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Comment Re:converter (Score 2) 313

Yes, and you could buy a floppy disk drive very cheaply too. Nobody uses those anymore either.

What a ridiculous comparison. Floppies were limited in their design capacity, and Apple's decision to start phasing them out in 1998 (I believe) was ALSO premature. Why? Because there wasn't a good alternative on the market yet for those who needed to transfer files. Zipdisks were fine, but they were pricey, buggy, and annoying. CD-ROMs were write-only. CD-RWs were unreliable and often unsupported in some readers. It was really the USB flash drive which finally replaced the floppy, but that didn't come around until 2000. Once they became cheap and popular, most computer companies finally started dropping floppy drives.

On the other hand, lots of people complained about Apple's decision to drop the optical drive on the MacBook Air, but I thought they were behind the times on that one. I've been using laptops (ultraportables) that didn't come with an optical drive since 2005. The reality is if you wanted the lightest, smallest laptop, why would you carry an optical drive around with you?

And yet they are still useful periodically, so when I built my current desktop, obviously I put an optical drive in. The choice is for a specific use case -- you want the lightest thinnest possible thing, why not get rid of something bulky? You could always buy a USB optical drive, which I've been using with every laptop I've had since 2005. For bigger laptops ("desktop replacements"), an optical drive can still be useful depending on what you do.

So digital audio to the speaker is the future, and then it might as well be wireless. Or you'd have to define a new physical connector which supplies power and a digital signal.

What the heck are you talking about? Why do you think you need to replace the physical connector to get the advantages in digital signal you want? You can ALREADY buy a bluetooth headset and use it with current technology. Your argument doesn't make any sense -- "There are some things that you can't do with the analog audio connector, and if you wanted to do them that way, you'd need other complicated things." NO -- if you want those things, you just buy BLUETOOTH now.

The only difference Apple's decision here makes is that we're all forced to buy more expensive tech to do a rather simple task. The vast majority of people don't care about the audio things you're talking about -- they listen on the crappiest set of earbuds they can buy.

Except now you want to force them to bulk UP those crappy earbuds with a battery and a Bluetooth connection.

Frankly, I don't want to have another device with batteries to deal with. It's already enough to worry about to plug in my phone and tablet to charge. Now I need to be ready to replace the battery in my headphones or charge them too?

Sorry, but even if the cost for wireless was similar, that's just too much of a pain for little benefit. To me, it's the same as wireless mice and keyboards. I bought my first wireless mouse in 2005, I think. It was cool for a couple weeks. Then I had to replace the battery. Then I decided it wasn't necessary. I've never bought another wireless mouse or keyboard since. If I had a specific use case where running a wire was annoying (e.g., controlling a TV across the room or whatever), then sure, I'd use one. But I don't need to have a wireless mouse to "declutter my desk." Dealing with batteries is just annoying unless there's a significant tangible advantage.

Same thing with this headphone thing. I'm not going to deal with batteries to power my headphones unless there's a real advantage. I do actually have Bose noise-cancelling headphones, which are awesome for when I use them, and yes they require batteries. But that's for a use case like airplanes where there's a real advantage. On a daily basis if I'm out for a walk or whatever, I don't want to deal with my battery in my earbuds going dead... just so Apple can shave another fraction of a millimeter off the thickness of its devices. (And of course, that's not the real reason -- they want to see you buy some expensive connector or other peripherals.)

Comment Re:Percentages vs raw numbers (Score 1) 180

Suppose there was a just a single serial killer out there that killed one person every year for the past 25 years. Population doubles every 23 years or so. So it looks like he has cut his death rate in half, when it has actually stayed the same.

I'm not sure I understand your point here. In your hypothetical situation where the world only has one serial killer murdering people, suppose there are 1000 people at the beginning. The serial killer is killing 1 person each year, so I have a 0.1% of being murdered this year. There is also 0.1% of the population (the serial killer) which is going around killing other people.

In 25 years, if the population is 2000, now my chances of being murdered by this guy are 0.05%, and only 0.05% of our population is composed of murderous wackos.

How is that NOT an improvement in overall safety of society? Granted, this particular guy hasn't improved in terms of his murderous tendencies, and it's a tragedy that people are still being killed.

But if your goal is to measure the collective safety of a society, wouldn't you rather live in a place where the murder rate was 1 in 2000 vs. 1 in 1000?

I agree that there are times when it's helpful to talk about raw numbers and other times when percentages are better. But isn't "whether the world is a violent place?" one situation where you'd be more interested in percentages, since those reflect the overall tendency of human interactions? Violence is not just the result of one serial killer -- it's often a collective societal thing.

Or, to put it another way, if the population was decreasing steadily (instead of increasing), would you still be telling us we need to look at "raw numbers" instead of percentages? If we had a society of 1 million with 10,000 murders per year (1% -- probably good numbers for medieval society), and the next year due to plague we had a society of 100,000 but still with 10,000 murders per year (10%), wouldn't you be concerned about the increase rather than the fact that the raw number is the same?? ("Oh, I know 1 in 10 of you will be killed by random violence this year, but keep in mind -- our raw numbers are still at pre-plague levels! You're still as safe as houses!")

Comment Re:It just seems bad because of the news cycle. (Score 4, Insightful) 180

I don't blame the news cycle. Do we really needs news headlines like: "People all over the world go about regular business, all goes fine"?

No, we don't need articles like that, which would be pointless.

What we do need (and what I think TFA is arguing for) is perspective. Whether you're talking about overall violent crime rate, child abductions, campus rape, whatever -- the general trend over the past couple decades has been DOWN.

Yes, there are still terrible things happening. And we should work to try to make things better. But there's a difference between focusing on the bad things to make the world better and just being an irrational pessimist with no perspective of history.

I say this as someone who used to be an irrational pessimist. I was the sort of person back in my early 20s who thought, "I can't imagine ever having children -- I mean, who would bring a child into a world that's so terrible?"

I look back at that perspective and realize that my viewpoint was shaped by the news. It was shaped by the continuous clamor of politicians trying to make things sound worse and worse because it was to their advantage in making a case that they were the answer to improvement.

There's more and easier access to information now, and more important stuff is being reported, and that's a good thing. Keep the bad news coming.

Agreed. But maybe -- just maybe -- it might be good to have the news in perspective once in a while. Not "People go about their daily business, and all's fine," but at least an acknowledgement of "Terrible thing X is happening. We still need to improve a lot, but let's just note things have been moving in the right direction on issue X for the past 30 years" or whatever.

Comment Re:It just seems bad because of the news cycle. (Score 5, Insightful) 180

And every day, somewhere, something really bad happened.

And people have trouble determining how likely that event is going to happen to them anytime soon [normally, a lottery ticket is more likely to hit].

Yes, or evaluating the chances of dying a plane crash vs. a car. (Driving your car is a LOT more dangerous.) Or the probability of a terrorist event. Etc.

People are really bad about evaluating probability, and our fears are shaped by whatever the news media can dig up about the scariest things going on.

I agree with a lot of TFA, though what's missing is the LONG-term perspective. There's a lot of graphs from the late 20th-century on showing how things (particularly violence) are trending downward, but I still remember the first time I saw a graph of the estimated murder rate over the past few centuries. Hint -- it has basically dropped pretty precipitously since the days of medieval Europe.

Granted, the numbers are more speculative, but I think most people just have no freakin' clue how dangerous and terrible life was in the past. Everybody wants to pretend to be the "lord and lady" at the Renaissance fair, but the reality for most common folk was that you struggled to grow enough food to survive the winter. Every year. You were lucky if even half of your children survived to adulthood.

And in those sorts of life-and-death situations, life was -- frankly -- "cheaper" than today. You could get a finger or hand cut off in a random bar fight or a street brawl. If you committing anything resembling a crime, the authorities would likely do it for you. If you tried to leave town, you were very likely to be robbed, stripped, raped, or killed by random "highwaymen."

The trend toward improvement has continued through most of the 20th century and into our current one. Trust me -- you do NOT want to live in a poor urban center of the early 1900s compared to one today. A lot of violence is down compared to a generation or two ago, and it's certainly a heck of a lot better than it was several generations ago. Yes, kids used to roam the street without care late at night or whatever "back in the day," but they were much, much more likely to abducted or suffer a violent attack or whatever back then than they are today. The "golden age" which people are nostalgic for never existed.

What has changed is that we are more fearful of certain things, NOT that such things (in most cases) have actually gotten worse.

Comment Re:"Failed" push for renewables? (Score 1, Informative) 320

Thorium yields 99% of the energy immediately, which reduces the need for cooling after the fact by a factor of 10... plus in a Thorium reactor...

I just wanted to say thanks for fulfilling the third slot in the Slashdot nuclear energy discussion trifecta.

Every time nuclear power comes up here, there's always bound to be three main types of posts:

(1) "Well, duh, we should be using nuclear reactors all the time. Hell, I'd build one in my basement... well, it's my Mom's basement, actually. They're clean and wonderful and shoot out magical rainbow unicorns!" This may also be coupled with conspiracy theory laden rant about why nuclear isn't popular.

(2) "ACK! Nuclear! Do you know how long that stuff takes to decay?! I'm generally a libertarian wacko (like everyone else here) who is into legalized everything, but nuclear? NIMBY!!" This may also be coupled with a conspiracy theory laden rant about why other alternative energies haven't taken over sooner.

(3) "Thorium's the answer, obviously!" This may also be coupled with a conspiracy theory laden rant about why thorium isn't used everywhere.

I'm thankful that you fulfilled category (3), so now I can stop reading this Slashdot thread.

Comment Re:Be sure they really are cheaper (Score 1) 286

I second using a site like pcpartspicker. It can help you avoid some petty technical mistakes, like buying an under capacity CPU cooler, or a power supply without enough of the correct connectors and voltages for your cards.

Agreed. I'd usually check the specs for everything before ordering, but if you're doing it for the first time, many of these sites really help with creating something that's likely to be compatible with itself.

One thing I've noticed about homebuilt rigs is that they are occasionally louder than normal. I think a lot of builders don't think about noise or airflow, and a lot of the cabinetmakers just provide a bunch of fan mounting points but they can't really consider the cooling needs of the particular motherboard and CPU you're dealing with.

Actually, achieving quiet is one of the main reasons I started building my own computers. I couldn't stand the noise of normal desktops, so I deliberate chose cases, etc. based on recommendations from "quiet PC" websites.

The whole point of building your own is that you can customize for what you want. For me, one of the top priorities is quiet, and thus I start by choosing parts that satisfy that. I choose the rest of the parts assuming they will work with the "quiet" components. If you're building a high-end gaming PC (not my thing) **AND** you also want quiet, you'll just need to research your choices to achieve what you want.

Comment Re:Depends if you want to support it (Score 3, Informative) 286

If you're going to plug Alienware from experience, do that. If you're going to talk about high end machines that don't have vendor customizations (or in many cases, modern video cards), how is that topical?

Well, it's topical in the sense that GP's experience was that consumer-grade Dell products were crappier. Basically, GGP was saying "Buy from Dell!" GP replied, "Well, you could buy from Dell, but in my experience the only machines worth having were X." As you rightly point out, product X is not the main focus of the current thread... which effectively means that GP's experience is that Dell isn't a good option to answer the OP's question, contra GGP's experience.

You can agree or disagree with him, but he was basically providing his experience of the nuances of which Dell computers are good vs. bad (with the ones which would be most relevant here falling into the "bad" category).

(Personally, I think his advice may be slightly outdated, as Dell has had its ups and downs in the past few years in terms of quality. But most of the post was definitely on topic.)

Comment Re:Bill Gates failed elementary statistics (Score 2) 146

For all his "geek" status, Bill Gates (with his foundation) failed elementary statistics. He succumbed to the law of small numbers and idiotically pushed for smaller schools for a long period spending a lot of time, money and energy convincing policy makers that the small schools will make students better.
If a lot of money is spent by non-accountable idiot organizations , it is not only not good for society but actively harmful.

While this did happen, what's your alternative? We could "do nothing," and simply live with the current system, where things don't get better.

Or, I suppose we could depend on an "accountable" organization. Like what? Government is the most common answer.

Yes, government is "accountable" to voters in a way that a private foundation is not. On the other hand, this "accountability" has very specific effects that can also be problematic, such as:

- Government is often conservative from a policy perspective by nature, since major change risks alienating voters who have voted for you in the past. Government is thus often slower to adopt changes.

- Government certainly also screws up in ways just like your Gates Foundation example. I think this is pretty well known.

- "But," you say, "government is accountable." Yes, but what does that actually mean? What it means is that politicians will do their best to get re-elected. As already mentioned, this tends to work against effective change. It also tends to work against correcting bad change.

Imagine if the federal government in the U.S. had tried what the Gates Foundation did here. Within a few years, there would be a couple states that got special contracts to manufacture special stuff for these "small schools." Then the senators and representatives from those states would now be invested in this scheme (since the program brought "jobs" to their state, and voters care disproportionately about their jobs, whether the policy is effective or not). So, whether it worked or not -- they would fight to block legislation to dismantle it. Depending on how powerful they are and what committees they are on, it could take decades before a program like this would be dismantled.

That's what your "accountability" by voters gets you.

Now, the next possible answer I expect is for you to say, "Well, that's the problem with BIG government. You do things at the federal level, and you get massive bureaucracy. If you instead emphasized LOCAL government, people would have to be in touch with specific effects on the community."

And that's true to an extent. But the problem with insular small governments is that they often don't have the resources to implement big changes (even if they are needed)... and frankly many of them tend to end up corrupt and dysfunctional as well. Many people have this idealistic vision of local government as the place where "real" governing happens, and only if we gave back most power to small governments, everything would be fixed.

The problem is that this argument is based on the same statistical flaw you brought up in your post. It's true that many small governments tend to be more responsive and less dysfunctional than the federal government, but that's mostly selection bias. It's very easy for a small local government to be taken over by wackos too, and this happens in a lot of places.

I'm NOT saying I have better answers or that we shouldn't be concerned about lack of accountability in the Gates Foundation. On the other hand, I think charitable organizations do add something to the mix of new ideas, and sometimes what they do can take the lead for governments. I'm NOT convinced by your argument that they necessarily do more harm to society than good.

Comment Re:End of open and honest? I'll disagree. (Score 2) 244

I don't think it's the anonymity that brings out the worst in people, but the separation of comment and audience.

THIS. My standard example is to observe how people behave in cars when stuck in traffic, compared to how they would behave if just walking down the street. Even that little bit of separation causes all sorts of madness and "road rage" that generally doesn't happen when people are in contact directly.

Would you randomly start screaming at someone if they were walking a little too slow in front of you? Most people wouldn't. But a lot more people will lay on their horn and hold it for five seconds or more (not a polite short "tap" on the horn to get someone's attention) and/or roll down the window and start ranting, gesturing wildly, etc.

If you were instead walking behind someone on the sidewalk, you'd likely ask politely to get around someone. Or, if you instead were just grumbling behind them, they'd likely hear it and move out of the way or say "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you needed to get by..." or whatever. Communication can happen, because you see the person's face and demeanor -- maybe they're elderly or lost or whatever.

But when you're separated in two cars, communication is less likely. Rage develops because you get stuck "in your own head" ranting and working yourself up, rather than communicating and sorting out the issue with another person directly.

This kind of build-up of emotions and loss of civility happens exactly the same way with the disconnect on the internet. The automatic assumption many people have is that others are idiots, jerks, shills, etc., because frustration builds up -- particularly if written communication fails in successive posts... just like the guy holding down the carhorn and making obscene gestures which he might never do to someone's face.

Comment Re:he should know better (Score 1) 305

That way both rights can be upheld and everyone should be happy. That's exactly what has happened in this case so I'm shedding no tears for anyone. The system is working, I see no reason for anyone to be complaining.

Except the ones who are "complaining" (in your terms) are ALSO exercising their free speech rights. Sure, a company should not be compelled to broadcast speech, but on the other hand they presumably want to attract customers. If they refuse to broadcast speech in a way that customers find unfair, the customers may not come. If enough people complain about such policies in public forums, the companies might be convinced that broadcasting the speech is in their interest. THAT is ALSO the "system working," by allowing complainers to exercise THEIR free speech rights, even if you don't agree with their perspective.

Comment Re:I might be getting old (Score 1) 290

Should I walk to the east and board an Elven ship to Valinor, for my time has passed?

Uh, the undying lands lie to the WEST. Cirdan waits for the elves on the Western shore so they can sail west! Unless you want to go hang out with the blue wizards, I don't know why you're heading east.

Comment Re:As a techie (Score 1) 113

As a techie I find it absolutely amazing that there is a taxi company that didn't accept credit cards.

First off, many (most?) black cabs in London DO accept credit cards. TFS and TFA are unclear -- but the difference is NOT that you couldn't get a black cab that accepted credit cards before. It's just now ALL black cabs will be required to accept them.

Second, do you travel much?

Even in the past year, I've been asked in at least two major cities (in the U.S. and in Europe, not London) whether I needed a cab that accepts credit cards when I ordered one. Five years ago, it was still very common to be asked that question when you ordered a cab. While many cabs accepted them, you simply couldn't depend on it -- and (if my experience is indicative) you still can't depend on it in some places, even major cities.

I agree the Uber angle doesn't warrant being mentioned here, but the article has merrit even without that.

Credit cards have been accepted in cabs for many years, but it hasn't been consistent. Now London is forcing all drivers to accept them. While this is of very mild interest to tech people I suppose, it's hardly major news. It's kinda like if a city required all licensed restaurants to accept credit cards instead of being a "cash only" business or location. Would that be of significant tech interest??

(Actually, if any city tried to do THAT, I'd imagine the discussion here would be the opposite and it'd end up in "Your Rights Online" -- "How DARE they force us into a cashless economy! Today it's forcing businesses to accept credit, tomorrow it's no cash allowed! My right to anonymous transactions must be upheld!!!")

Comment Re:The dark matter between their ears (Score 1) 164

unless we change the law of gravity [to something enormously more complex - c.f. epicycles]... No dark matter is the epicyclic solution.

I completely agree with your post. However, I really wish people would stop using the "epicycle" as something to denote ridiculous complexity.

The reduction of epicycles is NOT what drove the Scientific Revolution. Some facts:

- Medieval astronomers did NOT add "epicycles on epicycles." Owen Gingerich, one of the foremost historians of science and perhaps the world's greatest expert on Copernicus has spent nearly 50 years trying to stamp out this myth, which seems (according to him) to have originated with some ignorant writings in the early 1800s which had no clue how the earlier astronomical systems worked. If people actually understand how the system works and how the tables medieval astronomers used were constructed, everyone would easily comprehend why it wouldn't have been basically impossible (in a practical computational sense) for medieval astronomers to add "epicycles on epicycles," even if they wanted to.

- Even if medieval astronomers wanted to do this, they simply didn't make the required number of observations necessary to construct such a system. And even if they did the observations, their models of the sky weren't accurate enough to do the sorts of measurements necessary to see planetary position error. (The only way they could tell planetary position was in reference to the fixed stars, but those experienced precession over the centuries and Ptolemy's model of precession was screwed up and had inaccurate medieval corrections thrown in... that didn't exactly work well.) Bottom line: even if they wanted to measure planets with greater accuracy to construct such a system, they couldn't.

- The main reason why anyone got interested in these problems in the 1500s is because there were a few observations where Mars was REALLY out of whack (like 5-6 degrees) with the original Ptolemaic predictions. which happened at conjunctions. Copernicus was driven toward his system after one of these "Martian disasters." Tycho Brahe did observations of the same periodic problem in 1593, which probably led him to tell Kepler to work on the Mars problem.

- Copernicus did NOT eliminate epicycles. In fact, as he tried to make his system more accurate, he actually ended up introducing MORE epicycles than the standard Ptolemaic model.

- Kepler's greatest move toward greater accuracy was achieved by use of old Ptolemaic idea of equants to offset the earth's position around the sun correctly, which produced a MAJOR improvement in predictions, even still using the old epicycle model. The need for epicycles was finally abolished with Kepler's adoption of elliptical orbits, but this correction was much smaller, perhaps only about 1/10th of the improvement in accuracy compared to Kepler's previous advances still assuming the equant/deferent/epicycle models.

TL;DR: Epicycles were good "science" that more than adequately fit the data for ancient and medieval astronomers. Nobody was putting MORE epicycles in to make corrections to the old model, except arguably Copernicus himself. Nobody thought of replacing the old Ptolemaic model until people started doing enough observations to notice a real problem, and after that solutions were proposed almost immediately. And the improvement Kepler made by finally getting rid of epicycles was REALLY small (comparatively), especially seen in contrast to the corrections introduced by adopting heliocentrism and displacing the earth's orbit (both of which were still done in the old geometric system which required epicycles).

So, the modern practice of using "epicycles" as derogatory parlance for a bad, overly complex model doesn't make much sense.

But don't listen to me. You can listen to Owen Gingerich himself describe what he calls "The Greatest Myth in the History of Astronomy", with an available lecture here

Comment Re:Common keyboard for Windows and OS X (Score 1) 505

Given that things like cut and paste are totally different key strokes between Windows and Mac, worrying about key placement seems kinda pointless.

Huh? In most Mac apps, the shortcuts are Command-X and Command-V. On most Windows apps, the shortcuts are CTRL-X and CTRL-V.

Your pinky just needs to move one key over. It's annoying as heck. I use a Mac at work (because that's what they give me), but I need a Linux virtual machine to get certain work done. It's a pain in the neck because on the same freakin' keyboard, I need to put my pinky in two difference places depending on what workspace I'm on. About 50% of the time I get it wrong and have some random other thing pop up that I didn't want. (And yes, I could go and try to change default keyboard shortcuts, but some of those are application-specific, and it's a pain.)

Comment Re:Laptop stuff (Score 1) 505

Back in the mid 90's I really appreciated the external analogue volume control on my Thinkpad. One quick swipe before booting up to turn the sound off ensured no embarrassingly loud chime when Windows XP started.

I agree with you that analog volume control is a good thing.

But I'm very confused:

(1) If you were "embarrassed" by the Windows XP chime, why not disable it (or disable system sounds completely)?? That's one of the first 3 things I do when installing an operating system -- I don't need my computer to beep at me just to say, "Hello, I've booted your OS!" Obviously you disliked it enough to find it "embarrassing"; why have it at all?

(2) Even so, I also still can't figure out how you were even booting Windows XP "back in the mid 90s." It didn't exist yet.

Some programming languages manage to absorb change, but withstand progress. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982