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Government Idle

Don't Tie a Horse To a Tree and Other Open Data Lessons 109

Posted by samzenpus
from the made-sense-at-the-time dept.
itwbennett writes "Baltimore this week became the first city to hop on the open data bandwagon with the launch of the Baltimore Decoded website. The site makes the city's charter and codes more accessible to the public and will eventually include information on court decisions, legislative tracking and city technical standards (e.g., building regulations, zoning restrictions, fire codes). The site also offers a RESTful, JSON-based API for accessing the data. ITworld's Phil Johnson dug in and found these lesser-known Baltimore codes: You can't hold more than 1 yard sale every 6 months, you can't tie a horse to a tree, and you can't have fruit on a wharf. What you do with this information is up to you."
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Don't Tie a Horse To a Tree and Other Open Data Lessons

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:35PM (#44323529)

    What kind of place is Baltimore if their "openness" doesn't allow horse/tree connectivity? I realize it's probably IP/patent related, but geez folks, can't we work this out?

    • by chromas (1085949) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:38PM (#44323547)

      can't we work this out?

      Neigh.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Horses use LTE-A and 802.11ac. One thing is about horses is they're all champs with the bits.

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @10:12PM (#44324313)

      What kind of place is Baltimore if their "openness" doesn't allow horse/tree connectivity? I realize it's probably IP/patent related, but geez folks, can't we work this out?

      Probable actual reason: A horse tied to a tree will gnaw on the bark. If they gnaw away a ring around the trunk, the tree will die. If it is your tree, on your own property, fine. But if it is my tree, and I have not given you permission, or it is a tree on public property, it is perfectly reasonable for it to be illegal for you to tie your horse to it.

      The other laws seem reasonable too. What if you neighbor starts collecting goods and holding a garage sale everyday? When does it become a commercial enterprise in a residential area? I am not sure I would draw the line a twice a year, but if zoning means anything, they have to draw a line somewhere.

      Fruit on a wharf attracts fruit eating insects, which can spread to/from ships, encouraging the transfer of invasive species. It is a reasonable law.

      • Probable actual reason: A horse tied to a tree will gnaw on the bark

        Makes sense. How about this law from my state? "You cannot chain your alligator to a fire hydrant."

        Wow those were some crazy times...

        • How about this law from my state? "You cannot chain your alligator to a fire hydrant."

          I just googled for this, and found people from Alabama, Arkansas and Michigan claiming that this is the law in their state, but none of them citing any actual law. Which leads me to believe it is just an urban myth and isn't actually a law anywhere. Do you have a citation that says otherwise?

          • Apparently the crazy laws in the 101 craziest laws book are not direct quotes from state statutes. The "cannot chain your alligator to a fire plug" was actually based a court finding of a specific incident based on a more general law. I can't find the exact court case, but I did find the court reference mentioned in one of the author's newsgroups.
      • Fruit on a wharf attracts fruit eating insects, which can spread to/from ships, encouraging the transfer of invasive species. It is a reasonable law.

        Then you can't import or export fruit, which seems a bit mean.

        Unless you employ trebuchets and oversized butterfly nets.

      • You're applying far too much common sense to a nonsensical situation. There are two kinds of laws, some come from the legislature, and some come from the courthouse. When a judge hears a case for which there is no specific law he will have to decide which side is "right". Then, if a similar case happens, there is now a precedent set, which will guide judges in the future. If it's an important issue the legislature will step in and craft a law, but for things that no-one cares about (like having fruit on a w

    • by morgauxo (974071)

      I'd imagine that if someone rode their horse into town the would be tempted to tie it to a convenient tree. Then, pacing around, bored waiting the horse would end up girdling the tree! That was probably a very good law a bit over 100 years ago.

      Yes, I know I was responding seriously to a joke.

    • Tying the horse to a tree is certainly one way to avoid a race condition

  • "We have a need to structure all this data. I know, lets use JSON!" "Great, now you have two problems."

    JSON and REST and XML and all this other crap is just lame.

    • Re:Two problems (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shados (741919) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:59PM (#44323681)

      XML may be an over engineered piece of crap, but while JSON isn't perfect, its pretty darn simple and "just works", with very few gotchas... REST is just "use http the way it was designed to be used and not one bit more".

      Not too sure where the problem is.

    • And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but JSON isn't usually RESTful (there's no hypertext).

      REST is a perfectly fine network architecture, it's designed to support forward-comparability and be self-documenting. But most people have no clue what it means.

      Like Twitter. Their website is more RESTful than their so-called REST API, it's despicable.

  • Know the law (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:00PM (#44323687)

    Finally, A cit where you can figure out what it legal under the city's laws. Now only if you could access the county, state and federal regulations it might be possible to obey the millions of pages of laws that you are subject to. That would be nice, but under common law, you also need all the historical records! Some of those may or may not have existing documentation, and it may be privately held.

    We have a legal system that accumulates laws. I'd prefer one that actively put in some re-factoring and simplification work instead of implicitly including all historical laws and decisions, overriding what is changed. How much law can we possible need? It has to be less that what we have.

    • Re:Know the law (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:08PM (#44323723)

      It is that way by design. It's difficult to control a law abiding populace, so pass enough laws to make everyone a criminal. Some one gets uppity or steps out of line, you've already got 'em.

      • It's quite a short-sighted view, though. Once everyone's a criminal who faces prison for doing nothing but it being their turn to be made an example of, the rule of law becomes meaningless. There are only two results; Martial law, as in Egypt / Syria right now, or anarchy / tribalism as in the Congo. Neither is a stable state.
        • by TheCarp (96830)

          I think you vastly underestimate people's capacity for doublethink and other forms of self deception.

          A person can break the law every day but, the law he breaks isn't so bad, he never gets caught because its not one of the really important ones. The other people, the ones who get caught? They were usually doing other things too, or being reckless.

          Doesn't matter if we are talking about speeding, pot smoking, or turning back the clock a bit and going with Sodomy laws. Have you ever thought about the implicati

          • FWIW, Kinsey was a perv, and part of his purpose in making his studies was to normalize degeneracy. Nonetheless, your very inspecific "double digit percentages" could be as low as ten percent, and I agree that's not surprising.
            • by TheCarp (96830)

              Degeneracy? Whatever you wanna call it I guess.

              10% is still a rather large section of the population. In todays terms, inside the US, you are talking about around 30 million people, which is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, i would happily stand by a statement that anything that even 1 person in 10 does is pretty damned normal.

    • Considering Baltimore has made it legal to be an illegal immigrant, it seems odd that the would have any restrictions at all.

      I no longer visit Baltimore for that very reason. You get me for not having enough money in the meter but you let Paco and his compatriots roam the streets at will.

  • by BetterSense (1398915) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:11PM (#44323735)
    Laws should be tracked, with dependencies, by an apt-like system. Anyone should be able to query what is illegal, without a lawyer. Automated systems can flag unfairness, conflicting laws, and obsolescence.

    Lawyers and judges' jobs would be reduced to addressing bugs.

    The whole lot should be committed to a git repository (git-blame anyone?). New laws should take the form of pull requests.
    • This [xkcd.com] always ends badly.

      • Honestly, no.

        While I think flagging fairness and conflicts is way beyond the realms of possibility, the law is actually currently implemented as a bunch of versioned documents.

        Basically laws can be amended, repealed or pass some sunset provision or interpreted by a judge.

        We have good tools for gealing with versioned documents.

        The tools would help to provide a sane, organsied way to access all the relavent information.

        Technical solutions never work for social problems, but library organisation is essentially

    • That's just utterly naive. The law is organic it has to be because it is intended to model human behavior. The idea that you could devise a programmatic way to detect unfairness is laughable - different people have different ideas of unfairness all the time. If people can't uniformly decide on what constitutes "fair" there is no way a computer could without alienating a whole range of people.

      The law will always be full of short-comings and automated tools can help to reduce them, but anything beyond tha

      • Like, there are no alienated people already? For starters, how about that group of people who are railroaded with stupid, asinine laws that do NOTHING for society, other than provide tools with which to "get" someone in disagreement with powerful people?

        Edward Snowden's case is pretty damned complicated, and he probably is in violation of some laws that would normally make sense. But, government is wheeling out all sorts of idiot laws to charge him with. Snowden seems to be alienated quite well, already!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Little known fact: the United States Code is not the definitive compilation of Federal law. The definitive compilation is the "United States States Statutes at Large", which is basically an append-only journal of all of laws passed by Congress. Updates to this log are "traced" by clerks who then update the United States Code appropriately. The USC originally was entirely the handiwork of these clerks because Congressional bills were (and to some extent, still are) basically just random statements of law dis

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As someone who just graduated law school and is studying for the CA bar I agree about the tracking part - legal research is a bitch, especially if you don't have access to LexusNexus or Westlaw. However, lawyer's would still end up being needed for more than just bugs unless you're talking way more advanced programming and processing than is currently possible.

      I mean, I graduated from a top 20 law school and without access to WestLaw Or LexusNexus navigating California's Penal Code just for information on f

      • However, lawyer's would still end up being...

        If this is the quality of grammar available from future lawyers, anyone using a lawyer is doomed.

    • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

      I have seen such a suggestion numerous times, and still have to remind people:

      The people who make the laws have to either implement such a system, or require that it be implemented. Either way, they will fuck it up beyond any value due to endless compromises between the new guy who wants openness, and the old guy whose career was nearly ended by his naive interest in openness early in his career.

      I'm not discounting the possibility. In the highly unlikely event that it happens, I am doubting it will work a

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        All there needs is a simple feed-back loop. "This law is invalid because XXX" or "This word in this law means XXX", and that ruling enforces that law at that time for that case, and applies for all other applications of that law for the next 90 days. After 90 days, the entire law is stricken (and recorded as such in the official registry of laws). If the law was "good" then the legislature needs to re-pass the law with revised wording, officially editing the registry of laws.
        • There's lots of incorrect assumptions in these comments, but I'll just pick on yours. The first essential problem is that the law is not a logical system although it has some appearances of one, because that's what makes it possible to even begin to make some sort of sense of things. But, even if it were a logical system, it would run into what I like to call the Goedel problem - the Incompleteness Theorem, which states very roughly, any logical system powerful enough to describe itself is incomplete. Th

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            You said a lot of words, but didn't say anything. Why would a direct feedback of Judge's findings into the body of the law (eliminating the need to follow findings as well as the law) break anything? You said nothing that contradicted (or even addressed) my point, but disagreed with it none the less.
            • Sorry. :) To the extent you're correct, what you describe (other than the 90 day timeframe, which is impossible), is pretty much what we have with judicial review, which extends your concept to include a mechanism for appeal.

              What I was trying to express was that almost every comment in this thread has an essential assumption that laws form a logical system, and can be determined to be either 'correct' or 'incorrect'. And it ain't that way. Even if it could, it would not be able to cover all the possible

              • by AK Marc (707885)

                To the extent you're correct, what you describe (other than the 90 day timeframe, which is impossible), is pretty much what we have with judicial review, which extends your concept to include a mechanism for appeal.

                A 90 day time to pass a law isn't impossible, The USA PATRIOT Act was passed in 3 days (or a month, depending on your definition of when it was introduced). A well-outlined change to an existing law shouldn't be that hard, right?

                What I was trying to express was that almost every comment in this thread has an essential assumption that laws form a logical system, and can be determined to be either 'correct' or 'incorrect'.

                I agree with that. That's why my "solution" was based on the current model and changed nothing but minimum work to eliminate case law.

                A big part of the explosion of laws and regulations is due to the continuing effort to expand and refine them to cover every possible circumstance, which (as I was trying to express) is impossible.

                Yes, it is impossible. But just because something is impossible doesn't mean it shouldn't be striven for.

    • In a world where the law was alike to computer code - utterly black and white and able to be compared one-to-one with reality, such a thing would make sense and work.

      We don't live in such a world.

    • by pr100 (653298)

      The law, especially in common law jurisdictions like the US, England and a lot of the Commonwealth, does not work just by knowing the statutory rules. There are rules that exist independently of any statute. For example in England (I don't know about the US), murder is not a statutory offence - you won't find any act of Parliament that creates such an offence. It is a creation of the common law.

      You therefore need to know all the relevant judgments to get a read on the way things are likely to go in a partic

  • "open law" state? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854)

    Baltimore is following the lead of Maryland which, earlier this year, became the third open law state,

    WTF? Maryland law (both statutes [umd.edu] and COMAR [state.md.us]) has been on-line for years.

    And Baltimore City code [baltimorecity.gov] has also been on-line for a while.

    Maybe this is a nicer interface or something, but pretending that putting laws on-line is some kind of breakthrough is counterfactual.

  • yard sale (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:43PM (#44323917) Journal

    If there were no limit on yard sales, then people could just set up a shop in a residential zone.

    • You mean like the northeast? I cruised through there about 15 years ago and going from Maine to New Hampshire was like driving past a continuous yard sale. As a tourist, I found it quaint. If I lived there and had to see that all summer long, It'd get on my nerves.

    • A friend of my brother years ago did do that. These two hippies were short on rent, so they went around the neighborhood and and scrounged up a bunch of free stuff, then held a garage sale. It went so well they did it again the next week, and the next. After a year the city told them they had to either quit or get a business license. By then they had already rented a storage unit to keep their inventory, so they went the next step and opened a storefront and called it 'Antiques and Funk'. Last I talked

  • The ordinance does not preclude fruit from being on a wharf, just allocates the responsibility for its removal to the Harbour Master if it becomes a nuisance. Given the submission looks like a selfie for ITWorld I'm not surprised there was no fact check.
  • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @09:32PM (#44324143)

    If a law isn't enforced in 10 years (maybe 20), it should automatically expire. If the city/county/state/federal government wants to keep an unenforced law on the books, it should have to be passed again like any other new law.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:49AM (#44324875) Homepage
    I know the phone companies don't like tethering, but this is ridiculous.
  • There's a similar rule in many places. Supposedly the law is to stop folks who use their front yard as a business. I once lived a few houses away from someone who did this often and it was a nuisance. The family also sold cars and every few weeks there was a new vehicle with a 'For Sale' sign on their lot.

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