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Comment: Why Kozmo sort of succeeded (Score 1) 34

Ok, the company as a whole tanked rapidly, as one might expect, but according to friends who lived in its territory at the time, one reason the service was so popular was that one of the things it delivered was weed. The company itself didn't sell it, but the drivers did that themselves, so they were happy and the customers were happy, and there were an awful lot of deliveries that had only one random item on the books (plus weed.)

Comment: Skype Call Setup and Media Path Protocols (Score 1) 71

by billstewart (#48673601) Attached to: Ars Reviews Skype Translator

Skype used a server-based system to set up calls, going through supernodes if possible (so it was semi-P2P), which handled subscriber lookup functions and also NAT transparency (which was the big thing that Skype did better than standard VOIP protocols such as H.323 and SIP.)

For the actual media path, if it could go directly, it would, but otherwise it would carry the call through supernodes (again, the NAT traversal problem.)

These days it seems to be mostly central servers, partly as a result of Microsoft buying them and partly because there was a lot of corporate pushback against supernodes using your corporation's bandwidth to complete somebody else's call.

Comment: Original implementations for obvious things are ok (Score 2) 186

by billstewart (#48657151) Attached to: Uber Pushing For Patent On Surge Pricing

If you believe in a patent system at all (which is a separate argument), an original implementation for a relatively obvious concept can still be patentable. Most patents I've seen start out by claiming something fairly obvious (a wheel) and have several progressively less obvious claims before getting to the core invention (a specific axle mounting design, etc.) and then maybe some variations. Most articles about patent abuse focus on the more obvious claims being obvious; that's separate from whether the more abusive actual cases are somebody getting a patent for the less obvious parts and then suing people for violating the much more obvious claims.

Since Uber's lost about 10 previous attempts, they may very well be trying to patent something obvious (charging more when it's busy), or may be trying to patent more specific things about their implementation (but maybe still obvious to the patent examiners, who've actually taken taxis before, even if they haven't written compilers or optimized databases.)

Comment: Cable to Cuba (Score 2) 114

by billstewart (#48649629) Attached to: Cuba Says the Internet Now a Priority

The politics that mattered weren't the ones with Chavez, it was the US pressure on anybody else. Cuba's a really convenient place to run cable, and there's some cable there, but the amount of actual service that it was carrying was very tightly restricted because of the US embargoes. The telcos would have been happy to run a lot more of it, but weren't allowed to.

Comment: Modern Cellular is the way to go (Score 2) 114

by billstewart (#48649621) Attached to: Cuba Says the Internet Now a Priority

It's not completely wireless; to get any reasonable bandwidth out to the users, you need fiber to the towers, not just T1 or radio uplinks, but that's not too hard to do. (As another poster says, the telco's run by the government, so they shouldn't have a problem getting permits, just the usual issues with new construction in old cities.)

No reason to use old phones - the newer standards are much more efficient at spectrum usage.

And there's been fiber to the island for a long time; the problem has been that the US embargoes on trade with Cuba severely limited the services the telcos could provide. To the extent that that was caused by Treasury regulations (which Obama can change for two years) rather than law (which requires the Republicans in Congress to cooperate), they can get some of that service running quickly.

Comment: Agreed: Transactional Currency, not Investment (Score 1) 144

by billstewart (#48628899) Attached to: Will Ripple Eclipse Bitcoin?

Sure, some people will invest in Bitcoins, and other people will invest in racehorses. (I avoid the problem by mining Dogecoins, which are almost totally worthless.) That's missing the point of Bitcoin, which is that it's intended to be a currency for relatively-private transactions.

Unfortunately, the markets that most wanted a currency for relatively-private transactions didn't do as good a job as they should have about being relatively-private on their own end (i.e. Silk Road got busted), but there is still a market for legitimate transactions, as you've pointed out.

Comment: Good Voice-only Interface for Phone (Score 4, Informative) 230

by billstewart (#48628547) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Can I Really Do With a Smart Watch?

What you need is a good voice-only interface for your phone, and if possible in your clean-room environment, some kind of Bluetooth headset. Phone rings, you tell it "answer". If you want to do something, tell Siri or equivalent, and get voice feedback. Not being an iPhone user, I don't know if Siri's good enough. (The Android stuff I've used so far hasn't been, but my car's phone-dialing interface is at least a start.)

Comment: Re:I hate funerals for a friend (Score 4, Informative) 70

by billstewart (#48607425) Attached to: Webcast Funerals Growing More Popular

Get used to it, you'll have more of them as you get older.

One thing I hadn't really thought about before my mother-in-law's funeral was that, if you die when you're old, most of the people at your funeral other than your family will also be old - mobility and transportation were difficult for some of her friends, there were more people with wheelchairs than the restaurant we went to afterward really knew how to handle, and there were people who didn't come because it's just too difficult, and this might have helped them some. It's not the same as being there, but sometimes you can't.

Comment: Fonts make you very identifiable (Score 4, Interesting) 160

by billstewart (#48598543) Attached to: How Identifiable Are You On the Web?

Standard Mozilla behaviour last time this question came up is to include a list of fonts that your browser can display; I don't know whether other browsers do the same, or if they've changed it, but it's the kind of "feature" that hopelessly breaks your chances of non-uniqueness if you've ever installed fonts.

My work laptop has a font that's the Official Corporate-Branded font for $DAYJOB's corporate logo. Almost every Windows machine at my company has that (at least, every physical machine and the virtual machines running on the hosted virtual desktop cloud; there may be some lab machines that don't, and maybe some contractors, etc.) You might work for a smaller company that does the same. In my case, I've installed all sorts of other random fonts, either to see what they looked like, or simply because back in the 80s of course you wanted Elvish and Dwarvish fonts on your computer, or because I wanted a better monospaced programming font than the default MS one or Courier New.

Lots of other things leak information as well (cookies, etc.), but fonts are a quick and dirty way around identifying people who block those.

Some people claim that the UNIX learning curve is steep, but at least you only have to climb it once.

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