Copyright enforcement efforts spark web war

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By MARY KOPPY/Montana State News

On Thursday, Jan. 19, federal authorities shut down the file sharing website Megaupload on grounds of it sharing pirated, copyrighted material. Megaupload’s CEO, as well as several other employees were arrested.

In retaliation, the computer hacking group Anonymous shut down several major sites, including the websites for the Department of Justice and Universal Music.

This conflict represents the most recent chapter of the US government’s recent crackdown on copyright law.

When Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, proposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), he wanted to organize the internet, not destroy it.

But from the fallout of his bill, an outsider could assume that he had declared war on everyone below the age of 25.

The legislation was originally intended to prevent foreign websites from offering counterfeit or stolen American goods, with particular emphasis on pharmaceuticals.

“The bill as-proposed would give the U.S. government the ability to seize websites that are illegally distributing copyrighted material,” Pier Dillon Scott, of the website the Sociable, reported in mid-October.

Early in the SOPA discussion, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, Mozilla and a number of smaller sites joined together to oppose SOPA. They posted banners reading “Stop Censorship” at various places on their pages and encouraged users to sign petitions and protest to their Congressmen.

Google poured nearly 500 million dollars into anti-SOPA campaigns. Wikipedia went dark for a day.

Google in particular stands to lose revenue in the event of sites being blacked out. The ban could prevent the operation of advertising sites, such as Google Adwords, and prevent such sites from being indexed by search engines, according to Scott.

On Jan. 20, the day after the raid on Megaupload, SOPA and PIPA were shelved in Congress.

The homepage for the counter movement, sopastrike.com, changed its headline to “Victory!,” but includes the warning, “if they come back, we must be ready.”

 

Most students not too amped about Valentine’s Day

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By MEGHAN O’NEAL/Montana State News

The Day of Love is more likely a day of homework or relaxation, according to a recent survey of 47 MSU students.

Most students will be staying home this Valentine’s Day. Only 23 percent of those polled have a date for the Day of Love, and 43 percent have no plans at all.

Despite the apparent low participation rate, students have given Valentine’s Day a high approval rating.  When asked to score Valentine’s Day on a scale of one to 10, 83 percent of those surveyed answered with a five or above, with three participants awarding the maximum score of 10.

Those who are single mostly agreed on their opinions of the holiday, with their scores ranging only from four to eight, and 43 percent giving the indifferent score of five.

The participants who are in a relationship are in the most disagreement.  Only two participants awarded the lowest score of one, and both of these are in a relationship.  However, all three of the high scores of ten came from those who are either in a relationship or married.

Of the four surveyed who listed their plans as “drinking,” two of them are in a relationship, and the other two are married.

And so, whether you are single or in a relationship, if you find yourself without plans this Valentine’s Day, know you are not alone.

Edited by Sam Middlestead.

Experts: Knowledge key to snow safety

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By TRUDI FISHER/Montana State News

Bozemanites are no strangers to avalanches and the trail of tragedy they can leave behind them, but an awareness of the inherent danger of mountain snow sports can save lives. Though this season has, thus far, left Bozeman and the Bridger Mountain Range wanting for snow, experts say this is no reason to ignore precautionary measures when playing outside.

The current conditions create ample reason for awareness beyond simply owning a beacon, shovel and probe. Because of the settled and compact base of snow, any large amount of snow fall will create a very dangerous potential avalanche area.

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) is responsible for avalanche safety education in the Gallatin Valley. Doug Chabot, Mark Staples and Eric Knoff of the GNFAC and Karl Birkeland of the Forest Service National Avalanche Center, both in Bozeman, noted a nonchalant and largely uneducated mindset toward avalanches after the 2010 Saddle Peak Avalanche.

That avalanche claimed no lives but was a high-risk slide area. The Bridger Bowl ski area had recently opened the Schlashman’s lift, which gives skiers closer access to risky out-of-bounds areas near the ridge.

The 2011 slide didn’t take any lives, however, traffic was heavy that day because the Schlashman’s lift had been closed during previous days due to dangerous snow conditions. Several people had skied down the hill already and an estimated 20 to 30 people were on the ridge when the van-sized slab broke off due to a snowboarder stepping too close to the edge.

This event was witnessed by many people on the lift and the ridge and was heavily researched afterward which gave the GNFAC a good idea of the mentality of people willing to risk their lives even when signs and information posted strongly suggested they stay out of the area.

Many of the people riding that day were veteran skiers and snowboarders, but were still willing to justify their risky behavior.

People tend to buy into several misconceptions about snow conditions, particularly after the 2011 Saddle Peak Avalanche:

1.)    Tracks on a slope will create stability–more is better.

2.)    The stress of a skier’s weight is not enough to cause this large of an avalanche, the cornice cracking was the culprit.

3.)    The ski area should have left the lift open during the poor conditions in the days before the avalanche to ensure the area would still be used, making it safer.

4.)    Self justification: It was safe when I skied the day before, or, because I know the area, I would know the snowpack and its potential danger

5.)    Herding instinct: Others skied without problems so it must be safe.

Educators at the GNFAC realize that it is impossible to reach everyone in the community to teach proper precautions with avalanches and snow but they continue to provide courses for skiers, snowboarders, Nordic skiers, snow-shoers, hikers, and snowmobilers.

More information and daily avalanche advisories, posted, by 8 a.m. daily are available on their website: www.mtavalanche.com

Edited by Susan Andrus.

Mexico’s drug crimes are of little concern to MSU’s spring-breakers

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By JODI WILSON/Montana State News

Despite Mexico’s bad press about the ongoing drug and crime problems, many Montana State University students plan on vacationing there for spring break.

Six percent of students polled reported that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, is their destination of choice for the week-long vacation.  Over the past year, Mexico’s drug problem has crossed over American borders putting citizens in harm’s way.  That is of no concern to these students.

Cabo is located on the most southern point of the Baja Peninsula and is more than 800 miles from the American border, where most of the drug wars and crimes occur.

“My biggest concern is drinking too much in the sun and getting dehydrated,” reported one student, who showed zero concern about Mexico’s problems. “You just have to be smart about where you go and who you’re with, just like [in the U.S.].”

Because Cabo is a tourist destination, there is very little crime.  Pete Thomas, from the Los Angeles Times, writes that “Cabo San Lucas might be one of only a few destinations in Mexico that has not been too adversely affected by the drug-war hysterics.”

No matter where students plan to travel in Mexico, it is important that they take any safety precautions that are advised.  These precautions include: always having some form of identification on hand, drinking bottled water, and most importantly, when partying, make sure to keep track of drinks at all times and do not accept any drinks from strangers.

Edited by Randi Tyler.

Scarce snow could mean severe avalanche danger when it finally comes

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By RILEY PITTENGER/Montana State News

The snow conditions in and around the Gallatin valley are experiencing what many of its residents would consider a dry spell. The local avalanche center has been undergoing their yearly set of courses, updates and education during one of the most polar seasons in memory.

The lack of constant precipitation and high temperature variability that is part of this abnormally late and dry winter has become cause for worry among the forecasters and volunteers at the Gallatin Avalanche Center.

The eventual onset of snow and more people entering the backcountry is elevating the concern of local avalanche awareness experts.

Karl Wetlaufer, a certified instructor for the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center had this to say concerning safety: “The prevalence of depth-hoar (buried snow crystals that are not bonded together making them likely to promote sliding) and temperature faceted snow has created persistently dangerous conditions throughout local ranges. Snow pack is less than ideal and highly variable throughout local ranges and everyone should approach the backcountry with caution.”

Potential for high avalanche danger in combination with a growing local desire to ski the increasingly dangerous backcountry when the snow finally falls means greater potential for mountain related fatalities.

The GNFAC urges enthusiasts to exercise caution and educated decision making throughout the winter when entering terrain where the snow conditions could adversely effect safety. For updates on snow conditions the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center can be contacted online at Mtavalanche.com.

Edited by Tristan Abbott.

Numbers show Streamline not as successful as billed

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By JESSE POWELL/Montana State News

Streamline, Gallatin County and Associated Students of Montana State University co-sponsored option for free public transportation, is often referred to as an alternative to Montana State University’s over-crowding parking lots. A Nov. 12 article from the Bozeman Chronicle touted Streamline’s millionth ride after five years of operation.

“I think it is an excellent deal for the 15 dollar fee I pay each semester,” Sam Sharpels said from the desk at the SUB recreation center where he works. Last semester, he rode the Streamline to and from school (nine blocks) without a problem. When asked about the negativity some express about the bus system, he replied, “Don’t knock it till you try it! You’ll be surprised how much money you save.” This statement dovetails with Streamline’s online message by including a fuel savings calculator on publictranspotation.org.

Why then do so few ride the bus?

Having had one million riders since its inception in 2006 averages to 3,773 rides per week on the Streamline. At first this is an impressive number, but when all the buses, routes and stops are calculated, the entire system averages 2.43 stops before picking up a rider. The maximum capacity during the work week (five buses) is 125 riders per stop. That means the service is operating at to 1.9 percent of capacity.

Abe Michael, an international student stranded at MSU and waiting for his uncle to pick him up had this to say: “I have a class that gets out at 6 on the dot. I’ll get over here (to the SUB) by 6:04 and the last bus is gone.” Abe has used buses in England and Nigeria. Even with no cost he only grades Streamline “OK.”

The cost calculator uses miles and fuel to calculate savings but those who would save the most (living in Belgrade for example) have the least bus service. On Jan. 2 Streamline released a notice that “Buses will no longer wait at Transfer Stations for another bus that is running too far behind schedule.” What the calculator fails to use and perhaps the reason for the low capacity, are the opportunity costs.

Edited by Brianna Schultz.

Use of grad students to teach classes defended

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By BECKY HATTERSLEY/Montana State News

Montana State University staff and faculty contend that graduate student TAs, or teaching assistants, are vital to the university.

“Their role,” explains MSU Professor Dede Taylor, “is not meant to be in place of professors, but in addition to them, adding nicely to the variety of different backgrounds, personalities and philosophies of teaching that benefits students.”

Taylor, who teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in art history, uses graduate students to teach many sections of recitations. The TAs are “closer to the class experience themselves,” she said, adding that their teaching style can benefit students.

There are often multiple sections of recitations, or labs, for large lecture classes, with each lab or recitation taught by a different TA. Taylor stresses, though, that these follow “consistent themes and learning objectives” and are intended to provide every student with a similar class experience.

These sections should be seen as a “collaborative learning opportunity” that enhances the lectures, and are not meant to provide new information.

Charlie Stark, a chemistry grad student and TA, says that the TAs teach each class more than once during their time at the university, so it’s not a new experience for them to be in front of a classroom. In fact, he says, the labs may benefit if the people who teach them – the TAs – had a little more influence in their development.

“It would be nice if they included the grad students in the discussion about the labs and curriculum,” he said.

Jaute Loftin, an art student who has had courses from both professors and TAs, describes her experience with TAs as “approachable and very easy to relate to.” She said that recitations aren’t always popular with students because they mean extra time in the classroom, which is not the fault of the TAs, who “always seemed to know the subjects well.”

Edited by Matt York.

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