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Technology Group Promises Scientists Their Own Clouds

Sarten-X PlanetLab (45 comments)

So it's PlanetLab, now on Internet2... because apparently some folks still care about that.

2 days ago
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FTC Sues AT&T For Throttling 'Unlimited' Data Plan Customers Up To 90%

Sarten-X Re:Meet somewhere in the middle (173 comments)

The problem then is perception. Network utilization isn't obvious to the end user, so when they're throttled, it just appears that their carrier is slow for no reason. An hour later, it could be fine, so the average self-centered user will blame their carrier for having service that just gets really slow all of a sudden.

With predictable limits, especially with a warning message or a way to check how much data the user has used, the user feels that it's their fault for hitting the limit, especially if the limit's low enough that they come close every month. They know it's coming, so when bandwidth is suddenly throttled to the slower speed, they're not surprised. It's business as usual, not their provider's inconsistent service.

3 days ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:So people figure out yet... (117 comments)

Redirect all international flights from risky nations to a small number of quarantine zones

When I flew to and from Ghana, I went through London. Is Great Britain considered a "risky" nation? Should my flight of 100+ people be diverted because one person came from a place where a rare disease is somewhat less rare? If so, then you must also divert thousands of other flights. Soon the logistics of scale creep in, and you're processing a ridiculous number of passengers through this "small number" of quarantine sites.

Let's not discuss the cost of diverting so much travel and disrupting so many plans.

If we have a sufficiently fast, cheap, and reliable Ebola screening test...

...but we don't. We don't have anything remotely like that. Reliable testing takes a few days to get results. Faster screening is asking "do you have these symptoms", but since symptoms don't appear for a week after infection, it's often inaccurate.

4 days ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:So people figure out yet... (117 comments)

Ellis Island processed a maximum of 11,747 immigrants per day. One terminal of JFK International airport can handle over three times that many.

This is not a solution that scales easily. Quarantining 3,150 people isn't a big deal in itself, but they're scattered among millions of passengers traveling from everywhere else in the world, coming into a few hundred terminals across the country. Back when all immigration came in by ships to New York or California, there were convenient locations to put such facilities. Today, the scale of the problem is far larger than you seem to imagine.

4 days ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:Cuba sends doctors, US sends soldiers (117 comments)

And you think altruism is purely the cause?

More likely, Cuba is using health care politically:

"Cuba is doing this first and foremost to polish its political image, secondly for economic reasons, and thirdly, so that countries that have received their help will vote in Cuba's favor in international forums like the United Nations," Guedes [a Cuban dissident and exile] told DW.

Of course, money's also a motive, especially considering the economic sanctions still in place against Cuba:

The government in Havana earns more than six billion euros a year ($7.6 billion) through these doctors, because only a fraction of what the doctors cost these foreign nations are paid out in their salaries.

Brazil pays Havana 3,100 euros per doctor per month. Only because of pressure from Brazil's government do these doctors now get at least 900 euros per month. According to WHO representative Di Fabio, the Cuban government receives a daily flat rate of 190 euros per helper.

Sure, I'd love to see Cuba join the world as a serious economic player, but not so much that I'll ignore the other reasons why Cuba has recently been exporting more medical care than cigars.

4 days ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:I think we might have a methodology for that (117 comments)

I, too, find it strange how often the United States starts hearing cries supporting one of several groups. At first, it's about individuals, who are quick to point out their differences, vying for control of the media spotlight. After a round of polling, the contestants pair off into new demographically-appealing sets, each promising their own brand of radical extremism. Eventually the major players on each side of the major ideological schism form alliances, and the battle for the public eye returns to the same terminology we had four years earlier: Democrats vs. Republicans.

4 days ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:So people figure out yet... (117 comments)

The more restrictive the quarantine rule is, the less likely someone will report symptoms. New cases don't announce themselves with a face-up card and a cube on a map. They arrive with aches and nausea, just like a thousand other ailments. If someone's at risk and starts feeling symptoms, are they going to voluntarily lock down their life for a week until a more accurate (and benign) diagnosis arrives? Of course not. They'll lie, say they're feeling great, then go out in public anyway.

Early and accurate detection is the key, not panicking every time someone gets a cough. If someone's at risk, encourage every report, but don't cause panic. After basic screening ("No, sir, erectile dysfunction is not a symptom of Ebola"), tell patients to be cautious and avoid contact with others. Make the patients feel like their conduct is the most important factor in protecting their neighbors. They're not just one of this week's overreactions. They're the center of attention, until their case is ruled out, like almost all such things are.

Ultimately, outbreaks like this only stop when there's either an effective vaccine/treatment, our when people can not or choose not to spread the disease to others. In the absence of the former, we must rely on others' good judgement to enact the latter. Panic is not conducive to that end.

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Do I Make a High-Spec PC Waterproof?

Sarten-X Re:Doesn't seem too hard. (201 comments)

Even if it cuts through metal, the simple solution is to just not put the computer in front of the jet. Like you said, put it in a box out of the way, with some baffles to stop water coming in the ducts, and just to be paranoid, elevate the computer within the box, so it's not sitting in a pool of any water that may come in.

5 days ago
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Ballmer Says Amazon Isn't a "Real Business"

Sarten-X Re: Is Microsoft a company? (275 comments)

Market cap doesn't have any bearing on ROI. If I'm looking to invest $10,000 for dividend returns, I'll be investing in something with a higher return for the price, with little concern* for the vehicle's total size, as market cap shows.

That Microsoft is bigger than Amazon is actually even more cause for alarm. Amazon has far less cash in their coffers, and does more (at least, more interesting to investors) with it.

* Some concern for diversity should always be held, but that's beside the point.

about a week ago
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Ballmer Says Amazon Isn't a "Real Business"

Sarten-X Re:Is Microsoft a company? (275 comments)

A quick check shows that they pay dividends quarterly, but the dividend rate (compared to stock price) isn't particularly great... While their dividends have risen somewhat in recent history, their stock price hasn't even kept up with inflation. IBM is about the same rate, and AT&T is notably better.

The investors were apparently right. Microsoft's stock price has gone roughly nowhere in the last decade, mostly because they're one of the most boring companies to invest in. They don't pay high dividends, they don't produce must-have new technology, and there's nothing that distinguishes them (in a positive way) from any other investment vehicle. They're just Microsoft.

On the other hand, Amazon is currently trading at six times Microsoft's price, and has shown enormous growth. Even if they don't make a profit or pay dividends, they're still interesting to inventors because they're doing interesting things. It's helpful to remember that investing in a company is effectively adding your money to the pool for whatever the company's project is. That project might be (and usually is) simply "make more money", but changing the world is also a possible goal. Being unprofitable is still reasonable for an investment, as long as investors are still interested in the company. I'll worry when Amazon's price falters, and they start using profit as a means to keep their value up.

about a week ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

No, but in a previous job I did assist clinical researchers doing this kind of testing. The examples I gave are pretty easy questions to test for. The hard one is usually "Does this product increase the risk of cancer?"

about two weeks ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

This guy comes up with something cool and you are shilling for the medical-gov't industrial complex.

Hardly. This guy comes up with something cool, and I'm wary of the claim that it will somehow overthrow the existing system, mostly because to informed observers, the current system isn't actually unreasonable (mostly, anyway). There are good reasons behind all of the seemingly-insane details, but they're not as obvious as "some kid is missing a hand".

In fact, I actually have to give quite a bit of credit to the designer of this particular device. On his website, he's not encouraging kids to try the thing or making any claims that it's something particularly special. Rather, he's asking for help from experts to refine the design and turn it into something that is fully-tested and documented. If he can do that and still keep it printable (by end users or even trained technicians... either would be a help), then we'll have a real boon to the state of the art.

I wish him the best of luck, but I also recognize that the obstacles he faces are a bit more realistic (and i daresay more difficult) than fighting a conspiracy theory.

about two weeks ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

I can tell you nobody has ever thought it was all that important with gloves and watchbands and we don't have a small army of people who were nerve damaged by their casio.

And I can tell you that nerve damage (especially around the fingertips) is important to glove manufacturers, especially concerning sporting gloves, where the risk of such damage is high with or without gloves.

As for watchbands, I actually do know a few people who've had allergic reactions to watchbands of various kinds, starting with myself. I can't wear a gold watch, because after a few hours my wrist turns red, and after an evening of wearing it my lower arm is covered in small red bumps. I have a lesser reaction to my gold wedding ring, but I've never bothered finding out exactly which part of the alloy it is that I'm allergic to. In discussions with others, I've met folks allergic to plastic and cloth watchbands as well as metals, some of whose allergies didn't show up until after months of use.

I can tell you that if it costs $40,000 and you don't have that kind of cash laying around, it might as well not exist at all.

That's what insurance is for. Sure, it's a slim chance that I'll ever need a $40,000 medical device, but that's why I pay into the pool. If I ever do need it and don't have the cash lying around, my insurance provider does. If I never do need it, then my premiums went mostly to somebody else in the pool who did.

Are you claiming people are better off with nothing? Are you willing to say that to their faces? Sorry, you're not rich enough to have a hand?

No, I'm saying that the cheapest options present more risks that have not been mitigated. I have no problem informing people of the risks they face, and I sincerely hope that a doctor would inform his patients of the risk associated with any treatment, regardless of the cost.

Or consider canes. If a cane is used improperly, it can cause back shoulder and arm pain. Should we make canes cost $40,000 or should we just adjust them differently if things start hurting?

For a cane, it's a different matter. Canes typically do not have prolonged contact with the wearer and their well-studied risks do not often cause long-term problems once the adjustments have been made.

Imagine the disaster it would be for the economy if we all had to wear only medically approved clothes complete with $40,000 belts and $100,000 shoes. But OMG, what if the belt fails and their pants fall and cause them to trip and trigger a nuclear meltdown, millions of lives are at stake here! $100,000 is such a small price to pay in order to safely not go naked in public!

...and what is the actual risk of that slippery slope? Certainly it's nowhere near probable enough that we'd need to regulate clothing as tightly as medical devices. If you're working with high-energy devices, however, the risk posed by clothing is far greater. I don't recall exactly which jurisdiction requires it, but I know that every piece of clothing worn at my local nuclear plant must be cotton. Cotton burns, while synthetic fibers usually melt. Though often cheaper, synthetic clothes increase the damage from accidents enough to warrant that small amount of regulation.

I imagine the kid will do what the rest of us do. If the hand starts causing pain he'll use it less until it can be adjusted.

By that time, the damage may already be permanent. That's one of the things that research would study before handing it off to an unsuspecting patient.

Meanwhile, unlike before, he has a functional prosthetic hand.

"Functional" prostheses are available for far less than $40,000, and typically are used temporarily while a primary device is being built or repaired.

I'll bet that the $500 beater is infinitely more useful than a Ferrari to someone who will never be able to afford a Ferrari.

....until they're dead because the airbag was stripped for resale and the seat belts were worn out.

In other words, that looks like about $39,955 worth of FUD (and unicorn hair). Most people really can't afford that much FUD. Thankfully, I'm not in the market for a prosthetic hand, but if I was, I would at least try the $45 one first.

In other words, you have no idea what a risk analysis is, but you follow the hacker mentality in thinking that you can do anything if you have the raw material and a tool to work it, without the need for actual expertise. As long as the stated objective is met, that's good enough, right?

Medicine doesn't work that way. Medicine (ideally) isn't about just meeting the primary target, but about improving someone's health. Sometimes, that means doing nothing, and occasionally it even means letting people die rather than making the rest of their life miserable. Throughout the process, every decision is based on risk. Every drug has a risk of side effects, every test has a risk of being erroneous, and even if a doctor performs to the best standards available, there is always a risk that their patient will die.

That's why we have the FDA. That's why we run clinical trials. That's why medicine costs so damned much, because someone has to do the research and find out what the risks are, before asking patients to commit their well-being to a new device.

about two weeks ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

So can you tell me what the long-term effects of wearing this $45 printed device are?

Is it weighted such that it pulls muscles awkwardly, causing pain after a few months of continuous use? Does the constant contact with skin cause any nerve damage? If worn during physical activity, does it create an additional risk of shattering or otherwise injuring the wearer or others?

Can you show test results indicating otherwise, even when the user may not have it attached properly? What resources are available so the user can be certain they're properly fitting the device?

Approved medical devices are expensive because they meet all applicable regulations, and have documentation to prove it. They've been reviewed and tested by experts in the field, who understand exactly what subtle problems to look for that are likely to cause harmful effects in the future. One of the primary principles of medicine is to do no harm. Can you assure patients that this 3D-printed model will be harmless?

Yes, you can buy a beat-up used car for $500. It will still accomplish the obvious goal of transporting you from point A to point B, but it's not going to be as good in the long run as a more expensive one.

about two weeks ago
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If You're Connected, Apple Collects Your Data

Sarten-X Re:Yay :D (312 comments)

Enabling the video camera or microphone won't actually help. You'd need both to determine if the user was actually using their phone, and the processing cost needed to perform that kind of recognition on a large scale would be so ridiculously expensive that it would undermine any additional benefit from the research.

Statistically, a user waiting 60 seconds before searching is uninteresting. It's an outlier, so the developers really don't care what happened. Far more useful would be an observation that 75% of users use the center enter key to submit queries, 20% use the mouse, and 5% use the enter key on the numeric keypad, combined with an observation that 80% of mouse users move the cursor around after a period of inactivity before clicking. To a design team, that means that the users' attention has shifted to typing, and they've forgotten where the mouse is. Perhaps the mouse should highlight in some way when it first moves...

Similarly, the actual content of searches doesn't matter from a UI perspective. If you're having trouble searching for something, it doesn't matter if you're looking for instructions to knit a sweater for a kitten, or the mixture used in the Oklahoma City bombing. On the other hand, the exact search text is useful to the folks developing the search engine, so they can put the most relevant results at the top of the list. Of course, the search engine team doesn't care about how long it takes the user to find their mouse cursor.

This leads to one of the most entertaining aspects of the whole privacy debate. Gathering data is easy, but proper anonymizing is hard. Practically speaking, the analysis of the gathered data is often easier than ensuring that data is anonymous. For example, there are certain combinations of ZIP code and state that identify as few as 30 people within the continental United States, so any data set that includes both ZIP code and state is probably not sufficiently anonymous. It's far easier to simply collect only what's needed for a particular team, and make sure nothing else can be connected to that record. One database records that somebody searched for "geriatric german grandmas spanking spanish men", and another knows that user submitted a search with a mouse, and perhaps another knows that the user is located in western Iowa. With no way to connect the records, the business need is fulfilled and the user's privacy is effectively safe... but the legal disclosure will still simply say that the company collects all those things, stirring up a nice panic.

about two weeks ago
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Robot SmackDowns Wants To Bring Robot Death Matches To an Arena Near You

Sarten-X Re:Uh, we already went through this (82 comments)

Back when BattleBots was the thing, I considered building one... but you hit on all the major problems, which were only slightly less intractable back then.

To have any chance of making it past preliminary trials, the robot would have to be somewhat successful. That ruled out most of my creative designs. Even making a boring spinner still would have cost a hefty portion of my paycheck, and the required workspace wouldn't have fit comfortably in my apartment. Transporting the thing would have presented more logistics challenges, and even if I'd solved those, the time and hassle to build something just to be torn apart was a pretty steep expense.

Fighting robots is not an everyman's sport. It's a more modern fox hunt.

about two weeks ago
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Debian Talks About Systemd Once Again

Sarten-X Re:Hope! (522 comments)

this goes against much of the traditional Linux spirit of small self-contained bits that can be swapped out at will.

In my mind, this comes down to whether we want a better functioning OS or an OS that adheres to the mindset that I think attracted many of us to Linux in the first place.

Personally, that principle of having many swappable self-contained bits is one of the worst qualities on UNIX.

I've been using GNU/Linux for over a decade. I know my way around most distros, and I can usually figure out what I need to do to accomplish any task... usually. The biggest problem I face now is that distros have so many small components doing their small tasks that figuring out exactly which component is responsible for a given task is no small feat.

I understand and appreciate the programming simplicity that a small component brings, but from a user's (or admin's) perspective, the operating environment is now more cluttered. As distros pick and choose their preferred swappable components, the view gets worse. Sure, I know exactly what the "finger" command does, but it's not obvious that "pinky" is an alternative, because having a lightweight finger command is apparently an important thing. Some distros will even create symlinks or scripts to provide alternative common names for their chosen packages, but there's seldom a guarantee that the input or output will be the same. This is why the first step of many build processes is to examine the environment and figure out exactly what is available on the system, often using methods that uncomfortably remind me of browser-detecting JavaScript.

I'm not saying that systemd is the solution we need, or even that it is a solution. I've just dealt with far too many poorly-named packages to have excessive reverence for this archaic principle.

We should also keep in mind that Linux itself, as a monolithic kernel, defies the concept. By design, the kernel's one job is to interface with every piece of hardware on the machine. Is it really so far out of line to define systemd's one job as interfacing with every service provider in the OS?

about two weeks ago
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PETA Is Not Happy That Google Used a Camel To Get a Desert "StreetView"

Sarten-X Re:PETA won't be happy until all animals are extin (367 comments)

If you actually asked the question of "what does ethical corporate usage of beasts of burden look like?", you'd end up with a very complicated answer.

On the other hand, why should there even be the concept of a "beast of burden"? The real question is "what does ethical interaction with animals look like?", and PETA seems to have taken the position that there is practically no such thing. To the PETA fanatics, any deviation from an animal's natural life is cruel. To an extent, they have a point - where mankind once relied on animals to provide capabilities humans do not possess, technology has now progressed to the point where there is little need for domesticated animals.

Like in so many cases, the madness is perfectly reasonable from a particular perspective.

about three weeks ago
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Internet Explorer Implements HTTP/2 Support

Sarten-X Re:Header Compression + Binary Headers (122 comments)

The theory is that by saving network time receiving the smaller compressed header, the total time is still less.

Of course, this assumes that you're on a slow enough network that the compression savings are worth it. Since typically latency is a bigger problem than throughput, I don't see compression as being terribly important.

Similarly with the binary protocol: Parsing speed isn't the real problem. I'd rather have a plaintext protocol that I can test with PuTTY than save a few cycles parsing.

about a month ago
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California Governor Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrants For Drone Surveillance

Sarten-X Re:Here's the bill: public notice key (115 comments)

The last word is probably the most damning.

There's a very popular school of thought in security that keeping capabilities secret is a means to reduce risk*. Such a vague requirement to disclose capabilities is open to lawsuits arguing that the disclosure must include things like maximum range, speed, radar size, and so forth, effectively providing an instruction manual for criminals looking to evade such a drone, who now know that their escape plan must include driving so fast for so far.

* No, it's not security through obscurity. Security through obscurity is where the security of the system is compromised by knowledge, whereas keeping the capabilities of a secure system secret only increases the expense (and therefore lowers the chance) of an attack against an otherwise-secure system.

about a month ago

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