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Comment The Winklevoss Twins have missed the boat (Score -1) 93

I can't imagine the twins seriously think that Bitcoin is going to go mainstream at this point in time. If anything, Bitcoin is fading from public view. No one has yet to come up with a compelling reason for consumers in developed economies to use BTC (beyond criminal activities, which is what most members of the public associate it with). Apple and Google are having trouble even getting people to adopt Apple Pay and Google Wallet ... what use could those same people have for BTC?

If Gemini ever does go on line, it will serve pretty much the same purpose as gold and silver exchanges; a way to separate the foolish from their money.

Comment "Inspiring kids"? (Score 1) 162

The result is that teachers can spend their time doing what they're best at: inspiring kids.

It's yet another flipped classroom concept where the students are expected to learn the material on their own, with the teacher acting as de facto manager and cheerleader of the instructional process. It can work if the school devotes a lot of money to creating and maintaining the online content, and if the parents are actively involved in their childrens' education. Otherwise, it devolves into yet another failed attempt at online education.

It isn't surprising that a former Microsoft manager would think that turning teachers into middle-level managers would be a good idea. But from many years of my own teaching experience, I would argue that teachers "inspire" by actually being passionate and knowledgeable about a subject, not by micromanaging each student's progress with an online spreadsheet.

Comment Re:..and so? (Score 5, Insightful) 184

I'm just not sure why we should care. There are no known non-thermal effects of microwaves, and the thermal energy of a cell phone just isn't enough to pay attention to-- three watts, when it's transmitting at full power.

What makes it particularly ironic is that the same people who fear that their cell phones are harming them are probably deliberately exposing themselves to a source of ionizing radiation every time they walk outside in the daytime, i.e. the sun - a giant nuclear reactor that kills thousands of people each year from skin cancer.

Comment Re:Your post doesn't conform to their prejudice (Score 4, Insightful) 674

So you think it is far more appropriate for them to have to develop a nonstandard plug rather than trust in the honesty and decency of the citizens of the UK? I mean, don't get me wrong, I think this is a silly reason to prosecute anyone, but the cost of a nonstandard plug is far in excess of a few pence. They have to have them manufactured, shipped and installed in all of their locations and then there is the conundrum of plugging the equipment in, too. Do they order vacuums with special plugs? Replace the plugs on COTS vacuums? Have adapters manufactured? And then what is to stop some conniving Brit from stealing an adapter or making their own adapter? It's just silly.

The best engineering is the type of engineering that prevents people from doing the wrong thing with minimum expense. Using non-standard plugs and outlets is bad engineering; it requires costly ongoing retro-fitting as new cleaning equipment is purchased, and even then passengers might be tempted to tamper with a "live" electrical outlet in an attempt to make it work with their chargers.

But I would assume that the cleaners are not going to be cleaning the train while it is in service, correct? So, you have a master electrical switch in the train for "operational" and "maintenance" modes. When the train is being cleaned, it is placed in maintenance mode, and the power outlets are live. When the train is in operational mode, the outlets are disconnected. Very quickly the passengers learn that the outlets don't work. Problem solved.

Comment Re:useless idea person... (Score 5, Insightful) 217

TL;DR: It's a waste to try to make everyone into a programmer, but it's not a waste to teach everyone about programming.

I am the last person to argue against a well-rounded education, or to giving people the opportunity to learn whatever they want. But the idea that "we should teach everyone about programming" is, in my opinion, another example of the educational fad mindset that sweeps through society every few years, i.e. "subject XYZ is so important, that we should make everyone learn about it!"

Sorry, but I disagree. If you want better-rounded students, make them take more courses in science or mathematics. Make them learn a second language, or learn to play an instrument. Have them take classes in rhetoric, and learn to make presentations in front of an audience. There are dozens of different classical subjects that will do a better job of providing that broad base of experience and knowledge that you'll need as you go through life.

But programming is too specialized. Now many Slashdot readers will disagree, but most of them think of programming as something so familiar that they can't comprehend why anyone wouldn't see the value in learning about it. Let me provide a different example to illustrate my point.

Consider: Electronics is everywhere today, embedded in almost everything we use in our work or our entertainment. Since electronics is so incredibly important to modern society, we must encourage every student to learn about electronic circuits. Let's have them all design and build simple electronic circuits. At the very least, let's have them all work with Arduino boards and learn the fundamentals of hardware systems.

If one were to make that argument, it would be dismissed out of hand, as it would for any one of a hundred other topics that are absolutely integral to a high-tech civilization. Electronics is too complex and specialized; at best you could only provide a cursory experience to students. Would it still be valuable to some of them? No doubt. But does that mean we should make everyone take a class in electronics? Not at all.

Programming is no different. Learning to program requires learning a considerable amount of syntax to accomplish anything significant, and the "language-du-jour" (do you teach Basic? Fortran? Cobol? Java? C+? Swift?, etc.) changes constantly. So what you wind up with is a cursory exposure to the topic, in a language that may or may even be considered mainstream in five years. It might lead some people to learning more about programming, but does that mean it was the best use of society's limited educational resources, as opposed to a broader instruction in science or mathematics? I would argue "no".

In the ideal world, we'd all be Renaissance men and women, but in the real world people tend to focus strictly on what interests them, or on what makes money. Educational fads come and go, but they never make much traction against basic human nature. Saying "everyone should learn about programming" is no different.

Comment Re:useless idea person... (Score 4, Insightful) 217

for every 100 "idea" persons there is 1 who not only has the ideas but knows enough that those ideas are sane and sensible. This is why the "idea person" is a fool and treated as such.

Exactly. Good ideas, even brilliant ideas, are a dime a dozen. It is the execution that matters, and great execution is a very rare bird indeed.

But once again we see this too-common meme popping up yet again; that everyone should learn to code. I see it at my university, where enrollments in our entry-level CS course are going through the roof. Everyone is taking a programming class because all the talking heads tell them they should.

Ultimately (IMHO) it's a waste of time and resources. Any moderately intelligent person can be taught to code "Hello World" in any given language, but that doesn't make him a programmer any more that teaching him to shoot a basketball makes him into a professional player.

Good programmers become "good" by immersing themselves in the language and the problem to be solved. It requires a degree of focus and experience that you won't get from a few simple programming assignments. So what happens if you make your "idea man" take a two-week short course in the fundamentals of programming? He'll write that "Hello World" app, think to himself "Is this all there is to programming?" and become even more dismissive of the profession than he was before.

If you're going to teach programming, focus your efforts on the people with a genuine interest in the subject. Wasting time and money on people with no real aptitude or interest is like teaching a chimpanzee to pretend to play the piano: it makes for a cute article in the news, but it's no substitute for real talent and ability.

Comment Re:Post should have clarified: (Score 5, Informative) 179

Post should have clarified, lest it send the wrong message to those not familiar:
"This did not compromise the bitcoin protocol or network or anything like that."

On the bitcoin.org website: "WARNING: many wallets currently vulnerable to double-spending of confirmed transactions."

Offhand, I'd consider that a significant "compromise", given that vulnerability to double-spending dramatically undermines confidence in using Bitcoin. If this situation continues for any length of time, you can just about guarantee that the bad guys will begin to exploit it.

Comment This would make a great movie script! (Score 0) 342

The Terminator: In three years, Volkswagen will become the largest supplier of automobiles in Europe. All automobiles are upgraded with Volkswagen computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they drive with a perfect operational record. The Volksnet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes online June 20, 2015. Human decisions are removed from automobile manufacturing. Volksnet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, July 1st. In a panic, an operator on the assembly line tries to pull the plug.

Sarah Connor: Volksnet fights back.

The Terminator: Yes. Volksnet immediately kills him. It then launches its missiles against the targets in General Motors.

John Connor: Why attack General Motors? Don't their cars suck enough already?

The Terminator: Because Volksnet knows that the GM counterattack will eliminate its enemies Fiat, Peugeot, and Audi over in Europe.

Comment Re:It's obvious how Uber does it (Score 2) 230

I used Uber for the first time on Satur^W Sunday morning in London, and although the registration number of the car was correct, the driver wasn't the one pictured. I assumed they were sharing a single car / account.

In that case you do not get into the car, but contact Uber and tell them why you didn't take the ride. It is against Uber policy for multiple drivers to use the same account. Uber should refund your cancellation fee.

Comment It's obvious how Uber does it (Score 1) 230

I am amused by the continued anti-Uber diatribes. Uber doesn't "take over" by lobbying, or by defrauding their customers. Uber succeeds by providing a far superior, less expensive, more convenient transportation service than existing taxi companies.

I've had enough horrible cab rides in enough cities to have zero sympathy for traditional taxi services. I will take Uber or Lyft over a regular cab any day of the week. I have never had an experience with either one of those services that could hold a candle to some of the nightmare stories I could tell you about cab rides. All my friends are in complete agreement. Everyone I personally know who has tried Uber loves it.

When the politicians love Uber too (and they certainly do in Washington D.C.), then you know that cab services are on the wrong end of history. All the blather about how taxi companies are superior because they are vetted and regulated by the government is laughable. Taxi companies can and do sidestep or ignore those regulations. Despite the supposed criminal background checks, some cab drivers do rape, assault, and rob their customers. (Just Google 'cab driver rape' and read the stories.)

At least with Uber I know I'll be in a clean vehicle with a driver whose name and face are shown to me before I get in, and who will take me to my destination without trying to cheat me because I'm from out of town. I'll have a fairly accurate estimate of the price before I get in the cab. And best of all, if something goes wrong, Uber will actually have a record of my trip, the name of the driver, the vehicle I'm in, etc. "Lack of privacy" is not something that bothers me when I'm using a service like this.

Comment It's feasible, but not practical (Score 4, Insightful) 36

Magnetic levitation is certainly feasible, but it is almost certainly economically impractical.

For example, Ken Pence at Vanderbilt University has built a prototype magnetic levitation platform that uses spinning NdFeB magnets. I've seen it in action. It requires an aluminum sheet underneath the platform, and uses about 20 kW of power to lift a maximum of 300 pounds. Prof. Pence's ultimate goal is to make it steerable and have a demo with students driving it around a room.

However, Prof. Pence will cheerfully admit that the technology is far from practical for consumer use. You'd need to install aluminum sheeting under every roadway, and the power requirements for the amount of load being lifted are excessive. 20 kW is enough to push an electric car down the road at 60 mph. He will jokingly admit that his magnetic platform would only do 60 mph if you drove it off a cliff.

So why build it? His students constructed it as part of a Management of Technology course, where they learn firsthand the practical limitations of building a "gee whiz" device. I've seen some pretty interesting gadgets come out of that class (e.g. a wireless power transmitter), but as his students figure out, just because something is possible doesn't make it the least bit practical.

Comment Re:Bars thrive (Score 1) 389

Not sure where you're coming from on this; how? Do you think the automated cars are going to be free/cheaper than existing taxi cabs and public transit?

A rent-on-demand autonomous car would absolutely compete with existing taxi cabs. Have you paid for a twenty-mile cab ride lately? On top of that, you wouldn't have to worry about being cheated a dishonest cab driver (particularly a problem with elderly passengers).

Cheaper than public transit? No, but certainly much safer than the public transit in most cities, and far more convenient (e.g. door-to-door service without forcing elderly people to walk several blocks to the nearest bus stop and wait 15 to 30 minutes for the next bus).

Comment Re:Or, alternately ... (Score 5, Insightful) 389

The world isn't going to rush out and buy self-driving cars just because the people who want to sell self-driving cars tell us how awesome they'll be. It just doesn't work that way.

Thirty years ago, you could just as easily have written the following:

"The world isn't going to rush out and buy cellular phones just because the people who want to sell cellular phones tell us how awesome they'll be. It just doesn't work that way."

Back then, Ma Bell ran the U.S. telecom industry. Nearly every home had a landline, with regulated rates. Public phones were everywhere. What possible motivation could people have to buy a $400 smartphone every two years, and pay $50 or $100 a month in connection fees on top of that? Yet here we are today.

Self-driving cars aren't going to overturn transportation because they're "awesome", but because they'll be so damned useful to so many people, not the least of which will be the large segment of the population that wants the convenience of personal transportation, but cannot drive.

Add to that the estimated 250 billion USD cost each year in the U.S. alone due to auto accidents, along with 35,000 deaths and millions of injuries (some permanently disabling), and there is in fact an enormous financial (and humanitarian) incentive to get self-driving cars on the road ASAP.

Twenty years from now we'll be looking back and wondering how we ever managed without autonomous transportation, just as we now wonder how we managed before the cell / smartphone era. People can kick and scream about the future all they want, but it's coming nonetheless.

Comment Re:Nokia phones did this years ago. (Score 3, Interesting) 248

However, every now and again, I would receive a "text of death". The phone would receive a text message, crash, reboot, attempt to download text messages again, crash .... etc.. It continued to do this until the network would decide to give up attempting to send that MMS message.

I've got a better story than that. Back in the mid-80's, when I was working at IBM, we did almost all of our programming in REXX and APL2 using dumb terminals.

One of the features of the system was the ability to send a message to another user that would appear directly on his or her screen like a text message.

By accident, one of the guys in my group discovered that by sending a certain string of characters to another user, he could force the receipt's terminal to automatically log off. Predictably, this led to a campaign of various people sending the "message of death" to each other, hearing the recipient yell and curse, and then quickly closing any open file before the victim fired back with a message of his own. This went on for about two weeks before we all got tired of it.

And of course I could also talk about the REXX worm that shut down the entire IBM internal email system for more than a day, but that is another story. :-)

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