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Comment: Phone Switching (Score 5, Insightful) 323

by Jason Levine (#49789815) Attached to: The Tricky Road Ahead For Android Gets Even Trickier

a survey found that 16 percent of people who bought the latest iPhones previously owned Android devices

So 16% of iPhone purchases were made by people who previously owned Android phones. (I'm going to assume here that "owned Android devices" doesn't mean you owned a Nexus tablet and now are buying an iPhone.) This statistic is useless, though, unless you also find out how many people buying Android phones previously owned iPhones. If there's an equivalent amount of people getting Android phones to replace their iPhones, then the "16%" isn't really a loss for Android. It's just normal churn. Presenting the 16% figure on its own is misleading as it makes it seem like people are fleeing Android and nobody ever leaves Apple.

Comment: Re:Tubes (Score 1) 206

by Jason Levine (#49789813) Attached to: Ways To Travel Faster Than Light Without Violating Relativity

You fly that tube at (say) 0.75c. Inside the tube, you fly down its length at 0.75c and before you know it - you're going faster than light.

Unfortunately, that's not how it works. You can't just add up the tube's velocity (0.75c) and your velocity (0.75c) and get 1.5c. To put it another way, if you somehow got a spaceship to move at the speed of light (c) and then turned on the ship's headlights, the light coming out of them wouldn't be travelling at 2c, it would be travelling at c.

Comment: Snooping Programs a help (Score 2) 376

by Jason Levine (#49783773) Attached to: Obama Asks Congress To Renew 'Patriot Act' Snooping

the FBI is unable to name a single terror case in which the snooping provisions were of much help

"There was that one case... and the other one... then there was that case with the thing... and the person with the other thing... Yeah, we need to keep this running."

The problem with this program (from an FBI-perspective, not a privacy one) is that it floods them with too much data. There's a false notion that since data is good that more data is always good. Not all data is good data. You need to go through it and find the useful parts. As you get more and more data, you eventually become unable to weed through the data to extract the good parts. You either wind up ignoring it entirely (and thus missing good data coming in) or you grab hold of any data point you can find without properly vetting it (due to no manpower for that step) and wind up chasing down phantom leads.

That's why a properly limited (warrant-based) system would not only be better for privacy, but would actually be better for national security.

Comment: Re:Nonsense (Score 2) 376

by Jason Levine (#49783693) Attached to: Obama Asks Congress To Renew 'Patriot Act' Snooping

In reality, it's even worse, as requiring the telecoms to keep this data guarantees that the telecoms will use that data -- so the end result is an expansion of the the amount of spying that is being inflicted on us.

Exactly this. Government spying on its citizens is bad, don't get me wrong. However, there are remedies for this. It isn't easy, but you CAN vote out the current government and vote in people who will end the spying. Again, it's not easy and it might take time, but it's doable.

Suppose AT&T and Verizon have this big database that they are required to maintain, however, and the government just "checks in" and searches it now and then. They need to maintain the database so (they figure), why not also profit off of it? What's to keep them from running some searches to find ways of extracting more money out of people when the (stated) purpose of the database was national security? And how do we keep them from abusing a database that they maintain in-house? By switching carriers to another carrier required to keep the same database and likely doing the same thing?

It would be better to keep this program in government hands but with some very strict checks and balances in place. Even better would be to shut it down, but if it needs to be kept - which I highly doubt, mind you - I'd prefer it government-run than corporate-run.

Comment: Re:Get rid of it (Score 2) 376

by Jason Levine (#49783573) Attached to: Obama Asks Congress To Renew 'Patriot Act' Snooping

There is a difference between Campaign Politician and Elected Politician. Campaign Politician seeks to get as many people to vote for him/her as possible and so is willing to promise nearly anything. If Campaign Politician thought it would win them votes, they would pledge to have the federal government give everyone a free cute puppy.

When Campaign Politician transitions to Elected Politician, however, many (if not all) of those promises get forgotten. Instead Elected Politician will do whatever he/she can to increase his/her political power. This can mean listening to lobbyists, enacting laws to protect businesses that donate to Elected Politician, and working with other Elected Politicians to keep other Elected Politicians down. Sometimes, Elected Politician will actually abide by a few campaign promises, but this is more because Elected Politician knows that eventually he/she will need to become Campaign Politician again and these followed promises will help.

Occasionally, Campaign Politician will make a promise that Elected Politician will realize is impossible to enact, but this is more of a failing of Campaign Politician to keep from making unrealistic promises than anything else. See the "free puppies" example above. It sounds nice until you get to the real world and figure out costs, logistics, other politicians with alternative plans - free kittens - and groups for whom free puppies wouldn't be a good thing (e.g. people with allergies).

Comment: Re:Freeze your credit. Problem solved. (Score 2) 85

by Jason Levine (#49779309) Attached to: IRS: Personal Info of 100,000 Taxpayers Accessed Illegally

That's what we did when my identity was stolen. My name, address, SSN, and DOB were used to open a card in my name. I was lucky and the credit card company sent it to me (due to the thieves paying for rush delivery) instead of processing the address change and sending it to the thieves. It's a pain when I want to use my credit (refinance mortgage, buy a car, etc), but most days I don't need to touch my credit and don't want anyone else touching it either.

Of course, the credit agencies don't like when you freeze your credit. Frozen credit files are less profitable (can't sell them to credit card companies hawking even more lines of credit) and so they like pushing "fraud alerts" instead. These expire every 90 days unless you renew them and are voluntary. If I were a credit card company opening a line of credit on someone, it's recommended that I check the fraud alert, but I could just ignore it, open the credit line, and suffer no consequences.

To credit agencies and credit card companies, identity theft is an inconvenience that you just write off. No big deal. To the victim, though, it's a horrible experience. I felt completely violated knowing that someone was walking around with my private information, pretending to be me, and doing their best to run up a huge tab to send my way.

Comment: Re:Very Serious (Score 2) 85

by Jason Levine (#49779269) Attached to: IRS: Personal Info of 100,000 Taxpayers Accessed Illegally

I've done some research on the topic, being a victim of identity theft myself. From what I understand, the person who steals the identity rarely uses the stolen identity. Instead, they sell it to someone else who then uses it. This way, the real thief gets some quick cash with less risk of getting caught - especially if it's an inside job. (e.g. Someone in HR at your company downloads your company's employee records to a USB drive and decides to make a little money on the side.) Meanwhile, the people using the stolen identities can run up a big tab on the stolen credit lines without needing to do any messy hacking of computer systems. It's a win-win for the criminals - and a lose-lose for the person whose identity was stolen.

Comment: Re:Automatic presumption of govt incompetence... (Score 2) 187

by Jason Levine (#49775569) Attached to: Charter Strikes $56B Deal For Time Warner Cable

I have one ISP choice also. In my case, Time Warner Cable. I've got to not only agree with your points, but expand on one of them. Cable ISPs not only offer Internet access but also offer TV/Video services. They want to push their video services and will often engage in various shady practices to promote their video services above alternatives (Internet Video, satellite, etc). For example, they might institute caps to prevent you from streaming "too much" (as defined by them). Overage fees might make streaming more expensive so you'll either flee back to your cable company for video or pay your cable company more money in overage fees. Package pricing can be manipulated to make Internet Only more expensive than Internet+TV (while TV alone isn't more than Internet+TV). Finally, as mentioned before, the ISP can fiddle with the traffic to slow down or otherwise degrade connections to video services like Netflix knowing that it will be easier for customers to switch to another video provider (*cough* cable TV *cough*) than it is to switch to another ISP - since there usually is no other one to switch to!

Would a government run ISP be perfect? Of course not. I'm open to any and all suggestions. However, something needs to be done because company-alone, minimal government regulation ISPs have clearly resulted in monopolistic ISPs willing to abuse customers to get more money.

Comment: Re:Math (Score 2) 234

by Jason Levine (#49752459) Attached to: Asteroid Risk Greatly Overestimated By Almost Everyone

An asteroid may kill a lot of people, but it will not cause global extinction. No asteroid strike has ever completely wiped out life on earth.

Just because it has never happened in the past doesn't mean it can't happen in the future. Granted, it would take a very large asteroid and it is highly unlikely, but it is possible.


By the time you get up to a mile-wide asteroid, you are working in the 1 million megaton range. This asteroid has the energy that's 10 million times greater than the bomb that fell on Hiroshima. It's able to flatten everything for 100 to 200 miles out from ground zero. In other words, if a mile-wide asteroid were to directly hit New York City, the force of the impact probably would completely flatten every single thing from Washington D.C. to Boston, and would cause extensive damage perhaps 1,000 miles out -- that's as far away as Chicago. The amount of dust and debris thrown up into the atmosphere would block out the sun and cause most living things on the planet to perish. If an asteroid that big were to land in the ocean, it would cause massive tidal waves hundreds of feet high that would completely scrub the coastlines in the vicinity.
In other words, if an asteroid strikes Earth, it will be a really, really bad day no matter how big it is. If the asteroid is a mile in diameter, it's likely to wipe out life on the planet. Let's hope that doesn't happen anytime soon!

It might not wipe out ALL life as some sea creatures might survive and some microbes would likely hang on, but a mile wide asteroid (especially a dense one) impacting at the right speed would wipe out nearly all life on Earth.

As far as detection goes, I agree that we should be looking out for them, but suppose we found one. Suppose tomorrow it was announced that scientists just spotted a one mile wide asteroid that will collide with the Earth in two months. (Let's put the impact zone at New York City just to add to the fun.) Could we do anything about it in that time? Of course, there would be panic as the entire northeast United States (and some of Canada) tried to relocate. Politicians would give long speeches (and perhaps some of the more anti-science politicians would try to block spending any money on the problem until "more data was gathered"). Even if the world rallied around the cause instantly and everyone didn't panic (HUGE ifs), do we have the technology to alter the course of a mile wide asteroid in 2 months?

Comment: Re:Alternatives (Score 1) 224

There is something similar to this with Amazon VOD, Google Play, and iTunes. You pay per episode of each show you want to watch or pay a discounted rate and get the entire season. It's more expensive than 25 cents per episode, though. On Amazon, episodes typically cost about $1.99 for SD versions or $1.89 for the entire season of SD versions. (Obviously, they cost more for the HD versions.)

Comment: Re:Alternatives (Score 2) 224

The content owners seem to treat Netflix as if it were just a baby step up from piracy, but in fact Netflix (and services like it) are the content owners' best weapon against piracy. Imagine if Netflix were given free reign to stream every TV show over a week old and every movie over a month old (from all content owners). Even if they raised their prices, Netflix would be quicker and easier to use than any pirating software out there. Sure, some people would still pirate, but those people would pirate no matter what. For the rest of the users, you would see a massive drop in piracy.

And yet, content owners keep content off of Netflix and plan on how best to kill off the service.

Comment: Re:So basically (Score 3) 827

by Jason Levine (#49737289) Attached to: Oregon Testing Pay-Per-Mile Driving Fee To Replace Gas Tax

"I'm sorry, but you can't drive on this road. You have a Nissan and Walmart Roadways has an exclusive agreement with Toyota. You need to be driving a Toyota to travel on this road. Don't worry, though, you can pay $5 per mile to go on the Walmart Service Road. Sure, it hasn't been repaved in years and it is only one lane with five lanes' worth of traffic, but there aren't any car brand restrictions!"

You cannot have a science without measurement. -- R. W. Hamming