Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Comment: Re:Government Intervention (Score 1) 451

by Cimexus (#48935825) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: When and How Did Europe Leapfrog the US For Internet Access?

Yes as a comparison, I recently moved from Australia to the US. Similar sized city in both countries (~400k people).

In Australia I had a choice of ~30 ADSL2+ providers at up to 24/2 Mbps (down/up), plus around 4 or 5 VDSL2 providers offering a guaranteed 60/15 Mbps down/up. In each case the physical line the service was provided through was the same line, owned by the main telco, but many different providers could offer service over it.

In the US I have a choice of precisely one DSL provider at 6 Mbps/768 kbps down/up (ick), and precisely one cable provider who offers 60/4 Mbps DOCSIS3. Obviously I choice the cable provider. Thankfully they seem quite decent and I'm getting the advertised speeds. But if I had an issue with them ... I'd be screwed, since there's no other choice.

Cost was approximately the same in both countries. The US ISP has a nominal 300 GB cap but I don't think they enforce it. The many Australian ISPs I could choose from offered various plans with a range of caps: effectively pay more if you need more, pay less if you don't need much. For the same price as the US ISP I could get a 300-500 GB cap in Australia so it's basically comparable.

I was fairly lucky in Australia having the access to VDSL. A lot of people are stuck in areas where ADSL2+ is the top option. But even then at least you usually had dozens of ISPs to choose from. In America there's usually just 1 option per technology (i.e. one DSL, one cable, etc.)

Comment: Re:Government Intervention (Score 2) 451

by Cimexus (#48935739) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: When and How Did Europe Leapfrog the US For Internet Access?

No the way it works is that government builds and maintains the infrastructure - the physical cables and such - but then leases access to this infrastructure out to private companies so that those companies can offer retail services to the consumer on it. In countries/regions that have done this, the government itself isn't in the business of actually being your ISP, and it's not interested in doing so.

Comment: Re:Bullshit (Score 5, Informative) 211

by rgbatduke (#48893457) Attached to: At Oxford, a Battery That's Lasted 175 Years -- So Far

Actually, you can kill yourself with a single 9 V battery -- or the 12 V battery of your car. One man did:

The computation goes as follows. The issue, as several people have pointed out, is that it is current across the heart that causes defibrillation (basically interrupting the heart's natural rhythm so that it pulses chaotically), not a matter of cooking the person (which will also work, BTW, but isn't the most common cause of electrical shock deaths). It isn't even the case that more current is always worse -- there appears to be a range of currents that are more toxic than others. A brief explanation of this is here:


The maximally toxic range of currents across the thorax is empirically 0.1 to 0.2 amps. Below that it isn't enough to defibrillate, above that the heart muscle clamps all the way which means that when the current is removed it is actually more likely that it can with help or will on its own restore a normal rhythm.

The internal resistance of the human body once you introduce probes through the comparatively insulating skin is around 100 ohms. A 9V battery across ~100 ohms makes a thoracic current of roughly 0.1 amp, right at the start of the maximally fatal range. The Darwin above was given because an idiot didn't believe this and stuck probes through his skin to "prove" that it wasn't so.

Personally I've experienced shocks from 12 V car batteries when screwing around with them on rainy nights with salt water on my hands. That's another good way of reducing skin resistance. I didn't take the hit across the torso, but it was every bit as painful as a 110V shock through dry skin -- more so, actually -- and caused my muscles to contract like lightning.

None of this is actually news -- it has been known as long as there has been electricity, because people have been killing themselves accidentally with electricity just that long. My scout leader 50 years ago worked for GE (as an inventor, actually -- one of the people who invented the photodiode controlled light). He taught me that long ago to ground one finger and then brush another finger of the same hand against any possible hot wire so that you find out with a jolt across your hand, not through your torso. Hand to foot, hand to hand, not so good. People used to kill themselves all the time touching hot electrical switches while standing in wet feet on bathroom floors before ground fault circuits were invented and mandated by code.

None of which has much to do with TFA, but it is good to know if you work at all with electricity. Physicists need to know it just to be able to teach it to their students so THEY don't kill themselves accidentally one day. It isn't the voltage that kills you, it's the current, and it doesn't take much current to do the job (or much voltage to create a fatal current).

Comment: Re:Paradox (Score 1) 200

I'm not convinced it is that simple. Like it or not, the information economy is going global, and programmers in India are often just as good as programmers in the US, cost far, and it doesn't matter whether or not they live in the same hemisphere with the company they work for or not. So it isn't just H1B's. It is the fact that finding competent people who can support small US business computing and IT needs at a reasonable (for small business) cost is not trivial. Competence is rare, even with a global workforce to draw on, and that makes it expensive anywhere, but expensive in India is cheap in the US and will remain so until the cost of living and quality of life in the two countries are comparable.

Even the computation of "300,000 jobs lost" is a bit glib. Are there 300,000 out of work software engineers in the US who are competent, employable, reliable, etc? Maybe. But I doubt it. That's 0.1% of the US population and would constitute a rather large percentage of all unemployment. It also doesn't reflect the fact that many companies that get a start using offshore computation labor end up making money and stimulating MORE jobs, not fewer, with MORE money going into pockets to spend in the US. And sure, they help out the Indian or Chinese or Korean or Irish economies too! Which isn't a totally bad thing. It's not a zero sum game.


Comment: Re:"Stargazers..." (Score 2) 53

by rgbatduke (#48884685) Attached to: Rare Astronomical Event Will See Triple Moon Shadows On Jupiter

Really? Don't say that so loud, you'll hurt its feelings. Besides, I thought it was a rare star type called a "black dwarf", sort of the theoretical limit of a brown dwarf with its teensy but measurable gravitational heating...

Well, maybe not so rare...;-)


(And I'm just kidding, yeah, black dwarfs are dark white dwarfs and brown dwarfs may or may not have had to undergo fusion at some point yadda yadda, but the point is that Jupiter is on the spectrum that includes brown dwarfs emitting only from gravitational collapse and so in some sense is an extremely boring star too small to have ever ignited or just large enough to have barely and briefly ignited -- like all of the other visible or invisible brown dwarfs out there in the Universe. And Pluto is not a planet and shares its name with a Disney dog, and it's feeling bad about that, too.)

Comment: Re:Paradox (Score 1) 200

Well, one could also understandably confuse "programmer" with building a content page with html. Writing in a markup language -- even in a raw markup language as opposed to using a GUI to build one as many/most "web developers" are prone to do nowadays -- isn't exactly programming. Programming sort of starts when one includes at least some kind of conditionals, with something other than a graphical chooser, and goes up from there.

That is, writing in raw php, java, or maybe even javascript probably counts. But is building a website with Joomla using a mouse plus filling in a bit of content programming? Even if you have to drop in a shopping cart? Not so much.

Of course, being an Old Guy (tm) I tend to think of "real programming" as involving compilers somewhere along the way, and view interpreted scripting languages and interactive languages, especially ones run primarily inside IDEs (e.g. matlab or octave, maybe R) as wussy programming-lite. I know, I know. Fighting words for many young folks these days.

(Besides, I'm kidding. I actually think one can write real, highly functional programs in these languages/environments, as long as you don't mind paying the performance penalty. In cases where the tradeoff between development time and run time favors it, it is even the right thing to do even for the best programmer in the world.)

Comment: Re:Paradox (Score 2) 200

High paying coding jobs are also tough to get when India is metaphorically just outside of your internet door. In India the job really IS high paying. In the US, rates that can compete with Indian coders are starvation wages.

Even entrepreneurial coding is ever more likely to be shipped overseas, as it isn't even worth it to invest personal serious coder skills as sweat equity in a new company compared to just having a team in India build out ideas to spec (and maybe then tweaking them). Of the last three companies building software to support all or part of the business plan I've been involved with, one had core code worked out by a local real coder (me) that was eventually abandoned in favor of a mix of commercial and open source stuff that could also span the work to be done, one hired an India team for 2/3 of the programming (most of the external interface) and only used me and one other person for a nubbin of mostly database and algorithmic stuff, and the third farmed all of the programming out as the principles didn't even know how to code (and I didn't get involved enough to do something deep in the core of the product before it went away, bought out).

It would be lovely if it were TRUE, and one could make a living doing things like interface work or intermediate algorithmic stuff with a community college education in coding, as a code "plumber" as opposed to a code "architect", but the sad fact is that most people would starve at US code plumber wages, with a few exceptions in mid-sized established businesses where e.g. they maintain their own website and have a team of maybe 5-6 people, only two of whom know what they are doing. But those two aren't going to be CC grads, and the do as you are told code-plumbers won't even make as much as real plumbers make.

Still, it isn't a completely crazy idea. Code plumber wages still beat working as a shelf-stuffing wage-slave employee at Barnes and Noble, or as a line chef in a small restaurant, or as a barista, or as a checkout person in a grocery, or... And the jobs are likely to come with full benefits. And who knows? With enough coders trained at the plumber level, maybe they will self-organize into shops that can compete with India and still pay a living with benefits. A lot of the ability to do so is a matter of scale and backing by enough real programmers who (as noted above) learned to code by coding, coding some more, and then sitting down to really get to work coding (usually with mentoring and some purpose in mind).


Comment: Re:the whole things an editor if you're brave enou (Score 1) 114

by rgbatduke (#48770097) Attached to: Text Editor Created In Minecraft

Everybody would at least be trying to be a net positive part of the solution instead of neutral to net negative. As I said elsewhere in the thread, the ideal is probably neither Charles Manson or Mother Teresa, it is probably more like the Boy Scouts -- do a good turn daily and try to be no worse than neutral otherwise. And don't be a butt. Very important that.


Comment: Re:the whole things an editor if you're brave enou (Score 1) 114

by rgbatduke (#48767811) Attached to: Text Editor Created In Minecraft

Amen. Line by line, actually. Especially your summary sentence. Although I'd take issue with "become" -- it has always been that way. It is arguably "un-becoming" fucked up, but a glacial pace compared to our capabilities and opposed by the MIC sociopaths and organized crime, who are not necessarily disparate groups.


Comment: Re:So let's work toward world peace. Here. Now. (Score 1) 114

by rgbatduke (#48767745) Attached to: Text Editor Created In Minecraft

Oh, don't worry. This is /. I'm a nerd/geek. I've spent far, far too many hours over the last two weeks playing the Android Icewind Dale remix. And I did my time with the e-cocaine known as minecraft, only quitting when I had built towers from the bottom of the world to its top and realized suddenly that I was bored to tears. Even now I can't get myself motivated to revisit it.

That's how I know that it is doing nothing but skipping sleep.

As for the vanity of the world and the pit of existential despair, hey, minecraft is a better way to cope with it than some I can think of. But I think not the best way.


Comment: Re:the whole things an editor if you're brave enou (Score 1) 114

by rgbatduke (#48767621) Attached to: Text Editor Created In Minecraft

And the Sudoku puzzle is good for your brain, and hence isn't all that bad for society to the extent that people with healthy logical brains are better than the alternative. Probably true of minecraft as well -- I certainly enjoyed it for a month or three, just as I enjoyed second life more briefly, World of Warcraft in its day, and am currently enjoying the rebirth of Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale on my tablet. But at some point all of these things -- even Sudoku -- become a form of e-crack, a means of withdrawal from the world, a kind of meditation that replaces the struggle with a dirty scary largely unknowable world with something clean and relaxing.

In the end, it's a matter of ethical balance. If you are working long and hard enough to support yourself, far be it from me to criticize what you do with your elective time outside of that (and vice versa) as long as it isn't things like torturing puppies or crafting kiddy porn. Also, as many have pointed out, one individual probably can't fix all of the ills of the world, and so in a sense it is wasteful of your life to devote all of your elective energy in trying at the expense of all joy and diversion. Still, I think that in between spending all of one's life in a drug or mindcraft-induced haze of complete avoidance of the real world and becoming Mother Teresa there is an ethical optimum, probably quite broad, of doing no particular harm, being as responsible for supporting your own personal life and its self-assumed obligations (like children and pets) as circumstance and ability permits, and yeah, out of sheer self-interest if nothing else spending some of your elective energy on making the world a better place for everyone because that makes it a better, safer place for you yourself. It needn't even be false or religious altruism, in other words, even if your personal ethos is a single life to live, no god, no afterlife, most of us would prefer to live in a world that minimized the personal risk of being burned alive by religious zealots, being beaten or killed by thugs and bullies, starving to death because some accident robbed us of the ability to work for and feed ourselves -- and so in a very deep sense fulfilling a "social obligation" to help others is part of an optimized selfish ethic, a way of buying "insurance" through one's actions insuring others.

So how much Sudoku, or Minecraft, or WoW/BG/IWD or Diablo II Expansion is too much, compared to doing something more constructive with some part of that time? That's the choice of each individual, but I think that it is arguable that if you get to where you are building word processors out of Minecraft you m-i-i-g-h-t be a hair over the line...;-)


Comment: Re:So let's work toward world peace. Here. Now. (Score 2, Insightful) 114

by rgbatduke (#48765297) Attached to: Text Editor Created In Minecraft

Thank you for so effectively demonstrating the existential ennui that paralyzes our entire civilization. Of course if you look carefully at your replies and actually think for a moment, the answers to each and every one are obvious and there are a rather large number of talented individuals who demonstrate this every day by their actions.

The tragedy is the many competent persons who would rather build giant virtual word processors or make armor to sell in WoW than to take up arms against the world's sea of trouble and, by opposing, end them. All that it takes for evil to prevail is for good persons to do nothing, and honestly, building Minecraft engines is as close to doing nothing as it is possible to do and still breathe.


From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk