Linky Thursday #2


Pyle_pirate_handsome[C1] Successive extentions and alterations of copyright law have limited our access to over fifty years of culture.

[C2] Is the monopoly of copyright a lost cause? It’s sure seeming that way, though it’s hard to gauge all of the implications of that.

[C3] Pirates are complaining that the software they are illegally downloading takes up too much space.

[C4] WordPress spends considerable money complying with DMCA takedown notices, some of which are not legitimate. They’re demanding $10,000 for a false notice.

[C5] The laws surrounding child pornography are problematically broad. “Possessing child porn in digital form is against a law that isn’t realistic in the digital world.”

[C6] Walter Frick argues that patents are stifling innovation and Vox lays out the case against software patents. JVL chimes in with Patent Trolling for Dollars.

[C7] Good to know: Fictional products cannot violate trademarks.


DrugRaid[L1] A reporter wanted to take some pictures of ugly buildings (at least he thinks they’re ugly, I think brutalism is pretty cool) but is harassed by law enforcements. As I’ve said, rights informally ignored are worse than rights formally denied.

[L2] Richard Nixon is often used as a punching bag in discussions about the Drug War, but it turns out that may not be so accurate.

[L3] Gouging in New York prison phone call pricing causes people to lose parental rights.

[L4] The Organ Detective, Nancy Scheper-Hughes has made a mission out of tracking down the organ trade market.


AOLmobile[T1] As software has come to control ever-increasing parts of our lives, it might behoove us to start coding better.

[T2] Some people avoid Gmail because they don’t want Google having access to their private lives. The problem is, whether you use Gmail or not, they already have access to most of them.

[T3] Thank goodness, it turns out that tablets are not going to take over computing after all. As I’ve said previously, it would say something atrocious about our society if that revolution had occurred.

[T4] We’re tempted to scoff when we hear that there are people who still subscribe to AOL, but it turns out they have their reasons, and they’re not bad reasons.

[T5] With the release of Microsoft Office 365, Joanna Stern wonders if we really need Microsoft Office anymore. Microsoft is acting less cocky about it than they used to. Alas, no mention of OpenOffice or LibreOffice.


Romney-Bain-Capital-money-shot[E1] The case for universal basic income, with empirical evidence!

[E2] Ever wonder why it’s expensive rather than bargain hotels that charge for WiFi?

[E3] Maybe sunk costs aren’t sunk after all?

[E4] Will Davies makes the case against competitiveness.

[E5] It’s a win for fliers that we can use electronics during takeoff and landing. It’s a loss for SkyMall.


George_H._W._Bush_and_Boris_Yeltsin_1993[R1] Michael Peck writes about the Soviet plan to demoralize the French. I suppose it could be a sign that I am somewhat removed from the Cold War (having come of age as it was winding down) that I find uncompelling the notion that this would have had much effect.

[R2] Moscow has an army of online trolls at its command. Daisy Sindelar wonders how much they matter.

[R3] Vladimir Putin is more the symptom than the disease, and we may miss him when he’s gone.

[R4] Every Russian novel ever written.


Enceladus_moon_to_scale-PIA07724[S1] We’re going to start giving planets cooler names.

[S2] Astronauts can teach us about sleep. Also, the smell of space.

[S3] Japan has declared war! Against astronaut litter.

[S4] Saturn moon Enceladus has a sea about the size of Lake Superior, now a top candidate for life.

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100 thoughts on “Linky Thursday #2

  1. Musk cited the open source movement strongly in his announcement. The open source movement would not be possible without intellectual property law. Richard Stallman created it with Copyleft – he used existing copyright law to attach a particular kind of license to software which allowed reuse by any party, so long as they complied with the conditions of the license, which was to share any modifications or improvements, not just with the licensor, but with the general public.

    I can’t tell for sure from Musk’s announcement, but it seems as though he’s doing the same thing with Tesla’s patents – they are open to use by anyone who shares reciprocally. This, to my mind, is not an argument for the abolishment of patents or any IP law, since “open source” type arrangements require an IP regime to work.


  2. [E2] — I was at a conference at a big luxury chain hotel earlier this week. If I’d wanted wi-fi access, I’d have had to have paid $15 for it.

    At first, I didn’t mind so much. Not being an overnight guest at the hotel, it didn’t seem so cheeky to be asked to pay. I recognize that the hotel pays money to provide wi-fi and looks to recoup its costs and generate profit. Other businesses like coffeehouses or fast-service restaurants may offer free wi-fi to attract customers or to get them to increase their orders; a hotel has a different business model.

    But, particularly when traveling on business, I’ve always wanted the hotel to build in the cost of the wi-fi into my room rate, and then not been charged. I could see having to join their frequent guest program or something. But when I’m traveling on business, I need the wi-fi to work; I’m not there for pleasure and even if I am, this is an amenity of the hotel and damn it, I’m paying for it so I want to be able to use it. They don’t charge me to use the pool; they build the cost of pool maintenance into the room rate. Why isn’t wi-fi the same way?

    Then I thought, but in a way I am a guest of the hotel, since my conference admission builds in the price of the conference center rental. So, wait, I am paying to use this space! Then I felt gouged.

    But then I figured, well, why am I here? Not to read my e-mail; I can do that at my office without the extra expense of being at a conference. I’m at the conference to listen to the speakers and network with the other attendees. So I elected to do without wi-fi entirely, and then it stopped being an issue for me.

    Still, I had that nagging sense of injustice — what if I were there for personal reasons, traveling for pleasure? I’d want the wi-fi then! I shouldn’t have to pay for it twice!

    …I kept going back and forth like that until a more interesting speaker took the podium.


    • “They don’t charge me to use the pool; they build the cost of pool maintenance into the room rate. Why isn’t wi-fi the same way?”

      I have found high end business hotels to charge for the pool as well.


    • Because they can. No, seriously, people staying at a $450/night hotel can afford $15/night for wifi and have demonstrated a willingness to pay. People staying at the Motel 8 can’t (or at least, have demonstrated that they probably won’t). By the same token, wifi at the expensive hotel is also probably better than wifi at the Motel 8: more base stations, a fatter pipe to the Internet, rapid response to failures, etc, because most people paying those prices demand better service.

      Similarly, I have noticed that more of the small apartment complexes in the poorer parts of the suburb where I live have added “Free Wifi” to their signs. Everyone knows that it isn’t really free, but for many $10/month buried in the rent to share a few-megabit link is better than $60/month for a dedicated line.


  3. C1-The mutation of copyright law is great example of how the writers of the Constitution were really working in the dark. When they wrote copyright law into the Constitution, they thought that they would really be protecting writers, artists, and similar people for a brief but reasonably long period of time. None of them imagined huge corporations using copyright law to destroy the idea of the public domain and keep culture under their control in perpetuity. I really wonder what many of them would think about the current situation.

    L2-Nixon emphasized treatment over imprisonment in his drug plans. A lot of the ground work for the harsh and draconian war on drugs was laid in the 1970s, the Rockefeller Drug laws, but really viciouis enforcement did not start until Reagan’s election. If anybody his to blaime for the Drug War and the change of mood, its Nancy Reagan since saying the drug war was were pet project as First Lady.

    My opinion is that the big issue isn’t that drugs are illegal but that we declared war on them like Prohibtion. If we treated drug crimes like other crimes, say car theft, that is a regretable but existing part of modern life than we wouldn’t have the same problems. You can prohibit drug use and trade without having a drug war.


    • Re: Drug war – exactly! The big driver is all that federal money that PDs get for drug busts. Nobody writes a PD a check for catching thieves & murders, but drug users & dealers; that brings in cash.


    • I realize it doesn’t carry legal weight, but the length of copyright laws don’t pass a common sense interpretation of “limited time”. An entire generation was born, lived full lives, and died since Steamboat Willie was released, and its copyright isn’t due to expire for almost a decade (until the next extension, anyway).

      And as far as the “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” bit goes, nodoby is deciding on whether or not to undertake a given project based upon their projected earnings 50 years down the road. If corporations and artists “only” had, say, 20 years to profit off a given work, it’s likely wouldn’t change the calculus much, if at all.


      • The worst part is that the laws are enforced only for companies in the ballpark of being as powerful as Disney.

        If you’re a schlub, you can’t really expect the law to be enforced on your behalf if you find it being broken… I mean, what can you do? Call the cops? What are they going to do? Send a cease and desist? That works best when you know enough about the person to be able to point a lawyer at them… and the ones who have mostly mastered low-level anonymity generally don’t target companies in the ballpark of being as powerful as Disney.

        So the laws are passed on behalf of the powerful for the benefit of the powerful and the schlubs are left darkling.


      • [E1] — Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) is an idea I often flirt with and continue to find attractive when contemplating the massive wasp’s nest of political and economic frustration that is our aggregate social welfare system. And the arguments in the article are reasonably persuasive. Well, except for this one:

        If the U.S. decides to implement basic income, what would prevent families from having more children to receive more checks?
        There is no evidence that child benefits induce families to have more children. On the contrary, families have fewer children when their economic security increases. [¶] But this concern really masks hostility to the poor. We have so many other perverse incentives in our tax system that have much larger budgetary effects, yet we harp on this one because it would improve the lives of poor people, who are often minorities. [¶] Children cost a lot more in terms of time, money, and foregone earnings potential than basic income would ever pay. With basic income, people will continue to have children for the same mix of reasons—good and bad—that they do now. No benefit program will change that.

        Frankly, that’s directly contradictory to experience I have personally accumulated in evictions: I’ve had more than one evictee who has lived on various forms of social welfare payments their entire lives plainly and directly explain to me, with the didactic tone of voice one uses when explaining obvious facts to a young child, that “More children means more money.” That’s coming directly from them, not from any hostility I might have towards them; it makes me think that this particular response to the challenge is a bit on the pollyannaish side. So I would think that what we’d want to see would be a graduated decline in the amount of money in the GBI payment on a household-by-household basis, since the marginal cost of increasing a household from 3 to 4 members is greater than the marginal cost of increasing it from 5 to 6 members. With that caveat, I remain strongly attracted to the idea.


      • What is also interesting to point out that the U.S. was largely the strictest enforcer of limited time and short copyrights until the 1976 Copyright Act. The 1976 Copyright Act was largely passed to make us in accordance with international standards and conventions on copyright. The 1909 Act was short with the possibility of two twenty-five year terms.


      • That’s coming directly from them, not from any hostility I might have towards them; it makes me think that this particular response to the challenge is a bit on the pollyannaish side
        Your sample is likely biased. (Sorta like cops are biased into thinking far more people are criminals or victims than really are, because they’re far more likely to interact with a criminal or a victim as part of their job than an average joe).

        I’m not saying your wrong, but if your anecdotal data pool is “People I’ve met through proceedings aimed at their eviction”, I’m pretty sure you’re not getting a clear picture of the Joe Average Poor Guy.

        And the basic point is correct — number of children per couple drops as income rises overall and that the costs of an extra kid are not met by welfare (yes more money in, but much more money out), which is admittedly the sort of math many individuals are poor at (“immediate versus cumulative” but generally the problem with poverty is preventing kids is expensive (abstinence is a non-starter. Poor people can’t afford much in terms of leisure activity. They’re not going to cut sex) in of itself.

        Maybe the poor with guaranteed income are some weird, counter example…..but I think it’s more likely that your sample is somewhat biased and you’re falling into a few decades worth of “Poor people milk the system” PR. That’s been a constant drumbeat for my entire adult life — welfare queens and strapping young bucks taking my hard-earned tax dollars, despite it never being true.

        How many people on welfare have you met outside eviction proceedings that DON’T have extra kids for money? How could you even tell? So add potential confirmation bias on top of it — it’s the sort of question you really want good, solid statistics on and anecdotes.

        (Not that I’m bashing you or anything. I’m not even saying you’re wrong. I’m just pointing out that, well…social programs are such a football that impersonal statistics are needed to cut through decades of deliberate political noise, and all that noise pushes everyone towards certain conclusions on it’s own. Hence drug testing the poor, because they obviously can afford drugs. Amusingly, the drug they often can afford is meth, which makes working multiple jobs easier…)


      • I think your sample pool is biased. I don’t think we are going to see GBI anytime soon but most of the people I see agitate for it are usually childless and usually well-educated 20 and 30-somethings who were hit hard by the recession and the rise of the “gig economy”. People who despite being well-educated have experienced years of underemployment and freelancing jobs instead of careers.

        I call this elite overproduction.


      • Morat and Saul,

        I don’t think you and Burt are talking about quite the same thing. The article stated it as an absolute that people do not have more kids for the welfare benefits. As in, no people do that.

        Burt’s response is, I can tell you from empirical observation that some people do that.

        And I think you two are looking at whether it’s normal among poor people, or perhaps whether there’s a significant (or perhaps substantial, from a policy perspective) number of people doing so. Related questions, and from a policy perspective probably more important, but not quite the question Burt was answering.


      • James,

        Surely there are people that do that. Literally anything you can name, no matter how dumb, has someone doing it. The whole ‘dumb criminal’ thing is full of it.

        However, building laws or programs on edge cases is a pretty bad idea — as a recent example, the trend of drug-testing welfare recipients costs more than it saves, by far — and past a certain level, auditing to prevent waste and fraud costs more than the waste and fraud it stopped did.

        And secondly, the article is still correct. One, the more your income, the fewer kids you might have and there’s no reason to suspect American poor are statistically different from this. Making policy on the individuals who are would be like making population decisions based on the Duggars. The Quiverful movement exists, yet they are not the average American family.

        And lastly — the article is still correct — some people MIGHT have more kids to ‘get more money’, but like criminals who rob convenience stores by dropping a twenty, asking for change and then stealing a register which sometimes contains LESS than 20 dollars, doesn’t mean they’re actually getting more money in aggregate.

        We can’t base a social program on the occasional moron, anymore than insurance can’t count on the average criminal stealing property worth less than what he leaves behind….


      • In either Vernor Vinge’s “A Deepness in the Sky” or “A Fire Upon the Deep” he proposes an old society, traveling the galaxy in sublight ramscoop ships (well, part of the Galaxy. Science gets complicated) — and one particular occupation, in this tens of thousands of year old society is “Programmer/Archeologist” because the computers are FULL of code, programs, and libraries — mostly forgotten.

        So any programmer often spends a great deal of time, diving into the deep past, to figure out what the heck is really going on.

        The example given is some far-future programer, bored on a multi-year trip, chasing down the origins of the time/date code that literally everything runs on. What he finds is layers upon layers of hacks and adjustments (modifying the previous clock to report in a new format or date or time system or to adjust for relativistic effects or whatever) and at the very bottom, long forgotten by anyone — the single counter, clocking up the time from some arbitrary event in the long distant past. (In short, the Unix clock).

        It was a surprising insight, given the fact that the book is 15 or 20 years old at this point.


      • I have two programs that I use on a daily basis that are “old” code. One I wrote myself and it goes back at least 28 years; the other I inherited and tidied up (and eventually liberated by out-stubborning the corporate attorneys) that goes back at least 34 (and is probably a bit older than that). Both written in antique C. For the programmer/archeologists among us: (1) amazingly, I’ve been able to find some set of flags for every C compiler I’ve wanted to port them to that produces working executables, up to the present day; and (2) the one I inherited is the only interactive program I’ve ever seen that uses setjmp/longjmp to implement the main loop.


      • and (2) the one I inherited is the only interactive program I’ve ever seen that uses setjmp/longjmp to implement the main loop.
        One of my tasks is updating a long-neglected module that had, in the past, sadly been in the hands of a man who did not quite understand OOD, felt OOD was necessary (and updated the module accordingly) and lastly had a habit of deleting what he did not understand. (Much of my time has been spent rewriting all the various bits and bobs he just deleted.)

        Buried in the guts of it, thankfully unmodified by this idiot, is the core functionality of this code that does some complex manipulations of data before passing it onto a fortran dll for some really math intensive fun. This guts has goto statements. In C code. I’d forgotten C even supported goto.

        I’m literally afraid to touch it, and dread the day I have to make modifications there.


      • There’s a follow-up article describing how French intelligence got wind of the Russian plan and, just in case the worst should ever come to pass, printed up large all-white pamphlets glued on dowels, to be deployed in response.


      • I sometimes feel kind of guilty about perpetuating hoary French stereotypes. I don’t know if it comes from too much Python as a kid. Or the fact that pretty much wherever I went in Europe that wasn’t France, they talk s**t about the French. The French are viewed like the America of Europe, in that respect.



      • Ah! L’Etats-Unis! Nos amis d’outre-Atlantique nous ont donné tant de joie avec leurs cinemes d’Jerry Lewis! Ils ont si chaleureusement embrassé nos plus grands héros culturels, Gérard Depardieu et Jean Reno!

        Perhaps not surprisngly, when I did a GIS for pictures of Marianne and Uncle Sam embracing, I came up with nothing. The only images of both Marianne and Uncle Sam I found at all were two political cartoons, and in both Uncle Sam was antagonizing the poor girl.


      • What’s weird about the surrender stereotype is that this is the country that conquered Europe in the first decade of the 19th century, and that stopped “The Hun” at the River Marne. Their forces had a 73% casualty rate in WWI, but they fought from Day 1 to 11:11 11/11/18.

        But the Franco-Prussian War, the speed with which they were defeated in 1940, and the fact that they left French Indochina with their tail between their legs has created the impression that what has historically been one of the mightiest nations in the world is full of a bunch of people born with a white flag in their hands.


      • A lot of the current stereotypes about French cowardliness has to do with their intelligent refusal to endors Iraq II. The rest probably has to do with the fact that they are generally perceived as being a very cultured place where even the local village cafe owner is an epicurean intellectual. In the Anglo-derived tradition, especially outside the UK, the idea of a cultured, courageous man is something of any oxy moron. We like our fighting men uncouth and badass. Its probably a frontier thing. Thats why people can’t recognize that the French have a long and proud military tradition.


      • – no, I was making French jokes way before Iraq. :-)

        Anyway, it’s not just the Anglos that have an anti-French bias, it’s the Germans and the Spaniards too.

        You could explain it somewhat with geographic proximity and sibling rivalry, I guess, since they all struggled for some of the same resources at one time or another, and France just happens to be in the middle of the mess; but ragging on the French seems to be like the one thing the rest of them agree on.

        Like I said, I’m not entirely comfortable with it, when I think about it. But I still do it.

        Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that I’ve spent very little time there, and have never really dealt with any French or French-speaking people on a regular basis.


  4. S2: This may be a radical thought, but why are we requiring astronauts to keep 24 hour sleep cycles in the first place? If, in the absence of 24 hour solar days, they naturally move to a 25.4 hour cycle, why not just let them work according to a 25.4 hour day?


  5. C6: Being listed as the inventor on a number of software patents that are finally expiring, I say it’s about time we got rid of the damned things. The time frames are too long (20 years is an eternity in software), it’s too hard to tell the difference between real inventions and things that any half-decent programmer would have done if asked to solve a particular problem, and most of the real inventions are algorithms (which are problematic).

    T1: It’s a complicated situation. To argue by analogy (yes, Vikram, I know), consider the world of bridges. Anyone can intentionally drop a log across a stream; we don’t presume that the ability to do so makes them a designer for mile-long suspension bridges. Mile-long suspension bridges are really expensive, so we don’t build very many of them; we need a very large number of very large software packages. We routinely ask that the software equivalent of a bridge for foot traffic be patched to carry railroads. Outside of the bridge analogy, we do know a lot about writing reliable secure software; OTOH, management seldom likes to be told that three-quarters of the code base and at least that fraction of the CPU cycles are going to go to checking data invariants.


    • We’ve had this discussion before, but I think that in all but a few instances where software is related to patented mechanical devices, it should not be patentable; it should be copyrighted; and software that’s part of a patented mechanical device should be covered under the device, not as a separate piece of software; getting a two-fer the price of one in market exclusion.

      Copyright itself has become something of a joke, since most people now seem to prosper by giving away what’s considered intellectual property (open source, blogging, etc.,) in exchange for the kudos (don’t you just love Iain Banks?) that leads to paid work; where the person is paid for their time and expertise — their intellectual capital — not their intellectual property.


      • Copyright is the only thing that makes open source software work though – in the absence of copyright, it would all just be public domain. Developers would have no way of creating an enforceable open source license that requires those who would extend the software to also release those extensions under the same terms.

        Plenty of closed-source vendors don’t actually respect the copyright of open source software, or understand the implications of the licenses, and pirate it by selling “their own” software that actually is mostly open source code, but that doesn’t invalidate the necessity of copyright, or its absolute necessity to open source.


  6. C1: This is really about the birth of mass entertainment culture thanks to innovations like movies, radio, TV, and to a lesser extent comic books and mass book publishing. Most copyrights are not worth the extensive protection they are given. There are a handful of properties (maybe more than a handful of properties) that are worth their roughly a trillion times their weight in legal and lobbying fees. A lot of these are obvious suspects like Mickey Mouse, Superman, X-men, Spider-man, Harry Potter, Bugs Bunny, etc. Figures that have largely become iconic in popular culture. There is really no way that Disney is going to let any of their characters enter the public domain. Same with Marvel and DC especially now that these companies are huge media conglomerates that can lobby for changes in the law until the end of time.

    L2: I would say that Nelson Rockefeller probably deserves more of the fame. Despite the yearning for a return of Rockefeller Republicans, he was a hardcore drug warrior. Nixon is a more iconic figure though and it takes a while for laws to have an effect. It is entirely feasible that Nixon started policies that did not really show an effect or result until well after Watergate.

    L3: I think the general term for this is poverty capitalism. The American public has simply grown to hate taxes way too much. The problem is that we are not willing to make changes to the criminal justice and other systems in order to correspond with low-level taxes. This means that governmental agencies need to get their funding in other ways and you see a rise in civil forfeiture, a decrease in the number of people eligible for public defenders, defendants required to pay their own court fees, and companies charging prisoners for their own incarceration. The only real solution is raising taxes and/or decreasing the number of people jailed. I don’t see either happening.


  7. R1: Of course it’s not going to work, it’s in English!

    But seriously, it doesn’t seem too much different than the psyops and civil affairs leaflets various coalitions in two different centuries put out against Sadaam’s army. (and before them, the Germans) The difference, of course, is that those words go down easier when you got TLAMs and Hellfires raining down on you. (which, from the article, seemed to be part of the Soviet plan as well).


  8. E3 – Interesting topic, bad article. He seemed like he wanted to make an argument against how economists view sunk costs, but he didn’t have one, so he talked about how it might be interesting if someone had an argument against it.

    Every field worth studying has a few foundational insights that are counterintuitive. One of the insights of economics is that you shouldn’t throw good money after bad. It’s not always true – a good article could have been written about the caveats – but it is generally true, and it’s also a good introduction to the field in that it teaches you to think rationally about economic choices.


    • He also made some very bad comparisons. I don’t think he actually gave an example where the marginal costs were clearly less than the payoff to be gained. He just focused on huge sunk costs and suggested something like, “the economists say if you have sunk costs that big, the rational thing to do would be to quit,” and he ignored the value of the payoffs, as well as the remaining costs to be paid.

      I think that means he’s actually committed a sort of reverse sunk costs fallacy.

      Consider the hunter-gatherer on a long chase example. If you’re following hundreds of pounds of meat on the hoof, then there’s a big payoff ahead. Possibly you’ve already sunk in more than you should, but likely you’re getting closer to getting the critter, so what’s another couple of hours of chasing it compared to the caloric reward?

      Or the war example. Winning vs. losing a war is a very BFD. Putting in some more effort to avoid the cost of losing, and gain the payoff of winning, means there’s a very good chance your marginal costs of continuing battle are a good investment.


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