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Comment: Re:Reminds me of one thing (Score 1) 727

by firewrought (#49347545) Attached to: Germanwings Plane Crash Was No Accident

We (almost) have self-driving cars. Aircraft generally self-drive themselves almost all time now. Why not have self-driving aircraft?

Seems a lot safer for now. Pilot can enter anytime if an emergency of non-standard situation is declared (and verified).

You're not thinking like an attacker... sure, this removes the homicidal co-pilot from the equation, but now you have to worry about the homicidal operators who oversee remote control of the system, not to mention the homicidal engineers/programmers/telecom folks who helped design the system and the homicidal hackers who figure out ways to seize control of it. Those would all be new areas of expertise, too, so you're going to discard the time-hardened crew system we currently use and replace it with a bunch of unknowns; that means flawed designs and fresh incompetence, which means many hard/painful lessons over several decades before aviation safety could return to its current pinnacle.

Basically, commercial aviation has gotten almost as safe as it can get. Make any one aspect safer and you're probably adding more danger than you're taking away. That's not to say we shouldn't try: real engineers and analysts need to study the problems and tackle them, but just about every "internet solution" is naively looking at this one situation without considering the system as a whole.

Comment: Re:it always amazes me (Score 1) 339

It always amazes me when people try and censor stuff that is already public.

What's most egregious is when the US military banned their staff from viewing Wikileaks. This suggests one of several possibilities:

  1. Military leadership is completely out of touch, believing that the they can put the genie back in the bottle by burying their heads in the sand. (Not unbelievable for a hierarchical/bureaucratic/authoritarian organization helmed by senior citizens.)
  2. Military leadership plans to use NSA intelligence to detect/find future leakers, and a staff-wide ban reduces the background noise/false negative rate in making that detection. (Very believable.)
  3. Military leadership is afraid that the existing leaked materials could spur staffers to make additional leaks. (Also believable, since there's bound to be [scattered throughout the sprawling military-industrial complex] a bunch of folks who've witnessed corruption/wrongdoing/gross incompetence and then subsequently been frustrated by formal channels for redressing such wrongs [or afraid to use such channels].)

Comment: Re:VR Demands Specialized Input Devices (Score 1) 124

by firewrought (#49264721) Attached to: Valve's SteamVR: Solves Big Problems, Raises Bigger Questions

I just want to have an infinitely large computer screen with no additional cost beyond buying the VR glasses. I don't give even one tiny shit about the "virtual reality" part. I basically want to be able to set my virtual desktop to some ridiculously large size, then look around at it using the VR glasses as a viewport.

Wouldn't that be a fun Window Manager to write? :-) However, instead of an infinitely large flat surface, I'd rather sit inside a ~6 foot virtual sphere. Important programs go right in front; reference docs, database queries, and utility/diagnostic apps would be to the left and right; email, IM, Facebook, news feed, and other "status"-y applications would be above or below. In hectic/messy work situations, you might end up with apps fully surrounding you, though obviously you'd be able to rotate the sphere with respect to the neutral head/neck position.

Short-term though, you're going to fuck up your eyes using any first-gen consumer VR for 8-10 hrs per day (a la any work situation), and it'll be cheaper/more expedient to just buy an extra monitor.

Comment: Re:This is some serious sci-fi drama (Score 1) 78

The word you are looking for is inventor. A discoverer is someone who finds something that was there all along.

While I agree with your definitions and word choice, there's really a vague area between the two terms: did Thomas Jefferson invent a better plough, or did he just discover a mathematical shape that offers the least resistant when passed thru a soil aggregate mixture? Did Thomas Edison invent the lightbulb, or did he just discover a filament that emits light when electrified (and then discovere a way to protect it from oils or direct contact with fabrics by housing it in glass... itself the result of a discovery that treating sand in such-and-such a way results in a convenient transparent solid)?

In one sense, every "invention" is merely a discovery about a mathematical truth of the universe... it may be a mathematics that reaches deep into chemistry or the human mind (far past our explicit understanding). You could probably turn it around too and say that every "discovery" is an "invention", which seems intuitively correct for (say) a complex image-compression algorithm, but very incorrect for something like Columbus's "invention" of America. :O

Comment: Re:Their two biggest mistakes (Score 1) 300

by firewrought (#49198415) Attached to: Mozilla: Following In Sun's Faltering Footsteps?

With the Eich issue, they alienated a heck of a lot of conservative and libertarian users who switched to various forks or Chrome afterward in protest.

The Eich issue was an unfortunate overreaction, and one that should cause some introspection for Mozilla employees. Part of being a professional is the ability to work with people who view the world (outside the job) in ways that passionately disagree with. (And I say this as a supporter of marriage equality.)

However, if you're going to choose your browser on philosophical (instead of technical) grounds, there are larger issues at stake that relate much more intimately to the role of the web browser. This Eich thing is a sideshow to bigger issues of freedom, privacy, and open standards. For instance, it's really, really good for end users that Mozilla can participate in the standards-making process as a not-for-profit entity that owns a good chunk of marketshare.

I'd be saying this same thing had history gone the other way... e.g., if Mozilla had kept Eich and liberals had abandoned FireFox for that reason.

Comment: Re:"Conservatives" hating neutrality baffles me (Score 1) 550

I can't believe the bullshit I see from some of the "conservatives" I know who treat this like some kind of commie takeover of the Internet.

This. Republicans claim to worship the free market, but when asked to protect a free market (that has brought a whirlwind of innovation from which all Americans have benefited), they try to eliminate it in favor of entrenched monopolies.

Comment: Re:Yes, and? (Score 1) 178

by firewrought (#49182341) Attached to: One Year Later, We're No Closer To Finding MtGox's Missing Millions

I thought it was so you could purchase illegal contraband without leaving a paper trail. Either way, it's for criminals that are trying to hide activities. That's why I stay away.

Every technology initially attracts attention for how it can be abused. With pagers it was drug dealers; with the internet it was child pr0n; with drones it's terrorists/pervy neighbors/drug traffickers/whatever. With bitcoin, it's black markets.

So I'd caution against being close-minded up front. (It's not as if you're contributing anything novel to the conversation by doing so... somebody parrots this talking point on every bitcoin thread.) We have yet to see how bitcoin will play out in the real world. Personally, while I don't think it's a great investment vehicle and it's a dubious means of wealth storage, it does look useful for wealth transfer.

With Credit Cards, you have a few central banks skimming a huge amount of profit from the bulk of commercial activity, basically inflating costs for all of society. With cash, the government (at taxpayer expense) has to continually print more while exchanging/destroying old notes and simultaneously fighting off counterfeiters. Maybe bitcoin can reduce these overhead costs to society while simultaneously making it easy to conduct a long-distance economic transaction.

Comment: Re:doesn't DNA age or lose fidelity ? (Score 1) 55

I'm not slightly a DNA expert, so this is a question for those who may be. But doesn't the DNA in the seeds degrade ? Does storing them in a vault protect them from stuff that makes them degrade?

Quoting the Wikipedia article on seed banks:

Depending on the species, seeds are dried to a suitably low moisture content according to an appropriate protocol. Typically this will be less than 5%. The seeds then are stored at -18C or below. Because seed RNA (like our DNA) degrades with time, the seeds need to be periodically replanted and fresh seeds collected for another round of long-term storage.

The bad news is that recalcitrant seeds can't be stored this way, so no cocoa, mango, avocado, or rubber.

Comment: Re:Wrong conclusion (Score 1) 135

by firewrought (#49150159) Attached to: Adjusting To a Martian Day More Difficult Than Expected

Sensory deprivation experiments where people live without clocks and daylight for more than a few days show that people tend to lengthen their "day".

Came here to say that. I remember one study/book that concluded people "naturally" have a 25-hour clock. Study participants lived in a (working) hospital with randomized staff schedules and all the clocks taken down, so it may not have been as pure as some other experiments on the matter. The participants had to wake up and go to sleep as a group so their schedules stayed in sync.

Comment: Re:Sick (Score 1) 301

That trait of unions is pretty much the only real reason anyone is opposed to unions in the first place.

That and bad PR. I had to do a job at an industrial site in a room with very poor chairs. We wheeled in better ones from an adjacent conference room, but then had to put them back and suffer back pain for ~2 days until the union could be bothered to wheel some over from a storage facility. A woman I know got written up for moving debris out of the path of her cart... debris that had been placed there by union members to purposely bait her (as a somewhat dumpy, absent-minded individual she was a natural target for practical jokes). Another man had the audacity to plug in his own telephone at a new job, and had to lie-lie-lie about it to the union guy who showed up to do it ~3 days later.

I know that unions hold charity events and make other positive contributions to the workplace, but extreme nitpicking on trivial work and fraternalistic pranks won't help reverse America's trending negative sentiment toward them.

Comment: Re:"a fresh and modern look" (Score 1) 516

by firewrought (#49140177) Attached to: Users Decry New Icon Look In Windows 10

'Flat' UI design is BAD design, plain and simple.

I've come to like the flatter look. How many bevels, gradients, shadows, and reflections do you need to show that a button is a button? In an Android app, a simple black and white icon is usually sufficient. Desktop apps may benefit from a little more polish, but the long term trend has been to use less and less "chrome" to indicate that a screen region is actionable. (If you're old enough, you'll remember how simple/lightweight hyperlinks were when you encountered them for the first time... just some blue text and an underline!)

If anything, these Windows 10 icons aren't flat and "iconic" enough. They should be aiming for something even simpler, like how the Visual Studio 2012/2013 designers used mostly simple silhouettes, with a handful of subdued colors for visual separation and emphasis. (The proposed Windows 10 icons are also just ugly. And what's up with turning the folder sideways?)

I think there's a parallel here to Edward Tufte's aesthetic that every piece of ink on a graph/chart must convey something meaningful about the data to the user. Any unnecessary element is chartjunk. Smartphones have forced us to apply the same thinking to UI design, and while some designers will inevitably take it too far (like Android did with the triangle/circle/square thing in KLP), we're headed in the right direction. Our chief scarcity is human attention, so it makes sense to generally de-empasize UI elements to the point where they don't ask for more of the user's attention then they deserve.

Comment: Re:Missing option: undetermined (Score 1) 164

by firewrought (#49096015) Attached to: How is your book reading divided between fiction and non-fiction?

You meant "Science Fiction" or "Fantasy" or not?

Noah's Ark is an especially good example of proto-SciFi: it's got a technically advanced ship that the hero uses to survive the disaster, saving the world [though not the human population] in the process. Of course, god instigating the disaster and the hero becoming a drunk afterwards aren't exactly hallmarks of the genre, but it's really easy to imagine ancient egyptians/mesopotamians being plagued by flood and thinking "you know, what if we built a really large boat?". Many sci-fi stories today seem to center around the same two-part idea of (1) imaging a real-life concern growing out of control [thereby radically altering the world] and (2) using a novel technical artifact to surmount those circumstances.

Comment: Re:We'd like your feedback... (Score 1) 353

by firewrought (#49081031) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Most Useful Browser Extensions?

I've heard that "element hiding helper" can assist with this. However, it's also easy to right-click on an item in FireFox, select "Inspect Element" and then figure out a rule to hide the content (though you'll have to consult the documentation). For instance, Slashdot has a "Site Notice" that will appear at the top of every page (unless you accept the cookies/whatever to suppress showing it). I added the rule "" to suppress it (though it has since been added to EasyList).

Comment: Re:Adblock (Score 3, Informative) 353

by firewrought (#49080945) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Most Useful Browser Extensions?

Request Policy is my #1 mandatory extension.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Request Policy works a lot like NoScript... it lists the domains that the page is trying to load *any* content from (not just scripts), and you whitelist which cross-domain loads you want to allow. On slashdot, for instance, I'm allowing requests to, but disallowing them to and

I use it myself, but I can't recommend it. Too much of the web breaks. Credit card payments that bounce to a payment processor's website are especially problematic (I've gotten double-billed at least once). And using it in front of other people is especially awkward when I have to fiddle with a new site for a few minutes to get it to work. Also, I don't know that this provides that much better privacy than AdBlock+EasyPrivacy or some of the host-file blacklists.

Maybe with some extra development Request Policy could be a lot easier. Integration with (or incorporation into) NoScript and/or a community of well-maintained whitelists would make a big difference.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." -- The Wizard Of Oz