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Comment: Re:Hmmm .... (Score 5, Informative) 123

by jfengel (#49176339) Attached to: Physicists Gear Up To Catch a Gravitational Wave

LIGO works by measuring the distance between two tracks set at right angles. A passing gravitational wave would momentarily change the length of one leg or the other, or both, in characteristic ways.

It measures the distance with a laser beam. It splits the beam, and sends them down the two tracks. They bounce off mirrors, and when they return, they interfere. Changes in the length will change the interference. That means that they can detect changes at distances on the order of a single wavelength of light.

That's an interferometer, the I in LIGO. At its core, it's the same thing that Michaelson and Morley used to look for aether, and failed to find it. The trick is that this has to be even more sensitive, because the expected changes are even smaller and the contraption itself is much bigger (4 km, versus a few meters). They have to exclude all kinds of potential interference, from passing trucks to earthquakes.

I suppose it may well go "ping" when it spots a gravitational wave, and they'll end up comparing it to other experiments. But they'll get more than a ping; they'll get a signal of the changing lengths that they can use to map the size of the wave, and even a hint of its direction.

Comment: Re:FEO (Score 1) 374

by jfengel (#49167265) Attached to: Google Wants To Rank Websites Based On Facts Not Links

For some reason, he didn't head off to Newfoundland; he went at tropical latitudes. If he was trying to follow a line of latitude due west to Asia, he was going the VERY long way. If he hadn't bumped into something along the way, he'd have been deeply screwed.

The direct route from Portugal to Japan would have taken him northeast. He probably had suspicions that the northeast passage wouldn't work, but the further north he went, the better. He'd have been better off going to Newfoundland. He would have failed to find the northwest passage, but he couldn't know that, either.

The explanation that he thought it was smaller would account for that. If he was going based on his suspicion that there might be something that far south, he had little evidence to support it, and was really staking his life it. It certainly paid off in spades, but that could easily have been a lie he paid for with his life.

Comment: Re:I use GnuPG (Score 1) 308

by jfengel (#49130281) Attached to: Moxie Marlinspike: GPG Has Run Its Course

Ultimately, it comes down to the question "why do you care who Andy Canfield is?" Are they planning to exchange money for goods or services? Write you a mash note? Collect on a debt?

As you say, "Andy Canfield" is kind of a red herring there. It's really the operational/instrumental definition of "is there some connection between this key and some object or information I want?" I'm not sure there really is any meaningful way to do that in the general case. It needs to be reconsidered as an array of different questions about why we care about identity in the first place.

Right now a lot of the notions of identity are really badly defined. "Identity theft" happens because lending institutions are legally allowed to connect your physical body (which can be punished in a variety of ways) to various intangible measures of identity with extremely thin degrees of proof. That may be the worst possible case.

Comment: Re:I've posted this 1312 times (Score 1) 146

by jfengel (#49129985) Attached to: Firefox 36 Arrives With Full HTTP/2 Support, New Design For Android Tablets

Unfortunately, I've found that increasing numbers of sites require those cross-site scripting just to render themselves. It's not uncommon for a site to require enabling literally dozens of other sites. It can be hard to tell which of those are content, which are navigation, which are ads, and which are tracking. At least some are starting to detect when you're selectively disabling the ad servers and metrics sites, and refusing to render at all.

In general, I'd prefer to avoid those sites entirely. I do understand their need to foist off ads on me, which is why I haven't run with AdBlock. I just want to disable antisocial behavior like animations, which make the content hard to read. But I can think of a few sites which have useful content that require me to let more things through NoScript than I'm really comfortable with.

Comment: Re:Please tell me this is satire (Score 1) 320

by jfengel (#49129543) Attached to: Use Astrology To Save Britain's Health System, Says MP

Ultimately, his idiot opinion on astrology doesn't really matter, since he's not going to make much headway against hundreds of other MPs. In the US, a well-place committee member can make his personal biases and idiosyncracies matters of law. I don't know if this guy has similar power; he is on the Health Committee and Sci-Tech committee but I don't think he has a lot of pull there.

My bigger concern, though, is in the constellations. Not of stars, but of beliefs. Poor reasoning in one area doesn't have to mean he reasons poorly in every area, but I've found that certain kinds of stupidities tend to cluster together. If he's just a guy with a stupid idea about the stars, even a well-placed guy, there's only so much harm he can do, and his constituents can be forgiven for electing him despite a foible. But it would not surprise me to discover that he buys into other conspiracy theories and applies similar poor reasoning to other areas. If that's the case, yeah, I blame his constituents.

Comment: Re:disclosure (Score 1) 448

by jfengel (#49114601) Attached to: How One Climate-Change Skeptic Has Profited From Corporate Interests

In this case, he's not being published in reputable journals. He's had some letters published, which are not subject to peer review. The few times he's gotten his papers into major journals, they've been savaged, and they don't publish him any more. His work is relegated to minor journals and letters.

The peer review process does provide a strong bar against junk science, but not all peer review is the same. Researchers in the field know it, but when the goal is to appeal to the public, it's easy to gloss over the differences. Even other scientists rarely know which are the reputable and high-impact journals outside of their own field.

Comment: Re:Too Much or Too Little? Economically? (Score 1) 305

by jfengel (#49113311) Attached to: Pandora Pays Artists $0.001 Per Stream, Thinks This Is "Very Fair"

Music is further made odd by the amount of money being spent to create demand. There's an enormous amount of marketing and advertising. Although there is some interest in the "long tail" of music, most of what people are willing to pay for comes from a well-oiled machine that has focus-grouped and promoted the bejeezus out of it.

That costs a lot of money, and it's aimed at getting people to take part of their overall budget and put it into music that could otherwise be spent on many different alternative goods: different entertainment, food, materials, education, retirement, etc. They're also vying for a limited factor of people's time budget: while songs can be done in parallel to other things, there's only so much attention, and they can listen to only so many songs.

A lot of factors enter into the economic model, and it goes far beyond just "supply and demand" even before you get the thumb on the scale of artificially-produced (and highly imperfect) scarcity.

Comment: Re:Obvious prior art (Score 1) 126

by jfengel (#49088487) Attached to: Patent Troll Wins $15.7M From Samsung By Claiming To Own Bluetooth

Code can, in theory, be made largely unhackable. The more features it has, the harder it will be, and there's always the five-dollar-wrench hack, but nothing in theory prevents people from securing the code.

The law is always going to be hackable. Any significant law is always going to be far more complicated than code. It's dealing with people, not computers, who have far more different modes of operation.

The law will always end up relying on a certain amount of goodwill from the people. We'd love to have the law say, "Look, just don't be an asshole," but defining "asshole" turns out to be tricky, and there will always be somebody willing to be just-asshole-enough to be legal.

Worse... the law is retroactive: if you break it, the courts do something. Computer security prevents you from doing the illegal thing. That inherent delay creates inherent injustice. The delay also costs money. We've seen time and time again that it's been cheaper for companies to pay the extortion than to defend against it.

So I think that yes, they are evil, and not merely hackers taking advantage of a broken system. Even the best possible system is imperfect. We rely on human beings to engage in a certain amount of decorum, if only for the game-theoretic reason that too much incivility results in a breakdown and they lose.

Frequently, the patent trolls are breaking the law themselves, and counting on the delay to get away with it. That's pretty directly evil. And taking advantage of ambiguities in a system that must inherently be ambiguous, I'd say that's equally evil.

Simply calling them "evil" doesn't really accomplish anything, of course. But it doesn't make them smart. The system is easily hacked. Anybody could do what they do. They're more akin to script kiddies than hackers.

Comment: Re:domination (Score 1) 271

by jfengel (#49049543) Attached to: Peak Google: The Company's Time At the Top May Be Nearing Its End

And that's precisely why YouTube is the go-to place even for a lot of copyrighted content: they're willing to play ball with the copyright holders (and arguably, roll over and play dead). That gives them access to a broad array of copyrighted content (like music videos) while ensuring that some revenue ends up in the hands of the copyright holder (if not the artist) by keeping out the copies.

Other sources will always be patchy; YouTube will be the go-to source. Even for material they don't wish to host on YouTube, many people will go searching there for it first, and they can provide an advertisement (such as a trailer) that links them to their own preferred site to buy/rent the content.

Others can try to break into that game by playing nice with the big studios, which heavily promote their own content and that drives a lot of eyeballs. But most people don't want to distinguish between that and the cat videos; it's all just entertainment. So unless that player is willing to put in an enormous effort duplicating YouTube's work, it's going to be a tough game to get started in.

Comment: Re:130 MW for 25 years for $848M (Score 1) 191

by jfengel (#49032319) Attached to: Apple Invests $848 Million Into Solar Farm

As I understand it, they usually report peak wattage rather than total energy production. It doesn't produce anything at night, and less most of the day. So the price per actual generated kWh may be closer to 10 or 12 cents. Which happens to be right around the national average, though considerably less than most of California.

In the end, I don't think it's purely a price thing. They're hoping to have a positive impact on the world as well. But if they can do it while netting about the same price as they would have spent anyway, or even a slight bargain, that makes it a no-brainer. If it's slightly more, it's still well within their total corporate goals.

Comment: Re:Not "incorrect" English (Score 1) 425

by jfengel (#48983263) Attached to: One Man's Quest To Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake

Yeah, I know. I'm not happy about it, and I'm not going to use it, but I will not correct anybody using it the new way.

My teeth still clench when I hear "X and I" in the objective case, but it's not worth complaining about, either. I will, however, complain about "literally" being used as a general intensifier. I know it has a long history, but there are still real-world cases where it's unclear which definition is meant, and that's a genuine problem.

Comment: Re:Not "incorrect" English (Score 1) 425

by jfengel (#48971629) Attached to: One Man's Quest To Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake

"Comprised" has become spoiled, to use the lexicographer's term for it. The proper use of it ("The USSR comprised 15 republics") sounds pedantic. Improper use ("Salt is comprised of sodium and chlorine") is lame, because the word "composed" is so similar and unarguably proper. At best, they're synonyms; at worst, that redundancy looks foolish.

So it ends up being not used at all in formal speech until it has completed its turn to its new meaning. And that new meaning is going to be a slightly prissy-sounding synonym for "composed".

Documentation is the castor oil of programming. Managers know it must be good because the programmers hate it so much.