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Comment Re:Nobel Prize (Score 1) 919

The leaks don't discredit diplomacy, they simply reveal its normally hidden workings, which are a bit rough around the edges. Not all diplomats are particularly diplomatic.

Ultimately, though, the leaks give me more confidence in diplomacy, because they show that even authoritarian, closed governments like that of China have a solid underpinning of common sense. The cables reveal that China is not nearly as friendly towards North Korea as their Communist affiliation forces them to pretend; in private, they concede that Kim Jong Ill is nuts. The cables also reveal that many middle eastern leaders are just as concerned as we are about the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power.

Comment All about the balance (Score 5, Insightful) 833

Of course the gov't has a legitimate interest in keeping certain secrets, but at the same time, letting politicians do things without even telling voters about it--let alone taking responsibility--is always going to be abused.

I wish we took a middle route. For example, things could be classified, but with the requirement that they have to be reevaluated every year. Anything the gov't does should be public as soon as it's safe. Currently, it seems like the path of least resistance is to keep anything that's classified secret indefinitely, which is dangerous and wrong.

If classified docs were actually released in a timely way, the government could build trust--if we knew that foreign policy from five years ago was reasonable, then we could be more confident that whatever is happening in secret today is reasonable. As is, we just found out through Wikileaks that Hillary Clinton ordered the state department to spy on a bunch of European diplomats (steal credit card info, frequent flyer numbers, etc). Not long ago, Wikileaks gave us video of American helicopters machine-gunning a photographer in Baghdad; he had been working for Reuters, and some soldiers mistook his camera for "a weapon".

The sad reality: Wikileaks is a necessary institution. It is a blunt instrument, but it is the only effective check we currently have on a government that often hides wrongdoing from us in the name of national security.

Comment Re:Where you go matters -- for grad school (Score 1) 256

"Debt for the rest of your life"?

As a wise man once said, you're doing it wrong.

At least at my school, the gov't largely pays for the R&D grad students do. And undergrads, for that matter, since undergrad research opportunities abound. It also has need-blind admission. Tuition is, in fact, less than a third of the cash flow here. You can't take that $50,000/year at face value.

Comment Re:Too Many Applications are Stressful and Useless (Score 1) 256

I'm currently majoring in CS at Stanford.

I have to disagree with the idea, often-repeated on Slashdot, that $50k/year for college "isn't worth it". Even with a very mercenary take on it -- just considered future income potential -- based on all my friends who have recently graduated, it's worth it. Some are amortizing their tuition in a very short amount of time, assuming they weren't on financial aid.

If I consider things like the friends I've made and the experiences I couldn't have gotten anywhere else, it's absolutely worth it. Last year, I took a quarter off of school to race across Australia with Stanford's Solar Car Project. That quarter didn't cost any tuition; it did cost me most of my summer income in travel expenses. Summer income I got from a job programming. Also definitely worth it.

Comment Googlewin? My attempt at a nuanced opinion. (Score 5, Insightful) 168

Google follows a really interesting pattern. As far as I can tell, all their software is reactive, rather than proactive.

It is the result of saying "Everyone's using X, but it sucks. We can do it better." They then take a very methodical, PhD-oriented approach to solving the problem. A few parts innovation, many parts simple engineering.

  • It started with just Larry and Sergey, working on their PhDs, using AltaVista and realizing that there was a capital-B Better Way.
  • Then, Gmail was a response to the festering bag of fail that was Hotmail. I distinctly remember the moment when I got my account, back at the very beginning when each one had two invites. I had been in middle of my annoying daily routine, cleaning my Hotmail inbox to get it under 2MB. Gmail had a gigabyte of storage and Google search. My 14-year-old mind was blown.
  • Google News was a response to all those spammy, human-curated news portals like Yahoo and MSN.
  • Google Maps was a response to MapQuest.
  • Chrome was a response to IE and FF just not being fast or stable enough.
  • Now, VP8 is a response to patent-encumbered codecs and shitty Flash.

Now they have 10000 employees, but the basic formula hasn't changed. Is there software that Google has made that hasn't been a direct response to an existing product?

That said, I think there's definitely a case to be made that Google is the software industry's first adult. Software's awkward adolescent foibles are on their way out. No more 90s, no millions and millions of VC dollars being spent on, no more Netscape and Microsoft working furiously on really terrible codebases adding incompatible nonstandard crap to the internet. No more Myspace, no more Geocities. No more paperclips bouncing around asking me if I'm writing a letter; I'm using Google Docs now.

Google approaches software the way a civil engineering firm would approach a skyscraper: they are actual engineers. They collaborate with academia. They write papers. They sit on the W3C and help create standards. They have architects, PMs, devs, testers, and even lawyers to support their projects.

In a way, this is a sad thing. It was a magical time, when a university student in Finland could just sit down, write a simple OS for x86, and watch half the internet run on it a few years later. When a kid from Texas could create a whole new genre of games in a few thousand lines of C. Sometimes I worry that I was born a couple years too late.

Halfway through my CS degree, I hope that the era of cowboy coders isn't entirely done. It would be a terrible shame if CS became just another engineering specialization. At the same time, Google's professionalism is a breath of fresh air.

Comment Re:So he was done on a technicality? (Score 3, Insightful) 321

Why is it that the Westboro Baptist Church gets away with picketing real-life funerals again and again, while this schmuck gets four months for internet douchebaggery? By "picketing", I mean standing there with giant signs that say things like "god hates fags" at the funeral of a dead soldier:

The way I see it, free speech comes at a cost: you have to put up with other people saying things that are stupid, offensive, and downright wrong. If you want a right to free speech, you can't have a right not to be offended. Mr. Coss' behavior was certainly wrong, but nobody should serve jail time for posting to a Facebook page.

Comment Re:Let's just encrypt everything all the time (Score 1) 208

Yeah. They have load balancers with hardware support for this stuff.

There's a cheaper, lower-tech solution, though: the servers can just look at the IP addresses requests are coming from.

Gmail, for example, is excellent about this: if I'm logged in from two IPs simultaneously, it displays that info prominently. If I go from my dorm to a coffee shop (all in a couple minutes and without clearing my cookies), Gmail asks me to log in again, presumably because my IP has changed.

I think you wouldn't even need a fancy heuristic: simply tie a session to both the cookie _and_ the IP address+port. If someone else tries to steal the cookie, they can't do anything with it. People roaming around (eg on the campus WiFi) wouldn't pose a problem because that's all behind a NAT, so your external IP+port stays the same even if your local IP changes. This wouldn't solve the problem of eavesdropping--people could still see my Facebook session--but at least they couldn't jump in and start posting on my wall.

Facebook already has similar protections: for example, on a recent trip to Thailand, I got a screen that said I was logging in from an "unfamiliar location" and asked me to answer my security question. Tying sessions to IPs seems like a simple thing to add. Enlighten me, though--is there a common situation where this would fail? Are there people out there whose external IPs do change a lot?

Comment Re:Kennedy's folly and sad legacy (Score 1) 617

Anonymous political speech, yes. That's what the Federalist papers were. That's what WikiLeaks is, and I don't think it's hyperbole to say that WikiLeaks is one of the best things the internet has ever been used for.

Anonymous political donations are a different thing entirely. The former is an attempt to change government by having a more compelling argument than your opponents; the latter is an attempt to change government by having more money than they do.

Incidentally, that money goes to TV ads, newspaper ads, billboards, door-to-door canvassing, etc--the IRL equivalents of spam. So the difference between anonymous political speech and anonymous political donations is like the difference between writing a blog and hiring a botnet to send spam.

Comment Re:I abstain (Score 1) 794

I almost agree.

"None of the above" should be the default option, but not for people who didn't show up.

Casting a ballot with that option is the "vote of no confidence" you described. Not showing up to vote at all is mere apathy.

And @iluvcapra,

the problem with a no-confidence plebiscite is the resolution ... you'd end up in a situation where the body went months or years without a leader

...I don't see this as a problem in our system, since you only need a plurality (not an outright majority) to win.

Someone will always win. If the winner had 30% of the vote and the loser had 20%, and the other 50% of voters chose "None of the above", then that winner has a much weaker mandate than if everyone is forced to pick a candidate and he wins 60-40. He's in office either way, but there is definitely a difference.

Comment Cool, but old news. (Score 4, Interesting) 293

Yes, evolution is alive and well. A species of bacteria evolved in the early 70s that can digest nylon.

I think this news is a nice reality check on that annoying but vocal cadre of environmentalists that are always predicting some kind of terrible apocalypse within the next couple of decades. Global cooling, for example. Not to mention a nifty "myth busted" moment for that old Hollywood trope of a post-nuclear wasteland.

I'm definitely not saying we shouldn't take care of our environment, by the way, and I'm certainly not an AGW denialist. The specific way things are now matters a lot to us fickle and fragile humans. If the sea level rises by another yard, the crabs will just move. The Venetians are the ones that would be screwed.

I'm just saying that nature is more resilient than people usually imagine.

Comment Re:$200 should have bought full functionality then (Score 1) 832

Not quite. Hypothetically, what it only costs them $50 to manufacture, but it costs them $6 billion a year in R&D to develop?

Then, selling i5s for $200 and i7s for $300 might be a perfectly fair price, and doing that by selling $200 chips with a $100 optional software upgrade might be reasonable as well.

Comment Re:I hope this doesn't fly ... (Score 1) 832

I can see where you're coming from, but what if the majority of the cost of a CPU is simply there to amortize R&D? From what I've read, this seems to be the case. Intel spends $6 billion a year in R&D.

Even if the unit production cost on their current, mature production lines is a small fraction of the sale price, that doesn't necessarily mean that the sale price is too high, or that Intel has a monopoly.

By the way, I'm not suggesting that they don't have monopoly. Intel has a $100b market cap at this point, which is more than 20 times that of their main competitor, AMD. That certainly leaves room for suspicion. All I'm saying is that the fact that the marginal cost of adding cores to chips is small doesn't, by itself, indicate that Intel is behaving like a monopoly.

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