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Programming The Courts

Profile of William H. Alsup, a Judge Who Codes and Decides Tech's Biggest Cases (theverge.com) 49

Sarah Jeong at The Verge has an interesting profile of William H. Alsup, the judge in Oracle v. Google case, who to many's surprise was able to comment on the technical issues that Oracle and Google were fighting about. Alsup admits that he learned the Java programming language only so that he could better understand the substance of the case. Here's an excerpt from the interview: On May 18th, 2012, attorneys for Oracle and Google were battling over nine lines of code in a hearing before Judge William H. Alsup of the northern district of California. The first jury trial in Oracle v. Google, the fight over whether Google had hijacked code from Oracle for its Android system, was wrapping up. The argument centered on a function called rangeCheck. Of all the lines of code that Oracle had tested -- 15 million in total -- these were the only ones that were "literally" copied. Every keystroke, a perfect duplicate. It was in Oracle's interest to play up the significance of rangeCheck as much as possible, and David Boies, Oracle's lawyer, began to argue that Google had copied rangeCheck so that it could take Android to market more quickly. Judge Alsup was not buying it. "I couldn't have told you the first thing about Java before this trial," said the judge. "But, I have done and still do a lot of programming myself in other languages. I have written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times or more. I could do it. You could do it. It is so simple." It was an offhand comment that would snowball out of control, much to Alsup's chagrin. It was first repeated among lawyers and legal wonks, then by tech publications. With every repetition, Alsup's skill grew, until eventually he became "the judge who learned Java" -- Alsup the programmer, the black-robed nerd hero, the 10x judge, the "master of the court and of Java."
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Profile of William H. Alsup, a Judge Who Codes and Decides Tech's Biggest Cases

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  • by Anonymous Cashews ( 5122023 ) on Thursday October 19, 2017 @04:07PM (#55399419)
    For the first time in 20 years of Slashdot, I've actually read TFA.
    • it took a while, but i read the entire thing too.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It is un-American for a judge or lawyer to descend to know anything of the subject matter of the cases they try. The American way is to argue technical points of obscure laws, to pander to baser instincts of juries. There is no justice here. This is not ignorant and supercilious enough to be Justice. This is a sad day for Justice.

    • Congress is supposed to write clear and concise laws for the justice system to follow. Congress has purposely skirted its responsibility leaving it up to judges and lawyers to try and settle disputes using laws that never envisioned the type of scenarios they are being confronted with. They have no choice but to argue technical points of obscure law that might be the closest thing they can find in the books relevant to the dispute
  • by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Thursday October 19, 2017 @04:32PM (#55399567)
    And for those who didn't make the connection - and the OP doesn't mention explicitly - Judge Alsup is currently presiding over the Waymo vs. Uber case, which is due in court in December.
    • Re:Waymo vs. Uber (Score:4, Interesting)

      by xevioso ( 598654 ) on Thursday October 19, 2017 @04:34PM (#55399597)

      The sad thing is that the judge realizes that each of these companies will try to get non-technical people to be jurors, throwing out anyone with a technical background. The judge even admonished the press to report on this.

      • by ytene ( 4376651 )
        I wasn't aware of that, but it does strike me as something that a legal counsel might want to do if they were in doubt as to the strength of their case. The last thing the weaker side needs is someone on the jury with technical acumen when it comes to deliberation time - the less-technical jurors can easily be swayed by someone sounding as if they know what they are talking about.

        Far better to push for an all technical jury and try and win on the merits of your case.

        In fact, I think your comment is re
  • Anyone can point me to the [audio] oral argument for this Oracle v. Google Android case?

    I will be most grateful.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      I believe that Groklaw has the transcripts.

    • by reg ( 5428 )

      Check the Groklaw archives for all of the transcripts. Highly doubt there is actual audio available.

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Thursday October 19, 2017 @04:52PM (#55399747) Homepage

    judges who are willing to get to understand and appreciate what their case is all about. How would you feel if you were being tried for murder and the judge did not really understand the concepts of life & death ?

    • show me a case where some one being of life support got some off in a murder case.

    • And how Oracle was desperately hoping the judge wouldn't understand these 9 lines of trivial code and that would help the case in their favor... disgusting.
    • by hene ( 866198 )

      How would you feel if you were being tried for murder and the judge did not really understand the concepts of life & death ?

      I believe that it would play to my advantage.

    • I'd feel much more comfortable if I was being tried for murder by a judge who was himself an experienced murderer :)
  • I've been told the judge once created a GUI in Visual Basic to track down a killer's IP address.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The judge sat me down on the sofa and walked me through his programs on a 2011 court-issued Dell laptop. He couldn’t run the same programs on his desktop computer, he said with some irritation, so the Dell was here to stay. “It’s the last one that will support QuickBASIC, which is kind of a shame, because it’s the only language I really know.”

    I wonder if the judge has tried an open source clone of QuickBASIC, such as this one [qb64.net].

    • Maybe by saying "because it’s the only language I really know" the judge means he's not interested in programming anymore.

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