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How many devices are connected to your home Wi-Fi?

Ghostworks Data elaboration for those that care... (260 comments)

Two person home. Two each of cell phones and laptops connected. Two entertainment devices (gaming console and Blu-Ray). I also have another wifi-ready console that I've just never setup for network play. Also one tablet, and one printer. Considering a wifi thermostat.

That's 8 devices without trying, for two users. That's also not counting "sometimes" devices on the whitelist: work laptop, frequent visitors' phones.

about 1 month ago

Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

Ghostworks Hell no. That solves nothing. (421 comments)

1) We recognize that Summer break was never meant to be time off (it's time when you needed all hands in the field and wouldn't have sent your kids to school anyway), and that do-nothing, responsibility-free childhoods are a rather recent human development. However, it's still healthy for kids to have to learn through play and be free to pursue things on their own. They need the break.

2) We recognize that the break puts a burden on parents to find activities, day care, or camps during the summer. However, it also provides a huge block of time for lengthy family vacations, which would otherwise be impossible to schedule, or even costlier because all kids get the same three week-long mini-breaks. This is good for the entire family's health and quality of life.

3) We recognize that other countries are lapping us in education. But we also have to recognize that that has nothing to do with time or money spent per student. We invest more per student than pretty much any other country, but we get worse results. That's because the fundamental changes to in teaching methods that we've made over the past 50 years have been for the worse, and other countries have made changes for the better.

4) No one wants to pay teachers for the nine months of work that they do already. More time means more cost, which no district's taxpayers are going to pay.

Ending Summer break is another costly distraction from the real problems: many teachers are unqualified for lack of training or materials, all teacher now teach mechanically to standardized tests which distract from the actual material, and many students are never going to achieve their full potential unless we first address some very hard, very real social problems first.

about a month ago

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About the Sorry State of FOSS Documentation?

Ghostworks Re:Software Documentation is bad everywhere (430 comments)

For developers, there are some times when the documentation SHOULD be larger than the code. The most important questions for many documentation efforts should be along the lines of "why did we choose this value" and "what values can this never be changed to without breaking something". The undocumented code must always be treated fragile, because it only gives you the final state of an engineering process. It doesn't convey any of the many small decisions that hemmed in that design. It gives you something that may work, but does not tell you how to build something that will work in the future if things change. If you give good documentation to a competent programmer, he can probably build something very close to the original program.

about a month and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About the Sorry State of FOSS Documentation?

Ghostworks Re:Software Documentation is bad everywhere (430 comments)

"documentation is bad everywhere" is one of those lies developers tell themselves to help them sleep at night. There are programs out there with outstanding documentation. (For example, as a grad student who had never toughed MatLab before I was easily able to teach myself in about a week by just scrolling through the help files.) It's just that those programs are rare, and almost none are FOSS.

This makes sense, because involvement in projects is voluntary, and contributors choose where to dole out their time. There are generally no "customers" with a carrot and stick to make the developers sweat about their failures and oversights. It makes sense that almost no one choose to spend time documenting. Even if they understand that it's a necessary pain, no one wants to be stuck doing in.

The solutions would have to be institutional. I can't think of a single OS project I've seen that had something like "decent documentation for new features" as a gating condition for a major release. That kind of cultural change is hard (and unlikely), but needs to be done if anything is to be accomplished. The only alternative is automated documentation, which doesn't really do anything more than re-state the source code in a different form. It's still only useful if the developers are religious about updating meta-code comments, which they never are.

about a month and a half ago

Judge: US Search Warrants Apply To Overseas Computers

Ghostworks Re:It's almost sane(really) (502 comments)

Is there any circumstance where you think USA prosecutors should not be allowed to force foreign entities to hand over evidence without going through that country's legal system?

Sadly, if you have a brick and mortar presence and employees in a country, operating under the legal auspices of a corporation under the laws of that country, you probably don't have much right to claim to be a "foreign entity". A better example would be "if an Amsterdam tourist is suspected of trafficking drugs, and the DEA gets a warrant to search his hotel room in the U.S." That's still not an example of what we're talking about in the article, but it's a more accurate version of a "foreign entity operating in the U.S." than your example.

about 1 month ago

Judge: US Search Warrants Apply To Overseas Computers

Ghostworks Re:It's almost sane(really) (502 comments)

But this is how it already works. For example, China could say to Google "give us access to G-Mail or we'll just block it completely, may be even kick your company out". Then it's a game of chicken. But China does have the right under their laws to block G-Mail or ban Google, as well as to demand unreasonable things from resident companies as the price of doing business. Laws everywhere have always worked this way. This is not new.

Now the question: if (beyond a certain point) businesses really have no choice but to deal with corrupt regimes, and customers have no choice but to deal with businesses that deal with corrupt regimes, what protects consumers in one jurisdiction from corruption in another? The answer is competing laws. If China imposes harsh penalties for failing to do X, but the U.S. or Europe impose equally harsh penalties for doing X, then businesses torn between them actually have some refuge through ceded responsibility.

This is exactly how U.S. bribery laws work: "We would love grease your palms, great Poo-bah, but U.S. law says that if we do then we can't do business there, which would mean we also don't have business to do here, so please don't even ask." When there is risk of cross-corruption in the market, it is the government's responsibility to step in and throw up a wall.

(As a side note, this notion of ceded responsibility is why there are some industries that actually petition for _stronger_ regulations. For example, it's common in some parts for large arms dealers to have to "sweeten the pot" with government buyers by agreeing to pay for side projects, such as the construction of a hospital, as a condition of sale. This is a cost arms dealers would rather avoid, so they petitioned Congress for years to have such "gifts" declared a form of illegal bribery.)

about 1 month ago

California Legalizes Bitcoin

Ghostworks And now for the down side... (162 comments)

California generally has immaculate consumer protection laws. A good number of those laws eliminate methods stores sue to lock money that could otherwise be taken elsewhere, or even strip money away without providing any services at all. For example, they were first to make it illegal to charge monthly fees on a gift card (which would eventually bring a card's worth down to nothing even if the owner never spent a dime of it's starting value).

Gift certificates and cash-like coupons like Starbuck's stars, Kohl's cash, and the like are fine as as an option, but I certainly wouldn't want to get them back in lieu of real cash if I, say, returned a purchase.

Sometimes California is a large enough market to drag the whole country along for the ride, and sometimes not. In this case, I think Californians will mostly be affected, ad the rest of the country will plow on as usual. Even so, we should all have a critical eye towards any reduction in consumer protections.

about 3 months ago

Facebook's Emotion Experiment: Too Far, Or Social Network Norm?

Ghostworks Re:more interessting,.. (219 comments)

The line is drawn pretty clearly at psychological testing. Facebook did NOT test it's systems: it manipulated their systems to test the psychology of the population. This was not a usability study, or even a technical study, just a a psychological study. The deliberately skewed their results and monitored feedback with the intention of studying how their subjects (people, not devices) reacted.

In theory, there is a gray area where we might ask if something that might be ethical without technology is now somehow unethical (and vice versa). But that's not the case here. This case is blatant, deliberate, and callous.

about 3 months ago

Supreme Court Rules Cell Phones Can't Be Searched Without a Warrant

Ghostworks Re:FP (249 comments)

It is common sense obvious. It is not common law obvious. Previous rulings on cell phones extended the findings for pagers, and the finding for pagers was that they were a container of information, like an address book, which can be searched like any other container during a stop or arrest.

There was obviously strain between previous rulings and reality, but that doesn't mean with any certainty that it was going to be corrected today by the Supreme Court. The court could have even further extended the previous cell phone findings, or even delivered a weaker test for whether the "container" can be searched. That makes this a rare, decisive, and unanimous(!) ruling from the court.

about 3 months ago

Kids With Operators Manual Alert Bank Officials: "We Hacked Your ATM"

Ghostworks I want to be shocked, but I just can't be. (378 comments)

Back before the internet, it was common practice to put hard-coded admin passwords in documentation, in case anyone should forget the real password. In some industries (say, construction road signs) it just never occurred to them that anyone would ever care to look it up for a prank. In other industries, like ATMs, the assumption was that documentation was obscure and difficult to lay hands on without writing to a real person who then had to mail a manual to a real address of an existing customer.

The fact that they still do this is depressing, but doesn't surprise me in the least.

about 3 months ago

U.S. Drone Attack Strategy Against Al-Qaeda May Be Wrong

Ghostworks Missing the (well, a) point (433 comments)

Saying that drone warfare is not particularly good at decapitating an institutional terrorist organization like Al Qaeda is missing the point. Or at least a key point. Drone warfare has made large scale terrorist training largely impossible. The boot camps and months long, practical courses in guerrilla warfare that used to be an Al Qaeda staple are now just very visible, attractive targets for drones. Drone warfare occasionally knocks out a head, but it really undermines the base.

In all force, there is some deterrence power. For some technologies, the deterrence is the whole point. For example, land mines aren't meant to be a good way to blow up people, they're meant to be a good way to prevent groups of people from traversing an area once you advertise that it's full of mines. Here, drones are useful for rapid, cheap attacks of opportunity... but the fact that they are almost always ready means long-term, open-air training camps are suicide.

about 3 months ago

Yahoo Stops Honoring 'Do-Not-Track' Settings

Ghostworks Re:Privacy only works when it's in your own hands (300 comments)

Exactly. It was always a pretty bad idea. In fact, it reminds me a great deal of the RFC 3514 "evil bit"

Do-Not-Track is basically a "Don't be evil" bit. It makes a plea on behalf of the end user and the end user hopes some distant system honors it. Any time you implement some version of the evil bit, you should expect that it's not going to work.

(Then again, there are a lot of tech features in use now -- such as a PDF owner_pass edit lock, or phone service Caller ID blocking -- which are also based on "please keep private" bit, and those are effective for 98% of the people out there who are just to lazy to get around them. So maybe there's something to be said for an evil bit after all.)

about 5 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What Good Print Media Is Left?

Ghostworks Short news is dead, long analysis lives. (285 comments)

"Long read" periodicals, which rely on research or expertise are still worth reading. The Economist and Foreign Policy are tow that stick out in my mind.

Local news may or may not be good. When national coverage dominates, you're basically getting a watered down version of last week's CNN. When local coverage dominates, at least you know there was was probably no other source for that information.

Industry Journals probably cover esoteric topic no one else will, so those count if your are actually interested in the esoteric topics.

Sadly, the niche, hobby magazine is pretty much dead. Big players release news and content directly to the web, and the best commentary is spread around blogs and web-zines. In fact, if the bulk of a magazine can be described as "news about X", or a "a community newsletter for Y", then it's dead.

about 5 months ago

The Poor Neglected Gifted Child

Ghostworks A Reminder: there is no STEM worker shortage (529 comments)

America's tech leaders are literally going to Washington with demands for "comprehensive immigration reform that allows for the hiring of the best and brightest".

I'm honestly surprised that more hasn't been said so far of this statement. I suppose it comes up rather frequently here when visas come up, but I think that it needs to be stated again: there is no STEM worker shortage. There is no lack of qualified people. American companies are just too cheap to train, and don't want to pay American workers proportionate to their talents and the cost of living in America. And I think it's worth repeating that again, and again, and again, because as near as I can tell policy-makers actually seem to believe the nonsense they are being fed.

about 6 months ago

Time Warner Deal Is How Comcast Will Fight Cord Cutters

Ghostworks The move may be counter productive (424 comments)

First, my immediate response, as a Time Warner customer was, "well, we're canceling then. I literally would prefer to deal with Satan than Comcast." That's not an abuse of the word literally: I mean in all serious that the Morning Star, enemy of man, font of lies and evil has a better business track record than Comcast, and I would be more likely to extend him the benefit of the doubt. This means we're ditching cable, internet, and phone from Time Warner.

Second, AT&T still sells internet connections. As do others if we really need to move to a smaller firm. And that's just because we've so far been too lazy to set up either of our devices as a cell modem or link it to a larger screen. Mobile phones make the land line and the cable lines have a lot less value. Comcasts' proposition -- that cable is inherently valuable even with shitty service provided to relatively few true television-viewers -- is already on very shaky terms.

Third, the wife and I immediately re-evaluated how much TV we watch. We quickly came to the agreement that we DVR more than we ever watch, that most of those could have been received over-the-air from networks, and that we really aren't that interested in most of them anymore. Most of the time we ignore the DVR-ed material to binge on classics and series on Netflix, new releases on Red Box, or just plain, old-fashioned, 3-seasons-on-sale-for-$15 DVDs. We can do with a lot less in terms of cable.

In the short run, people who will be most affected are families that can't imagine ditching the Disney Channel. In families without adolescents yet, I think a lot more people will just be too cheap to ever -start- on the Disney Channel. Their strategy, like every Comcast strategy, is short-sighted.

about 7 months ago

IBM Employees Caught Editing Wikipedia

Ghostworks Re:TheAgriculture Ministry is not in charge of Gun (112 comments)

Except that's not what the article accuses them of. The article mainly accuses them of editing badly.

For those who didn't RTFA, here's the high points:
* IBM was huge in computing, so why is it so poorly represented (in terms of article count, total kB of text, and editing quality) on Wikipedia, the self-appointed online repository of all human knowledge?
* people at IBM seem to be editing IBM-related articles, but not in any kind of organized way. (The article actually chastises them for FAILING to have any kind of organized method.) Mostly it's people editing articles about themselves or things that they have worked on.
* The person who worked on the Watson project is and admin on Wikkipedia, married to another editor and edited Wikipedia articles while on the job for IBM. (Almost as if she were passionate about it or something... and working on a project where her computer barfed up nonsense when it parsed a really poorly written article....)
* the three shadiest things that they mention are 1) a guy who created an article about an IBM award/title he won; 2) an editing fight about the relevance of a book that linked IBM to the third Reich (which went through the usual Wikipedia channels and ended up in favor of keeping the article); and 3) The guy who started (and who happens to be at IBM) arguing that the page was relevant and should be kept (again, usual Wikipedia channels, this time not in's favor)

So basically what we have here are the notions that:
* even relatively obscure people probably shouldn't edit articles about themselves to avoid bias (which strikes me as silly for biasing things hard in the other direction)
* that IBM needs to tackle Wikipedia in an organized way to make up for the lack of interest by anyone outside the industry in preserving this huge chuck of history...
* unless it stays away altogether, because they already have a huge company history page on their website.
* and that IBM-ers should not touch the articles that they are most likely to have specific knowledge on...
* ...or for that matter any article, no matter what they happen to find odd if they found it while at work.

like most fights on and about Wikipedia, this is a tempest in a teapot by people who do a poor job articulating whether the collaborative encyclopedia of all human knowledge is actually suppose to be any of those things and why.

about 7 months ago

Open Source Add-on Rewrites the User Interface of IE11

Ghostworks Re:Why? (86 comments)

There are a couple of reasons.

As a starter, I remember an interview from way back in the aughties when where they asked an IE designer for his thoughts on the Firefox browser, which was at that point really cutting into IE market share. I remember one comment along the lines of "really good browser: the only thing I would change is to put tabs on top. The address bar and everything else only affects the current tab, so you want tabs on top to give the impression that each tab is like its own, separate browser." At the time, IE didn't have tabs, so he could say these sort of things without thinking he's shooting himself in the foot.

He did cite Microsoft usability studies (no specific study, just the nebulous term "usability studies") as part of that comment. Eventually Mozilla did it's own study and concluded pretty much the same thing. There was also an argument about how tabs would be easier to select now while using less screen space because of the "infinite space" of the tab. You see, if you scroll over a tab, and go too far, one of two things can happen: you either scroll past the tab and onto something else (miss), or you hit the edge of the screen and the cursor lands on the tab anyway. The argument was that this is in effect like having an infinitely tall tab, so it's easier to hit.

Now, some personal comments on why I hate that entire line of reasoning:
First, back at the time I found the initial comments from an MS employee to be odd, because that's exactly the opposite of how MS has trained users to think of tabs in every one of their products (except for this hypothetical "tabs on top" browser which didn't exist anywhere yet). Before the browser, you mostly saw tabs in OS preference dialogs, where sometimes the tabs were on top just because they were used as categorical dividers (you know, just like real tabs in a in a real filing cbinet were always meant to be). But just as often, there would be a small section of tabs embedded on some larger dialog pane. The only thing they had in common was the obvious "tabs are nested within windows". To the population of the time, window and browser were inextricably linked.

But that was then, and this is now. What about how people ten years later are used to interacting with the browser? Well for one, most still don't actually think of each tab as a "mini-browser". If anything they just expect the browser control elements to go away altogether to make room for the page. (In fact, the ease with which mobile browsers have hidden away such controls proves to me that taking up _any_ space within a tab is probably a losing proposition.) But where hiding elements isn't possible, the view is still generally that the window is a true "window" out to some slice of the internet. To me personally, arguing that each tab should contain "its own" URL bar and buttons is sort of like arguing that each window in your card should have it's own steering wheel and speedometer. It just doesn't follow for me to embed controls within content. But since the controls are being hidden away fast, it's largely a matter of choice.

So why should tabs-on-top be a good default choice then? They argue because it make tabs easy to select with minimum real estate. The "infinite space of the screen-edge tab". Unfortunately, I don't think I have ever had a browser end at a screen edge. Either I'm on a Mac or a Linux variant that has a bar on top, or I'm in Windows where I never use full-screen mode. (I'm having trouble even thinking of a time when I even would use full-screen mode for a browser now that the screens are all obscenely wide.) So the infinite space argument is DOA. And then there's the times where I'm on a half-foreign system (read: work laptop) where the touchpad cursor is slow and all I want is for the cursor to get there. Overshooting is not a concern. In these cases, making the tabs farther from center and shorter while trying to make up for it with pseudo-infinite space just makes them shorter and farther away.

And on a final, unrelated note, when the summary notes, "it is feasible to combine the address, search, and find box into one": of course it is. We did it before 2004. It was called a command line. It's trivially easy to designate some box as the "do things with this input" box. The actually command used to parse that input was still offloaded to other elements, such as the "go" button, and the "search" spyglass. Even in 2004, it wasn't a matter of feasibility. The only reson the bars were ever separate in the first place is because most screen space for you "Ask Jeeves" toolbar meant more advertising for "Ask Jeeves".

about 9 months ago

Why Engineers Must Consider the Ethical Implications of Their Work

Ghostworks Re:Scalpel or gun can be used for good or bad ... (406 comments)

When doctors or nurses use their knowledge of anatomy in order to torture or conduct medical experiments on helpless subjects, we are rightly outraged. Why doesn't society seem to apply the same standards to engineers?

Whenever I read something like this, I immediately think of Florman's "Existential Pleasures of Engineering" despite the title, Florman's book is rooted is actually a spirited apology for the engineering profession in an age where everyone was lamenting all the modern horrors that those damned engineers could have prevented if they had just be more ethical.

As Florman notes, there has been a large focus for the past half-century on making engineers more ethically aware, and it's mostly pointless. Despite what most people seem to believe engineers are not philosopher kings any more than Technology is some sort of self-sufficient, self-empowering beast working counter to the benefits human society. Both do exactly what the rest of society tells (read: pays, begs, and orders) them to do, and nothing more. And while you don't see many engineers saying this -- because when someone tells them that they run the world and hold the future of all man kind in their hands, people are disinclined to temper their ego and deny it -- we only do what the suits pay us to do, and if we don't do that they fire us and move on to someone else who will.

Let's ask this another way: why aren't business men considering the ethical implications of their investments? Why aren't militaries, bureaucracies, and governments considering the ethical implications of their orders? Why isn't the average person taking five minutes to understand a problem now so he doesn't demand government, the market, and God on high give him an answer that he's going to hate more than the original problem a year from now?

Every profession has ethical considerations. More ink has been spilled and time spent on the subject of ethics in engineering and practical sciences than any discipline save medicine. And yet it does not solve the problem and will not solve the problem because that is not where the problem lies.

about 10 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Good Satellite Internet For Remote Locations?

Ghostworks Re:Iridium + Something Else (175 comments)

I did some work with both Iridium and Inmarsat on a project a while back. It's been a while, so my comments are mostly qualitative, not quantitative.

Iridium offers a global array with redundant satellites (which is good since they lost a few a few years back), while Inmarsat uses a directional antenna relies on you being able to actually aim an antenna. If you're in the Inmarsat range of coverage (and pretty much everyplace habitable is), I'd recommend it. You can get a ethernet-ready single package antenna+modem (about the size of a thick laptop) that's pretty easy to aim (the unit provides some guidance). This assumes you're on foot, of course. If you have a dedicated vehicle you might invest in a tracking antenna. The data rates we got we in the 35 Mbps range.

Iridium is literally dial up over satellite. The service was designed for voice telephony, and it uses an analog signal until the satellite relays it to a base station with modems and an internet connection. It will be reliable, but very slow. The 0.0024 Mbps rate Spazmania gives below matches my recollection.

The two units are similarly portable: the Inmarsat unit is the size of a thick laptop, while the iridium modem is half that, but you have to get an antenna.

about a year ago


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