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Comment: Three skills (not exactly tech skills) (Score 3, Informative) 298

by timholman (#49728229) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Tech Skills Do HS Students Need To Know Now?

Three skills that will be invaluable to any HS student later in life:

(1) Good writing, i.e. being able to write well enough to communicate ideas effectively and convincingly (requires a lot of recreational reading, by the way, which doesn't seem particularly popular among the younger generation nowadays).

(2) Being able to stand up in front of an audience and give a good presentation.

(3) Knowing how to touch type.

Invaluable at age 18, and equally invaluable at age 68, no matter what direction your career leads you in.

Comment: That's one reason the iPhone is so popular (Score 4, Interesting) 434

by timholman (#49625121) Attached to: Google Can't Ignore the Android Update Problem Any Longer

In a nutshell, this shows one reason why the iPhone (and iOS) are so popular.

I have an iPhone and I'm happy with it, but if Apple disappeared tomorrow, I could easily move to the Android ecosystem. The differences in usability between iOS and Android aren't that compelling.

But one thing I absolutely refuse to do is buy a phone where the manufacturer washes its hands of it, and forces me to either root the phone, or deal with the carrier to get updates. No. I'm done with that. I learned my lesson back when I owned Palm OS phones, and I'm not going back again.

Android fragmentation exists because manufacturers refuse to maintain their phones. Pushing that job onto the carriers is a recipe for customer dissatisfaction and security breaches. If Google wants to solve this problem, they need to force the manufacturers to accept responsibility for updating their own hardware.

Comment: Darwin by proxy (Score 5, Interesting) 616

by timholman (#49531733) Attached to: Bill To Require Vaccination of Children Advances In California

This Wednesday, however, the bill passed that committee after its authors tweaked it, adding amendments that would expand the definition of home schooling to allow multiple families to join together to teach their children or participate in independent study programs run by public school systems.

I hate to say it, but maybe this is for the best. Unfortunately, what may be needed to kill the anti-vaxxer mindset once and for all is for a whole classroom of unvaccinated children to come down with measles or polio or smallpox or whooping cough, and for several of them to die.

Horrible? Yes, but the parents who have bought into this insanity are endangering everyone, not just their own children. Some of these people are quite literally proclaiming that vaccines have never worked, and that it is only improvements in hygiene that have resulted in the elimination of most deadly childhood diseases. A good cold dash of reality is the only cure. It is just a damned shame that some innocent kids will have to pay the price.

Comment: Re:Honestly (Score 3, Interesting) 587

by timholman (#49414597) Attached to: Hugo Awards Turn (Even More) Political

It does seem like a big deal. I mean, last year there nominations titled "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love", which was an unusual choice for both a Nebula (a different SF/F award, chosen by a jury) and a Hugo nomination. The genre is floundering fairly hard.

How about the actual Hugo short story winner, "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere"? John Chu may be a talented writer, but that story was NOT a science fiction story. It was a cliched story about a guy bringing home a partner that his family didn't approve of, with a silly "you get wet when you lie" bit tossed in at the beginning to somehow qualify it for the Hugo with a mild fantasy element.

It was another "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" plot retread, only this time the "Who" was gay. So what? It was still a story we've all heard or seen a hundred times in the past 30 years - just substitute your race / religion / ethnicity of choice. What makes this one memorable, besides the sexuality of the main characters?

I cannot believe there wasn't a better science fiction short story published in 2013 than Chu's story. It's not the genre that's floundering, it's what the people who are running the Hugo consider to be "worthy" that has plummeted.

Comment: Re:Um... How will it change society? (Score 1) 477

The trolly-switch dilemma that people keep bringing up is so ridiculously contrived that I just don't see it having a bearing on the reality of day to day driving and safety of the vehicle for a couple of reasons.

Not to mention that these silly trolley-switch arguments completely sidestep the bigger ethical question: If switching to an all-autonomous fleet results in traffic fatalities being cut by an order of magnitude (3,000 vs. 30,000 per year), isn't it unethical not to switch to SDCs as soon as possible?

Autonomous cars may not be perfect, but they will almost certainly be a damned sight better than 99.9% of all drivers out there today. We kill 30,000 people a year in the U.S. alone, maim another 2 million, and somehow that's acceptable because a human being was behind the wheel? That's what makes the whole "what if the car kills my child instead of yours" argument so laughable. Hey, how about we stop killing a lot less of everyone's kids? How's that for a solution?

SDCs are coming, and the knee-jerk reaction of "You'll pry my steering wheel out of my cold dead hands" is entirely predictable. No doubt people were making similar arguments about keeping their horses a hundred years ago. And here's why SDCs are inevitable: once the technology exists, and young people start using it, they will see no point in having a driver's license or learning how to drive. Then, as the older generation ages to the point where their eyesight and reflexes fail, they will be demanding SDCs, with the AARP pushing for their adoption. In a generation, manual automobiles will be curiosities owned by collectors.

Comment: Re:Ballsy, but stupid ... (Score 5, Informative) 308

by timholman (#49371555) Attached to: Attempted Breach of NSA HQ Checkpoint; One Shot Dead

But, honestly, trying to gate crash an Army base and then getting into a shooting match with the guards ... well, that's a special kind of stupid.

Having visited the NSA facility myself many years ago, it is incredibly stupid. The military guards at the NSA are extremely alert, extremely competent, and very well armed. They will not hesitate to point a gun in your direction, or open fire if you fail to immediately comply with their orders.

They are not your typical security guards or your typical police. They are a level above that, and you do not want to mess with them.

Comment: Re:Why is bitcoin popular again? (Score 0) 254

by timholman (#49283603) Attached to: Evolution Market's Admins Are Gone, Along With $12M In Bitcoin

Well, this is why you should keep your own bitcoin wallet. Bitcoin theft isn't a problem with bitcoin itself. It's a problem with where you're keeping your bitcoins.

No, BTC theft is indeed a problem with BTC itself. Evolution operated a BTC escrow service between its buyers and sellers. Unless the buyer and seller trust each other implicitly, escrow is essential for large remote transactions to ensure that no one gets ripped off, because (as we all know) BTC transactions are irreversible.

What Evolution did was empty out its escrow accounts and run off with the BTC from all the pending transactions. There is now essentially zero likelihood of them being punished, or the BTC being recovered.

And there you have the problem with BTC in a nutshell. Whether you use an exchange to transfer BTC to fiat, or use an escrow service to hold it pending a transaction, who do you trust to do the job? Particularly in an unregulated, pseudo-anonymous economic model where theft and graft go unpunished on a regular basis?

BTC has jumped the shark and is now moving into the long-term "let's keep fleecing the newbies" phase, just as you see with gold and silver "investment" companies. As long as there are suckers willing to exchange good money for BTC, there will be a very long line of criminals ready and willing to take it from them.

Comment: So the twins want to open an exchange ... (Score 0) 80

by timholman (#48894573) Attached to: Winklevoss Twins Plan Regulated Bitcoin Exchange

Now all the Winklevoss twins need to do is find is a reason for the average American consumer to buy BTC and use them, instead of using credit cards and debit cards that are protected from fraud and loss by federal law. Bitcoin may be a great deal for businesses, but it is a terrible deal for consumers, and without people on both sides of the economic equation it is slowly dying (witness the long slow decline in price, and the fact that a few hundred thousand people at most possess all the BTC in circulation).

That's the crux of the problem, and the one that no one has figured out yet, beyond yelling "Those evil bankers and politicians are robbing you with fiat money!" Right, so I'll pay my percentage to the twins, instead of my local bank? That's like choosing to be eaten by jackals instead of wolves.

Comment: Re:Virtually currency value is entire faith based (Score 1) 290

by timholman (#48824553) Attached to: Bitcoin Volatility Puts Miners Under Pressure

Speaking of those who hold bitcoins I heard on NPR this morning that there are only about 250,000 people in the world who hold bitcoins. That's not enough people for me to take it seriously.

Bitcoin proponents may disagree with that number, but for the sake of argument let's assume that 10X as many people (2.5 million) hold BTC. That would mean 0.0357% of the world's population holds about 13.7 million BTC (all that have been mined so far). Since only 21 million BTC can ever be mined, then those 0.0357% possess 65.2% of all the BTC that ever will exist. With those numbers, the speculative hoarding frenzy surrounding Bitcoin is easy to understand.

Given also that many Bitcoin "believers" preach that BTC will one day become the dominant world currency, then what we have is a potential wealth gap that makes the wealth gap in the U.S. look positively socialist in comparison.

That, to me, is what makes Bitcoin so downright bizarre. A bunch of people have convinced themselves that all fiat currencies will collapse one day, making them rich beyond the dreams of avarice, since no one will think of using any cryptocurrency except BTC, because ... well, just because. And then they will own the world.

Comment: Re:Nothing has been lost! (Score 5, Insightful) 290

by timholman (#48821427) Attached to: Bitcoin Volatility Puts Miners Under Pressure

Bit Coins are actually more real then the US Dollar. Sure we get a paper or coin note stating that this represents so much. But at least bit coin is connected to something in limited supply thus needs to be shared.

I've never understood the logic behind statements like this. There are an infinite possible number of cryptocurrencies. A cryptocurrency is nothing but a mathematical algorithm being run on a lot of computers. By its very nature, it can't be in limited supply. Saying that Bitcoin is valuable because it's scare is like saying that digital music or digital video must be valuable because they're scarce.

Any one, at any time, can create his own blockchain and create a Bitcoin clone. After that, all he need to do is persuade other people to adopt his blockchain, and a new standard has been created, with the originator becoming "wealthy". In fact, I suspect that this idea may suddenly occur to the operators of one of the big idled mining centers over the next few months.

And before anyone says, "But Bitcoin was first!", let me reply, "Friendster and MySpace".

Comment: Re:Wait (Score 3, Informative) 46

by timholman (#48797503) Attached to: EnOcean Wireless Sensors Don't Need Batteries (Video)

I thought powered by RF was impossible and a scam?

Slashdot basically killed that company outright with nothing more than the argument that the technology was impossible. Search the thread for my screen name and watch me get shouted down for suggesting it actually is possible and even provide links to ICs you could use.

And now here we have a story that's touting it as a legitimate device?

I've no idea if iFind was actually a scam or not. They clearly went bust just days after the Slashdot story. But this kind of smacks of hypocrisy. Why was that a scam and this is not?

If you had actually bothered to watch the video, or read the transcript, you'd know that EnOcean is not using RF harvesting to power any of their devices. They are using mechanical, solar, and thermoelectric energy harvesting techniques to power ultra-low power sensors, and to generate RF signals to control other powered appliances (e.g. desk lamps). They are using clever engineering, but they are not making any claims that violate the laws of physics.

iFind was a scam. There was no way that a device that size could harvest, store, and utilize RF energy at the levels claimed by them. Not to mention that the so-called "inventor", supposedly with multiple advanced degrees in engineering and medicine, had absolutely no presence or history on the web.

And Slashdot didn't "kill" iFind. Kickstarter killed it, after performing a little due diligence and realizing that something was fishy with WeTag. But if Slashdot helped pushed Kickstarter into checking into the background of WeTag's principals, then so much the better.

Energy harvesting from ambient RF does work, but to capture significant amounts of energy requires lots of area (e.g. an antenna or large pickup coil), or to have RF energy beamed directly at the device. At no time does EnOcean claim to be using RF harvesting to power their devices; they are only using ultra-low power RF radio bursts for short-range communication.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin still seems sleazy to me (Score 1) 161

by timholman (#48740993) Attached to: Bitstamp Bitcoin Exchange Suspended Due To "Compromised Wallet"

You are not liable, any more liable than you are with cash, getting your bitcoin back will be at least as difficult as getting your cash back would be. You will have to file some kind civil claim and convince a judge or possibly jury the other party did not honor their part the transaction contract and you require some kind of redress.

Which, of course, is why people carry credit cards, because it lets them dispute the charge without going to the effort of filing a lawsuit to get redress.

Well yea, that is the trade off, I could easily carry a USB stick or whatever with the equivalent value of $250K in btc and go buy a house or something. Its inconvenient to walk around with that much cash. Still sever minutes is much faster than the several days a check would require to clear.

It's inconvenient and dangerous to walk around with that much cash, which is why we have a banking system. My bank electronically transfers the money to the seller's bank after I sign the paperwork, in the presence of an attorney and licensed agents. It gives me peace of mind, it prevents me from being ripped off, and once I sign, I walk out of the office and I'm done. So exactly what advantage does BTC provide to such a transaction, when it's exactly like carrying a big bundle of cash?

And I won't even get into the insanity of taking out a home loan in a deflationary economy. You really think that everyone is going to pay for homes and cars in full, without loans?

You'd better get used to it. Between the changes with chip-and-pin and ideas like CurrentC, the powers that be are pretty determined to strip those protections away from you anyway.

No one is going to force me to use CurrentC, and chip-and-PIN is intended to reduce credit card fraud, not make me to eat any loss if my account is compromised. On the other hand, I know that a BTC transaction would absolutely force me to eat the loss, because that's exactly how the system is designed to behave.

You're just dancing around the inconvenient fact that consumers have no incentive to use BTC over credit cards. It's a market for speculators and early adopters who are fervently hoping that someone else will buy their BTC and pump up the price, but no rational consumer (at least in the U.S. or Europe) has any incentive to do so.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin still seems sleazy to me (Score 2) 161

by timholman (#48737889) Attached to: Bitstamp Bitcoin Exchange Suspended Due To "Compromised Wallet"

The entire notion of bitcoin has always seemed a little sketchy to me.

Not just sketchy, but pointless (at least to the average consumer).

What sane person would use a debit card that mandates irreversible transactions if you are cheated by a merchant, makes you liable for all fraudulent use of the card, and takes several minutes for a purchase to be validated? Because that's basically what Bitcoin is. It's like stepping 50 years into the past, into a world without consumer protection laws.

If you were an early adopter of BTC, obviously you have a huge incentive to push for wider adoption, as this lets you turn your CPU-mined BTC into free money. But if you are someone who has never touched BTC in your life, you have no incentive to buy them now, and none to use them. It doesn't matter how many merchants accept BTC, because the average shopper would be insane to use them.

Regardless of what happens to the exchanges, BTC has hit a brick wall in adoption. Read about the experiences of merchants in Florida who signed up to accept BTC prior to the Bitcoin Bowl. Several of them stopped accepting BTC when it became apparent that no one was spending them.

Comment: What's in it for consumers? (Score 5, Insightful) 127

by timholman (#48709971) Attached to: Bitcoin Gets Its First TV Ads

The two new ads promote Bitcoin and BitPay as a secure alternative to traditional credit-card transactions.

Yes, BTC is exactly that for a business, but exactly what incentive does a consumer have to use it?

Right now, if I want to buy something with U.S. dollars, I pull out my credit card or my cell phone, and I buy it. The transaction is completed in a matter of seconds (no waiting for verification via a blockchain), and if I use Apple Pay or Google Wallet, it is extremely secure.

On top of that, if I am cheated by the merchant, I can contact the credit card company and dispute the charges. Furthermore, even if my credit card is somehow compromised, I am only liable for $50 maximum by law, without having to go to court or sue anyone.

What does BTC do for me? First, I have to buy BTC, and then spend it quickly before the value changes. Second, if the merchant cheats me, too bad. BTC gives him all the power - transactions are irreversible. Third, if my BTC wallet is compromised, I can kiss my BTC goodbye. All of the consumer protections that I enjoy with credit cards are gone. So exactly what do I get out of the deal?

For the average consumer, Bitcoin is a solution in search of a problem. BTC may be a great way to buy contraband, or to send money to someone in a 3rd world country, but that is hardly something the average person bothers with on a regular basis.

Bitcoin is a niche product, and will remain so, despite every effort by BTC evangelists to persuade consumers to give them real money in exchange for their cryptocoins. Someone give me a reason to use BTC on a regular basis that doesn't involve some idealistic "screw the establishment, fiat currency is evil" rationalization. As a consumer, I don't see the point.

The solution of this problem is trivial and is left as an exercise for the reader.