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Comment We had a solution (Score 1) 649

We had a solution to "too big to fail" for banks. There was the Glass-Steagall Act, which forced a complete separation between brokerage and banking. Worked fine from the 1930s to 1999. Then it was repealed because the big banks wanted to get bigger. "Today, Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century. This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.", said the Treasury secretary in 1999.

Right there is how we got into this mess.

Comment Takings clause issue (Score 1) 351

No, not student works. That's a 5th amendment "takings clause" issue. This is a public school, an agency of government. Public school students are not employees. Not even close. Any taking of student property must be compensated.

I don't think any public school board has been dumb enough to try this before. State universities have been careful about this, after some troubles. (Private universities are a different case. They're not state actors.)

Comment It's a cartoon channel (Score 1) 113

It's a cartoon channel. You expect a SLA for that?

However, they are unusually clueless. www.funimation.com is nothing like valid HTML. It's an obfuscated Javascript file with a starter bit of Javascript to execute it. But it doesn't work because the character coding is wrong. I'm not sure whether their site has been hacked, or whether their site is a hack.

Comment Take the course on line (Score 2) 264

You can take this course on line. for $1,045 to $2000. At Harvard, I would have expected "Introduction to Congress" to be taught by an former member of Congress, but it's just an ordinary instructor.

I'm watching the first video. At the beginning, the instructor says that all you need to know to start this course is that "Congress" exists. At 00:02:35, he's talking about the proposal to change the rules to prevent filibusters from stalling Congress (only the Senate, actually). The speaker is interesting, but if you don't already know a lot about American politics and the structure of Congress, you'll be totally lost.

Comment Re:The 3D thing is kind of fake (Score 1) 79

It looks like it loads a full set of pre computed images for all available POV and focal points. Sure there is probably a rough threshold but that's a limitation of bandwidth, not the data.

No. This is an image taken from one camera position, with one sensor, with tiny lenses of different focal length over adjacent pixels. There is only one point of view, but depth can be inferred from depth of focus.

This is not a hologram, a time of flight image, or a 3D composite of images taken from multiple locations. It's much simpler than that.

Comment The 3D thing is kind of fake (Score 0) 79

Lytro has a Flash program which will work on their images. Here's a good example. This shows a girl blowing big bubbles, and you can see the background through the bubbles.

Lytro is doing more than an image warp, but less than multiple points of view, as you can see in this image. Click and drag on the image, and the point of view changes slightly. Note where the nearby orange toy occludes the car in the background, and see slightly more or less of the car appear. That looks correct. But look at the background through the bubbles. The background behind the bubbles doesn't change when you change the psuedo-POV. So they don't really have a stereoscopic view. Here's one with a row of glasses which shows the same problem.

This is more like the kind of fake 3D added to movies in postprocessing. They're converting the image to layers and moving the layers relative to each other. To pull this off, the nearer layers have to be shown slightly larger than they really are. One you notice this, it's kind of creepy. It also fails for images with a range of depth but which don't layer well. This plant image shows that. The near part of the plant is being treated as a single layer and warped, which looks wrong.

It's a useful tool for some special effects, perhaps, but not a breakthrough.

Comment The Bar Has Been Lowered A Lot (Score 1) 665

Yes, the bar has been lowered. Myspace has somewhere upwards of 5 million bands. Some of which might not suck. There are more "band members" in the US than construction workers.

The notion of "rock stars" comes from a period when the tooling cost for vinyl records was high. That's so over. It's running on inertia and old fans now. I was just looking at a list of "big concerts" for 2013. Some of them raise the question "are those guys still alive?" Elton John? The Doobie Brothers? Rush? The Who? The Beach Boys? They have to tour; anybody who wants a copy of their content already has it. The highest-paid musician in the US is Dr. Dre, but that's from his line of headphones.

Comment This is a robotics problem (Score 1) 141

nothing is going to put the food in the oven for you

That's the problem.

It's quite solveable. There are many automated industrial food processing facilities. In Japan, there's a whole range of vending machines which automatically make pizzas, french fries, etc.

A refrigerator/microwave combination, where items go in standard trays and a suitable mechanism conveys trays into the microwave and out, wouldn't be that hard. Parents could phone in dinner for their kids.

Comment Upload to GitHub and be at the mercy of the EULA. (Score 1) 320

Read the GitHub EULA. They do not currently claim ownership of uploaded content. However, they claim the right to modify the agreement: " GitHub reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Service (or any part thereof) with or without notice. ... GitHub shall not be liable to you or to any third party for any modification, price change, suspension or discontinuance of the Service.

A classic example of a formerly open database becoming closed is CDDB, the track list database for audio CDs. Once open source, the current owner, GraceNote, doesn't even allow clients other than their own, and inserts ads. Another example is Google's takeover of the historical netnews database and closing it to full downloads.

To avoid that, it's important that creators limit the rights that some service gets merely by hosting the content. A service like GitHub could claim that as soon as someone else makes a check-in, the aggregated content becomes theirs. The GPL, which covers derived works, prevents that.

Comment Can they do a mouse? (Score 1) 181

So they say they need 1000x the power of the current largest supercomputers to simulate a brain at the neuron level. So they should be able to simulate a mouse brain, which has 1/1000 the mass of a human brain, right now. Can they do that?

There's a hubris problem in this area. Some years ago, I went to a talk where Rod Brooks was touting Cog as strong AI Real Soon Now. He'd done good artificial insect work. I asked him "Why aren't you going for a robot mouse? That might be within reach." He answered "Because I don't want to go down in history as the person who created the world's greatest robot mouse." The Cog project tanked in 2003. As one grad student said, "It sits there. That's what it does. That's all it does."

If we can't simulate the lower mammals, which are pretty good at moving around a complex unstructured world and getting through the day, no way can we do humans yet. This brain project sounds like a boondoggle for building a huge supercomputer that they won't be able to program.

They need to do a mouse first.

Comment The pitch for RIM (Score 4, Interesting) 171

"Many of you have an Apple iPhone. Some of you have Google Android phones. Some of you use Microsoft's Skype service.

Apple can monitor the location of your iPhone from their control center. They can turn your phone off. They can put software on it. Apple has the keys to your iPhone.

With Google Android devices, Google has the keys to your phone. Google can change what's on your phone. With Skype, all your calls go through Microsoft, and Microsoft won't say who's listening in.

With RIM, you are in control. The server that controls your devices is in your data center, under your control. We at RIM have no control over your devices. You have the keys, and you set the keys. We have no way to get into your phone. We can't listen in, nor can we let a government listen in.

Do you want to give out the keys to your company? It's your choice.

Thank you."

Comment Somewhat a dead issue outside Clearwater FL (Score 3, Interesting) 353

Does anybody still care about Scientology? They've been shrinking since Hubbard died. They've sort of centralized at Clearwater, FL, but other than that, not much seems to be going on.

The amusing thing about Scientology is that it doesn't use science. It's locked into Hubbard's writings and 1930s technology. The "E-meter" is a skin resistance measuring device, the least useful of the three classical polygraph channels. By now, Scientology should have had online and mobile systems as part of their "auditing" process. A modern "E-meter" should have heart rate, respiration, and face gesture recognition sensors, with functional MRI in R&D. But no, they're still using skin resistance.

This may be just as well. With modern sensors, and detailed historical data for each member, much more monitoring and control over the emotional states of members would be possible. Fortunately, Scientology is too inept to bring that off.

Comment Logs indicate no overcharging (Score 4, Interesting) 184

The battery charging voltages and currents are logged, the logs go to the flight recorder, and they don't indicate overcharging. There are monitoring circuit boards in the battery case, separate from the charger, which report this data. Either the charger failed in some way that caused an overcharge without the voltage sensing detecting this, or the battery itself failed.

The NTSB says they haven't found anything defective yet. The burned battery is enough of a mess that it's hard to extract much info, but they're using spectroscopy to check that the composition of the components was correct.

The grounding is necessary. The JAL aircraft at Logan only had 22 takeoff/landing cycles on it, and this has now happened twice, so the odds of further trouble are high. Over the next few days and weeks, batteries and chargers will probably be pulled from other aircraft and cycled through pressure chambers, shake tables, and hot/cold cycles in attempts to induce the failure.

Meanwhile, I suspect that there are frantic efforts at Boeing to design a replacement that doesn't use lithium-ion batteries.

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