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Comments

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How Does Heartbleed Alter the 'Open Source Is Safer' Discussion?

jc42 Re:Wat? (407 comments)

No, just no. No one with any sort of a clue ever argued these issues cannot happen with Free Software.

No, they haven't made that claim in so many words. But they've sure as hell implied it for years now. That's the whole line of thought that Raymond's statement (quoted in TFS) is based on.

Huh? The quote is "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." That's a clear admission that open software, like all other software, contains bugs; that's why you want the many eyeballs. Any claim otherwise is a symptom of not understanding plain English. Eric's whole point was that the bugs in open software will be found and fixed faster than the bugs in other software, due to the population of interested people who will study it, looking for the bugs. Nothing in that quote implies (to anyone with reasonable understanding of English and basic logic) that open software doesn't have bugs. I expect Eric would just chuckle at the very idea of software without bugs.

(Actually, someone near him should ask him. Tell us whether he chuckles, or snickers, or just gets a sad look on his face. Or maybe he'll say "Well, there is a conjecture that bug-free software exists, but in has never been observed in the field by reliable observers." ;-)

A much more useful conclusion from this story (if you're serious about computer security) is that this bug has been found and fixed in OpenSSL, but with its proprietary competitors, we have no way of knowing what horrible exploits they may be hiding. And you'd be a dummy to think they don't have exploits; every chunk of security-related software has exploits. The meaningful question is whether they can be found and fixed by the people using the software. If not, you'd be a fool to use that software.

11 hours ago
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How Does Heartbleed Alter the 'Open Source Is Safer' Discussion?

jc42 Re:Wat? (407 comments)

Because OpenSSL is such a common tool and is arguably vital to the function of the Internet as we know it, this sort of a bug really is one of those "worst case scenarios"

True, but the main lesson to learn from it can be summarized by the old cliche saying "Don't put all your eggs in one basket". The warning about a "monoculture" also applies here. If one specific piece of software is universally used, even a minor bug in it can be a widespread disaster. If people had any sense, the very fact that something is so popular and widespread would be a strong argument for duplicating its functionality with independently-developed code.

Of course, in reality we humans tend to act like herds of sheep ("sheeple", to coin a term ;-), and we tend to think that if everyone is buying X, then X must be a good thing to buy. With software, this is a major failure of logic that should stand out in the current story. If everyone is using X, then all it takes is one exploit to take down everyone's favorite toys.

But history teaches us that, no matter how many times we warn people about a single basket, people in general don't learn.

(Actually, I've long thought that this was a major explanation of why computer geeks tend to have such a wide variety of systems, with different release levels from their neighbors and friends. They're usually not much impressed by popularity. But the geeks are a tiny minority of humanity.)

11 hours ago
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How the Internet Is Taking Away America's Religion

jc42 Re:"Taking away" (1035 comments)

The internet isn't "taking away" anything. ...

So far, your post is the only one I've found here that even attempts to talk about the article's actual topic. ;-)

The rest of it seems to be various theological and/or political and/or sociological arguments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Internet's effects on society. I was sorta hoping to find such a discussion, but I guess this crowd isn't up to it these days.

I'd just add that religion has always required "belief", i.e., accepting a particular package of ideas without requiring any evidence, and continuing in a religion requires carefully ignoring any evidence that contradicts it. This hasn't changed with the Internet. It "merely" supplies a lot more evidence (and a lot more disinformation) than any previous communication mechanism we've had. But you can ignore its information exactly like you ignore information from any other source. It's not really all that difficult.

about two weeks ago
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More On the "Cuban Twitter" Scam

jc42 Re:jc42: resident troll (90 comments)

Well, I didn't mention the propaganda on /. because it didn't occur to me that anyone would think it special. The astroturfers and other propagandists have been here since before I had an account, and a lot of their work is so blatant that it's hard to miss. So it's not that the propaganda here didn't occur to me; it's more like I thought it such a cheap shot that I'd be criticized (and possibly downloaded) for wasting reader time by mentioning something so obvious.

Not that there's anything about this that's special to /. either. A growing and well-known problem on sites to attempt to collect ratings of various sorts from users is that companies pay their people to spend time watching such sites and flooding the rating system with bogus positive ratings and reviews. Companies routinely set up hundreds or thousands of accounts for this purpose.

This goes back to the early days of online forums. An especially clumsy one showed up back in the 1980s, when a lot of BBs, newsgroups, etc. found that any occurrence of the string "Armenia" in any message would trigger the automated submission of thousands of bot-generated messages from Turkish extremists, filling up disk systems and making the site useless until they were purged.

The propagandists have gotten a bit more subtle since then, but they've always been with us. /. has had them since the early days of 5- and 6-digit id numbers.

And "blase" (only one 's', and the 'e' really should have an acute accent, but /. garbles it ;-) isn't really the right word. It's more like we need to acknowledge that propaganda is and will remain "part of the landscape". Rather than get all excited about it, we should be quietly working to limit the junk, and try to find ways to get the real info more visible. Exposing propaganda is most useful if it's done in a matter-of-fact manner, rather than as a shouting match.

about two weeks ago
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It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

jc42 Re:The Religious Right will have your head on a pl (469 comments)

So instead of using a meaningless phrase like "critical thinking", why don't you say what you mean? What specific skills should the schools be teaching?

Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction, too.

A more to-the-point approach might be: Any school class described as "science" should include teaching scientific methodology, in a way that's understandable by the students at that grade level. This should include opportunities to apply the methods in situations that the students can understand.

One long-standing problem with the way that most school textbooks do this is by teaching only "the experimental method" as the way that science works. This has been widely criticized by presenting an obvious counter-example: Astronomers have never used experimental methods, but astronomy is generally considered one of the hardest of the "hard sciences" (in both senses of the term "hard' ;-). This is often used as a primary example explaining why you must teach scientific methods (plural). It's a big, complex subject, and different methods are used in different scientific fields. We can do lab experiments with bacteria or fungi; we can't (yet) with planets or stars.

But the phrase "critical thinking" isn't much used by scientists. Rather, you should try to teach the scientific meanings of terms like "conjecture", "hypothesis", and "theory", which in scientific jargon aren't polysyllabic synonyms for "guess". Figuring out how to produce understanding of such terms would go a long way toward fixing the problems with the way schools teach science these days. It'd also confound the religious folks who dismiss evolution as "just a theory".

about two weeks ago
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It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

jc42 Re:I don't think people care (469 comments)

Yup. An even better example is the widespread use of fermentation processes, often several of them in the same society. It was generally explained by what are now semi-mystical terms, such as a "living essence" in the fermentation cultures. But, since a culture could be easily divided into many small pieces, which would then take over a new container of the food material, it was obvious to many that the active thingies were simply too small for the human eye to discern.

There were lots of examples of natural processes like this, caused by what we now call micro-organisms, and while some people did consider it ineffable magic, there have always been some that guessed right about the tiny agents at work.

The idea that there could be things that our eye can't quite make out isn't exactly radical. Just watching a small critter fly away shows that, as they slowly become smaller, they eventually disappear. Nobody with any sanity would think they're gone; the explanation is that our eyes just aren't good enough to see them. An obvious guess is that there are such things even smaller, that we can't even see close up.

about two weeks ago
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It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

jc42 Re:Unfalsifieable (469 comments)

Oh, really? So you admit you have magic bracelets, and thus that magic exists? We got you now, Mr. Science-guy!

Heh. I've known a number of scientists who do magic as a hobby. All of them have talked about being bemused and saddened by the number of people who refuse to accept that they're being fooled by trickery, and insist that the "magic show" was real even when the magician tries to deny the reality.

It doesn't help to say that they can show people how the trick is done. The believers won't pay attention, and might actively interfere with the explanation, to maintain their beliefs. Explaining takes time, and requires the cooperative attention of the audience. Schools are quite likely to have the same kind of problems if their science teachers try to explain the trickery behind pseudo-science.

It's an interesting demo of how belief in magic and pseudo-science can maintain a hold on willing victims. Even when the trickster wants to be open and honest about it.

about two weeks ago
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More On the "Cuban Twitter" Scam

jc42 Re:Snowden's leaks has gone off the rails (90 comments)

What does Snowden have to do with this? I haven't seen his name associated with it before.

This isn't criticism; maybe he is involved; I don't know. Can you give a few cites that explain the link?

about two weeks ago
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More On the "Cuban Twitter" Scam

jc42 Re:Yawn (90 comments)

... this is not spying, it is a propaganda campaign.

"Yawn" indeed. What baffles me is how anyone think this differs from any other propaganda campaigns throughout human history. It is because it's "on a computer", which means that most people will forget all precedent and pretend that it's something new?

In particular, the mass media here and everywhere else has always cooperated with the wishes of the people in power. That's part of the price of staying in business, regardless of what your local laws (or Constitutions) might say. The distribution of information is rapidly moving online, so of course the same medium becomes part of the distribution system for propaganda. Every government (and every marketing organization) in the world is hard at work trying to control what we can read here.

Why are we pretending that this is somehow new and unprecedented?

It has always been true that we need to learn to be skeptical of essentially everything anyone tells us. People are always trying to trick us into believing things for their own profit, and most people don't care if those things are true, only whether they can profit from others believing them.

So yeah: "Yawn."

about two weeks ago
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The Problem With Congress's Scientific Illiterates

jc42 Re:Don't bother. (509 comments)

But we get the government we deserve ...

Yeah, this is a standard cop-out, but if you think about it briefly, it's rather illogical. We only get one government; we couldn't possibly all deserve exactly that government.

In fact, most of us don't "deserve" the government we've got. The political system (mostly bought and paid for by the one or two percent that we hear about but rarely have even met) is to a great degree "fixed", and isn't anything that most of us deserve.

Not to mention all of its victims in other parts of the world who have had no say whatsoever in the makeup of our government.

So what are you doing to change this? ;-)

about two weeks ago
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OKCupid Warns Off Mozilla Firefox Users Over Gay Rights

jc42 Re:Stop using JavaScript! (1482 comments)

Stop using JavaScript

That's a good idea in general, considering its history of problems.

Maybe what we need is a push to persuade browser makers to link to perl and python implementations. Those are both much better languages for the purposes that JS was invented, and they're both completely open-source.

Actually, the right way to do it would be to replace all the embedded browsers' languages with tools for communicating efficiently with an arbitrary language plugin. Then we could use any programming language we like, including languages that haven't been developed yet. But what are the chances that we could persuade all the major browser makers to implement something as (conceptually ;-) simple as that?

about two weeks ago
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The Inside Story of Gmail On Its Tenth Anniversary

jc42 Re:Text to speech configuration (142 comments)

Heh. It's been a couple of years since I've had a RickRoll. Thanks for the memory!

about two weeks ago
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The Inside Story of Gmail On Its Tenth Anniversary

jc42 Re:Autoplay audio or my account. Choose one. (142 comments)

I'm getting a robotic voice reading the stories. I'm hoping this is their April Fool's joke because if this is a serious new feature then it's idiotic.

Well, I wouldn't call it idiotic. It could be the start of a useful feature for the visually impaired. What seems to be missing is a way to disable it. I've poked around a bit, and didn't find any controls. It has the usual sound level widget, which works for the current window, but when I refresh or open a new discussion window/tab, the sound is back up where it was.

Anyone know how to turn it off?

about two weeks ago
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Apple Patent Could Herald Interchangeable iPhone Camera Lenses

jc42 Re:But its a thing on actual cameras (160 comments)

I dont understand how this could be patented if it is already a thing, just on a different piece of hardware.

It's because it includes the phrase "on a computer".

You see, in addition to their computational uses, computers also have a "human memory erasure" capability. When you bring a computer near humans working with any old technology, all memory of that technology is erased, and the humans have to learn about its use from scratch.

This is a well-known phenomenon in the field of patent law, and is a major source of income for patent lawyers. And for the companies that manufacture the old technology, which becomes patentable when in proximity to a computer.

about two weeks ago
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Microsoft Promises Not To Snoop Through Email

jc42 Re:http://slashdot.org/?source=autorefresh (144 comments)

Another fantastically insightful post without an author to attribute it to. -- Why are all the good posts submitted as --AC?

Because they don't want to lose their jobs, etc., etc. ;-)

about two weeks ago
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Microsoft Promises Not To Snoop Through Email

jc42 Re:Now Avoiding Microsoft (144 comments)

And now, of course, we know MS thinks nothing of perusing private emails. Although this may be allowed in the fine print of the TOS, it's not the part of the advertised-image MS projects, and MS's repeated defense that doing so was within the law won't help it on the ethical front.

This is hardly anything new. Remember a few years back, when there was a bit of a fuss when people caught msn.com using customers' photos of their children (taken from email and web files "hosted" on msn.com servers) in their advertising? MS's first reaction to criticism was to point out that this was totally legal, since their TOS said specifically that any files stored on one of their machines became the property of Microsoft and msn.com. They were apparently surprised when people were upset by this.

The PR was so bad then that within a few weeks, their reps announced that they had stopped the practice. Some months later, though, people were pointing out that the language was still in their TOS doc.

And, as at that time, MS could logically point out that they aren't looking at any files owned by customers. By uploading email or other files to their servers, customers are legally assigning ownership of the files to MS. So MS is reading its own email files, not customers' email.

Sorry if this upsets you, but this is how US law on such things seems to work. Unless you've got a few spare million or so dollars to challenge it in court, in which case a decade or so from now the court might decide in your favor. Why don't you take it on as a project, and let the rest of us know how it works out? You'd be doing us all a big favor (if you win).

about two weeks ago
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One Person Successfully Removed From US No-Fly List

jc42 Re:The lies that we tell ourselves (286 comments)

We have to do this, and more, so much more, to keep us safe from the terrists who hate us for our freedom.

And also because our tanks are in their backyard.

Nah; we don't much bother with the tanks these days. Instead, we keep our drones overhead. They're a lot cheaper, and their operators are far from the scene. And if the terrists should shoot one down, we have lots more to send to their wedding parties.

about three weeks ago
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Introducing a Calendar System For the Information Age

jc42 Re:Um no (224 comments)

Ratio of integers is what makes it rational. Since those digits wouldn't be integers, it wouldn't be rational.

Oh, c'mon; any first-year math student can tell you how to set up a base-pi system so that the digits represent integers. You start by using the usual Greek letter pi (which /. can't display, right? ;-). Then you simply observe that, being the usual real-number field, we can divide our base number pi by itself, and define the shorthand symbol "1" to represent the result. After defining addition in the usual way, we define the shorthand symbol "2" to represent 1+1. And so on. Similarly, we subtract the base from itself, and define "0" as the shorthand symbol for the result. A couple of our earliest theorems demonstrate that 0 is the identity number for addition, and when we've defined multiplication, we also prove that 1 is the identity for that operation.

Actually, the only difference between this and our usual system is that we no longer call 10 our base; that term is reserved for pi.

Some years ago, I read an even more abstruse definition of the real numbers. It started with the numbers e and pi, and had a couple of axioms (which I've forgotten) defining their basic properties. From these, the writer derived two numbers that were called "0" and "1", and everything else followed from that.

Mathematicians often like to come up with abstruse examples like these, just for the fun of it. But such exercises can come in handy at times, when you are dealing with people who are arguing for an "improved" scheme for something. If you can show that it's equivalent to the usual scheme, you can produce the same sort of argument showing how to derive the usual symbols and axioms, and from then on you're home free.

The same approach has been used to explain why the US has in fact been "on the metric system" since the 1880s. Back then, the US Standards Bureau (whatever it was called that year) redefined all the usual "English" units of measurement in metric terms, on the grounds that at the time, the repository in Paris had the most precise system of measurements available. Thus, the inch was redefined as 2.54 cm exactly, and similarly for all the others. Since then, the legal basis of all units of measurement in the US has been the metric units. We just have an "extended" metric system that has a lot of other units that aren't mentioned in the ISO's standards documents.

And the metric system has been legal in the US for all purposes since some time in the 1840s, by an edict of Congress. So we don't need to "go metric"; we did that long ago. We just need to use the basic metric units more, rather than those goofy (2.54x? WTF??) units that some of us like so much.

about three weeks ago
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Introducing a Calendar System For the Information Age

jc42 Re:whaaaa :-) ? (224 comments)

Is the parenthesis part of the emoticon?!!! or is your EMOTICON MOUTHLESS?!?!?!

Heh. I've noticed that both are quite common, and depending on aesthetic ideals about such things, one or the other is likely to offend most readers. So I try to use both of them, preferably close together.

In any case, the ";-)" one isn't mouthless, since if you lean your head to the left, you can clearly see that the paren is the mouth. Adding the left paren not only gives balanced parens, but also gives the emoticon a forehead. Apparently it's bald, but what can ya do?

One fun part of all this agonizing is that if you include both parens (perhaps in a misguided sense to satisfy picky editing software ;-), the rendering software often converts the ";-)" to an image, but leaves the "(" as is, producing an unclosed open paren.

Ya can't win at such games; the only winning move is to refuse to play. Or maybe to throw a monkey wrench into both attitudes.

about three weeks ago

Submissions

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Neanderthal nuclear genome sequenced

jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 3 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "The first successful sequencing of the Neandert(h)al genome has been published in Science, by a team led by Svante Päbo of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Among their conclusions is that the Neandertals most likely did interbreed with the Cro Magnon invaders from Africa. There were a number of gene variants shared with modern Europeans but not with several other groups in Africa. The article states that "Modern humans and Neanderthals are so closely related that a comparison of their genomes must take into account the fact that for any particular part of the genome, a single modern human and a single Neandertal could be more similar to each other than two modern humans would be." So it looks like we'll have to look for a different hominid for the split that produced Homo sapiens. And, of course, further research is needed."
Link to Original Source
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That nice format of the past few days reverted

jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 4 years ago

jc42 writes "For several days, slashdot's main page showed on my screen (in several browsers) in a very nice format: Just the stories. That left column which is mostly just white space was missing, and that silly right column that took up half the screen and just listed a few of my recent messages was also missing. I could make the window about 1/3 the width of my 1920x1200 screen and see 4 or 5 summaries at a time. It was a real pleasure to be able to read /. without wasting most of the screen space. Today, it reverted to the old format, with mostly wasted space and a narrow column for the stories, one at a time. If I want to get more than one summary on my 1920x1200 screen, I again have to make the browser window full screen, and most of the screen is blank. Is there some reliable way to get the simple format again? It'd be nice to be able to read /. in a format that doesn't waste 2/3 of the window with stuff that I don't read. (And is there some better way to ask such questions? I've long wished there were a /. "place to ask dumb questions", but I've never seen one. Of course, there might be one that I don't about. If so, I'll go ask my dumb questions there. ;-)"
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Latest Earth-crossing asteroid passes by tonight

jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

jc42 writes "Astronomers have been looking at the first images of asteroid 2007 TU24, the 250-meter asteroid that will pass 540,000 km from the Earth at 8:33 UTC (3:30 EST) Tuesday morning. So get your telescopes out; it's a 10th-magnitude object. Or just hold your breath as the time approaches. Maybe astronomers will get good enough numbers for its 2000-year orbit to calculate how long until it hits our planet. It might be sobering to consider that it was just discovered last October, and we know about maybe half of the objects like this in Earth-crossing orbits."
Link to Original Source
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OLPC "Give One, Get One" offer extended to

jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "The One Laptop Per Child program has extended its North American "Give One, Get One" program to the end of the year. It seems they've been deluged with orders, and are realizing that this thing could be very popular in the First World, too. My wife and I have ordered some as Xmas presents for children/grandchildren, since it seems to be the first computer aimed at kids that, as some reviewers comment, "isn't a toy". We're wondering if we should get some for ourselves, for our second childhood. We're both software developers who'd like to get our hands on this new GUI. Anyone else have any comments, pro or con? Have you ordered one? Why?"
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  about 7 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "NPR, PCworld, and some 400 other news sources (according to Google News) are reporting on a new Google feature: Google Earth, in cooperation with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum now presents details of the growing disaster in Darfur. They give a virtual tour of the area, with details of events in many villages in the words of local residents. So in addition to their "Do no evil" motto, they apparently now have a policy of exposing evil. Needless to say, the Sudan government didn't exactly cooperate with this project."
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 7 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "The latest skirmish in the ongoing escalation of "Intellection Property" rights to cover everything in our culture, a number of news sources are telling the story of James Worley, a "portly fellow with a full white beard" who was being mistaken for Santa Clause by children at Disney World in Florida. He was approached by Disney people and ordered to change his appearance, because "Santa is a Disney Character". Is there anything that Disney doesn't now claim to own?"
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 7 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "A recent study published in Nature documents the accelerating release of methane from melting permafrost. Methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more "effective" than carbon dioxide, so this may signal more rapid warming in the near future. If you don't subscribe to Nature, the Guardian has a good summary. [Ed: What's an appropriate topic for this? I see nothing appropriate in the menu.]"
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 7 years ago

jc42 writes "Breaking news: The IAU has voted, and Pluto is now a "dwarf planet", not a "planet". Note the bit about an astronomer holding up a Walt Disney Pluto under an umbrella. Cue the endless debate on this vital topic ..."

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