* Posts by Michael Wojcik

4600 posts • joined 21 Dec 2007

Loons in balloons: Google asks FCC to approve Net plan

Michael Wojcik
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Americans pay what now?

Americans pay through the nose for mobile access

Do we? I pay around $40 a month for unlimited calls and SMS and 5 GB of data (which is far, far more than I ever use) on a major national network. That's about 60% of the bill for my landline, which only offers free calls in my local area. Or about 60% of the cost of sending one 10-word telegram a day in 1920, adjusted for inflation.

Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

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'Printer Ready'. Er… you actually want to print? What, right now?

Michael Wojcik
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Ah, four-pen plotters. Lovely things, though not suitable for printing office documents.

When I was at IBM around 1990, we had some huge, very expensive early inkjet printer. It used some kind of wax-based ink and printed onto special glossy paper, which sat on a rotating drum while the inkjet heads moved across the platten - so it printed vertical stripes, left to right, until the page was complete. Fun to watch.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Rescued printer

The amount of printing I do at home means that I'll probably never open the second toner! No worries about ink drying up on that one!

After a decade or two, the rubber strip in the unopened toner cartridge will have decayed to the point where the cartridge is unusable, unfortunately. I ran into this with my LaserJet 4M (purchased 1992 and still works a treat). Had an ancient still-in-the-box replacement cartridge, but when I tried to use it after the old one finally ran out, it left streaks all along the page.

So I had to shell out for a new cartridge, which was trivial to find online and approximately a zillion times cheaper per page than an inkjet cartridge.

(Also, toner cartridges don't have ink. They have toner. And it can't dry out because it's not wet to begin with.)

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Yes

Do you mean "Yes" in a James Joyce mountain flower kind of way?

Nah. I mean yes as in yes I know exactly what you feel, have been through those experiences at one time or another and hate printers, and printer manufacturers and especially HP with a deep and abiding passion.

I'd just like to point out that, per Rule 34, for someone somewhere on the Internet, it's both.

Of course, with that "deep and abiding passion", you're halfway there.

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Michael Wojcik
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Worse is someone who pulls up each Powerpoint slide and reads it to you word for word before going on to the next.

Yes, and any number of presentation coaches will explain this point (and demonstrate it in entertaining fashion).

Nonetheless, I have a couple of colleagues who were once scolded by the board of a grant-giving organization for failing to read aloud all the text on each of their slides during the presentation. And they didn't do so on, say, accessibility grounds - they said it was "unprofessional" to display text and not recite it as well. Apparently several of the board members were not inclined to listen and read at the same time.

Which simply goes to show that no rule will please all audiences.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: US Letter

I find it rewarding identifying and overcoming complicated problems!

I, too, once did that to AIX in the early '90s (tracked down a bug in the standard C library implementation that broke 3D rendering on the advanced graphics adapters, of all things). It's good work if you can find it.

Have a thumb's-up.

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Random ideas sought to improve cryptography

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Reliable way to check the output

But some mathematical analyses is possible.

Well, yes. This has been a perennial topic in computer science (and cognate fields) since there was such a thing; thus we have, for example, von Neumann's 1951 "Various techniques" paper on removing bias and the like. Knuth discusses PRNGs at some length in the second volume of TAoCP. If there weren't any useful analysis to be had, presumably NIST wouldn't be asking for any.

Marsaglia's Diehard collection of tests has been freely available for over two decades.

Anyone working with pseudorandom sequences for any nontrivial purpose ought to be aware of these things.

Personally, if I were going to use entropy-encoding compression to estimate the information entropy of a sequence, I'd prefer a predictive matcher like the BWT or PPM, followed by arithmetic encoding. I suspect (though I haven't tried to prove) that would be less susceptible to missing larger structure in the sequence.

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Research: By 2017, a third of home Wi-Fi routers will power passers-by

Michael Wojcik
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power?

a third of home Wi-Fi routers will power passers-by

People moving past my house will be powered by Wi-Fi? How strong is that signal?

Or is this the contemporary idiotic use of "power" to mean "be used by, but in no way power"?

No need for Reg scribes to abuse a technical term just because the marketing monkeys at Intel and elsewhere decide to do so. While we can't control how others use the language, we can exercise some judgement over our own employment of it.

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Open source plugin aims to defeat link rot

Michael Wojcik
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Re: "1.1.1.1"

Much better to just point it to 127.0.0.2 if you really are afraid that you have a webserver running on your local machine that you don't know about

Anything in 127/8 resolves to the loopback interface. 127.0.0.2 will only avoid your local web server if the request is made using HTTP/1.1 (or HTTP/2), and said server checks the Host header, and it declines the request if it is addressed to 127.0.0.2. The second seems unlikely (you're running a server configured for virtual hosting on your browsing machine?) and the last unlikelier still.

But props for noting that 1.1.1.1 is a valid, assigned IPv4 address.

If you really want a destination IP address that's not routed to loopback or the Internet, then something in one of the RFC 1918 private address networks (10/8, 172.16/12, and 192.168/16) that you aren't already using would be the appropriate choice.

There are IPv6 equivalents, of course, but who wants that?

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You've seen things people wouldn't believe – so tell us your programming horrors

Michael Wojcik
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Re: SWAP

Duff's device on LSD/steroids?

No, that was just Duff's Device.

Frankly, I don't see what's wrong with the original SWAP example or the Duff-style replacement. The original example should be perfectly clear to anyone competent to maintain that code. It's concise but readable: straightforward, nicely formatted, good identifier choices.

Duff's Device is a bit more obscure - except that it's so well-known that anyone working in C ought to be familiar with it, and if they aren't, then they're not doing their job, and shouldn't be maintaining the code in question.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: I'm a firm believer in compiler warnings

If it doesn't compile with no warnings, then you've done something silly.

Unfortunately, sometimes "something silly" is "used a poor implementation of the language".

I've used plenty of compilers that issue diagnostics ("warnings") for perfectly valid, and in context appropriate, constructs, where there was no good alternative, and where the implementation didn't supply a way to suppress the diagnostic. The HP-UX implementation is one, if memory serves. (Also didn't have a conforming snprintf.)

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Back to the Future's DeLorean is coming back to the future

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Different engines under the hood...

Much better to go for a Cobra or GT40 kit instead or a car with a 5.7L / 6.1L Hemi engine

I agree. While I admit to admiring the looks of the Delorean as a callow youth, these days if I were going to get a replica of a pretty but incompetent sports car, it'd be a Jensen Interceptor. Or an Alfa Romeo Spider. Or a Ferrari 365 "Daytona".

And if I were nostalgically inclined to fulfill one of my youthful car crushes, it'd probably be for something more prosaic. An Audi 80 Quattro from the early 1980s, maybe. Perhaps a Porsche 944 (the "Porsche for everyone"), just to tweak the 911 fans.

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Michael Wojcik
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tbh I'd not turn down one of these

Yes, if you like performance in a comfortable, reliable car, the Volvo models with Polestar packages aren't bad. There's also the S60 T6, one of those turbo- and supercharged models. Kind of silly, in my opinion (really just more repairs down the road), but cute.

I lost my taste for fast cars years ago - a stint towing cars for the police pretty much did it in - and today's cars are generally absurdly overpowered anyway. So the Volvos are more than fast enough for me.

My wife has a 2008 C30, and I drive a 2015 XC70, and I think they're nice. Not the fastest, not the most luxurious, not the most efficient, not the cheapest - but a decent compromise on all of those points. And relatively safe. And the infotainment / feature controls in the XC70 are mostly physical buttons and knobs, not some idiotic touchscreen.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: A couple points ...

A high performance engine conversely will be held back by low octane fuel.

That's only true, and then only a little bit, if the octane1 is low enough that the engine suffers from compression ignition. Once you pass that point, the octane rating makes no difference.

And it doesn't matter whether the engine is "high performance". What does matter is whether it's "high compression", because the greater the compression ratio, the more susceptible the vapor is to compression ignition.

In the olden days, when compression ignition happened, you'd get "knock" - the vapor igniting prematurely at the wrong point in the cycle. Obviously that was bad for engine output, among other things.

For many years now, cars have come with knock sensors, and if the engine sees compression ignition it'll retard the timing to compensate. This makes the engine less efficient, but not a lot less powerful.

Higher-octane-rated mixes are less likely to ignite from compression (just as octane ignites at a higher pressure than hexane does). Thus cars with high-compression engines specify higher-octane-rated fuel. Such engines have higher output per unit displacement because they use a higher compression ratio, not because of the fuel they use.

1Really should be "nominal octane". Gasoline / petrol is nominally a mixture of hexane and octane, for octane-reporting purposes; but really it's a hydrocarbon cocktail of various things the refinery cracked out of longer petroleum chains and decided to mix together, along with detergents and oxidizers (where mandated) and whatever other crap they decide to throw in. No one makes gasoline out of mostly octane.

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'Unikernels will send us back to the DOS era' – DTrace guru Bryan Cantrill speaks out

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Forth

Forth is a language. The language runs on something. Free to you to run it on bare metal, but if it runs on Unix, your argument is invalid.

Indeed. Might as well claim that because there are embedded systems running software written in various assembly languages, the existence of assembly languages proves that Unikernel is a good idea.

More generally, the existence of embedded systems says nothing - nothing whatsoever - about the suitability of removing the user/kernel separation in general. Something may be appropriate in one domain and inappropriate in others.

But based on the OP's handle, I'm guessing that he's not here to listen to reasoned arguments on the topic anyway. He has an axe, and this looked like a grindstone.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: "Operating systems these days..."

So we're just returning to the two state model, while redefining what counts as user and kernel.

Yes - Unikernel is basically just hoisting a subset of kernel facilities into userspace, and throwing the rest out (in a given container). The hypervisor provides isolation.

Personally, though, I'm not impressed with the idea. I don't see any big advantage - some performance, but then the constrained resource is probably either one you can cheaply throw more resources at, or something that won't be helped by a smaller image without user/kernel context switches. And in exchange you're giving up features and flexibility.

The research work being done on "library operating systems", which spin up customized OS-and-support-library collections based on the dependencies of the application that's going to run, strikes me as more interesting and more broadly useful.

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Cops hate encryption but the NSA loves it when you use PGP

Michael Wojcik
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Re: The more, the merrier?

it needs to be baked into the mail protocols

It has been, for 39 years. PEM in RFC 989.

And then again in 1991 with PGP (RFC 1991, though that only specified message formats), and in 1998 with S/MIME v2 (RFC 2311; S/MIME v1 was not standardized).

and software as a default

Well, yeah. MUA and MTA authors couldn't be bothered, or picked the wrong horse.

PEM was probably too early. There wasn't a widespread appreciation of the need for improving email security, the US was still laboring under excessive cryptography export controls, and sharing code (particularly important for crypto, given the difficulty of getting it right) was impeded by less-widespread access to the Internet.

PGP was generally perceived as a single implementation, not an interoperable specification, until OpenPGP came along in 1998. But mostly, I think, the problem was that MUA authors in particular were much more concerned with adding flashier features that they thought would attract novice users, as well as avoiding those damned export controls again.

S/MIME wasn't clearly superior to PGP (and still isn't). It looked mostly like a way for RSADSI to push PKCS#7. Microsoft climbed on board (Outlook still supports S/MIME natively but not PGP), because of course they did, but to PGP fans S/MIME looked like god-not-more-crap-thrown-on-top-of-poor-email. And corporations generally just went with SMTP+POP/IMAP or a proprietary protocol like Exchange, running through VPN tunnels, for confidentiality, and didn't worry about authentication and other features of cryptographically-secured email.

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Ban internet anonymity – says US Homeland Security official

Michael Wojcik
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Re: "ignored most of the time" / license plates

I wonder what Mr. Barnett would have to say about that.

It doesn't matter. He's a surveillance addict, like (it seems) most in his line of work. Addicts will rationalize their way out of any argument. They're not interested in debate, except as a way of confirming their own beliefs.

It's not surprising that surveillance is addictive. Humans are social animals; we find each others' activities interesting, generally speaking. And surveillance is powerful and profitable. So it both satisfies an innate need and brings pleasure. Not surprisingly, it's very like other forms of interpersonal dominance in that way; but it's unusual in that it can be exercised in secret, which makes it appealing to those who have negative affective reactions to confrontation, and makes it easy to achieve through technological means.

Consequently, we'll never stamp out the government inclination toward surveillance, and probably the best - probably the only - way we have of slowing its growth is to push for a popular reaction against it on civil-rights grounds, which can at least throw up some impediments to it. Historically, that's been the most successful strategy against systemic oppression in the modern era. The combination of popular agitation in the short term and changing prevailing attitudes in the longer term has achieved moderate success on a number of areas that have been framed as essential human rights.

The more-accomplished proponents of surveillance, like Barnett, are aware of this, of course, which is why they couch their position in terms of anecdotes and vague warnings about violations of those same rights (Papism, witchcraft, sex trafficking, terrorism, international Communism - whatever the bugbear of the day). And there is some benefit to debunking those arguments, for the benefit of third parties who are still open to reasonable persuasion. But you aren't going to get the policing types to admit a mistake, and for the masses you'll need to appeal more directly to liberal1 ideology.

1In the political-science sense, not the US "I don't know what 'liberal' means but I don't like it" one.

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How to build a starship - and why we should start thinking about it now

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Sad reality

We've become too shallow ...

The malaise you're lamenting has been around for at least all of the Modern era (so for a few centuries in European and European-derived cultures). There are grounds1 for suggesting it has been the condition of humanity for all of history.

it's all about Profit and Self

Since those motivators are pretty much exclusively responsible for the technology we currently enjoy, it seems a bit rich to blame them for our supposed failure to put it to use.

1Essays from contemporary commentators bemoaning the laxity of present times, in comparison to some prelapsarian past.

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Google DeepMind cyber-brain cracks tough AI challenge: Beating a top Go board-game player

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Whether it's AI or not is missing the point

Note, too, that "will a machine ever beat an expert human at Go?" (or variations thereof) is one of those perennial topics in popular discussions of computing, AI, machine learning, etc.

For example, here's a Wired piece from the long-ago era of 2014. It's typical Wired (breathless and short on technical detail), but it's the sort of thing that appeared regularly in the middlebrow press.

So there's a certain historical weight to this accomplishment, beyond its simple technical complexity.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Atoms

Point of order: That's atoms in the observable universe. Our Hubble volume, in other words. Current cosmological thinking appears to be that there are way more atoms in the entire universe; but since we'll never interact with those outside our Hubble volume, it's largely a philosophical proposition.

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Michael Wojcik
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Deep neural networks (and similar constructions, such as recurrent NNs) are not simply the common ANNs of the '50s through the '90s (and indeed the '40s, since the theory was around for a while before anyone had hardware that could execute it). While the layers of a DNN are basically older-style ANNs, the feed-forward networks between the layers introduce another dimension and there's considerable research on the various ways to configure them.

That's not to say there weren't DNNs before this century, of course; they basically started in the 1980s, with the Neocognitron in 1980 through the successful use of backpropagation at the end of the decade. Basically this was a matter of hardware resources growing to accommodate techniques that had earlier been discussed in theory, along with some theoretical refinements.

Similarly, the deep-learning machines of today can accomplish tasks that some people felt were still well in science-fiction territory - like beating top human Go players - largely because of the ridiculous growth in hardware resources available for the problem. But there's real new algorithmic work too. It's not just a matter of taking 1990-era software and running it on a big distributed system.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Very Impressive

Won't the interesting point be when we achieve, in software, equal intelligence and flexibility to the human mind, but realise that it's still just "clever programming"?

The problem with that scenario is that the first clause describes something that is not well-defined, and the second describes something that is endlessly debatable.

There's no useful metric for "intelligence" or for intellectual "flexibility", so you can't meaningfully compare those attributes for two entities, except in a very subjective and vague fashion.

And there's no consensus on whether or when certain types of machine-learning systems become something qualitatively different than their initial state. Many people claim there are "emergent features" in long runs of certain unsupervised-learning and artificial-life algorithms, and that it's not proper to ascribe those features to the programming, since the developer had no idea what they would be. It's a contentious position, but a valid one.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Very Impressive

No it is not. Neither by Turing nor by Azimov's criteria.

What rot.

Turing did not propose "criteria" for determining whether a machine was intelligent. He posed an epistemological claim, which was really an ontological claim, disguised as a thought experiment. The gist of his position is that whatever rubric we do use for judging intelligence, it should be based on methodologically-objective measurement of concrete attributes, and not some metaphysical quibbling. (In effect it's a pragmatist position.)

Azimov was not a computer scientist, and his "criteria" don't constitute a useful rubric.

The fact of the matter is that, as a term of art in computer science, "artificial intelligence" has enjoyed a wide range of definitions. People like you and Mage who insist on some particular narrow subset are merely being obnoxious prescriptivists. Your arguments have no consequential foundation.

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Apple growth flatlines ... Tim Cook thinks, hey, $80bn is still $80bn

Michael Wojcik
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Re: @Dave 126 - next big thing

Back in 2000, did you want a pocket computer with full web, email, calendar and IM access available almost everywhere that doubled as a phone, camera/camcorder, GPS, world atlas with maps of every city and every road, alarm clock, music player with most/all your entire music collection, plus other functionality and oh yeah a million third party apps at your disposal?

Shrug. I don't particularly want that now. I only have one because my family insists on communicating by SMS, which I find bearable only with a full physical QWERTY keyboard, and I've only found those on smartphones.

Since I have the smartphone, I do have a couple of doodads on it - the Google book reader (the Amazon Kindle app seems to be amazingly unstable), for example - but to be honest I almost never use them. I've used the navigation functionality a handful of times but find it inferior to physical maps.

If smartphones vanished tomorrow I wouldn't miss them a bit. And the same goes for pretty much every other gadget to come out since laptop computers became sufficiently capable to use for software development. (And even before then, we made do with "luggables".) My Kindle (the original sort with a physical keyboard, naturally) is handy for trips but I got along just fine before it came along. And so on.

But did I want a pocket computer before smartphones? Sure, when I was a kid in the 1970s reading Tom Swift Jr books.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: A sad day

Anyone here who thinks they know what the NBT* will be has a strong incentive keep it to themselves.

Not true; I, for one, wouldn't have any such incentive. I'm far too lazy and comfortable to try to make a fortune at this point in my life, and I'm sufficiently self-aware to know that.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: "growth in services revenue"

Downvoted purely for patronising smugness.

Not at all for recycling that tired "deck chairs" cliché? Can't it be at least a little for that?

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: @Mark 85 re: Robber Barrons

A far as their wealth goes, the robber barons personally owned, as individuals, wealth that amounted to a very substantial fraction of the wealth of the entire country.

Jay Gould apparently owned about half a percent of the GDP of the time. That may not sound like much, but today he'd be close to $100B (that's US "billion", so $1e11 or 1/10th of a trillion dollars). The CPI inflation calculator doesn't go back far enough, and I didn't bother looking for another one, but it put his wealth at over a trillion dollars if we start from twenty years after his death.

Apple's FY2015 revenue was more than that - about 1.3% of US GDP - but their profits were less than a third of a percent of GDP.

And Gould died in his fifties. His sometime-partner Fisk died (was murdered) in his thirties, but the two of them nearly managed to corner the gold market and caused the Black Friday crash of '69. Completely different sort of entity than Apple, however much US corporations may be people.

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Axe to fall on staff at IBM's Global Technology Services 'this Friday'

Michael Wojcik
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Re: cognitive cloud service provider?

What DOES fit that description?

Renting time on Watson. While anyone might, with good reason, quibble about "cognitive", that's probably the sort of thing they mean - fancy analytics on shared hardware.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: a resource action will happen this Friday

They don't call it redundancy in the US because that word infers that the jobs of those released were either not needed or duplicated by other employees.

Implies, not infers. (Handy rule of thumb: If you can't keep those two straight, default to imply. It's much more likely to strike you as wrong when it is.)

I've never seen a US corporation use the term "redundancy" for laying employees off.

And in the US, "firing" generally refers to dismissal for cause - the employee did something bad, or failed to do what was required.

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Holy sh*t week forces Twitter top brass to go on ‘retreat’

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Oh Well...

Crowd goes wild

It didn't, particularly. That pun seems like it ought to work, but feels awkward.

Still, I'll give you an upvote for the framing.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Hmm.

A "retreat"? You're right, that does sound rather quasi-religious.

I don't see why. It's been common parlance in industry and academia in the US for decades.

Google nGram Viewer suggests the phrase first gained lasting popularity in the late 1960s and enjoyed what looks like large polynomial, if not exponential, growth since 1980 or so.

Retreats, in the business world, are simply off-site gatherings that last more than a day and include meetings and social interaction. They can be a complete waste of time, of course, but I've been on several that were pleasant, informative, and productive.

Of course, those were all with organizations that actually produce stuff.

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Citrix kills Sydney research lab, vows to focus on 'core products'

Michael Wojcik
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Re: "Focus on our core businesses"

I figured it meant "we expect to be acquired by CA in the next year or two".

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Lenovo's file-sharing app uses hardwired password '12345678' ... or no password at all

Michael Wojcik
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Re: The fools!

Everybody who is really serious about security switched to '87654321' years ago!

Jenny uses "8675309".

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Come on kids, let's go play in the abandoned nuclear power station

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Steel Fuel Tubes

I'm not sure what level a 'major' in physics is

Undergraduate, so expecting specialized knowledge is unfair. While an undergrad degree in the US is typically four years,1 it also has many requirements outside the major for general-education and breadth. Students are typically exposed to some specific topics in the field, but at the whim of professors.

(Undergrads have a little more flexibility to specialize in disciplines that have less-hierarchical bodies of knowledge, which usually means the humanities.)

Even a master's degree is typically two years of classroom work followed by either a comprehensive examination or a thesis. So it's not reasonable to expect even someone who's finished the classwork for an MS in Nuclear Engineering (there are programs at Penn State, Berkeley, etc) to know anything significant about MSRs. Two years of classwork is not a lot of time to survey a field.

1Some programs are longer because they combine four years' worth of classroom and lab work with internships or other practical experience, and some students may get through in fewer than four years by taking college-credit classes before entering the program or by taking course overloads.

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AI pioneer Marvin Minsky dies at 88

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Sad Times

The "bigot" charge is a bit rich, but then so was "the basis of all IT culture", which sounds like it comes right from Levy's Hackers, a hagiography which suffers from a glaring lack of restraint and critical thinking.

The TMRC certainly was important in the history of IT cultures. It was not the sole origin of them.

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Twitter boss ‘personally’ grateful as five Twitter execs walk

Michael Wojcik
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"Prank" is too generous. These days, Twitter's business plan is "ha ha, you gave us a lot of money".

Originally, it was "Hey, a lot of people have thrown together SMS-web gateways. Let's see if there's any demand for a public one."

Then it became "Eh, screw SMS. It seems lots of people just want to broadcast every halfassed thought. Let's sign up a bunch of them and maybe we can make some money out of that somehow."

Then it turned into "I don't know - try advertising?".

When web advertising became a race to the bottom dominated by Google's lead, reputation, and clever use of random reinforcement to produce obsessive behavior in ad-buyers, Twitter's business plan turned into "Investors! We offer an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is." And that one worked pretty well.

Now they've entered the era of "Render off all the lovely fat."

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Patience

There's plenty of NLP analysis done on tweets already. It's been one of the most common targets for sentiment analysis for a while. It's of some use, but it competes with lots of other corpora. Twitter itself is not well-placed to extract any great financial advantage from its data stream.

Twitter is a machine for extracting money from investors. It sold a fantasy for a healthy profit. Now Dorsey's milking a little more out of it, because why not?, but there will never be any triumphant monetization of Twitter.

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Michael Wojcik
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I have no idea how they imagine they will make money from it and I don't think they really know either.

It's not obvious? Twitter has very successfully sold a dream to investors. Gannett had a little story on this the other day: at their current run rate, Twitter can continue to exist for centuries on the money they already have. They have a lot of debt, but it's quite a bit less than their capital (something like $1.2B in long-term debt versus about $4B in capital).

And there's ample room for cost-cutting. Dorsey may be starting at the top, but I bet there are plenty of folks who aren't keeping the servers running.

Eventually the investors will get bored and the execs will tire of it and it'll slowly crash and burn. But it's already successful, on its own terms. Twitter is its own product and it sold itself quite dearly.

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MIT boffin: Big data won't compute? Try these handy quantum algorithms

Michael Wojcik
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I think you will find that Seth Loyd doesn't NEED to justify his career

And if he did, publishing work in his field in a refereed journal is how he's supposed to do it.

Still, this article is very confusing. It's a wall of words with no inherent meaning.

Well, yeah, it's the usual quick pop treatment of something that's not amenable to quick pop treatment.

The link for the paper given in the article has the abstract (and the whole paper, for that matter - no paywall), which helps. Key contribution appears to be a collection of quantum algorithms for finding parameters of topological features in a data set.

My guess, without having actually read the paper, is that the O(2N) complexity for conventional analysis comes from having to consider every subset of the points. In practice, I'd think you could often use graph sparsification and other techniques to derive a tractable problem that has a decent probability of producing useful results. But having another (actually useful) application for the long-promised many-qubit QC machines is good, I suppose. And a 300-qubit machine for doing topological analysis on a 300-point data set seems a bit more plausible than a 4096-qubit machine for cracking 4096-bit RSA keys.

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Cunning Greek lizards seek skin-matching rocks

Michael Wojcik
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I've always found it irksome to hear how a species has managed to develop a certain characteristic to better survive, when in actual truth, the only choice they made was to have sex with something not dead.

False dichotomy. There's no substantive difference between those alternatives.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Tempting fate

Also: do the lizards (and their predators) see colours the same way we do?

This is answered in the article, in the negative.

Actually, the question is ill-formed. Whether any two entities "see colo[u]rs the same way" is at best an epistemological question, but even then only if it's carefully qualified. In general, it's not well-defined. What does it mean to compare the quale of "seeing a color"? There are physiological responses in the retina, optic nerve, and brain, based on various factors (wavelengths and amplitudes of the light in question, cone receptors in the retina and their efficiency at the moment to those stimuli, etc), which vary among subjects due to health, genetic makeup, etc. There are processing effects, such as contrasting-color and color-sharpening effects. For humans and possibly some other subjects, there are psychological effects of many sorts.

The way I see color is almost certainly different in many respects from the way you see color; thus there is no meaningful "the way we see color" in any general sense.1

But in this particular case, for these purposes, we can comfortably say "no". The lizards and birds both have receptors for shorter wavelengths than any the human eye responds to, and the lizards' range appears to extend beyond what the birds perceive.

1There are all sorts of philosophical problems with color. It's quite an interesting area, really.

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Michael Wojcik
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Re: Welcome to the University of Cambridge Department of Zoology

As its been told to me 'pommie' is actually 'pome' - prisoner of mother england.

Well, if that doesn't just scream "backronym", I don't know what does.

And indeed it's almost certainly an urban legend.

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Davos 2016: It's now all about technology, but what actually happened?

Michael Wojcik
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Re: Fourth Industrial Revolution?

At some point, quantitative differences start to make a qualitative difference as well.

Yes, because more is different.

Mage does have a point: the "Industrial Revolution" only looks like a singular, relatively abrupt change due to historical distance and glossing over the details. Any real history of technological change in the modern era amply demonstrates that.

But as you note, gradual technological change does tend to produce occasional inflection points in economies and cultures, where within a generation the conditions of people's lives can change dramatically. There are any number of historians who have documented that process, too.

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From DNA to Twitter: Data's digital journey to commodity

Michael Wojcik
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An inauspicious start

Some cosmic physicists may take issue, but I am of the view that in order for information to exist there must be life, and vice versa. Sentience is required in order to find meaning.

Anyone who knows that information and meaning are two very different things might take issue with that claim.

As Lysenko noted above, there's a discouraging amount of factual inaccuracy, suspect argumentation, and muddled thinking in this piece. If it's representative of the book, I think I'll stick with Gleick's The Information. It's not perfect, of course, but from this evidence it's a much better popular treatment of the history of information processing.

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West Virginia mulls mother of all muni networks – effectively a state-wide, state-run ISP

Michael Wojcik
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Re: friggin hypocrites

Guess the cable operators want to the government to butt out except of course for continuing to grant them lucrative regional monopolies without the obligation of common carrier.

Well, yes. Why wouldn't they? They seek to maximize profits.

Crony capitalism at its finest.

Just straight-up capitalism.

Personally, I have no objection to West Virginia rolling out state-utility broadband, though I wonder if it's the best application of their resources. But I also don't expect the commercial providers to say, oh, sure, fine by us.

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Squeeze the banana to log into this office Wi-Fi

Michael Wojcik
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Re: "...small piece of paper that someone printed out on an A4... ...I cringe"

The real problem, as I see it, is the well-known banana genetic bottleneck.

Banana plants are asexual rhizomatic herbs; the banana fruit is a vestigial berry. So you basically have a closed-source system here with a single point of failure from an unreliable supplier.

Should've gone with a tomato, if you had to have a berry. (Handy rule of thumb: Sexually-functional berries are more reliable.) Or skipped the berries entirely and used a strawberry, which of course is a fleshy stem.

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RSA asks for plaintext Twitter passwords on conference reg page

Michael Wojcik
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Enter their what so they can what now?

The registration process for the February 29 event asks delegates to enter their Twitter credentials so that a prefab tweet about their attendance can be sent.

Even if this did use OAuth, or indeed any other mechanism, why would anyone agree to this? "Sure, RSA, I'll let you use my name to advertise your conference!"

Idiots - or at any rate gullible (or narcissistic) fools - indeed.

Of course, as a dedicated curmudgeon, I've never tweeted anything. (I have a couple of Twitter accounts - a personal one and a work one - but only because I was asked to create them in order to follow other accounts. Which, to be honest, I never paid attention to; I stopped even retrieving the things years ago when Twitter made OAuth mandatory and broke Thunderbird integration.) But even if I did, I'd be damned before I let some organization forge messages from me.

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Rust 1.6 released, complete with a stabilised libcore

Michael Wojcik
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Whenever I see "let", I think ANSI Minimal BASIC from 1980.

Am I wrong to make this association?

LISPers might say so.

BASIC got the LET keyword from LISP, which AFAIK was the first programming language to use it. The usage was adopted from the mathematical convention, presumably.

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Michael Wojcik
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Rather than fix this insane behaviour

For the usual reason: fixing it would break far too much extant code.

At least the ECMAScript committee acknowledges issues like the language's feeble scoping and is working on extensions to address them.

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