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Comment There is that, and then there is the rest (Score 1) 394

``The more I write code and design systems, the more I understand that many times, you can achieve the desired functionality simply with clever reconfigurations of the basic Unix tool set.''

I am glad he figured that out. Unix contains a lot of useful commands and functions. Every programmer would do well to learn them, so they can use them when needed.

What also helps a lot is knowing your programming language well. By that, I mean not just the standard library, but also the fundamentals of the language. Know how things fit together, which things are efficient and which things are costly, and how to design good APIs in that language. Better yet: know this for multiple languages - different languages for different tasks. It's easy to learn a new programming language when you already know how to program, and doing so will provide you with new insights, so go ahead and learn another language.

It is also useful to know tools and libraries that aren't a standard part of the operating system. Of course, there are very many of those and learning them all might be a bit much. Still, knowing a handful and having heard of others can help a lot. No need to write, debug, and maintain your own code for parsing CSV, XML, YAML, or whatever the file format of the season is. Beware of bugs and misfeatures, though. Many libraries, even commonly used ones, contain bugs. Many libraries also contain choices that may or may not be a good idea for what you want to do.

All in all, you can get a long way by just knowing what other people have already done for you. Thanks to free software, you can often use this work in your projects. The world wide web has made it fairly easy to find things that you may use. A lot of software can be made by taking a bunch of libraries and writing some code to stitch it together and make it do stuff. Or, as Mr. Dziuba found out, by mixing together some command-line tools. I am glad he is discovering the strengths of Unix and getting excited enough about them to tell the world about it.

Stitching things together from existing components is not all there is to programming, however. You can go a long way doing just that, and many people make a living that way, but there are some things which are best solved or can only be solved by thinking hard and coming up with some clever code to do exactly the right thing. And somebody needs to write those tools and libraries, too. Compared to putting some existing components together, it's hard work for small results, but I find this to be the most rewarding part of programming. You're really coming up with something new here, making something clever and useful that wasn't available before.

Comment Re:Just a bit of stuff (Score 1) 576

One interesting characteristic of Diesel engines, especially older ones, is that they aren't very picky as to what fuel they run on. Almost all of them will happily run on biodiesel, and many will run on straight vegetable oil after modification (for which kits are available, ranging in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars). Both of these have short CO_2 cycles (you emit the CO_2 that was recently absorbed by the plants used to make the fuel) and reduced emissions of many pollutants, except for NO_x.

Some Diesel engines, as you mentioned, can run on peanut oil, coal dust, and a variety of other things you wouldn't necessarily think to put in your engine. However, recent Diesel engines are generally a lot more picky and may suffer serious damage when the wrong fuel is put in (which may include, for example, the Diesel fuel we had before we got low-sulphur Diesel). My understanding is that this is particularly due to the injection system and the particulate filter.

Comment Re:its called war (Score 1) 676

``Thank you. It is simple as that. So many people after 9/11 beat the war drum, and now almost a decade later are horrified that bad things happen in war.''

This is why I think it's good that people are being shown what actually happens. I watched the video where civilians were shot from a helicopter, and it looks like a honest mistake to me. The message here isn't "OMG the US army is evil! They're killing innocent people!" The message here is "This is what war is like. Innocent people get killed."

People get upset about the horrors of war (and rightly so) while sitting at home in their comfy chairs. Now imagine yourself being in the middle of that. Your enemy's strategy is to stay hidden until you are close, then kill or maim you before you have had the chance to do it to them. When you see something that looks like a threat, are you going to pull that trigger? One moment of hesitation could cost you your life or limbs, or those of your mates. Pulling the trigger will cost life or limbs of whomever you're shooting at, enemy or innocent. Welcome to the "theater".

The fact that what WikiLeaks does is a big deal is telling. If we knew what was really happening out there, there would be nothing that WikiLeaks could do that would be a big deal. It would just be fluff: over the top commentary on something we already knew about. The reason people get so excited about WikiLeaks is that they are actually bringing news. Innocent people are getting killed. Many innocent people are getting killed. By us.

We know what the government said. War on terror. Weapons of mass destruction. We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. We have to help our NATO allies. We are making the world a safer place.

WikiLeaks is showing what is really happening out there. Apparently, it's shocking. Apparently, this was meant to be kept hidden from us. Personally, I am not surprised. I am no military expert at all, but the wars are going pretty much as I had imagined they would. If anything, I am surprised we have been holding on to Afghanistan for so long.

Now that WikiLeaks has shown us what war is really like, I think it's time to answer some questions. All things considered, have these wars been worth it? We know they have cost a lot, and continue to do so, both in terms of money and in terms of suffering, but what have we gained from them? Has the world become a better place because of these wars? Knowing what we know now, if a similar situation presented itself, would we go to war again? And the one I still can't wrap my head around: Why _did_ we invade Iraq? I don't believe for a second it was about weapons of mass destruction, but what was it about?

Comment Accountable Voting (Score 1) 403

``Why do we remain in the virtual dark ages, when clearly we have better alternatives readily available?''

I can only see one answer to that question: we aren't using anything better because the people who are in a position to make that happen haven't done so.

Apparently, they don't care enough about accountable voting that they have said "Well, the system X that we have isn't good enough, and system Y, which is good enough."

Incompetence or malice, the end result is that voters don't know if their vote has been recorded (much less counted) correctly. I'm surprised that America isn't up in arms about this. Here in the Netherlands, electronic voting went out of the door for that reason. We now vote using paper and pencil.

As an aside, the summary seems to suggest that things would be better if open source software were used instead of closed software. I don't see that. As far as I can see, the issues are largely the same: how do you know that your vote has been recorded correctly, without information that can tie it back to you, and how do you know that the votes are being counted correctly?

With paper ballots filled out by pencil and counted by humans, I understand and can observe every step on the way. With machines and software, this becomes much harder, even if the software is open source.

Comment Re:Obligatory Daley (Score 1) 403

``We fill in the bubbles ala a standardized test, it gets fed through a scantron machine, with the sheet feeding out into a locked box.''

Can I inspect the sheet that is put in the locked box, to verify that my vote has been correctly recorded and there is no information on it that could be used to identify me? Because I would very much like that. It's good that there is a paper trail that can be used for a recount, but that won't help me if my vote wasn't recorded correctly.

Comment Re:Where can I walk in and try one? (Score 1) 273

I wish I could help you there. If you're ever in the EU, try the phones. :-) We have them subscription free in practically every shopping mall I've been to.

As for the N900, I have one, and I'm very happy with it, so far. Having said that, I haven't actually used it for very much yet (too busy with other things). The touch screen and keyboard aren't the nicest I've ever had (I liked those on the LG GW620 that I had before it got stolen better), but they're usable. Other than that, it looks nice, responds snappily, and runs a proper Linux, complete with package manager and X server.

The OpenPandora, shame they're sold out. On the other hand, that just goes to show that the success was greater than anticipated - even greater than those who thought it was a good idea had anticipated. Hats off to the people who made this happen!

Comment Re:Reality check (Score 1) 261

``If medical research were really as close-to-useless as The Fine Summary claims, we'd be hardly better off with modern Western medicine than with homeopathy and prayer. Clearly, we are''

Oh? I suspect you're right, but I do note that you said that without providing any support for your claim, let alone convincing study results. How, then, is it supposed to be _clear_ that we are better off?

This gets to the heart of the problem. It's easy to claim things, and many people will believe whatever it is you claim, especially if they hear the claim repeated often enough. That doesn't make it true, though. In science, we have established methods for testing claims. If carried out right, scientific studies allow us to make claims that are very unlikely to be wrong, and/or not to be off by much, and/or useful even if they aren't completely correct. The problem is, the methods we have set out are not always applied, and many people don't understand the methods or why they are so important. This allows a lot of people, both well-meaning and malicious, to convince the masses that their solution will make the world a better place, whereas actually, it doesn't.

The article and the summary are worrying, because, either, the aforementioned sort of demagogy is widespread in the medical world, or they are themselves part of exactly such demagogy. In either case, the demagogues have succeeded.

Comment Re:Good news (Score 1) 273

``Keep dreaming. Nobody will care about a FSF endorsement''

I don't know for sure, but I expect the people behind the Linksys WRT54GL, the Nokia N900, a whole bunch of Android devices, OpenPandora, and a lot of microcontrollers and programmable logic devices may not agree with you. The whole appeal of these devices is that they put you in full control, which is precisely what the FSF endorsement is about.

Comment Re:Good news (Score 1) 273

Now more than ever before, we need people to understand the difference between open and locked-down hardware, and to help them make rational choices while shopping.

Translation: The "rational choice" is only the one that I approve of you making.

I didn't read that into the text you quoted. If you did, congratulations. But it's not what the person you are replying to actually said, nor is it necessarily what he meant.

People do understand the difference, they just overwhelming don't care.

I don't know about that. As far as I am able to see, most people don't know how hardware can be locked down and don't think about it. Those who do know and think about this stuff generally fall into 3 categories: (1) those who seek out hardware that they can tinker with, (2) those who will buy locked-down hardware, but then brake the locks, and (3) those who run into the limitations and just shrug and go on with their lives. I would say only those in group (3) understand the difference but don't care, and even that is tenuous: I am sure they _would_ prefer to have hardware that did let them do what they wanted.

To me, it is unthinkable that my personal computers should be remote-controlled by a third party

Then *gasp* don't buy that product. Wow, that was hard, right?

It can require quite a lot of research to find hardware that you get full control over, actually. It would be a lot easier if that hardware were labeled somehow. Hey! That sounds like the subject of this story!

but the crowds are only beginning to wake up to the pain that proprietary platforms are causing them.

If by "the crowds" you mean a bunch of irrelevant whining by some nerds on a few tech sites, then yes, they truly are "waking up".

I don't know. The nerds have been whining about this since at least the 1980s and maybe even before that. More recently, I have seen and heard about many people who weren't interested in free software or unlocked hardware before, who wanted to jailbreak their iPhones, complained about losing features of their Playstation 3s, wanted to watch DVDs on their Wii, install the latest version of Android on their phones, or put a video from YouTube on a CD-R. Maybe it isn't "crowds", but people are finding out the limitations that are imposed on the hardware they buy, and this is exactly what freedom to tinker is about.

Comment Re:Uh (Score 1) 725

``For Christ's sake all the US Govt did was put him on a watch list, which is entirely understandable, given the fact that he facilitated the theft of a large number of confidential military documents.''

Some minor corrections:

1. The story mentions WikiLeaks having been put on the watch list, not Julian Assange

2. This is not "all the US Govt did", but rather all that this story tells you the US gov't did

I agree with you that it doesn't seem so strange that the government would put an organization on a watch list when that organization is known to be in the business of obtaining and publishing information that the government would rather keep secret.

It also doesn't seem too strange to me that a company would rather not do business with an organization that has been put on a watch list by the United States of America.

However, the net effect of this is that it gets harder for WikiLeaks to get funding, and that is what this story is really about.

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