An Explanation for That Business-Hours-Only Web Page

I blogged yesterday about a Department of State (N.Y.) government website page that only accepts information during business hours. You offered several other similar examples (many of them government sites as well) and possible explanations. We also received, via comment and e-mail, an explanation from Edison Alban, press officer for the D.O.S. (BTW, his name could be considered a pretty good aptonym, since Albany is the capital of New York.)

He begins by objecting to the post, particularly the headline, which was "This Website Only Open During Business Hours":

The New York Department of State’s Division of Corporation website is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Division of Corporation does not shut down its website during non-business hours.

No comment.

This Website Only Open During Business Hours

If you happen to manage a Limited Liability Corp (LLC) in New York State and need to file your Biennial Statement, you might follow the directions sent to you in the mail and go to the state's website for conducting such business: www.ebiennial.dos.ny.gov.

But if you try this on, say, a weekend, here is the message you'll see:

How to Cheat in Online Courses

An article in Chronicle of Higher Education explains how the increase in online courses has made cheating a lot easier. For example, Bob Smith (not his real name) successfully arranged a test-cheating scheme with several friends.  The tests "pulled questions at random from a bank of possibilities" and could be taken anywhere, but had to be taken within a short window of time each week:

Mr. Smith figured out that the actual number of possible questions in the test bank was pretty small. If he and his friends got together to take the test jointly, they could paste the questions they saw into the shared Google Doc, along with the right or wrong answers. The schemers would go through the test quickly, one at a time, logging their work as they went. The first student often did poorly, since he had never seen the material before, though he would search an online version of the textbook on Google Books for relevant keywords to make informed guesses. The next student did significantly better, thanks to the cheat sheet, and subsequent test-takers upped their scores even further. They took turns going first. Students in the course were allowed to take each test twice, with the two results averaged into a final score.

"So the grades are bouncing back and forth, but we're all guaranteed an A in the end," Mr. Smith told me. "We're playing the system, and we're playing the system pretty well."

When the Internet Brings You a Piece of Your Own Past

Oh, internet, how I do love thee!

You deliver things daily to my doorstep that I didn't know I wanted, that I didn't even know existed, but which instantly put a lapidary glow on a humdrum day.

The latest example concerns my father. His name was Solomon Paul Dubner; he died when I was 10; he was a newspaperman; I wrote about him at length in my first book, for which I thought I'd read everything he wrote.

But the internet -- or, really, a blog post on the Schenectady County (N.Y.) Historical Society Library site -- delivered this nugget about a fascinating place called the Dialogue Coffee House in Schenectady. It is described as:

"[A] non-profit organization aimed at creating dialogue among members of the local community. The organization’s coffee house hosted presentations and open dialogues about a number of topics, including social, economic, and political issues, local politics and government, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, visual and performing arts, health, religion and spirituality, psychology, labor issues, education, morality, and the nature of dialogue. While controversial topics were often featured at the Dialogue Coffee House, the atmosphere tended toward conversation rather than debate. In addition to open discussions and presentations, the coffee house also provided a space for underground films, musical performances, and plays as an impetus for dialogue." 

Copying Is Not Theft

Last week, the New York Times ran an interesting and important op-ed by Stuart Green, a law professor, who argues that although illegal downloading of songs or videos from the Internet may be wrong, it's not really "theft" in the sense that the term has been understood historically in the law. Nor is it theft according to the moral intuitions of ordinary people (as Green's own research with psychologist Matthew Kugler shows), who draw a sharp distinction between online file sharing and ordinary theft, even when the economic value of the property taken is the same. 

Daylight Savings Time and "Cyberloafing"

New research suggests that people "cyberloaf" (i.e. websurf instead of working) more when they are tired. Some people may find this surprising. (We do not.) If nothing else, this is another argument against Daylight Savings Time. As the BPS Research Digest explains:

The investigators recognised an event that affects everyone's sleep: when the clocks go forward for Daylight Saving Time. Prior evidence suggests we lose on average 40 minutes of sleep per night following the switch, as our body rhythms struggle to adjust.

Classrooms With 500,000 Students

I am fascinated by the Stanford online courses in machine learning and artificial intelligence. My first inkling of them came when quite a few of my students started taking the artificial-intelligence class. Olin is very small, only about 400 students, so I realized that these online courses must be large. But I almost fell over when I saw that enrollment varied from 66,000, at the low-end, to 160,000.

Sebastian Thrun, who co-taught the artificial-intelligence course to 160,000 students, is now leaving Stanford teaching in order to teach courses to 500,000 students for free. What an inspiring goal!

We Need More People in Government Like This

A blog reader sent a message to her congressman, Tim Walz, complaining about SOPA, the bill that aims to protect intellectual property rights online that has sent many internet folks into a tizzy.

Here is the response she got from Congressman Walz:

…SOPA approaches the problem as a criminal matter when in fact, study upon study shows that online piracy is best dealt with as an economic matter. Instead of using the Justice department as a sledgehammer amongst the delicate weeds of the internet, corporations must embrace the free market and adapt their business models to compete in a new reality. The ability to adapt and compete is the cornerstone of capitalism, we should promote this rather than rushing to insert ourselves in the market in ways that could severe disrupt internet commerce and progress.

Now, I don’t 100 percent agree with this answer, but I love the spirit of it – especially coming from a Democrat!  That last sentence sounds like the argument you would get over faculty lunch in the University of Chicago department of economics.

How Much Do Music and Movie Piracy Really Hurt the U.S. Economy?

Supporters of stronger intellectual property enforcement -- such as those behind the proposed new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills in Congress -- argue that online piracy is a huge problem, one which costs the U.S. economy between $200 and $250 billion per year, and is responsible for the loss of 750,000 American jobs. 

These numbers seem truly dire: a $250 billion per year loss would be almost $800 for every man, woman, and child in America. And 750,000 jobs – that’s twice the number of those employed in the entire motion picture industry in 2010.

The good news is that the numbers are wrong.

FREAK-Shots: Free Internet, Unless You'd Rather Pay for It

A reader named Clark Case encountered this wi-fi login window at a Doubletree hotel in Orlando. Paging Chris Anderson? Eh ... probably not. While there might be some reasonable explanation -- is the 24-hour connection ad-supported maybe? -- my guess is it's a simple error.