Barely Legally

confessions of a moot court bailiff

The Opposite of Planned

WNYC has a nifty story on a school district in New Jersey which spent an unexpected windfall on a whole bunch of laptops: one for every child. The purchase was intended to keep a technology gap from opening or widening between poor kids and not-poor kids.

However, the officials didn’t necessarily… think about what they were going to do with the computers. Their first instinct was to make the computers unusable, by installing so much nannyware that the computers ground to a halt.

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. [One of the school district’s IT guys] Crocamo installed software to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. …

All this security software also bogged down the computers. Teachers complained it took 20 minutes for them to boot up, only to crash afterwards. Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.

Okay, so the computers don’t work because they’re crippled with software to make sure the kids don’t cripple them. That’s a great IT plan. But it’s okay, because there wasn’t any educational plan to go with it anyway:

Superintendent Toback admits that teachers weren’t given enough training on how to use the computers for instruction. Teachers complained that their teenage students were too distracted by their computer screens to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.

All right, then. That’s actually pretty convenient. The computers were useless, but there were no uses for them anyway because teachers were just expected to magically pull Computer Lessons out of their /dev/null files.

The school district is now going to pay a recycling company for the privilege of disposing of these laptops. Great job, guys.

Read the whole story; it’s a train wreck. These kids deserved better.

Breaking News: Me

What’s this? New developments in open government? Better call hotshot civic technologist and transparency advocate Dominic Mauro, Esq.

Praise for the updated New York City Open Data plan also came from Dominic Mauro, a staff attorney for Reinvent Albany. “What we like is New York’s continued commitment to the process,” he said. “This is the first automatic deadline under the new administration and it’s good that even 2 ½ years after the passage of the original bill we’re still going through this process.”

Well, I’ve never been so honored to provide a brief quote. I sh-

He also highlighted the release of new Mayor’s Management Report data. “With 21,000 rows in that one dataset… I skimmed through the first 1,000 rows or so and counted a couple dozen different datasets,” he said. “They [even] set up a dataset that was specifically a list of datasets removed from the last plan and their reasoning for removing each of these from the open data plan,” he noted.

Okay, okay, buddy. We get the point. You have a list of talking points you’d like to get through and w-

”What’s not in the open data plan that we would like to see are data sets that are being frequently FOILed or otherwise are very high priority for agency stakeholders. We’d like to see FOIL being used to power New York City’s Open Data movement.”

Ugh. Won’t somebody shut this guy up?

The Summer Blockbuster

Parker Higgins, of Five Useful Articles, on this summer’s newest hit, Popcorn Time versus the MPAA:

It’s summer blockbuster season, and Hollywood’s in its annual bind—it’s gotta bring back the old familiar faces that people know and love, but make ‘em bigger than ever. So how about this: you’ve seen copyright liability, and secondary liability, but what about tertiary liability? What a twist.

That, in a sense, is what the MPAA is alleging in a takedown-notice […] demanding removal of the Popcorn Time source code. Popcorn Time is a much ballyhooed file-sharing application…

The MPAA argument goes that Popcorn Time users are infringing copyright, so the Popcorn Time developers do diluted infringement, so Github is engaged in Infringement Lite, and presumably the chain goes all the way back to the miners shoveling coal to power the data centers on electrons buzzing with homeopathic levels of infringing charge.

Github complied with the “takedown,” so the repositories are unavailable and the pirates have become productive Netflix-subscribing members of society and the blood feuds have ended and the graves of the fallen, those victims of piracy, have run over with wildflowers, hoorah, hoorah, blessed be the Digital Millennium Copyright Act forever and ever, amen!

Hoo lordy. After something like that, I need an iced tea and a rocking chair. That whole post is hot hot fire.

Who Needs Helicarriers

Quora, the LinkedIn of knowledge markets (to which AskReddit is the… Reddit? or something), has some really cool threads every now and again. Like this one, about just how hard it is to sink an American aircraft carrier at the heart of one of our naval strike groups:

The carrier is protected by guys who fly some of the most sophisticated aircraft on the planet in defense of those carriers. Anything that’s within a VERY long distance of a carrier is known to the battle group. Anything that acts aggressive is going to get shot down or blown up a LONG way from the carrier.

Getting through a carriers fighter cover is far from trivial. A carrier has more fighter aircraft aboard than most nations have total. And in battles between planes and ships (in case you were thinking of killing a carrier with torpedo boats) planes win. Dramatically. See the pacific theater for details.

Oh, and this part:

Carriers have their own defensive systems, based on Gatling guns that fire a hundred rounds a second, and use two radars…One tracks the target, one tracks the outgoing bullets. A computer just moves the gun until those lines meet. Then you die. Those systems are fully automatic, and incredibly devastating. The carriers also have their own local defensive missiles, just in case you weren’t being pounded enough by the carriers air wing, the AEGIS missiles, and the gatling guns.

I’m pretty sure we’re never going to use them, but from an engineering perspective, it’s pretty awesome.

I’m Thinking of a Number

How much is it going to cost to go to college? That depends:

According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, colleges knocked off about 45 percent of their stated tuition price for freshmen, on average, through scholarships in 2012. That doesn’t mean that every student got a 45 percent discount, but it means that a majority of them weren’t ever charged what the college says it charges.

This makes it very difficult to talk about how much college really costs. It’s why higher education experts distinguish between “sticker price” (Harvard said it costs almost $58,000 in the 2012 academic year) and “net price” (75 percent of students at Harvard get financial aid, and they ended up paying an average of $16,445).

Vox has a whole thing about the lack of actual prices for colleges.

Meanwhile, the Chronicle of Higher Education, citing the same survey:

Among the 401 [private, non-profit] institutions that responded to the survey, which was released on Wednesday, undergraduate enrollment was down at half of them. Those with declining enrollment said that price sensitivity was the biggest issue they faced, followed by increasing competition and a smaller pool of traditional students.

So the problem in the first quote is that it’s really hard to figure out how much college costs, and in the second quote, people are apparently avoiding going to college most often because of “price sensitivity.” Sticker shock.

Now, I’m no expert on that there capitalism whatchamacallit. But to work well, it needs pretty rational actors with pretty good information in a pretty efficient market; prices that aren’t really prices so much as suggestions are maybe kind of… bad for business. Does anyone win when colleges lie about prices?

Paladin Bolshevism

A university in Belgium has conducted a survey of which genders are more likely to recognize certain words. Your standard disclaimers apply: I don’t know how scientific this is, and it only presents gender as a binary, and I’m pretty sure half of these things aren’t even words. But let’s go.

Words that men are most likely to recognize over women:

  • codec (88, 48)
  • solenoid (87, 54)
  • golem (89, 56)
  • mach (93, 63)
  • humvee (88, 58)
  • claymore (87, 58)
  • scimitar (86, 58)
  • kevlar (93, 65)
  • paladin (93, 66)
  • bolshevism (85, 60)
  • biped (86, 61)
  • dreadnought (90, 66)