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Kevlar Protects Cables From Sharks, Experts Look For Protection From Shark Week

trims "stands by the viewing figures" is telling... (103 comments)

Discovery Channel has long since gone the way of the History Channel, and now bears only coincidental moments of truth.

All they care about are ratings, and if lying to the public means ratings, well, obviously, Discovery is all over that.

As a scientist quoted in any of the current Shark Week "dramas" (they don't even rate the "docudrama" label), I'd sue Discovery for misrepresentation and libel. They quoted out of context and stitched together several scientist's different takes (not to mention failing to inform them about the subject being talked about, rather lying to them about the nature of the interview). As a consequence, the "scientist" never said any of the things they were purported to say.

Don't watch Shark Week. Don't watch Discovery/History/TLC or anything like that any more. heck, even NatGeo is bad. It's a shame.

about a month ago

Where are the Flying Cars? (Video; Part One of Two)

trims Expense is the big one... (107 comments)

Flying vehicles are expensive: to build, to operate, and to maintain. Probably close to an order of magnitude for each, though the last may be close to two magnitudes.

Cost per pound of cargo in an airborne vehicle is huge. Here's an example: the HondaJet runs around $5m. A comparable Honda Odyssy is $35k.

Flying is a significantly more energy-intensive operation than rolling along the surface. A cheap prop plane like a Cessna has an airspeed around 100mph, and gets 20mpg. The equivalent super-cheap subcompact doesn't have to worry about winds, and gets 40+ mpg. Turbofans (like the HondaJet) which you'd want on a "flying car" get 4x or worse gas mileage than a Cessna. VTOLs (whether helicopter or directed thrust) are getting 6x or worse gas mileage.

The vast majority of aircraft require HOURS of maintenance per hour of flight time. Even the small, simple stuff like Cessna are more than a 1:1 maintenance:use ratio. There's not really any way to avoid this, since flying is significantly more hard on the vehicle than driving. So, for each flight you take, you're going to have to pay several hundred dollars in maintenance fees.

Overall, even with some reasonable improvements and economies of scale, you're looking at a vehicle that costs 10x or more than an equivalent wheeled vehicle to start with, and has an annual operating cost around 100x.

Besides, we already have flying cars. They're called helicopters. Notice how the pricing on those has kept them from be adopted. There's no real way to make a flying car significantly cheaper. And you're still stuck with the 1-6 reasons above.

Asking where flying cars are is only slightly more inane than asking why we don't have personal teleporters, and about the same as asking why personal jetpacks aren't sitting in everyone's closet.


about a month ago

Federal Bill Would Criminalize Revenge Porn Websites

trims Freedom of Participants trumps Picture Owner (328 comments)

Except the 1st doesn't trump the 4th.

Within your own house (or other private area), you have a right to control access to allow for a reasonable level of privacy.

That is, allowing you to walk into my home does NOT automatically give you the right to record everything you see there. As the owner, I retain my personal rights to everything there; your rights don't trump mine, because this is MY private space. This also applies to actions within that space with respect to the guest: the homeowner does NOT automatically gain the right to record the guest WITHOUT permission.

Similar protections apply to all places where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists: bathrooms, private hotel rooms, etc.

A minor level of Prior Restrain is perfectly reasonable here - that is, the owner must show PROOF of permission for photographic reproduction, since the possible harm from an illegal post outweighs the benefits of unfettered postings. That is, documented permission from the participant is NOT an onerous burden on the poster, and, in fact, protects the participants' 4th and 1st Amendment rights, which, in this case, are reasonably seen as being greater than the picture owner's.

about 6 months ago

How Many People Does It Take To Colonize Another Star System?

trims Low-end, constant acceleration gets you there... (392 comments)

Voyager and all the other space probes suffer from a massive problem: they have no (functioning) engine.

They got an initial boost from a chemical rocket to start out their journey. They used up what little fuel they had on orbital adjustments, not propulsion, and then got some velocity boost via gravity-well slingshots.

Any inter-stellar transport WILL have a engine, that continues to function for the vast majority of the trip. Current bets are on some sort of a ion engine, with solar sails being a nice runner-up. Both of them are low-thrust, long-duration engine types that don't require massive amounts of fuel to be stored on the vessel.

In either case, it's well within current engineering reason to presume that your inter-stellar engine can produce a thrust acceleration of 0.01g across several decades, at a minimum. After a year at a constant 0.01g, that means you're moving at about 3.1E6 m/s, or about 0.01 C. Even at that slow-poke speed, you'll cover a light year per 100 years. If you can accelerate for a decade (and decelerate at the end at the same rate), you get up to 0.1 C velocity, which means you cover a light year per 10 years.

You're only off by about 5 orders of magnitude that reasonable tech can provide now.

about 6 months ago

Ask Slashdot: the State of Open CS, IT, and DBA Courseware in 2014?

trims Technical degrees now a requirement... (84 comments)


The vast majority of folks employed in IT/computing these days without degrees are the older generation (30+), who got into the fields before it really solidified. I can count on one hand the number of under-30s I know that don't have a degree in something reasonably technical (math, engineering, CS, etc) that work in IT out here. The opposite is true for the older generation: I have to use two hands, but that's about it, to count the number of aged 40+ people who have a technical degree and work in IT.

Silicon Valley companies all want, for an "entry-level" position: (5) years experience OR a degree in something technical. If you have neither, you'll not get past HR or the recruiters, even for that entry-level position, unless you're extremely lucky.

It's darned hard to find an entry-level job out here, with no experience. And without a technical degree, everyone ignores you. As soon as you have several years experience, well, they ignore the degree, but it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem there. And by "experience", they mean fulltime employment, not "I worked at a job while in college/high school".


about 6 months ago

Safety Measures Fail To Stop Fukushima Plant Leaks

trims Note on Relative size of that amount of water... (157 comments)

100 tons of water is 24,000 gallons, or about 3600 cubic feet of water.

That's roughly about the same amount as two (2) of the large tanker trucks that fill up a gas station.

Or, in Olympic Pool metrics, about 1/24th of a Pool.

In radiation terms, 230m Bq per liter (for 24,000 Gal = 91,000 L) or 21 Trillion Bq.

A single (average) coal plant puts out about 4 Quadrillion Bq via emissions pollution. So this spill is roughly 0.5% of the yearly output of a coal plant (or, 46 hours of operation of one).

In terms Banana Equivalent Dosage, you're talking about 1.4 Trillion bananas per hour to start with, halving every hour.

And Now You Know.


about 6 months ago

China's Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover Officially Declared Lost

trims Getting there is only part of the battle... (131 comments)

As I pointed out on the story on Israel doing a moon mission last week, the technology and knowledge required to put an (unmanned) 100kg object on the moon (or Mars, or other celestial rock) is very well understood these days, so much so that well-financed private corporations (see the various X-prise competitors) can do it, given $100m or less. All the engineering issues are both well-known, and well-documented as to solutions. This is all out in the open press, so anyone with the capital merely has to hire enough competent engineers, and have enough money to build the resulting design. Rocket science is no longer rocket science.

What remains extraordinarily difficult is for someone to build a long-functioning probe. The knowledge of the practical problems (and their workaround/solutions) has NOT been disseminated, and thus, pretty much everyone has to learn from scratch. Extraterrestrial probe building is still very much a Deep Magic field, with only a select few organizations (mostly NASA, but ESA too) having the experience to do it well. And they're not sharing.

I fully expect the Chinese to get a working lander robot sometime soon. Just like I fully expect that their next one will not work to its design specs, either. In many ways, it's like building a new car from scratch - the first couple of prototypes crash badly, and you have to learn all the tricks by yourself, because nobody else shares their hard-won info with you. Tesla does well because they were able to hire experienced people from Ford, etc. who brought that knowledge with them. The Chinese Space Agency (CNSA) wasn't able to do that, for obvious reasons, so they're going to have to do the whole learning curve themselves. Good news is that they'll do it MUCH faster than anyone else did, if for no other reason that the tech and general science knowledge is more available and understood.


about 7 months ago

Big Pharma Presses US To Quash Cheap Drug Production In India

trims No, they weren't.... (255 comments)

The current crop (and the future crops, too) of drugs were NEVER intended to have to recoup costs out of non-developed-world countries.

In fact, pretty much ALL drug research is based solely on the American market. That is, everything else outside the American market is gravy (or, in this case, pure profit). The metrics are driven by how long it takes to recoup money from the USA's market.

The reason why is that the US drug market (due to a combination of large population, and completely unregulated pricing) is so much more lucrative than anywhere else, by an order of magnitude even more than Western Europe. That's right - the USA alone brings in more profit THAN THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD for a drug.

Letting India manufacture these domestically (and, heck, the entire rest of the developed world) wouldn't affect drug research and investment strategies one little bit. The big fear from drug companies is reimportation, where drugs manufactured in India are imported back into the USA for sale, without the major patent premium being paid. This is fairly trivially avoidable.

So, yeah, in the end, it's about squeezing that last dime in profits out of people, and not fundamentally giving a damned about anything else.

about 7 months ago

Fire Destroys Iron Mountain Data Warehouse, Argentina's Bank Records Lost

trims Re: Classic Slashdot (463 comments)

Barely a 5-digit myself. Been here since early 1997. And Beta will cause me to never come back. I tried it once, and it was hideous.

about 7 months ago

How Voter Shortsightedness Skews Elections

trims Lie, Damned Lies, and Statistics... (269 comments)

The fact that a large majority of voters make judgments on what happens in the immediate past (i.e. 3-4 months) prior to an election, rather than the entire term of office (2, 4, or 6 years for various US Congress/Presidents) is well documented, so no surprise here.

Much of that has to do with the difficulty virtually all people have distilling a complex, hugely multivariant problem, into easily understood metrics and views. That's not going to change, because even a super genius is going to only be able to accurately remember a half-dozen major points, while there may be as many as several DOZEN relevant metrics/issues that you probably can consider important.

The proposed solution in the paper is yet another form of a simplification and lie, NOT a real solution. The simple answer is that I see no indication that the claimed "yearly growth" rate is any more accurate than the absolute income. Do the grow rates take into account inflation? (I see no indication they do) What about changes in the job market over those years? What about overall economic indicators? I.e. if the average income managed to grow ANY over the period 2007-2009 (in the middle of the most severe recession in 80 years), then that a huge accomplishment vs say merely keeping up with inflation in 2003. The authors are merely substituting one questionably useful statistic with another (of the same dubious relevance).

Never trust someone selling you a simple numerical answer to a complex problem. Politicians and Statisticians are both extremely adept at contriving lots of meaning from simple numbers. There's a reason this post is titled the way it is.


about 8 months ago

Israeli Group To Attempt Moon Landing

trims I don't mean to belittle the will to do so... (150 comments)

But this has long since ceased to be any sort of technical challenge or accomplishment.

Putting a lander on the moon (or, even, for that matter, a human) is not much of a technical challenge, insofar as needing to do anything other than learn how to properly use complex (but well-known) technology.

There's a whole raft of small aerospace companies (of which SpaceX is merely the best known) with funding in the low millions than can produces a lunar lander for you within 6 months of a go-ahead. And building a sufficiently large rocket to put 100kg on the moon for a 1-way trip is merely a matter of money, not even advanced tech these days.

The bigger obstacle is political will, and being able to divert the few tens of millions it costs from being cannibalized by special interests.

If the Israelis do it, good for them. But it's not really advancing the state-of-the-art in any way, nor is it much more than a publicity stunt.

about 8 months ago

20% of Neanderthal Genome Survives In Humans

trims Why so low a commonality? (202 comments)

Neanderthals are barely a separate species.

They're homo neanderthalensis, while modern man is homo sapiens sapiens. The immediate predecessor to modern humans is homo sapiens idaltu, which is minutely different than us. While a simple majority of paleontologists classify Neanderthals as a separate species, there's a significant minority that advocate them as merely another subspecies (home sapiens neanderthalensis) being more correct.

Given that the ENTIRE Neanderthal genome differs from ours by 0.15% or less (we're about 2% different than our closest modern primate relative), I'm very surprised that the Homo-specific genome part is only 20% in common between Neanderthal and Modern Human. Particularly since it's now commonly accepted that they interbred with modern humans.

I think the 20% commonality (if it bears out) probably reinforces the "separate species" theory more than the "distinct subspecies" theory of the Homo genus family tree.


about 8 months ago

Linus Torvalds: Any CLA Is Fundamentally Broken

trims For a noted pragmatist, Linus is dead wrong... (279 comments)

Normally, I see Linus being pragmatic about things, but I have no idea why he's against CLAs.

Having a CLA (with some form of copyright assignment or "unlimited" sublicensing) is the ONLY way to run a flexible, long-term Open Source project.

The Linux kernel is the only substantial project that doesn't do this, and, frankly, can only get away with it because it's so critical. Even there, it's a pain, because (to pick a stellar example), Linux will NEVER be able to relicense itself under an improved GNU license. It's stuck FOREVER on the GNU v2 license. Which is hardly a good thing.

CLAs are a consequence of copyright, just like the licenses themselves are. They're necessary to allow a project to update the license, defend the entire codebase in court, keep track of ACTUAL authors, etc. If you don't have this, you have a toy project, one which ultimately will fail to succeed.

If you don't like CLAs, then use the BSD or Public Domain route, because they're the only licenses (or non-license) that avoids all the traps of copyright law. Otherwise, if you want copyleft of any sort, then you have to use a CLA.

Linus is basically complaining that having a driver's license is an obstacle to people just getting on the road and driving whenever they want. Sure, CLAs restrict the "fly by night" patcher. That's a feature not a bug. Sometimes, you do want to set the bar higher than the lowest common denominator. Naturally, some CLAs are worse than others, but the concept as a whole is sound.


about 8 months ago

Linus Torvalds: Any CLA Is Fundamentally Broken

trims As can ANY of the major CLAs... (279 comments)

Take a look at pretty much any major CLA out there.

I'll name three big ones: OpenJDK, FSF's for GNU, and Apache's.

ALL of them either directly assign the copyright of the contribution to the org, and thus, you lose any ability to control it whatsoever, or give the org the ability to relicense it explicitly.

This is intentional, and a GOOD thing, because it increases the flexibility of the project, including making it easier to defend rights in court. Frankly, have a project with multiple copyright assignment is impossible to manage from a legal standpoint, let alone one where you don't even know the real identity of a contribution's author.

The Linux kernel is stuck on the GNU v2 license for exactly this reason, and can never change. That's the fate of any such non-CLA'd Open Source project (other than something using Public Domain or the BSD license).

FYI: the FSF can (and has) relicensed code contributed to GNU projects under a proprietary license. (gcc and part of the toolchain)

about 8 months ago

Previously-Unseen Photos of Challenger Disaster Appear Online

trims Report validates the "dead man walking" assessment (207 comments)

No, the report effectively validates the "they're dead, Jim" assessment.

The "repair" theory was so riddled with uncertainties that NASA itself acknowledged that it was too high risk to even contemplate. Basically, they'd have to do a spacewalk just to figure out the extent of the damage, then jetison all the cargo, then try to jury-rig some sort of thing. The idea they had was laughable: use spare metal parts to pack the hole with something of substance, then use an ice pack to try to maintain wing aerodynamics. Then make it back through re-entry, where a best case scenario exposes the patch to several hundred degrees of heat and Mach 25+ airspeed.

The "rescue" option was only slightly less hair-raising, and, frankly, ran a significant risk of loss of TWO orbiters.

The realistic assessment is that as soon as the accident happened, they were doomed. Citing low-probability theoretical (and that's all they were, theoretical) plans that have never been tested or even simulated, and that would have to be executed under extreme time pressure as evidence that they weren't doomed is muddy-headed wishful thinking.

The report makes it pretty clear that saving the Columbia was about as realistic as saving the Titanic.

about 8 months ago

Roadable, Vertical-Takeoff Aircraft Is Eager To Hit the Battlefield

trims Except it's not useful at all... (87 comments)

It's NOT more flexible, except in hairball wacko scenarios that never happen in reality.

A UH-60 or a OH-6 have better range, better speed, much better maneuverability, and either higher cargo capacity or radically more nimble. And saying these things could be used as a UAV is completely brain-dead - they're so slow and vulnerable that they'd never survive in a hostile environment. At least helicopters have the speed and maneuverability for quick insert and retrieval missions.

And if you think helicopters have high maintenance requirements, and are vulnerable to ground fire, that's nothing compared to what this beast will need/be vulnerable to. All they are is a SUV-sized target.

Every scenario I can possibly think of (including those listed) is more effectively performed at a lower overall price (because you have to factor in losses) by existing helicopters, UAVs, and ground transport.

This is the modern version of steampunk - looks cool, completely practically worthless.

about 8 months ago

Even After NSA Leaks, Government Still Trusted Over Private Firms

trims Make a lot of sense... (234 comments)

For as bad as the NSA and GCHQ programs are/were, there is at least some reasonable way to restrict them from damage.

For corporations, there's effectively no limit to the amount of damage they can do.

Yes, government-level info gathering can result in some pretty awful things - prison, in the least, for a limited number of people. A breakdown in trust of government as a whole, however, is probably the worst thing such pervasive intrusion can cause. BUT, we have relatively fast control over this kind of behavior. We (citizens) simply pitch a fit to our representatives, and a loud enough fit (aided hopefully by expose from people like Edward Snowden) gets results rather quickly (weeks or months). The NSA policies and practices are changing, as we speak. In the end, government is responsible to the people, and if enough of society says to change the policy, it gets changed.

Compare that to information gathering and use by a company. It's regulated by? Well, if you're lucky, the government. If not, then by nobody. And there's no oversight at all. They pretty much can do whatever they want with it, and there's virtually nothing the average citizen can do about it, even in large numbers. The company's management controls the data, and they're pretty much completely insulated from outside influence. Not even stockholders have much say here. And there's virtually no penalty for them misusing it. Take the Target debit card leak. It's a very temporary, minor PR problem. They're not on the hook for any damage they cause those people by mishandling their info. And that's a minor case - think of all the places where corporations buy and sell info for no benefit of the individual, profit from it, and usually to the detriment of the individual.

I'm in no way saying that government info gathering is good - we need to keep a close eye on it at all times. However, corporate information gathering and trading is infinitely more damaging to society, especially in unregulated places such as the USA. At least we have a reasonably ability to correct government oversteps - when was the last time you saw a company penalized (or heck, even substantially change its policies) due to mishandling of individual data?

Thanks, but I'll trust a representative government long before I'll trust a private, for-profit entity.


about 9 months ago

U.S. Measles Cases Triple In 2013

trims Depends... (462 comments)

When comparing modern mortality improvement over the older pre-industrial, pre-modern-medicine regimes, the "most helpful" reductions vary with the age group you're dealing with:

  • INFANT (i.e. under 2 years of age) mortality reductions are overwhelmingly due to two things: (1) improvements in reducing childbirth deaths and complications (2) infant vaccinations. Sanitation (but not necessarily clean water) has helped somewhat, but not anywhere near as much as getting the kid out of the mother in good shape, and effective pre- and post-natal care. Vaccines (even though most aren't fully protected until after 2 years of age) have nonetheless stopped cold the huge killers of infants: measles, smallpox, pertussis, etc.
  • CHILDHOOD (2-12) mortality reductions are pretty much split between vaccinations and improved clean water/sanitation, maybe with the latter edging out for bigger impact (probably due mostly to reducing malaria, cholera and typhus).
  • TEENAGE (13-18) mortality reductions are due to a combination of vaccines (TB, smallpox, polio, and measles being a big here), clean water/sanitation, and trauma medicine.
  • ADULT (18-65) reductions are mostly clean water/sanitation, with trauma medicine following up behind. Vaccinations aren't a huge contributor here, since the vast majority of folks died of the major vaccinated diseases before they got to be adults, and thus, a much smaller percentage of people were saved.
  • ELDERLY (65+) mortality reductions are heavily improvements in drugs and chronic illness treatments (think cancer and heart disease).

Overall, clean water and sanitation probably win as the single most important advancement in public health, ever, but vaccines are a *very* strong second. Frankly, drugs are at best a distant fourth, behind even improved medical understanding of the human body (enabling more effective trauma and non-drug treatments of common diseases and accidents). Drug improvements really have helped two big categories of people: soldiers at war, and the elderly.


about 9 months ago

What Apple Does and Doesn't Know About You

trims I've got a Bridge in Arizona I want to sell you... (214 comments)

That statement from Apple doesn't even pass the laugh test, let alone a sniff test.

I live and work in Silicon Valley, and have a substantial number of friends and former co-workers that either are, or have recently, worked for Apple.

They're collecting data on you. Lots of it. And their "opt out" ways are about as effective as Google's at protecting your data.

iTunes play patterns, and purchase history. Apple Maps. Location data around phone usage. Location usage, period. Apple Store purchase patterns. Every time you visit an Apple Store. Purchase data from the on-line Apple App Store. The list goes on and on.\

Some of it anonymized, but most of it really isn't. Even if you "opt out", there's more than enough metadata being collected to identify you.

So, yeah, Apple's just lying through it's teeth.

about 10 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What Will IT Departments Look Like In 5 Years?

trims Let me introduce you to my System/360.... (184 comments)

Large corporate environments chance at a glacial speed. If anything, they merely add, never subtract - the proportion of Fortune 1000 companies which have mission-critical mainframes is close to 100%, as it has been for the past 50 years. Similarly, pretty much all of them still have a VAX or AS/400 similar mini-computer running something critical. The waves of consultant-pushed fads wash over these institutions with virtually no effect. They all run small "incubator" tech-evalutation groups so they can sort out which of the new tech is likely to produce useful ROI, but the actual adoption rates of these new techs is very slow.

Mid-sized companies are pretty similar, though they're a bit more aggressive with dumping older technology. They don't generally replace it with cutting edge stuff, though, since that's a huge risk they don't want to take. Pretty much every "tech upgrade" I've ever seen in this space is replacing a 30-year-old setup with a design which first showed up a decade before. Mid-sized companies go for solidly-proven tech.

Little companies are where the most change happens, for the good and bad. The bad side is that many small companies don't have the expertise to handle the adoption of new processes and tech properly, and thus screw it all up, and then kill the company. I've seen this happen at both small tech AND non-tech companies, where an insufficiently funded/staffed/knowledgable IT "department" killed the company. Literally. The good is that small companies are where the experimentation happens, and, particularly in tech-oriented ones, it's where the next wave of computing is really prototyped then refined.

The general answer to the article is that any sane company's IT department will look 90% identical to what it is now in 10 years, and even in 50 years will almost certainly still be at least 50% identical. For those able to handle the risk, things will chance on a decade-by-decade basis; but, the reality is, those companies will either have died or turned into mature (and risk adverse) companies by then. So, while the small company space is a place of rapid change in IT, at a specific company, a period of rapid evolution will be followed either by death of the company, or evolution to the long-term stability type.

The short of it is: NEVER trust a consultant trying to predict the future for you. Particularly if they're extrapolating on "new" tech.

about a year ago



TSA accepting public comments on AIT X-Ray screening

trims trims writes  |  about a year and a half ago

trims (10010) writes "The TSA is now in the public comment stage of its project to roll out Advanced Imaging Technology (i.e. full-body X-ray) scanners. The TSA wants your feedback as to whether or not this project should be continued or cancelled. Now is your chance to tell the TSA that this is a huge porkbarrel project and nothing more than Security Theater. You can comment at http:/// and reference the docket ID TSA-2013-0004"
Link to Original Source


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