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Comment: Never had one fail? (Score 1) 117

The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls

Right now on Slashdot, you can see the results of this blatant manipulation in the service of their sinister paymasters in the energy-saving lightbulb industry...

Comment: Re:It's a joke article (Score 1) 128

by RDW (#47447215) Attached to: How To Fix The Shortage of K-5 Scholastic Chess Facilitators

It's not a joke article or astroturfing. He's just using humorous examples of improbable technical solutions to the problem, when of course the real answer is to get more adults involved in helping the kids to learn chess (which is his real point). He's written elsewhere about a K12 chess tournament sponsored by his company:

Comment: Re:MIDI? (Score 1) 57

by RDW (#47313409) Attached to: Programming On a Piano Keyboard

You can send MIDI through USB if you have the drivers and your keyboard supports it, but pro keyboards will also have dedicated MIDI ports. The idea is to transmit which keys are played (with timing and velocities, etc.) to a virtual instrument on the connected computer. When set up this way, your keyboard's built-in sounds aren't used. This arrangement gives you access to a huge range of sophisticated virtual instruments, light years away from the unconvincing beeps you probably heard in the 90s. There are single instrument libraries (e.g. from a specific grand piano) with well over 100Gb of samples.

Comment: Re:Anybody please! (Score 1) 270

by RDW (#47211457) Attached to: Firefox 30 Available, Firebug 2.0 Released

You linked to the list of bugs *fixed* in 3.6

In the first link, the relevant text is the first bit ("Firefox 3.6 is no longer supported and is affected by vulnerabilities fixed in newer versions of the program"). In the second link, many vulnerabilities fixed in subsequent versions are listed. I suspect neither of us knows exactly how many of these already existed in 3.6, which is sort of the point - it's no longer audited or supported. Why risk using a vulnerable browser when it's perfectly possible to make Firefox 30 behave like Firefox 1, using Classic Theme Restorer and a bit of tinkering with 'Customise' and about:config? It took me about a minute to get 30 working the way I wanted (by moving the navigation buttons), since most of the customisation I'd done for earlier versions carried through. Only the previous upgrade to 29 took longer than this (basically the time it took to discover, install and configure CTR). Most of the earlier updates have required no changes to retain my preferred UI. It's irritating that the Mozilla devs insist on foisting a Chrome-style UI on us, but it's so easy to fix this (when necessary) it's only a minor annoyance.

Comment: Re:Who Cares? (Score 1) 354

by RDW (#47157435) Attached to: 3D Printed Gun Maker Cody Wilson Defends Open Source Freedom

Should DNA sequencers contain hashes of the DNA of virulent organisms so they can call the NSA/CIA/SAS/UN/boy scouts when they are being used for possible bioweapon related work? (Hopefully they don't rain hellfires on the CDC.)

Some people have indeed suggested that both DNA synthesizers (which write the sequence) and DNA sequencers (which read it) should have such safeguards:

At least some companies that synthesize custom DNA commercially already have pathogen sequence screening in place, but this doesn't seem to be universal or necessarily effective. A few years ago The Guardian had a (small, defective) fragment of the smallpox virus genome synthesized without setting off any alarms, and wrote a rather hyped-up article about it:

Practically, this sort of thing is always going to be hard to police, much like the situation with 3D weapon printing - e.g., a terrorist could always use older technology that lacks the safeguards. On the other hand, assembling a dangerous microorganism from the genome up is hardly the most cost-effective way of causing mayhem - you'd need a proper, well-equipped lab and a terrorist cell of trained scientists to carry out your evil schemes.

Comment: Re:Spreadsheets destroy data (Score 1) 422

by RDW (#47106627) Attached to: Why You Shouldn't Use Spreadsheets For Important Work

Spreadsheets tend to mess with strings that look somewhat like a date, it will automatically convert it to a date when it sees things like that. You need to be really careful about spreadsheets automatically reformatting your data, make sure you properly indicate whether a field is Text or not.

e.g. the infamous 'Excel genes', when a gene name like SEPT1 is silently converted to numerical date format:

Excel makes it far too easy for this to happen (just opening and saving a .csv file with Excel will silently corrupt it instead of invoking the data import wizard that would give you a chance to set data types per column - a great design decision!), and it's hard to spot corrupted cells if you have a list of hundreds or thousands of genes. Some of these have made their way into major online genetic databases:

Excel in bioimformatics? - just say no, kids.

Comment: Pre-emptive strike (Score 1) 97

by RDW (#47044721) Attached to: Curiosity Rover May Have Brought Dozens of Microbes To Mars
'In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stood upon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A mighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it, huge mounds of material and strange shelter places. And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians--dead!--slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things--taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many--those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance--our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.'

Well, at least this has saved us from the Heat Ray, the Black Smoke and the Red Weed. The Martians should have invaded back in 1897 when they had a chance.

Comment: Re:Headlines! (Score 1) 74

by RDW (#47022533) Attached to: Measles Virus Puts Woman's Cancer Into Remission

Why can't the headline start with "ENGINEERED Measles Virus [...]". Be accurate.

The engineering was incidental to the success of the treatment in these particular cases. The 'oncolytic' virus, already adapted to preferentially infect tumour cells just by growing it in tumour cell cultures, has indeed been engineered to express a protein that mediates iodine uptake into infected cells, but in the current study this was only used for tracing the infection with radioactive iodine. The tumour cells were killed by normal viral mechanisms. However, using a higher dose of radioactive iodine, they will in future also be able to target the infected cells with therapeutic levels of the radioisotope in much the same way that thyroid cancers are treated (thyroid cells naturally express the same protein).

Comment: Re:Measles? (Score 2) 74

by RDW (#47022401) Attached to: Measles Virus Puts Woman's Cancer Into Remission

Why the fuck would you engineer a virus from a virus that everyone has been immunized for? Which genius thought that was a good idea? Why not use a virus that the immune system has difficulty fighting off and won't be purged? Herpes perhaps?

(a) They selected patients for treatment who already had low levels of measles antibodies. (b) This is only one of a range of oncolytic viruses (including herpes visues) being investigated. (c) The virus could be further engineered so that antibodies to vaccine or wild type strains do not bind it. (d) Other strategies could be used to hide the virus from the immune system, including the use of 'carrier cells'.

Comment: Long term solution? (Score 1) 281

Who is going to maintain this after you leave? Are you making a firm commitment to provide maintenance in the long term? If so, your off-site VPS solution with a web front end may be appropriate. If not, and there is no local IT expertise at the charity, something self-contained that needs only a single consumer software package to work (Access, Libreoffice Base, even an Excel or Calc workbook) has a better chance of remaining useful when you're gone. Since this is personal data, have you considered how the local law may affect how the data must be stored, secured and accessed? e.g:

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein