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The Slow Death of Voice Mail

gillbates transcript (237 comments)

I'm hi it's me I'm just well I thought that I would give you a call because I'm we we kind of need to talk well first of all I should say that I don't normally do this but I thought that perhaps I could call you back and talk to you sometime...

5 minutes later...

(Typing) yes, I read your email, and if you had bothered to check yours, you'd know I've already addressed your concerns in the reply.

Good riddance.

about a month ago

BT, Sky, and Virgin Enforce UK Porn Blocks By Hijacking Browsers

gillbates as someone having a religious objection to porn (294 comments)

I must say I've never needed a filter to avoid porn on the internet. I'm not sure why the government feels it must block access to something I don't wish to see in the first place, unless it ultimately has ulterior motives, intending to derail the free flow of information necessary for a participative democracy in the name of public morality. It's ironic that a government which recently ruled that health practitioners must refer patients for abortion in spite of their individual moral objections is now suddenly concerned about access to porn. I find it more believable that the ultimate goal is to restrict access to information embarrassing to the ruling party, using the ostensible reason of porn filtering to silence dissent.

about a month ago

Imagining the Future History of Climate Change

gillbates Re: I'm sick of this shit. (495 comments)

It is interesting to me that scientists who regularly bump shoulders with economists, business professors, engineers, and the like are yet unable to come up with a solution to climate change that satisfies the political, economic, and technological realities of today. It seems to me they are more interested in whining about the problem than doing the hard work of finding a solution.

about 3 months ago

VA Supreme Court: Michael Mann Needn't Turn Over All His Email

gillbates As a skeptic, this alarms me. (348 comments)

The biggest problem I have with this is not that Mann's science might be wrong, but that the methods being used to discredit the science are anything but scientific. We have entered a scary, new era in Western thought where conformity of thought is valued above all else, and anyone who dares advocate a position which could be considered controversial or offensive is railroaded into silence by whatever means necessary.

The "Speak No Evil" crowd is destroying a great Western tradition of open and honest debate. These folks are committing offenses against truth itself, destroying civilization in the process.

I was under the impression that the ClimateGate affair was old news and Mann had been discredited already; why would they bother pursuing this more than half a decade later? It seems their objective is not merely to win the debate, or merely suppress an unpopular opinion, but to prevent any debate, research, or independent inquiry from taking place from this point on.

It's called making an example of someone. It's objective is to so thoroughly exasperate the target that their response becomes so extreme as to become unbelievable by the public at large. If they can't keep you from speaking, they can make others believe that either:

  1. You are so extreme in your position that your judgement cannot be trusted, or
  2. If anyone else dares to speak up that their life will be ruined by the onslaught of specious and frivolous inquiries, innuendos, lies, etc...

Michael Mann's ordeal serves the interest of the fossil fuel companies regardless of the outcome of the case.

It does not, however, serve the greater public interest. Even though I believe Mann to be mistaken, I'm quite certain that we the public cannot be adequately informed in an environment such as this.

about 9 months ago

What Are the Genuinely Useful Ideas In Programming?

gillbates The Closure (598 comments)

The most useful concept I've ever come across is the notion of a closure in Lisp. The entire operating state of a function is contained within that function. This, and the McCarthy lisp paper (1955!) where it is explained how a lisp interpreter could be created using only a handful of assembly instructions is well worth the read. It is from the fundamental concepts first pioneered in lisp that all object oriented programming paradigms spring; if you can understand and appreciate lisp, the notions of encapsulation, data hiding, abstraction, and privacy will become second nature to you.

Furthermore, if you actually put forth the time to learn lisp, two things will become immediately apparent:

  1. A language's usefulness is more a matter of the abstractions it supports than the particular libraries available, and
  2. Great ideas are much more powerful than the language used to express them.

In Stroustroup's "The C++ programming language", there are numerous examples of concise, elegant code. These spring from the concept of deferring the details until they can be deferred no more - the top-down approach results in code which is easily understood, elegant, efficient, robust, and maintainable.

Many years ago, a poster commented that the work necessary to complete a particular project was the equivalent of writing a compiler; he was trying to emphasize just how broken and unmaintainable the code was. The irony in his statement is that most professional projects are far more complex than a compiler needs to be; because he didn't understand how they worked, he thought of them as necessarily complex. However, the operation of a compiler is actually quite simple to someone who understands how they work; the McCarthy paper shows how high level code constructs can be easily broken down into lower-level machine language instructions, and Knuth implements a MIX interpreter in a few pages in the "The Art of Computer Programming." Neither building a compiler nor an interpreter are monumental undertakings if you understand the principles of parsing and code structure. i.e., what does it mean if something is an operator, versus, say, an identifier.

Ideas are powerful; the details, temporarily useful. Learn the ideas.

about a year ago

Breaking Up With MakerBot

gillbates Some perspective (185 comments)

This is coming from someone who built his own lathe. My experience with building my own machine tools has taught me that not only does the algorithm (i.e. tool motion) matter, but also the properties of the material being machined.

With the traditional CNC machine, the method of material removal works the same irrespective of the stock material, with minor exceptions. A CNC mill can make parts from materials as soft as waxes to as hard as steel with little more than a bit change, and perhaps the addition of cooling lubricant.

A 3d printer, by contrast, is a deposition method which depends to a very large degree on the properties of the feed stock. Even at their best, they'll do no better than a mill.

And 3 hours to make a part is ridiculously long, especially given the failure rate. A trained machinist would instead choose the best tool(s) for the job and turn it out in short order.

Just for perspective: I spent one and a half hours building a molding machine from scratch. Rather than print out the part with a 3d printer, he could have made the molding machine and molds in the same amount of time, with the added advantage that he could make an almost arbitrary number of copies. Sometimes the old ways are just faster.

about a year and a half ago

Supreme Court Overturns Defense of Marriage Act

gillbates False advertising indeed (1073 comments)

Or, to put it another way: selling something as "kosher" when it's not is false advertising and falls under (secular) consumer protection laws, while calling gay marriage marriage does not, since no one's trying to sell you something.

Yes, but the government does make significant decisions with respect to marriage. To call two gays married is to misrepresent their relationshiop; they want to be afforded the social status and respect of being married, without actually making the same committment that heterosexuals are making. I didn't buy gay marriage; I can't take it back for a refund should it turn out to be defective. Instead, whether you agree with it or not, the Supreme Court has told a lie: that two gays can be married. There isn't a society in the known history of the world that has ever done this. Not even Sodom and Gomorrah.

In marriage, the spouses participate in the continuum of life that brought each of them into the world; when two gays get together, they do so with the understanding that they will not ever be a part of this continuum. Whether or not you consider such a relationship worthy of respect is a personal, subjective opinion. By contrast, the government has to make decisions on objectively determinable criteria; by that standard, a marriage does something that no gay union ever will: it provides the future generation of citizens.

The subjective feelings of individuals and how they esteem various relationships doesn't change the objective reality that the next generation of society comes largely from marriages, and in the rare cases when it doesn't, creates burdens which must be shouldered by the rest of society. On that basis alone, marriage and gay unions are objectively different, and thus an objective, rational reason exists for the government to differentiate between unions which are merely personal commitments to one another and those which are directed toward, and arranged for the purpose of, bringing new life into the world.

You might believe that gay relationships are wonderful, but even so, they are not marriages, and to fail to make the distinction glosses over a very important difference between the two. Failure to make the distinction disregards the fundamental dignity of the human being.

What the Supreme Court has just done is something truly awful; they have based a judicial precedent upon a lie, and an irrational one at that. Their assertion that gay unions are equivalent to marriages is provably false, and not done to accommodate any particular religious practice or constitutional freedom, but rather, the anti-religious sentiment of secular progressives. If DOMA was passed "for no legitimate purpose" except commit "bare harm" to a class of people, one must wonder how Congress and the President expected to implement the thousands of federal laws respecting marriage if there was no official definition of marriage. One IRS auditor could regard your cohabiting girlfriend as a "common-law" marriage and require you to pay taxes on your combined income; a different one could reject your claim to marriage because you and your spouse were not married in a church.

about a year and a half ago

Reject DRM and You Risk Walling Off Parts of the Web, Says W3C Chief

gillbates SIlly Jeff! (433 comments)

Jeff, I hate to break it to you, but movie studios don't put movies on the web, pirates do. And they're going to ignore your DRM scheme regardless.

When will movie studios realize that the average person pays for their movies and songs and books? There will always be a few bad apples in society, but I feel like those pushing DRM are exploiting the internet paranoia of the studios in an effort to deprive them of their hard earned cash. While it's hard to be sympathetic to the studios, the proverb that a fool and his money are soon parted definitely applies here.

If the studios had a clue, they'd kick the DRM folks to the curb, and instead focus on making movies worth buying. Yes, there will always be piracy, and no, it's not the end of the industry. Get over it.

about a year and a half ago

Supreme Court Overturns Defense of Marriage Act

gillbates You would be right, if ... (1073 comments)

You would be correct if marriage was not defined in law. If a gay couple had a ceremony and considered themselves "married", it would make no difference.

But to use your analogy, imagine for a moment that the FDA required all beef - even that mixed with pork or chicken products - to be marked as kosher. And further made it illegal to disclose to the customer, or for the customer to select beef based on the presence or absence of pork products. Such a law would definitely infringe the rights of Jews and Muslims because it would make it impossible for them to eat any beef product. Redefining the term kosher would render it meaningless in a way insignificant to the general public, but very significant to those who use it as a means of compliance with their religion.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims consider marriage an act of God, not of mankind. Surely you've heard the term, "A match made in Heaven", which alludes to God's involvement in bringing a man and a woman together. To call two men or two women married profanes a relationship considered sacred, and reduces marriage to mean, more or less, that two people are simply fucking each other on a permanent basis. It reduces the societal esteem of all marriages, because marriage no longer means that something sacred and wonderful has occurred between a man and a woman, but only that two people have decided to live with one another.

To further put this in perspective, consider how offensive it would be, if a police officer were to inquire about your wife, "Is that your bitch, or is she someone else's ho?" If it would be offensive to regard your relationship with your wife as nothing more meaningful than that of a prostitute, how much more offensive is it that the Supreme Court of the United States considers your marriage to be roughly analagous to two men committing sodomy.

about a year and a half ago

Supreme Court Overturns Defense of Marriage Act

gillbates Yes, other motives... (1073 comments)

But not if they move to Alabama or North Carolina. You would be well served to read the opinion - it specifically allows the *each state* to decide marriage in a manner binding upon the federal government. The most cogent arguments are made not by the majority, but by the dissenters, which point out, among other things, that this precedent would allow couples formerly considered married to lose that status if they moved to a state which did not recognize them as married.

A marriage is organized around extending to others the very same gift of life they received from their parents. A gay couple, by their choice, avoids even the possibility of having children.

As a state provides for itself by taxing the incomes of people, it would better serve its own interests to encourage the former arrangement and discourage the latter. While there are many arguments in favor of traditional marriage, the fact that a traditional marriage is arranged for the material interests of the state is all the justification needed for a state to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The religious, civil, and social aspects of this arrangement can be completely irrelevant. Likewise, what DOMA did was codify the definition of marriage for the sake of government efficiency and uniformity - and believe it or not, judicial precedent considers this reason alone a legitimate reason for a law. There is nothing in the Constitution which would prevent Congress from changing the law to recognize gay couples as married. But they have not done so.

Instead, the Supreme Court has changed the meaning of the law in a way the original authors did not intend. This is a very bad precedent to set in general, but even worse when one recognizes that this ruling makes a law limiting marriage to one man and one woman Constitutionally valid, so long as it is passed at the state level, rather than the federal. How the federal government deals with a surviving spouse who moves to a state where their marriage is considered invalid, we have yet to see. But it seems to me that instead of settling the issue of marriage, the decision today allows for the polarization of the issue along state lines. It further allows for a time in which, after public backlash, the states decide that gay marriage was a mistake, and subsequently invalidate - by legislative fiat - many "gay marriages" - opening the door for the federal government to prosecute for back taxes and denial of government benefits. If the state in which one resides does not consider a couple legally married, from the federal point of view, they are not. And this decision strengthens the state's case, rather than the individual's.

Under this ruling, the partner of a gay soldier from California would be entitled to a surviving spouse pension, whereas one from Alabama would not.

Under this ruling, Utah could allow a man to marry multiple wives, and the federal government would be required to pay a social security pension *to each one of them* upon his death.

However, if the man moved to Illinois before he died, none of his wives would be eligible for a social security pension. Worse, they would all have to pay taxes on his estate because Illinois doesn't recognize polygamy as valid.

From a legal perspective, this is a really bad ruling. There are better ways of changing the law than judicial activism; Congress passed the Civil Rights act of 1964 in a time when racism was still very much a large part of American culture. They did it because it was the right thing to do. But redefining marriage to specifically include immoral relationships is particularly prejudicial against Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and infringes on their rights to live according to their faith. Congress could have chosen to recognize unions other than marriage, or not to recognize it at all, but again, they have not done so. Instead, our laws are being vetted not by our elected representatives, but by appointed judges.

What will happen when, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, gay marriage is unconstitutional? Or an affront to liberty?

Regardless of whether you agree with the outcome or not, this decision came at the cost of our ability to self-govern.

about a year and a half ago

Of 1000 Americans Polled, Most Would Ban Home Printing of Guns

gillbates People are missing the point (578 comments)

Yes, one can make guns with a mill and a lathe, but not many people own those, or possess the expertise to turn raw stock into a working firearm.

However, a 3d printer is different - it's primary use is for constructing other household items, but if the country erupts in violent revolt, can print a gun on short notice. Perhaps not fast enough to thwart a crime in progress, but fast enough in cases of general societal decay.

And the government need not even know it exists.

The problem with owning a firearm before you need it is that it has to be registered with the government. Which means that should the government decide to implement some oppressive measures, they can collect the guns from everyone, one by one, without incurring significant political cost. They know how many guns there are, and who has them.

OTOH, someone with a 3d printer doesn't (yet) have a gun, is not registered, and could yet have one on short notice, if they needed it for governmental control purposes. This is what irks the government. Not that people could arm themselves, but that those willing to take up arms in a patriotic cause can be unknown to the government until they're exchanging rounds with the jack-booted thugs.

It's not the fact that you have guns that worries them. It's the fact that you don't need to have one now to stop them later.

about a year and a half ago

FBI Considers CALEA II: Mandatory Wiretapping On Every Device

gillbates Bad for OS... (318 comments)


Many of todayâ(TM)s communication tools are open source, and there is no way to hide a capability within an open source code base

Which, sadly, is all the justification they'll need to make open software illegal - or if not, equivalent to having "terrorist materials" on your computer.

And why, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, would the accused have hacking tools (read: Linux) on his computer if he *didn't* intend to hide his activies from the government?

If they can't make OS illegal outright, they'll make it a secondary offense, for example, obstruction of justice, or similar. The only ones using it would be those who could make a good case in front of a jury that it was *necessary* - i.e. engineers, sys admins, etc...

about a year and a half ago

Our Solar System: Rare Species In Cosmic Zoo

gillbates Diversity (197 comments)

I would posit that we'd have more diversity if scientists stopped being so conservative about what qualifies as a planet.

Take, for example, the plight of Ceres. Residing somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, it's been called a dwarf planet for quite some time, just because of its immutable physical characteristics. Size discrimination is very real in the physics community, a practice which continues to this day.

Imagine how many more planets we'd be able to discover if we'd just liberalize the definition of a planet. I know it's served us well, but it is time to redefine the term planet to be more inclusive of our increasingly diverse universe. And how, exactly, would this hurt the status of existing planets? I know it wouldn't affect my planet.

And why, exactly isn't Ceres a planet? Because the IAU decided to redefine the term "planet" to exclude it! Such blatant bigotry has no place in a pluralistic universe. We should be ashamed.

about a year and a half ago

Repeal of Louisiana Science Education Act Rejected

gillbates Integer equality (318 comments)

You know, I think I've found a place for my civil rights movement. That's right - LA - I'm looking at you. Of all the places where PI could be considered equal to 3, you've distinguished yourself as the most likely for this to happen. You see, not everyone believes in Integer Equality - but they're on the wrong side of history. Of course, there will be some REAL bigots who insist that even though it's irrational, PI is *supposed* to have numbers on both sides of the decimal point. They'll say that it is different from the integers; that it doesn't belong with them, that it is somehow different; that the differences can't be expressed in a rational way - but we all know that's just a cover for their integer intolerant attitudes. So I propose that we pass a law that PI is exactly three. And an integer. If you want to believe otherwise in your heart, fine - but know this, in any aspect affecting public infrastructure or services, you can't discriminate against the integers. Your private, personal beliefs about an irrational number have no place in a universe where integers and fractions are supposed to coexist and live together.

about a year and a half ago

Orson Scott Card's Superman Story Shelved After Homophobia Controversy

gillbates Re:Marriage isn't about homosexuality. (1174 comments)

To get the first point out of the way: a taxpayer funded organization promoting homosexuality in Milwaukee estimates that between twenty and forty percent of gay men in Milwaukee are HIV positive. And this from people arguing for the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. Homosexuals really do "get AIDS and die", and at much greater rates than their heterosexual counterparts. Thus, while it is a concern for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, it is a much more pressing concern for homosexuals.

Through marriage, I can extend to another the same gift of life given to me. Two homosexuals may be fond of each other, but their relationship will never give life to another person. The ability of male and female to reproduce, and that marriage is oriented toward reproduction, distinguish it from other loving relationships.

There are heterosexuals who, like homosexuals, use one another purely for personal pleasure. Their relationship is contingent on receiving, rather than giving. But these heterosexuals aren't asking us to consider them married; on the contrary, they often go to great lengths to assure people of the just the opposite.

Were it not for the desires of the flesh, so to speak, the relationships between homosexuals would be merely very good friendships. There's nothing wrong with loving another person. On the other hand, homosexuals take the human capacity for reproduction, and instead of using it to give life and love to others, use it for their own personal pleasure. Again, there are heterosexuals who do the same thing - but they aren't asking us to consider themselves married.

I can understand and respect the love two people have for each other. But I also recognize that to use another person as an object of sexual pleasure is to deny them the dignity due someone made in the image and likeness of God. In short, homosexuals are worth more than their partners esteem them, and are content to continue a self-deprecating relationship. They either do not understand their dignity and worth as human beings, or don't care. I can also recognize that many of them are probably very confused with respect to what a good relationship should feel like, and are intimately aware that their sex lives make them feel undignified, but don't quite understand what to do about it.

Would it be enough to regard two homosexuals as one regards the cohabitating couple? Would that be granting them enough dignity? Because I can recognize the value of loving another person independently of their sexuality. But I can also recognize the value of giving to others the gift of life, in a selfless act of sacrifice, and esteem it more highly than two people who are merely happy to be together.

Recognizing this difference is not unjust discrimination; rather, it is simply being truthful about reality. Unjust discrimination stems from pretending a an insignificant difference is significant. This is what the proponents of gay marriage are trying to argue: that the self-giving sacrifice of marriage, that the complementarity of the sexes, that the action of God in bringing two people together, is not significant. This view is particularly insulting to those of us who are married and do make significant sacrifices for marriage, which extend far beyond what a gay couple is willing to give. By the very nature of their homosexuality, gays have intentionally ordered their relationship in such a manner that they will avoid giving to others the same gift of life they received from their parents. They will avoid the struggles of raising children and facing hardships together, yet wish to be esteemed as those who do.

Now, if you don't believe in God, don't believe humans to be made in the image of God, and believe that marriage is nothing special, nothing permanent, inconsequential in the raising of children, then why would the state recognize it at all? If you want the state to affirm that a loving, committed relationship is a societal good, then wouldn't a loving, committed relationship arranged for the purpose of bringing new life, and more love, into the world be even better? If you recognize marriage as an act of God, you automatically exclude homosexuals from it; if you recognize it on its earthly merits, it is still different, and better, than the so called "gay marriage". If you wanted to recognize the love between two people regardless of their sexes, you can do so, but to call it marriage is being deliberately dishonest.

about 2 years ago

Orson Scott Card's Superman Story Shelved After Homophobia Controversy

gillbates Marriage isn't about homosexuality. (1174 comments)

Even if you thought homosexuality was the epitome of bliss, and every gay person a saint, you'd eventually have to come to grips with the fact that no gay person came into this world except through the union of male and female.

So, if you were gay, why wouldn't you honor traditional marriage as something sacred, yet different from the relationship you have? Why would you tear down the relationship which produced the person you love?

My belief is that gays want their relationship to be accepted for what it is, not for the rest of the heterosexual community to treat them as pseudo-heterosexuals. That's what "gay marriage" is - a way of saying "we don't really accept what you do, but we'd rather avoid the conflict, because, personally, you're not worth fighting over."

Moreover, not every homosexual dies of AIDS, but enough of them do that to legitimize the gay lifestyle is to wish pain and misery on someone who is already struggling with who they are, and with temptations they are loathe to admit. If we loved them, we would help them to understand their struggle is the same struggle we all face, for as scripture say, "All have fallen short of the glory of God". Every one of us was "born that way". Not all are tempted as gays are tempted, but everyone is tempted by something. Everyone starts out separated from God, and for someone who can't even talk about their struggle, their fight for dignity and self worth must seem particularly difficult.

Well, difficult to someone who hasn't been married. I've seen marriage redefined in my lifetime from something which was sacred and permanent, to something which is little more than a formal expression that two people feel something strong for each other. It might be called love, but "love" has so many meanings as to render the expression meaningless. I've also seen the societal cost of redefining marriage - from legal divorce, to no-fault divorce, to common-law marriage, all with disastrous consequences. Nearly half of new marriages fail. This is not a problem of gay rights, but of society's fundamental (mis) understanding of marriage. It is a relationship instituted by God between a man and a woman, for as long as they live. When the societal definition of marriage is changed from this one, people suffer:

  • No-fault divorce has resulted in many divorces which shouldn't have happened; most of them occur in the first 5 years of marriage, which are typically the most difficult time for the newly-married couple. I've never known anyone for whom getting divorced made them happier than getting married.
  • As men age, the typically acquire the wealth which makes them attractive to younger women. As women age, they typically gain fat which makes them less attractive to younger men. With the possibility of no-fault divorce, a woman knows that younger women remain an ever-present threat to the stability of their relationship with their husband, and this in turn affects their relationships with the rest of the community. In a society in which marriage was permanent, and divorce subject to great social stigma, this threat wouldn't exist. Instead, we now have a society in which women experience numerous unwarranted emotional and psychological issues related to their body image.
  • Having lived through two divorces, neither of which needed to happen, I can say truthfully that I don't wish that experience on anyone. Yet the acceptance of gay marriage transforms the societal understanding of marriage from an act of service and giving to another, to merely a relationship in which two people feel something strongly for each other. Such an understanding belittles the very real and serious struggles that married people face, and undermines the support that marriage typically provided for children (i.e. being raised in a stable home, with a loving mother and father).

The redefinition of marriage is a serious issue for heterosexuals, because the changing notion of marriage has resulted in more misery and numerous societal ills. It is not a matter of gay rights - very few people support unwarranted discrimination against gays - but a matter of changing an institution which shapes the future society, and without which civilized society would cease to exist.

One last thing: the US government currently recognizes several different types of corporations, and the difference between an employee and a contractor, all for tax purposes. If it can recognize these relationships without calling them marriages, why can't it recognize the union of two homosexuals and treat it according to its merits (or lack thereof)? It seems to me that this push for gay marriage has nothing to do with the dignity of gays and everything to do with punishing those who are actually attempting to find happiness in a marriage. If gays truly wanted to be treated equally before the law, the law could simply be changed without calling it a marriage. Instead, they (or rather, the people who claim to represent them) want to attack marriage.

After all, if I can treat a gay person with dignity and respect, why can't they return the favor?

about 2 years ago

Australian Economists Predictions No Better Than Flipping a Coin

gillbates Re:Economy is not a science. (290 comments)

Um, Intelligent Design is skepticism - a necessary part of science. Unfortunately, like it's evolutionary counterpart, it does not have predictive power. The fact that evolutionary theory doesn't have (yet) predictive power is the primary reason why ID survives. When evolutionary biology produces falsifiable hypotheses with predictive power, ID will silently go away.

about 2 years ago

Google Chrome Introduces Do Not Track

gillbates Prior art (110 comments)

It's called the evil bit.

And it doesn't work, either. Ignoring the Do Not Track standard won't give you a case against them because:

  1. You can't prove the tracking caused actual harm - unless you were caught doing something illegal.
  2. If you were doing something illegal, the tracker has no obligation to conceal illegal activity.
  3. The Do Not Track standard is why I don't use Chrome: Google believes (and probably rightly so) that its users are idiots. This is designed to give the user a false sense of security, and to further entrench Google's position in the market.

more than 2 years ago

All Over But the Funding: Open Hardware Spectrometer Kit

gillbates Re:Cringe-worthy (62 comments)

It seems you're burning a straw man. The project goals were not to "detect toxins" in the general sense, but to detect the presence of certain chemicals with a well-known, easily identifiable spectrum.

And your bit about molecules being "mind bogglingly small" is irrelevant. Such a limitation didn't prevent 18th century chemists from discovering the elements, and is not likely to pose a problem for the spectrometry crowd, either.

Naturally, it is easier to detect the spectrum of something for which you have a large sample, hence the lackluster initial goals. But this could be used - or something similar - with even a moderately-sized telescope (75mm or larger) to do spectra of the planets. Which is the likely final direction of this project.

They might have to use something other than a CCD, though. But I would think it could be done with a 10 cent CdS photocell and a prism - but that's just me. (The mechanical part would be more challenging, though.)

more than 2 years ago

The Mathematics of 'Legitimate Rape' and Pregnancy

gillbates It is news to me (1469 comments)

Because I had assumed that with a 2 day window of fertility in a 30 day cycle, the rate of pregnancy in rape was about 1/15. It turns out that the studies to which you linked present it as a 1/1000 chance.

As someone who has a daughter, this is somewhat reassuring, because I don't wish a pregnancy from rape on anyone. But I wish for infanticide even less.

If a woman can kill an unborn child because the child reminds her of a bad experience, why can't a man beat his wife after a bad day at the office?

Because both the unborn infant and the man's wife are human beings. Men figured this out a long time ago, but it seems that (American) women are still in the chauvinist stage of cultural development where they feel it's somehow acceptable to kill their innocent child, but let the man who raped them get away with it by not reporting the rape to authorities.

The problem isn't so much that women get pregnant from rape, but that rape occurs in the first place and women treat it not as the heinous crime it is, but as a merely unpleasant experience that can be brushed under the rug and forgotten as long as there's an abortion clinic nearby.

No man would put up with being victimized like that, and no women should either.

more than 2 years ago



Breaking out of the 9 to 5

gillbates gillbates writes  |  more than 5 years ago

gillbates writes "I've been employed as a programmer and later as an engineer for about 7 years now. I've been considering a career change lately and am interested in what fellow ./er's have to say. First, some background: a few weeks ago, I decided to run a line counting utility on the small projects I've done over the years — a few editors, a few games, a macro expander, etc... and found that I've written nearly a quarter million lines of code over the last 11 years. One of my most recent projects came in at 2300 lines of code, for about 40 hours worth of work.

I've often asked my colleagues if they code outside of work, and have only once heard anything in the affirmative. Yet I've done more than 100 projects in my spare time. In the seven years I've been doing this, I've only met one other person who has creative ideas for new software. It occurs to me that my creativity really might be exceptional — that I could be wasting it by working for a company which could care less.

In light of the above, I've been thinking about breaking out on my own and starting a software company. Maybe I'd write games; maybe I'd find some other niche. When I'm motivated, I have no problem cranking out the code, but what concerns me is that there could be millions of others who are just as creative and no less talented than I, and end up competing with them for an ever smaller piece of the pie.

So how many of you out there have successfully sold software you created or started your own software company? If so, what advice would you give to someone considering it? If not, how many of you have done projects on the side, perhaps for merely personal interest? Is the drive to create software really that rare, or have I just not met the right group of people?"

Students shot at NIU by former student

gillbates gillbates writes  |  more than 6 years ago

gillbates (106458) writes "Today at Northern Illinois University, a gunman opened fire in a lecture hall, injuring about two dozen, killing five. With school shootings becoming more common, I can't help but wonder what effect this is going to have on the future of education. You can read the full scoop here. Being an NIU alum, it is kind of disheartening to see this happen at my school."
Link to Original Source

MIT student arrested for wearing breadboard

gillbates gillbates writes  |  more than 7 years ago

gillbates writes "An MIT student was arrested at Logan Airport for wearing a solderless breadboard, which officials described as a "fake bomb". According to authorities, "Had she not followed the protocol, we might have used deadly force." The article doesn't say that she made any threats or otherwise indicated that it was a bomb. I can't help but wonder what implications this has for those of us who must routinely fly with prototype electronic devices (such as those en route to CES)."



DRM and the Corporate Dream

gillbates gillbates writes  |  more than 7 years ago

So I've been thinking about why there's this big push for DRM. The line sold to the public is that the media companies need this to prevent copyright infringement of their works. The story goes that without _effective_ copyright protection, the incentive to produce good artistic works is diminished, and therefore, good art won't get made.

There are several pertinent objections to this line of reasoning; I could cover the fact that most artists produce good art because it is a passion of theirs, or because it is the only thing for which they are sufficiently talented to receive a paycheck, etc... But instead, I will focus on the DRM aspect of copyright.

A few hundred years ago, copyright for musical performances was wholly unnecessary. In order to enjoy a performance or see a particular painting, one had to be physically present at the performance or exhibition. The artist and performer were paid for each painting or work performed, a process which generally rewarded the effort and talent enjoyed. But technology changed all of that - the printing press made it possible for someone to sell books for which he had no personally labored to write. The vinyl record made it possible for someone with no musical talent whatsoever to make a living selling music. And the cinema made it possible for those without any acting talent to make money from the performance of others.

Of course, there were upsides. An artist could receive royalties well beyond their performing years for works performed during their prime.

And then technology changed again. Formerly, the cost of reproduction was substantial - it required physical resources, and was generally limited to those with a substantial outlay of capital. But, with the advent of the internet and high speed computers, reproduction of copyrighted works became feasible for fractions of a penny per copy. There was no longer any need of a publishing company or printing presses, or recording studios or movie theaters.

Naturally, those in the industry felt challenged. It seemed their entire investment in exploiting the works of others was about to be challenged. Enter DRM. This is touted as the solution to the problem of rampant copying and unauthorized distribution. The only problem is that it doesn't work.

Technical folks like you and I know it doesn't work. The movie and recording studios know it doesn't work - DVDs and CDs are copied bit by bit, copy protection and all, by pirates and sold on the black market in developing countries. DRM schemes are cracked, in some cases by nothing more than a microphone or a camcorder, and unauthorized copies are then distributed, free of DRM restrictions, on the internet. So why is yet being pushed?

It is, as I call it, the Problem With The Public Domain. The reason why DRM is being embraced by the media conglomerates is because it effectively restricts works from ever entering the public domain, thanks to the DMCA. Even after a work's copyright has expired, it is still illegal to build and traffic in tools which would remove the DRM restrictions from said work. It isn't illegal to bypass said restrictions, but without a legal means of acquiring the tools to do so, it won't happen for most users. And this is exactly what the studios want. They do not want us to watch those older movies or listen to the older recordings because it cuts into the money that would be spent on their new works. A rich public domain is a real problem for someone trying to sell music or movies, because it represents a free, competing alternative to spending money for entertainment.

And that is what DRM is all about. The content cartels understand well that unauthorized copying and distribution will always be with us - but what they fear is a world in which people can watch movies or listen to music without paying them for doing so.

Whether someone should be paid multiple times for a work they performed only once is left as a philosophical exercise for the reader.


Corporate litigation and the end of free software

gillbates gillbates writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Lately, with Microsoft claiming that Linux infringes on their IP, it has occurred to me that what is widely regarded as free software cannot introduce disruptive change into the world.

Without a doubt, free software has introduced some very clever things to the world. For example, KDE showed file thumbnails in their file browser before Microsoft had ever thought of doing so - they beat Microsoft by a few years. UI features routinely show up in free software several years before making it into Windows. Windows has yet to offer a transparent taskbar, but it has been available in Linux for what seems like ages.

But this is largely irrelevant. The reason is that these features, while unique and interesting, are always offset by some other, larger disadvantage. Just the effort of installing an operating system and finding drivers for their hardware is sufficient to keep many users using Windows. And the Gimp's user interface - and their insistence on using GTK - makes it little more than a toy compared to Photoshop. It utilizes one of the least usable GUIs I've ever seen. As this has been flamed about elsewhere, I'll not repeat the argument, largely because UI difficulty is endemic to almost all free software, not just the Gimp. Need I mention my Mom trying out vi?

But what would happen if the Gimp suddenly "got it" with regard to usability? What would happen if Wine was suddenly better than Windows at running Windows programs? What if Linux was fully automated to the point that the installers could find and configure drivers for all existing hardware?

We are seeing the consequences of the what-if scenarios even now. If the Gimp was a serious threat to Photoshop, or Linux a serious threat to Windows, you can bet that Adobe or Microsoft would set their lawyers to work finding some way of diminishing the threat. They would claim patent infringement. Or, they'd claim copyright infringement, or that said software was divulging proprietary and confidential information. They might even go so far as to let one of their employees contribute to the project, and later fire the employee, claiming that the contributions were without company permission. They could claim the employee divulged proprietary algorithms - which, while they might not be patentable, could be forcibly removed from a project if they represented a company trade secret. Even if said algorithms could have been implemented by any of the other coders, the fact that they came from an employee gives reasonable credence to the claim that they are trade secrets. Such an estoppal could prevent any other coders from implementing the same algorithm, regardless of the copyright or patent status of such.

But these are just a few of the ways that large businesses could interrupt open source work. The real problem lies in that, regardless of the merit of a lawsuit, the fact is that most contributors to open source projects would simply pull their code rather than spend tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, defending themselves in a lawsuit. It would be very difficult for most developers to justify spending this kind of money to defend something, that for most, is little more than a hobby. Thus, developing software which can change the world must necessarily be a commercial undertaking, for without the revenue provided by commercial software, most developers won't be able to afford the cost of the inevitable lawsuits which would follow. A company can sue without any merit to its claim whatsoever - witness the SCO vs. IBM debacle, where the CEO's statements regarding SCO code in Linux now appear to be deliberately fraudulent. Regardless, SCO has effectively lost against IBM, but had they brought their case directly against the kernel developers, how many of them would have had the monetary and legal resources to stand up to a company with 30 million dollars to burn on litigation? That's more than most developers will make in their entire lifetime.

I like free software; I want to see it flourish. It has brought some great ideas to the world. Yet, I'm disturbed by the fact that the corporate legal climate in this country dictates that it is nearly impossible to bring innovative new software to the world without charging sufficient money to afford legal counsel. It seems that producing the best software is more a matter of having good lawyers than it is of having good coders and architects.


Cheap, Hi speed data xfr

gillbates gillbates writes  |  more than 11 years ago

Problem is, bandwidth isn't cheap. For cable internet, I'm looking at paying about $600 a year. I don't need fast access to most of the content, but occasionally there are things I want that get kind of big - like software downloads and linux distros....

So, I thought about how I could fix this. Turns out that postal system has some pretty good bandwidth, very good reliability, but a rather large latency. Put like this: Suppose I started a software distribution list for free software. I burn all my favorite software onto CD's, and send them to the next person on the list. A few days later, they've got a few gigs worth of software, at which time, they copy these to their HD, and send off the CD's to the next person on the list.

Considering that I can mail about 10 CD's for about $2.50 (guessing) or so, my bandwith costs about 0.038 cents per MB - that's 26 MB per penny. That's pretty cheap.

But now consider this: To improve speed for those far down on the list, every time a list gets more than 5 people on it, it splits into a sublist - new people are added as a sublist. The first person on the list becomes the NodeMaster - he has responsibility of forwarding the CD's to the rest of the list, and if anyone breaks the chain, he patches it by mailing another copy of the CD's to the next person. In exchange for this responsibility, he gets the CD set first.

Shipping costs are paid by reciprocal payment. When anyone receives a CD set, they drop a reimbursement in the mail to the person who sent them. This way, a person only pays for shipping once.

Well, you can do the math. A distro list with 5 members per sublist could reach 390,000 people in 8 mailings, or about 16 - 21 days. At 21 days, the average throughput would be 3.58 kB/s, for an average of about $4/month.

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