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Comment One of the last real news outlets remaining (Score 3, Insightful) 89

I'm an NY Times digital subscriber, for two reasons. First, subscription costs are dirt cheap for people in academia. Second, the NY Times is one of the few remaining news services in the USA that practices investigative journalism any more. I may not always agree with the NY Times' "slant" on a particular story, but at least there is some real content to what they publish.

Our local newspaper is your typical Gannett mess, with the only real "news" being the USA Today insert. The local news is little more than thinly-disguised opinion pieces, local crime reports with minimal information, and articles that rightfully belong on a Gawker site or in People magazine. My wife and I dropped our remaining weekend subscription to the local paper months ago, and we haven't missed it since.

Comment Re:Stupid FUD (Score 1) 303

If a malicious user gain physical access to your network, a high-voltage attack is the least of your worries. Network sniffers and other tools can quickly own your entire network doing far more monetary damage then some fried networking equipment.

Exactly. If attackers want to physically destroy your network, there are a million different ways to do it. They could just as easily set the building on fire, or shoot out a power transformer. But their goal is to exploit it.

Consider the evolution of malware. Many years ago, people got their kicks from distributing viruses that would arbitrarily corrupt or erase your files. But how many years has it been since anyone bothered with that? Far better to pwn your computer, preferably without your knowledge. And if you're going to threaten to destroy files, extract some Bitcoin ransom instead.

Comment Re:What's the point of "shaming"? (Score 3, Insightful) 70

What would be the point of this? "We're going to shame you to show that we're trying to extort you and you're not giving in." Is this suppose to cause peer pressure to force the financial institutions to settle? Or to garner sympathy for the attackers?

It's not logical because you're not dealing with mature people. Keep in mind that these guys are almost certainly a group of young, socially maladjusted individuals. To a professional criminal, 50 BTC is chump change, but to a group of kids who want BTC to buy drugs without Mom and Dad finding out, it's a lot of cash.

To a kid who grew up on social media, social shaming of your victim might seem an extremely potent weapon, just like school bullying. The rest of us will just scratch our heads and shrug our shoulders.

Comment The best strategy is to ignore them (Score 4, Insightful) 70

Publishing this story is doing no favors to anyone. As many others have pointed out in the past, if your company receives one of these emails, the best strategy is to ignore it.

These extortionists will send emails to hundreds or thousands of different companies, but they can't DDOS all of them at once. Furthermore, they have no idea if their emails even make it past the spam filters of their targets. So how do they decide who to DDOS? By seeing who responds to the blackmail message. Once you respond, and they know you are listening to them, you are now in their sights - not just this time, but the next time they decide to shake you down.

Ignore them. If they DDOS you, deal with it, but never acknowledge their demands. They can never be certain that you are receiving their emails, and if you never respond to them, eventually they'll move on to someone else.

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 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.

Another megabytes the dust.