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It Was the Worst Industrial Disaster In US History, and We Learned Nothing

alispguru Coal sludge is bad, hyping it doesn't help (290 comments)

One billion gallons is about 10 billion pounds.

There was 140,000 pounds arsenic in 10 billion pounds of sludge.

Concentration of arsenic in sludge is 1.4 * 10e5 / 1e10 = 1.4 * 10e-5

Or about 1 part in 100,000.

This is why they got away with it. Coal ash sludge is nasty, but not quite nasty enough to be a hazardous substance per se. Hell, one of the best ways to get rid of it is to add it to concrete, which is then poured where people live.

The figure you should worry about is the change in the arsenic level in the river after the spill. I didn't see that figure in the article.

about 1 month ago

Snowden A Hero? Gates Says No, Woz Says Yes

alispguru Gates and Woz are bad privacy references (335 comments)

Both of them can choose exactly how much privacy they want, because they're both rich. Gates is maybe three orders of magnitude richer than Woz, but both of them are at least three orders of magnitude away from the American median income ($45K or so).

Also, neither of them can just go out in public in the US without being recognized.

That's the problem with the privacy "discussions" in the US - most of the people who can actually change things are members of a minority who gave up big swaths of their privacy, voluntarily, as an entrance requirement for their profession. They can say "privacy is an illusion - get over it" with a straight face, because they haven't had any themselves for decades.

They may be over it, but I'm not, and it pisses me off that they get to choose my privacy level.

about a month ago

Stanford Researchers Spot Medical Conditions, Guns, and More In Phone Metadata

alispguru If it's just metadata... (193 comments)

... then Ms. Feinstein should have no problem with a FOIA request for the metadata for her cellphone.

I bet it would take about an hour to find a call from a lobbyist, received during a break in a legislative session.

about a month ago

Crowdsourcing Confirms: Websites Inaccessible on Comcast

alispguru DNS flaky, Comcast incompetence, Comcast malice (349 comments)

Those are the possibilities, in decreasing order of probability.

As much as I despise Comcast, they are unlikely to deliberately block random DNS lookups.

about a month ago

College Board To Rethink the SAT, Partner With Khan Academy

alispguru Extracurricular performance correlation? (134 comments)

Do you have a source for that other than "admission folks"? Casual web searching didn't find anything.

about a month and a half ago

Vast Surveillance Network Powered By Repo Men

alispguru I find government scarier (352 comments)

Government can afford to do scanning that doesn't make money.

Government can send people using deadly force after you.

Government can declare itself immune from the law if it makes a mistake.

It's much harder for non-governments to do any of the above.

about a month and a half ago

Who's On WhatsApp, and Why?

alispguru Zuckerberg knows exactly what he's doing (280 comments)

He creates/offers/buys a free service that by its nature can learn a lot about its users. He then gradually relaxes privacy assurances and changes the sharing defaults to "we can do whatever we want with information we collect about you", and sells the info to advertisers.

Anybody who thinks this won't happen to WhatsApp hasn't been paying attention.

about 2 months ago

Not Just Healthcare.gov: NASA Has 'Significant Problems' With $2.5B IT Contract

alispguru ACES hardware support is OK. Now, software... (176 comments)

I am typing this on an ACES 15" MacBook Pro. We're supposed to get refreshed every three years; I got refreshed at the change to ACES, which was less than three years, but they gave me a year-old MacBook model, which was a little chintzy. They did give us decent docking stations, though, and they do replace and restore when stuff breaks within a reasonable amount of time.

My beef with ACES is their support of NASA-required software. This machine is running 10.8.3, because ACES has not blessed for 10.9 the required third-party software for whole-disk encryption, remote patch support, remote backup, and remote access.

My previous machine ran 10.6 well into the 10.8 era due to ACES' inability to support this steaming load, and I would put the odds of them certifying a load for 10.9 before 10.10 ships to be below 50%.

about 2 months ago

Ask Slashdot: How Do You Convince an ISP To Bury Cable In Your Neighborhood?

alispguru I've done it. (324 comments)

I had one critical advantage. Our HOA board members were being complete dicks about the clause in question(*) - so much so that the management company (a third party paid by the HOA to run things in accordance with state law) was sympathetic to me, a new home owner, and advised me on the exact process for changing the covenant.

With their advice, my wife and I created a one-page proxy form which we took door-to-door and got our neighbors to sign, one at a time. It took a month, but we eventually got proxies from just over 75% of the owners.

(*) I have since learned that this is pretty much the natural state of all HOA board members.

about 3 months ago

If I Had a Hammer

alispguru Other people saw this coming a long time ago (732 comments)

James Albus wrote a book in 1976 called Peoples' Capitalism. He proposed that the government create a mutual fund that invests in automated industries and pays dividends to every US citizen.

Eventually the fund's dividends would be enough to live on, so nobody would be required to work, and everyone would get a minimal share of the proceeds of automating everything.

Imagine that we had started doing this in, say, 1980.

about 3 months ago

Many Mac OS Users Not Getting Security Updates

alispguru Some of us have no choice (380 comments)

I have a MBP provided to me by a contractor to a Large Government Agency.

It has mandated anti-virus (which kills the battery), mandated third-party whole-disk-encryption (instead of File Vault), mandated third-party remote backup (instead of Time Machine), mandated third-party remote access...

The contractor support team routinely takes a year or more to certify the mandated suite for new OS releases.

I will probably be on 10.8 on this MBP in 2015, considering we leaped forward from 10.6 last year.

about 3 months ago

The Internet's Network Efficiencies Are Destroying the Middle Class

alispguru You're right - the problem is speed (674 comments)

The internet now makes it possible to blow up industries faster than ever before - so fast we don't have time to retrain and reabsorb the people displaced by the changes.

Any one change is good for the consumer and bad/disruptive for the producers, because the particular good or service is now cheaper.

The problem comes in when everything changes at once, and all the changes make people less necessary.

about 3 months ago

NSA Uses Google Cookies To Pinpoint Targets For Hacking

alispguru Not completely hypocritical (174 comments)

He's objecting to the Government asking Google for the bulk data they collect. They can do it three ways:

* Just ask for it, and say "due to the third-party doctrine you have no legal reason to refuse"

* Show up with a National Security Letter, take the data, and say "this is OK due to FISA oversight. BTW, you can't tell anyone about this."

* Copy the data as it passes through the thoroughly suborned telecom infrastructure, without even asking.

Bulk data collection by Google is potentially bad. Bulk data collection by the Government is worse - Google can't arrest me.

about 4 months ago

EU Warns Nokia Not To Become a Patent Troll

alispguru Typical EU vs. US (78 comments)

US: Patent trolling is legal, but it ought to be harder and less profitable. runs off to legislate

EU: Patent trolling is legal, but we urge companies not to do anything we might interpret as anti-trustish. wags finger at Nokia

I'd say that the US is trying to do something about trolls, and the EU is just talking, judging from the article.

about 4 months ago

Obama Praises NSA But Promises To Rein It In

alispguru Thanks, dude (306 comments)

Could you please send a note to the company in question, specifically telling them why you cancelled your service?

If this happens enough times, eventually US companies will start to poke the government about it.

about 4 months ago

Obama Praises NSA But Promises To Rein It In

alispguru Of course Obama doesn't understand privacy outrage (306 comments)

Obama, like all high-level politicians in the US, gave up his personal privacy as the entry fee for his chosen profession.

The difference between him and the rest of us is:

* He chose his privacy level. We can't.

* He has the power to make the government back off when they find something questionable. We don't.

about 4 months ago

China Prefers Sticking With Dying Windows XP To Upgrading

alispguru MS should sell XP to China (333 comments)

They could sell the Chinese XP rights to a company in cahoots with the government (and once you get above a minimum size in China, you're with the government or out of business).

The government company would have the incentive and the government backing to get everyone in China on "legit" XP.

MS gets money now. They get to transfer blame for XP support to someone else. They could encourage the Chinese to essentially fork XP, so the supported Chinese version wouldn't compete with recent Windows.

Sounds win-win to me.

about 4 months ago

EV Owner Arrested Over 5 Cents Worth of Electricity From School's Outlet

alispguru Malicious compliance (1010 comments)

seems to be the most generic statement of it. From Wikipedia.

about 4 months ago

FCC To Consider Cellphone Use On Planes

alispguru America is bigger than that (183 comments)

US phone plans typically have no roaming charges over the 48 states - it's easy to spend six hours in the air with no cost increase for cell phone use, and thus no deterrent to yacking.

In Europe, it's hard to take a flight over an hour without crossing an international border.

about 5 months ago

US Wary of Allowing Russian Electronic Monitoring Stations Inside US

alispguru Really? Link, please? (232 comments)

Casual web search just turns up articles about the new stations in the US.

If we don't already have equivalent stations in Russia, we could offer them a trade. They get theirs when we get ours.

about 5 months ago



Fortress project wrapping up

alispguru alispguru writes  |  about a year and a half ago

alispguru writes "The Fortress project (readable, highly parallel scientific code for the JVM) is shutting down after almost ten years of effort.

This is really sad. I thought that if anyone had a chance to put a stake through Fortran's heart, it would be Guy Steele."

Link to Original Source

Apple's Exclusion of Apps - for multitasking?

alispguru alispguru writes  |  about 4 years ago

alispguru writes "AppleInsider claims that Apple's restricting of iPhone apps to their native toolkit is for technical reasons — apps created with their toolkit will play nice with the new iPhone 4.0 multi-tasking. Sounds fishy to me..."
Link to Original Source

alispguru alispguru writes  |  more than 7 years ago

alispguru writes "With options like the "first programming language" poll, and one extra:

I Know Only One"



There are things WORSE than XML

alispguru alispguru writes  |  more than 10 years ago

As bad as XML is, I would be the first to admit it is possible to create a worse language for representing nested property lists. In fact, I encountered one in actual, operational use in my travels as a migrant information worker and NASA contractor.

The name of this atrocity is Object Definition Language, and it is a standard format for metadata that NASA attaches to many of its major remote sensing imagery products, as well as data from planetary probe missions.

You should really look at the PDF linked above to get the true flavor of this stuff, but I can give you a quick taste right here. S-expressions, XML, and ODL all are syntaxes for representing nested property lists.

S-expressions are what you get if you ask John McCarthy.

XML is what you get when you ask people who know and love HTML/SGML

ODL is what you get when you ask people who know and love FORTRAN.

I'm serious! The simple S-expression

(foo "bar")

would be this in XML:


and this in ODL:

object = foo
  value = "bar"
end_object = foo

I got to know about this stuff as part of several tool-writing exercises where we were trying to make complex, deeply nested ODL intelligible to its scientist users. The "solution" we came up with involved parsing the ODL, translating it into XML, then hosing the XML through different XSLT translators to generate pretty HTML.

As a result of those projects, I now know more about ODL, XSLT, and DHTML than I really want to.

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