Archive for the 'Government' Category

Net Neutrality is Dead, and Why You Should Care

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

InternetNet neutrality has been a hot topic in the internet world, but many people have no idea why it’s important. The linked article gives the best definition that I’ve seen. Essentially, without net neutrality, your ISP and other network providers can play god in regards to the content you receive. They can block certain sites or give preferential treatment to sites. They can demand that a content provider (e.g., Google) pay them in order to not have their content receive degraded performance. This is not hypothetical—I remember reading about how the CEO of a major network provider wanted to charge companies like Google for the traffic coming over its system, even though the network provider’s subscribers were already paying for that access. He saw it as a source of additional income and was upset that Google didn’t have to pay to use the company’s network.

This goes against everything the internet stands for, of course, so the FCC instituted a regulation enforcing net neutrality. The FCC, however, doesn’t have the authority to make that kind of regulation, and the courts recently struck it down. Congress could make a law enforcing net neutrality, but somewhere along the line this topic became a partisan political issue. Not sure why that’s the case, but the end result is that congress is unlikely to pass any legislation in the foreseeable future.

Only time will tell what the major ISPs and network providers do with their new freedom, but I think it’s going to be ugly.

Link: http://www.techrepublic.com/…

Only in America: eBay Seller Sues Over Negative Feedback

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

GavelSo you’re an eBay seller and have received negative feedback from a customer. You do what you can to resolve the problem, but the buyer refuses to remove the feedback. What can you do? Well, if you’re in the United States then you file a lawsuit. The seller, Med Express, is suing the the buyer, Amy Nicholls, for slander.

I’m on the buyer’s side, although I probably would have only given a “neutral” rating. Having to make a trip to the post office to pay postage due is a always a pain.

Link: http://arstechnica.com/…

Update (2013-04-19): Because of all the publicity, the lawsuit is being dropped. But research shows that Med Express has a history of doing this.

Study: Male Jurors are Biased Against Overweight Women

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

GavelA study by Yale researchers shows that male jurors have a significant bias against overweight female defendants. They did not have a bias for lean women or for men of any weight. Female jurors had no weight or gender bias at all. The guilt difference, based on a 5-point scale, was about ¾ of a point, so not only is it statistically significant, but it’s meaningful in the real world.

Link #1: http://yaledailynews.com/…

Link #2 (study abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/…
(via Slate)

The New $100 Bill

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

MoneyThe US government has come out with a new design for the $100 bill, one that incorporates even more security features. There’s a blue strip woven into the bill with bells that turn into “100”s as you move the bill one direction, and moving bells/100s as you shift the bill in another direction. The bill also has an inkwell with a bell inside that changes color as you move the bill, such that it seems to appear and disappear. Really fancy stuff.

The new bills have not been officially released. This is because there is a production problem that didn’t show up in the test phase. Some of the bills have creases in them and are unusable. They only discovered this after printing a billion of the new notes, which (at this time) will all have to be manually checked before being released. They’re trying to find a way to automate the checking process, for obvious reasons.

And on a side note, have you ever wondered how many $100 bills are printed each year? In the last fiscal year (October 1st, 2011 to September 30th, 2012) the US government printed 3 billion of them.

Thanks to Josh for this topic and the links.

Link #1 (the new 100): http://www.newmoney.gov/…

Link #2 (creases; video): http://www.newmoney.gov/media/…

What We’ve Learned About Voting Machines Since the 2000 Election

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

GovernmentWith the election coming up on Tuesday, the linked article discusses the changes made in the wake of the problems with the 2000 presidential election. To summarize: computerized voting machines are actually worse than the paper ballots that failed so dramatically in 2000.

Link: http://arstechnica.com/…

High Cigarette Taxes Don’t Stop the Poor From Smoking

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Mr. ButtsCigarette taxes are typically justified by earmarking them to cover the increased health care costs for smokers, but I think they’re really imposed in an effort to make the cost so high that smokers will quit. In New York City smokers pay an insanely high cigarette tax rate, $6.46 per pack, yet a recent study shows “no decline in smoking among low-income smokers, despite tax increases since 2003”.

Link: http://dailycaller.com/…

Trim the Budget by Killing the $1 Bill

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

MoneyI’ve never understood the US government’s reluctance to retire the $1 bill in favor of the $1 coin. The GAO estimates this would save $5.5 billion over 30 years. And while we’re discussing money, wouldn’t it make sense to kill the penny as well—inflation has made them pretty useless, and they cost more than a cent to manufacture.

Link: http://consumerist.com/…

Navy Develops Superlaser, Death Star Around Corner

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Naval ShipThe US Navy is attempting to develop a superlaser for use on its ships, and the latest prototype can burn through 20 feet of steel per second at 14 kilowatts. The power level needs to reach 100 kilowatts to be useful in the field, and the Navy’s ultimate goal is to reach a megawatt and be able to pierce 2000 feet of steel per second. Expect this technology to be deployed sometime in the next 10-20 years.

Link: http://www.wired.com/…
(via Engadget)

Blackberries Banned Because They’re Too Secure

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

GovernmentSeveral national governments are taking exception to the high level of security provided to Blackberry users. These governments want to be able to intercept and read messages from their citizens, but the Blackberry security protocols are just too good. And the manufacturer, Research In Motion (RIM), isn’t willing to degrade the security. As a result, the United Arab Emirates has decided to suspend several Blackberry services within its borders, and other countries are considering following suit, including India and Lebanon. An imminent shutoff in Saudi Arabia was averted only after RIM agreed to set up a local server in that country.

All I can say is that I’m grateful the founders of our country insisted on the First Amendment.

Link #1: http://arstechnica.com/…

Link #2: http://dailycaller.com/…

Update #1: Looks like everything’s going to be okay after all.

Update #2: RIM has come to an agreement with India, where they hand over the encryption keys and an infrastructure was created to intercept Blackberry messages.

The Census and Privacy

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

GovernmentLast month I filled out the census form sent by the US government. Mandated by the Constitution and used to determine things like the number of Congressional members for each state and the division of federal funds, it’s important to get as many people counted as possible. (In fact, based on the 2000 census, my home state of Colorado qualified for an extra House member, bringing our total up to nine.)

But some people refused to fill out the form, citing privacy concerns. The requested information was minimal, but it still goes beyond the “Enumeration” required by the Constitution, asking for such things as your name and ethnicity. When responding to privacy issues, census officials always refer to the laws prohibiting release of census data until 70 years have passed. But these officials seem to forget it’s the government that made those laws, and the government can always change them should the need arise. The Constitution has no provisions for the privacy of census data.

In fact, something along these lines occurred in 1941. Four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, the government used Census data to help round up Americans of Japanese descent, who were placed in internment camps. More recently, the Census Bureau compiled reports of Americans of Arab descent for use by Homeland Security. (They gave population by city and ZIP code.)

So the net result is that census privacy can be broken, given sufficient cause. Does this mean you shouldn’t fill out the form? You’ll have to determine the answer for that one yourself.

Link: http://yro.slashdot.org/…

US Health Reform Simplified

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

GovernmentHealth reform is now law in the United States, but it’s a far cry from the government-run healthcare that exists in the United Kingdom and Canada. It boils down to this:

  • Private insurance companies are restricted in their ability to discontinue or deny care.
  • Employers must offer health insurance.
  • Medicare and Medicaid are expanded.
  • Everyone is required to have health insurance.
  • Taxes are increased.

Link #1: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/…

Link #2: http://www.salon.com/…

Replace Those Wireless Microphones

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

WirelessJune 12th is the US government’s official cutoff date for wireless microphones that transmit in the 700MHz band. Turns out that these microphones, employed by quite a few churches, schools, and sporting venues, have been “squatting” in the upper regions of the UHF television spectrum (specifically channels 52 through 69). As part of the whole DTV transition, those channels are no longer being used for broadcast television, and rights to that part of the spectrum have been sold to various telecom companies. Starting June 12th it will be illegal to use the old microphones, forcing many organizations to purchase new equipment.

Link: http://arstechnica.com/…