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  • Aug 07, 2014 @ 04:39am

    Re: EM Drive Not Proven Yet?

    My two cents.

    1. The measured thrust was teeny-teeny-tiny. Which means that to avoid measurement errors, you have to go to great lengths.

    2. The experimental set-up only took a few days. They did *not* go to great lengths to avoid measurement errors. (They did a few things to minimize measurement errors, but obviously did not spend much time worrying about it.)

    3. The null case - a configuration not expected to produce thrust - was measured to produce about the same thrust as the EM Drive configuration. That's *strongly* suggestive of measurement error.

    4. NASA's paper doesn't deal with theory behind the EM drive at all. It's just a report of an experiment hastily thrown together which produced unexpected results (e.g. null case wasn't null).

    5. And then... despite the haste, despite the very small 'thrust' measured, despite the null case being the same as the EM case, despite the utter lack of grappling with any theory whatsoever, the NASA experimenters announced 'success.'

    That's really sloppy work.

    Sooner or later, NASA's front office is going to stomp on those guys. They're an embarrassment.

  • May 18, 2014 @ 05:09pm

    Defending the Indefensible

    The author asked for a defense of the US Government position.


    Let's start with what 'reasonable expectation of privacy' means.

    In an age when we *know* the NSA is sucking down vast gulps across the internet backbone and phone data, obviously, people who send unencrypted communications have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

    This is circular logic, of course. They're spying on us, so there's no reason to expect privacy, so they get to spy on us.

    So the legality of spying hinges on the fact that we found out.

    So. NSA spying was illegal until Snowden blew his whistle. But now it's okay!

    Really, they ought to give Snowden a medal.

    I'm glad we got that sorted out.

  • May 17, 2014 @ 11:25am

    What This Really Says...

    The German court ruling tells us that new works by a dead person can't be copyrighted by that dead person.

    Talk about a disincentive! Now *nobody* who is deceased will have a fiscal motive to create new works!

    Free market advocates, rebel! Get your protest signs! I've got mine right here:


    Heck, that's not a stretch. If corporations are people, *anyone* should qualify.

    Dogs, even. Dunno about hamsters.

    We'll meet up at the German embassy, and afterward go talk to dead presidents at Arlington and see what *they* think about Germans stripping away their rights. I bet we'll get an earful!

    I wonder where Ayn Rand is buried. I've got a great idea for a new book she could dictate to me. It's called "Atlas Mugged: The True Fictional Account of John Galt's Encounter with a More Ruthless Capitalist than Him." It'll be a hoot, trust me on this.

  • Mar 26, 2014 @ 11:05pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Derek, of course they do. The point of the article is that even when the so-called drugs aren't drugs, they can press charges anyway, if they feel like it. There are enough vague statutes on the books to let them do that.

    So if you stay clean of illegal drugs, you can be snared anyway if the authorities decide they want you to take a fall.

  • Mar 26, 2014 @ 10:45pm

    Imitation Drugs

    In an authoritarian state, the law is whatever the authorities say it is. This is aided by the existence on the books of laws so vague, they can mean anything.

    If the authorities decide they want you, they'll get you. Trumping up charges is easy.

    Many of us have substances in our homes which *could* be mistaken for illegal drugs. I certainly do. I've got an eight-ounce package of a fine, white, odorless powder secured in an ammo can (to protect it from stray bugs). I use a tiny amount in my tea several times every day. What is it?

    Stevia extract powder. Not a controlled substance. It's a natural, no-calorie, non-toxic sweetener.

    But it *looks* like a controlled substance. So any time the authorities decide to put me away for fifteen years, they can do it.

    Intent to distribute? Check. A few years ago I gave my neighbor a package of it.

    The authorities aren't currently after me. But if they decide I'm a nuisance, they'll have no difficulty finding something to charge me with. If not fake drug dealing, something else. They can make up any charge. Vague statutes will back them up.

    Welcome to America.

  • Mar 26, 2014 @ 08:37pm

    Density of Errors

    Okay, I'm impressed. The density of misconceptions and errors in this paragraph-length post is nearly unprecedented. Amazing, truly.

    The article says, "Population growth trends have not proven to follow a continuously exponential path..."

    That is true if we regard only short-term trends (year by year). But Malthus was talking about generations, not years. This is exactly like saying that you can divine climate truths out of short-base analyses. Problem: you can't.

    Plotted on the larger time-scale represented by generations - which is to say, over a course of centuries - population growth has indeed been exponential. It's a grave error to get lost in the noise of year-by-year changes in the rate of growth, just as it's a grave error to think that the world is warming because it's snowing.

    The article continues, "...so we've easily avoided previous calls of Malthusian catastrophe."

    Um, no. The reason we have *thus far* averted Malthusian catastrophe is food production and distribution has kept pace with population growth, more or less. Not perfectly, but well enough. Avoiding a population die-back has nothing to do with short-base trending and everything to do with food.

    The article continues, "However, it's still possible that we've only managed to postpone the sixth major extinction event..."

    The author clearly thinks that the 6th major extinction event involves people dying off, and since we haven't died off yet, we've postponed it. This is frighteningly ignorant.

    The extinction event is well underway, and it refers not to a single species but to a great many of them. Species are being extinguished at a rate which is matched only by five previous extinction rates in the geological record.

    Then the article says, "...and our technological cleverness won't be able to save us next time."

    Technological cleverness might save *our* species, for a while. It's very unlikely to save *all* species. We're notoriously bad at preserving ecosystem diversity, and more tech almost certainly isn't going to affect ecosystem diversity in a positive direction.

    Please, Techdirt. I like your site, but if you are going to write about subjects with which you are unfamiliar, then at least consult some subject matter experts before you publish. Otherwise you will spread misinformation, and that doesn't help at all.

  • Mar 14, 2014 @ 11:16pm


    Releasing malware onto the internet is explicitly illegal. So why isn't the Justice Department prosecuting those who do it?

    The answer is obvious. We are no longer a law-governed democracy. Government can do whatever it wishes - assassinate citizens and foreign persons (far from any battlefield), torture, incarcerate with no due process for as long as government wishes, spy on Americans, and infect hundreds of thousands of computers (with more intended) with malware. These are all symptoms of an authoritarian state, which is rule by fiat, not rule of law. And citizens 'have no standing' to challenge government's illegal actions.

    This is a sad day in America.

  • Feb 26, 2014 @ 08:48pm

    Re: Re: stare-downs and power games

    That is precisely my reaction.

    My hat's off to people who record the police in public spaces, knowing full well that some of them are going to act illegally as a consequence. It's a public service. Let's find out which cops are law-abiding and which are not, and let the public know.

  • Feb 26, 2014 @ 08:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: stare-downs and power games

    Personally, I agree. I like tact. I like respect.

    But it's not a crime to be untactful. To legally detain and arrest, the officer must witness a crime or have reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed.

    Photographing police in a public space from a respectful distance is not a crime. Swearing is not a crime. Asking an officer who is exceeding this authority illegally to 'get out of my face' is not a crime. At no point did the photographer commit any crime at all.

    The officer, on the other hand, far exceeded his authority. He harassed a citizen without any evidence whatsoever of criminal conduct, assaulted him, attempted to destroy evidence, and pressed false charges against him.

  • Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:18pm

    Re: On this one, I agree with the police officer

    That's just insane, AC.

    It's legal to photograph or take videos of the police in public spaces. The photographer in no way interfered with the arrest he was photographing. The photographer was within his rights to ask the officer to move out of his face. And it's not a crime to say 'fuck.'

    The photographer baited the officer, sure. That's not illegal either - if he stays within the law. He did. The correct and legal response by the officer was to go about his legal business.

  • Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:14pm

    Re: Makes you wonder

    Well, yes.

    What distinguishes authoritarian governments from democratic ones is this: the law in authoritarian societies is whatever those in authority say it is.

    We're in great danger in our own nation from this authoritarian trend. It's not just police departments, it's illegal actions taken by government behind the veil of secrecy, too. Assassinations, rendition, hacking and malware attacks, property seizures without due process, torture, refusal to prosecute torturers, refusal to prosecute Wall Street criminals, persecution of minorities, illegal spying which violates the 4th Amendment, on and on and on. The lawlessness not getting better, it's getting worse.

    The brave young man who recorded this confrontation represents the only real hope we have, I think. Our democracy is no longer functioning; both parties are advancing the authoritarian security state and answerable only to the wealthy elites. All that's left is to expose as much malfeasance as we can.

    NSA is able to compile dossiers based on our commenting at web sites and our e-mails, too, and they share with FBI and other agencies. Watch lists and targeted spying is the least we can expect. Even expressing nonviolent opinions is dangerous in America's security state.

  • Feb 21, 2014 @ 08:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: FCC or FTC

    Internet standards are still evolving, but we don't have the same degree of confusion that surrounded the standardization wars of the early electricity age. Thankfully!

    To answer your question, no. We don't want to go through that business again. But if the 'internet of things' takes off, electricity suppliers could be in a position to determine which device is sucking how much power. Automatically, no meter readers required. And once they have that information, they could try to use their market power the same way Comcast wants to use its market power: to dictate terms to other market players who rely on their bandwidth.

    It's called 'monopsony' in economics: where the market power of a monopoly enables it to dictate terms, not just to consumers, but to suppliers.

    There is no conceivable way that the exercise of monopsony powers to enrich a monopolist is advantageous to either small startups or consumers.

  • Feb 21, 2014 @ 03:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: FCC or FTC

    Hey, Andrew, that's an interesting analogy.

    Let's pursue it a bit further.

    Electricity is pretty much 'net-neutral.' It's sold in units having nothing to do with how it's used.

    What would electricity sales look like if electricity was not net-neutral?

    The supplier would be able to dictate different prices for different uses. If, for example, it wanted to encourage the use of Westinghouse refrigerators and discourage other refrigerator brands, it could manipulate electricity pricing by brand. It could even force refrigerator suppliers to pay a fee so that their products aren't disadvantaged.

    Why didn't this happen when the electrical grid was rolled out? Simple. It would have cost too much in metering devices and meter reading, given the technology at the time.

    And now it's sort of cemented in place. The public wouldn't be receptive to price manipulation intended to gouge more profits out of electrical device suppliers (and ultimately, of course, consumers).

    That's where propaganda like the Wired article might one day find value to electricity monopolists. Once electrical devices are internet-connected, there's no need for crude meters or meter-readers. Usage data can be collected automatically. This could give electricity suppliers leverage to extract money from electrical device suppliers - but first they'd have to bamboozle the public with propaganda telling them all the ways it would supposedly advantage them.

    All lies, of course.

    Alas, well-funded think tanks exist whose sole purpose is to find ways to exploit monopoly powers. I suppose this is one area they'll get around to in time.

  • Feb 21, 2014 @ 06:14am

    Re: Re: Correct.

    Berin, you ducked the question of whether the article you wrote was funded by Comcast, Time/Warner, or a proxy for the cable industry.

    Just how independent was this journalism?

    It doesn't look independent. It looks like shilling for the cable industry. How else should we take an argument that strengthening monopoly powers for the cable industry will actually benefit small startups on the net, an argument supported by irrelevancies having nothing to do with small startups? Netflix has tremendous market power, therefore all the small startups have market power? Sheesh.

    Once again: if Comcast is handed more monopoly power, and if government fails to regulate its prices and activities, as so often is the case in the US with respect to monopolies, then it will exploit its market power to suck money from consumers and other net suppliers alike.

    It's disturbing to me that a disingenuous front of pundits has arisen in recent years whose main purpose seems to be to encourage market monopolization, as if that were somehow a good thing for an economy. It's a good thing only for the monopolies in question. That's basic economics, which if anyone on this good Earth should understand, it's you, with your legal and economic educational background. But somehow, having gotten that wonderful education, you ignored all of that and became a champion for monopolies.

    There is no justification to be found in economics for your advocacy. It's not merely a case of there being weak justification. There's no justification. So why are you advocating this way?

    Who paid the bill for this piece?

  • Feb 20, 2014 @ 03:49pm


    I caught the article on Wired and commented there. Crazy damned Wired. Increasing market power of cable companies through augmented monopolization does not help net startups.

    The only reason I can imagine that the article survived editorial review at Wired is the authors sponsored the article. Paid Wired handsomely to publish it. Which, if true, means the authors themselves were hired guns on behalf of the cable companies involved, Comcast and/or Time Warner. None of which was disclosed at publication.

    Follow the money, journalists, and I think you may find some juicy dirt.

  • Feb 17, 2014 @ 11:45pm

    Re: fusion gets good but undeserved PR

    So, your argument is 'they're all nukes, what's the big deal.'

    Fission produces large amounts of radioactive waste material with dangerously-long half-lives, and we have no plan in the works for making those waste products safe. Fission (as currently implemented) risks dangerous melt-downs. Fission plants are expensive relative to coal-fired electrical plants for the electricity we can harvest from them.

    Fusion, on the other hand, doesn't work. But if it did, it would produce short half-life waste products in small amounts and pose no risk of melt-downs. As to cost, well, fusion doesn't work. We can't set a cost for something that doesn't work.

    It's pointless to set up a false equivalency between fission and fusion merely because they're both nuclear.

    Incidentally, fusion might be closer than TechDirt imagines. Last year, Lockheed Martin announced they are working on a fusion concept; they plan to have a prototype reactor by 2017 and a commercial product by 2022. Sounds pie-in-the-sky to me, but if it works...

    Their concept calls for 100 MW reactors small enough to mount on a truck trailer, able to be mass-produced. They think they will be able to produce enough of them by 2045 to meet the base load power requirements of our entire civilization. No risk of melt-downs, minimal production of radioactive waste with only short half-lives. Cost? Nobody is talking about cost. Still, a 100 MW reactor that's trailer-mounted might turn out to be cheap compared to competing energy sources. Maybe.

    Unfortunately, Lockheed isn't sharing many details about their design. So... maybe it won't pan out. But if it does, it'll be a far sight better than fission plants. A far, far sight better.

    Either way: fusion is not fission. The two aren't equivalent, and if you can't grasp that, you're spouting nonsense.

  • Feb 18, 2014 @ 12:00am

    Proud Cord Cutter Here

    I don't own a TV. Well, I do, but it doesn't work - it's an old analog set that doesn't receive digital signals. I have cable internet but not cable TV.

    The only TV I see is over the internet in small chunks: sometimes Comedy Central's The Daily Show, occasionally a video slice on HuffPost or MSNBC or whatever. It doesn't add up to much.

    I'm perfectly happy to have the TV ecosystem ignore me. I don't really care if advertisers think they are getting more audiences than they are.

    In the years since I stopped watching television - starting in 2003, it was - I have learned to think again. (Doesn't mean I'm always right. But I am thinking.)

    Television is hypnotic. It does our thinking for us when we plug into it, which is why advertising commands the big bucks. Ads literally program our attitudes and proclivities. TV is the most powerful propaganda medium ever invented - and it's frighteningly effective.

    People who can't think, can't challenge the status quo. Our inability to challenge the status quo is why we are losing our rights under our own Constitution. If you ask me, it'd be a big step in a positive direction if all TV-watchers cut their cords. Some of them might wake up.

  • Jan 18, 2014 @ 11:08pm

    Bleeding Eyes

    "Over the years it became apparent to me very quickly..."

    Seriously, get an editor. Or edit it yourself. Or something. Mkay? You made my eyes bleed with that one.

    I think your points are good ones. But a little judicious editing would have been good.

  • Dec 18, 2013 @ 06:42pm

    Speech Versus Service

    Wedding photography is art, which is speech. It's a service, which isn't speech. Which is it primarily?

    I think it's primarily a service. The message being created isn't the wedding photographers - much. She picks her angles and exposures, which is art, but the message is determined mainly by the buyer. So it's a service more than it's her own art.

    An independent contractor/service provider should be free to sign contracts/provide services as pleases her. For example, a maid should be free to refuse employment with a particular rich employer if she doesn't like him. Her dislike is a good enough reason to refuse a contract and make it stick. It doesn't matter why she doesn't like him: he could be gay, or religious, or a reputed rapist, or has ugly children, or messes up the toilet seat, or maybe he wrote a book she hated. Any reason is good enough.

    It's different when a business opens itself to the public, like a restaurant. But this case is much closer to the maid analogy than a restaurant. So it makes no sense to me to compel the wedding photographer to sign a contract for people she doesn't want to serve.

    So I reach the conclusion that the ACLU is off-base this time, too - but not because the photographer is protected by the First Amendment. I don't see the First Amendment as having anything much to do with her right to refuse to serve the wedding couple.

    As for the Equal Protection Clause, I can't see how that would apply, either.

  • Nov 23, 2013 @ 11:56pm

    Re: Economic Activity

    Basic economic theory suggests that monopolization and rent-seeking have a depressing effect on economic activity.

    To be fair, though, it's not quite as clear-cut as that.

    Copyright ownership and management overhead can be dismissed. All of that is a drag on economic activity - enforcement, legal, administration. Get rid of that and the economy benefits.

    Where you have to go cautiously is with content creators. If we aren't going to protect their products, then we must be able to visualize a way for them to be rewarded for their effort.

    Techdirt.com is an example of a content creator which does not rely on copyright and still is able to reward content creation. It does this by attracting advertising. There are other examples large and small, but there are also counterexamples where lack of copyright protection will impede content creation, such as books. If anyone can copy a book and sell it, sidestepping the investment cost of creating it, then authors won't have much incentive to write books.

    Ideally, the law would be shaped entirely around the goal of incentivizing content creation. Where incentives are adequate without copyright, there is no compelling reason for the public to consent to monopolization. Long-duration copyrights, particularly copyrights which endure long after their content creators are deceased, have little to no incentivizing effect.

    Patents are a whole different ball game, but as your comment dealt mainly with copyright, I'll stop here.

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