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Comment Re:What about epoch + 2G? (Score 0) 257

I'd be surprised if PHP has problems with the epoch, because it doesn't expose the precision of integers to the user. They can store time intervals in a 64-bit value without problems. A lot of other code is similarly protected, for example the OpenStep specification uses a double for time intervals and allows multiple epochs (absolute times are time intervals plus an epoch date). Apple's implementation defaults to using the release date of OS X 10.0 as the epoch, but a double has a 52 bit mantissa and so will last more than 140 years before the precision drops to less than a microsecond. Most 64-bit UNIX systems use a 64-bit integer for time_t (on Darwin, for example, it's a typedef for a long, so it's 32 bits on 32-bit platforms and 64 bits on 64-bit platforms), so only code that isn't recompiled in the next 28 years (or which explicitly casts a time_t to an int or int32_t) will have a problem.

Unlike Y2K, the problem is understood decades in advance and planned for. No one thought in the '70s or '80s that people would still be using their code after so long.

Comment Re:Street lights (Score 1) 257

They put street lights into the park across the road from me and cut down a load of trees around the edge so that street lights from the road shine in because people complained that they were frightened of being attacked in the dark. The end result is that you now have pools of light along the path. If you stand there, it completely destroys your night vision and someone standing five meters from the path is completely invisible to you, while you are under a spotlight from their perspective. Apparently this makes you more safe.

Comment Re:Just wait for the 2010 bug (Score 2, Interesting) 257

Why go as far as twitter? Slashdot fell over a year or so ago because message ids were stored in a 24-bit integer, which overflowed. Who ever imagined when Slashdot was created that it would come close to 17 million posts? 2^16 probably seemed like a lot, so wasting another byte per post probably seemed enough to give some headroom. A decade later, it turned out not to be.

If you were writing software in the '70s, every byte mattered. A lot of mainframes around then used 6-bit bytes with binary coded decimals, so you'd be using 12 bits for a two digit date or 24 for a four digit one. Software was much cheaper than hardware, so saving 50% of the storage requirement and requiring the software to be rewritten in 30 years would have been a huge saving overall, especially on machines where 1KB took up an entire rack and cost thousands of dollars. And, because the software worked, people kept using it.

Architectures like IBM's OS/360 and Burroughs Large Systems have maintained backwards ABI compatibility since the '70s, so there was no reason to touch the code. The space saving went from saving them the need to spend $10K on an extra memory module to saving them a tiny fraction of a percent of the machine's total capacity, but no one cared, because the code still worked. Then 1999 rolled around and people found that their system would break next year. The old code was lost, or written by people who had long since died or retired, so in a lot of cases needed completely rewriting. Fortunately, programming languages have advanced a lot since those days (unless you had a Lisp machine or a Xerox Alto back then, in which case they've bone backwards to a painful degree) and so it didn't take much programmer time to rewrite them, although migrating the data and testing took a lot of effort.

Comment Re:CD-R? (Score 2, Interesting) 130

It isn't faster than DRAM, it's faster than Flash and hard disks. It is also much more expensive per MB than either: about 4 times as expensive as DRAM at the moment, and very few people are thinking of replacing their persistent storage with battery-backed DRAM.

You seem to be confusing PCRAM with SRAM. Static RAM uses six transistors, while dynamic RAM uses one transistor and one capacitor. This makes it much faster, because you don't have to wait for refresh cycles, but it is a lot less dense and so much more expensive.

Phase change RAM is much more complicated to make, but can be quite dense. The latest versions use four states so you can store two bits per cell, rather than two. Eventually you may be able to store an entire byte in a cell, which would get the density well above DRAM, but the physical phase change is likely to be slower than an electronic switch for a long time, so I expect to see phase change RAM as part of a three tier cache hierarchy (under DRAM and SRAM), at least initially.

Comment Re:The iPod? (Score 1) 313

No it wasn't. The NOMAD had a 2.5" hard disk and a USB 1 interface. This was one of the reasons why CmdrTaco reviewed the iPod as having 'less space than a nomad. Lame:' The iPod used a physically smaller hard disk and so didn't get as much space. Later models moved to using the same 1.8" disks as the iPod and added USB 2. FireWire wasn't really an option for Creative because most of their target market didn't have FireWire. The first generation iPod was Mac-only, and all Macs had had FireWire for a while.

Creative did have a menu-driven system like the iPod, but, having used both, I found the Creative version clunky in comparison. That was what the settlement was for (Creative patented the menu interface). All of the rest was done by Apple first.

Comment Re:Never sacrifice proven infrastructure (Score 1) 426

Which may be good value, if you make a lot of calls. I pay 1.19p/min to call UK landlines, 9.9p/min to call UK mobiles, and nothing to call other VoIP users anywhere in the world, beyond the cost of my Internet connection. If I had a landline, it would cost me an extra £6-9 month, depending on the provider, plus the cost of calls. Oh, and it would have to be a separate device, I couldn't use the same handset for both home and mobile calling (my mobile phone supports SIP, so I can make cheap VoIP calls when I'm near an access point).

Landlines in te UK would look a lot less attractive if OFCOM would require BT to offer naked DSL and not bundle a phone line with every ADSL connection. It's all IP on BT's backbone, so it's ridiculous that they can get away for forcing you to buy both if you just want ADSL.

Comment Re:Majority (Score 3, Informative) 426

Yes, I don't really understand what the fuss is about. They're talking about switching to an all-IP network, but telcos have done that already in a lot of the world. Phase one converts the backbones to IP and routes voice over the packet-switched network. Phase two rolls it out into the exchanges so only the very last mile is analogue and the rest is all digital. The final phase replaces the analogue terminals with SIP devices.

Comment Re:Surprised (Score 1) 324

do Knights actually hold any government sway

Not as a result of being a knight. I'm not sure what the statistics are now, but in the '80s at least 50% of them were senior civil servants, and so held a lot of influence via their jobs, but the title of knight is purely honorary. This is a Knight Bachelor, not a chivalric knight, meaning that it does not come with the right (and responsibility) of defence of the realm.

Life peerages, which are two steps up the honours system, carry with them a seat in the House of Lords and so are lifetime appointments to the legislature (you also get something like £200 and good food for any day when you happen to drop in to Parliament - the House of Lords also has a much better wine cellar than the Commons).

Comment Re:Abolishment? (Score 2, Insightful) 324

Other than demonstrating that you are willing to kill people for holding an opinion, did you intend to provide some argument to back up that assertion? We used to have the quaint idea that rights came with responsibilities. The right to vote should come with the responsibility to be informed of the issues on which you are voting. I would have no problem with requiring that people who exercise their right to vote also demonstrate in some way that they are going to make an informed decision (irrespective of whether it's the same decision that I would have made).

Comment Brain size and birth (Score 5, Insightful) 568

Homo Sapiens' brains are as large as they can get without being a significant disadvantage. The large cranial size causes problems in birth, reducing the number of individuals that survive the process and reduces the reproduction rate. A hominid with a larger brain size but not major other physiological changes would reproduce even more slowly and would be easy to kill off as a species, even if the adults males were harder to kill individually (the adult females would die in childbirth a lot more frequently than their smaller-skulled equivalents).

If, on the other hand, the rest of his skeleton was proportionally larger, then this would not have been a problem. He would have been stronger, but possibly less able agile, and would have required more food. In times of relative food shortage, the smaller-skeletoned variant would have had an evolutionary advantage. He would be able to keep his muscle mass sufficient to move around quickly on a much more limited diet.

There is quite a bit of evidence that skull sizes have been shrinking over the last few thousand years, but there's no evidence that this correlates with reduced mental ability. Humans are far from having the largest brains of any modern mammals (whales win that one by a long way). You can't jump straight from brain size to IQ, you need to also look at how the brain is divided. Dogs, for example, have a huge amount of their brain devoted to controlling their noses. Dolphins have about as much brain tissue just devoted to turning sonar returns into a coherent picture of their environment as humans have in total. It's possible that a hominid with a 50% larger brain had an average IQ of 150, but it's also possible that it had an average IQ of 200 or of 50. It's impossible to tell just from the skull.

Comment Re:Obligatory (Score 4, Informative) 324

Neither is Bill Gates, but he was knighted. Patrick Stewart, however, almost certainly didn't get his award for being on Star Trek. He was a member of the RSC for a long time before he was Piccard and his recent performance of Hamlet was sold out over its entire run a long time before it started, and was also televised by the BBC on Christmas day.

Comment Re:Abolishment? (Score 2, Informative) 324

I'm not sure what your point is, given that the queen just rubber stamps the honours list; it's prepared by the Prime Minister. As to the point of the monarch, I thought she was there to veto insane government legislation, but when she signed RIPA I realised that she was just a waste of taxpayers' money.

Comment Re:The Most Import Part of the Book Experience (Score 1) 419

I'm not sure how you make that jump. For a lot of people - myself included - buying books is a tool of convenience. I quite like having books around, but I'm not particularly attached to them emotionally and now that I'm planning on moving house soon they seem more of a liability than an asset. Going to a library is a lot more hassle than buying a book from Amazon. It's a bit more hassle than buying a book from a brick-and-mortar store (same distance, but I have to remember to return the book or I get fined, and I have to make another trip to do so.) The ability to read any book ever published at the touch of a button on a convenient device would be worth a lot more to me than 'owning' a book.

Doctrow has fallen into the trap of allowing his opponents to frame the debate. By talking about owning books, he has already implicitly bought into the idea that Intellectual Property is a sane and rational way of modelling the economics of ideas and expressions of ideas. It is not. Property rights make (some) sense for things that are scarce and have a high cost of production. For purely digital forms, they do not. The idea of applying ownership to eBooks just doesn't make sense.

They are trivial to copy, but they can't be given or loaned. Even if you can simulate the idea of giving by copying and deleting, why would you? If a hundred people want to read a book, how many of them want to read it simultaneously? Given that you can simulate moving a book between two people in a few seconds, why not just have one copy for all hundred, and copy-and-delete it to the person who wants to read it next? How many would that scale to? Maybe twenty unique copies shared between ten thousand people? Most people don't read a book for more than an hour a day, so you can easily spread a single copy between 24 people in different time zones. If they take a few days to read it, but people want it over the course of a month or two, that copy can be passed between a few hundred.

The value in a book is in the creation of the original, not in the creation of copies. JK Rowling made millions from the Harry Potter series. Any one of her readers could have created a copy of an eBook version, but how many of them could have created the original? Creativity is the scarce resource in this system, not duplication, and until you start adopting a system that recognises this, instead of trying to finance creativity by charging for copies, then you will just waste a lot of money on DRM and other tools that try to simulate expensive copying of a medium where copying is intrinsically cheap.

Comment Re:The iPod? (Score 2, Informative) 313

And none of that was there with the original iPod. It did, however, have a 5GB 1.8" hard disk, which was what defined the new market. Prior to the iPod, everything had either used flash (and only had up to about 128MB of space; enough for one or two albums) or used 2.5" hard disks (and been very bulky). The other novel thing about the iPod was the use of FireWire, which meant you could sync at a decent speed. Other players used USB (USB2 did not exist yet) and so were very slow.

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