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Comment Re:it's not a story about blood (Score 4, Interesting) 66

And that so many people who are purportedly expert at evaluating technology got collectively duped/brainwashed into believing a whole bunch of fluff based on no more than a TED talk-level technology pitch.

I am frequently amazed at how willing VCs tend to be to provide money while at the same time being unwilling to express skepticism, even to themselves, about the claims of some of the companies they fund.

Some time ago, after a particular VC firm had dumped $40m into a "security" (for which read "snake-oil") company, the company suits happened to make a closed-door presentation which, unknown to them, a handful of people with practical security expertise had been invited to attend. A VC representative was also in attendance, although he did not speak. When we recommended, after the talk, that the listeners have nothing further to do with the company product, the VC representative sought one of us out (it happened to be me) and the end result was that I spent a day at the company facility, towards the end of which I had a short meeting with the VC representative and explained at an intelligent layman's level why the product could never work. The money pipe closed that day. But I remain puzzled as to how $40m could have been dumped into a scheme that was so obviously flawed.

Comment Re:I have clung to my DVD subscription (Score 2) 294

Because that gives me access on Netflix to every movie ever made

Huh? On my "saved" queue I have dozens of movies that Netflix marks "unavailable" and can't actually ship, but using some warped logic the company seems to think that they still carry them. And there are dozens more that I want to put on my queue that Netflix doesn't even pretend to carry. And all of these DVDs are available for purchase on Amazon (and, I suppose, available via torrents).

With each of their mis-steps I get closer and closer to dumping Netflix and going back to buying movies.

The Netflix management never seems to have understood what has made them successful. As soon as they started producing "original content", I thought, "What is this? If they have the money to create a series, then why aren't they spending it enhancing their core business and making more movies available to their subscribers?" I've stopped wondering that, because I now realise that, amazingly, Netflix management simply doesn't get it. I think we are watching, in painful slow-motion, the early stages of what promises to be a long, drawn-out death if they don't come to their senses.

Comment Re:Is quantum mechanics a theory? (Score 4, Interesting) 214

Even most physicists don't understand Feynman's point that QM is called "mechanics" for a reason: it's a set of mechanical rules for getting the right answer. It tells you nothing about how the universe operates behind the scenes so as to produce the same answer as QM. Feynman's little easy-to-understand book on QED should be read by everyone who thinks that QM is more than a tool for performing calculations. (And read Tegmark's book for an example of what happens when an intelligent person reads meaning into QM.)

Regarding the actual article: at first sight, this looks like a great experimental verification of something that no one (as far as I know) doubted; but it's always good to confirm another prediction of QM that appears bizarre to us.

Comment Re:Too bad to see them go this way... (Score 1) 167

Yes; as you say, in the 2002--2004 timeframe they were great. My experience was that it all started to fall apart when 64-bit machines came along. For a year or more Mandrake's 64-bit repositories were full of broken packages that simply would not install. I kept with them as long as I could, through the change to Mandriva, but nothing seemed to improve very much so I eventually switched the up-and-coming shininess that was *buntu. Which was great for a few years, before their quality control went the same way as Mandrake's had done :-(

Comment Re:One less cellphone shop I guess (Score 3, Informative) 294

I stopped shopping there long ago because they stopped stocking anything useful. I don't need a cellphone from them, I needed parts, which they no longer carry.

Some stores no longer carry parts, and some carry a reduced inventory. But some stores still carry a decent supply of components ans similar small, useful items. We have two Radio Shack stores in the closest city; one is essentially useless and simply directs me to the other store (but I frequently try it anyway, since it's the closer of the two). The other one isn't half bad, and almost always has what I need. I shall certainly miss it if it goes away.

Comment Re:I still don't see what's wrong with X (Score 4, Interesting) 226

Seriously, what's so broken about X? Is it just a pain in the ass for developers to work with?

I taught myself X from scratch last year. I didn't find it hard at all. In fact, I found it a whole lot easier than either of the fancy modern GUI toolkits that I looked at first and tried to use to implement the project I was working on.

Out of desperation born of lack of progress over an extended period, I thought I'd take a look at X. And suddenly it became easy to get the interface to behave *exactly* the way I wanted instead in somebody else's idea of what I should want.

And the documentation was complete, correct, and easy to follow. I didn't have to keep asking people for help (often, with no resolution). In a word, both the documentation and the code for X are mature. Which I submit beats bleeding edge every time if you're trying to build something robust.

Comment Magic (Score 2) 370

I've been using ZFS on Linux for about a year. I can summarise my position on the experience with two words: it's magic.

It is still tricky to run one's root system off ZFS (at least on Debian). That, I think, is for those who are brave and have to time to deal with issues that might arise following updates. But for non-root filesystems, ZFS is, as I said, magic. It's fast, reliable, caches intelligently, adaptable to a large variety of mirror/striping/RAID configurations, snapshots with incredible efficiency, and simply works as advertised.

Someone once (before the port to other OSes) said that ZFS was Solaris' "killer app". Having used it in production for a year, I can understand why they said that.

Comment Fixed what seem like fundamental GUI bugs? (Score 3, Interesting) 108

Can someone who has tried this tell me whether two particular bugs that were present throughout the life of Plasma 4 have been fixed (OK, you may not think these are bugs, but I sure do: I can't imagine how they were ever allowed to persist, since to me they seem to violate pretty basic requirements of GUI behaviour):

1. If one has a menu present (for example, by pressing the K-Menu button), does an incoming notification still cause the menu to disappear, so you get the delightfully random experience of clicking on whatever happened to be under the item you were about to click on?

2. Can a single misbehaving plasmoid still cause the entire desktop to freeze? (This typically happens to me if the network connectivity is lost: poorly-written plasmoids that need network access can block and cause everything -- not just the plasmoid in question -- to freeze.)

Comment Re:It's not the infringement that's the issue (Score 5, Insightful) 59

it's the patents that are bogus. Judges need to invalidate more patents, they need to invalidate all software patents.

Putting aside the entire issue of software patents, the legal standards for invalidating a patent are rather high. I have seen many patents which we would all likely agree should be invalidated either for obviousness or because there's prior art; but actually meeting the necessary criteria to prove that conclusively to a judge or jury would have been impossible.

It has evolved this way because of the built-in assumption that the Patent Office does its job correctly, and therefore patents are assumed by courts to be valid and there is a fairly heavy burden imposed to prove otherwise. If the assumption is valid, then this isn't an obviously-bad system; but if it isn't valid, then it quickly becomes an expensive, frustrating situation for defendants.

Comment Re:Been reading ebooks since the 90's (Score 2) 212

Now, as to what an actually reasonable price is for an ebook... that's an interesting question (and of course there's no one solid answer, because different types of book will command different prices). For your typical mass-market fiction novel of ~300-400 pages, the kind of thing that would be maybe $8 as a paperback at a bookstore, something around $3-$5

Yes, I price the e-book versions of my books between $3 and $4 for essentially that reason. I do feel guilty that the various e-book "standards" don't allow for anything remotely resembling decent typesetting, so people who read my books on electronic devices are having a definitely less-than-optimal experience. On the other hand, I go to great lengths to ensure that one doesn't see (as I have seen with e-books from big publishing houses) howlers such as the word "you" presented as "y-" "ou".

I believe that the way e-books *should* have been done is to compile TeX on the fly. That way gorgeous output could have been presented on all devices. Frankly, I wouldn't take e-books seriously at all were it not for the undeniable fact that these days the bulk of my sales occur in that medium. I think my view of e-books is decidedly colored by how poor they have turned out to be (as a reading experience) compared to what they could have been.

If anyone cares, I am:

Comment Re:Getting the rates (Score 2) 434

Yes, I find that more than half the time I am charged the tax rate for the city in which the post office that serves my address is located; which is about triple the tax rate that actually applies at my address. I put this down to the use of some database somewhere that uses 5-digit ZIP codes instead of 9-digit ones to determine the tax rate.

And the vast majority of the companies that overcharge me in this way simply ignore requests to fix the problem. I vote with my dollars, and tell them that I'm doing so, but none of these companies (i.e., the ones who don't immediately respond and correct the tax on the order) has ever cared enough to fix the problem even after my complaint.

I have to wonder if it's even legal for a company to charge me tax that I shouldn't be charged. What do they do with the money? One assumes they send it to the city in question, but in any case the whole system seems remarkably free of any checks or chances to correct errors.


Comment Great Interviewer (Score 4, Informative) 130

I had the honour to meet Sir Patrick (then merely Patrick) in August 1989, and to be interviewed by him for the edition of "The Sky at Night" dedicated to the Voyager 2 encounter with Neptune (; for anyone that cares, my interview is about 10 minutes into the video). He always insisted that he was merely an "amateur astronomer", but I was impressed by his abilities as a scientific TV journalist: he knew exactly the right questions to ask to make a rather abstruse subject (radio emissions from Neptune) interesting to a non-scientific audience.

I count myself amongst the many who devoured some of his semi-infinite number of books on astronomy as a child, and who then made a career of the subject. A great example of someone without formal training who nevertheless made a great contribution by making a sometimes-difficult subject accessible to the general public. Would that even a fraction of professional astronomers were half as enthusiastic as he was.

Comment Re:Magic (Score 5, Informative) 155

Bearing in mind that it's generally an error to try to summarise anything about quantum mechanics in a paragraph or two:

Actually, it's the equivalent of finding socks in the dark. If two photons are produced by an interaction of spin zero then the two photons will have spin up and spin down, although you can't know which is which without measuring one. .

I'm sorry,. but the way you write that makes it seem that they have spin up and spin down, and then you measure them to find out which is which. If that's indeed what you meant, I'm afraid that's fundamentally incorrect.

The whole point about the weirdness of quantum entanglement is that the quanta are NOT in a state where one is up and one is down prior to the measurement. Only when you make the measurement does this happen. Prior to the measurement, quantum mechanics says that they are both in a state that is BOTH up and down at the same time.

In other words, quanta are not like socks. We can be reasonably sure that socks' measurable properties are fixed before we actually look at them. Not so with quanta.

You can think of this in this way: when you make a measurement on one of the quanta, it flips a coin that tells it whether to be up or down. Its twin quantum is then bound to give the opposite result. But prior to the coin toss, neither quantum knows how it will respond to a measurement. The most that can be said is that whatever the result of measuring one, the other will give the opposite result.

Comment In some areas, its design seems wrong-headed (Score 3, Informative) 818

the desktop today is fully-functional and polished

I'm sorry, but I cannot regard as "fully-functional and polished" any desktop environment in which menus disappear just as I am about to click on them just because the desktop has received a notification. When KDE4 receives a notification it doesn't simply display the notification message, it also causes certain classes of other windows to be removed... and this includes the "K" menu. Several times a week that menu disappears as I am about to select an item, and I end up clicking on whatever was underneath the item just because I can't react quickly enough to the sudden removal of the menu.

I have other gripes with KDE4, but they pale into insignificance compared to what is, to me, the bizarre notion that it's ever acceptable for menus simply to disappear. Obviously, the developers must disagree with me, but I honestly can't imagine why they think this is reasonable behaviour.

Mostly my other gripes are along the lines of "feature X that was in KDE3 is either absent or poorly implemented in KDE4". Many things in KDE4 are better than they were in KDE3 (which I admit I often tend to forget), but the fact remains that when I switch back to the machine on which I keep KDE3, I always find myself somehow feeling more relaxed and in control.

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