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Comment TMI (Score 2, Insightful) 586

Wikileaks behavior here is ridiculous, and I don't think we should be supporting them at this point. Trust me, I am all for exposing corruption and illegal behavior, but that's not what Wikileaks released. Every partnership, company, country, etc, must have the ability to have frank internal conversations about various relationship with others, that must be private. Examples:

Clinton instructing diplomats to spy on UN officials : RELEASE
Afghan corruption throughout military operations: RELEASE
Candid assessments about Karzai's leadership : DO NOT RELEASE
Name calling of the Prince of England : DO NOT RELEASE

These extra releases have done nothing but put many countries into very awkward diplomatic relationships, which does nothing to benefit "fighting corruption." Those kinds of releases are stupid and unecessary.

In this case, I think wikileaks went waaay too far. Assange just wanted to make history by releasing all of them, because nothing like this has ever become public before. On that note, despite my bitter disagreement with him, it is intensely interesting to see a complete cross-section of classified US diplomatic discussions and assessments, and related communications with otehr governments. Probably not worth the damage done to global "social" health, but I will read every word of it...

Comment Extra Credit... (Score 1) 3

In a related hypothetical situation, what would you do if you discovered the encryption key for the 1.4GB file released by Wikileaks labeled "Insurance". Presumably, the file is full of dark, dirty secrets of multiple governments. I would guess the key would be considered worth billions of dollars to some parties, and and multiple assassination attempts on your life by other parties. No really, what do you do??

(this isn't as unrealistic as it sounds... it's entirely possible there's a dead-man switch in the wild that will release the key if Julian Assange doesn't press a button at least once a week. I'd say it's actually likely that the key is already distributed, and the dead-man-switch simply reveals where it is, as it would be kind of useless as "insurance" if the key disappears when Julian Assange does)

Comment I've studied Quantum Computing (Score 1) 145

...and I read most of the fine article. It puts too much emphasis on quantum entanglement, which is useful for quantum cryptography, but not as important as quantum interference. It's the weird quantum states of the individual qubits that interfere with each other, that make a quantum computer. If you can figure out how to encode information into the quantum state of a qubit, and get a bunch of them to interact in a given way, you get the quantum interference to cancel out the information you don't want, and leave the information that you do want (probabilistically speaking). Unfortunately, the math and creativity needed to encode problems as such requires some truly stellar mathematical/physical thinking, and we wouldn't be having any Quantum code-monkeys like we do with classical computers.

Comment Before the accusations start... (Score 1) 157

Before people start freaking out about how evil Google is, I wanted to temper the rage by pointing out that Google's involvement is purely passive. Their collection techniques were solely collecting wifi payloads that were visible from the street, and never actually attempted communication with any routers. It would be a completely different story if Google had actively logged into routers and collected data, as that would be a major criminal violation. But they didn't.

I'm not suggesting that saving the data was entirely ethical, but they weren't out there to collect it. If anything, this demonstrates just how ridiculously insecure an unencrypted wifi network is. If you do nothing else, at least use WEP, despite all it's vulnerabilities. It will keep 99% of people out of your network (i.e. the casual neighbor looking for a free connection when their own service is not working).

Comment Silly but not obvious (Score 1) 304

Graphics cards are used to RENDER video all the time. But, the actual encoding of video has always been done with the CPU, at least up until a few years ago. It's because the encoding itself is a complex algorithm, and GPUs had not really been used to implement arbitrary algorithms before, only the simplistic, high-volume calculations needed to render 2D/3D scenes onto your monitor. It's not until recently that GPUs have become popular for highly-parallelized, general-purpose programming (GP-GPU) that these kinds of patents come about.

Still doesn't mean it should be patented. It's just like all those patents that are for "Patent for doing X... over the internet". It is silly, but not obvious, since GP-GPU is a relatively new field (in the last few years).

Comment Exponential Speedup?? (Score 3, Informative) 112

Summary is wrong. Quantum algorithms cannot provide "exponential" speedup of any problem. If they could, we would be able to [probably] solve NP-complete problems with quantum computers, and that hasn't been proven yet. The best they can do is "super-polynomial" speedup of classical algorithms.

Google "quantum algorithm zoo" to see all the known algorithms and their speedups (and how unexciting most of them are).

Comment Pre-emptive Explanation of Quantum Computing (Score 4, Informative) 112

Because people always get it wrong every time a QC article hits slashdot, here's a link to my previous, highly-modded (upwards) post on QC:


Quantum computers can do some cool things, but mostly solve problems no one cares much about (except a few of us mathematicians)

Comment Re:No Drivers for Windows (Score 2, Interesting) 702

I had a similar experience. My girlfriend got a free HP or Canon printer (I don't remember which) with her laptop. Amusingly, her laptop came with Windows 7 and couldn't actually use the printer that came with it. We installed drivers from CD, downloaded drivers, tried troubleshooting... we couldn't get it to work. As a test, I booted an Ubuntu live CD, and it worked within 10s of boot.

Hardware support has definitely become a positive aspect of Ubuntu, no longer the pain in the ass that it used to be for generic Linux. Admittedly, if there's no hardware support, it's a mess to get it... but it seems that there's a massive amount of native support already there, including the default PDF printer which I couldn't live without.

Comment W/O RTFA (Score 5, Informative) 109

I took a class on Quantum computing, and studied many specific QC algorithms, so I know a little bit about them. If you don't want to RTFA, then read this: Quantum Computers are not super-computers. On a bit-for-bit (or qubit-for-qubit) scale, they're not necessarily faster than regular computers, they just process info differently. Since information is stored in a quantum "superposition" of states, as opposed to a deterministic state like regular computers, the qubits exhibit quantum interference around other qubits. Typically, your bit starts in 50% '0' and 50% '1', and thus when you measure it, you get a 50% chance of it being one or the other (and then it assumes that state). But if you don't measure, and push it through quantum circuits allowing them to interact with other qubits, you get the quantum phases to interfere and cancel out. If you are damned smart (as I realized you have to be, to design QC algorithms), you can figure out creative ways to encode your problem into qubits, and use the interference to cancel out the information you don't want, and leave the information you do want. For instance, some calculations will start with the 50/50 qubit above, and end with 99% '0' and 1% '1' at the end of the calculation, or vice versa, depending on the answer. Then you've got a 99% chance of getting the right answer. If you run the calculation twice, you have a 99.99% chance of measuring the correct answer. However, the details of these circuits which perform quantum algorithms are extremely non-intuitive to most people, even those who study it. I found it to require an amazing degree of creativity, to figure out how to combine qubits to take advantage of quantum interference constructively. But what does this get us? Well it turns out that quantum computers can run anything a classical computer can do, and such algorithms can be written identically if you really wanted to, but doing so gets the same results as the classical computer (i.e. same order of growth). But, the smart people who have been publishing papers about this for the past 20 years have been finding new ways to combine qubits, to take advantage of nature of certain problems (usually deep, pure-math concepts), to achieve better orders of growth than possible on a classical computer. For instance, factoring large numbers is difficult on classical computers, which is why RSA/PGP/GPG/PKI/SSL is secure. It's order of growth is e^( n^(1/3) ). It's not quite exponential, but it's still prohibitive. It turns out that Shor figured out how to get it to n^2 on a quantum computer (which is the same order of growth as decrypting with the private key on a classical computer!). Strangely, trying to guess someone's encryption key, normally O(n) on classical computers (where n is the number of possible keys encryption keys) it's only O(sqrt(n)) on QCs. Weird (but sqrt(n) is still usually too big). There's a vast number of other problems for which efficient quantum algorithms have been found. Unfortunately, a lot of these problems aren't particularly useful in real life (besides to the curious pure-mathematician). A lot of them are better, but not phenomenal. Like verifying that two sparse matrices were mulitplied correctly has order of growth n^(7/3) on a classical computer, n^(5/3) on a quantum computer. You can find a pretty extensive list by googling "quantum algorithm zoo." Unfortunately [for humanity], there is no evidence yet that quantum computers will solve NP-complete problems efficiently. Most likely, they won't. So don't get your hopes up about solving the traveling salesmen problem any time soon. But there is still a lot of cool stuff we can do with them. In fact, the theory is so far ahead of the technology, that we're anxiously waiting for breakthroughs like this, so we can start plugging problems through known algorithms.

Comment Re:History Repeating (Score 4, Insightful) 518

EVERYONE MUST STOP thinking that legalizing drugs is an endorsement of the behavior. In no way is regulation an endorsement. It's an acknowledgement that making drugs illegal only makes the problem worse, and that we can address the problem by treating it as an addiction. Wide availability of treatment and drug education is what people need. Many people can't be "saved," but they're doing it despite illegality anyway. Putting them in jail with a criminal record and ruining their chance of ever getting a decent job leaves them with few incentives to stop using and/or selling. As if it's not hard enough coming out of an addiction, now try it without any hope of a future.

There's better ways to handle it. There's a lot of different things to try. But we've been doing the exact same thing for over 50 years and it's only gotten worse. We've been burning our hand on the stove every day for decades, and still haven't learned from it.

Comment History Repeating (Score 5, Insightful) 518

It's really quite sad that the world learned nothing from the US' futile attempt to outlaw alcohol in the 1920's. No one is saying drugs are good. They are quite bad, but making them illegal makes them much, much worse. I wish politicians didn't care about looking "soft on crime" in dealing with the drug war, and they could actually push to try to overturn this quixotic war. Make them legal and undercut the illegal drug trade which is fueled by their artificially inflated illegal prices. We saw all the same stuff during alcohol prohibition. The extreme corruption, the gang wars, the bad moonshine that made people go permanently blind, people using/selling more potent forms because it's easier to transport. It's all avoidable, but no one will push the issue because they're instantly shot down for being "soft on drugs"

I die a little inside every time I hear a story about drug gangs basically taking over cities in Mexico and kidnapping people. Think of the people women whose husbands have been kidnapped and they receive pieces of them with ransom notes asking for money that they don't have. This is what could've happened if they kept up alcohol prohibition. Drug prohibition is just as ill-conceived. The better we do reducing supply, the higher the prices go, and the more vicious the drug gangs get in protecting their business.

It's a terrible cycle, and one that can only be broken by regulation. They need to make drugs legal through special outlets stocked with health care workers, where people can safely obtain their drugs and use the proceeds to pay for the addiction specialists and treatment centers. There's nothing we can do except address the problem of addiction, and treat such users as patients, not criminals. Is it perfect? Probably not, but it's a start.

Comment Superdemocracy is not good (Score 1) 117

This is called superdemocracy. And it's not a very good form of democracy. Although reality may differ, politicians are elected to be in positions to make informed decisions about potential legislation, and protect the minority from being screwed by the majority. In other words, decmocracy as we have in the US is designed to allow the people making the decisions be in positions to receive and comprehend relevant information, evidence and expert testimony (and lobbying) before making such decisions. I'd be surprised if more than 10% of the population was [theoretically] as informed as these politicians are [supposed to be]. The whole reason to elect politicians is so that the masses can promote people they trust to make such decisions. If you think politicians are stupid, look at the vast majority of people who elected them.

Superdemocracy is also remarkably bad at protecting minorities from being screwed by majorities. It only takes 51% of the population to believe that deporting Mexicans without due process is okay, and then it's the law. There's no filtering in a super-democracy.

And on top of that, how is such an online-voting system supposed to handle matters that are considered secret to the country. Again, this is where people elected politicians they trust, who will be granted access to such sensitive information and make such decisions. How are military decisions supposed to be made when we have to wait for the internet polling period to end?

Comment One major distinction (Score 1) 134

I imagine that Google's actions are legally distinguishable from wiretapping laws, since they did not access hardware, they only passively recorded information that was visible from public locations. If they had communicated with and established an IP addresses with network routers, it would be a completely different story.

While it would appear to be ethically fuzzy to collect such data, it may be legally sufficient to demonstrate that such information was being transmitted over public areas, and since no "unauthorized access" was gained into any private networks, there was no legal breach. I'm not saying they should've collected the data. But if a woman prances around in her living room naked with the blinds open, my decision to view it from the street should not be subject to peeping-tom laws.

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