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Comment Re:Saw it last night in 3D (Score 3, Insightful) 241

The challenge is stranding someone alone on Mars. It's easy to envision the entire crew getting stuck there. Malfunction in the ascent vehicle would do that. If it had a sufficient electrical meltdown it could even justify the loss of contact with Earth. But getting five people safely off the surface, all of them convinced of the sixth crew member's death and unable to retrieve his body, was a writing challenge. What scenarios can you think of for one man being left alive, alone, and presumed dead on the surface of Mars?

Comment Re:Everyone Is Guilty, Only Enemies Will Be Indict (Score 3, Insightful) 109

If you are a leftist, beating the shit out of private companies is well and good. Remember: corporations are evil! Prosecuting them is only a good thing. Are you a corporate shill?

I am neither a leftist nor a corporate shill. I believe in beating the shit out of private companies that deserve to have the "shit beat out" of them. You need only look at the lengthy history of consumer protection in the United States to find instances where this was and is necessary. Take, for example, Debt Collection Practices. Please, please, please "beat the shit out" of unscrupulous collection agencies. Please "beat the shit" out of the companies that call my grandmother to deliver unsolicited advertisements about a "warranty extension" on her car. There are plenty of private companies that should have this done to them. The issue I take with China's implementation is 1) that it will never target a state owned business and 2) the guidelines are by no means clearly laid out and can be ambiguously interpreted. Who will interpret them? When will they interpret them? Why just in time and by the same state body that made them. Please tell me, how can I prove that my product's advertising does not "Cause detriment to national dignity"?

Comment Do Not Conflate This With Individual Free Speech (Score 2) 109

Communists don't believe in free speech?


It's not that binary. The United States has its own truth in advertising laws that, in my personal opinion, are beneficial at both the federal and state level. Slashdot readers are free to go the Libertarian route and claim the free market would alleviate these issues on its own or perhaps point out how downright pedantic it can be at times. But the truth of the matter is that, as a consumer, we only have so many hours in a day to decide which of the thousands of products we consume in a year we should spend our money on. So it does come down to federal guidelines for what is "Grade A" or "Organic" or "Green" when there is a label espousing these properties and there are consumers paying a premium for this notion. Without those guidelines those words will mean absolutely nothing and there will be no way to tell where your product was made, how much cadmium it has in it or whether it is the end result of spewing carbon into the atmosphere. Without similar laws, you wouldn't be able to trust the nutritional information at the grocery store. Is it free speech to claim that my potato chips cure cancer and lead to weight loss no matter how many of them you eat? People will know that I'm lying? Cigarettes used to sooth sore throats. Trans fats used to taste awesome.

Speech used by an individual to express ideas is free speech. Advertisements -- especially advertisements representing a very large organization -- are not. Corporations should not have the same rights individuals have and I feel that free speech is one of those clear cut distinctions. There is a long history of consumer protection everywhere in the world -- learn about your own country's struggles with it. It's not a simple issue and advertisement should not be regarded as free speech.

Comment Everyone Is Guilty, Only Enemies Will Be Indicted (Score 5, Insightful) 109

Here is the full text of the newly amended law. Here is the WIPO listing the deltas with the older 1994 version of the law (click expand notes). It appears that this is the first change in this law since 1994. Also the WIPO provides a PDF of their English version which seems to be slightly different. I also found a definition of the extent of what is regulated advertising by the PRC. Here's the WIPO's full list of defined restrictions:

1) Overt or covert use of national flag, anthem or emblem of People’s Republic of China or military flag, anthem or emblem;
2) Overt or covert use of the name or image of national public institute or staff of national public institute;
3) Use of words such as “national-level”, “the most” and “the best”, among others;
4) Causing detriment to national dignity or interests, or disclosing national secrets;
5) Interfering with social stability, or causing detriment to social and public interests;
6) Harming personal or property safety, or disclosing privacy;
7) Interfering with social public order, or going against good social norm;
8) Containing obscene, pornographic, gambling, superstitious, terrifying, or violent content;
9) Containing discrimination based on nationality, race, religion, or gender;
10) Affecting protection of environment, natural resources or cultural heritage;
11) Other situations prohibited by laws and regulations.

Merely sounds like another tool for the Party to deal with companies that are not state owned. Most companies will be found guilty of some section of this but they won't be prosecuted until they run afoul of the Party. In China (and increasingly in the US) everyone is guilty of something but only those that the state wants to be prosecuted will be prosecuted.

So looking at the story, we have a new law enacted a month ago and whose head is on the chopping block today? Xiaomi? Well from wikipedia:

Xiaomi Inc. is a privately owned Chinese electronics company headquartered in Beijing, China, that is the world's 4th[4] largest smartphone maker. Xiaomi designs, develops, and sells smartphones, mobile apps, and related consumer electronics.[5]

Aaaaaand there's your problem. Wake me up when a state owned company is prosecuted under these new laws. Xiaomi's true crime was probably doing better than Huawei.

Comment Doing the Math (Score 1) 55

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers about the first chapter of the book follow! (Because someone is likely to complain about that kind of thing.)

Has anyone actually done the math on this? We are not talking about a man being blown around in a windstorm, really. We are talking about equipment that NASA launched to Mars getting blown around in a windstorm. The ascent vehicle getting blown nearly over is a stretch, for sure, but perhaps the injury that befalls the protagonist is not. It was inflicted on him by a piece of metal that was thrown by the windstorm. I am not qualified to do the math, but I hope someone else here is.

While the protagonist and most likely the ascent vehicle are fairly heavy, presumably everything else that NASA spent rocket fuel to put on the surface of Mars is as light as it can possibly be to still do its job. It would not take much air density to pick up a piece of metal that has high surface area and small mass, like a thin piece of aluminum with a bend in it to make it rigid would be. It certainly could be whipped by the 150kph (42m/s) wind. Anything near that speed and it would not have a problem piercing a spacesuit or damaging a circuit board. Maybe it would not likely have enough energy to do both of those things and still seriously injure a human, but it is at least plausible from this high-level perspective.

So, who here has the knowledge and the energy to run the numbers on whether this is more than just plausible and actually possible? I wish I had the former because I certainly have the latter and enjoyed the book--the plot, the technical details, and the writing style--enough to want other people also to enjoy it. Maybe Randall Munroe will give it a shot, although it is a bit non-absurd for his usual taste.

By the way, let's give the author one deus ex machina point for how he solved the final problem that his characters faced. Does he get a negative deus ex machina point for how he created the first problem that they faced and thus balance it out or do both problems and solutions have positive valence when counting the dei ex machinis?

Comment Re:Exxon MADE the hard decision (Score 5, Insightful) 255

Ah yes, the old "had to do it for the money" claim. If we accept that everyone is an idiot robot that will play Russian Roulette for a dollar, sure. But the fact is that a person or organization has the power to make a decision with short-term or long-term thinking in mind, or a decision with self-interest or social awareness in mind. Yet somehow we've got to the point where we'll excuse absolutely anything as being reasonable if there was money at stake. Personally, I'd prefer we hold ourselves to a slightly higher standard, but I realize I'm shouting into the wind.

Comment Re:So? (Score 1) 172

I also found the article's use of "paradox" and "problem" to be a bit grating. We are observing something here we don't understand, and maybe that's anathema to a physicist who thinks we already understand everything (hint: we don't), but it's not that shocking to me.

However with the last two paragraphs of the article he clears things up a bit:

Whenever there’s a conflict between what our best theories predict [...] that’s an omen of scientific advance. That paradox is such a problem because it tells us that something about our present understanding is, in some way, incomplete. Is there a new law of physics? Is there a new application of the currently existing laws that we’ve missed? Are these quantities not fundamentally conserved after all? Is the information really encoded in the final state somehow? Will quantum gravity eventually make this all clear?

We hope to have the answer to this. But in the meantime, this paradox means we have a problem, and hence that we have more to learn. And for anyone curious about the scientific truths of the Universe, that’s an incredible thing: evidence that there’s still a whole lot more to be figured out.

Well okay then. It's not so much a paradox or a problem as a (not totally unexpected to me) indication that our physics theories do not yet account for everything going on in the universe. Taken out of the framework of "paradox" and "problem" that is exciting - maybe we'll tease some new information about how the universe works by researching this further. Now that's exciting. Just let's not get ahead of ourselves as being all-knowing quite yet.

Comment Re:I've had this as a plug-in. (Score 1) 190

...except that google gets to decide which adverts are played and which aren't.

I'm betting Google's own dancing monkeys will be as annoying as ever.

That's my worry - remember, Google already implemented a workaround for their own Flash ads, auto-converting them into a form which conveniently happens to be immune to this filter. Get back to me when they've bundled an ad-blocker. What they have here is basically a rival ad blocker - which really isn't something any of us should cheer, even if it does happen to knock out some irritating ads for the time being. (Equally, of course, the new ad-blocking facility for Mobile Safari in iOS 9 which just happens to push more ad-funded sites into adopting iOS apps as a format because Apple iAds just happen to bypass that filtering is a little concerning too.) "Big company kneecaps competition." Just like when Microsoft "helpfully" gave away IE for free in order to kill off Netscape and grab a stranglehold of the web browser market, this may not be anything to applaud long-term.

Comment Re:ADVERTISING (Score 1) 198

They want to control your network. They want to inject advertising into everything you do. They want you to have no choice but to use DNS servers they control.

That was just about my first thought too: "what are the odds this will have/allow something like Privoxy to do ad-filtering?" To be fair, I haven't bothered installing that on my own firewall just yet (relying on ABP and Ghostery for now), but it's on the to-do list - and having seen recent upturns in ad-blocking usage lately, I'm absolutely certain Google will have noticed that upturn too, and strongly suspect it's a factor in any move like this. (It's also interesting to note that Apple have just added support for ad-blocking in Safari without jailbreaking to iOS 9 - probably not something welcomed in Mountain View!)

Comment Re:Surge Pricing - Why The Hate? (Score 5, Insightful) 250

> having a fucking LOTTERY of who gets the only cab available.

I don't get the hate for this approach. Perhaps some education is in order. When there aren't enough resources to go around, there are different ways to perform allocation. Each method has different moral implications. For example, a lottery implies equality between all people and is best used for resources that are perceived as utilitarian or necessary. Fair market pricing implies that the more money you have, the more important you are and is best used for resources that are perceived as a luxury. Of course this can be argued about all day, but it's not shocking that some people would find fair-market pricing to be inherently unfair.

What if there isn't enough food or medicine to go around? Is a lottery the best approach? Or the fair market? Or perhaps rationing? Should a person with more money be able to redirect resources to themselves, even if it is not as important to their survival as someone who has less money? Transportation can be vital to maintaining a job or caring for kids - it can also be a luxury. I can see an argument either way.


Buzz: a Novel Programming Language For Heterogeneous Robot Swarms 30

New submitter pRobotika writes: Designing the behavior of robot swarms is difficult; the larger the group, the more tricky it is to predict its dynamics and the causes of errors. Buzz is a new open-source programming language specifically for robot swarms. It's designed for ease of use and is inspired by well-known programming languages such as JavaScript, Python and Lua. Buzz also includes a number of constructs specifically designed for swarm-level development. The “swarm” construct allows a developer to split the robots into multiple groups and assign a specific task to each. Swarms can be created, disbanded, and modified dynamically. The “neighbors” construct captures an important concept in swarm systems: locality. In nature, individuals interact directly and only with nearby swarm-mates. Interactions include communication, obstacle avoidance or leader following. The neighbors construct provides functions to mimic these mechanisms.

Comment Re:Digital temperature controls! (Score 1) 58

The future temperature controls?

I stayed in one of these hotels for a computer security conference last year - and the temperature didn't drop below 27C (80F) even at 6am, making for a lousy two nights given the high humidity. No a/c, only heating, and the window only opened two inches ('for security', the label helpfully explained: being five floors up, presumably this means they're worried about Spiderman incursions.)

So, does "the future" actually include either decent a/c, or at least a window you can open properly to get some air movement? I really don't care about fancy interactive video walls - I want a comfortable night's sleep, otherwise I'll just be using that fancy custom app's "Cancel reservation" button and going somewhere else.

Comment Re:Yeah, great (Score 1) 205

Since we're just talking out our asses here, I'll say there's evidence that exposure to porn at young ages increases respect for women. The "evidence" is me. I first found porn mags at age 8 or so, and lots more, including videos, by 14. I have since become an avid porn collector. Yet I am absolutely respectful of women and always have been. I am far more respectful of women than the men in some no-porn areas I've lived in other countries.

Or maybe it's largely unconnected to porn. Maybe it's about culture and upbringing. In fact, there actually _is_ evidence that porn reduces rape (the ultimate form of disrespect for women):

And even though I'd still argue against allowing younger people's free access porn, the data in that article, tracking total internet usage, certainly includes young people's access to porn.

"I have five dollars for each of you." -- Bernhard Goetz