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Comment: Re:That micro-floppy (Score 1) 263

They're both removable storage, but even that function is conceived very differently now. Floppies are intended to be swapped in and out; the picture even depicts somebody sliding one in. They had very small capacity, and you'd use multiple floppies as an organizational tool the way we now use directories. (MS-DOS had directories, but CP/M just had a flat file structure since it only supported 200k floppies anyway.) The idea that a chip that small would also store 1000x more data would have been dismissed as hilarious.

SD chips tend to be fairly immobile: some are removable (especially on devices like cameras), but in most cases they tend to just stay there. You can get the SD card out of my phone, but you have to remove the case and a battery to get to it. We've substituted networking for most of the "removability" of a floppy drive. I know that some printers still support using SD cards as sneakernetting, but I suspect that more and more cameras will just end up with built in networking. The main reason to remove the chip will be to put in a bigger one.

Comment: And that's surprising why? (Score 5, Insightful) 719

by jfengel (#46716915) Attached to: Can the ObamaCare Enrollment Numbers Be Believed?

There was a deadline. People put stuff off to the deadline, especially when it means it's going to cost them money.

For comparison, this page has a graph of tax-related Google queries. Big shock: they spike right before deadlines in January and April. (That's a proxy for tax filings, for which I couldn't find a decent source. I suspect that tax filings are probably even more spread out, since many people get money back and would rather do it early.)

Combined with problems that would have caused people who tried earlier to fail, it doesn't seem at all likely that numbers would go up by a factor of 2/3. If you'd told me it was an order of magnitude, I might have been surprised. IBD has a history of a negative view of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") and so I'm not especially inclined to see their incredulity is anything other than ideology.

Comment: Re:I'm trying (Score 1) 99

by jfengel (#46698831) Attached to: Rover Curiosity Discovers Australia-Shaped Rock On Mars

It's not squinting, it's the mental rotation. You're viewing it from a point to the south-east. The bottom edge of the rock in the photo is roughly the east coast. The notch in the lower left is roughly the Great Bight.

The distinctive northern tip of Queensland is entirely absent, and in fact the whole "north coast" of the rock is Just Plain Wrong. You really have to be kinda desperate to want to see it. But for that matter, you kinda have to be desperate to consider this news.

Comment: Re:Sorry about the loss of the magic (Score 1) 469

Yeah, I had actually intended to downplay that sentence a bit. Cremona had several great luthier families; Stradavarius got the biggest name but the others were at least in the same range. It would be fascinating to see just how Cremona came to be the center of fine instrument making.

Comment: Sorry about the loss of the magic (Score 4, Insightful) 469

People have some kind of innate (or maybe learned, but deep) fondness for "authentic". They'll pay for things that were touched by celebrities, as if there's some kind of magic that's transmitted through it.

These were, almost surely, the best violins available. The Stradavari family had extraordinary skill, surpassing anybody else at the time. It's remarkable and amazing that it should take us centuries to make other instruments with similar precision, balance, and quality.

But it's not amazing that we should eventually do so. There was no magic to these instruments, just tremendous hard work and a commitment to quality. These are rare, but hardly unique, especially over the course of centuries.

Let us appreciate these for what they are: remarkable artifacts of history, hand-made to extreme precision, durable enough to stand the test of time and be selected for their quality. There's no point in adding an additional layer of BS about some magic, unattainable extra that can't possibly be reproduced. It doesn't diminish the instrument, nor does it make every hack a great musician. Great instruments and great musicians will continue to make great music; surely that should be enough without sullying it with gullibility.

Comment: Re:what can we infer about puzzles easy for humans (Score 1) 44

by jfengel (#46641429) Attached to: Data Mining the Web Reveals What Makes Puzzles Hard For Humans

Has anybody tried to hook Watson up to a crossword puzzle? Its Jeopardy-answering skills should give it a substantial jump on the puzzle, and combined with the combinatorial crunching power of a computer should be able to narrow down a lot of places to the point where it can just plain guess. Which is what a lot of human players have to do when faced with overly "clever" clues anyway.

Some puzzles have extra thematic elements that would make it tricky for a computer (such as misspellings), though a lot of these are really just a matter of practice for humans as well: "Oh, this is the kind of language game you're allowed to play." A computer might not be able to induce that kind of rule, but if you code for it it can probably take some fine guesses.

Comment: Re:I always find it interesting. . . (Score 1) 138

There have always been strong-on-defense conservatives. Anti-communist zealots who were happy to sacrifice a lot of liberty for a little temporary safety had their biggest prominence during exactly the time that today's conservatives hold up as the ideal time of American values.

What I find interesting is the way it's costing them an opportunity to go against Obama. Obama's own party is largely unhappy about continued NSA spying. Even Dianne Feinstein, who is from very liberal San Francisco but has been a defender of the American intelligence community from her position on the Select Committee on Intelligence, finally got fed up with it last week.

Politically, it would be a good time for libertarians to try to pry liberals away from the Democrats. But the libertarians have made their primary political home with the Republicans for some time; there is a separate Libertarian party but it never fares well due to vote-splitting. Republicans won't easily be able to switch away from a position that put national security over liberty, even when they've got a golden opportunity to use it to embarrass Obama.

Since Obama himself is making proposals to limit (but hardly stop) NSA spying on Americans, in an ideal world you'd love to see everybody come together to try to reach a point where at least a majority can say, "Yeah, I feel OK about changing the situation, even if I'd rather have more security or more defense from intrusiveness." But sadly for the state of American politics, it seems mostly like an opportunity for both extremes to oppose the center.

Comment: Re:Customers may benefit... maybe (Score 1) 455

by jfengel (#46605443) Attached to: Wal-Mart Sues Visa For $5 Billion For Rigging Card Swipe Fees

It's interesting that they can have people so aware of the price difference when it's numerically comparatively small. It's about 2%: not trivial, but you need to be literally counting pennies to notice it.

There are, unfortunately, many people in America who do need to count pennies. But I wonder what fraction of Wal-Mart shoppers are in that position, and how many think "low prices" when they wouldn't actually notice the difference?

I mention this only because I suspect that Americans tend to put price over other considerations, including quality, convenience, and even conscience. I wouldn't tell people how to shop, but I wonder how many people might be better off (by their own measures, whatever they are) to say, "OK, I'll spend an extra eight cents to buy this package of crackers at a store where the employees seem happier" or "I've noticed that the reviews of the Wal-Mart vacuum cleaner aren't as good as the ones at the other department store; I'll spend the extra $10 and get one that does a better job."

Or not. There are surely plenty who truly do need to save the eight cents on the package of crackers, and there but for the grace of God go I. But I am genuinely curious how many seek to minimize the price simply because it's the easiest factor to optimize.

Comment: They do anyway (Score 1) 284

by jfengel (#46604727) Attached to: U.S. Court: Chinese Search Engine's Censorship Is 'Free Speech'

Like it or not, the government does exclude some speech from being "free". Threats and defamation are excluded, as is the ever-popular "shouting fire in a crowded theater". Even obscenity can be limited, though fortunately that exception has been narrowed in the past few decades.

Not that I want these to be the camel's nose under the tent. I'm just pointing out that the potential for abuse is already there. I think it's perfectly reasonable that you can't threaten somebody and call it "free speech", but it sets a dangerous precedent.

Comment: Re:FINALLY! (Score 1) 94

If you haven't read it, in the past couple of years his son published his fragmentary version of the Arthurian legend. His alliterative verse was better in some places than in others (I loved it when it appeared as Rohirric poetry, not so much in the plodding and interminable verse version of the Beren and Luthien story), but it really popped there. He was trying to craft, in that way he does, a version such as might have been written by the earliest Germanic invaders after the fall of Rome, and as absurd as that sounds, I thought that it worked.

Comment: Re:FINALLY! (Score 1) 94

Although Tolkien really was a gifted poet in so many ways, I often found his alliterative verse cloying. Modern English just doesn't have the right tone for it. His alliterative versions of Leithian and Children of Hurin don't, for the most part, do it for me.

I do wish he'd finished his Arthur story, though. That one came out last year, and it was genuinely great. He massaged various versions of the myths into one story that worked better than any of the existing tellings, and the alliterative verse really soared. (Plus, there were hints in his notes that Lancelot was destined to end up in Valinor, which would have amused the bejeezus out of me, but he never got around to writing it.)

So I'll be curious to see how I feel about this. Seamus Heaney's translation is going to be damned hard to beat. But regardless, Tolkien's version will tell us a lot about his thoughts on it, which will be fascinating. And from what I hear, he's using some archeological speculations, and I hope that there's commentary to see how much of that continues to be valid.

"If John Madden steps outside on February 2, looks down, and doesn't see his feet, we'll have 6 more weeks of Pro football." -- Chuck Newcombe

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