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Comment: Look to the post office (Score 2) 105

by PhysicsPhil (#46978499) Attached to: FCC Chairman Will Reportedly Revise Broadband Proposal

We can look to the post office to see that neutrality does not limit a provider to one tier of service.

The standard post office service will get my letter across the country to another major urban centre in a few days for the price of a first class stamp. If I want to speed things up I can pay for expedited delivery to get it there tomorrow. It's increased service for an increased price but those tiers of service are still neutral. Anyone can walk in and get the same expedited service for the same price.

For me the important thing about net neutrality is not that all data is equal, it's that data is transmitted in a uniform and non-discriminatory fashion. Hello Netflix, looking for enhanced video service? Here's the pricing chart. No, we won't block your competitors, and they'll be paying exactly the same price as you.

Comment: 86.3%, not 97.7% (Score 1) 881

by PhysicsPhil (#41881477) Attached to: Nate Silver's Numbers Indicate Probable Obama Win, World Agrees
The article shows exactly why statistics are best left to the statisticians. As several posters have already noted, Nate Silver's prediction is 86.3%. It looks like the 97.7% number comes from running a variety of simulations that assume that state-by-state votes are independent random variables. Except they aren't--doing well in one state is likely correlated with doing well in a neighbouring state. There's a covariance term that will reduce the probability to Nate Silver's lower number.

Comment: There's a court order here... (Score 5, Informative) 205

by PhysicsPhil (#39173007) Attached to: Lawyers For Mining Companies Threaten Scientific Journals

It seems that this report is the subject of litigation, and there is a court order outstanding that says:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants immediately inform all recipients including journals (emphasis mine) of the above described study draft reports, not yet published, that they are prohibited from further distribution of said drafts until at least 90 days after Defendants have complied with this Order;

The "threatening" letter, which seems to be from the Plaintiffs in the action, informs the journal that the report is the subject of litigation, draws their attention to the court order, informs the journals that the Plaintiffs don't think the Defendant has yet complied with the court order and asks them to check with their legal counsel before publishing.

This isn't a standard "publish and we'll sue" letter, it's "publish and you risk contempt of court". It looks like an advisory letter rather than a direct threat.

Comment: What's good for the goose... (Score 4, Insightful) 380

by PhysicsPhil (#38718628) Attached to: The Iraq War, the Next War, and the Future of the Fat Man
The big question is what will happen when the shoe is on the other foot? When another country decides that one of our citizens is a threat, do they have the right to level their home with a drone or cruise missile? If the neighbours get wiped out in the process, are they just collateral damage?

Comment: Re:It never ceases to amaze me... (Score 1) 87

by PhysicsPhil (#37985644) Attached to: Spotted Horses May Have Roamed Europe 25,000 Years Ago

How fucking arrogant do you have to be to believe that they were just making up something like this instead of perhaps prizing the spotted horses as more aesthetically pleasing to their sensibilities?

If paintings are all the evidence you need, then surely you find the drawings, painting and written Biblical references to the unicorn even more compelling? How about the extensive and ancient Chinese descriptions of the dragon? Absent other evidence that the spotted horse actually existed, it isn't unreasonable to discount the pictures as fantasy.

Comment: Re:Licensing and Freedom (Score 2) 175

by PhysicsPhil (#34756818) Attached to: Saudi Arabia Requiring License For Online Media

You're comparing two different things.

Hunting/fishing/wood chopping requires a license because humans have proven themselves pretty adept at hunting/fishing/chopping things to extinction unless artificial controls are present. There's no equivalent problem with the creation and distribution of digital media.

Your fear of excessive regulation is not unreasonable, but the analogy with the protection of physical resources is.

Comment: Prioritization can work... (Score 2, Interesting) 390

by PhysicsPhil (#33435156) Attached to: AT&T Says Net Rules Must Allow 'Paid Prioritization'

The usual Slashdot response is that there is no way prioritization is compatible with net neutrality, but we only have to look at the post office to see that it can be done. You have the choice to send by standard mail, or to pay more to speed up delivery. I'll grant that it's not a perfect analogy, but there are models that would work.

My biggest concern would be that prioritization is done on an exclusive basis, i.e., a company pays to be the only one that can distribute sports on a high priority basis. We could imagine multiple tiers of bandwidth with a couple of conditions. Each tier must be available on uniform and nondiscriminatory terms, so that anyone can pay $X to deliver a megabyte on the highest tier. It's also important that the lowest tier doesn't get starved, which could be accomplished by requiring that no more than X megabytes are transmitted by high speed delivery before a megabyte is moved over the lower tier system.

As a community I think we have to look really hard at whether net neutrality is a battle that can genuinely be won. If it is, then we fight the good fight. If not, then I think we have to consider what kind of non-neutral network is most reasonable.

Comment: Re: And just who are these "officials"? (Score 1) 1088

by PhysicsPhil (#33217814) Attached to: Obama Wants Allies To Go After WikiLeaks

While the Taliban was undoubtedly a terrible organisation that harmed the nation of Afganistan I don't believe that we have the right to unilateraly invade and 'make' them change.

The Iraq was a farce, but the Afghanistan invasion was certainly reasonable under international law. The Taliban was a state government that supported and sponsored a terrorist attack on the United States. It was an act of war, and the United States responded in kind.

It's not unreasonable to have doubts about the execution of the war and the merits of staying--you'd be in good company--but the idea that the original invasion was somehow unilateral is bogus.

Comment: Re:IANAL but I think the school will lose (Score 1) 208

by PhysicsPhil (#32569700) Attached to: E-Reserves Under Fire From Publishers

They are basically acting like a publisher. Compare to Basic Books v. Kinko's

As the article points out, the fact that this is George State University adds an additional wrinkle. The university is a state institution, and the constitutional doctrine of state sovereign immunity protects states from prosecution under federal law; copyright is a federal statute.

Comment: Re:Water Filters? Hello? (Score 5, Interesting) 211

by PhysicsPhil (#30962090) Attached to: Fertilizer Dump Spoils Intel's Pure Water

I work in a semiconductor foundry, although not something on the scale of Intel. Foundries need ultrapure water not to get electrical insulation, but to remove contamination. Sodium, for example, acts as a mobile charge centre in silicon dioxide and changes the electrical properties of the devices.

Foundries use reverse osmosis filters (not distillation) to get their deionized water, where they push water at pressure through a semipermeable membrane (i.e. permeable to water, not contaminants). RO membranes can get destroyed by unexpected contaminants, and so usually there are prefilters in place to take care of them. Some years ago we lost a (very expensive) membrane when the prefilter was accidentally swapped out but not replaced. My guess is that the fertilizer in the water supply had something that the prefilters/RO membrane couldn't handle, or couldn't handle so much of. Either they lost the membrane or shut things down as a precaution.

Comment: Re:Not worried (Score 1) 720

by PhysicsPhil (#30052138) Attached to: Whistleblower Claims IEA Is Downplaying Peak Oil

Maybe I'm the exception, but gas is a very small part of my recurring bills.

Oil goes into a lot more than just your gas tank. It represents energy to do stuff--purify water, create medicines, run semiconductor foundries and produce plastics. Even simple stuff like chewing gum depends on oil--it's all processed petroleum.

Perhaps most importantly, though, oil/natural gas are crucial inputs for fertilizers. The green revolution that makes it possible to feed the planet works only because we can convert petroleum into fertilizers. Natural organic fertilizers (i.e., bull&*%#) just aren't enough for six billion people. When we run out of cheap oil, we're going to be in for a food crisis as well as a transportation crisis.

Comment: Re:Interesting point: This research is in China (Score 3, Insightful) 193

by PhysicsPhil (#29697855) Attached to: PhotoSketch Image Manipulation Tool Taking the World by Storm

Give the Chinese credit where it's due. Setting aside any arguments about how Americans don't value science and technology any more, to expect China not to produce good research is foolish. It is a large country that is putting resources into science and technology. Combined with the fact that stricter immigration laws make the United States a less desirable place for overseas students to study it's not a surprise. Based strictly on relative populations of China and America, we should be asking why the Chinese aren't producing even more groundbreaking work.

Americans forget that one of the main reasons they were the top dog in science and technology was because most of the world's population was doing subsistence farming. The kids of those farmers are now becoming scientists and engineers, and there is real competition now.

Comment: Not sure I see the point (Score 1) 317

by PhysicsPhil (#29608841) Attached to: New Bill Proposes Open Source Requirement for Publicly Funded Books
I'm a little unclear what qualifies textbooks this would actually impact. I can't think of any books that would be "educational materials produced using federal funds". The textbooks I had in university didn't contain any research material that would have been federally funded--how much new stuff is in a first year physics or calculus book? For that matter, even my senior E&M textbook didn't have anything particularly new. Does the government actually provide grants specifically targeted to providing educational materials? For my money, the big issue is access to *research* publications that were supported by federal tax dollars. Otherwise, I just can't find a good example where this would have a meaningful impact.

Comment: But we don't like monopolies... (Score 4, Interesting) 552

by PhysicsPhil (#29252391) Attached to: Where Have You Gone, Bell Labs?

It's interesting to note that most of the top-tier research facilities of the past were backed by monopoly or near-monopoly corporations. Bell Telephone speaks for itself, IBM Labs was supported by revenue of a dominating computer manufacturer, Sarnoff is the old lab facility of RCA, which for a time had sufficient clout to pretty much set the price of vacuum tubes. Xerox was the dominant photocopier supplier in an era of large growth. In today's world, Microsoft is one of the biggest spenders on research, and they have their own cash cow from a software monopoly.

One wonders if the ability to fund basic research depends on having a nearly monopolistic revenue stream. And if that's the case, are we prepared to suffer monopolies to get the research that comes with them?

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