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Grand Ayatollah Says High Speed Internet Is "Against Moral Standards"

Paul Fernhout Being reflective on pros and cons of technology... (490 comments)

"In other words, power corrupts. It should really be regarded like super-heroin: no matter your initial purposes for getting it, you will be addicted and unwilling to put it down, until keeping it and getting more is all that really matters to you anymore. Which explains why the world is so dysfunctional: every society is led by junkies."

If "power" is addictive, maybe that explains the outrage on Slashdot regarding a plea to limit internet speed and access? :-)

More seriously, while you may well be right about the political motivation in this case, there was a recent Slashdot article on how social networks make people more depressed, and here are links to stuff by Paul Graham on the "Acceleration of Addictivess" and so on.

And something by Bill Joy on "How the Future Does Not Need Us".

One other example of what we have lost:
"Nature deficit disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. ... Louv claims that causes for the phenomenon include parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of the screen. Recent research has drawn a further contrast between the declining number of National Park visits in the United States and increasing consumption of electronic media by children."

So there are many obvious negatives of modern technology. Look at all the concern on Slashdot about ubiquitous surveillance of everyone that was effectively impossible decades ago. I don't know what the general solution is for the USA regarding technological choices. Obviously Iran has its own political and social dynamics and what may be right for that culture may not be right in the USA. But I'd suggest we need a more reflective attitude towards technology and social systems connected to it. Maybe that would be hard in Iran with its current politics and censorship, but at least, in the USA and on Slashdot, we may want to be more reflective on both what we have gained and what we have lost.

For example, the Amish don't shun technology as much as ask whether specific technologies promote community or not.
"Many outsiders mistakenly think that the Amish reject technology. It is more accurate to say that they use technology selectively. Televisions, radios, and personal computers are rejected outright, but other types of technology are used selectively or modified to fit Amish purposes. Amish mechanics also build new machines to accommodate their cultural guidelines. Moreover, the Amish readily buy much modern technology, such as gas grills, shop tools, camping equipment, and some farm equipment.
    The Amish do not consider technology evil in itself but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society. Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture. By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base. ...
    The Amish seek to master technology rather than become its slave. Like few other communities, they have shown the tenacity to tackle the powerful forces of technology in order to preserve their traditional way of life."

My OSCOMAK idea was in part a hope that communities (of any size) could more consciously design their own technical infrastructures. Maybe with a diversity of options, some communities would get a healthy mix and then would grow from that.

It is a reasonable question, when designing a community, to ask what sort of information access promotes a healthy society? Granted, that immediately leads to questions like "What is Health?" and "Healthy for Whom?" And those may be, in part, political and religious questions.

Religions may well get a lot of stuff wrong. But ultimately, religious groups may survive because their beliefs get the most important things right and then successfully raise children in good health who raise more children etc.. Some of those things they get right may include maybe the human need for face-to-face interaction, the need for forgiveness or avoidance of debts, the need to keep sociopathic behavior in check by various means (including perhaps fear of an omniscient God and judgement in an an afterlife), and placing artificial socially-based limits on supernormal stimuli that otherwise may bring us to our doom "like moths to the flame"?

BTW, it's saddening that most people on Slashdot don't know that for many centuries Islam was far ahead of Christianity on women's rights and several other progressive issues. Even Islamic banking has various merits... See for example:
"At the time of Muhammad's birth, women in 7th century Arabia had few if any rights. Even the right of life could be in question, since it was not uncommon for small girls to be buried alive during times of scarcity. In the Qur'an, it is said that on Judgment Day "buried girls" will rise out of their graves and ask for what crime they were killed. Part of Muhammad's legacy was to end infanticide and establish explicit rights for women. Islam teaches that men and women are equal before God. It grants women divinely sanctioned inheritance, property, social and marriage rights, including the right to reject the terms of a proposal and to initiate divorce. The American middle-class trend to include a prenuptial agreement in the marriage contract is completely acceptable in Islamic law. In Islam's early period, women were professionals and property owners, as many are today. ..."

See also, on morality of the respective political systems of Iran vs. the USA:
"Has IRAN ever invaded a country?"


New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption

Paul Fernhout Re:Game changing big events beyond any planning? (107 comments)

Typo: That should have been "*extrinsic* unilateral military might" not "intrinsic unilateral military might". Extrinsic means the security comes by extrinsically having soldiers defending supply lines, not intrinsically having local systems that can produce what you need or that can take a pounding.


New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption

Paul Fernhout Game changing big events beyond any planning? (107 comments)

Our current economic system has created existential risks by discounting the risks of centralization and just-in-time production and just-barely-works systems without huge margins of resiliency. One tragedy-in-the-making example is the USA recently selling off its emergency strategic grain supplies.

The USA could as a nation be putting in place a more distributed resilient production system (including indoors food production or even space habitats) to ensure the safety of its citizenry even under huge unexpected disasters. The USA has chosen not too because it does not fit with the current economic dogma that discount such "black swan" existential risks. Hurricane Katrina is an example of failure to systemically plan for obvious serious weather-related risks, Given that example, it is unlikely we can expect the USA to plan for even rarer risks like supervolcanoes, solar flares, pandemics, rogue AI technology, asteroid strikes, economic meltdown, civil war, or whatever else. Still, if you add up all the rare risks, taken together, the probability of some sort of "black swan" event may not otherwise be as rare as one might expect -- and they can all be addressed to some extent by creating a more resilient decentralized infrastructure and promoting more cooperation among people (rather than competition).

I find that situation frustrating because I find issues about resiliency to be very interesting civil defense problems to think about (e.g. my OSCOMAK idea), but the current notion of national security is focused on intrinsic unilateral military might, not intrinsic mutual resilient security. The "Lifeboat Foundation" and "The Living Universe Foundation" though are examples of some groups that have concerns in this area -- but with little funding and lots of competition for that funding compared with the effectively trillion US dollars a year the USA spends (or effectively incurs) annually for military-oriented defense.

Like George Orwell said:
"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, is possible to carry this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield [or a three foot deep ash field...]"

A resilient infrastructure coincidentally is also more compatible with "democracy" since there can't be real political democracy without some level of financial and material independence for the citizenry. At least the Maker movement is a bit of hope there. As are the changing economics of indoor agriculture given LED lights and robotics, even without potentially cheaper energy supplies if either hot fusion or LENR/QuantumEnergy/ColdFusion turns out to be workable.


Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed

Paul Fernhout Re:Nickel-Iron Battery -- could we make it better? (203 comments)

"Nickel-Iron (Ni-Fe) batteries -- developed over a century ago by Thomas Edison -- are gradually replacing lead-acid batteries at a number of applications, especially for solar PV and renewable energy power systems. Unlike lead-acid batteries, they are highly reliable, featuring a longer service life and pollution-free operation.
    "The Nickel-Iron technology is great, because it's like rediscovering this great invention," adds Williams. "The fact that Thomas Edison developed this technology makes the history even more exciting."
    Modern Ni-Fe batteries are primarily used for stationary applications and usually last longer than their lead-acid counterparts. Williams says he expects at least 20+ years from his batteries, adding that some batteries over 50 years of age are still working well. He cites a "perfectly reversible polish / tarnish reaction" as a principle reason for top performance. As for pricing and performance comparisons, the Ni-Fe battery is more expensive than a lead-acid battery, yet it delivers three times more discharge, in addition to lasting far longer, says Williams."

I wonder what the problem is with making these batteries a lot cheaper?

Compressed air storage (like in salt mines) is also an interesting idea:


Yahoo Stops New Development On YUI

Paul Fernhout Glad I picked Dojo for a new project! :-) (77 comments) "Dojo starts with a minimal loader (less than 4KB gzipped) with thousands of loosely coupled lightweight modules and plugins available when you need them that are tested and maintained together for the best quality possible."

A few things I like about it are:
* internationalization
* accessibility
* modules
* support for making your own widgets

The first two (especially the second, accessibility) are examples of really important things that many developers leave for later when you are locked into a framework and discover they are not there.

"jQuery UI Accessibility Analysis"
"To summarize, the public jQuery UI library widgets as of July 1, 2013, are mostly inaccessible for both screen reader and keyboard only users."

Dojo is used in some IBM projects, so that is probably a big reason for the emphasis on accessibility and internationalization.

Of course, there are various things I don't like about Dojo (to begin with, the documentation leaves a lot to be desired when you are starting out). However, in general, so far, it is supporting us in doing everything we want to do... For example, I was very pleasantly surprised when the back button "just worked" when I used the URL "hash" module to navigate between virtual "pages" in a single page app (at least in FireFox, still need to test elsewhere).

Although I still have a fondness for the brilliance of Knockout.js for hooking up widgets to models...

2 days ago

Hidden Obstacles For Google's Self-Driving Cars

Paul Fernhout Agreed; incremental versions can be useful (279 comments)

I agree (article submitter here). I submitted the article mostly not to complain about lack of progress but because the article covered a lot of interesting details about how the Google technology worked in discussing the limits of the current system. I have little doubt such systems will continue to rapidly improve.

I was involved briefly on a project for self-driving cars in the late 1980s at Princeton involving neural network ideas for image processing, and I suggested we could just train the cars to drive specific routes. However, that suggestion was scoffed at (and I did not try hard to push it). My argument was that most driving is stuff like daily commutes or runs to well known stores, and so pretty much the car could drive exactly the same way every time, seeing the exact same sights. That might make it feasible to train the neural networks from just a few video recordings of drives over the same stretch of roadway. Granted, lighting conditions, weather, other cars, pedestrians, and possible lane changes make that harder -- but is seemed like a good place to start, rather than try to create a car driving system that could drive in arbitrary new circumstances where it has never seen the road before. Solar panels have succeeded much the same way -- the early ones were niche (like in calculators or satellites), but sales drove more R&D that lead to better and cheaper panels in more and more applications. A self-driving car that could only drive me from home to a few local towns and back on fixed routes (safely, while, say, I surfed the web) would still be tremendously valuable to me. Think of how many people commute the same routes every day for years and could use that commuting time more productively in other ways via the internet. If people with an hour commute could use that time to answer email, then maybe they could work one hour less in the office? Also, a car that just knew how to park itself in a standard location and come back to pick you up in front of some building you work at or apartment you live in would be very useful in cities.

Another idea I had several years ago is that we could have an open source software effort to drive cars in various simulated racing games like "Gran Turismo" or other free play driving games like "Driver: San Francisco" or various off-road sims. That would be a inexpensive and safe challenge for college students. Those driving simulators go to great lengths to make realistic looking images (including things like dust clouds and vehicle dynamics), and they continue to improve. You just feed the first-person video generated the game into the car-driving visual processing algorithms, and you have the software control the game via USB outputs. As the software gets better, then you can fuzz up the image more and more by adding more white noise to it, or whatever other distortions you wanted (like bug white blotches over parts of the image) to challenge the algorithms. Or you could introduce delays and noise in how commands for steering were processed. Such an approach makes writing such software feasible for the average software developer without a special car. Granted, the software would have to focus on processing 2D images instead of 3D laser ranging data. Even Google has talked about testing their software in simulations regarding certification. Ideally, the simulations used for testing would be open source too, like Rigs of Rods (or even more realistic) and if so, things like 3D ranging data could probably be extracted too:

2 days ago

Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Paul Fernhout Policy implication #1: Basic income & resilien (360 comments)

As I wrote here about the USA: "Right now, a profit driven health care system has sized emergency rooms for average needs, and those emergency rooms are often full. With a basic income and more money going on a systematic basis to the health care system, the health care system emergency rooms will no longer be overrun with people there for reasons they could see a doctor for. So, emergency care would be better for millionaires. Millionaires with heart attacks won't be as likely to end up being diverted to far away hospitals because the local hospital emergency room is full. Likewise, emergency rooms might, with more money going to medicine, become sized for national emergencies, not personal emergencies, so they might become vast empty places, with physicians and other health care staff keeping their skills sharp always running simulations, learning more medical information, and/or doing basic medical research, with these people always ready for a pandemic or natural disaster or industrial accident which they had the resources in reserve to deal with. So, millionaires who got sick or injured in a disaster could be sure there was the facilities and expertise nearby to help them, even if most of the rest of the population needed help too at the same time too. In that way, some of this basic income could be funded by money that might otherwise go to the Defense department, because what is better civil defense then investing in a health care system able to to handle national disasters? So, any millionaires who are doctors (many are) would benefit by this plan, because their lives as doctors will become happier and less stressful, both with less paperwork and with more resources."

We should also reduce the monopoly power of the AMA and related organizations that creates an artificial scarcity of physicians in the USA using quotas and high credentialing prices. See for example:

We should also be systematically rethinking our technical infrastructure to be more resilient rather than depend on long supply lines that need to be "defended" by troops in foreign countries, and also rethinking our security strategy to be more mutual rather than unilateral.
"Biological weapons like genetically-engineered plagues are ironic because they are about using advanced life-altering biotechnology to fight over which old-fashioned humans get to occupy the planet. Why not just use advanced biotech to let people pick their skin color, or to create living arkologies and agricultural abundance for everyone everywhere? ... We the people need to redefine security in a sustainable and resilient way. Much current US military doctrine is based around unilateral security ("I'm safe because you are nervous") and extrinsic security ("I'm safe despite long supply lines because I have a bunch of soldiers to defend them"), which both lead to expensive arms races. We need as a society to move to other paradigms like Morton Deutsch's mutual security ("We're all looking out for each other's safety") and Amory Lovin's intrinsic security ("Our redundant decentralized local systems can take a lot of pounding whether from storm, earthquake, or bombs and would still would keep working"). ... This all suggests that our biggest danger as as society is in putting the *tools* (some being useful as weapons) of a post-scarcity civilization into the hands of scarcity-preoccupied minds. (Especially ones following outdated military dogmas like unilateral security instead of mutual security.) As Albert Einstein said, with the advent of atomic weapons, everything has changed but our thinking. This site is put up towards that end, changing our thinking, through helping change our collective mythology, especially in the non-profit sector. ... And just to show you how these things change, my main graduate advisor at SUNY SB, Lev Ginzburg, had been a Soviet mathematician; he said he learned differential equations helping his father design missile guidance systems (essentially to efficiently and accurately deliver nuclear bombs to the USA to bring death on me and all I knew through the power of mathematics). And there, decades later, I was learning mathematical ecology and so on from him. :-) Again, multiple ironies -- including both the USA and the USSR having great math and a grasp of nuclear energy and advanced manufacturing and space flight, but using it to fight instead of build, and us two, not knowing each other, but unknowingly for a time total enemies back then, and now friends. :-) Or, as good a friend as one can be with a graduate advisor. :-) See: http://www.disciplined-minds.c... "

Of course, I think we should have already *long* been doing all those things regardless of what new potential threats show up in the news. From a 21st century post-scarcity perspective, these policies are all just a new form of "common sense".

3 days ago

Underground Experiment Confirms Fusion Powers the Sun

Paul Fernhout My hypothesis: Sun of Iron with LENR at surface (141 comments)

You make good points on the limits of science. Is is possible there is no hot fusion in the sun, and duplicating such a non-existent phenomenon on Earth has been a fool's errand? See also:

I think it possible hydrogen may essentially outgas for statistical reasons at the surface of an iron Sun. It might also be cause by electric currents?

Then the hydrogen fuses at the surface of the Sun's iron-nickel core. The same process may be happening at a lesser scale deep within the Earth (which has an iron-nickel core), both to cause the Earth's heat by LENR and also to produce upwelling hydrocabons from outgassed hydrogen from all the nickel-iron.

In general, the universe may be mostly iron. The history of the universe may be more about iron decaying into hydrogen (for whatever reasons), rather than hydrogen fusing into (eventually) iron.

The Earth from space looks like it is made of mostly air and water. You can't judge a large object by just what covers it. The sun's surface may be hydrogen, but we don't really know for sure what is inside -- it is all indirect guessing. What we know is that the Earth has an iron-nickel core. So why not the sun?

Science is full of data that gets reinterpreted decades later. It was well accepted the Sun was made of Iron until re-interpretation of data in the Early 1900s. Maybe it is time for another bug re-interpretation? Perhaps inspired by the recent scientific reports related to cold fusion / LENR?

Of course, I am at a loss how to disprove my hypothesis... Perhaps people here might suggest ways to do that.

4 days ago

Climate Damage 'Irreversible' According Leaked Climate Report

Paul Fernhout We need to talk about externalities, fairness & (530 comments)

I said this years ago -- the change is effectively irreversible and we should accept it and deal with it. See my essay "On Climate Change vs. the Singularity".

CO2 pollution and related climate change is an externality of centuries of human industrial development and fossil fuel burning, as well as likely poor farming practices leading to topsoil loss (a major carbon reservoir), and also livestock production. As a consequence, many people in low lying areas will be flooded, and others will have bad weather and lose harvests, (negative externalities) while some others will get warmer or wetter weather and have bigger harvests (positive externality). Essentially, global climate change is just a bigger example of, say, a valley being flooded to make a hydroelectric dam. Who pays the costs and who gets the benefits?

We could tax fossil fuel use and topsoil loss and livestock production to discourage it and redistribute that tax as a global basic income. But that is not enough because past advantages are not evenly distributed globally. So, we could tax capital as well (including patents and copyrights) and also distribute that as a global basic income to make up for such losses. Then people who are negatively affected by climate change will at least be able to afford to move elsewhere. In general, we could also look at the specific winners and losers of climate change and also look at taxing and redistributing to just those people, but that seems harder to figure out.

Of course, all this is easier said than done without a world government -- and that has its own problems. I can hope that we transition globally to a post-scarcity society in the next few decades (including dirt-cheap solar, hot and cold fusion energy, widespread productive robotics and AI) and many of these issues become uninteresting or trivial to resolve given global abundance. Of course, abundance and such a AI/robotics singularity also poses its own problems. And those issues related to an economic, political, and/or evolutionary singularity in the next few decades may well be more important to think about and plan for than a, by comparison, relatively simpler problem of global climate change.

4 days ago

Eye Problems From Space Affect At Least 21 NASA Astronauts

Paul Fernhout Liquid breathing and vitamin D? (109 comments)

Some speculations... The US RDA for vitamin D is about 10X too low for adults, so likely all astronauts in the space station have been deficient, which could contribute to bone loss and some other health effects. Also, living in a liquid environment might help mitigate loss of muscle tone by creating muscle-strengthening resistance as astronauts swim in the liquid the same way dolphins stay fit floating essentially weightlessly in water. (Granted, it might not be identical to living in a G-field.) A resistant spacesuit might also provide some of this conditioning too -- however the liquid also doubles as a radiation shield, at the cost of more mass to lift into space. Breathable liquids have been researched, but I don't know where that work is now.

Others have talked about rotating cylinders (like O'Neill space habitats). I'm all in favor of trying that. However, those seem harder to make and maintain and travel between that more modular zero-G Marshall-Savage-Millennial-Project-like-plastic-bubbles with two meter water shields at the exterior for radiation protection. So, it seems like ultimately genetic engineering, nanoengineering, or medicine to adapt humans to zero-G might ultimately be cheaper than rotating space habitats. Or, maybe, like Hans Moravec suggests, space will be the domain of our zero-G-optimized robot "mind children" (and perhaps human minds downloaded into some of them or teleoperating some of them).

4 days ago

TechCentral Scams Call Center Scammers

Paul Fernhout You had a VM w/ VLAN; TechCentral took a big risk (249 comments)

I cant believe more people aren't pointing out how potentially dangerous what the TechCrunch author, Regardt van der Berg, did was. He gave a potential unknown attacker a beachhead inside the TechCentral network, even if only for a few minutes. That is long enough for someone to potentially have compromised other machines on the network.

The article says: "We have a spare PC in the TechCentral office that has been newly installed and that contains no personal information. I used this machine for the next part of the ploy. I installed the application and provided "John" with the access details. ... Because I did not furnish my PayPal or credit card details, the scammers turned nasty and proceeded to my documents folder. I saw the engineer poking around in some folders, but I promptly disconnected the office Wi-Fi connection. After some research, I found out that they'll delete system files and users' personal documents. Fortunately, I disconnected before they managed to delete files on the dummy PC -- not that there was anything of value for them to delete."

At that point, regardless of what was done to that specific PC, they have to assume the attacker could compromise every machine on their network by exploits launched immediately from that machine in the background at all other computers on the network, like through potentially zero-day exploits such as for unpatched Microsoft issues relating to local workgroup file sharing or other services. They cant assume they knew everything the attackers were doing. That's why it's been said that firewalls, like some lollipops, are "crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle". The article author does not say he re-imaged the PC either. Granted, his informative article that may help many other potential victims was maybe worth the risk, but he should at least make clear to his readership what those risks are and that he understood them and accepted them on behalf of helping his readership.

Contrast with what your setup, where the VM was on its own virtual LAN and so presumably could not get to other machines on your local network. And as a snapshotted VM, you can easily roll it back. Still, if you had installed software, how risky that was would also depend on the exact network configuration and how that VM's VLAN interacts with your gateway to the internet -- as in whether the VLAN to gateway interface via whatever virtualization software you were using was set up like guest networking with isolation from other guests. One mistake somewhere in configuration (or even with no mistakes and buggy virtualization software), and your production network could have been compromised. And as you said, there could be credentials on a test machine like SSH keys and such. You did the right thing by not installing anything.

Granted, it doesn't sound like these examples of scammers are doing internal network attacks, but you never can know for sure what they really intend...

about a week ago

What is Nothing?

Paul Fernhout Re:On a more serious note (7 comments)

Interesting, thanks! Good point on the container.

BTW, I recall an old mystery story where the one clue was that there was no clues (seemingly no information), and the investigator correlated that among other crimes with no clues to find the culprit...

about a week ago

What is Nothing?

Paul Fernhout Examples of nothingness as the fuel for something? (7 comments)

Romulan spacecraft in Star Trek: TNG were supposedly powered by an artifical quantum singularity (a black hole).

Robin Williams' life and comedy can only be understood in light of a deep depression and related suffering throughout his life. No doubt many other artists and creators have that sort of (negative) inspiration.

Michael Ende's "The Neverending Story" has an expanding "Nothingness" that drives the plot.

Jack Chalker's sci-fi Well World series, specifically "The Return of Nathan Brazil", has a spreading nothingness as a rip in space-time created via powerful weapons (the Zinder Nullifier) as a major driver of the plot.

Other examples?

about a week ago

If Java Wasn't Cool 10 Years Ago, What About Now?

Paul Fernhout Insightful point on communities; thanks! (508 comments)

I'm moving more of my own work from Java to JavaScript, but that is mainly because JavaScript is easiest to deploy almost every where. I generally like Java+Eclipse better for big projects otherwise. However, with tools that compile other languages to JavaScript, and browsers that can get near native performance from JavaScript if written in a certain way, I'm hoping the "JavaScript" approach will continue to gain in benefits because it is just easier to deploy than Java. It's too bad Java app deployment to the desktop was never a real priority (even with Java Web Start). As an example of the difference (including in sandboxing), some school teachers can get fired for installing new software without permission (which could include a Java app which can do anything), but they can use a web browser to load up an educational web page which uses JavaScript to run a simulation without too many worries.

I fought against Java back in the late 1990s compared to using Smalltalk. Back then Java was just a mess and a mass of hype. But I can accept Java is now a half-way-decent solution for many things now that many of the worst rough edges of Java have been smoothed off. I still miss Smalltalk though, and to some extent (not all), JavaScript recaptures some of the Smalltalk flavor and community -- if I squint just right, I can kind of see the entire Web as one big multi-threaded Smalltalk image. :-)

about a week ago

Tech Looks To Obama To Save Them From 'Just Sort of OK' US Workers

Paul Fernhout Calvin Coolidge on Persistence (441 comments)

From: "Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "Press On" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. (Calvin Coolidge)"

Of course, it has also been said: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (Albert Einstein)"

Perhaps the difference lies in having some way of validating that you are making some progress through your persistence, even if infinitesimally?

about two weeks ago

UPS: We've Been Hacked

Paul Fernhout Insightful! Govt. & US Post Office might also (62 comments)

Sharing such rarely changing authentication data is at the heart of the issue as you point out. It seems like a trade-off of convenience and security with some background fraud cost. However, the issue is always convenience for who and fraud for who? In this case, banks have succeeded in mostly privatizing gains from transactions costs from credit card transaction fees while socializing the cost of identity theft to the general public (who have to change their accounts, deal with years of worries, try to straighten out fraudulent charges at riskof not being able to get a job or buy a house, etc.). This is an example of capitalism at its finest from one point of view -- privatizing gains while socializing costs and risks. That is when we need government (as the will of the People) to step in and force banks to internalize the cost of identity theft rather than pass it on indirectly. Ultimately, that might have to be done by big fines for breaches or taxes on unsecured transactions. And if banks had to do that, they would probably rapidly deploy something better because it would be cheaper than raising costs to customers and losing business to other banks that did implement better systems.

Perhaps the only worse thing is when businesses in the USA are allowed to use essentially unchangeable info about a person like date of birth or social security number to authenticate them. Other countries seem to handle this better by having an additional private PIN as part of a SSN. Some also include using the post office as part of the authentication process (like to present your ID at the post-office to approve some transaction or initiate some communications link). I'm surprised the US post office (which handles US passports now) does not get involved with authentication in general, as it seems like a surefire money-maker in the digital age, and the US post office already has procedures in place from passports to verify identity.

about two weeks ago

Tech Looks To Obama To Save Them From 'Just Sort of OK' US Workers

Paul Fernhout Well said! (441 comments)

Also, a "basic income" might be part of the solution rather than or in addition to "make work" jobs.

about two weeks ago



Hidden Obstacles for Google's Self-Driving Cars

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  3 days ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Lee Gomes at Technology Review wrote an article on the current limits of Google self-driving car technology: "Would you buy a self-driving car that couldn't drive itself in 99 percent of the country? Or that knew nearly nothing about parking, couldn't be taken out in snow or heavy rain, and would drive straight over a gaping pothole? If your answer is yes, then check out the Google Self-Driving Car, model year 2014. Google often leaves the impression that, as a Google executive once wrote, the cars can "drive anywhere a car can legally drive." However, that's true only if intricate preparations have been made beforehand, with the car's exact route, including driveways, extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans. It's vastly more effort than what's needed for Google Maps. ... Maps have so far been prepared for only a few thousand miles of roadway, but achieving Google's vision will require maintaining a constantly updating map of the nation's millions of miles of roads and driveways. Urmson says Google's researchers "don't see any particular roadblocks" to accomplishing that. When a Google car sees a new permanent structure such as a light pole or sign that it wasn't expecting it sends an alert and some data to a team at Google in charge of maintaining the map. ... Among other unsolved problems, Google has yet to drive in snow, and Urmson says safety concerns preclude testing during heavy rains. Nor has it tackled big, open parking lots or multilevel garages. ... Pedestrians are detected simply as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels — meaning, Urmson agrees, that the car wouldn't be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop. ..."

A deeper issue I wrote about in 2001 is whether such software and data will be FOSS or proprietary? As I wrote there: "We are about to see the emergence of companies licensing that publicly funded software and selling modified versions of such software as proprietary products. There will eventually be hundreds or thousands of paid automotive software engineers working on such software no matter how it is funded, because there will be great value in having such self-driving vehicles given the result of America's horrendous urban planning policies leaving the car as generally the most efficient means of transport in the suburb. The question is, will the results of the work be open for inspection and contribution by the public? Essentially, will those engineers and their employers be "owners" of the software, or will they instead be "stewards" of a larger free and open community development process?""

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Humans Need Not Apply: A video about the robot revolution and jobs

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about three weeks ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "This explanatory compilation video by CGP Grey called "Humans Need Not Apply" on structural unemployment caused by robotics and AI (and other automation) is like the imagery playing in my mind when I think about the topic based on previous videos and charts I've seen.

I saw it first on the econfuture site by Martin Ford, author of "The Lights in the Tunnel". It is being discussed on Reddit, and people there have started mentioning a "basic income" as one possible response.

While I like the basic income idea, I also collect other approaches in an essay called Beyond A Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics. Beyond a basic income for the exchange economy, those possible approaches include gift economy, subsistence production, planned economy, and more — including many unpleasant alternatives like expanding prisons or fighting wars as we are currently doing. Marshall Brain's writings like Robotic Nation and Manna have inspired my own work.

I made my own video version of the concept around 2010, as a parable called "The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income". At 1:02 in the video I made, there is a picture of a robot near a sign "Humans Need Not Apply". The text there is: "Soon everyone was out of work. The politicians and their supporters said the solution was to lower takes and cut social benefits to promote business investment. They tried that, but the robots still got all the jobs."

Here is a p2presearch post I made in 2009 pulling together a lot of links to robot videos: "[p2p-research] Robot videos and P2P implications (was Re: A thirty year future...)". It's great to see more informative videos on this topic. CGP Grey's video is awesome in the way he puts it all together. Makes we wish I had done one like that with all those snippets of stuff I've seen over the years."

On MetaFilter Being Penalized By Google

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 3 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "MetaFIlter recently announce layoffs due to a decline in ad revenue that started with a mysterious 40% drop in traffic from Google on November 17, 2012, and which never recovered. Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand explores in detail how MetaFilter "serves as a poster child of problems with Google’s penalty process, despite all the advances Google has made over the years." Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post puts it more bluntly: "That may be the most striking, prescient takeaway from the whole MetaFilter episode: the extent to which the modern Web does not incentivize quality.""
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To Wash It All Away by James Mickens

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 3 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "James Mickens of Microsoft Research writes his last column for USENIX's ;login: magazine humorously about everything that is wrong with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the modern Web page and why we should "wash it all away". An example from his column: "Describing why the Web is horrible is like describing why it's horrible to drown in an ocean composed of pufferfish that are pregnant with tiny Freddy Kruegers--each detail is horrendous in isolation, but the aggregate sum is delightfully arranged into a hate flower that blooms all year." He makes many excellent points about problems with all these technologies, but do these points matter much given the Web's momentum? And could we expect anything better in the near future (like a Social Semantic Desktop or other new standards for exchanging information)? In my opinion, the Web wins because we are reaching the point where if something does not have a URI, it is broken. And JavaScript is, all things considered, better than we deserved."
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LATimes to discard all previous user comments

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 6 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "I just received an email from the LATimes they will apparently be discarding all previous user comments tomorrow as they transition to a new commenting system. They are giving about one day to "save your work". What does this example mean about trusting our content to third-parties, even ones that one might otherwise presume to be a "Newspaper of Public Record"?

The main text of the email: "Thank you for being a part of the community. We're committed to providing a forum for meaningful discussion about the topics we cover and have upgraded our commenting system. As of Thursday, February 27, we are giving our readers better ways to connect and communicate, using improved tools to help keep debates spirited, but not mean-spirited. More details will be available at launch on As we bid goodbye to our old system, past comments will not be carried over. If you'd like to save your work, we encourage you to do so before February 27. We look forward to hearing from you at Jimmy Orr, Managing Editor, Digital""

Gates Spends Entire First Day Back in Office Trying to Install Windows 8.1

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 6 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "According to Andy Borowitz: "Bill Gates's first day at work in the newly created role of technology adviser got off to a rocky start yesterday as the Microsoft founder struggled for hours to install the Windows 8.1 upgrade. ... After failing to install the upgrade by lunchtime, Mr. Gates summoned the new Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella, who attempted to help him with the installation, but with no success."

I've read before on Slashdot that Vista took the hate for buggy drivers after big changes from XP. After that all got sorted out, lots of people praised Windows 7. Might we see the same thing here with a more stable Windows 9?"

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Kickstarter hacked, user data stolen

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 7 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "CNet wrote: "Hackers hit crowd-funding site Kickstarter and made off with user information, the site said Saturday. Though no credit card info was taken, the site said, attackers made off with usernames, e-mail addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and encrypted passwords.""
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MIT Scientists Report Cold Fusion Success with "NANOR" Device

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 7 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "E-Cat World reports: "[A video] has been posted on Youtube by someone called ‘AlienScientist’ who attended (and filmed) the recent MIT Cold Fusion seminar and reports about what he has learned. He does a very nice job of summarizing the key points from the seminar, pointing out that Peter Hagelstein and Mitchell Swartz mention such things as how the cold fusion reactions can be enhanced by subjecting the cold fusion cell to an external magnetic heat and shining a laser on the cathodes. He also mentions that they say cracking in the metal and rapid gas loading can cause the deuterium to leak out, thus negatively affecting the amount of excess heat produced. The video also includes pointed criticism of the way the scientific community dealt with Pons and Fleischmann 25 years ago, and laments the lost opportunities that could have been realized if more care had been taken in trying to replicate the effect back then. The takeaway quote from the video (I think) is: “This is quite possibly the beginning of the largest technological breakthrough that our generation will witness.” ""
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Start-up purchases controversial cold fusion E-cat technology

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 7 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "A North Carolina based company called Industrial Heat LLC has come out and admitted that it now owns Andrea Rossi’s ecat low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology (also sometimes called "cold fusion"). Industrial Heat has put out a press release in which seems to confirm rumors that it had spent $11 million to purchase Rossi’s device. The press release also confirmed speculation that Tom Darden of Cherokee Investment Partners a North Carolina equity fund is a principal investor in Industrial heat."
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Willis Ware, 93, Engineer at Dawn of Computer Age, Dies

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 9 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "The NYTimes reports: "Willis H. Ware, an electrical engineer who in the late 1940s helped build a machine that would become a blueprint for computer design in the 20th century, and who later played an important role in defining the importance of personal privacy in the information age, died on Nov. 22 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 93.""
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New surveillance tool to track posts about vaccines

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Michael Smith at MedPage Today writes: "A new surveillance tool might help immunize communities against vaccine scares, researchers reported. An international pilot project has demonstrated that it's possible to trawl through the Internet and quickly identify places where public fear about vaccines is on the rise, according to Heidi Larson, PhD, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in England, and colleagues. ... The researchers cautioned that the system has not been running long enough to demonstrate "long-term predictive value," but added it will let observers characterize, in real time, vaccine opinions by "topic, negative or positive content, location, time, and risk level.""

The work is funded in part by the Gates Foundation. It is discussed in positive terms at the Daily Telegraph as "Monitoring system to globally track false social media claims on dangers of vaccines" and in negative terms at at Natural News as "Internet monitoring system to stalk social media users who question safety of vaccines"."

European Commission to criminalize unregistered seeds and plants?

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Mike Adams at Natural News writes: "A new law proposed by the European Commission would make it illegal to "grow, reproduce or trade" any vegetable seeds that have not been "tested, approved and accepted" by a new EU bureaucracy named the "EU Plant Variety Agency." It's called the Plant Reproductive Material Law, and it attempts to put the government in charge of virtually all plants and seeds. Home gardeners who grow their own plants from non-regulated seeds would be considered criminals under this law.""
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Knight Foundation launches News Challenge on topic of open government

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The Knight Foundation opened on Tuesday its first Knight News Challenge of the year on the topic of Open Government under the guiding question: "How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?""
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European Patent Granted for Francesco Piantelli's LENR Process

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The European Patent office has apparently granted a patent for the Francesco Piantelli’s invention of process for producing energy from a nickel-hydrogen reaction. This has in the past been called "cold fusion" but now often is called LENR for "Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions" that supposedly take place when hydrogen atoms are in a metal lattice. Toyota and Mitsubishi are working in this area too. There are open source efforts underway to create a cold fusion device. Are we perhaps "slouching towards post-scarcity" despite having an economy where Aaron Swartz recently was persecuted for the alleged crime of attempting to disrupt business models of "non-profits" based on artificial scarcity? More links about this announcement (including controversy about it) can be found in the LENR-to-Market Weekly report for this week. If this technology really worked, it would make it easy to recycle materials, to grow food indoors, to desalinate water from the oceans, to power endless robots, and to launch space vehicles with lasers. Does this once again show that the human imagination is the ultimate resource?"
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Voxel.js creates open-source Minecraft-like games in a browser

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "Richard Mitchell writes "Opensource JavaScript project creates Minecraftlike games in a browser Voxel.js is a new open-source project designed to allow anyone to create 3D games that run directly in a browser. Created by Max Ogden and James Halliday, Voxel.js is based on JavaScript and WebGL, and makes it relatively easy to build Minecraft-like games that play in browsers like Chrome."

An interview with Max Ogden about the creation of Voxel.js in 22 days.

The main site is at Voxel.js."

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Open Source Technologies for Arms Control Essay Contest

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The Federation of American Scientists reports that "Members of the public are invited to develop and submit ideas to an essay contest on the potential uses of open source information and technology to support international arms control initiatives. The State Department is sponsoring the contest in partnership with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Moscow-based Center for Policy Studies. "The contest aims to harness the ingenuity of American and Russian citizens to think creatively about innovative ways to use open source information and communication technologies for arms control verification, compliance monitoring, and monitoring of sensitive facilities," the CNS said in its announcement."

A couple of related essays I wrote people may want to build on:
The need for FOSS intelligence tools for sensemaking etc.
Recognizing irony is key to transcending militarism"

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Nobel Prize-winning economist on Rise of the Robots

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "Economist Paul Krugman is finally starting to see the economic implications of continuing automation. He wrote "Robots mean that labor costs don't matter much, so you might as well locate in advanced countries with large markets and good infrastructure... On the other hand, it's not good news for workers! This is an old concern in economics; it’s "capital-biased technological change", which tends to shift the distribution of income away from workers to the owners of capital. ... If this is the wave of the future, it makes nonsense of just about all the conventional wisdom on reducing inequality. Better education won’t do much to reduce inequality if the big rewards simply go to those with the most assets. Creating an "opportunity society", or whatever it is the likes of Paul Ryan etc. are selling this week, won't do much if the most important asset you can have in life is, well, lots of assets inherited from your parents. And so on. I think our eyes have been averted from the capital/labor dimension of inequality, for several reasons. It didn't seem crucial back in the 1990s, and not enough people (me included!) have looked up to notice that things have changed. It has echoes of old-fashioned Marxism — which shouldn't be a reason to ignore facts, but too often is. And it has really uncomfortable implications. But I think we’d better start paying attention to those implications."

Maybe time to start discussing a basic income? Or perhaps we should consider some mix of improvements to technology-empowered subsistence, gift, exchange, and planned economic systems?"

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World Renowned Scientist, Dr. Martin Fleischmann Dies With Questionable Coverage

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 2 years ago

Paul Fernhout writes "D. Chandler at the Guardian Express wrote: "Absent from mainstream coverage, World-renowned scientist, Dr. Martin Fleischmann, one of two men who first demonstrated a tabletop cold fusion experiment died on Aug. 3 at his home in Tisbury, U.K." This is such an unrecognized loss of someone who may have helped transform our society to a post-scarcity basis — as I wrote about in a note I sent to Andrea Rossi: "The key point here is that breakthrough clean energy technologies will change the very nature of our economic system. They will shift the balance between four different interwoven economies we have always had (subsistence, gift, planned, and exchange). Inventors who have struggled so hard in a system currently dominated by exchange may have to think about the socioecenomic implications of their invention in causing a permanent economic phase change. A clean energy breakthrough will probably create a different balance of those four economies like toward greater local subsistence and more gift giving (as James P. Hogan talks about in Voyage From Yesteryear). So, to focus on making money in the old socioeconomic paradigm (like by focusing on restrictive patents) may be very ironic, compared to freely sharing a great gift with the world that may change the overall dynamics of our economy to the point where money does not matter very much anymore.""
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