Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch
It's not a terribly serious setback in the history of space flight, but it could be a serious blow to Orbital.
Their whole program is built around the idea of using old surplus Soviet-era rocket engines, originally designed for the ill-fated N1 program. (The N1 program, as a sidenote, is responsible for one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in human history when one of its launch vehicles had a failure shortly after takeoff. On top of a zero-for-four launch record, it's not the program I'd pick to emulate.)
My understanding of the Soviet engines is that they have some design features that make them lightweight for their output, but represent tradeoffs not typically taken on Western engines, due to the risk of "burn through". But some people--perhaps including Orbital--thought that the designers had solved the problem and the risks were overstated.
Too early to tell right now, but if the engines turn out to have a fatal flaw, that would be bad for Orbital. It'd probably be good for SpaceX, since they're the obvious alternative, but it'd leave NASA down one contractor for the commercial launch program.
UK Company Successfully Claims Ownership of "Pinterest" Trademark
I believe it is called "Bud", "Bud Light", etc., while the Czech company uses the "Budweiser" name.
And even that was contentious.
UK Company Successfully Claims Ownership of "Pinterest" Trademark
In the US, trademarks only extend as far as someone might be confused by their use. It's not a hard black and white line, but you can use "Word" if you wanted to, in an unrelated industry from Microsoft's, provided that nobody thought that customers might be confused and think that your product was, or was in some way related to, Microsoft's. (Obviously since Microsoft is such a big company and does so much stuff, this might be harder than if they were purely in the word processing business.)
A good example is Apple Records vs Apple Computer Corp. There was a lot of argument that went back and forth as to whether Apple Computers might be confused with Apple Records -- which seemed ridiculous at the time, because why would Apple Computer ever get into the music business? So they worked it out and came to a settlement to stay out of each other's turf. That happens very frequently. (It got interesting when Apple-the-computer-company decided to get into the music business; my understanding is that they made Apple Records an offer they couldn't refuse.)
And given how ubiquitous Microsoft's products are -- love them or hate them -- the breadth of their trademarks are probably not unreasonable. A no-name company ought not be able to assert a trademark with any similar breadth, because there's so little chance of confusion.
UK Company Successfully Claims Ownership of "Pinterest" Trademark
Well they are registered in the .com TLD, which is basically United States namespace, so it would make sense that US trademark law would apply at least in terms of the domain name. I doubt some European company would be able to convince a US court to order Verisign to turn over the domain to them.
So at worst, I would think that Pinterest could continue to operate under the "Pinterest.com" domain name; the challenge would be whether they want to advertise in the European market, which might be prohibited without changing their name.
Schneier: The US Government Has Betrayed the Internet, We Need To Take It Back
If the NSA were to require them to install a secret backdoor then the NSA would be compromising the security of all of their government customers because they don't sell two different versions of their software, it is the same for all customers.
Unless the product has been certified for use with classified information, that's not much of an assurance. The government has its own internally-developed tools -- which presumably it has confidence in (SIPRNet, etc.) -- for protecting information that it deems sensitive. The NSA might well decide that subverting a commercial tool is worth the risk of compromising something that's used by the government, but only in relatively trivial ways.
I don't know enough to impugn Zimmerman et al, but I don't think "it's used by the government!" is necessarily a great seal of approval, unless it's a formal certification (e.g. NSA Type 1 listing) saying that it can be used to protect classified information. And I'm not aware of any COTS software products that are on the Type 1 list; the NSA only approves particular hardware implementations (at least that I've seen, though I'm happy to be corrected although I'd be surprised).
DoD Networks Completely Compromised, Experts Say
Or setup a separate ARPA-owned network that no one can access except DOD employees.
This exists, it's called the SIPRnet. You can only access it from secure workstations in secure facilities, and in theory all the network hardware is also secure, etc., etc.
AFAIK, the only recent SIPRnet compromise was Bradley Manning, and that was more of a social exploit than a technical one.
Nuclear Truckers Haul Warheads Across US
The only reason the UN was even minimally effective was because it provided a venue for the nuclear powers -- who almost exclusively make up the Security Council -- to hash out problems diplomatically. Without the constant threat of nuclear war to bring those parties to the table, literally and figuratively, there's no reason to think that the UN would have been any more effective than the League of Nations.
And the League, as you'll recall, was also set up in the aftermath of a staggeringly destructive war, by a great number of very committed people, and it couldn't and didn't do the job. In other words, the memory of the utter hell that was the Great War wasn't enough, even among people who had lived through it, to keep the peace through diplomatic methods alone. However, the threat of total global annihilation has kept things in check for more than three generations now.
Given how close the Cold War came to going 'hot' even with nuclear weapons making it into a no-win situation, it's laughable to suggest that we wouldn't have gone there in their absence -- when either side could have talked themselves into believing that they could have obtained a real advantage by fighting.
The horrors of conventional war have never been enough to keep people from deluding themselves into thinking that it can be won (because, bluntly, it can be); nuclear war is unique in that it is quite obvious that there can be no winner, and it is to everyone's advantage to avoid, all the time.
Nuclear Truckers Haul Warheads Across US
Entirely plausible that the place where the Al is smelted isn't the same place it's worked into finished products... but letting it cool down would just waste huge amounts of energy, since it would then have to be reheated.
In Homestead, PA, there used to be an iron smelter on one side of the river and a steel foundry on the other. They'd smelt the iron and pour it directly out of the blast furnaces into waiting rail cars, then haul it over a bridge to the other side, still molten hot, where it would be made into steel. I'm not sure why they didn't put both facilities on the same side of the river... but I assume it must have been something to do with a shortage of riverfront property on either side causing the split.
This all ended in the late 70s, but I've talked to locals who said that it caused quite a show; the rail cars had open tops and you could see the glowing iron inside as the cars went across the bridge. (The bridge, incidentally, still exists; most of the factory infrastructure is gone.)
Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High
Agree with the first part but disagree with the second.
If you get your license and join a local club, and you're not totally unpleasant to be around, my experience is that you'll probably find someone willing to loan you (or just give you outright) enough gear to get started. My local club has an assortment of starter gear that they lend out to new hams, on a sort of indefinite 'gentlemans agreement' that once you get your own rig set up you'll return it to the club or pass it along to another new Ham. There's always someone willing to lend expensive stuff that you only need to use occasionally, too, like TDRs or antenna analyzers.
I'd definitely recommend that anyone new to the hobby join a local club -- if possible more than one, or at least 'shop around' a little and find one that has other members that match your interests. It can dramatically decrease the cost of getting set up.
Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High
Hopefully, the power losses in 100 feet of coax will not be too much if I use RG-213 coax and put a weatherproof automatic antenna tuner at the base of the multi-band vertical antenna.
If you can, you should investigate using some sort of ladder line rather than coax; even if you are using an antenna design that would require a balun, you will probably still do better in terms of signal loss with a 100 foot run. Of course, the tradeoff is that it'd be HF only, but it sounds like you probably already have a VHF/UHF antenna. (Also you can use an antenna, like a G5RV, that's optimized for feeding by ladder line.)
I've also seen some very clever homebrew arrangements where you can basically make your own heavy-duty ladder line by stretching THHN wire from 2x4 posts sunk at intervals into the ground. Similar to old knob-and-tube wiring almost. It's quite elegant looking when done right.
Ham Radio Licenses Top 700,000, An All-Time High
And this is a problem ... why?
Imagine if we actually required the sort of test that some old farts seem to advocate for. Very few people would pass, new licenses would dry up, and eventually the cellcos and the other usual greedy suspects would steamroll whatever was left of the ARRL and have the spectrum reallocated. End of story.
Those "appliance operators" you speak so disparagingly of are, just by virtue of using the spectrum allocated to the Amateur service and perhaps being active in a local club or sending a few bucks to the ARRL, what keeps the hobby possible.
Frankly, I'm all for lowering the bar further, down to a nominal fee and a test that only covers the legal aspects and RF safety. Not because I don't think the electronics are important, but it's a hell of a lot easier to interest people in the electronics once they've already started to play around a bit and see the applied side of things, and we need the warm bodies if we want to hang onto the spectrum.
Also, there are valid aspects of Amateur Radio that really don't rely on or require much electronics knowledge. For some people, Amateur Radio is more of a means to some other end, or an accompaniment to some other interest/hobby. There are a significant number of people in my local club who are Red Cross volunteers or paid employees, and maintain Ham licenses in order to do EmComm stuff. That's a totally valid use of Amateur Radio, but it doesn't require much theoretical knowledge of radio, just the actual practical radio-operation skills to get the messages across.
The ARRL is slowly taking more of a "big tent" philosophy, and it's time for the rest of the community to be a bit more welcoming if we want to have any hope of surviving for a few more decades.
Bill Clinton Says 'Paint Your Roofs White'
Also, I doubt that exterior paint is a fraction of the paint sold; most is probably interior paint.
In my house, based just on the layers of paint on windowsills and baseboards, there have been at least 4-5 complete interior paint jobs. (Corresponding to each time the house has been sold.) There's been only one done outside in the same period. It may be a slightly more extreme than usual case, but I suspect most houses are similar. I'd bet the interior of a house has more paintable surface area, too (think about ceilings!).
Bill Clinton Says 'Paint Your Roofs White'
It's a whole lot easier to just have someone come in and blow fiberglass insulation into the attic than change the pitch of the roof. Engineer the roof for the snow/wind load, then insulate the living spaces below.
In a modern, well-insulated house, the attic isn't part of the heated living space anyway. If you're heating or cooling your attic, you're doing a lot of things wrong.
Bill Clinton Says 'Paint Your Roofs White'
They're talking about flat roofs, which you normally find in cities, on large buildings, and can't see from the street, not pitched roofs like you find on SFHs in the sub/exurbs.
For houses there are "high albedo" shingles in traditional colors that you can buy. They look fairly normal but reflect back a larger percentage of infrared insolation than a traditional asphalt shingle. Light grey also works better than black.
Nobody is really suggesting that you go painting a shingled roof white.
Power Grid Change May Disrupt Clocks
and have not been produced in mass since the 80's
You wanna provide a cite for that? No? I kinda doubt it, because I have an alarm clock sitting right next to me which I know from experience drifts like crazy when it's not connected to AC power, kinda indicative that it's not using the same timebase all the time, and it's only a few years old. Lots of clocks (alarm clocks especially) only use internal oscillators as a backup when running on battery, and they often don't do a very good job. And this is a Sony; the cheap ones like you'll find in millions of hotel rooms are probably even cheaper -- it wouldn't surprise me if they have no battery or internal oscillator at all.
I don't doubt that the circuits inside most of them were designed in the 80s, but that doesn't mean much.
Power Grid Change May Disrupt Clocks
and your coffee machine has a digital clock based on a crystal, you could run it off a bicycle and it wouldn't care
Says the person who has never tried to run a Mr Coffee off of a shitty generator. Let me tell you, it won't work. Freaked the fuck out. (Only the timer/clock part -- luckily the heater part still ran OK, or we all would have been doomed.)
Lots of people in this discussion are seriously underestimating the number of things that use line frequency as a reference, and overestimating the number that use quartz crystals in anything except a backup. Many alarm clocks do have crystals, but use them only when running on batteries. My alarm clock that's sitting right next to me -- a Sony that you can buy at WalMart right now if you want -- is like this. When the power goes out it runs on the battery (if you have one installed and it actually has any juice), but in this mode it will lose time like crazy. After an all-night power outage this winter it was off by a good 10 minutes or so. I've noticed the same behavior with other clocks, too. (My oven does the same thing except I never have the backup battery in it anyway.)
BitCoin, the Most Dangerous Project Ever?
Yeah I don't really see this catching on in the short term; there aren't that many use cases where you need the the anonymity of cash, but where you can't just use cash. Buying grey- or black-market stuff online seems to be the major one, and if that's the only market you can be sure the regulators are going to come after them.
Eventually -- maybe in my lifetime, maybe not -- I think governments are going to try and get rid of cash. We think of cash as being a frictionless medium for exchange, and it's certainly better than barter or carrying around large amounts of metallic coinage, but it's not that easy to manage. Cash has to be physically moved from one place to another (e.g. a merchant has to physically make a deposit at the end of the business day, banks have to physically return worn bills to the Federal Reserve and get new ones, etc.) and that involves a lot of trouble and expense.
I wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of system that allowed banks -- and eventually, merchants -- to deposit bills into the Federal Reserve by scanning them and then shredding the paper. You'd probably have to add additional information onto the bills on top of the serial numbers that are there right now, maybe some sort of electronic signature in 2D barcode form, but I don't think it's totally impractical. From there you could start phasing out cash in favor of some sort of debit system.
Like I said, I don't think it's imminent, but it wouldn't surprise me if it started to happen in my lifetime.
BitCoin, the Most Dangerous Project Ever?
They serve absolutely no purpose with no possible side usages (like gold).
Erm, what? Gold is pretty useful stuff. At the end of the day, aside from just looking pretty, it's useful as an electrical conductor, in many chemical processes, and you can hammer it out into a sheet only a few atoms thick if you're really motivated. Pretty neat stuff really.
By using it as currency we probably keep the price several times higher than it would otherwise be as a purely industrial metal, but the value would not be zero. Same with silver, platinum, iridium, and other metals that are used both industrially and traded as currency or as investments. Part of the reason they're used as currency is because their value is backstopped by their industrial uses. (Especially true of platinum-group metals.)
Now if you want an example of something that's almost totally worthless ... large diamonds. Small diamonds are handy, mostly as abrasives, but large ones? Nothing to them but "teh shiny" and a lot of advertising. Diamonds, when you get right down to it, are basically a sort of voluntary fiat currency where people agree that they're valuable not because any government says they're valuable, but because other people think so. If everyone decided at once that they weren't, and that they weren't willing to pay lots of money to put them on jewelry, they'd be good for nothing but crushing up to make tile-saw blades.
BitCoin, the Most Dangerous Project Ever?
There are many people who would argue that we'd be better off going to half or even a tenth of that resolution (nickel or dime resolution, respectively). I think it might cause some issues when doing transactions that involve multiplying a unit price across many units, e.g., imagine a data connection priced in kB or MB, but you could always do the computation at some higher resolution and then round using a standard algorithm to nickels or dimes for payment. We already do that at the gas pump (where the price is calculated to the tenth of a cent but rounded to the nearest cent for payment) so it wouldn't be that much of a stretch.
Only argument against this tends to be that retailers would do shady things with the rounding if the amount became even remotely significant. You could probably fix that legislatively, though.
Crime Writer Makes a Killing With 99 Cent E-Books
Not sure about the Nook but it is trivial to strip Amazon's DRM right now. So the easy solution to all your problems is just to download and strip the DRM from your purchased books, then store them away somewhere. No worries about Amazon getting retroactively grabby or changing the rules of the game later on.
People tend to forget that the e-readers, although in some respects tied to a "store", can also get content from other places, including just copying it directly over USB. You could buy a Kindle and never buy a book from Amazon, if you don't want to (of course, it's really convenient to get books from AMZ...). And once the DRM has been removed from an Amazon purchase you can use it the same as just about any other Mobipocket-format book.
I would never purchase a device that could only obtain content through a store, or where the content wasn't able to be freed into an archivable, widely-accepted format. Thankfully the Kindle, at least in its current incarnation, is neither of those things.
Meta: Is the new threading system messed up?
So it seems like the new discussion-threading system (aka "D2", according to the preferences page) no longer works for me.
I had just gotten used to it -- in particular, being able to click on comments to expand or collapse them -- and suddenly at some point this afternoon I reloaded a page and the whole thing just went away. I'm back to the regular discussion style, where clicking on the title of another user's post will open that post in a separate page.
However, I still have the new style selected in my preferences. I'm just curious whether this is a global problem or something specific to my network or configuration. I've tried disabling AdBlock and some other relevant FF extensions but no dice.
Anyone else noticing anything amiss?
Ruminations on Rememble
So I recently ran across a new site, courtesy of the fine folks at MetaFilter: Rememble. In a nutshell, it's a sort of 'digital scrapbooking' site. It describes itself as "a 'washing line' for your digital bits and pieces. Thread together texts, photos, videos, sounds, scribbles, scans, notes, tweets... so they're not drifting in a digital wasteland."
As a compulsive digitizer, I'll go first and say that it sounds great. There are a lot of services that provide the ability to save little text snippets for later (Google's Google Notebook, when coupled with the appropriate Firefox Addon, comes to mind), and Flickr is the gold standard for digital photo organization and sharing, and there are similar single-media sites for other purposes. However, there's a distinct lack of a single site that allows you to collect, view, organize, scrapbook, and share various types of digital media in a cohesive format. And that's a darn shame: as more people get online and involved in modern interactive services, as they get more of their lives online, it's only natural that they'll want to be able to save parts of it for later, just like they do in the physical world. (And, of course, being virtual lets you do things in an online notebook that you can't easily do in a dead-tree one, like suddenly decide to view all your clippings by date instead of by subject.)
Unfortunately, Rememble's execution -- at least at the moment -- falls flat. For a site that treads on being almost postmodern, its approach seems driven by a desire to create a vast silo of exploitable content. First major gaffe: you can't see *anything* without registering for an account. That's right, nothing. So let's say you set up an account, dump a lot of stuff into it, and then want to share it with some friends? Nope, sorry, they all have to sign up for accounts. This is such a major, deal-breaking limitation, it's hard not to immediately think of one of those ubiquitous "FAILURE" image macros. I can only hope that this is some sort of limitation due to the service being new -- I mean, they can't really be that stupid, can they?
Similarly, you can't deep-link to content that you upload. That's right; you can't embed things you upload to Rememble on your blog. While this isn't as obvious a death-wish as the lack of sharing ability, it's potentially more damaging. Flickr succeeded in its early days mainly because it became popular with bloggers looking for an alternative to services like ImageShack that didn't suck quite so badly. Flickr offered one-click tools for resizing an image and embedding it into a blog post. It was slick, people loved it, and they got a community of users rather quickly.
Beyond that, there doesn't seem to easily be a way of getting content *out* of Rememble once you've gotten it in. This bothers me, personally, although it may not be the sort of thing that a casual, non-backup-obsessed user might think of. (Though, in my opinion, they should.) A service like Rememble could, over time, end up being a significant repository of information and digital relics; having your Rememble store disappear would be like having your family scrapbooks torched.
After taking a casual look at Rememble, and comparing it to a successful service like Flickr, a number of concrete steps come to mind for, if not actually ensuring the success of a community-oriented "Web 2.0" media-sharing site, at least making it slightly less prone to sucking:
1) Sign-ins should only be required for content creators, never viewers. Even a free, one-minute signup procedure is one minute too long to expect random people I might want to share content with to go through. It's unnecessary and borders on arrogant.
2) Prohibiting blogging and direct linking may seem like a good idea, but it's not. Really. The people who are going to want to blog and direct-link are also the ones who are going to make or break your service. Don't alienate them 30 seconds after they upload their first bit of media. Yes, it may burn you to spend money on bandwidth so your users can use you like ImageShack, the Internet's cheap village whore, but chin up: everybody has to start somewhere.
3) Expose your APIs, and encourage third-party development. (To be fair, I'm not sure what Rememble is doing with their APIs; maybe they expose them and just aren't obvious about it.) Use standard interchange formats whenever possible. Since exposed APIs are considered one of the keys to useful, modern web services, they really need to get this right. Luckily, Flickr has a good model. Follow it. Also: Let users *export* content, not just import it. Acting like the NSA, hoovering up stuff and never letting anything slip back out, makes people justifiably nervous.
4) Provide a way for backups. Also: nobody likes commitment. Don't expect users to trust you, your datacenter, your RAID array, or your backup strategy. For all we know, you're running this thing on a spare server that your boss could repossess at any time. Provide users an easy way to grab a snapshot of everything they've created (a big tarball of media files and XML metadata) for their own peace of mind. Also, people like knowing that they have a way out if things go sour.
If Rememble took those four steps, they would probably have a service that I'd use right now -- at least for trivial stuff. From there, the sky's the limit.
Of 'second tier' features, an ability to encrypt content using an open-source, client-side applet (so that it gets encrypted by me, not by the server on the far end) would be nice, particularly when you're talking about automatically archiving text messages and other communications that may be sensitive now but nice to have later -- perhaps this could be offered as a premium service? If you do it right, with full auditability, you might even get corporate interest.
What really would make a service like Rememble outstanding are the interfaces. Imagine plugging a service like this into your SMS/text-messaging service from your phone, your email reader, and your IM client (archiving both conversations and status messages): you'd have a single online archive of all your communications. Privacy nightmare? Quite possibly. But it would also be handy; no more trying to remember how somebody sent you a bit of information. Plug it into your address book, so that you could cross-reference other people's online identities, and you'd be able to see all communications with a particular person over time, regardless of medium. Or run a quick search and you could see all the people you discussed a particular topic with.
I find the possibilities for a Rememble-like service pretty exciting; for someone who really likes compiling and managing information, it's just oozing with potential. And more than anything else, that's why Rememble is painful: it takes something that should be mind-blowing and renders it in a form that's lame and unimaginative; without an obvious grasp of what web services are all about.
[A while ago I mentioned the ClearCom brand of headset intercoms in a post. These are commonly used in theaters and TV studios, in order to let everyone backstage / in the control room talk to everyone else. They're a pretty simple "party line" system (at least the 3-pin XLR type most commonly encountered) but are, IMO, a neat application of analog electronics. I got a few emails about the post, asking for more information on how they worked, and in responding to them I ended up typing out a fairly long document based on my best understanding.
In particular, people seemed curious about a feature of the ClearCom system, which allows the person at the "master box" (in a theater, it's usually the Stage Manager or their Assistant) to remotely unlock the PTT switches of everyone else on the line. This is nice if someone else has locked their mic on and is breathing into it, or if you have people whose hands are too full to unlock their own mic, or you don't want to bother them while they're doing something critical -- e.g., camera operators, stagehands, etc.
Don't assume anything I describe here is correct. It's been a few years since I've worked with any ClearCom gear, and I'm not an EE by trade anyway. I'm about 75% certain that the general principles described below are correct, but I wouldn't swear by any of it. Okay?]
The unlock feature isn't really a hack, it's an actual feature of the ClearCom system, by design.
I'll try to describe what I know about the ClearComs, but really the best explanation I've ever seen, and where I learned most of this, is from this page:
Basically it's a page on how to construct ClearCom-compatible (he calls them "ComClone") intercoms.
Basically ... it works something like this. The ClearComs use three-pin XLR (balanced audio microphone cable) as a physical medium. There is one master box, which plugs into the wall, and then there are many portable beltpacks, which you daisy-chain off of the master. In terms of topology it's kinda similar to old coax-based ethernet, only in addition to the shared-medium data line, you also have a Vcc and Gnd wire.
But instead of coax, you're using balanced audio cable, so you have two signal wires and then a shield wire running around them. One of the signal wires is used in the clearcom setup for power, another is used for (unbalanced!) audio, and then ground is used for a shared power/signal ground.
The master box feeds DC onto the power wire, and this is how all the devices on the system get power -- this way the belt packs don't need batteries. I think it's like 24VDC or so. The master box also terminates the audio signal wire, with some fixed resistance. I think it's like 600 ohms or something (don't quote me on that, though). And it grounds the third (ground) pin.
Each beltpack transmits audio onto the signal wire, by acting as a variable AC CURRENT source (not a variable voltage source, as you might suspect). Remember that the audio line is terminated at one point, back at the master console. So V = IR, with a fixed R (the termination resistor), means there's a fluctuating voltage signal.
In order to receive audio, each beltpack acts as some very very high resistance in between the audio signal and ground, and basically measures the voltage change. Since each beltpack acts as some really high impedance (up in the megohm range, I think), and the audio is transmitted as a fluctuating current through the terminating resistor, which is much, much smaller than the internal impedance of the beltpack receivers, you can put a lot of beltpacks on a circuit without diminishing the audio signal. The audio is basically right around "line level" (few hundred mV).
Also, and this is fairly important -- all the audio parts of the transmitters and receivers (which I think are opamps) are AC coupled; they're isolated with capacitors. This is important, because the system imposes a DC bias on the audio wire in order to send signals.
There are two types of control signals that the system allows for. One is the "attention" signal, which makes a light flash on the beltpacks, so that you can wake up someone who might have their headset off and get them to come on line. The other signal is the "hangup" signal, which causes the PTT switch on the remote stations to release.
Both of these functions can only be initiated from the master console (the one with the power supply in it). Basically, when you want to send 'attention,' you press a button, and the box imposes a DC bias equal to about half of the supply voltage on the signal line. The belt packs have a bright LED that goes on in response to this. I don't know exactly how it's triggered but there are a lot of ways you could do it (zeners, etc.)
For the other signal, the hangup signal, there's an even higher DC bias imposed, I think. (Maybe just Vcc, assuming that the attention signal is Vcc/2?) It could conceivably be a negative DC bias with respect to ground, or something else (I've never actually measured it), but it's some other kind of DC bias on the signal line.
The beltpacks all have PTT switches on them that are non-mechanical. When you press and hold one, it works like a PTT. When you press it twice, quickly, it "locks" and you can talk without holding it down. They are designed so that if the person at the master console presses the unlock button, the belt packs will unlock the PTT in response to the signal. Honestly I'm not sure exactly how the beltpacks accomplish this, since I've never reverse-engineered one; I'm pretty sure though that the home-made ComClones *won't* do it, so I think it's a fairly complex analog circuit. (The easiest way would be with a latching relay, but I'm pretty sure that this is not how the beltpacks work, I think it's all solid-state.)
Since the audio signal and these DC signaling pulses are on the same wire, whenever the person at the master console uses one of these features -- attention or unlock -- you can hear it in the headset as a "clunking" sound.
That's about all there is to them. There are a few competing designs for simple party-line intercoms to ClearCom's; Telex is the biggest alternative, and I think they may do something that allows for balanced audio (the ClearComs will hum if you get them too close to a power line, which is a problem in the theater where you're using them alongside horrifically noisy SCR-based lighting dimmers) but they're essentially the same idea.
They also make two-channel versions that use 4-pin XLR cable, and basically just have two signal lines, so you can have two "subnets" (say, you can put all your backstage crew on channel A, and all your front-of-house crew on chan B, so the FOH people don't hear the backstage chatter if they don't want to, but the stage manager, sitting at the master console, can talk to everyone or even bridge the two groups if he/she wants).
More modern systems made in the last 5-10 years are digital and/or allow for multiple channels on top of each other by using frequency modulation techniques; wireless ones are also big. However, the 2-wire (plus ground) ClearCom system is the de facto standard in many theaters and production facilities, and in many cases the buildings have been wired for them (plus you can run them through unused channels in XLR "snakes", etc.).
Anyway hope this made sense. I'll probably copy this email and put it in my /. journal, and perhaps some other knowledgeable folks will correct any mistakes I've made.
The body of the above message, excepting material quoted or reproduced from other sources, and specifically excluding any and all attachments unless specifically noted, is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2, with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts an no Back-Cover Texts, and may be copied, distributed and/or modified subject to the terms of the License at http://www.gnu.org/licenses/fdl.txt
If anyone sees anything in this description that's wrong, please feel free to correct me. Back when I worked in theaters more frequently, I had a variety of little interface boxes, that would convert from ClearCom intercom connections, to balanced line-level audio. My favorite use of these was to record a performance, keeping the backstage headset audio as an alternate audio track. (Generally I'd record them to the linear audio tracks on a VHS tape, and put the house-reinforcement audio onto the HiFi tracks; then I could dub people whichever version they wanted -- the actors could get one of their show, the technical people one of 'theirs.' Today I suppose you could do the same thing with multiple audio tracks on MiniDV.) I've also seen projects for interfacing audio+ClearCom systems together, so that you can hear the house sound as background on your headset, behind the backstage chatter.
Anyway, point is, from a geek's perspective, the ClearCom is a great system, because the hacking potential is limitless and pretty easy.
Inheritance taxes and the perpetuation of the aristocracy
In a comment earlier today, I responded to a comment regarding inheritance taxes. As I find the topic interesting, I decided to expand on it. Consider this a work-in-progress.
Inheritance taxes are frequently put forward as a sort of anti-aristocratic tool; a way to somehow prevent families from passing large sums of money -- and consequently, power -- down from one generation to another and perpetuating themselves without any real 'work.'
I believe this is wrong, in multiple senses. First, it is wrong in the moral sense, since I believe that it is a violation of any reasonable definition of human rights which allow for the free and independent action of individuals to exercise control over their property as they see fit. (I am aware that there are some people who do not believe in such rights, but frankly I'm not interested in arguing with them -- I'm also aware that there are people who believe that the Earth is flat, or that God created the world 5,000 years ago in about a week; there's a certain point where I'm willing to just write people off as wrong and save my breath. Suffice it to say that if you don't believe in, or are unwilling to take the concept of physical property as a premise, I have very little else to say to you.)
Leaving aside the moral wrongness of inheritance taxes, I also think that they clearly fail at what's often put forward as their chief purpose: preventing the creation of a capitalist aristocracy. Far from this, they actually perpetuate and protect a very particular kind of non-meritocratic aristocracy: the aristocracy not of money, but of political and social power and connections.
Inheritance taxes punish hardest those people who are highly successful in the financial sense, but unsuccessful in the political or social realms; when they die, they leave their children mostly money, which is then pillaged by the government. In contrast, someone else who took the majority of their financial wealth and skillfully converted it to political power (a basically straightforward transaction, for someone raised in the right environment), could easily pass these connections onto their children, entirely untaxed and unfettered.
Thus, the true aristocracy escapes the inheritance taxes and manage to perpetuate their power, because their biggest assets are not necessarily in their bank accounts or even in their investments, they are in their social networks and contacts; they are in the people that they can get their children in to meet; the schools they can get them into; in some cases, simply their names themselves.
Rather than being hurt by inheritance taxes, the true aristocracy realizes that wealth is more than just money, and doesn't seem too worried by them; you rarely hear the Rockefellers or the Kennedys whining, for instance. And why should they -- in fact, inheritance taxes are the best form of protectionism for the truly powerful, because it provides a barrier to entry, keeping the nouveau riche from ever pushing themselves into the very top echelon. The nature of true power is that it takes time to accrue, and by levying punishing taxes on those who have recently acquired power (and still have it in cash, rather than in the more nebulous social connections of "old money") they can keep them down and the playing field sparse.
In short, inheritance taxes protect and encourage those who play 'by the rules' -- rules written by the very powerful. Buy into the system, take your money and pour it into quasi-philanthropy, skillful investment, and political contributions, and you can create power that will last through generations; try to keep it in the bank, and it'll be decimated before your children can use it.
The Attraction of "Strong IP"
(I got a fair bit of email about this so I'm putting it here just for convenience and so I don't have to keep digging for the original comment. I was asked about redistribution rights -- you may consider it licensed under the GFDL, although I would appreciate attribution via a link to this page or the original comment if possible.)
Original URL: http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=233075&cid=18952399
I think the answer is staring you in the face: as a nation, the U.S. imports a lot of physical goods, but exports a lot of intellectual property. Therefore, we reward companies who chisel their foreign suppliers into squeezing their employees, because this results in cheap imports here in the States. Likewise, we punish IP 'theft,' because IP is one of the last things that we seem to be able to produce and sell.
Now, I'm no fan of the DMCA, because I think it causes more damage and economic loss, here in the U.S., than it can or will ever possibly create in new IP-export revenue. But the logic driving it, when you separate it from the implementation, isn't that hard to understand, at least from a certain point of view. Allow me to illustrate how I think many people see the problem:
When we set aside irrational feelings of American exceptionalism -- those warm feelings that politicians always play to, when they talk about the "American worker" being the "best in the world" as if it was self-evident -- it is not immediately clear exactly how our previous success over the past century , necessarily translates into continued success in the future. In short, although everyone likes to say reassuring things like "Americans have always been at the forefront of innovation!", those words ring pretty hollow -- it's not clear why we would continue to be. We're not smarter than everyone else, our education system basically sucks, and we have a culture that's increasingly anti-intellectual and in some cases bordering on non-secular.
What this boils down to is: in a fully globalized economy, it's not clear what areas the U.S. will have a comparative advantage in. We'll probably always be able to export some agricultural products, but agricultural products do not a first-world civilization pay for. Same with natural resources like coal and timber but we'll need them here eventually, so we'd just be selling ourselves down the river. So what do you have left, when you've outsourced everything that can be outsourced to lower-cost second- and third-world areas? I think Neal Stephenson was onto something: music, movies, microcode, and pizza delivery.
'Pizza delivery' is the remaining service-sector crap that can't be outsourced. Music and movies are 'cultural exports,' things that for whatever reason, have a certain cachet in the rest of the world, and so don't really fall victim to direct price competition with foreign competitors. And microcode [1A] -- even if we're not the best at that, either, we'll use our monopoly to milk the rest of the world pretty good for as long as we can. But we can only do that if we can get them to buy into the legal framework which lets you sell IP as if it were physical goods. Hence, the DMCA and other 'strong IP' laws.
All of this is just my rather long-winded way of trying to explain why so many people (people in government in particular) are hooked on strong IP law (including the DMCA, DRM, and anti-circumvention), and proprietary software: they see it as a way to ensure that the U.S. can still make money doing the only thing that we seem to be good at. It may not seem at first glance to make a whole lot of sense, particularly to non-Americans, but I've met a lot of fairly powerful people who are very, very nervous about where the New/Global Economy is headed, and how the U.S. is going to maintain its standard of living  in the future. If you're looking for a near-magic solution, which you are if you're a politician, grabbing onto intellectual property as the salvation of high-cost Western society probably isn't the stupidest thing you'll do all day.
### Footnotes: ###
 Much of which is attributable to having had the good luck not to get involved in any home-turf land wars (like Europe, which got flattened, some of it twice) and getting on board the capitalism bus early (unlike Asia, which is just coming around to this whole market-economy business).
[1A] I'm using "microcode" here to represent basically all IP-derived exports, which includes most pharmaceuticals, since they're more of an information product than a physical good, even if they're generally distributed only in a 'compiled' form (pills).
 To say nothing of its political dominance (which is driven by economic dominance) and which a fair number of conservative people see as essential to keep the world from being overrun by Communists/Islamists/Huns/whatever.
AC on Capitalism
One of the better AC comments I've read in a while:
Actually, capitalism is entirely neutral.
The officers of a company are not obligated to worry about stock values. They are obligated to act in the interest of the stockholders. If the stockholders value stock value above all else, then the officers of the company must act in a way which maximizes stock value. However, stockholders may hold core ethical values (e.g. environmentalism) above profit, in which case the officers of the company must act accordingly.
Yes, on the surface, it looks like capitalism favors efficiency above all else. A company which inefficiently uses environmentally sound manufacturing practices has a competitive disadvantage against a polluting, but more efficient competitor. However, the reality is that this simply reflects the values of consumers. As long as consumers value a lower price over environmentally sound manufacturing processes (for instance), corporations will act accordingly or die. It is survival of the fittest - and the consumers create the environment.
So, who is really to blame? Well, the officers are not directly to blame. But their only defense is that they were "just following orders". So there is absolutely nothing wrong with denigrating them. (They could, after all, go find work elsewhere.) Likewise, the stockholders are not responsible for the environment they find their business in, but they are responsible for its actions. So it is perfectly acceptable to denigrate them as well.
However, only consumers who refuse to use such products have any right to denigrate the companies which provide them! Consumers who use these products and do not demand companies meet their own core values are the ultimate cause here. They've created the environment in which these corporations must survive. To denigrate the corporation for trying to survive in this environment while simultaneous actively creating such an environment is hypocrisy.
FCC Drops Morse Requirement for Amateur Radio
[I wrote this up as a story but was late in submitting it (not that there was anything wrong with the one that went through) ... so I just thought I'd post it here for posterity.]
In a surprise announcement last month, the U.S. FCC announced a Report and Order that effectively eliminates the Morse Code requirement for all classes of Amateur Radio licenses in the U.S. In the past, although an applicant could become a "Technician" and gain access to VHF frequencies without being able to use Morse, the second-tier "General" license and the long-distance HF bands required it. The move, which will take effect sometime in mid-Feb, means that only two short written tests stand between prospective Hams and across-the-globe radio communication.
The Problem with Driver-Loaded Firmware
(Submitted as a story on 12/31/2006)
If you've gone to a big-box store and purchased a wireless card recently, you might have had some trouble getting it to work under Linux, or any non-Windows OS for that matter. One reason for this is that more and more manufacturers are producing hardware that are useless without proprietary firmware. While these new designs allow for lower parts counts and thus lower cost, it presents a serious problem for F/OSS software because it can sometimes guarantee no out-of-the-box compatibility. Jem Matzan has produced a detailed article, "The battle for wireless network drivers," on the subject, including interviews with manufacturers' representatives and OS developers, including Theo de Raadt. The bottom line? In general, Asian hardware manufacturers were far more responsive and liberal about firmware than U.S. manufacturers (Intel included). Look for more firmware issues in the future, as not only wireless hardware, but regular wired Ethernet cards, take the driver-loaded firmware approach.
Telcos, Customers, Voters: Taking sides on IPTV and FTTN.
ArsTechnica recently posted an interesting article discussing the experiences of several Chicago suburbs experiencing the first waves of telco-delivered next-gen broadband (FTTN) deployments.
On one hand, traditional telecommunications carriers like AT&T want to use their existing right-of-way agreements and "last mile" copper wiring to offer 20Mb data service, which would include the magic trifecta of voice, data, and video, to residential customers' homes. But facing them is a range of challenges, including the homeowners themselves, with local municipal governments in tow; that's in addition to the resistance you'd expect from existing cable TV franchises. Customers dislike the large fiber/copper interface boxes that must be deposited around neighborhoods in order to provide the service, and are worried that telcos will use their status as "data services" to avoid traditional franchise agreements that require whole-town build-outs, similar to what cable companies had to do in the 1980s.
The result is what you'd expect: lawsuits. The municipal governments are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place: if they allow the telcos to go ahead with their (generally undisclosed, trade-secret) plans, they'll be sued by the cablecos for not keeping the playing field level; if they block the telcos, they'll be sued for not allowing "network upgrades." Since there are currently no court rulings or Federal laws to act as guides, it's anyone's guess as to which way it will turn out.
As someone who just wants a fast, cheap data pipe, it's a difficult issue to take sides on. It's obvious that the U.S. regulatory and competitive climate is poisonous, as evidenced by the lack of broadband options here, compared to other countries with similar population densities. What's not obvious is whether letting the telcos deploy according to their own schedules is best, or whether municipal governments should be allowed to force them to build-out, deploying service to areas that may not be as immediately profitable. The telcos are quick to threaten that the latter will cause the deployment of the services to be aborted entirely, while others have speculated that including low-income areas in next-generation deployments might help to keep prices down later, benefiting everyone.
Chinese company releases $203 Linux PC
According to this Engadget article a Chinese company, the Jiangsu Menglong Science and Technology Company, has produced a 1600 yuan ($203 USD) Internet PC. The system runs on a "750MHz 64-bit homegrown Godson IIE chip" rather than an Intel or AMD part, and includes 256MB RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Based on promotional photos, it seems to run some form of Linux as an OS. Prices are exclusive of a keyboard and monitor; you'll have to bring your own for now. Also reported by Agence France Presse, via PhysOrg: the Godson chip "was produced by the Institute of Computer Technology under the state-run China Academy of Sciences as part of a project to lower computer costs in China."
A Technological Solution to Drunk Driving?
(Submitted as a story on 11/21/2006.)
The U.S.-based anti-drunk-driving group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has announced its new campaign this week, which prominently features technological measures against drunk driving. In particular, MADD is planning a nationwide call for wider use of "ignition interlocks," devices which require a driver to blow into a Breathalyzer in order to start their car, for all convicted drunk drivers and not just repeat offenders. However, the group sees this as only the first stage in a wider plan, which would eventually make Breathalyzer-like devices standard equipment in all U.S. automobiles. According to the N.Y. Times article: "Ms. Ferguson said the most promising technologies would work automatically, like air bags." Automatic, mandatory alcohol sensing has received support from the Governors Highway Safety Association, whose chairman was quoted as saying "When 40 percent of all our crashes are alcohol-involved, I don't think it's going to be that difficult of a sell."
Verizon Drops New DSL Fee
According to several news sources, Verizon has dropped its controversial new fee that it had planned to add onto DSL accounts, in place of the recently-removed FCC fee. The move is an apparent win for many irate customers, who saw a potential cost savings disappear into what was almost universally felt to be a cost increase. The move comes as Verizon was taking critcism not only from disgrundled customers and the press, but from the FCC itself.
Now, if they could only get rid of those "Regulatory Compliance Fees" that the telcos and cellular providers are somehow exempt from including in their advertised prices...why is any 'fee' not assessed by the government considered anything but part of the price of the service?
Wireless Remote Root Vulnerability found in MacBooks
As reported by Ars Technica and the Washington Post, two hackers have found an exploitable vulnerability in the wireless drivers used by Apple's MacBook. Machines are vulnerable if they have wireless enabled and are set to connect to any available wireless network, fairly close to their default state, and the exploit allows an attacker to gain "total access" -- apparently a remote root. Although the demo, performed via video at the BlackHat conference, takes aim at what one of the hackers calls the "Mac userbase aura of smugness on security," Windows users shouldn't get too smug themselves: according to the Post article, "the two have found at least two similar flaws in device drivers for wireless cards either designed for or embedded in machines running the Windows OS." Ultimately, it may be the attacks against embedded devices which are the most threatening, since those devices are the hardest to upgrade. Currently there have not been any reports of this vulnerability 'in the wild.'
Chrysler to bring SmartCar to U.S.
As reported by Bloomberg and others, DaimlerChrylser's SmartCar may soon be coming to the U.S.. The iconic vehicle weighs 1,609 pounds, has a 50-HP gasoline engine, and gets approximately 52 MPG. Its small size have made it popular in some urban European areas, and Chrysler is betting that the inreasing price of gas will make U.S. consumers receptive to the idea of a small, efficient urban ride. No word on safety, although the idea of being struck by an H2 at highway speeds while riding in one of these is unsettling, to say the least.
Revenge of the eBayer, or, "Surprise!"
A British eBay user known only as "spikytom," frustrated when a laptop he bought didn't work or match the advertised specs, took revenge on the seller when he created a website and posted information allegedly taken off of the computer's improperly wiped hard drive. Included were a number of embarrassing pictures, plus scans of the seller's passport, and excerpts from his resume. The website received national attention in the U.K., and the seller was quoted as describing his life as "a living hell." Opinions on the site seem to be mixed: while most of us who have used eBay for any length of time have ended up on the wrong end of a shady deal, this seems distressingly close to extortion, since the buyer is asking for his money back in exchange for removing the page.
Creative Sues Apple over iPod Interface
Creative Labs, maker of the Zen line of digital audio players, has filed suit against Apple Computer, and is seeking an injunction to block sales of iPods, saying that the machines' user interface violates a 2005 patent held by Creative: "Automatic Hierarchical Categorization of Music by Metadata," (U.S. Patent No. 6,928,433). The patent was filed in 2001 and covers "A method, performed by software...of a portable music playback device, that automatically files tracks according to hierarchical structure of categories to organize tracks in a logical order."
Windows Genuine Advantage gets new notification "feature"
As Ars Technica and others have reported, Microsoft is rolling out, via Windows Update, a new version of its Windows Genuine Advantage system to combat piracy.
The software, which is an optional install (it can be declined by not accepting the EULA) checks the validity of a user's copy of Windows and pops up an on-screen message warning that the copy may be "counterfeit" if the number doesn't check out. The message is displayed both via a system-tray alert icon, and a dialog box which pops up while the computer is in use. After 14 days of inaction, the message will pop up hourly. One article reported that according to Microsoft, once installed, the notification system is not removeable.
The new version has been rolled out to Windows users in Australia, New Zealand, and a limited number of users in the U.S., with a wider rollout expected in time.
and of course, Ars Technica.
RIM Settles with NTP: Pays $612.5 Million
Voice of America news, among other sources, is reporting that Research In Motion, makers of the BlackBerry mobile email device, has settled its ongoing 2001 patent dispute lawsuit with US-based NTP, Inc., to the tune of $612.5 million USD. The settlement "settles all claims" between the two companies, and prevents either a shutdown of the BlackBerry service, or the need for RIM to roll out a potentially problematic workaround for the disputed features. The settlement comes after all of NTP's patents had been rejected by the US Patent and Trademark Office, although this did officially did not impact the case. The settlement may come as a disappointment to those who have lauded RIM for standing up to what has been called an abusive use of junk patents.
While many problems with Linux, especially ones encountered by non-technical people, may be solvable with a quick Google search, many people are uncomfortable with the fact that there doesn't seem to be a "phone number of last resort" that they can call, if they run into a problem that they can't find an answer to.
Most commercial desktop OSs, including MacOS, Windows, and SunOS/Solaris, have either pay-per-use technical support numbers, or service contracts that an individual user can purchase to get support. However, on Linux most "professional" support comes from consultants and is targeted at organizations and enterprise environments, not individuals and homes or small businesses. This can be confirmed by reading most of the companies that are on the Ubuntu site's list; very few of them (none, that I've seen so far) focus on individual users.
Now that LinuxCare is dead, what suggestions does the Slashdot community have as to sources of professional, individual end-user support for Linux?
The $300 Workstation, Part II
So it's been (almost) two months, and I thought I'd record some of my musings, after having lived with my $293 HP xw5000 Intel-based "workstation" for a while.
You can read part I if you want the backstory. Suffice it to say I finally decided to give Linux a fair shot, after being rather dissatisfied with all my previous experiments with it, which all involved trying to run it on sorely outdated hardware.
I have the xw5000 hooked up via a 2-port USB KVM switch, so I can use the same set of input devices to control the Linux machine and my Mac, an aging 400MHz Sawtooth. For a Linux distro, I decided to go with Ubuntu, although not for any particularly scientific reason. I noticed it was at the top of the Distrowatch charts, and had an active user forum and a good release cycle. Sounded good enough for me.
Installation was fine, I can't complain there. Although I really never have had many complaints with installing Linux. I figure there are a lot more important things with an OS than whether or not it uses a text-mode installer or a true GUI. But Ubuntu was fine, it recognized all of the internal hardware without problems. (Which it ought to have, since this machine was desiged to run Linux -- albeit RedHat Enterprise Linux -- from the beginning.)
About the only thing that the installer didn't do a good job on, was detecting my monitor's maximum resolution. My monitor isn't anything special (a MAG 19" CRT), and I had thought it would have done a better autodetect job. But it didn't blow it up, so after some Googling I found out that I could specify the maximum H and V refresh rates in the X.org config file, and it would figure things out from there. Not too bad.
After that, it was wireless card time. As I've written in several Slashdot posts, the wireless situation on Linux is deplorable. Although I'm not sure that it's really the fault of anyone in the Linux community -- more the card manufacturers themselves -- it's a shitty situation. I won't rehash the entire saga here, but I got what I thought was a compatible Linux card, only to bring it home and find out that they'd changed the chipset (made by Marvell, curse them) to one that there aren't any native drivers for. So I ended up using ndiswrappers, and being stuck with an odd side-effect: every time I want to change the SSID of the network I connect to, I have to completely reboot the machine. Not a huge problem on a workstation, but it's something I have to keep in mind whenever I'm re-jiggering my wireless settings.
(It's worth noting that the reason I'm using wireless is because the Mac, which sits 6" away from the Linux machine, acts as the internet gateway to the house and only has one Ethernet port. Perhaps at some point I'll get a router-gateway and do away with the Linux box's wireless card entirely.)
Next stop, NVidia drivers. Can't say I had any problems here; props to NVidia for making the procedure fairly trouble-free. I never played with the system enough to determine whether there's a noticable performance boost as a result of having the drivers installed. The video card that came in the machine is a NVidia Quadro4 200NVS, 64MB -- not particularly perky by today's standards. It's designed to drive dual displays, although I'm only using one through the KVM.
My first comment regarding Ubuntu is that I quickly decided that I'm not a big fan of Gnome. Sorry guys, but I just don't like it. I really did try to like it, because I'd heard all these unflattering things said about KDE (e.g., "it's Windows-ish," "it's a resource hog," "it's poorly designed,"), and perhaps if I had spent time customizing Gnome I would have liked it, but I've got better things to do. I grabbed the Kubuntu packages and never looked back. (Except to use the system-management utilites like the Networking control panel, which don't seem to work for me in KDE.)
The only downside to Kubuntu is that there isn't as much of a user community for it as plain-old (Gnome-based) Ubuntu. If you look at the number of people in each forum at any given time, the numbers usually run 2:1 or 3:1 in favor of Gnome. Also, there's no free CD available of Kubuntu, so you have to either burn it yourself, or install Ubuntu and then grab the Kubuntu-desktop packages.
The other thing I like about KDE is that it offers a MacOS-style screen-top menubar, that changes options depending on the application currently in focus / on top. Also, I think Konqueror is a good web browser, and renders more nicely than Firefox. Both of these things are attributable to my previous experience with Macs and resultant bias -- I use Safari on my Mac, which is based on the same rendering engine as Konqueror -- but they stand just the same. I also like the "fish" feature of Konqueror: you can type a URL in the form "fish://user@remotemachine/~" and it will let you access that machine just as if it was a local volume, through an SSH session. You can view text files, copy things back and forth, etc. -- all without having to set up file sharing on the remote machine (aside from SSH). Personally I think that's worth the price of admission (installing KDE) by itself.