Barely Legally

confessions of a moot court bailiff

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.

Published in Legal Theory on

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.

Published in Hail Hydra! on

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?

Published in Educated Guesses on

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)

Published in Scimitar Golems have 10 Hit Dice on

Business Tragedy of the Commons

A couple months back, I poked fun at the “sharing economy” of apps and web sites built to monetize the everyday parts of our lives. You want to make some quick cash? Sign up on this site and sell access to your spare bedroom, or your home-cooked dinners, or your boat, or your car, or your power tools, etc. Those are all actual things. I’m not making those up. Wired had a great article about this whole strange thing.

But like any old and inefficient industry, the sharing economy is ripe for disruption. Make way for the startups!

Yeah, I said it. Get your antiquated business models out of the way. Renting out your power tools? What is this, the damn Middle Ages? Sure, rent out your power tools and then go down to the village commons and listen to the town crier read the headlines from @BreakingNews. Knock yourself out, grandpa. I’ll be over here with the cool kids, disrupting your whole fiefdom.

Today, the sharing economy is being disrupted in San Francisco; a trio of startups run by visionaries have kicked off the race to let users share stuff that’s not even theirs.

Published in Disrupt Everything on

Bad (Watch) Dogs

Ubisoft’s new video game called Watch Dogs is out on consoles and PCs at the same time. When they showed off the game last year, the graphics looked astonishingly good. When it came out on the Xbone and the PlayStation Number earlier this year, the graphics were kind of… ehhh. Good but not as good. Well, that makes sense. PCs have vastly more powerful graphics processing capabilities than consoles, and so when the game comes out on consoles, it’ll look amazing.

But then it came out on the PC, and it still didn’t. Hm. So where was that gorgeous Watch Dogs game that we all saw?

Turns out, they were hiding in the game all alone. Some guy named TheWorse released a patch that made the game look crazy good. Ars Technica writes:

Normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal; similar graphical effects mods for games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Skyrim are incredibly popular among PC gamers with high-end rigs. What made the Watch Dogs mod interesting is that many of its “new” graphical effects were apparently already in the game’s shipped code and were simply disabled for players who didn’t tinker with the game files.

Graphical features like fog, bokeh depth of field, and bloom lighting effects were apparently written into the PC version of the game, only to be removed before it shipped. What’s more, re-enabling them though the mod doesn’t seem to make the game crash.

The best is the comments in Ubisoft’s source code which refer to the graphics settings as “E3 mode,” E3 being the name of the gaming convention where Watch Dogs was first showed off. Smooth, guys.

This reminds me of what Ferrari was accused of doing a few years back: sending hilariously souped-up versions of their cars to journalists to test.

Published in Great Graphics Heists on