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Google Looked Into Space Elevator, Hoverboards, and Teleportation
Department: go-big-or-go-home-on-your-hoverboard  Date: 2014-04-16T09:15:00Z  Comments: 4
An anonymous reader writes "Google has a huge research budget and an apparent willingness to take on huge projects. They've gotten themselves into autonomous cars, fiber optic internet, robotics, and Wi-Fi balloons. But that raises a question: if they're willing to commit to projects as difficult and risk as those, what projects have they explored but rejected? Several of the scientists working at Google's 'innovation lab' have spilled the beans: '[Mag-lev] systems have a stabilizing structure that keeps trains in place as they hover and move forward in only one direction. That couldn't quite translate into an open floor plan of magnets that keep a hoverboard steadily aloft and free to move in any direction. One problem, as Piponi explains, is that magnets tend to keep shifting polarities, so your hoverboard would constantly flip over as you floated around moving from a state of repulsion to attraction with the magnets. Any skateboarder could tell you what that means: Your hoverboard would suck. ... If scaling problems are what brought hoverboards down to earth, material-science issues crashed the space elevator. The team knew the cable would have to be exceptionally strong-- "at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel that we have," by Piponi's calculations. He found one material that could do this: carbon nanotubes. But no one has manufactured a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter. And so elevators "were put in a deep freeze," as Heinrich says, and the team decided to keep tabs on any advances in the carbon nanotube field.'"

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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy
Department: cats-and-dogs-governing-together  Date: 2014-04-16T06:08:00Z  Comments: 
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University have concluded, after extensive analysis of 1,779 policy issues, that the U.S. is in fact an oligarchy and not a democracy. What this means is that, although 'Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance,' 'majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.' Their study (PDF), to be published in Perspectives on Politics, found that 'When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.'"

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Your StarCraft II</em>Potential Peaked At Age 24
Department: but-you're-getting-better-at-producing-lots-of-vespene-gas  Date: 2014-04-16T04:10:00Z  Comments: 2
An anonymous reader writes "StarCraft II is popular among competitive gamers for having the depth necessary to reward differences in skill. A new study has found that your ability keep up with the game's frantic pace starts to decline at age 24. This is relevant to more than just StarCraft II players: 'While many high-performance athletes start to show age-related declines at a young age, those are often attributed to physical as opposed to brain aging. ... While previous lab tests have shown faster reaction times for simple individual tasks, it was never clear how much relevance those had to complex, real-world tasks such as driving. Thompson noted that Starcraft is complex and quite similar to real-life tasks such as managing 911 calls at an emergency dispatch centre, so the findings may be directly relevant. However, game performance was much easier to analyze than many real-life situations because the game generates detailed logs of every move. In a way, Thompson said, the study is a good demonstration of what kinds of insights can be gleaned from the "cool data sets" generated by our digital lives.'"

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How 'DevOps' Is Killing the Developer
Department: in-the-server-room-with-the-lamp-stack  Date: 2014-04-16T02:05:00Z  Comments: 3
An anonymous reader writes "Python guru Jeff Knupp writes about his frustration with the so-called 'DevOps' movement, an effort to blend development jobs with operations positions. It's an artifact of startup culture, and while it might make sense when you only have a few employees and a focus on simply getting it running rather than getting it running right, Knupp feels it has no place in bigger, more established companies. He says, 'Somewhere along the way, however, we tricked ourselves into thinking that because, at any one time, a start-up developer had to take on different roles he or she should actually be all those things at once. If such people even existed, "full-stack" developers still wouldn't be used as they should. Rather than temporarily taking on a single role for a short period of time, then transitioning into the next role, they are meant to be performing all the roles, all the time. And here's what really sucks: most good developers can almost pull this off.' Knupp adds, 'The effect of all of this is to destroy the role of "developer" and replace it with a sort of "technology utility-player". Every developer I know got into programming because they actually enjoyed doing it (at one point). You do a disservice to everyone involved when you force your brightest people to take on additional roles.'"

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San Francisco's Housing Crisis Explained
Department: you-are-forgiven-for-tldr'ing-this-one  Date: 2014-04-16T00:03:00Z  Comments: 2
An anonymous reader writes "We've heard a few brief accounts recently of the housing situation in San Francisco, and how it's leading to protests, gentrification, and bad blood between long-time residents and the newer tech crowd. It's a complicated issue, and none of the reports so far have really done it justice. Now, TechCrunch has posted a ludicrously long article explaining exactly what's going on, from regulations forbidding Google to move people into Mountain View instead, to the political battle to get more housing built, to the compromises that have already been made. It's a long read, but well-researched and interesting. It concludes: 'The crisis we're seeing is the result of decades of choices, and while the tech industry is a sexy, attention-grabbing target, it cannot shoulder blame for this alone. Unless a new direction emerges, this will keep getting worse until the next economic crash, and then it will re-surface again eight years later. Or it will keep spilling over into Oakland, which is a whole other Pandora's box of gentrification issues. The high housing costs aren't healthy for the city, nor are they healthy for the industry. Both thrive on a constant flow of ideas and people.'"

Read more of this storyat Slashdot.











Latest from Techdirt.com
Empire State Building Supposedly Sues Photographer Over Photograph Of Topless Woman Wed, 15 Jan 2014 11:38:00 GMT
The story is almost too good to be true for the press. Apparently, the company that owns the famous Empire State Building in NY issuing photographer Allen Henson for $1.1 millionbecause he took a photo of a model named Shelby Carter, posing topless up on one of the ESB's observation decks. I've read nearly a dozen articles about the lawsuit, and I've noticed one thing: every one of them contains one or more of the photos of Carter topless (some pixelate or otherwise cover her breasts, some do not), and every one of them includes direct and different quotes from Henson who seemed quite willing to talk to anyone and everyone about the story and who freely admitted that it was good publicity for his ongoing efforts tophotograph topless womenaround NYC, after a police announcement last year that it's not illegal for women to be topless in NY. However,noneof them seem to include the actual lawsuit. We won't post the photos here. You can see them at basically every other link in this post. The closest to having the actual lawsuit (and this surprises me) is the NY Daily News, which at least notes thatthe lawsuit was filedin Manhattan Supreme Court, and at least suggests the cause of action:
In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, ESRT Empire State Building says photographer Allen Henson caused "damage to its business and reputation as a safe and secure family friendly tourist attraction" by taking pictures of a woman without her shirt on there this past August 9.
I'd really like to see the actual lawsuit to see on what basis the company is making this claim. Yes, the Empire State Building is private property, so its owners can easily kick Henson off the property and even bar him from returning. But I can't see how they have any legal argument at all for demanding $1.1 million. From some of the other comments, there appears to besome allegationsthat the actions are "commercial" and that it cost the Empire State Building extra money to beef up security while decreasing the Empire State Building's "reputation as a safe and secure family friendly tourist attraction." I'm still not clear how that amounts to something you can sue someone over, let alone for $1 million. But, until someone actually provides the lawsuit (and Henson himself seems to suggest he hasn't even seen it either), it's difficult to understand the details. I have some emails out, and hopefully someone in the press will stop focusing on getting up photos of this woman's breasts for long enough to see if they can get a copy of the actual lawsuit to post as well.

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Why Exactly Do We Need To 'Protect' US And EU Foreign Investments Through TAFTA/TTIP Anyway? Wed, 15 Jan 2014 08:19:51 GMT

Techdirt has already examined the issue of corporate sovereignty many times over the past year, as it has emerged as one of the most problematic areas of both TPP and TAFTA/TTIP. A fine article by Simon Lester of the Cato Institute examinesa hidden assumption in these negotiations: that an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism is needed at all.

Most of his post is devoted to the background of corporate sovereignty, and it provides a useful primer if you're still wondering what exactly ISDS is supposed to do, and why. Having established the framework, Lester concludes by making two key points:

First, if a U.S. (or EU) company chooses to make an investment abroad, why should the U.S. (or EU) government go to bat for it at all? In the past, we used "gunboat diplomacy" to protect our companies. Now we use international lawyers. But why should we do anything? These companies have chosen another jurisdiction for their investment, which is fine. Companies should invest in whatever location makes the most economic sense. But in that situation, it is not clear why the investment is "ours" to worry about anymore. When multinationals invest all over the world, are they really "ours," or are they now just global entities?
Business is inherently about taking risks -- if there were no risk, there would be no need for entrepreneurs. So why should a nation be expected to offer a kind of free insurance policy against those risks when they are incurred abroad -- not least because commercial policies doing that arereadilyavailable? Since fans of the free market think that the government should just get out of the way, surely they should extend this to foreign investment too?

Lester's other point is one that many people have made -- that ISDS is in any case unnecessary in an agreement between the US and EU:

when the place of the investment is the EU or US, which have plenty of their own protections in domestic law, international law seems largely duplicative. International investment rules are an opportunity for lawyers to bring additional claims, but are not necessary for "protection" of foreign investment. Without some evidence that more is necessary, perhaps US-EU investment rules should be limited to a basic promise to treat each other's investors equally, let governments settle disputes between themselves, and leave the international constitutional protections out of it.
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Aaron Swartz Explains Why The NSA Needs To Be Stopped Wed, 15 Jan 2014 04:14:51 GMT
Last week, when we wrote about the big "day of action" against the NSA in memory of Aaron Swartz, to be held February 11th, a few folks questioned whether this was an appropriate issue, since they were unaware of Aaron being all that concerned about the NSA. Obviously, Aaron died months before the Snowden leaks, but as many folks who knew Aaron knew, the NSA was absolutely an issue he was quite concerned about even prior to the Snowden leaks. Brian Knappenberger, who has been working to put the finishing touches on his new documentary about Aaron,The Internet's Own Boy, in order to debut it at Sundance, hasreleased an astounding trailerof the film (which looks amazing). Included in it, are multiple clips of Aaron actually speaking out about the NSA and surveillance, mainly focused on the NSAsaying itcan'tpossiblycalculate how many Americans it's spying on, because to do so, would be either (a) impossible or (b) would violate their privacy (yes, at one point, they actually said figuring out how many people are being spied on would violate their privacy).
So, yes, Aaron was quite concerned about the NSA, and it makes you wonder just how much we all lost in his death, because you have to expect that, as with SOPA, Aaron would have been an instrumental force in fighting back against the NSA as its overreach and abuses have been exposed. If you haven't yet, please go check outTheDayWeFightBack.orgto learn more about the day of action.

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DailyDirt: Categorizing Everything Wed, 15 Jan 2014 01:00:00 GMT
People just keep creating stuff -- books, movies, music, you name it... so it's (more than) a full-time job to keep up with all the cool new stuff. How do we classify music into hip-hop, heavy metal or Krautrock? What can we learn from mapping all these seemingly separate media genres? People and machines are working together to cobble together categorization systems that try to keep up with the flood of new content. Here are just a few examples.If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!)Techdirt postvia StumbleUpon.

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