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Comment Re:New shares not required (Score 1) 183

Yep, that's why I noted some caveats after my asterisk :)

I have shares in a company on roughly this basis myself, only it's a little more complex. Some of my shares are real and issued, some are un-exercised options where the creation of the shares has been pre-approved (and therefore doesn't require agreement from the board to issue them), and some others are held as 'deferred' shares by another shareholder, which means they hold no rights and receive no profits for those shares (but they could be transferred / converted in future if the board agrees).

It's all far too complicated for its own good, and it's an interesting experience watching people argue over the contents of a spreadsheet some of them don't understand... I'm not surprised at all that Gygax could fail to see this coming and/or assume his colleagues wouldn't see it.

Comment I still don't get it... (Score 4, Informative) 183

The Blume family also exercised options -- which means creating new shares at a price agreed previously.

They needed money to do this, and conveniently Williams' downpayment for their other shares was exactly the same amount.

This is pretty standard: a company will often reserve X amount of notional 'shares' to be issued as options, and the existing investors are aware that their own holding will be diluted when these options are exercised. Until the options are exercised, however, they do not actually exist as shares. *

* There are various caveats on all of this, as shares may be held in treasury by the company, converted from one type to another and various other things in order to avoid tax / split control differently to the profits.

Submission + - NSA Broke Into Links Between Google, Yahoo Datacenters ( 2

barlevg writes: The Washington Post reports that, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden, through their so-called "MUSCULAR" initiative, the National Security Agency has exploited a weakness in the transfers between data centers, which Google and others pay a premium to send over secure fiber optic cables. The leaked documents include a post-it note as part of an internal NSA Powerpoint presentation showing a diagram of Google network traffic, an arrow pointing to the Google front-end server with text reading, "SSL Added and Removed Here" with a smiley face. When shown the sketch by The Post and asked for comment, two engineers with close ties to Google responded with strings of profanity.

Comment Re:Goodbye anti-spam automated challenge systems (Score 1) 101

Greg Egan describes a world in where the spam arms race has led to intelligent spam bots, and spam filters which are a simplified simulation of your own brain, which reads the spam to decide if you would want to see it yourself.

(N.B. I wouldn't want to give the impression that's all there is to the book, it's just a very, very small part of it. It's a good read if you think you'd like a novel which explores some of the implications of simulating human brains. The simulation speed is an issue too: if you want to go talk with the AIs you either have to do it 'by post' or slow your own brain down to their speed.)

Comment Everyone has this problem backwards (Score 1) 590

I think perhaps most people are looking at this the wrong way round.

Very small aircraft are already flying great distances using ground-charged batteries plus solar power. The issue shouldn't be "how do we build a 300-seat version", but "how do we make it possible for everyone to take small planes".

The challenges then become fundamentally different:

  1. 1. The pilot: on a two-person plane, one person at least must be a pilot. This is horribly costly, and would make this whole approach uneconomic.
  2. 2. The weather: these planes are very susceptible to poor weather, and not just because of the need for power, they would also be more dangerous in poor conditions.
  3. 3. Air traffic control: multiply the number of aircraft by several hundred and the existing approach to air traffic control would fail.

However, there are potentially some huge benefits (beyond the energy savings):

  • - Frequency: if it's just the two of you, the plane may as well leave right now.
  • - Ubiquity: probably, lots of smaller airports would be a better approach, so they could be closer.
  • - Less driving: potentially, much smaller flights would make sense, replacing costly ground-based road and rail infrastructure.

I'm not up to solving 1, 2 and 3 above, but my suspicion is that ICT-based solutions are getting closer, i.e. more heavily computer-assisted flight and air traffic control, better weather monitoring and comms so that planes can be routed or grounded as necessary.

Intercontinental travel is still difficult from a safety perspective, because a forced landing at sea would be much more dangerous than on land (gliders like the one in the article would be very capable of ground-based landing even if all power had failed). Maybe large oil-rig-like touch-and-go points along the route could do the job, adding some safety as well as doing more efficient plugged-in recharging.

As for improving the planes themselves, what about a ground-based accelerator, so they're at flight velocity before take off? Isn't take-off itself one of the biggest energy drains?

Comment Re:Unfair comparison (Score 1) 174

I agree with everything you say here, but I would like to add that, while hypocrisy is often more annoying than wrongdoing, and is certainly more likely to result in press exposure than unashamed wrongdoing (all other things being equal), it is wrongdoing itself which actually does the damage.

Galling as it may be, I think we should make more effort to be accepting of occasional hypocrisy. After all, there's plenty of evidence that our thoughts are context-dependent, so it's entirely possible to be hypocritical without realising it.

That said, in the case you're describing people are being both hypocritical and harmful, which is clearly to be frowned upon.

Comment Re:Food pill (Score 1) 317

I went to a talk last Friday by Prof. Charles Spence, and the first thing he talked about is why the food pill had not come to pass. He was basically talking about all the non-nutrition-related processes that go on when you chew / taste / smell / see / hear food. One of the surprises was how much the last two affect things. I'm sure quite a few of you have heard that dying white wine red leads to people claiming to smell something different, and apparently playing different sounds while we eat crisps will change how crunchy we think they are.

That said, I'm sure all these other effects could eventually be dealt with, but the point is a pill that satisfies all your nutritional needs would not be recognised as doing so by your body or brain.

However, if we also developed an entirely nutritionless substance that could be flavoured, textured, dyed and, er, whatever the verb is for making a food sound a certain way, then you could eat as much of that as you wanted and then take your daily pill and be just dandy!

Comment Re:It's not only programmers vs bosses (Score 1) 469

I heartily agree with this, and would add that 'sales and marketing' is a very general term, and like any general term it masks a huge variety of approaches.

In the past I have been involved in lowest-level coalface kind of work (approaching people in the street - and this was not a temporary thing, I was starting a local business, and canvassing in this way was part of our overall lead generation strategy for three years), and in some of the most high-level (and often ill-defined) 'relationship building' that professional services firms ply Fortune 500 / FTSE 100 companies with.

The difference between the first and the second of these is stark indeed, for all that they rely on the same fundamental skills: reading people and convincing people. One of them you have about five seconds to hook someone, the other you can easily take a year, meeting them every three months, before anything comes of the connection.

(For the record, I disliked working in both of these roles, and although I could force myself to be 'on', I much prefer programming and other structured work; the lesson I took - addressing your weaknesses is useful up to a point, but playing to your strengths is more rewarding and more fun!)

Comment More advanced compound commands (Score 2) 33

It would be nice to see this combined with something like Apple's new voice interface (I'm sure there are other equivalents) to parse a more complex grammar.

Even something like "left" vs "left a bit" vs "left a lot" would be enough to make this a more natural interface.

Great stuff though, nonetheless. I remember ten years ago when I was at Cambridge the engineers having a competition to build robotic arms to pick up screws, half of them couldn't get it to work, and that was in a reproducible situation, no controls, as many attempts as needed etc.

Comment Re:Privacy vs Transparency (Score 1) 241

This is bang on.

One of the big things George Orwell didn't include in 1984 was the chiasmus: the government watches everyone, everyone watches the government. All sorts of things, from mobile phone recordings of police malpractice to the MPs' expenses scandal (I'm a Brit) show how technology cuts both ways in this regard.

We might also reach a stage where the ability to tailor things in both directions based on individuals makes government start to seem less like a monolith and more like what it really is: a very large group of people doing a whole bunch of things, some of whom are mostly up front and some of whom are mostly underhand.

Comment Re:Technology change drives all economic growth? (Score 1) 321

Yep, it absolutely is Keynesian, and you're quite right a lot of people don't like it or don't agree with it. I'm certainly not saying it will happen, I'm just being wildly optimistic about killing two birds with one stone!

Flip side is that if and when climate change is disrupting economic activity in a sufficiently significant manner, it will doubtless generate a bunch of defensive, as you put it, R&D. Probably be a big stimulus, in the same way that war destroying things can be a big stimulus. My suggestion is that we try to preempt things a bit...

Your point that building the same old crap is low risk is absolutely spot on, and is actually what technology bubbles are very good at disrupting. Only everyone becoming convinced that X is the next big thing can overthrow all the entrenched business models that X will wipe out. This is arguably why boom-and-bust continues to be the pattern: despite many negatives, it actually is better than the alternative at ushering in each new development.

Comment Technology change drives all economic growth? (Score 1) 321

I knew the chap who founded SPRU, looking into just such things back when it was largely being ignored. I also worked briefly with a colleague of his on technology bubbles and the positive transformative effects they can have in the long term, despite 'short-term' financial crises.

Firstly, they are of course of the opinion that R&D is vital. Indeed my limited understanding of their position is that almost all 'real' economic growth can be said to come from technological change. Everything else is either population growth or accumulating fixed assets like materials; the former dilutes per capita growth and is effectively a wash (distribution of wealth aside - yes that's a big issue too, but bear with me...), the latter only have value because of how they are used in technology (market value is of course determined by perception, and that's another reason it gets out of kilter from time to time).

More significantly, perhaps, is their way of looking at tech bubbles: they exist because of R&D, and all sorts of people get overexcited and there's a bubble followed by a collapse but, in the meantime, some entire infrastructure has been replaced. Rail bubble is a good example, the transition to mass production is another, various colonial bubbles etc. In these cases, the real economic growth (of the kind that benefits everyone, not just a financial elite) tends to occur only after the collapse.

I think we are in the middle of this collapse right now, and it may be protracted. Arguably the last similar collapse involved WWII before upward movement was restored. Anyway, the point is this fellow from IBM is absolutely correct, but if history is anything to go by there may well be a serious hiatus in R&D before the next wave of real growth starts, and him saying it ain't so might not do a hell of a lot...

(Just as an aside, a lot of R&D post Wall Street crash started as part of the military-industrial complex, effectively funded by governments as part of the war effort. There are many economists who suggest that, when private enterprise fails, governments have to step in and spend spend spend, but the reactionary governments such crises often engender have difficulty justifying this sort of expense without, say, a huge war. A more positive alternative might be putting large parts of the world economy onto a 'war footing' against climate change: printing money, creating jobs, building infrastructure and so on. Even if climate change isn't happening, this could be no more pointless than developing ways of actively destroying people and infrastructure...)

Comment Re:Quantum Encryption (Score 1) 228

This is not my area at all, but I attended a lecture a couple of years ago by one of the top UK quantum computing researchers (I think it was one of these guys), and I asked him at the end of the lecture how they got the answers 'out' of the quantum element of the computer and into something more conventional to be looked at by humans, processed further etc; he conceded that this was very difficult, and when I pushed him on the hardest question they'd actually solved he wryly admitted that the best they'd done was to factorize 15. Of course, I'm sure that's a huge acheivement to have proved the principle in practice even in a small way, but it is funny everyone heralding the end of cryptography when it seems to be quite some way off.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright