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Comment: Bioaccumulation Ahoy (Score 2, Interesting) 180

by mentil (#47693011) Attached to: Fighting Invasive Fish With Forks and Knives

One side-effect of this is that people who eat this fish will consume more mercury, PCBs and other harmful substances compared to if they ate the native (potentially restricted-catch) fish. This is due to the northern snakehead consuming poisons in the water plus toxins accumulated in the flesh of their prey. Humans who eat this fish (or any predatory fish) would thus consume more toxins than if they ate a fish (like much of its prey likely is) that only eats primary producers.

The obvious solution involves Needle Snakes.
Seriously though, how much can we interfere with nature to ensure some animals' survival, and continue to call it 'nature' with a straight face? Eventually, the figurative and literal cage bars make it indistinguishable from captivity. Isn't there a point where we should let evolution do its thing? I know that often leads to extinction, but if we're only keeping wild animals alive so we can eat their tasty flesh, then we may as well keep enough to eat captive.

Comment: Yeay More Personal Information to Hoover (Score 2) 196

by mentil (#47343319) Attached to: How Apple Can Take Its Headphones To the Next Level

Just what I want -- for my NSA-backdoored, malware-infested, free-apps-spying-on-me smart device to ALSO be able to exfiltrate my vital signs. You think GPS location and when you use your device tells alot about your life habits, wait until heartrate and blood pressure are available. Advertisers would LOVE this data: "look, our ad is exciting to this person". Worse, they could also detect heart conditions and uniquely identify the person wearing the earbuds. Think about that for a second. Instead of just assuming that this iPhone was registered by person X so it's probably being used by that person, it'd be able to know if someone's borrowing it (and using a cloud data lookup, by whom.) Wait until the NSA ("we kill people based on metadata") starts using vital sign 'fingerprints' and bombing them with no verification.

Comment: This is How the War on Drugs Ends (Score 1) 194

by mentil (#46108187) Attached to: How the Web Makes a Real-Life <em>Breaking Bad</em> Possible

With designer drugs, scientists can't agree on what exactly a 'drug analogue' means, so an analogue law would be unenforceable. All drugs invented after, say, 1950 without FDA approval could be banned; but then trade of the drug wouldn't be prosecutable until it were proven that it's artificial and invented; if it were naturally occurring (say, from Psilocybin mushrooms) then it can only be discovered and not invented. The drug scheduling works as a blacklist, but could be reworked to only allow whitelisted drugs.

A law targeting artificially-created drugs or GMO-created drugs would be unenforceable. Many pharmaceuticals are mass-produced nowadays with genetically-engineered organisms (fungi, often) that secrete the target chemical. There's no way to always distinguish a GMO from a crypto-organism, or in other words, an artificially-created drug factory from a naturally-occurring drug factory. Therefore, there'd be no way to prove that a drug was made artificially rather than naturally. So White-listing could still stop trade, but that'd only work until...

Homebrew. As genetic modification tech gets cheaper and easier to use, there will be cheap DIY kits to make your own designer drugs and the organisms to produce them. Later, easily-obtainable underground apps will help you design drugs with certain target effects, based on (but sufficiently modified from) existing recreational drug molecules. Once the international effort to use supercomputers to model the human body's physiology gains open access, people can submit potential molecules to the system and see their effects (and side-effects). No 30-year studies with methodology errors mixed with decades of FUD and hand-wringing, just the truth in black and white for everyone to see. New molecules that aren't simply modified versions of existing chemicals can be brute-forced that have certain effects, avoiding any existing analogue laws. This will enable an explosion in the effectiveness and safety of designer drugs, as there's an uncomfortable (to some) overlap with the effects of medicinal pharmaceuticals, leading to the end of support for drug restrictions.

Comment: Vulnerable to Social Engineering (Score 4, Interesting) 111

by mentil (#45744281) Attached to: BitTorrent Unveils Secure Chat To Counter 'NSA Dragnet Surveillance'

If the public/private key pair is created at account creation, then people accustomed to everything being in the cloud will frequently forget to backup their private key (which isn't stored on any central server). A common occurrence will be "Hey Alice, it's Bob. I lost my private key so this is my new account now." Potentially, Bob is in jail and a fed is masquerading as him.

Also from my experience with DHT, it doesn't work unless you already know an IP running the protocol -- who you usually find through, yes, a centralized server. If that server were TOR-based it might work, but then that raises the question of what functionality is added by this protocol that a messaging program running thru TOR doesn't offer. Having Mixmaster-style message queueing in addition to onion routing would offer improved resistance to topology attacks as well. I'm referring to TOR's hidden services protocol, by the way, rather than the standard web proxy where an unencrypted message would be sent to a messaging server after several encrypted hops.

Comment: The Sword of Damocles (Score 2) 926

by mentil (#45382373) Attached to: Where Does America's Fear Come From?

The fear comes from propaganda penned by the elite. The elite that control America's politics and economy are constantly afraid of the Sword of Damocles -- an angry mob of Americans calling for their blood for their failure to do something or other. Fifty years ago it was a fear of a communist revolt, where the people take away their power if not their life. Now it's a fear of some crisis happening and being seen as not having done enough to prevent it. As a result, politicians want to be seen as "doing something", even if what they're doing is ineffective or counterproductive. If there's supposedly a "drug crisis", politicians will pass laws to be seen as "tough on drugs". It works the same for terrorism or any other societal ill, real or perceived. Opportunistic politicians, as opposed to being afraid, turn this around and sponsor a bill, make a story and pretend as if there's a real problem, in order to gain popularity or power; this is the malice on the flipside of the former problem's ignorance.

Despite most Americans being more interested in money than politics, big business and finance tend to get less public scrutiny than government. These sectors are equally afraid of the people though: witness how quickly they used government resources and propaganda to cause the Occupy movement to lose steam.

Comment: Actually 4G According to ITU-R (Score 4, Informative) 128

by mentil (#43707219) Attached to: Samsung Testing 5G Phones With 1gbps Download Speed

The technical definition of 4G requires 1Gbps stationary and 100Mbps while moving. The network tech mentioned in the article is thus 4G.
Notice that current '4G' technologies are usually called '4G LTE' in advertisements, to try to get around the established non-marketing definition.

Comment: Start School Later (Score 4, Interesting) 272

by mentil (#43669255) Attached to: Sleep Deprivation Lowers School Achievement In Children

The book 'the end of homework' explained this pretty well. Research has found that school starts an hour before children are typically awake. School starts so early so that there can be long afternoons of sports practice. Prioritizing learning over sports would thus lead to improved learning.

I recall Junior year of high school. Biology and Geometry were my first two classes, and I would fall asleep during the latter due to late nights exploring the nascent Interweb. Late at night there are no parents nagging you, you can go to sleep whenever you want, it's quiet and you can think or do whatever you want. And, ya know, less sleep means more free time, of which high schoolers feel quickly slipping away as their homework load increases.

Comment: Much Webmail Actually Isn't Sent Unencrypted (Score 1) 457

by mentil (#43669083) Attached to: US DOJ Say They Don't Need Warrants For E-Mail, Chats

Much webmail sent today isn't transmitted cleartext... because it's not sent between two mail providers. For example, if you log into Gmail with SSL, and send a mail to another Gmail account, it's not being sent cleartext across the Internet.

Furthermore, most email users don't know that emails are sent cleartext, particularly if they "see the padlock icon" when logging into the webmail provider, so they may actually expect that emails are sent encrypted, assuming they even know what encryption is. They know they can't read others' emails since they don't know the login credentials, thus conclude that emails are private (if they're unaware of man-in-the-middle attacks or sniffing). So, there's a de-facto expectation of privacy, thanks to ignorance.

Comment: When We Can Trust Computers (Score 3, Insightful) 216

by mentil (#43089517) Attached to: When Will We Trust Robots?

Personal robots are basically mobile computers with servos, and computer software/hardware has a long way to go before it can be considered trustworthy, particularly once it's given as much power as a human.

First there's the issue of trusting the programming. Humans act responsibly because they fear reprisal. Software doesn't have to be programmed to fear anything, or even understand cause and effect. It's more or less predictable how most humans operate, yet there's many potential ways software can be programmed to achieve the same thing, some of which would make it more like a flowchart than a compassionate entity. People won't know how a given robot is programmed, and the business that writes its proprietary closed-source software likely won't say, either.

Second is the issue of security. It's pretty much guaranteed that personal robots will be network-connected to give recommendations, updates on weather/friend status/etc., which opens up the pandora's box of malware. You think Stuxnet etc. are bad, wait until autonomous robots are remotely reprogrammed to commit crimes (say, kill everyone in the building), then reset themselves to their original programming to cover up what happened. With a computer you can hit the power button, boot into a live Linux CD and nuke the partitions; with a robot, it can run away or attack you if you try to power it down or remove the infection.
Even if it's not networked, can you say for certain the chips/firmware weren't subverted with sleeper functions in the foreign factory? Maybe when a certain date arrives, for example. Then there's the issue of someone with physical access deliberately reprogramming the robot.

Finally, the Uncanny Valley has little to do with the issue. It may affect how much it can mollify a frightened person, but not how proficient it is at providing assistance. If a human is caring for another human, and something unusual happens to the person they're caring for, they have instincts/common sense as to what to do, even if that just means calling for help. A robot may only be programmed to recognize certain specific problems, and ignore all others. For example, it may recognize seizures, or collapsing, but not choking.

In practice, I don't think people will trust personal robots with much responsibility or physical power until some independent tool exists to do an automated code review of any target hardware/software (by doing something resembling a non-invasive decapping), regardless of instruction set or interpreted language, and present the results in a summarized fashion similar to Android App Permissions. Furthermore, it must notify the user whenever the programming is modified. More plausibly, it could just be completely hard-coded with some organization doing code review on each model, and end-users praying they get the same version that was reviewed.

Comment: Boycotting Won't Solve the Root Issue (Score 2) 1174

by mentil (#43086095) Attached to: Orson Scott Card's Superman Story Shelved After Homophobia Controversy

Boycotting the Superman issue (which supposedly doesn't contain any author tract on gay marriage) wouldn't change Card's mind, but only tell him that people strongly disagree with him (which I'm sure he's already aware of). His claims need to be directly debunked; it sounds like he has some convoluted speculative-fiction logic that leads him to believe that legalization of gay marriage would lead to a dystopic government. I've heard parallel arguments about chaos being caused by traditional institutions being threatened, but I have a hard time not seeing it as a moral panic. Maybe people will start using critical thinking to challenge traditions based on archaic, often dubious, assumptions. If that's a good or bad thing depends on your point of view.

Some media may be convinced to stay away from homophobic authors/content, but that won't stop homophobia because prejudice is easily spread by word of mouth. Self-censorship won't change anyone's minds, the marketplace of ideas needs to do its thing.
Think of it this way, which is better?:
a) someone never hearing homophobic ideas before, then being deluged by the flawed logic of a true-believer, which they are unlikely to be able to completely debunk on the spot
or b) someone hearing point/counterpoint on every issue as they come up

Counting in binary is just like counting in decimal -- if you are all thumbs. -- Glaser and Way