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More on Leopard, AOL, Reuters and the Universe 117

Read on for some of the most interesting comments and exchanges on a handful of yesterday's Slashdot posts (on the age of the Universe, virtual desktops in OS X, trick photography on the Reuters wire, and AOL's latest privacy gaffe) in today's Backslash summary.

About yesterday's story about a recalculation of the Hubble constant that indicates the Universe is much older than the current conventional wisdom that it's about 14 billion years old, reader Toby Haynes (tjwhaynes) writes

I love it when I see reports like this. Stating that the age of the universe is 15.8 billion years old gives the impression that this is accurate to around 1 percent or better. The error bars on this sort of figure are probably closer to +/- 2 billion years or more, implying that the 99% percentile answer is something in the range 12-20 billion years. Most of the "measurements" over the last 20 years fit into that range. There is a tendency for the more recent publications to fall into the 14-16 billion year mark and that may simply be a reflection that that is the "accepted" answer.

I actually used to work on a team measuring the Hubble Constant using Radio Telescope data ten years ago — actually the same group who came up with 42 km s-1 Mpc-1 value which caused all the Douglas Adams H2G2 references (that was shortly before I joined). There was a lot of controversy over the value of the Constant back then and it is still a hot topic. Back then, the Hubble Constant was thought to have values anywhere from 30 km s-1 Mpc-1 up to 120 km s-1 Mpc-1 . The smaller the value of the Hubble Constant, the older the Universe is. Having a smaller value was desirable because it meant that the Universe was old enough to account for the oldest objects observed (about 16 billion years old). Think about that.

One of the points that struck me then was that the value of the Hubble Constant measured tended to be higher when measured using "more local" techniques and tended to be lower as techniques using more distant measurements were used. The Radio Telescope information gave us measurements based on object around or beyond a redshift of 1 (or, to put it another way, these clusters of galaxies observed were about half the age of the universe when the light left them).

Anyway, we'll be seeing more measurements of the Hubble Constant for many more years. Just remember the error bars!

Reader habig disagrees, writing

No, the startling thing about recent cosmological work is that we do know this number to ~percent. The flagship for this new "precision cosmology" are the WMAP [] results []. The number is weighing in at 13.7+/-0.2 billion years. Take a look at the tables of cosmological parameters in this paper and the carefully calculated error bars.

This particular press release's sweeping claims do overreach, as nicely summarized by Michael Richmond in a post above. M33 isn't at a cosmological distance, the observations being done by this project help to understand the lower rungs of the distance ladder, from which you can figure out distances to far-off galaxies and try to calculate numbers to independently compare to the microwave background fits. These results are one of many such distance calibrations, and have to be factored in statistically with the others. On the whole, several other means of figuring out cosmological parameters (such as the Age of the Universe) agree with the WMAP results within errors. You only get TFA's 15% increase if that is the only measurement you use to calibrate distances, throwing out all the rest.

To that, Haynes replies

Chewing through that paper (interesting one by the way) shows that those error bars are based on analysis of the data after processing. Therefore, those error bars on the age of the universe are assuming that the removal of foreground sources and fluctuations due to the Sunyaev Zel'dovich effect have been done absolutely correctly. No attempt (that I can see) has been made to model the errors arising from that procedure. That alone suggests that there are systematic effects which are not accounted for in those results.

I'm extremely skeptical of a lot of error bars on a lot of data. Confusion is a huge topic in radio astronomy (and I don't mean the chaotic, running-around, headless-chicken type of confusion) and I see paper after paper that really doesn't understand it, deal with it or present any full explanation of how errors in confusion analysis would propagate into the answers.

Of the several announcements from Apple's World Wide Developers Conference yesterday, the most controversial seemed to be the introduction of "Spaces," an implementation of virtual desktops for Mac OS X's next version, Leopard.

Reader bandrzej welcomed the introduction of virtual desktops, but pointed a finger at Apple for taking so long to introduce them:

About time with the virtual windows! Took them long enough...all other major *nix based window managers have them. Makes their "photocopying" comment at WWDC seem double edged, eh?

mblase has a mitigation defense for Apple's tardiness, writing

In all fairness, Leopard's Spaces implementation looks like a quantum improvement on other virtual desktop managers I've used. (Granted, it's been awhile since I tried any since I was never very satisfied.) None of the other VDMs I recall were quite "Mac-like" enough — by that, I don't mean flashy and animated, but easy to use and understand.

They borrowed some design ideas from Expose, it looks like; you can view all four of your desktops at once; you can drag-and-drop windows from one to the other; and they all use the same Dock instead of using different Docks for each desktop, which is the one thing I always wanted.

Reader CatOne mostly agrees and adds some details:

I've played with Spaces briefly; it's nice.

You can configure as many virtual desktops if you want — the default is 4 (2x2) but you can add rows or columns as you see fit. I went to 16 (4x4) and that was fine... I don't know whether 36 or heck 81 would be manageable. I'm sure it would be RAM heavy ;-)

The ability to bind applications to individual "spaces" is nice, as is the ability to dynamically drag windows between them. Clicking on an application icon automatically moves you to the appropriate space; this should mean much less (where is that damn window, it's buried!) that I still experience, even on my 30" Cinema Display. I thought this would be enough space for that to not happen anymore; all I have now is *huge* browser and mail windows.

Is it a quantum leap in virtual desktop managers? No. But switching between them is quick, efficient, and easy (you can use control-space # to go to it, or control-arrow key)... so it really just gives you a desktop space many times your actual space... that's what it feels like. None of the cube effects a la You! desktops, which is slow and mostly eye-candy-esque.

On the disclosure by America Online that the company had inadvertently released more than a half million customer search records stripped of names but not otherwise sanitized (and thereby possibly exposing individuals to snooping), reader ivan256 wants to know

Why were you ever under the delusion that aggregate data about your searches would be kept private? You don't even have an implied right to privacy when you send un-encrypted data across the internet. Not only are people stupid if they're upset about this, they're stupid if they're surprised.

Calling this is a consumer rights issue is a joke. There are no rights involved here other than ones that people made up after the fact because they were irrationally upset.

To that question, reader schwaang writes

Maybe because AOL's privacy policy says so? First because it defines Member Information to include:

"information about the searches you perform through the AOL Service and how you use the results of those searches;"

And then it says:

"AOL will only share your AOL Member information with third parties to provide products and services you have requested, or when we have your consent"

"Keep reading," says ivan256:

Get down to the part about AOL Search, which has additional privacy terms. It is implied that they have your consent unless you opt out of the data collection.

While some commenters scoffed at privacy concerns in aggregated, semi-anonymized data, reader geekotourist says it's time to revisit "personally identifying information."

When AOL apologized today, the spokesperson said'"Although there was no personally-identifiable data linked to these accounts, we're absolutely not defending this."

Back in January, related to the story on how the DoJ demands and gets ISP data, AOL had said that "We did not comply with the request made in the subpoena," spokesman Andrew Weinstein said. "Instead, we gave the Department of Justice a list of aggregate anonymous search terms that did not include results or any personally identifiable information."

AOL- you need to rethink that phrase personally identifiable, because it doesn't seem to mean what you think it means. You're hiding behind one technical definition of PII, without concern about whether or not the results actually have PII. If you're releasing results with personally identifying information, then you cannot say you're not releasing PII. I'd written in January "I question this assumption by Yahoo, AOL, etc. that search terms, by themselves, have no privacy considerations because they've been separated from personal info. What if the search itself contains personal information? Are the search companies deleting the timestamps and randomizing the order of the search terms themselves? Because otherwise I could see personal info showing up." Obviously, half a year later, they still think that replacing a name with a number takes away the PII. They need to have a talk with, say, the Census Department, about why the department will withhold data about groups of businesses in a region. Grouped data can easily become PII data if you can tease out characteristics. AOL didn't even group the data!

As always, relevant quotes from the best.essay.evar on why privacy is a fundamental human right: "If information that is actually about someone else is wrongly applied to us, if wrong facts make it appear that we've done things we haven't, if perfectly innocent behavior is misinterpreted as suspicious because authorities don't know our reasons or our circumstances, we will be at risk of finding ourselves in trouble in a society where everyone is regarded as a suspect. By the time we clear our names and establish our innocence, we may have suffered irreparable financial or social harm..."

Yesterday's post about news agency Reuters' admission that it ran a digitally manipulated photo depicting the effects of Israeli bombing in Lebanon drew more than 500 comments. Joining many others in pointing out the obvious manipulation of the photograph, reader plover wants to know "Is Reuters complicit?"

The photo was so obviously manipulated as to be laughable. Anyone who's ever used the Clone Brush tool would immediately recognize it as having been manipulated, and anyone who's completely unfamiliar with digital photography would still question the regularity of the blobs of smoke.

Sure, this photographer is at fault, and you can make assumptions about his political motives for Photoshopping this image. But what's worse is how did Reuters let such a piece of crap into the system? The guys on SomethingAwful [] or Worth 1000 [] all do a much better job, and that's just for the glory of the contest. They're not trying to pass their stuff off as "news." Even the guys at Fark [] aren't this bad (not even Heamer :-) No, this Photoshop was of "The Daily Show" quality — comically bad.

The only conclusion I can come up with is that Reuters isn't actually looking at the images that come in the door. Even if someone at Reuters had the same political agenda as the photographer, he should have had the good sense to deny that picture because the Photoshopping was so obvious. Actually, neither conclusion is good news for Reuters at all.

Piling on one last insult, Megane writes

It was done so badly that I could tell it was clone tooled by looking at the thumbnail of the picture.

Many thanks to the readers (especially those quoted above) whose comments informed each of these discussions.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

More on Leopard, AOL, Reuters and the Universe

Comments Filter:
  • Doesn't it? AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrGgggggggggggggggg gggg!!!!! Hey, that looks like a piece of cake.

    (p.s. stupid caps checker... Bah!)
  • irrelevant (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:51PM (#15869554)
    "More on Leopard, AOL, Reuters and the Universe"

    Oh, come off it, who really cares about the universe?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Now that AOL has released the search data, numerous sites to search through the data have appeared. [] [] [] [] []

    Is this good, bad, or otherwise?
    • Now you can start your own. I found it on eBay! []

      I'm not the eBay seller, but we have one thing in common. He says in the listing:

      Since I love a good bit of irony as much as the next guy, 50% of the proceeds from this sale will go toward the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has worked relentlessly to protect our online privacy.

    • So now we know (confirming our theories about AOL users) 36306 people searched(!) for, but no one for
      • So now we know (confirming our theories about AOL users) 36306 people searched(!) for, but no one for

        That's because unlike myspace users, slashdot users at least know into which browser field to put a site's address.

  • by quokkapox ( 847798 ) <> on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:57PM (#15869603)

    This is a fucking diaster for AOL. There will be lawsuits, and I'll bet you someone will die because of this (due to stalking, spouse finding out secrets, etc.). Use your imagination. This data is chock full of so much personal information, it's scary. I'm terrified that everything I've ever searched for in google is similarly logged in a data center somewhere and could be just as easily revealed but for whatever security they have in place, along with a dubious "don't be evil" guarantee.

    If you're an AOL user you need to zcat this through grep ASAP for one of your unique searches, ASAP, to make sure you're not in the dataset. They can't ever "unrelease" this data.

    This could take down AOL quicker than you can say "retention specialist". This is like Merck's VIOXX problem. THIS IS REALLY REALLY BAD. Got TWX? SELL SELL SELL. Holy fucking shit.

  • by paulmer2003 ( 922657 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @05:05PM (#15869655)
    Here is a screenshot of Leopard that a friend gave me, yes, it dosent show much besides the icons, but here it is: []
    • Notice what the desktop is missing.

      • Um... is it icons?

        I wish they would make it so you could have a different desktop folder for each space, but I'm guessing they left it out.

        WHY, WHY, WHY?

        It's always been my impression that they wouldn't do virtual desktops because it might cut down on possible 2nd monitor sales.
    • by adamwright ( 536224 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @05:22PM (#15869749) Homepage
      A more complete set of the promotional images is available at []
      • <disgusted>WTF is wrong with these guys?! Seriously... a chat app where people actually have BUBBLES over them? Freaking bubbles? Why not throw in a Pokemon too? And please... a time machine whose interface comes straight out of Star Wars? With nice big user-friendly arrows for going back and forth in time? What's next, a puppy asking if it can do anything for me? A nice wizard for searching my files?<br>
        I guess limiting themselves to something serious like a box asking me for a time window wher
        • You're honestly telling me you've never seen iChat before? They've been doing that stupid shit for ages now.
        • You can dislike Apple's style if you want, but that doesn't change the fact that many other people find it much easier to use than the alternatives. Your complaint seems to be that the Apple GUI doesn't look "computery enough". Well, perhaps that is the point!
        • With one click you can instantly change the bubbles to just plain text or something in between. Typical... bash and rant about something you don't understand. I'm willing to bet that time machine has more than one option for data retrieval. Some people are so quick to think they know everthing from one demo or screenshot, when many details remain to be seen. And that which they complain about until foam comes out of their mouths, is actually a non issue if you took one minute to research or ask about it in
    • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @05:55PM (#15870000) Homepage Journal
      Firstly, a huge Leopard preview site is up at Apple's "sneak preview" site []

      But I don't know why everyone's so focused on Spaces. Yes, it's a great implementation of an old concept, but it's hardly the most significant feature announced in 10.5. That would have to go to the insanely innovative Time Machine.

      Most Slashdot posters completely missed the point with Time Machine. Watch the video on Apple's site (or the WWDC keynote) to see... but a basic use case of what's cool:
      1. Open Address Book and search for a person
      2. Note that the person doesn't exist, but you knew you had them around at some point
      3. Click the "Time Machine" icon...
      4. Now Address Book appears in the Time Machine view, with the query still live
      5. Click the "Back" arrow... and Time Machine zips back in time to a point at which the query returns something
      6. Click on the record then the Restore button, and everything snaps back to the current, with the record now appearing in Address Book. No file system, calendars, or even leaving the current app involved, and the data was still directly selectable from within the current app's UI in the historical version.

      This is something that hasn't been done by anyone, and isn't really comparable to Windows' new restore feature. Doing live queries through time? All while staying in your currently open app's UI? And having the historical data directly manipulable in the application's UI? This is really innovative stuff, and I don't think it got enough love in the Slashdot forums yesterday.
      • And yet it has the worst interface in the world. Seriously, that whole starfield thing, it's a joke right?
      • This is something that hasn't been done by anyone
        It's just a "delete doesn't really mean delete" feature. Everybody's done that. I think email was the first thing to do it, but I'm not really sure.
        • It's just a "delete doesn't really mean delete" feature. Everybody's done that. I think email was the first thing to do it, but I'm not really sure.

          No, it's more than that.

          It's a "delete doesn't mean delete and you can track down any changes to your files, folders or anything at any level to restore back to that point in a really simple way that everyone can understand, even grandma. Plus there's an API for devs to add this functionality inside any apps and use the app's own UI to do this."

          Anyone can restor
        • It's just a "delete doesn't really mean delete" feature. Everybody's done that. I think email was the first thing to do it, but I'm not really sure.

          Actually, the Trash Can in the Lisa/Mac Finder in 1983/4 was the first time I'd seen an easily recoverable ubiquitous delete feature built into the UI (along with ubiquitous "undo" in all applications on the platform). But that's a very, very simplistic view of what Time Machine is... Time Machine is a historical record that can be directly integrated. So you
        • It's just a "delete doesn't really mean delete" feature.
          Actually it is versioning. Something not announced during the keynote, but mentioned in part of another announcement is that Subversion is a standard part of the OS in Leopard. Time Machine is very likely using Subversion on a whole filesystem level, and with an API so that your own application can tie in easily.

          From what they said, and what the demos show I think it works like this:

          • Any changes you make in a Time Machine aware app, or in the finder do commits to a SVN repository
          • By default, at midnight and with an external drive configured as a backup drive, the commits for the day are saved to the backup drive. Probably freeing up space on the internal/boot drive so that it isn't filled up just by svn commits.
          • So it is probable that during the day you can see any changes you have made even without your backup drive online, and with the drive online you can see changes back to when you started backing up to the external drive.

          This is an amazing feature, plus having svn available system wide may lead more people to use it that may not have previously. I just started using it for a web site development project I have been working on, and while I'm new at it, and right now it slows me down more than really helps me, I can certainly see the benefits of being able to better track my changes.

          • While I agree with you in principle, I really don't think it's Subversion in particular. Unless you have information that you feel substantiates that, I think that this is more like the old VMS file system than any type of SV/CVS/code-version-control scheme. It seems to be implemented on a much lower level, and with a greater degree of system integration than an SV-based system would provide.

            Plus, using SV just doesn't seem consistent with other stuff they've done in the past; this seems like an in-house pr
            • While I agree with you in principle, I really don't think it's Subversion in particular.

              I agree. It looks like this offers a combination of spotlight's insight into file types (including binaries) with the versioning, which would be difficult to manage with subversion. I think the subversion and Time machine features are separate ones. Apple uses subversion internally and the new OpenSource project site they set up uses it as well. It would be really cool if subversion integrated with the Time Machine v

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Spaces is cool if you have a 30" monitor. I could keep Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro and Motion all in a layout then in anther Space have a layout of word processing and layout apps. Or more in my case modelling and animation software. I often have half a dozen apps open in Mac but It's hard to switch between layouts. It'll be like multiple desktop layouts you can switch between.

        Leopard was the final straw to get me to switch entirely to Mac. I was planning on a Mac Linux switch but Mac is easier to deal wi
      • It's basically the whole "snapshot" thing that people like Network Appliances charge a fortune for, with a nice GUI and very tight integration, right in your OS. The cheesiness is kind of funny, and it's peripheral, not affecting functionality.

        I agree... not enough love.
  • Two of them were really big at one point of time..enough to dwarf everything around them...then they imploded and became quite they are again showing signs of expanding back...

    Come to think of it..even the Universe does the same..just over billions of years..
  • I currently use 'Virtue Desktop' on my Mac OS X system. It is ALMOST as good as Spaces, minus the Exposé-like effect of showing all of your desktops at once. The closest it has is an overlay that shows the relation of your desktops, and what programs are running in each (with a 'shadow box' showing the size of any open apps.) But you can't drag-and-drop rearrange apps between desktops, nor can you as easily switch desktops. As it is, you use Control-Shift-Arrow to switch desktops (they are in a gri
  • But we have borrowed Expose [] in return.

    Maybe once they have taken focus-follows-mouse (sorry, pet axe to grind [] - but it triples in value with translucent desktop objects) they can also copy the rest of the cutting edge eye candy in Compiz, like the insane yet cool cube thing [] and the rather more useful copacity [].
  • I must agree with the first comment that the whole thing is anything but revolutionary as even the common Dock (a.k.a. taskbar) has been around for many years in KDE and I also believe in Gnome. Heck, even XP has had, in addition to third-party solutions, a native applet that does exactly that for quite some time (although obviously with a lot less eye-candy). Personally, I prefer Xgl's implementation ( has a single desktop wrapped around 4 faces of a cube (this
  • by dimer0 ( 461593 )
    This is the longest slashdot article I've ever seen.
    • At first I had problems telling if this was a Backslash article or a Slashback article.

      Backslash started with a recap of just one story, and that was good. Now we have a Backslash of many stories. What's next, a Backslash-Slashback?
  • This /. digest is someone out of left field... I read most of the comments gratuitously repeated above *in the story they are connected with*. Maybe it's just me, but what's the benefit of this new digest (or did I just miss something)?

    If it becomes commonplace, please provide a category for it so we can opt-out.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.