.com engaging in selective and deceptive marketing?"

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