Mason Wheeler’s Techdirt Profile


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  • Aug 31st, 2015 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: 7 years late to the party

    Where are you getting that from? The game was DRM-free, a fact that was widely discussed back when it launched. I'm just surprised that the Wikipedia article doesn't mention it.

  • Aug 31st, 2015 @ 11:35am

    Re: Re: 7 years late to the party

    ...huh. You're right, that's not in the article. I'm a bit surprised by that; it was a pretty big deal back when it came out.

  • Aug 31st, 2015 @ 10:54am

    7 years late to the party

    It's not like this is the first time this has happened. Anyone remember the most successful game of 2008? That's been the standing rebuttal to the "but, but... piracy!" claim for 7 years now.

  • Aug 28th, 2015 @ 6:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Pretty Pictures, No Substance.

    So the government doesn't have the resources or the engineering expertise to support a major transportation project, and people think it would be foolish for the private sector to try and help out? Sounds familiar.

  • Aug 28th, 2015 @ 6:50am

    (untitled comment), that escalated fast.

  • Aug 27th, 2015 @ 2:29pm

    (untitled comment)

    [P]laintiffs contend that Smith violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment. According to their briefs, this argument is based on Smith’s application for, and execution of, a search warrant.

    Wait... isn't the point of the Fourth Amendment that you need to get a warrant? And now someone's claiming that Smith getting a warrant and then using it as intended violates their Fourth Amendment rights?

    Am I totally misreading this, or does that claim make no sense whatsoever, to the point where you wonder how it didn't get laughed out of court long before reaching a point where the judge ruled on it?

  • Aug 27th, 2015 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Pretty Pictures, No Substance.

    Oh, the substance is certainly there. Sure, the idea's been around for a long time, but we're just now getting the technology to make it practical.

    Just consider recent history. Betting against Elon Musk and his ideas doesn't tend to work out so well.

  • Aug 27th, 2015 @ 11:00am

    Re: Re:

    Theoretically, yes. In practice, over a range of temperatures that humans are comfortable in, that doesn't gain you very much. Plus, raising the speed of sound requires raising the temperature, and heat dissipation is already a non-trivial engineering issue for the project.

  • Aug 27th, 2015 @ 7:23am

    (untitled comment)

    Technically, the Hyperloop won't be going at supersonic speeds; it'll max out at just a little bit below the speed of sound, because the capsule will be traveling through a tube that's not quite hard vacuum, and so you still have to stay below sonic speeds to avoid generating sonic booms and all sorts of nasty shockwaves that that brings with it.

  • Aug 26th, 2015 @ 1:10pm

    (untitled comment)

    A young California woman was decapitated in a tragic auto accident. Photos from the grisly accident scene were wrongfully leaked by California Highway Patrol officers and posted to the Internet. A search on her name still returns the horrible photographs.

    As tragic and disgusting as that is... how is it at all relevant (yes, that important word cuts both ways) to the question at hand? The thing about decapitation victims is, they're dead, and so there's really not much a modification of search engine results can do to improve their life.

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 2:16pm

    Re: This is number inflation

    If $5.8m/year off of a $100m budget is "nothing", how would you feel about taking a 5.8% pay cut?

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 2:14pm

    (untitled comment)

    First, it has loosened the restrictions governing schools' punishment of students for off-campus behavior.

    [T]he majority opinion obliterates the historically significant distinction between the household and the schoolyard...

    OK, let's take this out of a school context for a moment and see how much sense it makes. If I threaten physical harm against, say, a member of the City Council of San Francisco, because of allegations of corruption and misconduct on that council member's part, should it make a difference whether or not I'm in San Francisco when I make the threat, when deciding whether or not I've done anything wrong?

    Even worse, the opinion sets a precedent that implicitly states certain public figures may not be criticized by certain individuals.

    Not at all. It implicitly states certain public figures may not be threatened by certain individuals. (A class which hopefully includes everyone.)

    Bell's rap song was a response to multiple complaints from female students about inappropriate comments and sexual overtures from two of the school's coaches. These complaints became sworn affidavits once the legal process was underway. So, even with the violent imagery, the track dealt mostly with the alleged misconduct of school employees.

    It almost sounds as if you're trying to insinuate that two wrongs make a right here. If he had a problem with the conduct of a teacher--and if the teacher actually did what he's being accused of, students definitely are justified in having a problem with it!--he should have handled it like a civilized being, rather than making threats like a thug.

    The only time in which it would be acceptable to make threats of violence against the teacher is if he were present while the teacher actually attempted to harm one of the students, in order to get the teacher to back down. But that does not appear to even remotely resemble what happened. What we have is an accusation, which may or may not have been true, and assuming that it is and stirring up trouble is not how civilized people resolve disputes.

    Frankly, it's better for him to learn this lesson now, even by means that feel harsh, (and doesn't *everything* that goes wrong in your life feel like a major, life-wrecking catastrophe at that age?) than to not learn it until much later on in life when threatening someone could actually have genuine life-ruining consequences.

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 1:51pm

    Re: Re:

    All of those situations appear to be handled *better* by these new services than old services.

    I'm sorry... what?!?

    Did you even bother reading the linked articles? The only thing that their responses could possibly be "better" than would be officers of the company literally showing up in person and assisting the perpetrators in victimizing their customers!

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 1:45pm

    (untitled comment)

    "Non-transparent, deterministic things that basically have a huge influence on your life that you have no ability to inspect, that's..."
    "...that's absurd."
    "...that's like science fiction."

    That's like a credit score. The standard FICO credit score is determined by a secret algorithm that they protect via abuse of copyright and trade secret laws, and no matter how much it impacts your life, you have no legal recourse to see what goes on inside the calculation of your credit score.

    You have a right to see your credit score estimates by the three major credit bureaus, and they have to pass on to you reports of specific factors that are impacting it, but their reports are not your official credit score, and they're based on attempts to reverse-engineer the FICO algorithm. They can vary quite widely between the three for a number of reasons.

    Think about that. It's not just teachers, or convicted criminals. Everyone who's ever needed to take out a loan to buy a house or a car--pretty much everyone, that is, because if you haven't, you're likely still young enough that it's directly affecting you because it directly affects your parents--their lives are immensely influenced by a secret algorithm that they have zero insight into or power over.
    "Putting the power back in the hands of citizens, as opposed to just relying on the government. And that actually speaks directly to the concept of democracy, right?"

    Wrong. The concept of democracy, particularly American democracy, is "We the People ... do ordain and establish this [government structure]." The concept is that the dichotomy expressed here of "citizens instead of government" does not exist; in democracy, government is "us", not "them".

    That concept's been badly corrupted over the last several decades, due largely to Libertarian influence, but it's how the system is supposed to work, and it's no surprise that when the system stops working that way, people by and large perceive that it's simply stopped working.

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 12:29pm

    (untitled comment)

    Yeah, unregulated lodging is great, right up until someone gets sexually and AirBNB does nothing when it's brought to their attention, instead telling them to just call the police. Or when someone gets bit by a Rottweiler (when the listing didn't mention any dogs) and AirBNB replies that "per our terms of service" they have no liability, but they really value the victim as a customer and hope he recovers soon. Or when your unregulated gypsy cab driver turns out to be a violent felon, but victims can't get any recompense because Uber's corporate structure is deliberately set up with shell companies that shield it from liability.

    But no, let's not "stifle" any of this with government regulation. If we try to actually respect people's rights, it might get in the way of making money. Oh, the horror!

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 10:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Why not start at the source?

    1) I never said anything about Java.

    2) The cool thing about "relying on other people's code for security," as you put it, is that when they fix a sandboxing bug in the JVM, it fixes everyone's security bugs for free. There's nothing even remotely equivalent that you can do for C or C++ code.

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Why not start at the source?

    It is 100% possible to write secure code in C,

    True, theoretically.
    and is commonly done.

    False, and therein lies the problem. If anything, the opposite is true: it's very commonly done wrong, even by highly-trained people who should know what they're doing. The Heartbleed bug is a shining example. The guy who inserted the vulnerability was no novice; he just made a mistake, and to err is human. Unfortunately, in such large-scale matters of security, to err is also unforgivable, which means that the only rational course of action is to remove human error from the picture as much as possible.

    If secure C/C++ code were so common, such code would not have security holes. But all major operating systems receive updates on a regular basis, frequently fixing security holes caused by buffer overruns. Therefore it is quite common to write insecure code in insecure languages, even by the kind of highly-experienced wizards who end up working on OSs. (See above re: reductio ad absurdum.)

    Here we are in 2015, and we're still stuck hitting the same 1980s-era bugs over and over and over. It's absolutely ridiculous! (See above re: the other meaning of absurd.) C is a language that's a quarter-century late for its own funeral.

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 8:37am

    Re: Re:

    Again, reductio ad absurdum is about logical absurdities, aka "contradictions," not about colloquial absurdity, aka "that's silly."

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 8:36am

    Re: Why not start at the source?

    Meh. That's small potatoes compared to the massive vulnerability that lies at the heart of every consumer-grade computer operating system on every device in use today: the C language. Unfortunately, we're never gonna get justice because we know exactly who did it--Dennis Ritchie--and he's already dead.

    HTML email may make phishing easier, but buffer overflows in C code have been at the heart of all sorts of truly horrendous widespread attacks, from the Morris Worm, to Blaster and Sasser, to Heartbleed and Stagefright.

    It's not like we didn't know it was a bad idea. Long before the first buffer overflow attacks appeared on the Internet, Tony Hoare gave a warning in his Turing Award lecture about the dangers of designing a language without buffer safety built in:

    Many years later we asked our customers whether they wished us to provide an option to switch off these checks in the interest of efficiency on production runs. Unanimously, they urged us not to—they already knew how frequently subscript errors occur on production runs where failure to detect them could be disastrous. I note with fear and horror that even in 1980, language designers and users have not learned this lesson. In any respectable branch of engineering, failure to observe such elementary precautions would have long been against the law.

    Unfortunately, when Dennis Ritchie created C, he left buffer safety out, and in fact designed the language in such a way that it could not be put in later without breaking tons of existing code. Even more unfortunately, the language then became popular for the one thing that an insecure language is least suited to: creating security-critical software, such as operating systems and network-facing apps.

    Hoare's right: that really should be against the law. I'm not exaggerating or being facetious here. With what we know, especially since the Morris Worm, in any sort of rational world it should be regarded as an act of criminal negligence to write network-facing software in C or any similarly insecure language. But unfortunately it's not, and we've been paying the price for over 25 years now.

  • Aug 25th, 2015 @ 7:45am

    (untitled comment)

    *sigh* That's not what reductio ad absurdum means. It means "reduction to a [logical] absurdity," or in other words, a contradiction. Like so:

    "Let us imagine that X is true. If so, [series of logical steps] and we conclude that Y = Z. But we know that Y does not equal Z, therefore X cannot be true."

    It has nothing to do with "making this proposition look silly [absurd] by taking it to a ridiculous extreme."

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