Mason Wheeler’s Techdirt Profile


About Mason Wheeler

Mason Wheeler’s Comments comment rss

  • May 27th, 2016 @ 6:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The first Industrial Revolution was kicked off by two major inventions: Eli Whitney's cotton gin, and Benjamin Huntsman's steelmaking process. Huntsman declined to patent it, preferring to go the old-fashioned route of keeping it a secret, until a rival managed to copy the technique through what we would call "corporate espionage" today. (Fat lot of good trade secrets did for him!) Huntsman's process turned steel from an expensive luxury to an expensive commodity, and people started using it for expensive stuff.

    The second Industrial Revolution, the one which, as I stated above, gave us the modern world, was fueled by the Bessemer Converter, which was far more efficient than the Huntsman process and turned steel from an expensive commodity into a cheap commodity, allowing people to use it for everyday stuff, and the rest is history.

    It's not a coincidence that almost immediately after Bessemer's patent expired, placing the Bessemer Converter technology in the public domain, a mechanical engineer by the name of Karl Benz got the wild idea of making a steam engine significantly smaller by taking out the boiler and putting the combustion chamber inside the piston, then mounting the whole thing on a carriage. (If the name Benz sounds familiar, it's because his idea was wildly successful, and the company he founded to produce and market his invention eventually merged with its competitor, Daimler, whose most popular model was called Mercedes.) This would never have happened without easy access to cheap steel.

    As for the Coca-Cola "secret recipe", it hasn't been secret for a long time. (Just Google it if you don't believe me.) Its supposed secrecy, like that of KFC's "the Colonel's original recipe", is a joke. The secret ingredient that gives it its subtly unique taste comes from coca leaf with the cocaine processed out. For obvious reasons, the US government doesn't want people importing and making consumer products out of coca leaf, but Coca-Cola is such a massive and wealthy company that they're able to get the laws bent in their favor for this one specific exception, and that's why no one copies their "secret" recipe.

  • May 26th, 2016 @ 1:26pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, the problem that patents were created to solve was that far too often, someone who came up with a useful new thing would try to keep it secret to enjoy the benefits of exclusivity, and succeed too well: The information would die with them.

    To solve this problem, the British government invented a system that would grant the benefits of exclusivity, with legal protection, in exchange for publishing the details of the new invention, to ensure that it couldn't be lost.

    For example, steel has been around pretty much forever. The oldest known samples date back to ~1400 BC. It's been discovered and lost and rediscovered and lost again countless times throughout the ages. But it's not until the British patent system got ahold of Henry Bessemer's steelmaking system and released it into the public domain that we got the Industrial Revolution (fueled by widespread availability of cheap steel) and the modern age. It's a bit of an exaggeration to say that trade secrets literally held back the progress of civilization by 3000 years, but that was definitely a major component of it!

  • May 26th, 2016 @ 12:11pm

    (untitled comment)

    As I've said before, "trade secrets" are a concept with zero legitimacy, which have long been recognized as harmful to society. How harmful? Consider this: everyone who's been reading Techdirt for any length of time should be acutely aware of the many problems caused by the patent system. Well, trade secrets are literally the problem that patents were invented to solve.

    Unfortunately, they neglected to actually officially kill off trade secrets when they invented patents. And so stupid crap like this keeps happening.

  • May 26th, 2016 @ 9:23am

    (untitled comment)

    In some ways, this lines up with something I noted in my 'Brittle Grip' series of posts: growing calls from the extremely rich to not only be able to use their money without limit to shape the political process but to do so anonymously to avoid being "intimidated" or "vilified".

    Want to not be vilified? It's very simple: don't do things that ordinary people consider villainous!. Trying to do villainous things anonymously just makes you look like a villain with something to hide.

  • May 25th, 2016 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: Some ethics are instinctual.

    That is not something that capitalists believe; that is something that Objectivists believe. (And, sure enough, if you look at the FAQ link at the top of the linked website, you find a quote by Ayn Rand featured prominently.) Despite several decades of Rand and her disciples' self-serving attempts to rewrite history, actual capitalism, as described by Adam Smith, has little to nothing to do with Objectivism.

    Read The Wealth of Nations sometime and ask yourself, each time it teaches some principle, "would the people who loudly defend 'capitalism' and condemn 'socialism' today support or condemn this principle?" You'd be surprised how often the answer is "condemn."

    Objectivism is a hijacking of capitalism, twisting it to serve evil purposes, and it should not be considered actual capitalism any more than, (just to give one obvious example off the top of my head,) the KKK should be considered actual Christianity.

  • May 25th, 2016 @ 6:59am

    (untitled comment)

    But a lawsuit against an online publication solely out of vindictiveness (even if his hatred of the publication is for perfectly valid reasons) is a terrible, terrible idea that seems to go against his supposed libertarian views. It's also just petty and vindictive, and only cements in the misleading idea that Silicon Valley is full of ego-maniacal billionaires for whom the ends always justify the means.

    The ends justifying the means is a core precept for libertarians. Every ideology has a set of core values, an "Ideal Man" that it holds up to be emulated. For libertarianism, the Ideal Man is a sociopath, a person who believes he does not have to live by the rules of the society that supports him.

    It's a bit ironic. One of the founders of PayPal reinvested his billions in trying to solve some of the most serious problems facing the world. Another, it seems, took his money and set out to make them worse.

  • May 25th, 2016 @ 6:49am


    This is simply not true. I've been able to stream Star Wars and Marvel content from Amazon for years now.

  • May 24th, 2016 @ 1:30pm


    That just pushes the problem back a step: where does their salary (the money in "their own pockets") come from?

  • May 24th, 2016 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Ethics can't be "taught"

    Ethics can't be "taught"
    People are either ethical or they aren't.

    Everyone's born as a selfish little brat who literally doesn't understand anything beyond "I WANT WHAT I WANT, RIGHT NOW!!!" And then, over the course of the first several years of our lives, we (most of us at least) learn to become civilized, rational beings. So clearly it is something that can be taught in one form or another; otherwise, where does ethical behavior come from?

  • May 24th, 2016 @ 10:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    No you didn't!

  • May 24th, 2016 @ 10:25am

    Re: "Fair Use" is a defense against infringement, not a right

    That's simply not true. Lawrence Lessig famously likes to say that, but he's wrong. Fair use is the rights of the public to make use of public culture; copyright is a set of temporary exceptions to those rights, carved out in the name of encouraging the further development of culture. Calling fair use "an exception to copyright" is putting the cart before the horse.

  • May 24th, 2016 @ 7:12am


    Precisely. "Contempt for the public" should be a given when dealing with a Clinton minion.

  • May 24th, 2016 @ 7:08am

    (untitled comment)

    Inky the octopus escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand less than a year ago -- and no one knows exactly how he did it.

    Obviously he had help from Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde.

  • May 24th, 2016 @ 6:57am

    (untitled comment)

    it's no coincidence that a review it wanted removed badly enough it sent reps to Narey's house has now been destroyed by a scraper site doing double duty as a half-assed reputation management service.

    I like that. Call them a HARM service; it's quite fitting.

  • May 23rd, 2016 @ 11:57am

    (untitled comment)

    I have personally executed the NIT on a computer under my control and observed that it did not make any changes to the security settings on my computer or otherwise render it more vulnerable to intrusion than it already was. Additionally, it did not “infect” my computer or leave any residual malware on my computer.

    Sorry, Agent Alfin, but that's not what malware means. Malware is software that takes control of a computer away from the owner/user and causes the computer to act against their interests.

  • May 23rd, 2016 @ 6:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Motion to Dismiss

    I should hope so, in this case!

  • May 20th, 2016 @ 12:20pm

    Re: A verbal promise and an empty sack is worth... an empty sack

    Seems to me they've got a pretty good case for promissory estoppel by this point, actually.

  • May 20th, 2016 @ 12:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Have you included links in your submissions? IME that seems to trip the automated filter pretty reliably, if you put more than one link. (A bit ironic considering how liberally they tend to be scattered throughout the typical Techdirt article...)

  • May 20th, 2016 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yes, this is what I meant by "(or, frequently, below)".

  • May 20th, 2016 @ 11:17am

    (untitled comment)

    Meh. Just more Twits behaving like twits...

More comments from Mason Wheeler >>