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Comment: Re:Direction (Score 4, Informative) 180

by ScottForbes (#37435844) Attached to: Stunning Time Lapse of the Earth From the ISS

This page shows the orbit of the ISS. I believe what we're seeing is:

0:00 - Seattle / Vancouver as a dot on the horizon at left.
0:05 - Left to right: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco.
0:12 - ISS passes over land slightly north of San Francisco, moving toward Las Vegas; Los Angeles and San Diego on the right.
0:16 - ISS passes almost directly over Las Vegas (bottom center).
0:18 - ISS passes almost directly over Phoenix. Gulf of California on the right; Dallas and Houston on the horizon at far left.
0:28 - Mexico City. Gulf of Mexico on the left, Pacific Ocean on the right.
0:34 - Central American coast flyby, complete with tropical storms.
0:43 - South American coast flyby: Colombia, then Ecuador, then Peru.
0:51 - Lima, Peru.
0:55 - Border between Peru and Chile. The station's orbit begins to curve inland (eastward).
0:58 - Valparaiso and Santiago on the horizon at right (behind the solar panels after 0:59).
0:59 - Buenos Aires, Argentina is just appearing on the horizon (top center) as the video ends.

So I don't think Antarctica is ever visible - the station's orbit starts to turn eastward before that happens.

Comment: Re:it's not a bad idea, and it's not costly (Score 1) 344

by ScottForbes (#32748150) Attached to: UK Police Threaten Teenage Photojournalist

You have a right to be rude, the police officer has a right to issue you with a ticket.

A subtle distinction, but an important one: A police officer does not have the right to issue a ticket -- he/she has the power to issue a ticket. Rights belong to the people, who grant powers to the government.

The police are not super-citizens who have extra bonus rights -- they are, rather, people who've been entrusted with certain powers and are expected to use them responsibly. And I think it's safe to question whether the officers in this video are keeping their end of the bargain.

Comment: Re:I'm conflicted (Score 1) 980

by ScottForbes (#31833988) Attached to: Will Adobe Sue Apple Over Flash?

If we're talking about the iPhone/iPad market, then Apple does indeed have a "monopoly".

By these definitions of "market" and "monopoly", every manufacturer has a monopoly on every product they sell: Nintendo has a monopoly in the Wii market, Ford has a monopoly in the Taurus market, and so on.

A more useful distinction (and one that fits closer to the legal definition of monopoly) is that Apple has 99.4% of the market for smartphone application sales... and they're taking steps to ensure those apps will only run on Apple devices.

Of course, it's unlikely that Apple will have such a dominating market share by the end of 2010: Apple's "app store" business model caught the entire smartphone industry flat-footed, but they're all racing to catch up now. The Android Store and the Windows Mobile Media Smartphone Zune Seven Series Platinum Edition KIN Store are gearing up and trying to attract developers -- and, clearly, it's in Apple's corporate best interests right now to make it as difficult as possible to write cross-platform apps.

I don't know, however, that Apple is crossing the line into abuse of monopoly power. Apple can make a plausible argument that what they're doing is no different than a Nintendo approving Wii console games, and that their actions are in the best interest of consumers whose batteries would be drained by bloated cross-platform runtimes. It's certainly in Apple's best interest that developers write for the iPhone / iPad first, and then port to Android or Windows Mobile Zune KIN Bob Smartphone Seven Mobile as necessary; whether it's an abuse of monopoly power to insist on that approach is probably something that Adobe and Apple will litigate.

Comment: Re:Seems kind of one sided (Score 2, Interesting) 479

by ScottForbes (#31407708) Attached to: Gas Wants To Kill the Wind

Pickens has shelved his plans to build a massive wind farm in Texas due to - as an upthread post noted - a lack of electricity-transmission lines.

Of course, there weren't any high-voltage transmission lines near Hoover Dam when they built that, so this is sort of a spurious argument: If your plan for building a wind farm didn't include connecting it to the grid in some useful way, then your plan was incomplete.

Comment: Re:Buzzwords! Buzzwords! Buzzosphere! (Score 2, Interesting) 185

by ScottForbes (#30502872) Attached to: Making Sense of the Cellphone Landscape

Not really. Apple's relationship with the music industry (and, to a large extent, their handling of iPhone apps) is more like Volvo's relationship to the petroleum industry... if the entire petroleum industry had failed, in spectacular fashion, to come up with a workable means of delivering gasoline to consumers, had spent half a decade suing anyone who tried to deliver gasoline to consumers, and then Volvo had stepped in and opened the Volvo Gas Store. Apple started selling music online because the RIAA wouldn't, not because they wanted to compete with music retailers - although it certainly didn't hurt that the music industry morons accidentally gave Apple enough pricing power to made 99-cent tracks the new sales model.

In other words, Apple is in the business of selling hardware; the music is just a commodity to them, and their only purpose in selling it is to drive more sales of Apple hardware. On the internet bandwidth is already a pure commodity, and Apple's music store is no danger of fading into oblivion: If anything the opposite is true and Apple is dominating online music sales, again thanks to the music industry morons who gave Apple an insurmountable lead (and made the even dumber mistake of allowing DRM that locked the music to the Apple hardware, but that's another story).

It's also telling that iPhone apps quickly raced to the bottom of the pricing scale: If a 99-cent app delivers more than a dollar's worth of value to the customer, then the app has effectively added value to the phone, and Apple pockets the difference in increased hardware sales. If AT&T Wireless became a pure-bandwidth provider, the only thing Apple would do is to stop turning away apps AT&T doesn't like - Skype, Google Voice, Slingbox, etc. - and let those apps add value to the phone as well.

The only thing that might endanger Apple's walled-garden approach to selling iPhone apps would be a competitor with a wide-open app store that attracted more developers, led to more interesting apps, and threatened to reduce the value that third-party apps currently deliver to the iPhone. The Nexus One is a signal that Google wants to go there (and, in passing, that Verizon and other carriers will fight tooth and nail to prevent opening their networks), but the most likely outcome here is pressure on Apple to make their app rejection policies more transparent and developer-friendly.

So I don't think there's a scenario where Apple's music and app stores fade into oblivion, even if wireless bandwidth becomes a commodity - again, bandwidth is already a commodity on the wired internet, and both the music store and the iPod Touch are thriving.

Comment: Re:Umm, what? (Score 2, Insightful) 158

by ScottForbes (#30011028) Attached to: AT&T's City-By-City Plan To Up Wireless Coverage

Honestly, they just need to provision 100% of what users are paying for; and figure out the growth rate and provision accordingly.

...and there'd only be 50 cell phones per city, because no one else could afford one. (Back when AT&T was a monopoly, this was actually the business model: Cell phones were planned as a high-end luxury item found only in limousines and such.) For guaranteed 100% availability of "what users are paying for," every cell site in the network would have to have one radio channel per customer... and that channel would sit idle and unused 99.9% of the time, but it still has to be there, ready and waiting, in case all 50 customers are stuck in the same traffic jam.

To borrow a downthread commenter's analogy, this is the difference between paying for 1.5Mbps DSL and running a full-bore T-1 line to your house: One of these things costs 5x more than the other, and if we insist that ISPs build to that capacity level then most of today's customers will be priced out of the market.

Not that AT&T couldn't have done a better job of growing their capacity, but they really do have a tiger by the tail here: The iPhone is hammering their data network like nothing before or since. Even if they had accurately forecasted the iPhone's impact, they wouldn't have been able to build enough capacity in time.

Comment: Re:The Grotesquely Ugly Truth (Score 1) 232

by ScottForbes (#28497805) Attached to: The Internet Helps Iran Silence Activists

In the absence of an external interfering force (e. g., the army of the Soviet Union), the fate of a nation is determined by its people. Period.

Um, no. This is a neocon fallacy - the belief that stable democracies are the default form of government, and that if we just go in and remove Saddam / the Taliban / the Red Army's influence, a representative government will spontaneously form. This led to disaster when the true believers charged into Iraq without even a plan for post-war administration and reconstruction -- the neocons truly believed we'd topple Saddam, grateful Iraqis would form a democracy, and the troops would be home in six months.

History says otherwise, though. The successful formation of a representative government is highly dependent on the starting conditions; trying to build a democracy without first laying the foundation of property rights, the rule of law, a government monopoly on the use of force, and other preconditions, usually leads to disappointing results.

The good news is that Iran comes closer than many countries to meeting these preconditions, and has the stabilizing factor of an educated middle class - if the reformers in Iran can excise the theocratic elements of their society, without extinguishing the rule of law or otherwise damaging the foundations, they can probably establish a democratic form of government much more easily than the people of, say, Iraq or Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.

The Iranians bear 100% of the blame for the existence of a tyrannical government in Iran.

...and history began in 1953. The U.S. and U.K. helpfully converted Iran into a dictatorship back in '53, because the democratically elected prime minister had decided the people of Iran should share in the oil wealth; that didn't go over well with the Western oil companies and their lucrative one-sided contracts, so we installed the Shah and negotiated a deal with him instead.

Needless to say, anti-American and anti-Western sentiments were well represented in the coalition that ousted the Shah in '79 -- and Islamic theocracy was the banner they united behind, because Iran's earlier democracy had been too fragile to stand up to Western business interests.

Comment: Re:Chemistry (Score 5, Interesting) 803

by ScottForbes (#28242643) Attached to: How Do You Greet an Extraterrestrial?

Chemistry would work the best since there are so many obvious constants.

Rather than spoil the ending of the classic sci-fi short story Omnilingual by H. Beam Piper, I'll just post a link - it's a short read, like the label says. (A team of explorers on Mars find a dead civilization, complete with an utterly untranslatable library of books....)

C for yourself.

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