* Posts by Gary Bickford

144 posts • joined 27 Jan 2009

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Neat but narky at times: Pebble Time colour e-paper watch

Gary Bickford

Re: I see the usefulness, but not at full price

Hey, you might as well send Pebble an email at least. Maybe they'll do something about your screen.

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Arctic ice EMBIGGENS, returns to 1980s levels of cap cover

Gary Bickford

Re: Good news for Polar Bears

Hmm. Increased snow, longer winter ... So, the next Ice Age is happening as some scientists have predicted for a while now?

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SpaceX's blast shock delays world's MOST POWERFUL ROCKET

Gary Bickford

Re: SpaceX Management is to blame, not a broken strut.

I wouldn't put it this strongly - Musk himself mentioned complacency, and it's easy to ascribe blame from outside. But I think in this general sense, you have a point. Until now, SpaceX has benefited from 'lean and mean', entrepreneurial style systems but with this failure, and especially as they progress toward man-rated systems, both the hardware and the systems for building and launching will inevitably have to move somewhat toward more rigorous systems with additional checks at every stage in the process, which will likely increase their operational and launch costs, although I don't expect them to go as far as the 'old school' methodologies. But at the same time, additional analysis may discover additional cost savings in other areas, as their technology matures, so it may be a wash.

SpaceX has already revolutionized the cost structure of orbital launches with the fixed price approach and roughly 50% cut in that price from traditional ones - ULA, Orbital ATK and Boeing are all working on reorganizations that will allow them to cut their costs to be more competitive.

Finally, assuming SpaceX gets the reusable first stage working with a 30% or better success rate, that will reduce the costs some more. I assume that SpaceX pricing will take into account the success rate so SpaceX will eat the costs of the failures to return the first stage. So in the long run, even with the increased carefulness, launch costs will continue to come down. ... I hope! :)

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Why SpaceX will sort out Sunday's snafu faster than NASA ever could

Gary Bickford

Re: NASA inefficiency: The hint is in the name

In fairness, everyone I've met from NASA has been a committed, dedicated, talented and skilled professional. It does have a big-organization decision methodology, replete with the usual politics and administrative complexities. But NASA has been very creative in providing a variety of support for outside efforts - they really want the 'people' to succeed where they are not allowed to go.

There was a milestone back in the late 1960s or early 1970s - I'm too lazy to look the date up just now. At the time, the NASA team were working on an advanced nuclear engine based on the NERVA program. The engine had progressed to the point where they had successful test stand firings, and were preparing to move to the next phase, building it into a new second stage for the Saturn V. This engine was considered essential to a variety of heavy-lift jobs after Apollo, notably a not-yet-official Mars project.

But certain members of Congress thought all of space was a boondoggle, and killed funding for the nuclear engine specifically to prevent any thought of going to Mars. This was the first time I know of when the politicians really imposed their rules on NASA, which had been working on the magical can-do Apollo project till then. NASA had no choice but to cancel the engine, and put the Mars project file on a shelf. And since that day, NASA has been subject to Congressional and Presidential whims, trying to survive the Washington bureaucracy as best as possible.

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Bitcoin, schmitcoin. Let's play piggyback on the blockchain

Gary Bickford

Transactions will be by far the more important application in the long run

I first learned from an online security professional (he teaches this stuff) that the importance of Bitcoin is not Bitcoin but the protocol, which will allow, for example, two entities who are remote from each other to transact business and sign and execute contracts, neither necessarily knowing who the other is or where they are depending on the situation, securely.

My favorite application is the following: This will become an enabling technology for space development and business where two parties to a transaction may be separated by thousands or millions of miles. Thus a party on Mars can agree to a contract with a party on the Moon or mining asteroids, with a complete distributed transaction record.

But in order for this to be viable in the long term, the system needs to support several orders of magnitude more transactions. This is analogous to the IPV4 vs. IPV6 problem. IPV6 was made large enough to support any foreseeable expansion of the internet address space.

The blockchain protocol needs to be expanded similarly, either to a size that contemplates the huge potential expansion in human population across the Solar System (one trillion people?), or incorporates a way for multiple blockchains run by different vendors (or governments) to be managed cooperatively with interoperability. In fact the latter would be a good way to do that, by adding one or a few extra fields to the transaction data to identify the vendor and protocol (if they aren't already there.)

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Ecobee3: If you're crazy enough to want a smart thermostat – but not too crazy – this is for you

Gary Bickford

Nu-heat bad, warm water radiant floor good

I wasn't familiar with Nu-heat so looked it up. While radiant floor heating has a lot going for it, _electric_ radiant floor is just a bad idea. Warm water radiant floors have been shown to save more than 30% on heating costs in at least some studies, and they can use things like solar to make the warm water. (Warm water systems are also completely different from hot water systems of the past.) Their biggest disadvantage is the cost and PITA of retrofitting to an existing house. But going back to the topic, radiant floors are also not a particularly good candidate for these thermostats that change the temp setting multiple times per day - their time constant is much longer.

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Gary Bickford

Re: Does it really save that much?

I think what we're all talking about here is that we're gradually going to build house HVAC and lighting systems that do the misering for you, which is a good thing.

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Gary Bickford

Re: Does it really save that much?

The problem I've noticed in the past with stats on the radiators is that there is a very inaccurate relation between temp near the radiator and in the rest of the room. But having a thermostat in every room, or even multiple per room, does make sense. As the article notes, this Eco-whatever unit averages those thermostats to determine the useful room 'temp'. Also, if a particular room is only used for one hour per day, it seems to me that it would be better to allow that room to drift, so having some knowledge or setting regarding the time of use would also be beneficial.

A co-worker used a Commodore Amiga back in the early 1980s to control his combination oil-fired hot water and solar hot water. In the summer oil-fired hot water is inefficient. So his system monitored the temperature outside and some other things, and balanced available solar heat with the oil-burner.

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Gary Bickford

Re: USA-isian only

A small number of electric baseboard heating systems in the US use line voltage (120VAC) thermostats - presumably for reasons of cheapness and simplicity.

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A pause in global warming? Pah, FOOLS. There was NO PAUSE

Gary Bickford

Lies, Damn Lies, and ...

... Statistics - the three kinds of lies, according to Mark Twain.

Bonus: "Suppose you were a [politician]. Now, suppose you were an idiot. But I repeat myself."

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The 'echo chamber' effect misleading people on climate change

Gary Bickford

Re: Consensus is not science

It's easy to say we know how CO2 works, but that is not the whole story. You left out the effects of, among other things, H2O, whose effects in both directions on climate are IIRC actually at least two orders of magnitude stronger than CO2, and whose effects are still poorly understood and modeled, with significant drivers of cloud cover at different elevations still not included in most models. A 1% variance in predicted cloud cover has a much greater influence on the heat equation than any projected variance in CO2.

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Gary Bickford

Political definitions

These apply to more than climate change, can be applied generally, or with regard to specific topics:

"Moderate" :== "Agrees with me"

"Commie Leftwing Wackjob" :== "more liberal than me"

"Fascist Rightwing Nutcase" :== "more conservative than me"

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YouTube Kids 'showed nippers how to make nooses, play with fire'

Gary Bickford

Re: Whats up doc?

I understand why those WWII cartoons have been kept under wraps for a long time. But now I'm thinking that in the right context (i.e. people of other races in one's own classroom), they might be a good education about how perceptions change, and enemies need not remain enemies. It's a question worth asking.

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Gary Bickford

So YouTube is becoming more like real life

The young-child subculture was documented by Piaget decades ago as having its own life, including a lot of things that parents were never aware of. Kids have always been exposed to much more than their parents recall from their own youth. I would argue that this is a kind of anti-viral process, where learning about the real world early helps prevent improper learning later. E.g. if you've seen cows and cats doing it, a lot of the mystery of sex goes away, and a proper, basic understanding of biology stands one in good stead in later life.

I knew how to make things early - I made my own toy box, including running the table saw, drill press, etc. at the age of five. I was also making fire and blowing (small) things up not long after, but I had an older brother who was also pretty good at teaching how to do things safely. For that matter, I was experimenting with household electricity more-or-less safely at the age of five. And we were making rockets and other things when I was no more than eight.

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SpaceX Dragon crew capsule in 'CHUTE ABORT drama – don't panic, no one died

Gary Bickford

Not dead, but dizzy

Watching the vid, my first thought was, "they won't be dead, but I'll bet they threw up!" - the capsule was swinging wildly until they main chutes took over. My second thought was, "How do they cram all that equipment into that tiny capsule? Especially considering that under the nose cone is the complete exit and entrance hatch system, plus no doubt umbilicals for connecting the capsule to the space habitat, plus probably some other stuff. Totally amazing engineering, good job all round.

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VMware sued, accused of ripping off Linux kernel source code

Gary Bickford

Re: interesting

Unremarked idiosyncracies can be a very powerful tool for proving ownership. Mapmakers have used this technique for at least 100 years, probably more. They will purposely insert 'mistakes', or extremely minor variations (possibly as small as a subtle shift in a pattern for swamps, or a street that ends 1/2 block short or has an extra bend in it), in several places around the map. Then if another map ever shows up with those glitches, it's proof that map was copied.

A software library could do that as well, without violating accuracy, numeric rigor, etc.

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Google MURDERS Google Code, orders everyone out to GitHub and co

Gary Bickford

Please keep linkage to the replacement projects

Following the classical rules of web usability (honored unfortunately more in the breach than in the observance), for every one of those projects that actually survives being moved, Google should provide a valid link to the new home, for at least five years. As numerous usability experts have noted, it costs almost nothing for a company that reorganizes its website, to provide a simple redirect/link map from old website URLs to new ones. As a search engine, I would think Google knows this better than anyone. So whattay say, Google?

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DARPA: We KNOW WHO YOU ARE... by the WAY you MOVE your MOUSE

Gary Bickford

They should try the Kaje Picture Password SAAS

I've actually talked with Novetta, they may become an affiliate. The Kaje Picture Password SAAS (http://ka.je) and follow on products brings two things - cognitive testing and separation of password information from identity. The SAAS can support almost any type of Proof of Knowledge, and could support this biometric method as well.

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Samsung snub sends Qualcomm into a spin over Snapdragon 810

Gary Bickford

Re: Think of it another way...

It can be taken farther - this is from the boat industry but I'm sure it happens in the car industry. At various times Volvo engines were actually made by Perkins, and Perkins engines were made by Volvo or Kubota, or Isuzu or something. I forget the specifics, but in many cases the exact same make and model engine might have come from three different actual makers. Conversely, the same engine might be labeled under three or more different makes and models.

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China 'upgrades' Great Firewall. Oh SNAP! There goes VPN access

Gary Bickford

Time for a steganographic VPN

A VPN could be implemented as a stream of encoded normal-text, using some long standard text. It could use any part of the text - extra spaces, or substituted words. Making it still seem like normal text to censors while having some efficiency might be difficult.

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Why Microsoft's 3D HoloLens goggles aren't for Google Glassholes

Gary Bickford

A lot of potential

With a bit of effort I could probably come up with 1/2 dozen new applications that folks might use everyday. For starters - some carmakers are talking about heads-up displays reflected off the windshield, but it might be better to just wear these and have the car talk to them. You could include stereo cameras on all four corners of the cabin, giving stereo vision that can see over the car in front of or behind you. These might be the same ones the car is using for automatically maintaining distance, monitoring road conditions, etc.

Right now I'm using a ViewSonic projector to display a 1080P image on my wall for a second screen, and I'm running the Compiz Desktop Cube to give me four workspaces. All that could be done inside the goggles with no worries about darkening the room. I've wanted 3D workspaces / "desktops" since at least 1978, when I first started working with 3D programming. With these goggles I could wander around the house, go get a drink, etc. while watching a video, or shift from sitting to standing, change rooms, whatever while working.

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I'll build a Hyperloop railgun tube-way in Texas, Elon Musk vows

Gary Bickford

Build the test track between Houston and Dallas

Then expand it until it reaches both cities. Or near DFW, between Dallas and Fort Worth. Both of those routes are good candidates for a route. The slog by car between Dallas and Houston is a huge PITA for many folks, at 240 miles it's shorter than the SF-LA route, Texas is a better entrepreneurial environment, and the only train route takes 22 hours as it goes through San Antonio.

Dallas-Fort Worth (would probably actually be Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth) is only about 40 miles, so that's a pretty reasonable commercial beta. That's a developed (metroplex) environment, so cost per mile would be higher unless the State provides some support regarding the right of way.

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Gmail falls over after hitting 'Great Firewall of China' – report

Gary Bickford

Re: Protectionism

Yes. Google + US might well consider filing a WTO complaint.

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No, I won't SNORKEL in your server room at STUPID-O'CLOCK

Gary Bickford

One large bank - initials start with "J" - had tens of thousands of servers in the basement, which all went under 12 feet of water. Fortunately they did have a backup server plant in New Jersey so actual operations were transferred over pretty quickly. But the cost of lost equipment was $millions. If I recall correctly they did not replace the basement server room, but built a new one somewhere else.

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'Google catches us in an invisible web of our personal data without telling us'

Gary Bickford

You are the product

I forget who said it: "If you're getting something for free, you're not the customer, you're the product."

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Buses? PAH. Begone with your filthy peasant-wagons

Gary Bickford

Re: Some points

I don't see where you included the cost of your time. Let's assume that the bus is free, and the car costs (using US IRS expense rules for 2014) $0.56 per mile, and it's a 20 mile drive/ride. The car averages 30mi/hr, costs $11.20, and takes 40 minutes. The bus averages 15 mi/hr and takes 90 minutes. Both involve incidentals, like tolls and parking for the car, the time waiting for the bus, having to take the bus at a particular time, etc. The difference is 50 minutes and $11.20. So unless your take home pay is less than $14.40/hour (60/50 * $11.20) you are losing money on the bus. (The incidentals can get complicated, are subject to judgment calls and greatly depend on the particular situation, so there's no point in trying to decipher all of the possibilities.)

But I've _never_ had a situation where the time I spent on the bus wasn't more costly, even at near-minimum wage, than driving if I had a car, which I didn't. I take it back - when I went back to college (early 2000s) I lived right on a bus line that went almost straight to my school, and ran every 11 minutes. My bus pass was $45/month.

I had a job once where I had to take the bus, my job started at 2AM. The last bus I could take to town was a combined route, so I had a one mile walk to get to the nearest stop. I had to catch the bus at 12:05 AM, and it got to town quickly, about 12:25AM. I then had one and one-half hours to kill downtown before I could go to my job. I would very much have loved having a car then!

I'll just add one more tidbit. Back a couple of decades the London bus drivers went on strike. For the duration of the strike, average traffic speeds in London increased by more than 50%.

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Gary Bickford

Re: If you are going to describe a future, make it aspirational.

""Cars on autopilot can entrain with other autopilotted cars going in the same direction."

IIRC this was envisaged and trialled on closed test tracks at least 30 years ago."

Yep, that's about right. I just learned it's called "platooning". A special section of Interstate15 was set up to allow about 20 specially equipped cars, buses and trucks to drive all together down the road. The project started in 1991, funded by USDOT, cancelled in 1999. And I got to watch Red Whittaker's (CMU Robotics Institute) huge van drive around the park in Pittsburgh in 1989-1991 time period, completely autonomously - at a slow walking speed. Back then it took 15,000 lbs. of sensors, cameras, and computers packed into an overloaded box truck, along with generators and air conditioners.

Related links:

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1997-08-07/news/9708060541_1_bus-driver-san-diego-edmonson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_autonomous_car

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Gary Bickford

It's true, they are subsidized

""While a bus is massively subsidised..."

Well, if you're going to come out with blatant lies lies that, I'm going to stop reading."

IDK if you're pulling our leg, but just in case you're not, actually it's true. So also are trains, airplanes, and ... cars! No transportation system in the world actually pays for itself. Bus and train systems in particular run at a loss everywhere in the world. There's data out there, I looked this up a dozen or so years ago.

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Gary Bickford

Check the bus agency's total fuel, total passenger miles

I did this back when I rode the bus. I was curious how efficient buses actually are. It turns out that in my city on average the passengers in the bus were 'burning' more fuel than the ones in the cars. IIRC it worked out to 10-12 passenger miles per gallon (sorry, I'm too lazy to convert to midget furlongs per olympic pool.)

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Bring back big gov, right? If only the economics, STUPID, could tell us more

Gary Bickford

Must look at worldwide growth, not just local

Immediately post WWII growth was still mostly 'local' - nations were still more closed economies than open, and the majority of trade of manufactured goods was between first world nations. Globalization and advancement of other nations toward mature economies with real middle-class means that the growth has spread across the world. Part of the effect is that those nations that had the highest standards of living are inevitably going to have slower growth while the rest of the world catches up. National and international economic policies for the last 50 years have been strongly directed to encourage that process, with tariffs falling everywhere and free trade agreements encouraging distribution of economic activity.

For better or worse, growth is now based in a global ecosystem. Growth within an individual nation today is much more about the relative competitiveness of that nation vs. others, than of any other factor. Big Gov can only get in the way - its only true effect is to generate internal 'heat' by reducing the efficiency of the 'engine'.

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Mars was a WET mistress: Curiosity probes once-moist bottom

Gary Bickford

Re: well , there you have it....

Astronauts, if obsolete, are only obsolete in the context of robotic exploration and some very basic science. (But Buzz Aldrin noted that all of the research findings of all of the Mars rovers and landers over the last 30 years could have been accomplished in a week or two by human astronauts landing on the surface.) There are many, many science experiments that could be done on the surface of other bodies by humans that are essentially impossible to do robotically.

There is also the element of accidental discovery. If the ISS were not 'humanized', many of the things we have learned about space and physics in microgravity would not have been observed or discovered. A rather mundane but amusing example is how liquids behave in microgravity - see Col. Hadfield's video of how water wraps around objects including his hand.

But more important, for those of us who are convinced that humans, and Earth life in general, must be propagated across the Solar System and beyond, astronauts are the whole point. Scientific research stations are a first step. Every bit of scientific and technical advance brings human space habitation that much closer.

There are also good, economic reasons, if/when space industry develops, it will gradually become cheaper to have humans living in space to fix and run things than to do it all completely robotically in space. This is nontrivial. A recent article (2012?) by a prominent economist showed that space industrial development had the potential of improving the standard of living of everyone on Earth by a factor of 10. In my view, there are four non-science aspects: our existing and expanding Earth Observation systems, tracking weather and other things are now saving thousands if not millions of lives every year, and improving our drive to work; things like Space Solar Power have the potential of eliminating all of our coal, nuclear, oil, and gas-fired electrical power plants; a wide range of new technologies that will only be manufacturable or operable in high vacuum and/or microgravity will drive yet another technological leap forward; and finally space "mining" - extraction and retrieval of materials that are hard to find on Earth, such as platinum (platinum would be a widely used industrial metal if the price weren't so high - extracting from asteroids has the potential of cutting the cost by a factor of more than 100.)

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Gary Bickford

Re: well , there you have it....

I don't think finding exo-life will be a problem for most religions or religionists. There are a very few extremists (with highly skewed views of their own religion) who will have a problem, but the question of exo-life has been discussed quite a bit in various religious communities for a long time. I just saw a pretty good analysis on just this topic. Some religions actually believe in exo-life - Mormon, Scientology (if that's a religion at all, but we won't go there), a couple of others that I forget. IIRC the only problem within mainstream Christianity would be the question of whether and how Jesus' redemption applies.

James Blish's "A Case of Conscience" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Case_of_Conscience) in 1958 , which explored the question of the doctrine of Original Sin and redemption upon finding a "sinless" alien society.

And I don't think we're any nastier than most others. What we do is not different in kind than almost every other life form - look at how most wasps use other insects as zombie hosts for their offspring. Termites have an impact on their local ecosystem that is pretty similar to our impact, given the difference in scale - there's even a completely different ecosystem inside a termite mound. The best way to look at us is as an tool of Earth Life, with the capability to create "spores" that carry Earth Life to other places. This is pretty much how fungi propagate. Everywhere we go in the Universe, we'll be bringing our ecosystem with us, propagating it as we go. That's successful Life.

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Gary Bickford

Re: well , there you have it....

I tend to agree that there appears to be an overemphasis. But ...

- I can excuse the scientists + media: the fascination with exo-life seems to get good public response, which translates to more funding for space-related research, which is IMHO a Good Thing. I think it's even achieved a bit of 'reality show' interest - "The Ongoing Quest to Discover Whether We Are Alone".

- There are actually good reasons (both scientific and practical) to know if there is life of any kind elsewhere, and whether it has the same DNA history. And I'll be amused at the collective consternation if we discover living or potentially-living organisms on Mars, as the conflict between the desires for protection and study arises.

- Again from a practical point of view, the exo-life question has big potential effects on our plans to establish human residence off Earth, which IMHO is essential to our society both short and long term.

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Gary Bickford

Best headline ever!

You folks have outdone yourselves with this one! :D

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No NAND's land: Flash will NOT take over the data centre

Gary Bickford

Re: "what comes after is breathing heavily down the neck of flash"

I know someone who spent eight or ten years in the industry, at the research management level. They still call it spinning rust. I think it's kind of an insider thing.

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Gary Bickford

toughluck is right. The scientific progress of 2000-2010 was almost entirely the output of one facility, Seagate's research facility in Pittsburgh. That was shut down in 2008, and all of the PhDs were fired (rather callously in fact). These were the world's experts on the solid state physics involved. None of them stayed in the industry.

The technologies mentioned in the article are all derived from that work, which is no longer going on. We are just seeing the productization now of that research. Unless some company decides to invest $1B or so on a new advanced research facility, and finds a new set of world's experts, and gives them five to 10 years to build a new science, there will be no (zero, nada, nothing) new advances in spinning rust after the ones mentioned. Since Seagate and WD between them account for well over 90% of the total manufacturing capacity, that is unlikely to occur.

IOW, HD capacity, performance and cost/performance will probably stall out by 2016.

Also, industry estimates show that the cost/capacity curve of SSDs and HDs will cross in late 2016. I've seen the analysis. Newer SSDs have a higher lifetime than HDs, for almost all applications including the huge server farms that employ the majority of drives. So HDs are going to be a fading product from 2016 onwards.

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Put me through to Buffy's room, please. Sony hackers leak stars' numbers, travel aliases

Gary Bickford

Re: Question

Upvoted because it's so baaaad! :)

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Gary Bickford

Re: Just wondering

1) From what I've observed, at least 1/2 of the Hollywooders's stage names are not their real names in any case. 2) I wouldn't be surprised if the Feds and the states allowed some form of pseudonymous IDs. 3) Technically it's not illegal to use a false name if you are not doing it for nefarious purposes.

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Which country has 2nd largest social welfare system in the world?

Gary Bickford

Re: But the elephant in the room...

I'll just note that the cost of higher education over here began rising faster than inflation (IIRC about 2X) in lockstep with the increase of availability of federal subsidies and loan guarantees. The outcome is that while higher education is much more available (many more colleges per capita), it is at most slightly more affordable than it was in the 1960s, while wages for faculty have stagnated - most uni's now have 80% or higher "part-time" faculty with much lower per-class pay, without hope for full time or benefits, much less tenure. At the same time, pay for college administrators has increased dramatically - at some uni's administrators are now paid five times what they were paid a decade or two ago. TL;DR - federal involvement has been of help mainly to bureaucrats.

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VW's Scirocco diesel: A sheep in Wolfsburg’s clothing

Gary Bickford

Re: The Scirocco was never pretty

Yes. Over here in US, VW runs a 'Sign and Drive' promotion roughly once per year - it's basically a zero down lease, to get you into a car with minimum hassle. But I have talked with numerous people, both mechanics and non-mechanics, and every one of them has said the maintenance and parts will kill you. Some have personal experience, others probably just heard it from someone else. But somehow VW and their US dealer network have successfully convinced everyone in the US that while they're nice cars, they're way too expensive to keep.

Some marques have been successful having expensive parts and labor, but a reputation for "never" having to be repaired. VW doesn't balance the latter part of that equation.

(A famous anecdote - back in the 1970s or thereabouts, a musician had a Rolls-Royce, whose transmission blew up while he was driving across Arizona. He called the Rolls people. They paid for his flight to LA and shipped the car when it was ready. Later he called them, asking what the bill for repairs was. They said, "There is no bill. Rolls-Royce automobiles don't break down."

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Seagate: We'll bring down the HAMR in 2017. But will we give you SHINGLES?

Gary Bickford

And that will probably be the end of the road for new HD tech

I've been told that since Seagate closed their advanced research facility and fired all of their bleeding-edge PhDs, all of those physicists have entirely left the field. Nobody else (i.e. WD) had or has an equivalent facility. All improvements you will see in the future of spinning rust will be incremental progress on technologies that have already been discovered, unless someone sees fit to create a new lab, and spend 10 years building the expertise again.

So this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: There will be no more significant advances in HD tech. As a result, SSDs will triumph and HDs will fade away except maybe for archival purposes.

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UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan

Gary Bickford

Re: systemd to incorporate a shell too!!!

> "I've long gotten used to the fact that software is getting steadily worse, and it's mostly down to crappy design decisions, rather than poor coding. "

Oliver, you'll be interested to note that as far back as the early 1980s it was recognized that given a good software engineering process, over 70% of all bugs were built in to the original design.

To make things worse, IIRC only 20% of bugs in production release code could be found by "black box" testing. The other 80% are the bugs that are found by the users in the field.

Source - this data was from published analyses done on enterprise and government/defense code bases - I used to teach a SW QA workshop.

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systemd row ends with Debian getting forked

Gary Bickford

Trying to make complexity disappear by adding another layer is a classic error ...

... and that is what systemd appears to be trying to do, from my very limited reading.

From my perspective, there was a time, long ago, when a problem with booting or system configuration could be fixed by either editing a couple of conf files or in extreme cases editing or shuffling init scripts. That was the original unix model (mostly BSD?) The SysVInit model actually made things more complicated and difficult to figure out. Since then various attempts have been made to 'simplify' maintenance, but in order to support a GUI or even a Curses program, the configurations had to become more complicated, with configuration-modifying program configurations. It's been 10 or more years since setting up networks, especially dialup and later wifi, become so convoluted that it was impossible to figure out what was going wrong without climbing the learning curve of yet another system containing a dozen or two scripts/programs. Today it's basically impossible to get wifi running unless the fancy GUI NetworkManager magically happens to work. If it doesn't, one has to just resort to suspending, or in severe cases restarting, the laptop and hope that it discovers the wifi by itself.

As anyone who started out doing simple HTML with a few .SHTML or CGI scripts, then migrated to early PHP, then to CRMs and frameworks written in PHP, these are just layers of complexity that get harder and harder on which to achieve any level of expertise. No sane person could argue that working with Drupal is less difficult than writing native PHP. (Granted you get more built-in tools.)

Upstart was another attempt to 'simplify and automate' booting, but really just put another layer of crapola (scripts and configurations that interact in mysterious ways) between the system and the user/maintainer, and remove more information from visibility. So without delving into this issue myself, I'm becoming more and more likely to revert to an old-school distribution, and build it myself.

Bottom line analogy - I don't want to have to relearn how to drive yet again, as every piece of software seems to insist on moving all the knobs and wheels to different places and hook them up differently. Imagine if every two years your car's dashboard and engine controls were moved to random places, and you _had_ to update or else your car couldn't go on the freeway - that's what has been happening in IT for way too long. Funny thing - I could drive a 1946 Ford on the freeway today, and while it might not be as safe or as fast or as comfortable, it would work just fine.

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Weather Channel forecast: Bleak, with prolonged XSS

Gary Bickford

Were these Drupal vulnerabilities, or Weather Channel specific?

Enquiring minds want to know. IOW, does every Drupal site operator have to look into this problem?

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NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online

Gary Bickford

For all those doubters ...

Most folks aren't aware that NSA has multiple directorates, for different missions. The Signals Intelligence Directorate are the infamous spooks, whose job is to collect information. They're the ones that most people think NSA is all about. There is also an IT directorate, that keeps everything running.

And there is also the Information Assurance Directorate, which is chartered with defending US industry and government against groups who do the same thing as the SID - whether foreign governments or independent operators and hackers. They're pretty much the good guys. I suspect that they are the ones funding Tor, and releasing bug fixes to known vulnerabilities in security software. They have helped US businesses - 'saved their ass' - multiple times in the last several years when they discovered attempts to penetrate the business. Source - someone who has worked with NSA in the past in this very area.

It's too easy to lump everything together, painting everything with the same brush. But that limits one's ability to see the real, complicated, picture.

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Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray

Gary Bickford

For those who _need_ a bigger death ray ...

Check out the book "Build Your Own Laser, Phaser, Ion Ray Gun and Other Working Space Age Projects" by Robert E Iannini. Among other things, this 1983 book can tell you how to build a 30 watt CO2 laser. The author cautions: (1) always have a visible laser (such as one of those pointers) aligned with the infrared CO2 laser, so you can see approximately where the beam goes; and (2) stay out of the beam! He notes that he accidentally walked through the beam and instantly cut a slit in the leg of his jeans. 30 watts is definitely enough to cause damage, even if poorly focused. CO2 lasers can be built in almost any size - IIRC the length of the chamber determines the power of the output. Car companies use big CO2 lasers for welding cars.

I will just add that it is illegal to sell lasers of that power at least in the US, for good reason. I don't know if it's illegal to buy one or build one. At least if you have the technical chops to build one, you're _probably_ not so cognitively challenged that you would use it unwisely.

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Two driverless cars stuffed with passengers are ABOUT TO CRASH - who should take the hit?

Gary Bickford

I'll go for the "Minimum Knowledge and Analysis" box

Incorporating all of the infinite regressions of possible bits of information does not improve the analysis, but only pushes off the question of "what is right". Shall we include whether one party has been drinking? What if they're fat? This is the logical extension of the "Progressive" ideal of the state imposing its will on every individual. It's been known for a long time that Asimov's Three Laws can not be algorithmically evaluated but must be handled heuristically (ethics is a "judgment call"). It was recently proved (as mentioned in a Reg article in the last few days) that asking a machine learning or AI system to evaluate an ethical question fails due to the Halting Problem.

So, the best alternative is for the car's systems to evaluate pretty much according to what a human driver might do, given the limited information available. In most cases it is impossible for a driver to know anything about the other party except the immediate behavior. A "good" driver has a real, but somewhat limited, altruistic sense of trying to avoid harming others. That should be the limit of the "least harm" approach. An automated system can use the same approaches without taking the harm avoidance too far, as it would set things up for some not-so-nice humans to take advantage. The automated system could take advantage of its superior high speed physics processing to choose solutions that a human driver might not.

As mentioned in another article, if an automated system attempts to do too much more (or differently) than a human, that system immediately becomes at risk of additional liability. For example, if the system determines that by hitting a third, otherwise uninvolved car instead of taking the full frontal hit, the occupants and owner of the third care may well sue for bringing them into the situation.

There is a future distant possibility that all of the cars could work together to minimize involvement and injury, which has some interesting possibilities. But that would require a radical alteration in the way that liability and insurance are handled today.

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NSA director: We share most of the [crap] bugs we find!

Gary Bickford

It's probably true - at least for the Information Assurance Directorate

NSA has three or four Directorates. Signals Intelligence Directorate is the spooks that everyone talks about. IT is the folks who run the computers. Information Assurance Directorate is chartered to protect American industrial and government resources - they are the anti-spooks. There may be others I don't know about - I don't follow them, I've just picked up things here and there from folks who know. IAD is probably the part of NSA that is funding the TOR project, and they have found and disclosed both bugs in crypt code in order to get it fixed, and attempted or actual penetrations to US institutions - they have saved several companies from bad things, and probably have done the same for government agencies. I think they're the ones who do the high security Linux distribution as well.

So, NSA is not one big monolithic spook-dom. It's multiple groups doing different things, and almost certainly in some cases at cross-purposes. IAD is trying to make things like TOR stronger, while the spooks are trying to break into it.

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SCREW YOU, net neutrality hippies – AT&T halts gigabit fiber

Gary Bickford

OK, let's roll in the competitors!

Unless there are rent-seeking laws in place to prevent it, this is a great opportunity for competitors to come in to those areas and offer a better service. Let the games/competition begin!

Unfortunately, it's likely that the "unless" is the case - ATT may own the poles that the competitor would have to string their wires on. There are rules to require them to rent space on the poles, but ATT could use various pseudo-technical arguments to delay that for years.

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Kryder's law craps out: Race to UBER-CHEAP STORAGE is OVER

Gary Bickford

Seagate eliminated its research group

This is not a failure of the observation / law, but a cessation of any interest in continuing progress and elimination of the core research group.

Several years ago Seagate very suddenly eliminated its research group in Pittsburgh, allowing the 50 or so top people in this area to wander off into the sunset. This group was the one doing the primary research, being used by *everyone* in the business. Only one or two of them even stayed in the business, and since then no serious research is being done. If you look at the curves of capacity, performance, etc., they began to level off at that time.

Source: I got this from someone who was there. According to my source, it was in fact done so callously, without any attempt to support these finely-tuned people, that several of them were emotionally ruined and no longer able to even function in a research capacity.

One result of this is that the capacity and price/performance of SSDs will surpass HDs sooner, probably in late 2015. Therefore, one might argue that Seagate simply saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to stop spending money on the research that wouldn't give them any additional value. Or one might argue that, since the market is essentially a monopoly/duopoly, there was no incentive to continue to try to outdo the competition.

* "everyone" means Western Digital and Seagate. Between them they have well over 90% of the entire hard drive market.

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