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Steve Wozniak Endorses Lessig's Mayday Super PAC

doom a precondition (209 comments)

I have a pre-condition: if Lessig can swear that he's not going to hand this cash over to tea-party nutjobs just because they were willing to make noises (that week) about being in favor of "campaign finance reform", I might consider kicking-in.

about a month and a half ago
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Steve Wozniak Endorses Lessig's Mayday Super PAC

doom Re:Now listen, Woz. . . (209 comments)

I believe you're being unfair to our friend Lawrence Lessig.

I don't think he's anything like a "covert neo-con", I think he's a sincere idealist who veers all over the map and tends to piss off everyone eventually through his commitment to doing good in the world.

(By the way, nice handle.)

about a month and a half ago
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Steve Wozniak Endorses Lessig's Mayday Super PAC

doom Has Lessig gotten over the tea party? (209 comments)

Last I looked, Lessig had gotten his "root strikers" off to a rocky-start by sucking-up to the Tea Party.

I liked his explanation that they aren't really racist because a poll showed they say they're not. (But you know, dude, they're birthers. Think about that for a second.)

The Lessig solution to me holding my nose and voting Democrat was that I was supposed to join-hands in coalition with the Tea Party.

And now, I guess the idea is that I'm supposed to kick in money for Lessig to influence five House races, but he won't say which ones: Lessig Starts a Super-Pac. Why would I trust his judgement, exactly?

about a month and a half ago
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The EPA Carbon Plan: Coal Loses, But Who Wins?

doom fracking wins, right? (268 comments)

Isn't it obvious that in the near-term, fracking wins?

Let us hope that the methane it leaks doesn't do more damage than the carbon emissions it saves.

about a month and a half ago
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Xanadu Software Released After 54 Years In the Making

doom Re: I never thought (90 comments)

Just wait... a decade or two hence I fully believe we will be using Hurd on our trillion processor desktop machines, programming in Perl 6, to customize a version of Xanadu running on Parrot.

about 2 months ago
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Xanadu Software Released After 54 Years In the Making

doom That gary wolf article, shall we say, sucks (90 comments)

That Gary Wolf hit piece about Xanadu is one of the worst things written on the subject... he apparently figured he could get away with empty vapid sneering on some logic like "if he's so smart why isn't he rich?". Be sure to look at the comments published at wired, including the second one by Nelson himself http://archive.wired.com/wired... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

about 2 months ago
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Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

doom a possible humanities advantage (325 comments)

Guys at techie website see no role for humanities! Film at 11. (Uh, you guys have heard of film, right? And TV news? Oh, never mind.)

Anyway, I just thought for two seconds about what I think people with humanities backgrounds have a better grounding in than techies, and my first thought was that they know a little more about how complicated it is, and have a better grasp on what doesn't quite work.

It's really easy for someone who hasn't thought it through to think that things are a lot simpler than they are... you know, kind of like Nate Silver figuring he can do arithmetic better than a Republican, and hence is probably just at good at climate science as a climate scientist.

Techies often seem to think they know all the answers ("Let the market decide!") when they're just barely getting started on the problems.

about 2 months ago
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Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

doom Re:market at work (325 comments)

Ah, but does he know the difference between right and wrong, and would a humanities education help?

about 2 months ago
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The Singularity Is Sci-Fi's Faith-Based Initiative

doom Re:From the article... (339 comments)

I think you're being kind of long-winded about it... The point would be that you can use evolutionary algorithms that get "smarter" without you understanding how they work. So the author's impression that we need to understand ourselves to surpass ourselves gets shot down.

I might just call these "microcosmic god" scenarios, myself-- this has the virtue of pissing off the author by referring to yet-another science fiction story.

about 2 months ago
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Interviews: Stewart Brand Answers Your Questions

doom Re:Everything I know about nuclear is wrong? (22 comments)

As for this call to average the economic damage over industries, I think nuclear power is worth using, if the only alternative is coal.

Damn right. We get something like 20% of our power from nuclear and 40% from coal... wouldn't it be cool if we reversed those two numbers? It's weird that a notion like that is even controversial.

Nuclear is better than coal. But coal is not the only other option. That's another fallacious point I often see in favor of nuclear,

Nope, not a fallacious point: the idea that there's no need for nuclear because "renewables!" is what's completely fallacious. All accounts are the solar enthusiasts have reason to be encouraged, but they're a long way from even being able to do 10% of our power generation... and in the meantime, every time I say "nuclear" and you say "solar", those coal plants keep pumping it out. I've literally watched this paralysis go on for decades. By any reasonable measure, coal should be public enemy number one, and nuclear should be a well-regarded substitute, but instead it keeps dragging on.

There's supposed to be a climate crisis staring us in the face, there are some stunningly obvious things we should be doing in response-- the people who like to think they're the "reality based community" really should try facing reality.

about 3 months ago
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Interviews: Stewart Brand Answers Your Questions

doom Re:Everything I know about nuclear is wrong? (22 comments)

Using number of deaths as a measure of danger is misleading.

Ha, ha, you caught me. We pro-nuclear people are always making up silly principles like a concern for human life.

By a measure like that, Hurricane Andrew was a lesser disaster than some bus crashes. Hydroelectric power could be considered extremely dangerous, thanks to the Banqiao Dam.

Right, and a conclusion like that would violate the prime directive, "nuclear power is always wrong".

A better measure could be the economic damage

Okay, now lets average it over the entire industry: nuclear incidents are dramatic, but infrequent. And don't forget to include estimates for climate change damage when you're comparing power sources (I love the "nuclear is too expensive" argument, made by people who also believe carbon emissions should be taxed heavily...).

When a plane crashes, we all just think about finding out how it happened, and what we can do to prevent it... you never hear "you see we have to ban planes".

about 3 months ago
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Thorium: The Wonder Fuel That Wasn't

doom Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (204 comments)

All in all, I actually expect better from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Really? Why? They are an anti-nuclear, anti-science political lobby organization, and always have been.

Yeah, those former Manhattan Project scientists and engineers sure hated science.

Yeah, and check out the caliber of their Science and Security Board. They've got the author of "The Physics of Star Trek"!

Seriously, James Hansen is on their board also, which is a bit of a surprise. He's staunchly pro-nuclear power.

about 3 months ago
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Interviews: Stewart Brand Answers Your Questions

doom Re:Everything I know about nuclear is wrong? (22 comments)

The problem is, as I keep saying, the human factor. Mistakes have horrible consequences because we can't easily clean up the mess from an accident. If we didn't have to wait centuries before contaminated land was again safe to inhabit because we could clean up after a disaster, it would be different. How long will it take for the Gulf of Mexico to fully recover from the BP oil spill? Decades, it seems. But that's better than the prospects of recovery from a nuclear accident.

You don't really have to wait centuries, even where something as bad as Chernobyl went down, we do stuff like that because we play things very safe where nuclear material is concerned... here's a thought experiment for you: if deaths from coal power were regarded as equivalent to deaths from nuclear, what areas would we need to evacuate immediately?

Seriously, the mass evacuations around a nuclear incident are a bad enough problem... there's no need to exaggerate.

And if you want to play dueling industial catastrophies, consider poison gas releases, e.g. Bhopal. Have you heard many people demanding we ban chemical plants?

about 3 months ago
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Interviews: Stewart Brand Answers Your Questions

doom Re:Nuclear, GMO (22 comments)

I'm not opposed to nuclear because in theory it's a perfect energy source. In practice, however, it's built and maintained by humans, so it's not safe. Even a perfect nuclear plant wouldn't be earthquake proof, etc.

This is a fine example of a sentiment that seems wise and reasonable but is actually completely divorced from reality. By any practical standard, nuclear power has a very good track record-- it also has a few of dramatically well-publicized failures that people fixate on, even though it's average is really pretty good.

The "human factor" that you and a few others are going on about is very interesting. Maybe we should learn how to deal with human factors one of these days, since we're human and all.

This is an interesting case study for you: Onagawa: the japanese nuclear power plant that didn't melt down.

And as for GMOs... well you folks might actually want to read Brand's book: Whole Earth Discipline

about 3 months ago
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Programming Language Diversity On the Rise

doom Re:Looks at CodePlex... (177 comments)

Re: Javascript.

You forgot the broken scoping rules.

And lame unicode support (as of ES 5)-- but hey, it's only the "World Wide Web", and no one really uses the astral planes, do they?

about 3 months ago
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Ask Stewart Brand About Protecting Resources and Reviving Extinct Species

doom Re:Your position on nuclear energy (59 comments)

A good question (if a bit over-linked). If I hadn't just commented on something else I'd mod you up.

about 3 months ago
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Ask Stewart Brand About Protecting Resources and Reviving Extinct Species

doom Re:LSD and technology (59 comments)

Brand has mentioned that the original idea that it would be important to see a picture of the "whole earth" from space came to him via an acid trip. In one of his earliest projects, he was going around handing out buttons asking the question of why we hadn't seen such a photo yet.

More recently, he's mentioned that clearly the problem with LSD isn't brain damage, but "personality damage". He's also commented on how you can rely on enthusiastic freaks to push ideas too far and find out where the limits are (he mentions a friend who took a boat across the pacific trying to live entirely on a hold full of carrots, arriving at his destination tinted orange and hallucinating).

about 3 months ago
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Did the Ignition Key Just Die?

doom Re:If not... (865 comments)

You could have replaced the ignition cylinder and then pretty much stopped there.

Reminds me: I was once driving a car where the ignition cyllinder had gotten fucked up (I suspect a clumsy attempt at stealing it, but maybe it was intentional vandalism), and I "fixed" the problem by just removing the lock. I kept a plastic bag draped over it after that to make it less obvious it was missing. (In my cars, a piece of plastic garbage kicking around the passenger compartment never looked out-of-place.)

In general, my advice on cars is (a) don't own one if you can avoid it, (b) if you're stuck owning one, get the cheapest, simplest one you can find-- you'll have fewer points of failure, repairs will be easier, and if it goes belly-up, no big deal.

Sadly, I've never experienced the joy of having my car chirp at me in a freindly eager fashion as I walk up to it, and yet I seem to be managing to make it through life...

about 3 months ago
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Did the Ignition Key Just Die?

doom Re:If not... (865 comments)

You aren't hand cranking a 100hp motor in some cheapass econo box, and you certainly aren't crank anything in a normal car.

I used to drive a Toyota Corolla with a defective starter, just by push starting it.

I don't think you have a fucking clue what you're talking about.

about 3 months ago
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Did the Ignition Key Just Die?

doom from my cold dead hands (865 comments)

I give up the ignition key when they pry my bicycle from my cold, dead hands-- oh wait, it doesn't have one.

The terrible, terrible problem with the GM ignition keys was they neglected to spend an extra buck per car to save around 13 lives, and as I understand it, those were apparently idiots who like to hang ten pounds of crap from their keys. Wouldn't it be cool if we had some form of rational decision-making in the modern world?

Oh well, how's my "internet fast lane" coming along?

about 3 months ago

Submissions

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Charles Stross cancels trilogy: the NSA is already doing it

doom doom writes  |  about 8 months ago

doom (14564) writes "Charles Stross has announced that there won't be a third book in the 'Halting State' trilogy because reality (in a manner of speaking) has caught up to him too fast. The last straw was apparently the news that the NSA planted spies in networked games like WoW. Stross comments: "At this point, I'm clutching my head. 'Halting State' wasn't intended to be predictive when I started writing it in 2006. Trouble is, about the only parts that haven't happened yet are Scottish Independence and the use of actual quantum computers for cracking public key encryption (and there's a big fat question mark over the latter-- what else are the NSA up to?).""
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snowden's email service (lavabit) shut-down

doom doom writes  |  about a year ago

doom (14564) writes "A headline story at Democracy Now: Snowdenâ(TM)s Email Provider Mysteriously Shuts Down
They say:
"An encrypted email service believed to have been used by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden shut down abruptly on Thursday amid a legal fight that appeared to involve U.S. government attempts to win access to customer information. The owner of Lavabit, Ladar Levison, wrote a message online saying, 'I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people, or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.' Levison said he was barred from discussing the events over the past six weeks that led to his decision. Levison went on to write: 'This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.' Later on Thursday, another secure email provider called Silent Circle also announced it was shutting down.""
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Burned by Breaking with Legacy?

doom doom writes  |  more than 3 years ago

doom writes "What's your favorite example of being burned by open source developers blowing off backwards compatibility? There seems to be an emerging trend of programmers dismissing legacy (and their user's expectations along with it). Needless to say, if all of the dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of open source projects you rely on did this all at once, upgrading would become an exercise in pain not worth any number of feature additions, bugfixes or security patches... I theorize that the problem is ego, both too weak and too strong: "Hardly anyone uses this, who's going to care if we mess with it?" combined with "We're the guys doing the *work*, we know best!""
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Gott Copernicus?

doom doom writes  |  about 7 years ago

doom writes "Here we go... a wonky technique for making predictions based on almost no data via the Copernican Principle and the pressing need to colonize Mars (not the moon? not the Asteroid belt?), touching base on the Fermi Paradox along the way. Is this really the New York Times? A Survival Imperative for Space Colonization , in which John Tierney discusses the ideas of Dr. J. Richard Gott, an astrophysicist at Princeton."
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Problems with the "Paperless Voting" bill

doom doom writes  |  about 7 years ago

doom writes "Are you excited to hear that Congress is going to vote on a bill to ban paperless voting? Well I was, and Move On clearly is, but if there are election reform advocates that tell a different story: Bev Harris: Is a flawed bill better than no bill?: "the Holt Bill provides for a paper trail (toilet paper roll-style records affixed to DRE voting machines) in 2008, requires more durable ballots in 2010, and requires a complex set of audits. It also cements and further empowers a concentration of power over elections under the White House, gives explicit federal sanction to trade secrets in vote counting, mandates an expensive 'text conversion' device that does not yet exist which is not fully funded, and removes 'safe harbor' for states in a way that opens them up to unlimited, expensive, and destabilizing litigation. " Steve Freeman: Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory "Today, the Holt bill faces a 'fast track' vote in Congress. Essentially this means an up or down vote on a terrible bill, rather than an opportunity to speak in the nation's most important forum about what may well be the greatest threat to democracy in the history of the republic.""
Link to Original Source
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doom doom writes  |  more than 7 years ago

doom writes "...or nearly anything else you can talk to with DBI. DBI-Link (now up to version 2.0) uses the fact that you can run perl code inside of Postgresql to import external data sources using perl's DBI/DBD system. So Postgresql can use tables from a Mysql database (a reversal of the recent April Fools scenario), which might actually be a practical upgrade path if you were thinking about switching. Or you could have a local Postgresql instance linked with a remote one (perhaps a performance hack, if you're not using replication). Or you can use an LDAP resource like Active Directory as though it were a real database. What I'd really like to see now is a DBD::Emacs. I'm not sure why, but I would."
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doom doom writes  |  more than 7 years ago

doom writes "Matt Taibbi's cover story for the new issue of Rolling Stone is The Worst Congress Ever: "the current Congress will not only beat but shatter the record for laziness set by the notorious 'Do-Nothing' Congress of 1948, which met for a combined 252 days between the House and the Senate. This Congress — the Do-Even-Less Congress — met for 218 days, just over half a year, between the House and the Senate combined." The author has been interviewed on "Democracy Now": How Our National Legislature Has Become a 'Stable of Thieves and Perverts'"
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doom doom writes  |  more than 7 years ago

doom writes "I think they call them "exit polls" because people bolt for the exits when you mention them, but I'm still fascinated by the subject myself, and this book is one of the reasons why. In Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? , the central focus is, of course, on the infamous exit-poll discrepancies of the 2004 US Presidential election; but the authors also put it into context: they discuss the 2000 election, the irregularities in Ohio in 2004, the electronic voting machines issues, and the media's strange reluctance to report on any of these problems. Further, in the chapter "How did America really vote?", they compare the indications of the raw exit-poll data to other available polling data. Throughout, Freeman and Bleifuss do an excellent job of presenting arguments based on statistical analysis in a clear, concise way.

The heart of the book in my opinion, is Chapter 5, "The inauguration eve exit-poll report": The Edison and Mitofsky firms that conducted the NEP exit polls later released a report trying to explain how they could have gotten it so far wrong. Freeman and Bleifuss, of course, take issue with the presumption that the discrepancies must be "errors", and argue in a different direction. This section makes an exciting read (in a nerdy sort of way) it's an impressive piece of statistical judo: Freeman and Bleifuss take on Edison/Mitofsky with their own data, and totally shred their conclusions. The authors show:
  • That the exit-poll discrepancies had a statistically significant correlation with the use of electronic voting machines, with races in battleground states, and in almost all cases favored the Republicans.
  • The "Reluctant Bush Respondant" theory looks extremely unlikely: response rates actually look slightly better in Bush strongholds than in Kerry strongholds; and while media skepticism remains strong among conservatives, it has been on the rise among Democrats, and yet the data shows no shift in relative avoidance of pollsters.
They also deal with the various other excuses that were floated shortly after the election:
  • The discrepancies can't be shrugged off with an "exit polls are not reliable" — theory shows that they should be better than any other survey data, and history shows that they always have been pretty reliable.
  • There was no upswing of support for Bush throughout election day — that impression was entirely an artifact of the media "correcting" the exit-poll figures to match the official results.
One of the book's authors, Steven Freeman, was one of the first to examine the exit-poll discrepancies, and as a professor at University of Pennsylvania with a background in survey design, he was well equipped to begin delving into the peculiarities he had noticed. Overall, this is an excellent book for people interested in evaluating the data; with lots of graphs that make it easy to do informal estimates of the strength of their conclusions (just eye-balling the scatter, the correlations they point to look real, albeit a little loose, as you might expect). There's also an appendix with a very clear exposition of the the concept of statistical significance, and how it applies to this polling data. There are of course, limits to what one can conclude just from the exit-poll discrepancies: "We reiterate that this does not prove the official vote count was fraudulent. What it does say is that the discrepancy between the official count and the exit polls can't be just a statistical fluke, but commands some kind of systematic explanation: Either the exit poll was deeply flawed or else the vote count was corrupted. "

This is a remarkably restrained book: unlike many authors addressing this controversial subject, Freeman and Bleifuss have resisted the temptation to rant or speculate or even to editorialize very much. Freeman claims that he is not a political person (and adds "I despise the Democrats"); possibly this has helped him to maintain his neutrality and focus on the facts of the case.

Personally, I found this book to be something of a revelation: in the confusion immediately after the 2004 election, I had the impression that the people who wanted to believe that it was legitimate at least had some wiggle room. There was some disagreement about the meaning of the exit polls: there was that study at Berkeley that found significant problems, but then the MIT study chimed in saying there wasn't, so who do you believe? The thing is, the MIT guys later admitted that they got it wrong: they used the "corrected" data, not the originally reported exit poll results. The media never covered that development, and I missed it myself...

On the subject of electronic voting machines, They include a chapter discussing electronic voting in general which covers ground that is by now familiar with most readers here: the strange case of Wally O'Dell and Diebold; and also the lesser known problems with ES&S. Have you heard this one? "In 1992, Hagel, then an investment banker and president of the holding company McCarthy & Co., became chairman of American Information Systems, which was to become ES&S in 1999. [...] In the 1996 elections, Hagel launched his political career with two stunning upsets. He won a primary victory in Nebraska [...] despite the fact that he was not well known. Then, in the general election, Hagel was elected to the Senate in what Business Week described as 'an unexpected 1996 landslide victory over Ben Nelson, Nebraska's popular Democratic governor.'"

Also, my experience is that a lot of people need to hear this point: "The voting machine company Datamark, which became American Information Systems and is now known as ES&S, was founded in 1980 by two brothers, Bob and Todd Urosevich. Today, Todd is a vice president at ES&S and Bob is CEO of Diebold Election Systems."

It's impossible to see how you can come away from this situation without seeing that we badly need reform of the electoral system: even if you don't believe the 2004 election was "stolen", how do you know the next one isn't going to be? A paper trail that can actually be recounted would be a nice start, eh? But only a start. As the author's point out: "We devoted a chapter to the ills of electronic voting, but a critical lesson of the 2004 election is that not only DREs, but all kinds of voting machine systems are suspect. Edison/Mitofsky data showed that while hand counted ballots accurately reflected exit-poll survey results, counts from all the major categories of voting machines did not."

In one short passage, the authors list a few "grounds for hope", but following up on these points is not encouraging: The Diebold-injunction law suit in California brought by VoterAction has since been denied and one attempt at a paper trail amendment, HR 550 has stalled out; but then if you look around you can still find other grounds for hope: HR 6200, the Paper Ballot Act of 2006.

Oh, but if you're looking for an answer to the question posed by the book's title, the authors conclude: "So how did America really vote? Every independent measure points to a Kerry victory of about 5 percentage points in the popular vote nationwide, a swing of 8 to 10 million votes from the official count."

So, of the many and various potentially depressing books out there about the state of the United States, I recommend this one highly: it addresses a critical set of issues that everything else depends on (when you hear from yet another Monday-morning-quarterback about what the Democrats need to do to win, remind yourself that maybe they haven't actually been losing).

A prediction for the upcoming election, in the light of this book: The Republicans may let the House go, but they will drop a heavy finger on the scale to retain the control of the Senate. Keep an eye on the three close states: Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia (see Andrew Tanenbaum's site). Note that Tennessee and Virginia are both high risk states without paper-trails, so you can expect "surprise" upsets in favor of the Republicans there. Missouri is in better shape as far as election integrity goes, but even if there's an actual upset there in favor of the Democrats, control will still (just barely) remain with the Republicans."

Journals

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mp3s encoded as DNA

doom doom writes  |  about a year and a half ago

John Timmer writes about an interesting stunt: MP3 files written as DNA with storage density of 2.2 petabytes per gram, "In general, though, the DNA was very robust. The authors simply dried it out before shipping it to a lab in Germany (with a layover in the UK), where it was decoded. Careful storage in a cold, dry location could keep it viable for much, much longer. The authors estimate their storage density was about 2.2 Petabytes per gram, and that it included enough DNA to recover the data about ten additional times."
This was pulled off by researchers affiliated with the "European Bioinformatics Group" (UK) and Agilient (Santa Clara, CA). Has anyone ever tried listening to "junk DNA"?

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Open Management: Quentin Hardy on github

doom doom writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Quentin Hardy, over at his blog at the New York Times, talks up the might github.org from the angle of experimental management systems with a flattened hierarchy: Dreams of âOpenâ(TM) Everything. An interesting subject, though I fear the fact that this is a blog post suggests he couldn't sell an editor on doing this as a real article.

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A pro-nuclear piece at the Guardian UK

doom doom writes  |  about a year and a half ago

The Guardian UK -- a newspaper well-respected among the liberal/left crowd -- ran a pro-nuclear power opinion piece on their front page. It's not even the strongest case that could be made -- it hardly matters whether we're at "peak-oil", nuclear waste just isn't that big of a problem, etc -- but sometimes making a weaker case can be more persuasive, even when you're talking to the folks who like to think they're members of the reality based community. Here's some more reality, while we're at it.

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"How Google Dominates Us"

doom doom writes  |  more than 2 years ago I've been wondering why I couldn't find a copy of "The New York Review of Books" at my favorite newsstand. It couldn't be they sold out because of an article by James Gleick titled How Google Dominates Us, could it? (Coincidentally, the google bus stops right near here...) Anyway, follow the link to see Gleick meditate on the meaning of evil.

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Freeman Dyson on Richard Feynman

doom doom writes  |  about 3 years ago

Freeman Dyson reviews two new books about Richard Feynman, one a serious attempt at capturing Feynman's scientific thought, the other his biography in comic book form. Note: there is no paywall on The New York Review of Books.

Freeman Dyson has been writing stuff for the NYRB fo many years now, but it's all but invisible to slashdot. He was born before microporcessors were invented, he can't possibly have anything interesting to say.

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Meat sans Organism

doom doom writes  |  more than 4 years ago

A news story from the London Times reports on a project to develop and commercialize vat-grown meat: Scientists grow pork meat in a laboratory. One of the thing's that's most interesting to me is how quickly people are thinking through the ethical implications. Would a vegetarian have ethical objections to this project, or welcome it? If you grew human meat like this, would cannibalism become chic?

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Inventing a Better Patent System

doom doom writes  |  more than 4 years ago

A New York Times opinion piece by Robert C. Pozen: Inventing a Better Patent System This article contains a number of simple reforms for the US patent system that you would think would be no-brainers... and it doesn't even mention doing away with software patents. He's also an author on a book on how to reform the financial system. It's titled Too Big To Save, which makes it sound like he might be on the right track.

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gamma-ray pulsar discovered

doom doom writes  |  more than 5 years ago Quoth the press release: "About three times a second, a 10,000-year-old stellar corpse sweeps a beam of gamma-rays toward Earth. Discovered by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the object, called a pulsar, is the first one known that only 'blinks' in gamma rays."

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Freeman Dyson on the Galapagos

doom doom writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Freeman Dyson is one of the few survivors of the age of giants in physics (he was one of the people who developed the mathematical underpinnings for Feynman's work), and he remains a fascinating, wide-ranging thinker, the author of works like Infinite in All Directions. Of late he seems interested in being an environmental heretic, but in a much more moderate, intelligent way than the usual "conservative" style. Most recently he's published a long, thoughtful article on the Galpagos islands, with emphasis on the difficulties of balancing the needs of locals against environmental preservation.

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Freeman Dyson on Global Warming

doom doom writes  |  more than 6 years ago

The physicist Freeman Dyson -- who made Feynman diagrams mathematically comprehensible to mere mortal physicists -- discusses some recent books about Global Warming. He accepts that anthropogenic global warming is a reality, though he departs from conventional wisdom about the urgency of fixing the problem immediately.

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Problems with slashdots new discussion system

doom doom writes  |  more than 5 years ago I have problems with slashdot's new discussion system ("D2", no longer in beta, I gather), and I'd like to report them, but instead I'm writing about them here for now because of my first problem:

  1. It's not clear how one is supposed to report bugs. Contact info is buried, and not well labeled. (I could just send email to taco, but he seems like an idiot... should I just email chromatic?). Ah, if you drill down through "Help & Preferences", there's a line how to report a bug. And as for mis-features?
  2. There's some attempt at implementing "smooth scrolling" that's herky-jerky and irritating. Even if it worked right, it would still annoy me: when I punch "page down" or "down arrow" I want it to snap, not to stall. (Turns out this is a mis-feature of Firefox -- I needed to uncheck "Edit Preferences/Advanced/Smoothscroll".
  3. Nested comments are indicated with a heavy side-bar -- this is unnecessary visual noise. Quotations inside of comments are also indicated with heavy side-bars and they've become very hard to see now.
  4. Some comments default to a closed state, and I need to click on them to open them -- I hate this kind of thing myself, it forces me to read with my hand on the mouse. (Maybe this is fixable with pref changes? I'm trying it out).

Thus far, there's only one thing I've noticed about the new system that I like: I can get the entire current state of the discussion in one huge page: I've always disliked the way the old system split things up into several pages (it made it hard to use text searches to skim for mentions of particular sub-topics).

In any case, as the slashdot brain-drain continues apace, it's going to be harder to find things in the discussion that are worth reading. It's more like a place you duck in if you feel like arguing with 13 year-olds and government propagandists. The various "features" being added to slashdot don't seem to address any of the real problems with the system.

(Actually: there's one "new" feature that sort-of works: I was skeptical of the utility of a friends network -- it just seemed like imitating all those other sites -- but actually it's kind of useful to be able to identify a cluster of nominally intelligent folks and automatically, instantly, mod them up. Kind of like the stuff I've been doing with nn and/or gnus on usenet for many a year...)

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A new continent of garbage forming in the North Pacific?

doom doom writes  |  more than 6 years ago This San Francisco Chronicle story: Continent-size toxic stew of plastic trash fouling swath of Pacific Ocean, discusses "the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists. The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii."

But according to the wikipedia article on North Pacific Gyre, some details of this are in error: "Some sources[2] have incorrectly reported that there is a 'floating continent' of debris that is roughly twice the size of Texas, however no scientific investigation, including Moore's, has verified this." The Chronicle was using the terms "marine biologists" and "oceanographers" very loosely: this is not a finding that's been confirmed by any degree-holding scientists.

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Jaron Lanier's challenge: how to pay writers?

doom doom writes  |  more than 6 years ago Jaron Lanier suggests in a New York Times op-ed that the web cannot survive on volunteerism and advertising alone, and it's time to figure out how writers can get paid: Pay Me for My Content; "Affordable turns out to be much harder than free when it comes to information technology, but we are smart enough to figure it out." So, is the time right to think about micropayments again?

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Critic of Software Patents Wins Nobel Prize in Economics

doom doom writes  |  more than 6 years ago You don't need slashdot to hear about this story: Three Share Nobel in Economics for Work on Social Mechanisms (New York Times, login required), but you might have missed this detail: "One recent subject of Professor Maskin's wide-ranging research has been on the value of software patents. He determined that software was a market where innovations tended to be sequential, in that they were built closely on the work of predecessors, and innovators could take many different paths to the same goal. In such markets, he said, patents might serve as a wall that inhibited innovation rather than stimulating progress." Here's one of Maskin's papers on the subject: Sequential Innovation, Patents, limitation (pdf).

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Gott Copernicus? Prediction without data.

doom doom writes  |  about 7 years ago A Survival Imperative for Space Colonization , in which John Tierney discusses the ideas of Dr. J. Richard Gott, an astrophysicist at Princeton. What we have here: a wonky technique for making predictions based on almost no data via the Copernican Principle; which demonstrates the pressing need to colonize Mars (not the moon? not the asteroid belt?); plus a dash of the Fermi Paradox along the way. Is this really the New York Times?

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A Flawed US Election Reform Bill

doom doom writes  |  about 7 years ago H.R.811 sounds great: It's stated purpose is "to require a voter-verified permanent paper ballot". Unfortunately, it sounds like the details have some devils, as per usual. From the Bev Harris article: Is a flawed bill better than no bill?: "the Holt Bill provides for a paper trail (toilet paper roll-style records affixed to DRE voting machines) in 2008, requires more durable ballots in 2010, and requires a complex set of audits. It also cements and further empowers a concentration of power over elections under the White House, gives explicit federal sanction to trade secrets in vote counting, mandates an expensive 'text conversion' device that does not yet exist which is not fully funded, and removes 'safe harbor' for states in a way that opens them up to unlimited, expensive, and destabilizing litigation. "

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