Mason Wheeler's Techdirt Profile

Mason Wheeler

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  • Aug 08, 2019 @ 08:37am

    from the insert-your-own-damn-pun dept

    This ruling is totally... nuts!

    (What? What did you think I was going to say?)

  • Aug 07, 2019 @ 07:17am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Well, the seventh person would, at least.

  • Aug 06, 2019 @ 08:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    And most gun deaths are suicides. Easy access to a handgun makes it much easier for a suicidal person to impulsively end their lives, but
    No buts please. This is a very important point. I have a friend who, at one point several years in the past, was going through a very rough time and decided to end it. He took a bunch of pills, then called me to say goodbye. I managed to talk him out of it, get him to see a bit of reason, and he ended up calling 911. They were able to help him deal with the overdose, and he's still around (and a lot happier) today. We were just talking about some stuff he's working on this morning. If he had used a gun instead... yeah. The story would have worked out very differently.

  • Aug 05, 2019 @ 02:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    these are fully different realms of economics vs. social interaction
    If you think that economics is something "fully different" (or separable at all) from the study of social interaction, you're already severely confused. Understanding either one helps greatly with the other, because they're two sides of the same coin. (No pun intended.)

  • Aug 05, 2019 @ 01:49pm

    Re: Re:

    So of two bailouts, one was successful?
    No. Of three candidates, one was successful with the bailout, one was unsuccessful with the bailout, and in one case the bailout proved unnecessary for successful recovery. (That third one provides some very important context, by acting as a "control group" of sorts.)
    you seem to think he claims this is a resounding success
    Nope, just drawing an interesting parallel.

  • Aug 05, 2019 @ 01:11pm

    Re: Re:

    The A-Team. Heh. I watched that on one of those cable channels that shows old TV shows. They had a great commercial for it, promoting at as the show with "the safe, friendly violence where no one gets hurt!"

  • Aug 05, 2019 @ 12:18pm


    So what? Americans are primarily White. That's what "majority demographic" means. In Jamaica (just mentioning it because it was already mentioned in another comment as being a high-crime nation) most of the violent criminals are black. Why? Because most people in Jamaica are black. In China, the vast majority of violent criminals are... you guessed it, Chinese! And so on. If you're going to cite some sort of facts, make sure they actually have something relevant to say. Otherwise it looks like you're just spreading around innuendo.

  • Aug 05, 2019 @ 12:22pm

    They did three such cases -- and arguably one was a pretty clear success, one was a pretty clear failure, and one was... somewhere in the middle.

    That's rather inconclusive, then. It reminds me of the automaker bailouts of about a decade ago. Out of the three major "big 3" car companies, one took the bailout money and recovered, one took the bailout money and failed and needed heavy assistance from a European car company, and one didn't take the bailout money and recovered. (Quick, can you name which is which without looking it up?) Which, taken in that overall context, strongly suggests that the bailouts were essentially useless, but somehow you always hear people talking about how they "saved the auto industry."

  • Aug 05, 2019 @ 12:12pm

    Can we talk about ways to recognize alienated, disillusioned people, and seeking ways to actually do something positive, and keep them from becoming so hateful in the first place?

    We can, but it would require taking seriously two categories of people who our society prefers to avoid thinking about whenever possible. The alienated and disillusioned overwhelmingly come from among two types of people, with many of them falling into both categories: 1) the mentally ill and 2) the powerless.

    First, the mentally ill. I don't know if it's still true, but several years ago I read that every single school shooter in the USA over the last X decades was on psychiatric medication. The author was trying to use this as ammunition for a wild theory that the meds were what caused them to snap and shoot up their schools, but there's a much more interesting (and much more logically consistent!) idea to be found behind that data: the system works, insofar as we allow it to. We are finding the problematic ones and getting them into some degree of treatment... but then it turns out to not be enough. With more research into causes, treatments, and effective therapy, and particularly with research into curative measures rather than all the emphasis on long-term medication regimens -- if we could muster the political will to push back against the pharma companies that make obscene amounts of profit on prolonging diseases rather than curing them -- we could make some real inroads on reducing the problem, and the knock-on effects it causes, such as societal unrest and hatred.

    This is a topic that's very personal to me, as my wife works as a caretaker for adults with mental disabilities. She comes home on a regular basis with stories of bigotry, petty crimes, and low-level violence among her clients, and one day she even came home with bruises after being assaulted by one of them. She doesn't get paid nearly enough to deal with the crap she puts up with on a regular basis, and a serious initiative to tackle the issues of mental health would make her life a lot easier and safer.

    And second, the powerless. I'll just come right out and say it: people like me -- the ones with a comfortable, good-paying job, a wonderful, loving wife, and a good support structure of family, friends, church, etc -- don't become radicalized and go on a shooting rampage. We can't; we don't have the time to! We're too busy with getting on with our normal lives and working towards the next goal. The people who cause these sorts of problems are generally those who see no realistic option to work towards the next goal; they don't have any power or control over their own destinies, generally because it's been stolen away from them by those who have all too much power. )Or if we're talking about school shootings, it comes from among the kids who get picked on and bullied while the administration stands by and does nothing.) And yet somehow, when they finally snap and lash out, they almost always target other people with very little in the way of power or control.

    Dealing with this side of the issue might be even more difficult than dealing with the mental health side of the issue, because it requires consciously standing up to power and tearing it down where necessary. It requires a fundamental rejection of the all-too-American assumption that wealth and celebrity imply legitimacy. It requires teaching middle schoolers and high schoolers that bullying will not be tolerated, and then scrupulously acting on that principle, coming down on sadistic students who torment their peers like the proverbial sledgehammer, with no fear for potentially "ruining the lives of" little monsters who are learning to take delight in actually ruining the lives of those around them. It requires taking corporate executives who crash economies, push defective and deadly products, gouge the vulnerable among us with exorbitant medical costs, and so forth and actually sending them to prison for their misdeeds. In short, it requires a return to the fundamental American value that "all men are created equal," and an active, strong will to squash the parasites in our society that try to oppress others and place them beneath themselves.

    Talking about ways to do something positive and prevent people from becoming disillusioned and radicalized is easy. Actually doing something about it, though... that would take some serious work.

  • Aug 02, 2019 @ 07:18am

    Re: Re:

    You are talking about a different program
    Interesting. I didn't know it was something distinct.
    What this is is about easy one click TRANSFER of data from one service to another, without you having to see the data.
    Which, unfortunately, gives me no way to look at it and evaluate if it's any good or not. :P

  • Aug 01, 2019 @ 08:37am

    Re: Re: 'What do you mean the wrist slap was still too high for

    Yes, exactly this. As I've been saying for years now, free market principles only work when conditions of freedom exist in the marketplace, and the most significant freedom is the freedom of a buyer to choose between meaningful competitors. Without that, the free market breaks down and you end up with a dysfunctional system better described by other models.

  • Aug 01, 2019 @ 03:10pm

    That's why we were quite interested a year ago when Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter officially announced the Data Transfer Project (which initially began as a Google project, but expanded to those other providers a year ago). The idea was that the companies would make it ridiculously easy to let users automatically transfer their own data (via their own control) to a different platform.

    Have you actually looked at Facebook's "ridiculously easy" data? I downloaded mine a few months ago, and looking at it from the perspective of a programmer, it's garbage. It's exactly what I would do if I wanted to set up a system specifically designed to look like openness to an unskilled outside observer (such as a politician or regulator) while being worthless for the purpose of actually enabling data transfer to a competitor.

    The devil, it has been said, is in the details, and when you look at the details of the data Facebook gives you, (and what they don't give you), you definitely see a diabolical entity emerge. The most important subtle little problem is that there are no unique identifiers.

    For example, in your Friends data, it gives you the name of each Friend, and a few bits of data they've shared, but no username or other token that identifies them specifically. Then in your Comments data, it says which post you commented on, and the name of the person who posted it... but without a unique identifier you have no way of knowing if this Bob Smith is the same Bob Smith in your Friends list or someone else who happens to have that name.

    You may say "well sure, but how likely are you to have two friends by the same name, or go commenting on someone's post with the same name as one of your friends?" And you'd probably be right... but that's exactly what makes this such a subtly evil problem. Because it looks just fine to any individual user, but if you try to use the data for its primary intended purpose--to facilitate competition by enabling people to move to a competing system--the lack of unique identifiers makes it impossible to reconstruct the social graph. If I'm running the MasonBook network and I import data from Dave, Fred, and Janet, and all of them have a friend named Bob Smith, I have no way to determine if they're all friends with the same person or not.

    Facebook's "participation" in the Data Transfer Project is nothing but transparency theater, to borrow a concept from the world of security. It's just more of the same from a company that's never bothered to even pretend they're not being evil.

  • Jul 31, 2019 @ 11:17am

    The judge did reject a request by the Trump Campaign for Rule 11 sanctions against the DNC's lawyers, and even if this was obviously a frivolous lawsuit, courts are very, very reluctant to ever issue Rule 11 sanctions unless the activity is incredibly egregious. This dumb lawsuit was just everyday egregious.

    ...which is probably why egregious lawsuits are an everyday thing.

  • Jul 31, 2019 @ 11:09am

    despite the fact that it's never RICO).

    You're closing a paren here that was never opened.

  • Jul 30, 2019 @ 01:34pm

    "Hey Boo Boo, let's go steal the names of all the pick-a-nick baskets..."

    It just doesn't have the same ring to it.

  • Jul 30, 2019 @ 11:56am

    I agree that autoplay video ads are incredibly annoying. Techdirt's ad reporting form even has them as a specific category of bad behavior.

    Now that we're all in agreement, can we please finally get rid of the Bloomberg videos? "Featured" or not, they're still autoplaying video ads and nobody wants them around.

  • Jul 30, 2019 @ 07:18am

    Another study looking at vehicle data found that 15 minutes’ worth of data from just brake pedal use could lead them to choose the right driver, out of 15 options, 90% of the time.

    This example seems a bit "lying with statistics" to me. Simply because... how often are there only 15 people to pick from in datasets like this? How often could they use this information to choose the right driver out of 15 million options?

  • Jul 29, 2019 @ 12:23pm

    Re: Re:

    Get hit as hard from behind as a typical t-bone, and you are just as likely to be injured.
    This is simply not true, because of basic physics. There's a lot more space in the "Y" axis (forwards/backwards) than the "X" axis (sideways) on virtually any vehicle. (This may well be different for Smart cars.) This provides room to attenuate the force of the collision (aka "crumple zones") across space that simply isn't there on the X axis. Therefore, the same amount of force of the collision will translate to noticeably less actual force acting on the driver's body.

  • Jul 29, 2019 @ 11:29am

    Supporters of red-light cameras have argued that they reduce T-bone crashes by people running the light. But studies have shown that over time, the number of rear-end crashes caused by people trying to avoid a photo ticket surpasses the T-bone crashes. In San Mateo, the number of accidents at the red-light camera intersections are higher now than they were when the cameras went in.

    ...well yeah. That's the expected and desired outcome, because not all crashes are created equal. Most rear-end collisions are harmless or mostly harmless; I've been rear-ended twice with no damage to myself or my vehicle, for example. But a T-bone collision is likely to cause severe damage to both the car and its passengers.

    Therefore, if you can trade a T-bone collision for a rear-end collision, or even for two or three rear-end collisions, you're getting a good bargain. In the calculus of actual damage done, these "increased collisions" are actually coming out ahead.

  • Jul 25, 2019 @ 11:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: OK, what are the real reasons?

    My position is that the concept of encryption that can be broken only by the good guys and not by the bad guys makes exactly as much sense as the concept of a gun that's only capable of shooting bad guys but not good guys. Encryption is a matter of mathematics; deciding who are the good guys and the bad guys is a matter of morality. The two are very different realms and trying to make math be constrained by morality, when you actually think of it in those terms, is absurd.

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