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Comment: Re:The Game of Catchup (Score 1) 294

by chromatix (#36202992) Attached to: New Malware Simulates Hard Drive Failure

Sun - or rather Oracle these days - provide an autoupdater with every version of Java 6 for Windows that I've seen. It even seems to work.

Adobe also provide an auto-updater with recent versions of Flash Player for Windows. There might also be a periodic update check for Reader, although I suspect this kicks in only oce you launch it (which for many people might be very rarely, so a malfile might still open in an unpatched version anyway).

Ubuntu also auto-updates Flash Player and Reader if you installed them through the package system. It's just a piggy-back on an existing mechanism that works.

Of course, if people are still coasting along on versions prior to the introduction of auto-pdate, or have turned it off, or habitually hit Cancel when a prompt-to-update appears "because it's too much trouble right now", they have only themselves to blame.

Comment: Re:Planets around two suns probably would be lifel (Score 1) 211

by chromatix (#35878492) Attached to: Worlds With Two Suns May Sport Black Plants

I'm not so sure. Consider a system like Alpha Centauri, which is technically a trinary system (two sunlike stars and a red dwarf). The red dwarf is irrelevant as it orbits the primary pair at a great distance. The sunlike pair orbit each other at about 50 AU, and the habitable zone for each of them would be around 1 AU, which should be a stable near-circular orbit. At 49AU or 51AU distances, the heat contribution from the other primary star would be negligible.

Comment: The Simple Answer: (Score 1) 997

by chromatix (#34875030) Attached to: Are 10-11 Hour Programming Days Feasible?

If you make everyone work 10-11 hours a day, you will get LESS useful work out of them than you did at 7-8 hours a day.

There are several reasons for this. The most important ones are:

- Working longer hours makes people tired. Tired people make mistakes. These mistakes take more time to be found and fixed.

- Working longer hours makes people tired. Tired people slow down. Thus any given feature will take longer to implement.

- Working longer hours gives people less time at home with their families, hobbies, sleep time and general de-stressing. This tends to make people depressed. Depressed people are more likely to slow down and make mistakes (see above), and might even quit on you.

- People who work longer hours will demand overtime pay, in some form or other. It is cheaper to hire more people at normal working hours.

Comment: Wake me up... (Score 1) 332

by chromatix (#34786644) Attached to: Will Touch Screens Kill the Keyboard?

...when these "haptic" keyboards can reliably provide tactile feedback *before* registering a keypress. Y'know, like every €5 special supplied with no-name whitebox computers everywhere. I like to know that my finger is actually on a key, and preferably the correct one, before I press it.

Until that happens, professional touch-typists will not touch them with a bargepole, even if they don't know the difference between the keyboard that came with their Dell and a Cherry G80. (Which, for the uninitiated, is akin to the difference between a Peugeot 308 and a Volvo 760 GLE wagon^Westate.) Those of us who already have Cherry or IBM keyboards - or close derivatives of them - will not give them up for all the tea in China.

Trackpads have virtually replaced the mouse for laptop use, because they actually work. Okay, you don't want to use one 24/7, and it's a really good idea to disable the tap-to-click functionality that most have, but you can point to pixel accuracy with roughly the same amount of care as with a mouse, and it takes up less space. The main application which doesn't work well with a trackpad is FPS games.

That's still ignoring the problem (mentioned by other commenters) of the keyboard being in the same plane as the display, and occupying valuable real estate on it. On a phone, that's fine. On a tablet, it comes with the territory - though I'm not a fan of tablets. On a laptop, the problem is very deliberately avoided, though the position restriction imposed by the hinge is still a minor problem for extended use. On a desktop computer, it would be totally unacceptable.

For my own part, I'm actively supporting the manufacturers of decent physical keyboards - I've got two Cherrys on order right now. One is a full-size USB G80, replacing a PS/2 G84 and an AT G80 that dates from 1996 (and still works perfectly). The other is a miniature G84 which will go well with a barebones machine I'm experimenting with. At work I use a Model M, which I'm seriously considering upgrading to USB - which will involve hand-building a new controller board.

One last thing: why on earth are people so unwilling to spend €70 on a decent keyboard which will last 20 years, when they will happy spend more than that on a graphics card which will last 3 at best before becoming hopelessly obsolete? An argument against consumer rationality if I ever saw one.

Comment: What Moore Actually Said... (Score 1) 214

by chromatix (#34759432) Attached to: 45 Years Later, Does Moore's Law Still Hold True?

...had more to do with the *cost* of transistors than the quantity or speed of them. The increasing quantities per device are, however, simultaneously a cause (economy of scale) and effect (your dollar goes further) of this reducing cost.

We can now buy a device with a billion transistors in it for a couple of hundred dollars. That's about 50K transistors per cent. It follows that about 30 years ago, it would have been about 1 transistor per cent, or in other words the original 68000 would have cost about $680 in about 1980. Since it is described as originally being "quite expensive", this seems to fit. I don't have any data on the cost of transistors in 1965, though.

Comment: Re:Pulling it between layers of abstraction. (Score 1) 250

by chromatix (#34294040) Attached to: Traffic Jams In Your Brain

In Britain, almost all railways define location using miles and chains from a defined starting point. Sometimes the distance is from a starting point that no longer exists, or is partially over a route that no longer exists, but correction factors are defined for these cases. Only the newest light railways, such as the Manchester Metrolink and the Docklands Light Railway, use kilometres - even though Metrolink is partly built on an old railway.

By the way, there are 22 yards in a chain and 80 chains in a mile. A chain is also, conveniently, very close to 20 metres.

Just be glad we don't use Wizard currency. "Seventeen silver Sickles to a Galleon and twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle, it's easy enough." Those multiples are *prime numbers*, although they might be reasonable estimates of the relative rarity of gold, silver and copper. Of course it was a parody of real pre-decimal British currency - 12d to the shilling and 20s to £1.

Comment: Re:That's still a lot of conduction and not that h (Score 2, Insightful) 45

by chromatix (#33929728) Attached to: Small Startup Prevails In Server Cooling 'Chill Off'

I wouldn't call it "potential for extra efficiency" so much as "robustness in the face of hardware failures". If the cooling remains adequate when a pump or a fan fails or a blockage occurs in an air path, then the increased coolant temperature provides a signal for admins to react to, and the servers don't suffer any downtime.

Which is a very good thing for a cooling system. How many stories are there about overheated and dead servers due to an aircon unit failure?

Comment: How to deal with foreign call centres (Score 1) 220

by chromatix (#32808922) Attached to: HSBC Bank Sends Activated Debit Cards Through Mail

If you cannot get your problem resolved during the first call to an outsourced call centre... Stop Calling.

Write a letter to your branch manager (if a bank) or local head office (for any other organisation) instead. It gets much quicker attention from a native English-speaker, and they take written communications much more seriously than phone conversations because it is easier to legally prove that such communication took place.

If your writing skills are not up to producing a business letter by yourself, ask someone who can do it for you. In the UK, Citizens Advice Bureaux should be able to help with this.

Comment: Re:Inflation (Score 1) 460

by chromatix (#32276910) Attached to: New "Circuit Breaker" Imposed To Stop Market Crash

That's right, inflation has no effect on subsistence farmers and wage-slaves, who spend all their money pretty much as soon as they get it - assuming that pay rates keep step with the cost of living, which is not always the case.

But inflation has a very negative effect on people with savings and investments, because the real value of these is diluted over time. It strongly exaggerates the "time value of money" concept, and indeed amplifies it.

Historically, when Britain and other major countries used a precious-metal standard, mild and controlled deflation resulted, because population growth exceeded that of stocks of metals. Deflation is usually cited as a Bad Thing because capital owners can just let their money sit around instead of investing it, and it's value will go up anyway. But this ignores the fact that investment is always a sound rational choice if the expected return is higher than unity, regardless of inflation or deflation, and that most people now save using banks, which are in a position to invest those deposits wholesale.

Because people are irrational, people with significant amounts of capital are now tempted to speculate on the market by the possibility of greater-than-inflation returns. These people feel that they are losing out if they get anything less than the inflation rate, and would often be quite happy to leave it in a bank if deflation existed. But speculators are what cause bubbles, and bubbles always burst and crash.

There is one advantage of a fiat currency: governments can borrow money from the people, without asking, in a time of emergency (such as war), simply by having the Treasury print more money. It will be paid for automatically in the medium term, by inflation. But this only works, as we see from Greece's sorry example, if that government directly controls the issue of currency.

It is not possible to just "produce a load of extra gold". You'd better believe that gold mines are already working at or near capacity, and that gold is one of the most thoroughly recycled metals on the planet. That is why it is such a good store of value - even if an unusually large nugget were to be found unexpectedly, it would only have a small and temporary effect on the price. Silver also makes a good store of value (mind you, it is currently undervalued), though it takes up a lot more space for that purpose than gold does. Even copper has been used as an effective store of small amounts of value - if pennies were still made of solid copper, the metal would be inherently worth considerably more than face value - and still has a high enough scrap price that thieves often steal both live and abandoned electric cables.

Comment: Re:We have it already.. (Score 1) 613

by chromatix (#30880946) Attached to: Why the IRS Should Automatically Fill In Returns With What It Knows

There's some fun political history there...

Most of the Nordic countries have been merged and separated at various times in the past few centuries. For example, Finland was once part of Sweden, then the Russians invaded in the early 1800s, then the Finns declared independence while the Russians were otherwise occupied with their revolution (so as such, Finland is a very young country). Norway, Sweden and Denmark have been parts of each other in a very complicated manner, and have dependencies and ex-dependencies all over the North Atlantic, dating back to the Viking era. The Åland islands logically belong to Sweden, technically belong to Finland, are Swedish-speaking and are a demilitarised zone...

But the short answer is that a lot of concepts and ideals are indeed shared between the Nordic countries.

In Finland at least, both national and municipal income taxes are witheld by your employer based on the instruction given by the "tax card", which is automatically generated by the government based on the information given to the tax office. The most an ordinary employee needs to do is to take their evidence of income to the tax office when it changes significantly, and return the tax card to their employer. The result is not ideal - the amount witheld by the employer is an estimate, so there may be an excess or a refund at the end of the year - but it's a lot less hassle than the US system, not least because the employer reports your actual income at the end of the year, and the government does the calculations.

I should point out that the PAYE scheme in the UK has the same general effect, so it's not solely a Nordic phenomenon. If your taxes are "normal" - ie. you are a waged or salaried employee - your employer is responsible for paying your income taxes, your bank is responsible for paying your interest taxes, and your supermarket (well, any shop) is responsible for paying your sales taxes (that is, VAT). But you still have to pay council tax yourself.

Personally, I think the ideal is that ordinary citizens should not even have to think about taxation. But at the moment, checks and balances do still involve the citizen moving a small amount of paperwork around - this means that both the employer and the employee have to collude to avoid tax, rather than the employer being able to do so alone. But it still happens, usually when the employee is in a disadvantageous position, eg. an illegal immigrant being paid under the table. The advantage over the US system is that the ordinary citizen does not have to understand the tax system to a professional standard (or pay someone to do so) in order to fulfil unavoidable legal requirements.

Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly. - Henry Spencer, University of Toronto Unix hack

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