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Can the NSA Really Track You Through Power Lines?

Baloroth Re:Well, sort of. (109 comments)

It may be just noise, but is it different noise between different power lines (and if so, consistently different)? If so, it's a fingerprint. Noise can be information if you're looking for a specific kind of noise. Not all noise is identical, and if you can fingerprint that noise, you can use it to determined the source.

Granted, that's a pretty big "if". I have no idea if powerline noise is consistent enough to be fingerprinted, different enough for a useful comparison, or strong enough to be picked up by standard recording devices. But it could be possible, in theory.

about a month ago
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SpaceX Delays Falcon 9 Launch To Tuesday

Baloroth Re:This is how rockets work.... delays happen (43 comments)

It is almost like reporting that a thunderstorm was spotted in Florida today. Is that news?

As a pilot once sagely put it: Take-off is optional. Landing is compulsory.

Though, for a satellite, landing can also be optional.

about a month ago
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Big Bang Breakthrough Team Back-Pedals On Major Result

Baloroth Re:Science by press conference (127 comments)

Planck has yet to release their polarization data, so BICEP2 couldn't use it. To be clear, they also didn't use just the Planck data: the paper lists five different models for dust polarization, only one of which (DDM1) was constructed from what little Planck data they had available. All of them showed fairly tiny amounts of polarization from dust compared to their signal, hence the conclusion that it was a cosmological polarization (there were other reasons for that conclusion as well, of course). They published the conclusions they had based on the information they had available. That's how science works. You publish the results you got (with the uncertainties you calculated), the community looks at it to see if you made obvious errors, then tries to replicate or disprove it.

about a month ago
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Google To Spend $1 Billion On Fleet of Satellites

Baloroth Re:180 satellites... (170 comments)

I can't find an exact altitude for these satellites, but O3b (whom Google is working with on this project) is putting satellites in orbits 5,000 miles above Earth, which is definitely not LEO. That's lower than conventional geosynchronous communications satellites (which sit ~22,000 above Earth), but well above the low-Earth orbit cutoff (which is roughly 1,000 miles and below). At 5,000 miles, the atmosphere is thin enough to be considered non-existent. Now, Google might be looking at lower orbits for these newer satellites, but they haven't said yet.

about 2 months ago
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Which desktop environment do you like the best?

Baloroth Re:icewm (611 comments)

Hey, of course you don't have crazy stuff like wobbly windows, but all desktop effects are fully smooth on all those low-power 10" netbooks under Windows. I have done extensive testing and know this. Under Linux, you put there KDE/GNOME/MATE/Unity and even the simple window minimize/restore animation is choppy.

You've got a software problem there. I have a Eee 901 netbook, which used to drive a 1080p monitor under GNOME 2 (with some eye candy on: window transitions, workspace transition effects, that kind of thing) quite smoothly. It was (and still is) running an old Ubuntu version (12.04 I think?), that may have something to do with it, but either you've got a software problem or the distro you're running it on is bloated.

about 2 months ago
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German Scientists Successfully Test Brain-Controlled Flight Simulator

Baloroth Re:Why not just self-driving? (73 comments)

What is brain controlled?

It's replacing the physical flight controls with directly brain-controlled flight controls. As to why: a large part of learning to fly (not the biggest part, certainly, but a significant piece) is learning how to use the fairly complicated controls. If you can simplify or even remove that interface, it makes the process of flying easier to learn.

Since this is Slashdot, someone is undoubtedly going to say that that learning difficulty is a good thing, since it sets a higher bar for pilots. There may be a bit of truth to that, but it's an artificial boundary that doesn't actually pertain to flying ability. It's like having to learn to use a Dvorak layout before you let anyone code: learning Dvorak probably won't make you a better coder, it'll simply make learning to code a more difficult process. Likewise, the complex controls that planes have doesn't make pilots better at flying, it simply makes learning to fly more difficult. So, while complicated controls might keep out lazy pilots, it won't keep out bad pilots (that's what the licensing requirements are for).

about 2 months ago
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Why You Shouldn't Use Spreadsheets For Important Work

Baloroth Re:can or cannot compute (422 comments)

if it can execute the operation needed for the research then it is acceptable...if not, then no

You could probably write this computational code in a shell script, too. But it would still be a terrible idea. Why? Because it's the wrong tool for the job. Simple as that. It doesn't matter what you can and cannot do, it matters what you should do, and you shouldn't use spreadsheets for anything complicated. It's simply too easy to make stupid mistakes that are difficult to trace and correct (or even notice).

you can't blame a spreadsheet for a poorly devised experiment...you *can* blame a researcher for using an inappropriate statistical model...you *cannot* criticize the method of analysis as long as it is physically capable of the computation

TFA isn't blaming the spreadsheets, he's blaming the people who use them for using them. It's not acceptable to use a tool that works poorly and is highly susceptible to mistakes, and no one should listen to anyone who does so unless that person is damned good at that tool: yes, it is possible that someone is so fantastically good with spreadsheets they can use them for massive data analysis with no problems. They are, however, the exception, and I would generally be inclined to disbelieve the results from anyone who does large work with spreadsheets (simply because of the possibility for errors and the lack of concern for accuracy that using spreadsheets demonstrates). So, the conclusion is that you shouldn't use spreadsheets for important work. You absolutely can criticize an analysis if it uses a tool that is highly likely to introduce errors, and that's fundamentally the point (and it's underscored by the fact that that is precisely what happened in Piketty’s case).

about 2 months ago
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Botched Executions Put Lethal Injections Under New Scrutiny

Baloroth Re:Frosty (483 comments)

Per the Constitution, the acceptable error rate is 0% false positives and any amount of false negatives.

No it isn't. In fact, it's easy to see that any justice system that accepts only a 0% false positive rate would convict absolutely no one of crimes whatsoever: it's simple Gaussian statistics. No matter how confident you are that someone committed a crime, it's impossible to be 100% positive, even if you saw them do it with your own eyes, which means that any standard of evidence no matter how high will yield a non-zero false conviction rate, so you couldn't convict anyone under such a high standard.

No, what the US follows for convictions is "reasonable doubt", which will inevitably lead to some false convictions. The alternative is to leave all crime unpunished, which is even more unacceptable than to have some innocent people end up in prison. It may sound "barbaric", but letting the guilty get away with their crimes is vastly more barbaric, and a society that did so would quickly collapse.

about 2 months ago
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SpaceX Cargo Capsule Leaves Space Station For Home

Baloroth Re:2 tons? (56 comments)

Pounds are both a measure of weight and mass, and the USA Today article uses pounds (not tons, Slashdot did that conversion) because, for better or worse, the US population is more familiar with US customary units than metric units, and USA Today is marketed at a US audience (the name is a bit of a clue). NASA also uses US units for some mind-baffling reason (maybe it likes destroying Mars Orbiter missions?) so the US units make sense in this story.

about 2 months ago
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The Technical Difficulty In Porting a PS3 Game To the PS4

Baloroth Re:PS4 hardware (152 comments)

There's absolutely nothing weird on PowerPC being used on videogames.

No one is saying using a PowerPC-based chip was stupid. Virtually everyone is saying using a Cell-based chip was stupid. You automatically lose performance relative to your competitors on games that don't take full advantage of the Cell architecture, which is precisely those multi-platform games where people can directly compare performance on the PS3 with performance on the Xbox. This article is a testament to the code specialization required to take full advantage of the architecture, and game developers simply weren't willing to put in that kind of effort (especially for a console that sold more for it's ability to play Blu-ray discs than it did for it's gaming capabilities). Often, even PS3 exclusives didn't utilize the Cell properly: it simply took too much work on an architecture few developers were familiar with (while PowerPC based, the SPE co-processor design means you have to use radically different techniques than you would for a normal PowerPC system).

Car analogy time: it's like giving a bunch of drivers who don't know how to use manual transmissions a manual car. Yes, manual transmission is faster than automatic, but if your drivers don't know how to use it properly, it's always going to end up being slower in practice.

about 2 months ago
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Static Electricity Defies Simple Explanation

Baloroth Re:it's explained in the study (86 comments)

How difficult would it be to re-run the same procedure with fully dehydrated particles? Is this a 'just bake them under a modest vacuum for a bit' situation, or are these values of 'small' and 'adsorbed' the sort of thing where getting the water out would be a moderately heroic endeavor?

Difficult, you'd need to run the entire process under an ultra-high vacuum. For reference, you to get water monolayer formation times greater than a second, you'd need pressures of roughly less than 10^-7 torr, or 10^-10 atmospheres. For reference (if WolframAlpha is to believed), the ISS is exposed to a pressure of about 10^-11 atmospheres. Molecular/ion pumps can get that low a pressure, so it's not impossible, just difficult.

about 2 months ago
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Robbery Suspect Tracked By GPS and Killed

Baloroth Re:Huge flaw? (450 comments)

That requires the robbers to take time to inspect the bottles, or develop some quick method of identifying them (which is probably very difficult). Either way, it makes committing a robbery more difficult, which is the real point. You can't stop crime, not without truly draconian measures. You can, however, make it difficult enough for it to not be an enticing prospect for criminals or potential criminals.

about 2 months ago
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Anti-Surveillance Mask Lets You Pass As Someone Else

Baloroth Re:Sure, give that a try (196 comments)

When the laws were created is irrelevant to the reality that protecting your privacy is made impossible in many places by government thugs.

Wearing masks in public is not a protection of your privacy: you're in *public*: everyone can see you, and what you are doing. That's part of the whole concept of a public place. No, wearing masks preserves *anonymity*, which is different from privacy. As is, you have and should have limited rights to privacy in public (can't force people not to look at you, for example). You have no right whatsoever to anonymity in public.

about 3 months ago
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Waste Management: The Critical Element For Nuclear Energy Expansion

Baloroth Re:Nuclear waste (281 comments)

But even then, you'd still have the expense of the Delta-V to get it to fall into the Sun. It almost certainly would be cheaper to send the stuff to Alpha Centuari than to the Sun.

I've done the math. It would (IIRC, it's actually more fuel efficient to almost escape from the Solar System, then fall back into the Sun, than it is to try directly falling into the Sun from Earth). However, you wouldn't have to send the waste into the sun, merely "not Earth" would be enough (still very expensive, though). It's not going to hurt much floating in orbit between here and Mars, for instance.

about 3 months ago
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Mathematicians Use Mossberg 500 Pump-Action Shotgun To Calculate Pi

Baloroth Re:Only in America... (311 comments)

I hate to break it to you, but the ancient term "America" refers to the whole continent, Canada included.

Nope - that would be "North America."

Hey, if you're going to be a pedant...

Ok, since we're being pedantic: technically, "America" refers to the entire landmass (made up of the continents of North and South America and associated islands). Still includes Canada, though.

about 4 months ago
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Mathematicians Use Mossberg 500 Pump-Action Shotgun To Calculate Pi

Baloroth Re:um.... (311 comments)

Relevant SMBC.

about 4 months ago
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Nat Geo Writer: Science Is Running Out of "Great" Things To Discover

Baloroth Re:Level of public funding ? (292 comments)

It's a fundamentally flawed hypothesis, because by definition we don't know what we haven't discovered yet. I might even go so far as to say the knowledge we haven't acquired is greater than the knowledge we have. This has been true historically, it is probably true now, and it might well remain true for... well, actually, forever, though it's impossible to know.

about 4 months ago
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Under the Chassis: A Look At Tesla's Battery Shield

Baloroth Re:Was it really Tesla's problem? (152 comments)

Sure, except that in every reported case of battery fires in a Tesla, the user has walked away from the crash (even when the crash took place at 100 mph or so). The cars already have the highest safety rating possible in tests. Expecting a safety margin is one thing, and Tesla has shown they more than fulfill that. Expecting to be invincible is quite another, and that's what a lot of people (or, at least the media) seem to be expecting, and that's incredibly stupid.

This battery shield is a PR move, quite simply. Not a bad one, and it might marginally improve safety, but I suspect only extremely marginally so, and it's certainly not worth it as a safety measure alone.

about 4 months ago
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Google: Teach Girls Coding, Get $2,500; Teach Boys, Get $0

Baloroth Re:It would be inequal to provide equal rewards (673 comments)

There's also a complete inequality in girls graduating high school, enrolling in college, and graduating college.

Yes there is. There are considerably more women in college than men. Has been for decades, now. Higher graduation rates, too (roughly 5% higher for women). I suspect that is the exact opposite inequality from what you meant, but there definitely is an inequality there.

It should be noted I'm not complaining about that inequality. I don't know for sure why it exists, but I suspect it has to do with boys being encouraged during high school (and to some extent college as well) to pursue sports and "manly" activities rather than their studies, which leaves them less prepared for higher education. I could be wrong, though.

about 4 months ago
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Australia Declares Homeopathy Nonsense, Urges Doctors to Inform Patients

Baloroth Re:Homeopathy Works (408 comments)

Don't you think modern medicine should have just as much of a chance of tapping into the placebo effect as anything else?

Yes, but it also has a greater chance than homeopathy of tapping into side effects (not that I'm defending homeopathy in any way). It also has a greater chance of tapping into real effects than the placebo effect: that is, in fact, most of the point of double-blind studies (you give half the group the placebo, half the group the proposed treatment, don't tell them or the doctors who observe the results which is which, and see if the medicine is more effective than the placebo).

about 4 months ago

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