* Posts by John Savard

1415 posts • joined 18 Sep 2007

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Hawking, Musk, Woz (and Riley): ROBOTS will KILL US ALL

John Savard
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Some Grounds for Worry, But...

While I wasn't very positively disposed to this call for action in the first place, and I defer to the expertise of the article writer as well, I can understand that a future where people could take the CPU out of a smartphone and use it to control a killer robot built from a Meccano set would give some people pause.

I guess the real question is: would specifically military development of killer robots bring that future closer to a greater extent than the ordinary improvement of computers for civilian purposes? Someone evil-minded could take bits and pieces developed for benign purposes and cobble together a deadly killer robot out of them once the available bits and pieces become good enough, I'd think.

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Happy birthday, Amiga: The 'other' home computer turns 30

John Savard
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Tis a Pity

That one can't go out today and buy a processor compatible with the 68020/68882 combination - but no doubt with a 64-bit mode - that matches the latest Pentiums in performance. This is bad for the Macintosh, since today's Macintosh computers can't run the software people purchased for their 128K Macs, and it's bad for competition in the microprocessor field in general.

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YOU! DEGRASSE! It's time to make Pluto a proper planet again, says NASA boffin

John Savard
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Wishing and Hoping

For sentimental reasons, I would very much like Pluto to be a planet, pure and simple, once again. However, that would mean that Eris would have to join it as a new planet in our Solar System.

And that's the problem, because there could be many other planets in the Kuiper Belt of comparable size. For a while, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta were accepted as planets - but then it was clear this would be untenable, as the extent of the asteroid belt began to emerge. It appears that the same thing has repeated itself when it comes to KBOs.

Whether or not we like it, I think the IAU's decision makes sense and was the only one possible.

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Were the FIRST AMERICANS really FIRST? MYSTERY of vanished 'Population Y'

John Savard
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Lemurians

Obviously Churchward was right, and the people of Population Y are descendants from the ancient Lemurians, who colonized South America leaving the traces found by Le Plongeon!

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China reveals home-grown supercomputer chips after Intel x86 ban

John Savard
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Only in China, you say?

I thought I saw a statement, either in the article or the comments, to the effect that DSP chips only support 32-bit floating-point, so this new Chinese chip that is a DSP with double-precision floats is unique. However, a brief Google search turned up the Texas Instruments TMS320C674x series as a counterexample to that.

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Security world chuckles at Hacking Team’s 'virus torrent' squeals

John Savard
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There's been a later development in this story; they're now admitting that some real and useful source code was leaked - and so now the terrorists can use their sophisticated surveillance tools against us!

So they have taken up the challenge to pull the other leg, some will say.

But instead of mocking that claim, I think we would be better off if we took it very seriously indeed... and went to Microsoft and demanded that they fix Windows so nobody, not terrorists, not hackers, not private surveillance companies, not even major governments, would be able to find and exploit vulnerabilities in Windows - because they will have finally gotten it right, and it will not have any of those any more.

While still being an available and useful operating system, of course.

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Black and Latina boffins regularly mistaken for janitors, study finds

John Savard
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People should definitely recognize that in today's world, people belonging to minority groups are now able to achieve lofty goals, and have careers requiring good qualifications and so on. Of course, though, it's also still true that a lot of people belonging to minority groups are stuck as janitors and the like as well. So, given the odds, mistakes like that will continue to be made even in the absence of malice - until there is more opportunity and more equality.

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We tried using Windows 10 for real work and ... oh, the horror

John Savard
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Re: Let me get this right...

However, since there is just so much software out there that is written for Windows, and when you buy a program for Windows, there's no guarantee that it will run under WINE - I think Windows software makers feel that testing their programs under WINE, and putting a penguin on their boxes if it works there too would get Microsoft annoyed with them -

these past events have not been enough to get people to switch from Windows to Linux. After all, Windows is included "free" when you buy your computer.

Still, if this keeps on, people may end up switching to Linux, at least when they would otherwise feel the need to upgrade. (Hey, making the upgrade to Windows 10 free suddenly sounds like a great idea!)

The Microsoft monopoly can't go on forever, not if they keep going on like this. It may have only 50 years of life left.

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Dormant ALIEN SLIME LIFE frozen in SPEEDING comet will AWAKEN - boffins

John Savard
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Chandra Wickramasinghe is well-known as a supporter of Fred Hoyle's theories about panspermia, which have not yet won general acceptance in the scientific community. Thus, this news item is not likely to fill too many scientists with dread about the possibility of a looming plague. None the less, the Universe is a big place, and while contamination by alien life is unlikely to be a common thing, it's still a real possibility, so some degree of caution is reasonable.

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The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who

John Savard
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They Do Have a Word for It

Not at all; it's a Greek word to begin with: it came from "Tα Oικονομικά", the title of a book by Aristotle.

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Get READY: Scientists set to make TIME STAND STILL tonight

John Savard
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Fortunately, We Know the Title Was Only a Joke

Otherwise I would have to severly take you to task for perpetuating the fallacy that leap seconds (or other similar things, like standard time zones) affect time itself, as opposed to the names by which we call certain intervals of time.

We used to get along without leap seconds quite well, by adjusting the length of the second of civil time instead. That would be more convenient, apparently, for computers and the Internet, so we should either go back to the old system or at least have it available as an alternative kind of Internet Time.

After all, we already have GPS time in addition to UTC.

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KRAKKOOM! SpaceX Falcon supply mission to ISS EXPLODES minutes after launch

John Savard
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Occasionally, the fermentation of cabbage to produce a popular Korean dish results in minor explosions... so I was expecting kimchi jokes here!

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Q: What's black and white and read all over? A: E-reader displays

John Savard
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A reflective color display that changes between black and alternating red, green, and blue pixels sounds like it will have low contrast. That may be one problem with color.

For a moment, I thought that maybe the answer is to have a two-layer display. One layer alternates between black and transparent, and below that is a layer of pixels that change between white and one of three colors. But that won't allow bright reds or yellows, even if it allows white, so instead three layers that alternate between transparent or a subtractive primary are what you need.

You can get away with one layer of red, green, and blue pixels on an LCD display by making the backlight much brighter than what you see when you look at a blank white screen. That doesn't work for reflected light.

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Hi-res audio folk to introduce new rules and weed out impure noises

John Savard
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The human ear is not a perfectly linear device. As a result, percussive sounds can be affected audibly by frequency components above the limit for human hearing of steady tones - because they will raise the maximum total amplitude of a transient, causing it to encounter additional distortion, among other reasons.

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Wake up, sheeple! If you ask Siri about 9/11 it will rat you out to the police!

John Savard
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No, it was because of events relating to Palestinians in Jordan, the same ones that led to a terrorist group naming itself "Black September".

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This whopping 16-bit computer processor is being built by hand, transistor by transistor

John Savard
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I'm shocked. The thing is costing more than a PDP-8 did. And these days, one ought to be able to find discrete transistors cheaply in old junk people are throwing away.

Actually, that would have been more true a decade or so ago. These days, the "junk" has become valuable antiques.

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THIS TIME we really are ALL DOOMED, famous doomsayer prof says

John Savard
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Well, one can't really fault Paul Ehrlich for failing to predict the success of the "Green Revolution". After all, its architect, Norman Borlaug, was pretty much an unsung hero until very recently.

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Climate change alarmism is a religious belief – it's official

John Savard
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Not Impressed

It is unclear to me that this article provides any useful insight, other than an attempt at guilt by association, into the climate change question - even if it does tell us things about the current Pope that may be of interest, if they surprised anyone. (Since the Pope is Catholic, it should come as no surprise that he believes in God.)

It definitely is true that we will need more energy production to address world poverty; however, instead of burning more oil, we do have an alternative. It seems that nuclei of Uranium-235 can produce large amounts of energy under certain conditions...

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Zionists stole my SHOE, claims Muslim campaigner

John Savard
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For all I know, not only is he unlikely to own a dog, but perhaps he left his two shoes in an obvious and visible place when he went to bed, and so it really is reasonable to conclude that the shoe was removed as a psychological intimidation tactic by someone who didn't like him.

And if he doesn't owe money to a drug dealer or anything like that, maybe his further conclusion that it was because of his politics is reasonable too.

Naming Mossad, or thinking they'd go to the bother, yes, that's a stretch. But for all I know, he might not be quite as bonkers as he might initially seem.

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'Right to be forgotten' applies WORLDWIDE, thunders Parisian court

John Savard
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Consequences

Presumably, within two weeks, Google will no longer be available to people within the European Community, so that it will no longer be under the jurisdiction of French courts - as, of course, a private business would be that is doing business in France.

Hopefully, people in the UK can find other useful search engines to help them use the Internet.

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'Nothing to see here', says ECJ as Safe Harbour opinion delayed

John Savard
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Didn't the Register recently carry a story about a new international trade treaty that would forbid countries from placing restrictions on the storage of personal data in other countries merely because of privacy concerns? Surely the prospect of such a treaty - particularly if it is being negotiated in secret - could interfere with the relevance of any decision made on this issue by the courts?

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ISIS command post obliterated after 'moron' jihadi snaps a selfie, says US Air Force

John Savard
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Security

Why tell them what they did wrong? Why not give them the chance to make the same stupid mistakes again and again? I know stories like this can be morale boosters, but it would seem that is outweighed.

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China's hackers stole files on 4 MEELLION US govt staff? Bu shi, says China

John Savard
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An Operating System of Their Own

And, in fact, a processor API of their own. Yes, 'security by obscurity' is not real security, but it's a basic first step none the less. Except for machines such as IBM z System, Unisys ClearPath Libra and Dorado, and SPARC servers from ORACLE, all Federal government computers should use a customized secure version of Linux or BSD, running on some less-popular chip architecture like that of the PowerPC.

That way, all the zero-day vulnerabilities in Windows and even OS X would avail hackers not a bit; they'd have to really work at it to get into those computers. (Given the BSD license, that may be a better choice, because then Uncle Sam would be under no obligation to disclose the source of the version of the OS they're using.)

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Your servers are underwater? Chill OUT, baby – liquid's cool

John Savard
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Re: Liquid immersion cooling is old news.

True, and Novec is a fluorinated liquid - just not a CFC, but instead, I presume, related chemically to the fluids which replaced Freon in refrigerators.

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Dutch efforts to decapitate Pirate Bay could end up before ECJ

John Savard
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Trademark Infringement

I see that the skull on their pirate flag is in the shape of a Philips Compact Cassette. This is a clear case of trademark infringement!

While I think that it's only reasonable that copyright infringement is against the law - copyright is a promise our society made to content creators to encourage their efforts - I do think that ISPs should not be forced to block sites any more than governments should be forced to jam shortwave radio stations: that is the level of freedom the Internet should have.

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The rare metals debate: Only trace elements of sanity found

John Savard
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And then there's Rare Earths

Which are very difficult to separate from each other. But they're found mixed together in lots of places, which is why "misch metal" is cheap - that's what the flints used in cigarette lighters are made from.

There probably are proven reserves of misch metal, in addition to the much vaster quantity of misch metal resources. And they're not all in China either.

Still, I expect that the people saying we'll all starve to death once we've emptied our refrigerators will eventually switch to saying we'll all starve to death once we've emptied the shelves of our supermarkets.

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Xiaomi greets MediaTek with a handshake, Qualcomm feels awkward

John Savard
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Nice

Instead of having all ten cores on at once, this is big.little scaled up to big.medium.little. It just seems odd to put so many more cores on a die than you will ever use at once - I assume it only uses one cluster at a time.

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Amazon cloud to BEND TIME, exist in own time zone for 24 hours

John Savard
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Units of Measurement

The length of the second, when combined with the mass of the kilogram and the length of the metre, gives us the size of other fundamental units like the ohm, the ampere, the watt, and the joule. So we can't change the length of the standard second.

But it certainly is possible to have civil time run on non-standard seconds, as was the case before 1972. Atomic Time is based on Ephemeris Time, and we could continue to have that as well.

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Microsoft: Free Windows 10 for THIEVES and PIRATES? They can GET STUFFED

John Savard
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Parsing

Sounds like if you own a computer that came with a legitimate copy of Windows, but it got wiped or something, then you could get a copy of Windows 10 - that's what that sentence about OEM partners and devices in a non-genuine state appeared to mean to me.

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Attack of the possibly-Nazi clone parakeet invaders

John Savard
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Re: Speaking of Pigeons...

Well, why not? Parakeets usually live in tropical climes, where it's warmer than in the places they're invading now.

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Meet the man who inspired Elon Musk’s fear of the robot uprising

John Savard
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Paper Clips

Of course the idea of a universe of paper clips, in effect, is an old one.

First, there was the science-fiction story "Watchbird".

Then, no doubt inspired by it, was a comic in an early issue of Creative Computing which showed robots, tasked with eliminating an annoying insect pest, wiping out the planet's only contraceptive herb.

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All-Russian 'Elbrus' PCs and servers go on sale

John Savard
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Re: @ Stuart Longland

Well, there is an awful lot of stuff that can be done perfectly well with a 60 MHz Pentium - or even a 40 MHz 486. So the fact that it's even slower in terms of clock rate than the 1 GHz chip in my cell phone doesn't make it useless; given their current aggression in the Ukraine, Western sanctions against them are likely to increase in severity. So having their own x86 capability in some form obviously meets a real need.

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Amstrad founder Lord Sugar quits 'anti-enterprise' Labour party

John Savard
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Unusual

I'll have to agree that it's unfair to jump to conclusions, although it seems odd that he discovered that Labor was anti-free-enterprise only after they lost the election. But that depends on what he meant by that; some people call anyone to the left of Margaret Thatcher an enemy of free enterprise, but if he had held such an attitude, he would never have been part of the Labor party in the first place.

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Not pro-Bono: Russian MP wants Apple to face stiff action for cramming 'gay' U2 into iCrevices

John Savard
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The True Agenda

I should have seen this long ago. The international repercussions of Russia's anti-gay campaign clearly outweigh any cred Putin is getting from it with the Orthodox Church in value.

But there's a large ethnic minority in Russia that has no use for extreme nationalism. From its ranks, one of Putin's most significant opponents, Garry Kasparov, came. Because they have a well-founded fear of persecution, however, Putin may be calculating that his anti-gay measures, by proving him to be profoundly illiberal, will contribute to generally cowing that minority into silence.

So it doesn't really have anything to do with homosexuality; Putin is afraid of the Jews in Russia speaking out against his rule.

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Bruce Schneier's Data and Goliath – solution or part of the problem?

John Savard
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Property Rights

Property rights are a good model for many things. They make sense for freedom of speech; forcing cable TV companies to have "public access" channels, forcing bus companies to accept controversial ads, is a violation of their freedom of speech, to make them a conduit of someone else's speech. It's unfortunate that some of us don't own newspapers, but this isn't the way to address it.

But there are other cases where they aren't the right model. That's why the Declaration of Independence spoke of "inalienable rights" - rights that can't be sold or given away. If you could sell yourself into slavery, it would be harder to police a ban on all other slavery.

People "need" electricity and telephone service and banking services - and thus end up having to agree to pretty onerous contract terms for them, since no other choices are on offer. Being able to search with Google is in that area as well. Laws that limit the abuse of market power, such as antitrust laws, do not conform to a laissez-faire mindset, but are in direct opposition to it.

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Shields up! Shields up! ASTRONAUTS flying to MARS will arrive BRAIN DAMAGED, boffins claim

John Savard
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Re: Not really equivalent

But the point is that they exposed the mice to one dose of radiation in a short time, instead of exposing the mice to the same total amount of radiation over the time a Mars mission would take, so that the brain could repair itself between receiving a little radiation and then receiving some more.

For most parts of the body, this is a very valid objection. But most of the brain doesn't undergo constant cell division the way the tissues of the rest of the body do. So it isn't renewed constantly.

No doubt the mice were much more likely to develop cancer than astronauts would have been, making the study entirely invalid for measuring that risk.

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John Savard
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Re: Not really equivalent

In the 1973 novel Protector, by Larry Niven, Phssthpok was a protector-stage Pak. That's what he was talking about.

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Burger me! Microsoft's chainsaw rampage through sacred cow herd

John Savard
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Re: On the 6th of March 2011 Motorola Atrix phone was released

Apple also has a history of "making products early before the tech can support them" - like the Lisa. Which is how they got all those juicy GUI patents.

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US govt bans Intel from selling chips to China's supercomputer boffins

John Savard
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Some Considerations

From the story, it appears that a court was simply enforcing an existing legislated ban on exports for military uses. Courts go by what the law says, and so if the consequences are bad, politicians will have to amend the law; it's not fair to criticize the body that directly imposed the specific sanctions.

However, shortly after I read this, I found out from a Google search that China was coming out with a supercomputer which consumed 1.1 megawatts to provide one petaflop of computing power, using homegrown Shenwei 1600 processors, made on a 65nm processs. I was amazed that they reacted so quickly in the expected fashion to this!

Then I searched for more information, took a closer look at the results, and found that this story was from November of 2011. Apparently the processor may use the MIPS instruction set, although its internals are said to be based on studying a DEC Alpha.

This means China indeed has a capacity for going homegrown, but also that it would try this without our encouragement - and that they are sufficiently behind in technology that sanctions will still slow them down.

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Eco-loons hack Thirty Meter Telescope website to help the 'natives'

John Savard
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Fortunately, the attack didn't compromise any observations, or it would have been a far more serious matter.

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C++ Daddy Bjarne Stroustrup outlines directions for v17

John Savard
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Re: Direction number one

This is an argument for putting "the modern stuff like functional programming constructs" in some new language, and not trying to graft it on to C++. It is not an argument for abandoning a language which is still very useful. Of course, if that "modern stuff" becomes so important that interest in C++ declines, then one can talk about "maintenance mode" - but at the moment, languages which produce efficient executables without the overhead of runtime type checking are still very much needed.

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Top Spanish minister shows citizens are thick as tortillas de ballenas

John Savard
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Reading

I was just re-reading Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. And that reminded me of the importance of teaching people critical thinking. And that's sadly neglected today even in most free nations, but naturally it's avoided in dictatorships because the last thing their rulers want is people who can see through their lies.

So it isn't just Franco's preference for conservative Catholicism that's to blame here.

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Windows 10 Device Guard: Microsoft's effort to keep malware off PCs

John Savard
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Not Useful Enough

Enterprises can get Microsoft to sign, for them, old applications they want to use.

But what about the home user? This will mean not being able to run legacy applications, if one wants to have the security this provides.

If there were a way that users could sign their own applications for their own use, locally, on their computers - without this adding a risk that it could be used by attacking programs to sign themselves - then it would be useful to people like myself.

This presumably would mean having a hardware-isolated program that could talk to the keyboard and the display. Since programs only need to be signed once, the inconvenience of booting into signing mode would be acceptable.

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‘For the love of Pete, America, learn about decent chocolate’

John Savard
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What I've read is that many competitive brands, because Americans have come to like the taste of Hershey's bars, which use a process that allows them to be less demanding of the quality of milk supplied to them, add butyric acid to their product. While I don't know further details, this may add to the understanding of this issue.

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Thank heavens for the silicon chip: A BRIEF history of data

John Savard
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Actually, the real riposte is that there are some computer applications that don't manipulate very much data, and computing rather than data manipulation is the most important thing that they're doing.

The earliest computers - excluding Colossus from consideration - were thought of basically as programmable scientific calculators, and that's how they were used. Some programs would take long lists of numbers as input (and thus they clearly did deal in data to a significant extent) - and others wouldn't.

But in business applications, data was relevant before there were computers - companies kept boxes of punched cards for transactions and for customers. And dealing with data was painful before random-access storage (the disk drive) came along... and once it became available, then it made sense to start thinking of how to make better use of its capabilities. And then various early types of database (hierarchical, Codasyl) came along before the relational database was invented.

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RSA supremo rips 'failed' security industry a new backdoor, warns of 'super-mega hack'

John Savard
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Audiences

No doubt his advice is appropriate for major businesses.

However, building higher and smarter walls is what makes sense for the average home computer user who cannot afford to hire a staff of security experts to protect the computer with which he surfs the Web and sends E-mail. So trying to make higher and smarter walls almost work is still a worthwhile endeavour.

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Streaming tears of laughter as Jay-Z (Tidal) waves goodbye to $56m

John Savard
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Re: Word perfect article

I liked the article, especially the bit about Blumlein, but I think that saying every word is true is going a bit too far. I'm rather sure he was exaggerating about Madonna.

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Cybercrim told to cough up £1m or spend years in chokey

John Savard
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Then he should have to reimburse the bank in full before paying money to be used for police and courts.

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John Savard
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Insurance just changes who the victim is. That would then mean he should have to pay full restitution to the insurance company.

Of course, full insurance against all crime-related losses should be free of charge. Paid for by the government, which gets the money from criminals, not taxpayers.

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John Savard
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Priorities

Before he should be allowed to pay any money to be used for "policing and the criminal justice system", or, in fact, before he should even be allowed to pay his taxes, every cent taken from his victim should have to be returned to her.

Yes: if you steal money from someone, then when your taxes are deducted, they should go straight to your victim instead of the government, meaning that interest and penalties will just add up until everything you stole was returned. Of course, I know this might not be popular with the government, so voters will have to put pressure on it.

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