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Comment Re:Why? Bitcoin and Slashdot? (Score 1) 258

So what are dollars backed by? The "full faith and credit" of a government, which can simply poof them into existence. In the case of US Dollars, this has worked reasonably well. In the case of Zimbabwean Dollars, not so much.

Maybe you want to go back to a Gold Standard, where the bills are "backed" by vaults full of metal. Then what is gold backed by? It's turtles all the way down.

UItimately, the only reason Bitcoin has value is the same reason USD, bars of gold, or anything else has "value": because some critical mass of people agree that it does.

To quote Warren Buffet:
"[Gold] gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head."

Comment Re:Amen to that (Score 4, Interesting) 591

I certainly agree that cannabis should be legal and that its legal position relative to alcohol and tobacco is ridiculous. I also agree that the general lack of rationality and open-mindedness surrounding that debate is frustrating. However, I don't think it's fair to blame just the gov't. California had an election this November on legalizing pot, and it failed by a significant margin. This is partly due to popular stupidity, and partly, I suspect, because the puritan types show up to elections more reliably than people who care about marijuana. If even California, the hippy state, can't muster a majority on that issue, how can we expect the rest of the US to do better? We're a democracy, after all. The federal gov't keeps a hypocritical drug policy around in part because a majority of Americans still seem to want it that way.

Comment Re:the problem is the reverse (Score 2) 791

Accidentally posted AC, reposting as myself:

I couldn't agree more.

America is in an amazing position where despite our culture's lack of respect for education and academia, and despite the very uneven quality of our K-12 education system, we have many of the world's best universities. Students from all over the world dream of making it into places like Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and MIT. And every year, thousands of them do.

Some of the smartest people I've met at Stanford are international students. The thought that they might be forced to go home after they graduate is sad, and the people who think this is desirable strike me as either stupid or profoundly short-sighted.

Worrying about H1Bs because they'll "increase competition for jobs" is false economics. Jobs are not like poker chips, little entities that can be won or lost or "stolen". The job market is not a zero-sum game. Whenever Google hires a brilliant, top-0.1% programmer from China, for example, it results in more jobs for Americans. It creates jobs both directly--that programmer may soon have a few people reporting to him--and indirectly, through all the money he's spending in America and the value he's adding to Google.

We're enormously lucky that people like that want to pull up their roots and move to America in the first place. America's image--it's position as a global hub for innovation and research--is one of its greatest assets. It is certainly not guaranteed to stay that way.

For now, the best and brightest want to be here. I think it's absolutely essential that we take advantage of this as much as possible, for as long as we can.

Comment Re:The research is complete garbage (Score 1) 269

Actually, there often is an incentive to seed, but it's not a cut of trackers' ad revenue.

Certain private trackers have vast amounts of high-quality content; they generally always have a ratio requirement. For example, if you're downloaded more than X GB, then you must maintain a ratio of 0.5 (ie, in that bracket, your total cumulative downloads can never be more than twice as much as you've uploaded).

Since you're competing for upload slots with the things like dedicated seedboxes on absurdly fast connections, maintaining a ratio can be difficult, even if you're constantly seeding everything you've ever downloaded. Throw in the respect of your peers and additional incentives (eg "power user" designation with extra privileges for people who have a very high ratio), and you definitely do enjoy an "economic benefit", just not in the form of money.

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.

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