Mason Wheeler’s Techdirt Profile


About Mason Wheeler

Mason Wheeler’s Comments comment rss

  • Sep 1st, 2015 @ 2:20pm

    (untitled comment)

    The stuff about allocation of capital reminds me of something I've mentioned on here before, an analysis of why silicon valley funds Instagrams, not Hyperloops. It's a real problem with the way the VC system is set up and the way their interests are aligned.

    At around 19:20, Catherine mentioned loan forgiveness. This is a very important idea. It's been around almost as long as civilization itself, the concept of a forgiveness of debts as something necessary to the smooth functioning of civilization. In the Law of Moses, for example, the balance of any loan that was not paid off after seven years had to be forgiven, and every fifty years all debts were canceled. This keeps debt from piling up perpetually and from becoming too unmanageable in general.

    Contrast that with the current system, where debt continues (and continues to grow!) in perpetuity, making things worse and worse. Just think back seven years, when an overload of debt (primarily on a class loan that lasts for a truly ludicrous thirty years!) crashed the economy, and the chosen solution was... prop it up with even more debt! And now we've taken that about as far as we can, and it's just starting to crash again, and looking like this time will be worse than the last time.

    If those debts had been nullified instead, imagine how much resources would be freed up for productive economic use rather than wasting it on debt service!

    Around 32:00, "Name an example; what is a company that started out just serving a super-high-end need, and then pivoted and was serving the broad base of the economy." Tesla. That was their stated plan from the beginning, and they're currently in the process of performing that pivot.

    The stated examples such as Uber and AirBnB aren't about serving the masses; they're about exploiting them. When you look at the demographics of people using these services, (from the provider side,) what you see is a lot of unemployed/underemployed people looking for another source of income out of need, not by choice. It's no surprise that we're seeing them spring up now, in the middle of an economic downturn (it would be politically uncorrect to say the "D" word) that's been going on for 7 years now with no end in sight; these are "services" that would never have arisen--or at the very least would not have prospered--in a strong economy.

  • Sep 1st, 2015 @ 1:33pm

    Re: Said this a while ago to my friends

    Or you could do what Tesla is doing: pragmatically achieve B) by means of A).

    They started out building elite "yacht" cars that would get them the money they needed to invest in developing a more affordable luxury car, which would bring them the money they needed to invest in developing an Everyman car. The first two steps have been a huge success by all accounts, and they're currently well on their way to developing and bringing to market their Everyman car. Once they bring that to market, it will benefit everyone, not just rich people, and not just people who own a Tesla.

  • Sep 1st, 2015 @ 9:55am


    Hmm... if someone asked me to name the regional stereotype associated with "doncha know?", I would have said Minnesota, not Canada.

  • Sep 1st, 2015 @ 7:24am

    (untitled comment)

    You know, I've never understood New Orleans.

    I mean, building a coastal city below sea level is obviously not such a bright idea in the first place, especially when you're right in the middle of hurricane territory. But they got lucky for a while.

    When the inevitable finally happened, amid environmental and political circumstances that guarantee that, for the near future at least, the sea level will keep rising and hurricanes will get worse, that really should have been a wake-up call. But did they listen?

    Of course not. These are people who live on the coast, below sea level, in hurricane territory! So obviously they do the dumbest thing possible: they rebuild.

    Kinda makes me wonder what it will take for them to actually get the message: that's a really stupid place to live, and it ought to be abandoned before more tragedies strike.

  • 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.

More comments from Mason Wheeler >>