Destimulating the Journalism Laser
Permalink
Mar 08, 2004

A LASER, which is technically an acronym that stands for Light
Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, works in general
as follows:

A
resonance chamber is filled with some substance and "stimulated" in
some manner so it wants to release photons. The photons a substance
releases will be of certain frequencies corresponding to the
substance's emission spectrum. The chamber is an integral multiple of
of the wavelength that you desire.

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Outlines, Part 6
Permalink
Mar 08, 2004
Iron Lute

In my previous post, I discussed the practical matter of how to
hold the outline structure we've built so far together. Having created
a strong base, it is now fruitful to consider how to extend the data
structure to handle the wide variety of outline structures I want Iron
Lute to be able to manipulate.

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HR3261 - Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act

Slashdot recently posted a panicky article about HR3261, the "Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act".

I read the proposed bill. Based on the Slashdot summary, especially the phrase "goes directly against the idea that nobody can own a fact", I was hoping to be able to perform a bit of judo on the legal system. If ownership of the database implied ownership of the facts within, then we could all form a corporation and give it our privacy-sensitive information (links to definition of this term) like our address and phone number, then sue people who use them against our will. We might have had some hoops to jump through (incorporating, meeting the creativity standard), but it probably could have been managed.

But having read the bill, I now see this is impossible. In fact, I now think this bill would be a non-issue if it passed, because of the following clause:

Section 4(a): INDEPENDENTLY GENERATED OR GATHERED INFORMATION- This Act shall not restrict any person from independently generating or gathering information obtained by means other than extracting it from a database generated, gathered, or maintained by another person and making that information available in commerce.

That clause, if I'm reading the bill correctly, explicitly limits the bill to the case where somebody has a database online, and you use an automated process to suck the contents down and call it your own. Independent derivation of the facts in the database, and even use of the facts that falls below the "quantitatively substantial part of the information in a database" standard as defined in Section 3(a), is not covered by this act. Thus, the company's ownership of addresses and phone numbers would do nothing to stop other people from having their own indepedently-derived databases containing these facts, with no way of restricting use of those facts.

Thus, I do not see this bill as an communication ethics problem. It's a practical bill, recognizing the real-world cost of having a database downloaded (costing the owner money), and subsequent harm caused by the act. If the cost of downloading the entire database against the will of the owner were zero, we might need to consider the ethics more deeply, but as a "hostile" download of the database itself causes real harm, we really need not dig much deeper.

There are still some questionable clauses, such as the news reporting clause:

Section 4(d): NEWS REPORTING- Nothing in this Act shall restrict any person from making available in commerce information for the primary purpose of news reporting, including news and sports gathering, dissemination, and comment, unless the information is time sensitive and has been gathered by a news reporting entity, and making available in commerce the information is part of a consistent pattern engaged in for the purpose of direct competition.

Which engages in dubious limitations of speech for the purpose of protecting sports scores, but it does at least have the virtue of being fairly tightly limited and even with my fertile imagination I have a hard time seeing how this can be applied outside that narrow field.

I am somewhat disappointed that my "Privacy Protection Company" idea won't work, but at least this bill is nothing to really worry about. In fact, with the understanding that I don't consider it perfect as is, I'd say something like it would largely be a good thing.

Hey, look, an Intellectual Property posting... guess it's not completely out of my system.


Why I don't believe in Government Conspiracies About Aliens
Permalink
Mar 04, 2004

My wife recently got into Stargate: SG-1, a high quality science fiction television series that I was already a fan of.

The premise is that the United States Air Force is in possession of a "Stargate", a device that connect to other Stargates throughout the universe, analogously to a phone system, and send things there, including people. There are a wide variety of aliens in the universe at various technology levels from "just discovered fire" to "godlike", many of which did visit Earth in the past. The storyline proceeds from there.

It reminds me of why I don't believe in a real governmental conspiracy for aliens. In the show, the Stargate is top secret... but literally thousands of people know about it, from high in the military, to research scientists working on the various technologies brought back and their support staff, to various civilian spy agencies, and even including members of (at least) the Russian and Chinese governments and significant portions of the legislative bodies of at least the US and Russia. Unlike the Manhatten project, these people are scattered throughout the world in a wide variety of positions and with a wide variety of philosophical and political affiliations.

It is virtually inconcievable that such a thing could be kept secret. For instance, in the show there are by my count at least 10 episodes that would be dead giveaways; unexplained explosions and quaratines, time distortions well within the detection range of civilian equipment, unexplained and clearly unnatural celestial phenomena. And all the people who would have to know to obtain any benefit all keep quiet?

Governments are OK at keeping small secrets but given their competence in other areas, it is virtually inconceivable they could keep a large one like this, covering thousands of people over tens of years. They would all be, after all, only human.

Thus, I do not believe in any "Alien Conspiracy" theories; if there are aliens floating around, they are doing their own dirty work, not going through human intermediaries.

Also, I highly recommend Stargate SG-1, if you are into science fiction television at all. It makes Star Trek look like a hack job, and I speak as one who used to really like Star Trek. (Increasingly, I'm coming to see the whole thing as kind of fun, but not somewhere I'd want to live... for instance, the Federation is Communist in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fun stories but I'd rather live here.)


Telephone Rings
Permalink
Mar 02, 2004

We have a new telephone system coming in here at work. It is uniformly an improvement over the old system, at least on a technical level. It did, however, require purchasing new phones to go with the new system.

I want to shoot whoever designed them.

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