Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes this week with his explanation of how an improved algorithm on the White House's petition-creation site could do away with Death Star petitions and even improve on the existing serious ones. Read on below for his modest proposal on that front.
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cathyreisenwitz writes "The 2012 bankruptcy of Rhode Island-based video-game developer 38 Studios isn't just a sad tale of a start-up tech company falling victim to the vagaries of a rough economy. It is a completely predictable story of crony capitalism, featuring star-struck legislators and the hubris of a larger-than-life athlete completely unprepared to compete in business." Reason makes no bones about its view of this kind of public-private "partnership."
EagleHasLanded writes "The U.S. Metric Association has been advocating for metrication since 1916 – without much success. In the mid-1970s, the U.S. government passed the Metric Conversion Act, but now it seems the time for complete conversion has come and gone. Or could U.S. educators and health & safety advocates put this issue back on Congress' radar screen?"
New submitter Jetra wrote with word that the House of Representatives failed to vote on the "fiscal cliff" deal before midnight, technically sending the U.S. over the fiscal cliff. The White House and Senate, however, reached an agreement at the last minute to allow for some tax increases, and a House vote approving it is expected in the next day or two: "The agreement came together after negotiators cleared two final hurdles involving the estate tax and automatic spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies later this week. Republicans gave ground on the spending cuts, known as the sequester, by agreeing to a two-month delay paid for in part with fresh tax revenue, a condition they had resisted. White House officials yielded to GOP wishes on how to handle estate taxes, aides said." The battle over required spending cuts has predictably been delayed for another day, making the deal far from complete.
On Saturday, Pakistan briefly lifted the months-old ban on YouTube, spurred by the widely distributed U.S.-made video presented as a trailer for a film titled "Innocence of Muslims" and decried in many places around the world as blasphemous toward Islam. "After months of criticism of the ban, the government decided to allow Pakistanis to have access to YouTube again, saying steps had been taken to ensure that offensive content would not be visible. But those efforts apparently failed, and the authorities quickly backtracked," writes the New York Times. "Quickly" is right: access to YouTube was apparently open for just three minutes, which seems about right; it shouldn't take longer than that to discover things on the site to which adherents of any particular religion might take umbrage. What's surprising is that this took lifting the censorship on a wide scale, rather than just taking a smaller peek through tunneling software.
Lasrick writes "Alex Knapp has an excellent article pointing out that NOAA satellites enabled NOAA to predict the 'left hook' of Hurricane Sandy into the Eastern Seaboard, which in turn enabled local governments to prepare. Those satellites are at risk and there will be a gap of about a year between 2017 and 2018, when the old ones fail and the new ones are scheduled to launch. There's no alternative to getting that data, and the so-called 'fiscal cliff' will drive an 8% cut to NOAA's satellite program, so that those replacement satellites may go up even later than 2018."
i_want_you_to_throw_ writes "Details of Jaron Lanier's crusade against Web 2.0 continue in an article at Smithsonian Magazine. The article expands upon Lanier's criticism of Web 2.0. It's an interesting read, with Lanier suggesting we are outsourcing ourselves into insignificant advertising-fodder and making an audacious connection between techno-utopianism, the rise of the machines and the Great Recession. From the article: 'As far back as the turn of the century, he singled out one standout aspect of the new web culture—the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websites—as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself. At the time, this objection seemed a bit extreme. But he saw anonymity as a poison seed. The way it didn’t hide, but, in fact, brandished the ugliness of human nature beneath the anonymous screen-name masks. An enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy, but an accretion of tribalism. ... 'This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant. ... We have economic fear combined with everybody joined together on these instant twitchy social networks which are designed to create mass action. What does it sound like to you? It sounds to me like the prequel to potential social catastrophe. I’d rather take the risk of being wrong than not be talking about that.'"
The NY Times reports China has once again stepped up its efforts to control the internet, passing a new set of rules by which internet users and ISPs must abide. In addition to requiring that users provide their real names to internet providers, the government says those providers are now more responsible for deleting or blocking posts that aren't agreeable to the Chinese authorities. Quoting: "The new regulations, issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, allow Internet users to continue to adopt pseudonyms for their online postings, but only if they first provide their real names to service providers, a measure that could chill some of the vibrant discourse on the country’s Twitter-like microblogs. The authorities periodically detain and even jail Internet users for politically sensitive comments, such as calls for a multiparty democracy or allegations of impropriety by local officials. In recent weeks, Internet users in China have exposed a series of sexual and financial scandals that have led to the resignations or dismissals of at least 10 local officials. International news media have also published a series of reports in recent months on the accumulation of wealth by the family members of China’s leaders, and some Web sites carrying such reports ... have been assiduously blocked, while Internet comments about them have been swiftly deleted. The regulations issued Friday build on a series of similar administrative guidelines and municipal rules issued over the past year. China’s mostly private Internet service providers have been slow to comply with them, fearing the reactions of their customers. The Standing Committee’s decision has much greater legal force, and puts far more pressure on Chinese Internet providers to comply more quickly and more comprehensively, Internet specialists said."
alphadogg writes "As a new session of Congress convenes in early 2013, don't expect lawmakers to rush out a new version of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or the Protect IP Act (PIPA). While some groups representing copyright holders still want to see stronger online enforcement, U.S. lawmakers don't seem to have the collective will to reintroduce similar bills and potentially face another massive online protest. In January 2012, more than 10 million Web users signed petitions, 8 million attempted calls to Congress and 4 million sent email messages, and more than 100,000 websites went dark in protest as the Senate scheduled a vote on PIPA. Lawmakers supporting the two bills baled out in droves, Senate leaders cancelled the PIPA vote, and SOPA's sponsor in the House of Representatives withdrew his legislation. 'That was an avalanche they've never seen,' said Ed Black, head of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. 'They're going to tiptoe in this area very carefully.'"
In a scathing rant posted to a GNU project mailing list, the maintainer of grep and sed announced that he was quitting the GNU project over technical and administrative disagreements. Chief among them: He believes RMS is detrimental to the project by slowing down technical innovation (the example used was RMS's distaste for C++, not exactly a strong point against RMS). Additionally, he noted that the FSF is not doing enough to help GNU "Projects such as gnash are bound to have constant funding problems despite being (and having been for years) in the FSF's list of high priority projects.". Finally: "Attaching the GNU label to one's program has absolutely no attractiveness anymore. People expect GNU to be as slow as an elephant, rather than as slick as a gazelle, and perhaps they are right. Projects such as LLVM achieve a great momentum by building on the slowness of GNU's decision processes, and companies such as Apple get praise even if they are only embracing these projects to avoid problems with GPLv3." The author is quick to note that he has no philosophical disagreements with GNU or the FSF.
arclightfire writes "So while games have come under spotlight via the debate about the causes of the tragic school shootings in the U.S., it is worth remembering that games are now a broad medium and far from all games are FPS games. Even those about war are not now just about shooting, as Endgame:Syria shows by covering an ongoing war; 'The subject matter for Endgame: Syria should not however be looked on from a trivialized angle; people and civilian casualties are dying every day over in Syria.'" The game is part of a series from Auroch Digital.
OverTheGeicoE writes "TSA gets discussed on Slashdot from time to time, usually negatively. Have you ever wondered about the TSA screeners' perspective? Taking Sense Away is a blog, allegedly written by a former TSA screener, offering insider perspectives on TSA topics. For example, there's the Insider's TSA Dictionary, whose entries are frequently about the code screeners use to discuss attractive female passengers (like 'Code Red,' 'Fanny Pack,' and 'Hotel Bravo'). Another posting explains what goes on in private screening rooms, which the author claims is nothing compared to screener conduct in backscatter image operator rooms. Apparently what happens in the IO room stays in the IO room. Today's posting covers how TSA employees feel about working for 'a despised agency'. For many the answer is that they hate working for 'the laughing stock of America's security apparatus,' try to hide that they work for TSA, and want to transfer almost anywhere else ASAP."
Sparrowvsrevolution writes in with a story at Forbes about Makerbot deleting gun component blueprints on Thingiverse. "In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, the 3D-printing firm Makerbot has deleted a collection of blueprints for gun components from Thingiverse, its popular user-generated content website that hosts 3D-printable files. Though Thingiverse has long banned designs for weapons and their components in its terms of service, it rarely enforced the rule until the last few days, when the company's lawyer sent notices to users that their software models for gun parts were being purged from the site. Gun control advocates were especially concerned about the appearance of lower receivers for semi-automatic weapons that have appeared on Thingiverse. The lower receiver is the the 'body' of a gun, and its most regulated component. So 3D-printing that piece at home and attaching other parts ordered by mail might allow a lethal weapon to be obtained without any legal barriers or identification. Makerbot's move to delete those files may have been inspired in part by a group calling itself Defense Distributed, which announced its intention to create an entirely 3D-printable gun in August and planned to potentially upload it to Thingiverse. Defense Distributed says it's not deterred by Makerbot's move and will host the plans on its own site."
GovTechGuy writes "Rep. Zoe Lofgren sat down with Roll Call to discuss her proposal to slow down the seizure of domain names accused of piracy by the federal government. Lofgren turned to Reddit for help formulating the bill, and also discussed whether her colleagues in Congress know enough about technology to make informed decisions on tech policy."
elashish14 writes "The Westboro Baptist Church stated earlier this week that they would be picketing the funerals of the victims of Newtown Connecticut's tragic shooting in an effort to bring awareness to their hate messages. In response, the Anonymous hacker collective has hacked their website and posted the personal information of all of its members."