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Comment: Hue is not an advancement (Score 1) 116

by Whatever Fits (#45803101) Attached to: Winners and Losers In the World of Interfaces: 2013 In Review

So, the Philips Hue is not an advancement in UX as it takes such a deeply ingrained idiomatic interface as the light switch and makes it more complex, adding another layer of control. Flip the switch and nothing happens. Oh, it was already on? Flip it again, grab the phone, adjust the light. Not what I call an improvement. Yes, it can change colors. Wow! So can a whole host of other technologies. Is it $5 per bulb or less? If not, then I don't want it. I have 27 bulbs within my current view in my small apartment. Does it work with my existing switches? All my lights already have switches on the walls. The starter kit is $200 for three bulbs. Sorry, I don't see that as any major UX improvement.

Comment: Re:NRA sedition (Score 1) 573

by Whatever Fits (#43648391) Attached to: "Terrorist" Lyrics Land High Schooler In Jail

And the Declaration of Independence said what?

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

So, by repeating what was stated in our Declaration of Independence, you are demonizing the NRA and stating they are a seditious group. No, they are merely stating that we, as U.S. Citizens, have the right and obligation to keep our government in check. Nothing new to see here, move along.

Comment: Segway and suburbia (Score 1) 533

by Whatever Fits (#43623941) Attached to: Is Google Glass Too Nerdy For the Mainstream?

In my city (Sacramento), most of the people driving come in from the suburbs. So, to use a Segway, these people would have to drive downtown (30+ minutes in a car, an eternity on a Segway) then park and pull a Segway out of their car to go where? Their office? Then they have to park a Segway? Really, that's just stupid. It isn't because they are dorky, it is because they are completely an inconvenience. They are great for tourists or specialty applications but horrible for general public. People who live downtown ride their bikes or walk, never a Segway. Google Glass has applications for the general public even if they are dorky. Making the transition from Glass to Sans Glass is as simple as shoving them into a pocket. Comparing these to a Segway is idiotic at best. Comparing to Bluetooth earpieces is more appropriate. Dorky, but functional and so ubiquitous that nobody cares any longer about how dorky they look.

Comment: LinuxMCE (Score 1) 281

by Whatever Fits (#39553361) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Shortcuts To a High Tech House

Check out www.linuxmce.org for how to do this exact thing. I use Z-Wave lighting controllers (not cheap but not too expensive either) combined with computers hooked up to my TVs and an Android app on my tablet allow me to control my home theater, lights, stream movies, music, and everything else that one might possibly think of wanting. One nice thing is that you can put together all these pieces one at a time so it isn't a $50k hit up front to automate everything. If you invest a few hundred in lighting controls then you can do all your lights in all your main areas. Add in some motion detectors and have fully automatic lights. Add a cheap computer for a media station and on and on...

Comment: It's simpler than that.... (Score 5, Informative) 149

by John Murdoch (#39113321) Attached to: Aging Eyes Blamed For Seniors' Health Woes

I had cataract surgery in my left eye (which is the dominant eye) four years ago, at age 49. I had cataract surgery in the right eye 18 months later.

Simply put--as your eyes cloud over, your brain has to work substantially harder to compensate. Your brain has to decipher blurred vision, compensate for the "halo" effect cataracts give you around bright lights (the reason why older people don't drive at night is the halo effect of oncoming headlights--completely blinding them).

All of that changes with cataract surgery--you don't just see better. (And you see MUCH better--if you wore corrective lenses beforehand they implant a custom-fit lens that corrects your vision to 20/20 or better.) All of the "clock cycles" that your brain was devoting to countering the effects of cataracts (even things like keeping your balance) are all of a sudden freed up. The change is dramatic--it really is life-transforming.

My mother-in-law is 90--she had cataract surgery last fall. Last summer, before the surgery, her daughters were wondering about "what are we going to do about Mom"--at the time I suggested that they wait till after the cataract surgery; I was sure it would have a big impact. Boy, did it--my mother-in-law is active, alert, far more capable, and busy with plans for an expanded vegetable garden this summer.

Until you go through the experience, you can't really understand how much effort your brain puts into interpreting what you see. The impact of cataract surgery is unbelievable.

Comment: Re:Why care? (Score 4, Informative) 346

by John Murdoch (#33388810) Attached to: Legal Threat Demands Techdirt Shut Down

The overwhelming majority of lawsuits never go to trial. But the cost of simply responding to a lawsuit can be staggering. Prior to the enactment of the SPEECH Act, the owners of TechDirt could ignore Jeffrey Morris and his U.K. attorney, and not respond to their lawsuit. However, were Morris to actually file suit in a U.K. court, and TechDirt did not respond, the court would more or less automatically find for the plaintiff by "default judgment."

You got that part--the question you're asking is, "so what?"

Read the letter from the lawyer at the TechDirt article: Addlestone (the lawyer) makes plain that he will litigate in the U.K., win a judgment--and then promises to pursue "relief" in the U.S. courts. That's the threat.

Once they win in the U.K., they can file suit in the U.S. to collect on a judgment issued by a court in the U.K. Before the SPEECH Act, a U.S. court would, at the least, hold a hearing to determine whether the suit has merit. That--by itself--would involve major legal fees. Large enough fees that TechDirt would probably be wiser to offer a settlement, paying Morris (and his attorney) cash to go away.

The SPEECH Act changes that: Morris and his attorney can go into court in the U.K., get a judgment, and bring their judgment to the U.S. Where a judge will simply throw them out of court--potentially awarding attorney's fees to TechDirt.

Comment: Think critically--and READ critically (Score 3, Insightful) 1238

by John Murdoch (#32231470) Attached to: Texas Schools Board Rewriting US History

In addition to encouraging you to RTFA, let me strongly encourage you to consider the political position consistently advocated by the paper that published the FA. The Guardian makes no pretense at all of being balanced, centrist, unbiased, or apolitical. This is the British newspaper (and web site) that developed a web site with the names and addresses of registered voters in Ohio, and encouraged their readers to write to them to exhort them to vote for John Kerry rather than George Bush. (Bush won Ohio by a handful of votes--which Ohio politicos attributed to the furious backlash the Guardian created, but that's another story.)

In other words, the Guardian article is an advocacy piece meant to alarm, rather than enlighten. If you're a Brit, this will come as no surprise--if you're as Internet-savvy as a SlashDot reader should be, you shouldn't be surprised, either.

The sun will come up tomorrow, even in Texas...
Despite the panicked anxiety of the writer (and the New York Times, here), it's not terribly controversial to emphasize the strong Christian views of many of America's founders. Which is not to say that America's Constitution is a statement of Christian faith--which is often how this argument is misconstrued. (A standard freshman year American History exam question is to compare and contrast the Christian and Deist views expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.) But it is interesting to know that in most U.S. states you had to be a professing Christian in order to run for political office--it provides a perspective on our First Amendment that is all-too-often missing when discussing what the "separation of church and state" means. (What it meant, then, was that no state could "establish" a church--in the way that the Church of England is established in the U.K., or the Lutheran Church is established in Denmark. They're supported by taxes, their leadership is appointed by government, etc.--they are state religions. Jefferson wrote about a "vast wall separating church and state" to reassure Baptists in New England that they would not face oppression by Congregationalists.).

Isaac Newton vs. military technology:
Well gosh--I can see the insidious hand of Sarah Palin here, too. Or...perhaps, it might be worthwhile to consider that the intentional pursuit of military technology as a means of achieving battlefield superiority has been a hallmark of U.S. strategy since the Civil War. Especially in Texas, home to Ft. Hood, Ft. Sam Houston, Lackland AFB, and most U.S. Air Force pilot training. To me (who majored in Economics and American History) that sounds like a pretty perceptive point to make. I'd include Isaac Newton, too--but presumably they decided something had to give. Oh, well.

Guns
TFA breathlessly tells Brit readers that:

The new curriculum asserts that "the right to keep and bear arms" is an important element of a democratic society.

One can understand that this would so shock a Brit that he might drop his second or third pint of Guinness Stout that he'd swilled that day. Which is to say, what a Brit might find commonplace (down two or three pints of Guinness Stout in the U.S. and you're a de facto alcoholic) in the U.S. is seen as entirely normative. Again--given that the entire point of the Second Amendment was a direct reaction to the abuses of British occupation forces prior to American independence--this is a pretty welcome emphasis on the impact of early American history on our constitution and present-day policy. Not to mention, of course, that in Texas even self-avowed liberals emphasize their support for "Second Amendment Rights".

Think critically--read critically
I'm far less bothered by this article (it's the Guardian, for heaven's sake, what would you expect?) than I am by the fact that SlashDot's editors included it. If they had read this with any perception of the source, or any sense of critical examination of what the writer was saying, they would have concluded that TFA failed the "news for nerds, stuff that matters" test. TFA simply doesn't matter--it's red-meat propaganda for a Brit paper that still proudly waves a red flag.

Comment: This is a settled Constitutional issue... (Score 2, Interesting) 272

by John Murdoch (#31910170) Attached to: Amazon Fights For Privacy of Customer Records

This is pretty simple. North Carolina is bluffing, hoping that Amazon will not take this to the federal appellate courts.

There is longstanding legal precedent banning government authorities from requiring bookstores or libraries to disclose information about a customer's interests. This has been litigated repeatedly, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court; the rulings have subsequently been applied to videotape/CD rentals as well. There is related case law pertaining to the subscription lists of magazines and newspapers--but that's a slightly different subject.

Brief synopsis of legal history:
A brief synopsis of bookstore and library privacy issues can be found at ReaderPrivacy.org.

But there's a bit more
As the Reader Privacy article notes, the PATRIOT Act (rushed into law immediately after the 9/11 tragedy) specifically gives the FBI the ability to subpoena purchase records from bookstores, as well as borrowing records from libraries. However--that power is limited to the FBI (although it can probably be exercised by other federal law enforcement agencies)--but it requires a federal judge to sign the warrant, based on probable cause, naming a specific individual. That gives no support at all to a state sales tax authority asking for a complete data dump of 7 years worth of purchase transactions.

In short--this will annoy Amazon's management, provide hefty fees for a bunch of lawyers, and produce a grand total of zero revenue for the state of North Carolina.

Education

PA Laptop Spying Inspires FSF Crowdsourcing Effort 135

Posted by timothy
from the inspiration-comes-from-many-places dept.
holmesfsf writes "Creeped out by the Lower Merion School District's remote monitoring of students? Check out the Free Software Foundation's response to the laptop spying scandal and help build a wiki listing of school districts that provide students with laptops, so that the FSF can campaign against mandatory, proprietary laptops."

Comment: Simple in theory--difficult in practice (Score 1) 116

by John Murdoch (#28274067) Attached to: GPS Shoes For Alzheimer's Patients

I did a bunch of work for a dot-com startup in the early 2000s focusing on vehicle-tracking applications. I have a daughter with Down syndrome; Downs kids tend to wander too, so we looked at this issue quite hard. The good news: the technology is pretty straightforward. The bad news: that's about the only good news.

Batteries
A GPS chipset enables a controller embedded in the shoes (or on a device strapped to the person) to know where it is. The second half of the problem is to transmit your location to somebody else. The simplest and cheapest approach is sending the data via the cell phone system--eight years ago we were using the digital control channels of the AMPS (analog) cell system; today you'd use G3. But think of the problems you have keeping your cell phone charged--how often would you recharge the batteries in your patient's (or your child's) shoes?

GPS
GPS is a really cool technology--but it is frequently viewed as the high-tech cure for what ails ya. It is not perfect. In particular, GPS depends upon an extremely weak signal--the GPS chipsets use DSPs to dig the signal out of the ether. GPS chipsets lose "lock" all the time. If the patient is wandering around outside in plain sight, his GPS coordinates are going to be accurate. But when the chipset loses "lock" on the satellites, tracking devices will continue to report the last known good position. This can be disastrous: the patient wanders from a nursing facility out onto the public street--and gets on a bus. Inside that nice, big aluminum box he can ride all the way downtown--and his GPS-enabled sneakers will continue to report that he's out in the nursing home parking lot.

There's a serious challenge to solving problems with technology--you also have to make sure that the people who depend upon that technology know (and act on the knowledge) that it must be maintained, or it will fail. Consider, for just a moment, how many people die of smoke inhalation every year even though they have smoke detectors in their homes. But they didn't change the batteries....

There's a much smarter solution
As I mentioned above, I looked at this issue long and hard with a dot-com startup eight years ago. As we looked at it, we found a substantially better solution than GPS. Project Lifesaver is a not-for-profit organization started in Chesapeake, Virginia that has developed a simple, effective solution targeted at Alzheimers patients, Downs kids, and other "wanderers." The patient has a small bracelet (like a hospital bracelet) attached to his or her wrist: once per minute the bracelet broadcasts a serial value on a digital (i.e. low-power) frequency. If/when a patient goes missing, the people responsible for the patient call the police or the sheriff's office. The cops arrive with two directional antennas tuned to the frequency: they go off in different directions, do a little bit of trigonometry, and Grandpa is back in the facility in less than ten minutes.

The Project Lifesaver solution is not perfect. They have the same battery issue that the "GPS sneakers" approach has (the GPS sneakers approach has been tried again, and again, and again). They also will only work with local law enforcement agencies--in our county the @##$%#^^# sheriff cannot be bothered. They have had a lot of success with local service clubs funding the cost of the bracelets, and (more important) paying for and replacing the batteries.

The GPS sneakers thing sounds like cool technology. Using differential antennas and good ol' trig is much more effective. My daughter still wanders off occasionally (and we live adjacent to a state park)--I wish we could take advantage of the Project Lifesaver program here.

Comment: Re:School vs Industry (Score 1) 236

by John Murdoch (#28084821) Attached to: Students, the Other Unprotected Lab Animals

Thanks for your response.

I don't mean to do something contrary to the spirit and ethos of SlashDot--but please allow me to apologize. You're entirely correct--my response to your post was really more of a generalized response to a number of posts I'd read that evinced an attitude of

  • We're grad students, so
  • We're smarter than you industry dolts, so
  • We can't be held accountable for safety

That's not the point that you made, and I was unfair in teeing off on your post.

Australian standards?
But your response reminds me--you have been involved in defining safety standards for your lab. The practical effect of U.S. liability law is that, in essence, we don't care about safety standards: we are entirely focused on making sure nobody gets hurt. We cannot use "but my product met the safety standard" as a defense in court: the literature is full of examples of people who did stupid things with well-designed products and collected big damage awards when (surprise!) somebody got hurt. (Tractor-trailer driver pulls out onto a two-lane road, oncoming car cannot stop in time, driver of the car is decapitated. The family sues...the trailer manufacturer. And wins.)

Can you use "we met the safety standards" as an affirmative defense in Australia?

Comment: Re:School vs Industry (Score 1) 236

by John Murdoch (#28078417) Attached to: Students, the Other Unprotected Lab Animals

Oh, horseshit.

For the record, I'm a software developer. And over the course of my career I have done a lot of software development related to the production, distribution, and use of very hazardous gases and chemicals, including weapons-grade nerve gas agents; I presently work for a large engineering company that makes high-voltage components used on building construction. I am current on lab safety training for handling very high-voltage current (simulating lightning strikes) for UL certification.

First off, let's dispense with the silly notion that nobody is doing experimentation in industry. We're not just trotting out books of alchemy and chanting "bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble" as we stir the cauldron. We're figuring out hard subjects like how to build stuff without a) burning buildings down, or b) kill people. We evaluate issues like that all the time.

The big difference, as TFA plainly states, is that in industry you simply cannot ignore safety. Two of the hazmat producers I have done work for have much the same attitude toward safety: there is no such thing as an accident (corollary: there IS such a thing as a negligent attitude toward safety); and safety failure is inexcusable. (The former client I most respect assesses the cost of any safety violation to the manager with profit-and-loss responsibility for the business unit. He starts the year with a $0 line item for safety violations--he has to explain to the board of directors if he exceeds his line item budget. It tends to focus the manager's attention.)

Ignoring a safety issue (such as the citation of lack of safety equipment by UCLA's in-house safety folks three months before the accident) is manslaughter, pure and simple. The responsible parties should go to prison. The "business unit" (in this case, academic department) should be disbanded. Do that once, somewhere, publicly--you'll be amazed at the impact on everybody else. Somebody gets killed in the Chemistry lab? Fire the professor responsible for the lab, fire the department chair who allowed the professor to permit this kind of gross negligence, and fire everybody else involved. Then turn 'em over to the police.

Think that's unrealistic? It's pretty much the atmosphere in which a lot of industry functions. There used to be a time when a business could figure that an occasional death--and the resulting Workmen's Compensation claim--represented an acceptable cost of doing business. Those days are long gone--get somebody killed, and you can face criminal prosecution. And personally, I think that's a good thing.

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. -- Albert Einstein

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