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Comment Re:Can email service providers do more? (Score 1) 58 58

Regarding your number 2... Frequently get tampered with in transit? Really? I have, literally, never seen this....

You're lucky there. I see such tampering several times per day, and fixing the problem often takes a lot of time (and soto-voce swearing ;-).

The reason is that I deal with a lot of data that's "plain text", but is computer data of some sort, not a natural language like English (which is sorts stretching the meaning of "natural", but you know what I mean). Or it's in a human language, but not English, and the character encoding uses some 2-byte or longer characters.

The simplest example is computer source code. The tampering is often caused by the "punch-card mentality" coded into a lot of email software, which often doesn't allow lines longer than 80 (or 72) characters, and inserts line feeds to make everything fit. Many programming languages consider line feeds to mean something different than a space, usually "end of statement". Inserting a line feed in the middle of a statement thus changes the meaning, and very often introduces a syntax error.

Even nastier is the munging a lot of other plain-text data representation that mixes letters and numbers. Inserting spaces or a line feed in the middle of a token like "G2EF" usually destroys the meaning in a way that can't be corrected automatically at the receiving end. Usually the way to handle such tampering is to reply to the sender, saying "Can you send me that in quoted-printable or base-64 form?" And you try to teach everyone in the group that such data should always be encoded in a form that's immune to the idiocies of "smart" email handlers.

Text in UTF-8 form, especially Chinese and Japanese text, is especially prone to this sort of tampering, which often leaves the text garbled beyond recovery.

Anyway, there are lots of excuses for such tampering with email in ways that destroy the content. It's not always for nefarious reasons; it's just because the programmers only tested their email-handling code on English-language text. And because they're idiots who think that lines of text should never be longer than 80 (or 72) characters.

Comment Re:Redirecting (Score 1) 188 188

When I noticed that the address was the address of my machine, I did a quick find(1), but couldn't find the IMDB files or the takedown letter. Do you think I should contact Universal Pictures and ask them to send me another copy of the letter, so I can figure out which file to take down?

Actually, I noticed that all of our home machines (we have several, including tablets and smart phones) seem to have the same address. I guess that's to be expected, since ISPs only give us a single address, so we all have to use that silly NAT protocol and try to make sense of the confusion that it always creates. Anyway, I did look around on all of them, and still couldn't find anything with "Universal Pictures" inside. I did find a few files that contain "IMDB", but they're in the browsers' cache directories, and I got rid of those by simply telling the browsers to clear their cache(s).

But somehow I don't think this has taken care of the problem. So who should I contact at Universal Pictures to make sure we get a copy of the letter and purge our machines of their files?

(And for the benefit of many /. readers and mods, maybe I should end this with: ;-) Nah....

Comment Re:Profits are important to allocate resources (Score 1) 93 93

What rate of return would convince you to put your money in an investment if you knew it was going to be 10 years before you received the first dollar back - and there was a 90%+ chance of failure to boot?

Funny thing; those numbers were used back in the 1980s, with interesting results. The topic wasn't drugs, though, but rather solid-state manufacturing, and very similar numbers were widely quoted in east Asia. At the time, it was generally estimated that to build a new solid-state facility would require several billion dollars, and would take around a decade to become profitable, due to the extreme difficulty of achieving the required low level of contaminants inside the equipment. Much of the decade would be spent making test runs, discovering that the output was useless because of some trace contaminant in one part of the process, and redesigning the setup to get past yet another failure. Success wasn't predictable; the 10-year estimate was just the minimum.

But people in east Asia (mostly Japan and Korea) argued publicly that the American companies that controlled most of the production at the time wouldn't be able to get funding for new factories, because American investors would refuse to invest so much money in something with no payoff for a decade. If Asian investors would step in and support the effort, in 10 years they could own the world's solid-state industry. Enough people with money (including government agencies) listened, made the gamble, and a decade longer, they owned the industry.

It's probably just a matter of time before the American drug industry goes the same way. Would you invest in something with no payoff for a decade or more, and wasn't even guaranteed to pay off then because nobody had yet created the drugs that might be created? If you guess that few US (or EU) investors will do this, you're likely right.

In particular, the Republican US Congress is highly likely to continue its defunding of academic basic research, partly due to mistrust of investments that won't pay off during their current terms in office, and also due to a serious religion-based dislike of the biological sciences in general. Without the basic research, the only "new" drugs patented by industry will continue to be mostly small tweaks of existing drugs, which under US law qualify as new, patentable products.

Of course, this is all a bunch of tenuous guesses, based on past behavior of the players. That's what investment is usually like. It's entirely possible that they'll wise up, and not abandon the drug industry the way they abandoned the electronics industry. The US does actually have a few solid-state production facilities, after all, though they're now a small part of the market.

But, as the above poster said, would you be willing to gamble your investment money on the hope that US private drug makers will support the research that the US government is getting out of? Remember that, to corporate management, scientific research appears to have a record of 90% failure; i.e., 90% of funded research projects fail to produce a patentable and marketable product. This is the nature of research, which only discovers facts and theories, not products, and where the outcome of a study is unpredictable before the fact. (If it were predictable, it wouldn't be called "research", it'd be "development". ;-)

Comment Re:Why? (Score 1) 173 173

Why does a car have a wireless system, and why is this wireless system accessible from outside the car?

So that the manufacturer can access the car, collect data on where and how it's been driven, and sell that information to anyone willing to pay for it.

The idea of sending "data" to the car was an afterthought, when they realized it could be useful for things like disabling a car that's behind on the payments.

Note that both of these motives contain the string "pay". That's the hint you need to figure out the other intended uses. ;-)

Comment Re:Screws with users (Score 2) 319 319

Automotive control interfaces change all of the time.

Really? The "control interface" of my '81 Ford is the same as the day it was purchased.

Well, the auto makers have "fixed" that problem in their latest models. They now have those little "onboard computers" that constantly scan many of the controls and figure out how to map them to physical actions. This means that any "upgrade" to the software can change the functioning of all the controls. You can think you're just getting an upgrade to improve the mileage, but that upgrade can flip the meaning of the turn-signal controls.

Some of the latest models have wifi, so they can do upgrades while you're traveling. We'll probably soon be hearing of accidents caused by a sudden change in meaning of what the driver did with the controls. (Yes, they may say the upgrades won't happen while the car is moving. What that means is that if you stop at a stop sign or light, when you start moving again, the controls may have silently changed. And if you think they wouldn't do upgrades without your permission, you haven't been paying attention.)

If computer-industry history is any guide, it'll probably take decades for all this to settle down to an intuitive, reliable auto UI. And the security problems still won't be solved, so your car can be taken over at any moment by "hackers" - or the police - or your insurance company.

(I wish I were joking ... but I'll probably get a "funny" mod for this anyway. ;-)

Comment Re: Tax dollars at work. (Score 1) 674 674

That would really baffle anyone in the 95% of the human population who's not a literate, native speaker of English.

Curious how you decided English has such a poor showing across the world?

English doesn't have to be your primary language to be fluent in it.

Well,yeah, but that's balanced out by the large population of native English speakers with a poor command of the language. ;-)

We're seeing a bit of that here on /. these days ...

Comment We need to teach these folks about English syntax (Score 2) 134 134

Lakdawalla also added Pluto to a montage of the biggest non-planets in the solar system.

Thus starts another round of the old "Is Pluto a real planet?" fiasco. ;-)

The pseudo-argument is really based on a poor understanding of basic English grammar. The word "dwarf" in the phrase "dwarf planet" is being used as an adjective modifying the noun "planet". A fellow at NASA (whose name I didn't catch) explained the fallacy of saying this means that Pluto isn't a real planet, by giving a few examples of the usage. Thus, we have several "dwarf apple trees" in our yard. Nobody who understand English would say that this means they're not real apple trees; they are real apple trees that bear real apples, but are much smaller (3-4m tall) than most (full-size) apple trees. Similarly, our sun is classified as a "dwarf star". This means that it's a real star that fuses H atoms and gives off light, but it's smaller than most of the stars you can see in the sky. This is a good thing, because a "full-size" star 140 million km from our planet would totally vaporize all our water, and would burn out in a few hundred million years, destroying our planet at the end of its life. If there are other intelligent critters on planets around other stars, those will also be multi-billion-years-old dwarf stars like ours (to within an order of magnitude). Most of the galaxy's stars are dwarf stars.

Readers can probably think of lots of other common uses of "dwarf" or "pygmy" to mean a small version of something. This isn't mysterious; it's standard English syntax. (We have a potted "dwarf jade plant". It's a real jade plant, but its parts only grow to about 1/3 the size of the equivalent "standard" jade plant. It's a very easy sort of bonsai to grow. But when we bring it inside for the winter, we have to protect it from our cockatiels, who find it tasty.)

Other astronomers have pointed out the major problem with the term "planet": It's far too inclusive. It includes object as varied as Mercury and Jupiter, so it's an almost useless classification term. The long-term sensible approach is to prepend various modifiers to say which of a list of classes a given planet is filed under. We have a few of them, like "gas giant", and the more recent "ice giant", of which our solar systems contains two each. The classification "dwarf" was added a few years ago for the tiny planets that can't hold an atmosphere. We still don't seem to have a standard classification for the 3 intermediate-size planets, Venus, Earth and Mars. We also haven't figure out good terminology for the similar objects (Titan, Triton, etc) that also have things like an atmosphere with weather, but which share an orbit with a planet in a larger class. Pluto is an interesting borderline case, because at the recent perihelion, it has had a very thin but significant atmosphere, which is now condensing out as the sun gets more distant.

In the long run, we really should have a reliable set of classes for the sort of astronomical object that's big enough to be (roughly) spherical but too small for fusion to happen in its core. We've found that there are lots more of them in our solar system than we thought, at least 6 with atmospheres denser with ours, and several with thinner atmospheres. Pretty soon, we'll be getting good data on similar objects orbiting other stars.

Calling all the round-but-not-stars objects "planet" is a useful term. But such a vague term really shouldn't ever be used without a prefix. Maybe the astronomical community should get a committee together to come up with a better list of planet classes than the current mess. And try to get the media and general public to use it correctly. ;-)

Or maybe they should just officially declare "planet" to be a non-technical term, with no precise astronomical definition. But then they'd have to come up with some new technical terms, so they probably won't do that.

In any case, saying a "dwarf planet" isn't a planet merely shows ignorance of basic English grammar. Some astronomers have pointed this out. We just need to get the word out to all the people who misunderstand it due to their poor command of the English language.

Comment Re:Tax dollars at work. (Score 1) 674 674

Even when there is a sign next to it which states "Not fair game"?

Heh. That would really baffle anyone in the 95% of the human population who's not a literate, native speaker of English. (Just imagine a tourist staring at their dictionary, trying to make sense of that set of three simple English words. ;-)

Of course, it's not at all unusual for people to put up signs with this level of clarity, nearly anywhere in the world. There's a nice web site,, that has a large collection of similar signage, mostly from east Asia, but also from most of the rest of the world.

Comment Re:Paranoia (Score 2) 431 431

Don't you know that most explosives work via a reaction with oxygen in the air?

Actually no, most don't, unless you're talking about fuel-air explosions (which can be bloody huge!). Most solid or liquid explosives use an oxidizer that's part of the mix -- or don't use an oxidizer as such at all, but rather their rather unstable molecular configuration degenerates to a lower energy state with much release of energy and component parts (most high explosives).

(Shhh!!! Don't let on that you know something about explosives, especially high explosives. They'll be after you next. ;-)

Comment Re:Paranoia (Score 3, Funny) 431 431

I love how they say that Mercury switches can detonate explosives, ... even coffee pots can be considered "bomb making equipment" in their eyes.

That's why the (nearly empty) cup of coffee on the table next to me was made in a small saucepan on the stove. Actually, it's mostly because it makes better-tasting coffee than any of the coffee makers that we have stored in the basement, to be brought out when we have a crowd. And I can easily make just one cup, which is normally all I want. (My wife doesn't drink the stuff; she prefers tea, which she also makes in a cup or in a small pitcher for groups).

Of course, there's a potential danger that the authorities will hear about this, investigate, and decide that I'm making coffee via a Middle-Eastern method, which makes me a terrorist suspect. OTOH, I actually learned the method from my Scandinavian friends and relatives in the Mid-West, so maybe it's OK. And on the third hand, Scandinavians are all liberal socialists, don'cha know?

In any case, it's getting hard to find anything that can't be considered part of bomb making. Are you breathing oxygen? Don't you know that most explosives work via a reaction with oxygen in the air?

Comment Re:"You have to thrust the authorities." (Score 5, Informative) 431 431


For their entertainment value? ;-)

Here in the Boston area, we're still making jokes about the 2007 bomb scare caused by a set of "art works" (actually ads), small electronic displays hung up mostly along main streets around the city. Even the Marathon bombing didn't stop the humor surrounding the police takedown of this "art". Rather, the bombing is generally understood as a major bit of evidence that all the supposed security precautions are worthless. "They can stop street artists (or ad agencies ;-), but they can't stop actual terrorists." We also hear versions of what this story will no doubt trigger: comments to the effect that it's no surprise that the US can no longer match the technology of most 3rd-world countries; just look at what they do to a kid trying to become competent in some technical specialty. They obviously don't want us turning our kids into chemical engineers, or any other kinds of engineers. To the authorities, that stuff looks a lot like terrorism, y'know.

Stories like this are much of what led to the rise of the phrase "security theater". (If you're not familiar with it, just google it.)

Comment Re:All this means is that you can catch them (Score 5, Insightful) 339 339

I am disturbed by how many fake rape claims there are though. Something about that should be done.

Perhaps this is awfully unfair of me, but I get the distinct impression that unprosecuted rapes don't bother you half as much.

Actually, this particular bias is to be expected, for both sexes. You'd expect women to worry mostly about unprosecuted rapes, since they're more likely than men to be raped. And you'd expect men to worry mostly about false rape accusations, since they're more likely that women to be falsely accused of rape.

Similarly, you'd expect people with large bank accounts to be more worried about identity thefts than people who store all their money under their mattress, while you'd expect poor people to be more worried about armed robbery of what little cash they have.

People tend to worry mostly about things that can effect them, for obvious reasons.

Comment Re:I believe it was Mark Twain who said... (Score 3, Insightful) 339 339

...If you always tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything. Even in his time, just sticking to the truth was the path of least resistance.

Basically good advice, but the reality is often subtler than that. Sometimes, you need both a good memory for the facts, and also a good memory of exactly what you really said. Ask anyone who's ever run for an elected audience. Your opponents will extract a portion of what you actually said, tweak it just a bit, and claim you said something rather different from what you really said.

And publicising what you actually said, with the expectation that it'll expose your opponents' trickery, isn't always helpful. Google "invented the internet" for a nice example of how poorly exposing the facts can work. At least in the political arena, it's unlikely that anything will have much effect on the prevalence of brazen liars.

Mark Twain also said "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes."

"Well hello there Charlie Brown, you blockhead." -- Lucy Van Pelt