Thursday, 19-Jan-12 10:55
ESA Shoots God

Funny how your mind plays tricks on you. Hover on the image. Image is very pretty though, astronomy FTW!

Wednesday, 18-Jan-12 14:19

Today, large swaths of those parts of the internet people actually care about have gone black to protest against SOPA - the US Stop Online Piracy Act. EFF has a wonderful explanation as to why SOPA and it's evil cousin PIPA are a really bad idea - read it.

Because of the provisions in SOPA/PIPA, they give unprecedented and unchecked power to corporations, which can be trivially misused. Oh, I'm not worried at all about Pirate Bay being censored - what concerns me is that a simple accusation can shut down any web service in the world. When DMCA was enacted early this century, it's biggest users were companies who were trying to shut down their competition. Ever wonder why printer cartridges cost so much? Yup, it's because the manufacturers use DMCA - a copyright act - to shut down their competition. With PIPA and SOPA this would get a LOT worse: Essentially any company could be shut down by any other company, or harassed long enough that they would bleed out all their money in litigation costs. It's worse for companies who allow user-generated content to be uploaded or linked to - once you become a threat to anyone else's business, you get shut down real fast. Your money traffic will cease, your domain name can be seized, and you have a choice to start litigating in the USA (hard if you're not an US company) or folding. This is about as anti-competitive as it gets. has an example on how one could just erase someone's internet presence using the provisions in SOPA - not because the person is a pirate, but because they happened to piss someone off. Remember: If there's a game it will be played. People - and corporations - will play the game, if they get the chance.

However, what's awesome about the whole thing is that finally the technology companies are standing up and saying "NO" in a loud, clear voice. It annoys me to no end when people go "the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it", or "internet censorship doesn't work" and other inanities like that. Yes, all blocks can be circumvented, but you have to understand that the fight never ends if the other side just keeps running. The more inventive workarounds technologists create, the more draconian the measures to block them get. And it's not the technologists who suffer, it's all the innocent people who just want to live their lives peacefully, and whose privacy and rights are being infringed all the time. We can't teach everyone to use Tor, because then all the countries will forbid Tor, and employ very intrusive ways of doing it. The end of that road is the War on Regular People, with Copyright Cops breaking into homes and carrying people off into the night.

The technologists must learn how to stand and fight. We must learn how to argument our side, we must lobby, we must be clever. We must spend money (and the technology companies have most of it anyway). We must vote for the right people who understand these things, and we must, must, must educate people.

You can start by donating to EFF or their Finnish equivalent Effi, or your local Pirate Party. Even if you don't agree with everything that they do or say, there is nobody else who fights this fight, until we can convince companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple and Nokia to start spending the money.

Monday, 09-Jan-12 23:05
New Year's Rant

The house body (I live in an apartment) decided that people drive their cars too much and too fast on the walkways. They're the only way to drive close to the doors, so obviously people who need to load and unload stuff use those all the time. I sympathise with this; I have kids and sometimes people drive just too fast for my comfort out here.

The mistake happened when they decided to install gates on all the entrances to the walkways. Gates in general are a bad idea because their use pattern is

  1. Drive to gate
  2. Step out of the car to open the gate
  3. Drive through the gate
  4. Step out of the car again to close the gate
  5. Drive to door, unload
  6. Drive to gate
  7. Step out of the car to open the gate
  8. Drive through the gate
  9. Step out of the car again to close the gate
  10. Drive away

The problem here is that it relies on people to remember and bother to actually close the gates. If you don't close the gate, the sequence becomes

  1. Drive to gate
  2. Step out of the car to open the gate
  3. Drive through the gate
  4. Drive to door, unload
  5. Drive away

This is a lot simpler to do, with the added bonus that if you load/unload a lot, you'll save a ton of time if you conveniently "forget" to close the gate all the time. Like the maintenance people, for example.

So, here's a deceptively simple-sounding math problem:

  • Assume that for any given person A the probability of closing the gate after using it is p=0.3, if the gate was closed when he first came to it.
  • Assume that for the same person, the probability of closing the gate is p=0.01, if the gate was open (people rarely close the gate if it's open already)
  • Assume also that there's an elderly person B who closes the gate once per day, if it's open, huffing and puffing about gates and how nobody ever closes them
  • Assume 50 users of the gate per day

What is the probability of the gate being open at any given time?

My empirical study suggests that it's somewhere near p=0.99... That is, out of the five gates we have, only one is ever closed. And that's the one very few people use.

OK, so gates are a bad idea because they assume that people will co-operate on something that's actively annoying for them. So what's the solution? Speed bumps. They cannot be turned off, and in general the incentives work towards remembering them - because forgetting about them is not convenient and may damage your car.

Private comments? Drop me an email. Or complain in a nearby pub - that'll help.

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"Main" last changed on 10-Aug-2015 21:44:03 EEST by JanneJalkanen.
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