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Comment: Re:Statistical Literature (Score 1) 122

Oh, god. Mel Gibson's 1990 Hamlet was awful. It was the most asinine thing I've ever seen. Shakespeare for people who really *are* dummies. Reportedly it was director Franco Zeffirelli's attempt to make Shakespeare "less cerebral" and more accessible to the masses. What a choice to try that with! The whole point of Hamlet is that he's so damned smart the only person who can really stand in his way is him.

My point was that you've got to find an actor who can give a knowledgeable performance. Not some meat-head action star stunt cast miles out of his depth. I'd rather watch Arnold Schwarzenegger Hamlet.

I think the best film adaptation of Hamlet I've seen was Kenneth Branaugh's 1996 version, although it is long, long, long at 242 minutes (to Gibsons' 134 minutes). Olivier's 1948 Hamlet is generally highly regarded, but it's too sentimental for my taste. Haven't seen Derek Jacobi's 1980 BBC performance, but I've heard good things about it. I've seen snippets of the David Tennant Hamlet, and it looks promising, although it's hard to shake the impression that it's Dr. Who playing Hamlet.

Comment: Re:No he didn't (Score 5, Insightful) 194

by hey! (#48024477) Attached to: Man Walks Past Security Screening Staring At iPad, Causing Airport Evacuation

Exactly. Security screwed up, and then they HAD to deal with it. It's not mere security theater to have a security checkpoint. Those checkpoints are demonstrably important.

Not many of us remember, but until 1973 there was no baggage screening, no metal detectors, and no id requirements for getting on a commercial flight. The number of skyjackings had climbed rapidly since the mid-50s so that in 1972 there were 11 skyjackings of commercial flights around the world, seven in the US.

After security checkpoints were introduced in the US, there wasn't another skyjacking in the US for three years. Then an occasional one now and then, as people found loopholes. There was one passenger airliner hijacking of a flight FROM the US in all the 1980s and none in the 1990s.

My conclusion is that the security measures put in place by 1990 were highly effective. 9/11 fit the pattern of the early dribs-and-drabs hijackings, the difference is Al Qaeda made an effort to do multiple simultaneous exploitations of the vulnerability they'd found. There hasn't been a hijacking of a US flight since then, but given that the last passenger hijacking BEFORE 9/11 was in 1987, it's likely that this long dry spell is mostly if not entirely due to banning blades from carry on luggage. That's not to say that EVERY other change since then is security theater. I think reinforcing cockpit doors and changing pilot training was a reasonable response. But a lot of the enhanced pat-downs, magic scanners, no-fly list shennanigans and such are no doubt bogus.

Comment: Re:net metering != solar and 10% needs new physics (Score 1) 432

by hey! (#48024379) Attached to: Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

Your analysis depends on two assumptions. First, that at the daily peak the amount of solar produced exceeds the total demand for electricity. That's actually quite likely to happen in the long term in certain locations -- sunny, densely developed residential neighborhoods for example -- but not in others -- in a neighborhood that has a steel mill. Maybe in the short term in a few places if the adoption of rooftop solar accelerates even more.

One of the ways to alleviate this would be to improve the distribution grid so that the excess supply could be sold further away. But lets say the day comes that the peak solar production exceeds the total electricity demand. That brings us to the second assumption.

The second assumption is that electricity is charged at a flat rate all day long. Clearly if lots of excess solar is being produced at noontime, you could easily reduce the cost you charge to electricity consumers (or pay back to electricity). We already do peak vs. off peak rates for industrial users.

This combination of grid improvements and reduced peak rates will encourage people and businesses to concentrate their power usage around noon. Maybe you'll charge our electric car at a higher rate, or maybe even charge large industrial or household batteries. The losses hardly matter, since we were throwing away the sunshine anyway. Increased noon usage will offset the tendency for electricity rates to fall during peak generation periods.

Am I saying the utilities won't lose a little money in a few isolated spots in the short term? No. What I'm saying is that we're hardly facing some kind of insurmountable singularity. Certainly not any time soon, nor in the long term if we can bring ourselves to prepare for it.

Comment: Re:Hodor (Score 2) 122

Martin will kill off an important character because he has no idea how to write a character arc out of a wet paper bag.

I actually don't think that's true. I think what you're reacting to comes with the epic scale of the novel (SoI&F really is just one, long, continuous work) -- both in word count and the enormous cast of characters. It's a kind of literary clutter. If you boiled Game of Thrones down to the story of Ned Stark's rise and downfall, that would be quite a satisfying (although grim) story arc. The fact that the story goes on and on after that dissipates the emotional impact of that one story line.

At over 1.7 million words currently, Song of Ice and Fire is more than six times as long as typical English translations of the Illiad and Odyssey combined. Think about that. In the time it took you to read just the first volume of Song of Ice and Fire, you could have read BOTH the Illiad and the Odyssey. And as a bonus you'd have read BOTH the Illiad and the Odyssey.

As works go further and further north of 200,000 words, they almost inevitably lose the tight, clockwork structure you expect in a 2 hour stage play or 70,000 word novel. Stories stop feeling like they have a beginning, middle, and end and start to feel more episodic. That happens to some stories well before they hit the 200,000 word mark (American Gods, 183 KWords).

At 473 KWords, Lord of the Rings is one of the rare exceptions. From Rivendell onward it's a marvel of complex yet tightly interwoven structure. But it's a hot steaming mess of false starts up until Ford of Bruinen. Tom Bombadil anyone? I think that it could probably be edited down to 400,000 words without losing much artistically. That's still almost miraculously long for a story that feels like one story.

I have a theory about episodic megastories like Song of Ice and Fire, which is that they aren't catharsis you get from a tightly plotted play or novel. They're about transporting a reader to a world he finds interesting to visit again and again. If so that bodes ill for the the Game of Thrones TV series now that Emilia Clarke has sworn off nude scenes.

Comment: Re:Statistical Literature (Score 1) 122

I don't have to read Shakespeare in Klingon, reading him in the original english is enough to put me to sleep.

Some would say this doesn't deserved to be dignified with a response, but I disagree.

The best introduction to Shakespeares plays is to see them on stage, performed by actors who know how to perform Shakespeare. Because of the shift in language, there's special skill needed for presenting Shakespeare to modern audiences. You'll be amazed at how much you understand. Until you know the play's text you'll be missing a lot too, but in the performance you won't notice that.

I'd go so far as to say it's better to see a Shakespeare play performed first before attempting to read it. Then tackle the text with its footnotes on every line.

Comment: Re:Problem oriented (Score 1) 56

by hey! (#48022831) Attached to: How To Find the Right Open Source Project To Get Involved With

I tried this once. I installed a rather obscure open source app that that turned out to be quite useful to me. But it took me a couple days to get to the point where I could do anything useful with it. And I was only able to do that because I can read source code and have lots of software installation and configuration experience. And because I enjoy a puzzle.

After using the app for a month or two, I thought to myself, "There's got to be thousands and thousands of people who'd benefit from this app, but I bet 99% of the people who try it give up before they have any success. What this project needs is documentation." So I contacted the development team with an offer to write some. I explain that while I'm a developer, not a tech writer, I had written early-adopter oriented documentation for several successful commercial projects, so I knew how to get those people up to speed while the app was still something of a moving target. I also offer to maintain that documentation for at least a year.

I got back a quite haughty response from the project leader stating that he *might* let me write documentation if I became a regular code contributor to the project. Now I'd assumed that his ideas of what documentation was needed might be different from mine, but it turned out he didn't seem interested in documentation at all. Also the response had a weird, hostile vibe; it was as if I'd asked him for hundreds of hours of his time rather than offered him hundreds of mine. So I thanked him for *his* invitation and declined it.

I guess the point is that there are other, social dimensions to choosing a project to contribute to. One of them is whether the project even wants what you have to offer. Another is whether the team seems like people you'd enjoy working with. There are some projects, like the Linux kernel, which are so prestigious that you might well take a lot of crap to be a contributor. But most projects aren't like that.

If you do start our own project, watch the TED video How to Start a Movement.

Comment: Re:Anarchy??? (Score 5, Insightful) 296

by hey! (#48017267) Attached to: Piracy Police Chief Calls For State Interference To Stop Internet "Anarchy"

Somebody forwarded me an article the other day about how we should all switch to dairy from grass fed cows. Now many of the points in the piece I happen to agree with, but one of the claims was that grass-fed dairy has fewer "toxins". Whenever I see "toxins" used without further specification as to what exactly the "toxin" is, that's a signal that someone's trying to sell something expensive but useless -- which turned out to be the case. The piece was hawking stuff you were supposed to mix into your grass-fed milk, which is a good way to expose yourself to toxins given how weakly regulated supplements are.

People use ideas like "law and order" in just the same way as marketers use "toxins". It's all well and good to say you're going to stop people from breaking the law on the Internet, but what specifically are you proposing to do? Set up an anti-fraud unit? I'll cheer you on. Monitor everyone's email? That cure's worse than the disease.

But I also have to say that the word "freedom" is just as subject to misuse -- or in this case "anarchy". Now there are many things about anarchy I like. There are others I don't. I don't like having to remove malware off my wife's computer. I don't like having to be vigilant that my older relatives aren't taken in by Internet scammers. I don't like having to deal with attacks on my websites. Even government agencies poking around in your Internet data -- that could be seen as a case of the agency exploiting a specific lack of Internet regulation.

I'm all for reducing my exposure to toxins, but I'm not going to get colon irrigated. I'm for cracking down on Internet crime, but not at the expense of the government doing things that *ought* to be criminalized. I'm for freedom, but not the freedom to interfere with other people's freedom. It's really not that complicated. Find out the specifics of what people are proposing to do, even when their stated goal sounds reasonable.

Comment: Re:Treasonous CIA gets more taxpayer money (Score 5, Informative) 241

by hey! (#48016189) Attached to: At CIA Starbucks, Even the Baristas Are Covert

Not to interfere with your nascent flame-war or anything but "self-funding" is not inconsistent with "getting more taxpayer money". First, they may get larger appropriations while at the same time running side businesses. Second, even if their appropriation were cut to zero, any money they make on the side becomes "taxpayer money."

One of the most fundamental principles of our form of government is that no executive branch agency can spend money without Congressional approval, no matter where that money came from. The reasons for this go back to the English Civil War. Charles I attempted to rule without calling Parliament, but since the Magna Carta English kings did not have the power of taxation; the House of Commons did. So Charles attempted an end-run by exploiting a fee that had been traditionally levied on coastal towns to pay for maritime protection in time of war. Charles's attempt to use "Ship Money" as a revenue source independent of Parliament was one of the key events leading to the Civil War, and was familiar history to the framers of the US Constitution.

Comment: Re:Asimov (Score 1) 428

by hey! (#48014571) Attached to: The Physics of Space Battles

Or... he could just toss that ball bearing out the airlock.

When an aircraft intercepts another aircraft, it's closing velocity is limited to between the difference of the aircraft's top airspeed (if one is overtaking another) to the sum of their top airspeeds (if they are closing head on). That's because both aircraft "want", in the absence of energy expended, to match velocities to the air they're moving through.

There's no limit (other than relativity) on the closing velocities of spacecraft, so when one craft intercepts another in the minimum time.possible, it's closing speed can be, in fact likely would be on the order of tens of km/s, an order of magnitude faster the autocannon rounds fired by modern fighter jets. If an intercepting spacecraft wants to have a classic sci-fi space dogfight, it has to expend considerable time and energy not only matching position with the target spacecraft, but matching velocity as well.

I use this this conflict between matching position in the minimum time and matching velocities in my own stories, although from what I can see that's not a common practice.

Comment: Re:Citation Needed (Score 1) 254

by hey! (#48013553) Attached to: Could We Abort a Manned Mission To Mars?

I think you overstate the case -- for the present.

Thought experiment: Imagine you could magically transport several humans to Mars along with all the shelter and supplies they needed. Naturally, you could also use your magic transporter to transport a robotic vehicle. Which would be more valuable?

At present, the humans would be a better choice due to their greater behavioral flexibility and autonomy. But over the next fifty years or so we can expect the gap in flexibility between humans and machines to narrow. In 2064 we might prefer to send robots through our transporter, simply because of the logistics of maintaining a pressurized environment. We're already finding applications on Earth where we prefer to fly drones rather than manned aircraft, and not necessarily because of safety.

Yet at present we still find it more convenient to do some things in low Earth orbit with people rather than robots. The cost and complexity of maintaining human life 200 miles away is plenty high, but it's still worth doing. In a hundred years, maybe not.

Here's what I think the lesson of the thought experiment is: the choice between a future manned expedition and a robotic expedition, reduced to purely practical concerns (i.e. excluding things like glory and adventure) will come down to the rate of marginal advances in robotics vs. marginal advances in space transport technology.

At present the state of space transport technology favors sending robots to Mars exclusively. But how do we advance space transport technology to make the manned trip desirable? Well, there's some engineering research needed of course, but the best way to gain practical experience in the short term is to send more robots. If we do *no* robotic space exploration, the advantage will shift even more towards robotic exploration, because space technology will stagnate while robotics continues to advance. If we want to see manned exploration of Mars in our lifetime (for those non-practical reasons above), our best chance starts with an intensive program of high-risk robotic missions.

Comment: Re:The film sucked; the miniseries before it was g (Score 2) 39

by hey! (#48009113) Attached to: Expedition 42 ISS Crew Embraces Douglas Adams

My first exposure to HHTG was around 1980. It was available on this thing we had back then called "radio", which was kind of like wireless multicast audio streaming, only with a very limited selection of content streams.

Here's the thing: a film is never going to compete with whatever you imagined reading the book or listening to the "radio" plays. At best it can show you what you've already imagined. And when you see what you've imagined it's getting a pleasant hit of external validation. Why else would a Harry Potter fan go to see a Harry Potter movie? They don't go for a *different* experience than they imagined. And Harry Potter and HHTG are written in two very different narrative styles. I think most people who read Harry Potter picture more or less the same thing, but everyone who reads HHTG picture very different things. So the movie was bound to be a disappointment if you went to it expecting to see what you've pictured in your mind up on the screen.

On top of that the "radio" play is 13 hours long, and the books have even more material. The movie runs less than two. That means a lot of your favorite bits inevitably got left out.

Comment: Re:Bitcoins (Score 1) 195

by hey! (#48007729) Attached to: The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes

Yes, you can sink all your money into Bitcoin and hope that a currency which doesn't respond at all to the size of the economy works out and saves the world.

Or you could become more involved in the political process and try to get people elected who will appoint more independent Fed governors and financial regulators and pass better laws for them to work under.

Choose your long shot.

Comment: Re:locks, doors, ... (Score 1) 185

by hey! (#48004413) Attached to: Security Collapse In the HTTPS Market

If your bike was made of solid gold, then a conventional bike lock would be useless. Also your bike would be very heavy.

The point is that your analogy has some flawed interpretations. What you're saying is that the use value of riding your bike anywhere outweighs the expected cost of its being stolen. That's completely valid. Likewise the marginal cost of a more sophisticated lock may not be worth the marginal reduction in expected theft-cost.

But information has a wider range of uses and values than a bike does; you can't just say, "well HTTPS may not be perfect, but it's what we've got and it's good enough." Some information is literally priceless. Other information may not be priceless, but maybe it's not really needed on a system so you can protect it by moving it to a less exposed system. HTTPS is just one of many tools you have to work with when addressing security. Naturally you want to use it as skillfully as possible to reduce your vulnerabilities, but part of the process in many cases is imagining what would happen when something you're relying upon fails, then planning to deal with that.

Comment: Re:Step one (Score 1) 84

by hey! (#48004207) Attached to: China Eager To Send Its Own Mission To Mars In the Wake of Mangalyaan

China is a signatory to the "Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies", Article II of which states:

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

The only difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman is that the car salesman knows he's lying.