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Comment: Re:This is creepy! (Score 4, Interesting) 100

by Dr. Spork (#49118631) Attached to: Police Use DNA To Generate a Suspect's Face
I think we'd feel much better about it if we used this tool to remove suspicion from people, rather than to add suspicion. For example, this tool could probably rule out that the suspect is black or asian, that it's not a woman, it's not someone over 5'9, etc. Using the tool to generate a crappy portrait is the real bad move, because if you look like that, people will think that's evidence for your guilt. If this tool were only used to exonerate people and to remove them from the suspect list, who could object?

Comment: Bio data for interstellar colonization ship (Score 1) 36

by Dr. Spork (#49081725) Attached to: Storing Data In Synthetic Fossils

This might be useful if we ever build very slow, small and cheap interstellar colonization ships. Basically, I'm picturing something like a seed from which an entire civilization could hatch. In practice, it would be a tiny fabrication plant, plus lots of data. Once it arrives, the thing would use material from an asteroid or a comet to build larger and more specialized 3D printers, which would turn asteroids into a habitable space station, bioreplicators, etc. The bioreplicators would produce living germ cells from DNA data, artificial wombs would gestate them, and very fancy AI would parent the kids that come out. It's fun to think about how tiny the initial payload could be so that it's still big enough to eventually get the job done. Probably, the best way to do it would be to start with a single crude and tiny 3D printer, which is able to make a larger, better 3D printer, and so on.

Obviously, a big proportion of the mass of this thing would be the storage medium that carries all the data, because you won't just need software, videos, libraries, etc. You'll also need genetic info for an adequately diverse population of humans, plus an adequately diverse population of all the other living things those humans will need and want to have around, like gut bacteria, broccoli, earthworms, butterflies, kitties, etc. That's a lot of data, so you obviously want a robust and low-mass storage medium for it. The trip might take thousands of years, and space can be nasty. But if this DNA-in-glass medium can reliably last millions of years - more at 3 degrees K, I presume - maybe it would do the job. It would be really cool if it turned out to be possible to reconstitute our civilization in another solar system from a seed no larger than a trashcan. I don't see any reason to think it's impossible to go even smaller, maybe to the size of a beer can. The smaller it is, the easier it is to accelerate and decelerate. If it rides a laser beam on the way out, and decelerates with solar sail (like a parachute), it might be practical to make thousands of these rather cheaply. Any seeds that germinate could then make thousands more. (I think Freeman Dyson once discussed an idea like this.)

Comment: Can't prisoners mail out letters? (Score 3, Interesting) 176

I know this sounds terribly traditional, but what could be wrong with sending a friend a letter in which you give instructions to post an update to social media on your behalf? I'm sure that all letters from prison would be read to make sure they're not carrying out something illegal, but it's not illegal for the friend to post an online update, right?

Or how about this: The friend starts a blog called "Letters From Sam in Jail" and just posts a scan of each letter received. That's a clear case where the prisoner is (indirectly) blogging, but nobody is doing something wrong. Right?

Comment: Monkeys could do it too (Score 2) 187

by Dr. Spork (#48993329) Attached to: The Poem That Passed the Turing Test
The point is that a computer probably generated a whole lot of poetry, and some poor human had to sift through it and pick the least awful poem. So, really, it's a human who did all the hard work anyway. You give enough monkeys enough typewriters, and hire some humans to sort through their "work" and you will eventually get something interesting too.

Comment: Would it still be ridesharing without a driver? (Score 2) 98

by Dr. Spork (#48968113) Attached to: Google To Compete With Uber, Uber To Explore Autonomous Transportation

If Google cabs come pick you up and you pay them to drive you somewhere, Google is running a straight up taxi service. It's not ridesharing in any sense. Maybe Google would allow private car owners to put their driverless cars into the system, and keep a portion of the fares, but I don't see this as being very motivated. Google will have the driverless cars first, private competitors in their system would only drive down prices, and then there's the legwork of making sure that all the privateer taxis are safe and insured.

I love the idea of driverless taxis, and I'd love to live in a city where they were the only passenger cars allowed on roads. Unfortunately, I think that idiots will ruin the idea - for example, by using these things as convenient "date rape cabins".

Comment: Re:Crash-testing & strength? (Score 1) 128

I'm sure this happens already, as kids often add absurd fins and wings to production cars, and then drive the modified abominations on public roads. But apparently I've been OK with this for my whole life, so I have no reason to worry about what will essentially be more of the same.

Comment: I know this was a big deal 10 years ago... (Score 1) 70

by Dr. Spork (#48837171) Attached to: Andy Wolber Explores Online Word Processors' ODF Support
I notice that it's been a while since I've worried about document formats. I'm not so vain as to need features not supported in Rich Text Format, so for 20 years I've been sending people .rtf files out of compatibility politeness. Once, when I explained all this to someone, the response I got was something like "Dude, these days, everyone can open basically everything." And there's something right about that. In the old days I worried about formats forcing MS Office lock-in, but nowadays it's hard to get me too worked up about it. It's kind of like video files, where you barely notice whether you downloaded a .mpg, .avi, .wmv, mkv, or mp4. You double-click and it all plays.

Comment: Re:Few Million a Year is a BIG Stretch Goal (Score 1) 181

by Dr. Spork (#48814469) Attached to: Tesla To Produce 'a Few Million' Electric Cars a Year By 2025

Your post is suggesting that Musk may be naive enough to not anticipate all the difficult steps necessary for ramping up production, but somehow I have more faith in him as a businessman. Did you see how he handled the negotiations about the battery factory? Like a bawss.

Higher end Teslas were always meant to be a learning experience for the company. They're high-end cars, so they're made in a boutique setting like high end cars tend to be. There is a sense in starting upmarket and working your way down as you find your feet. You can bet that Musk has very smart people identifying and fixing all production bottlenecks. When they're ironed out, the cost of production really will fall a lot, because the sense behind his process is to minimize human intervention. The problem with automation is designing machines that are good enough, but I expect that this is exactly where they're making headway. Well, maybe not. And maybe, demand for Teslas isn't bottomless, once they're produced on a BMW scale. But I wouldn't bet against Musk.

Comment: What do you get the agency that has everything? (Score 1) 42

by Dr. Spork (#48672337) Attached to: DARPA Wants Help Building a Drone That Flies Like a Hawk
Maybe it's the season, but doesn't this sound like like a bunch of overindulged, adult children in uniforms, sitting around a table trying to figure out what toys they don't yet have, which might be fun to play with? Like, they're so bored with quadcopters now, they want a fucking hawk. Because fuck yeah, hawk. Taxpayers should buy them a mechanical hawk.

Comment: What about that stupid book is worth US$244? (Score 4, Insightful) 170

by Dr. Spork (#48639385) Attached to: Calculus Textbook Author James Stewart Has Died

I really fucking hate this about academia. It's absolutely shameless to charge college students $244 for a single dumb textbook. It's not even that good. It's just that when a department chooses to standardize on a textbook, the move has inertia and is basically impossible to reverse. Then, the publisher can charge something absurd, and everybody pays it, because it is a required text. It's so dirty, because it's profiteering from people who are often barely making ends meet, and typically buying the book with debt.

What really bothers me is that nobody seems willing to do anything about it. If a big, publicly funded university system set aside some money to create and regularly update their core STEM curriculum textbooks - let's start with Calculus, Physics, GenChem, GenBio - it would certainly cost less than the almost $1000 per student that the textbook purchases cost. These universities have Nobel Prize winners among their faculty, surely they have the in-house resources to create excellent textbooks and distribute them on some sort of open license like CC. Arranging sabbaticals for the authors might cost at most a million dollars, or roughly 4000 Stewart Calculus books. That might be about the number of Calc 1, Phys 1, GenChem and GenBio books that are sold on a single campus in a single year.

But this move would help everybody, not just within the entire UC system that funded the effort, but across the globe. And the costs of updating and embellishing future editions would be far less. I'm so mad that a large university system doesn't just make this happen. And yes, raise fucking tuition by $200 to pay for it, if you absolutely have to. In exchange for textbooks you can have for free (or for printing cost if you don't like digital), everybody will recognize that's a great deal. The courses can explicitly invite students to devise problems for future editions, or to suggest changes and clarifications. And it will bring prestige to the colleges and to the authors, which is worth something too.

Comment: Gee, how innovative! (Score 1) 156

by Dr. Spork (#48601445) Attached to: Small Bank In Kansas Creates the Bank Account of the Future

Requests for ACH transfers are collected by banks and submitted in batches, once a day, and the banks receiving the transfers also process the payments once a day, leading to long waits. ACH technology was created in the 1970s and has not changed significantly since.

Jesus Christ. How much do we pay these people?

Comment: Re:Imagine that! (Score 2) 191

by Dr. Spork (#48597233) Attached to: Spanish Media Group Wants Gov't Help To Keep Google News In Spain

Yeah, except the Spanish media is not at all in a good negotiating position. It's not like the only Spanish-language press is in Spain. Spaniards who like Google's service can just switch their link to, .mx, or whatever. Or Google can even keep but focus on stories about Spain as they appear in the Spanish-speaking press outside of Spain.

If Spaniards come to see domestic newspapers as dispensable, those newspapers are the only party that loses. In fact, I would bet that before long, some of the minor Spanish news outlets will break and announce that they have arranged an fee exemption for Google news. Without domestic competition, these sources will suddenly have top billing and a surge in traffic. And suddenly, everyone else will announce their own fee exemption, and this whole thing will end how it started.

Comment: Re:Surely *someone* has kept 720p copies! (Score 1) 416

by Dr. Spork (#48577171) Attached to: MIT Removes Online Physics Lectures and Courses By Walter Lewin
I hope that these versions are not the only ones that will be saved. They look like re-encodes of the already ugly 240p version. I know all the artifacts don't make it unintelligible, but they are very distracting, especially if you watch at full screen. At some point, MIT re-capped the videotape with much better capture hardware and in 720p. That's what you got to watch if you did the MIT-X course.

If this is timesharing, give me my share right now.