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Comment Secrets vs. Security Clearances (Score 5, Interesting) 149

Yup. I was a defense contractor back in the 80s. While you couldn't be gay in the uniformed military, you could still have a security clearance and be a contractor or in the NSA or CIA - but you couldn't be in the closet, because that might be used for blackmail, especially in states where it was still illegal to be gay. So there were some famous researchers who'd had to come out to their families.

They asked about a lot of other things; they didn't mind that some of my coworkers had used drugs back in college and then stopped, but they really freaked out when one guy said he'd smoked dope, liked it, and might well do it again :-) (It took an extra six months for his clearance to come through.) And they really cared a lot about people who had relatives in Communist countries, not because they were worried that Cousin Ivan might have corrupted you into being a Commie, but because the KGB might threaten to kill your grandma if you didn't give them the secret plans. In my case, they asked a bunch of questions one year about my involvement in the Libertarian Party, because some of them weren't quite familiar with the concept that there were more than two political parties (plus the Commies, and they'd kind of forgotten about George Wallace.)

A friend of mine in the Air Force had a buddy who'd put down that his previous job experience included working at a candy store back home in the Bronx, and the guy who ran the place said he'd never heard of him. Had to have his dad go tell Cousin Luigi that it was the Feds checking on his security clearance for the service, not anybody checking into the numbers game that might or might not have been running out of the back room.

Comment Another cheater busted in California (Score 1) 320

gambling-pro-archie-karas-charged-defrauding-casino - The article doesn't say how he was marking the cards, but Archie Karas was arrested at his home in Las Vegas for cheating at an Indian Casino near San Diego. (The article also doesn't say why state police were involved; the casino's on an Indian reservation, and casinos are allowed to operate there because it's not subject to state jurisdiction, though California's tried to cheat the local tribes on that for years because they want a cut of the gambling take.)

Comment Card counting (Score 1) 320

You might or might not get to keep your winnings if you get caught card counting. The people who make a lot of money doing it work in teams, because it's easier to cover up having some people doing the grunt work of counting and some being the dumb lucky high roller who collects the winnings by playing at the table where their team member indicates the odds are good. Also, if you're actually making a lot of money, you're winning chips, not cash, and you've got to get the casino to let you trade them back in for cash, which they might not do if they've caught you, even if they're not actually mobsters who are going to beat you up.

Comment Re:They were greedy (Score 1) 320

Casinos also cheat if they don't let you count cards at blackjack, or if they've rigged the slot machines to have even worse odds than they're supposed to, or if they claim that the machine is "broken" and stiff the customer when it pays out a jackpot it wasn't supposed to (even if it was broken, as occasionally happens.)

Comment Greed and Cheating (Score 1) 320

If you're counting cards in blackjack, that's not cheating, it's just playing to win, and the casino doesn't like it when people do that, so they'll whine about it being cheating and kick you out if they catch you. If you're counting cards in poker, and trying to find which player is the sucker and what their tell is when they've got a good or bad hand, that's not cheating, it's part of the game, because it's a game of skill, not just chance. And faking your own tell may be card sharping, but it's not cheating, nor is having a pretty girl accomplice flirting with the sucker as long as she's not telling you what cards he has.

But if you're marking the cards? Yeah, that's cheating. So is keeping an ace up your sleeve, or using a mirror to look at your opponents' cards, or dealing from the bottom of the deck if you're the dealer, or putting a magnet behind the roulette wheel.

And loading your opponent's six-shooter with blanks for the gunfight that'll happen if he catches you cheatin'? That's way cheating.

Comment Odds in Casinos (Score 1) 320

Some people are going to win a lot, some are going to lose a lot, most are going to lose a bit or occasionally win a bit. On average, you're going to lose, but the odds aren't overwhelming, just steady. The casinos need to have enough people winning that suckers will go in feeling like they'll get lucky, and unlike lotteries, that means that the odds aren't overwhelming.

Comment Poker is skill vs other players, not just luck (Score 1) 320

Blackjack is just you against the house - a dumb player's going to get the standard odds and lose a bit, a good card counter can beat the house, but needs to play a good social engineering game to cover it up if they want to make significant money.

But poker's you against the other players, with the house raking off a cut of the pot. If you're better at it than the other players, you can beat them, and statistics isn't going to tell the house much because it's as much about predicting what how good the other players' hands are as predicting what cards are left in the deck, plus you might have a steady advantage because some of the other players are dumb about probability and you're not, or because you've got more nerve than they do when you're right.

I can't just say "so don't be greedy when you're cheating", because the reason you're cheating is that you're greedy, but you can't be too greedy or it'll be obvious. But yeah, this idiot was lucky he was being greedy in France, where he only had to deal with fines and jail, rather than Las Vegas where he might get beaten up by the mob, or the Old Wild West where he'd end up as the subject of a country music song with gunfights involved.

Comment Re:Home-brew hard cider is good. (Score 2) 618

Cider's not distilled, just fermented. After you've done that, distilling is optional (or freeze-concentration - you leave it out in the cold and keep skimming the non-alcoholic ice off the top until what's left has concentrated into applejack, though I haven't actually tried that.) Basically you just take some good juice, add an appropriate yeast, stick a fermentation lock on top and wait a week. Yum!

I've only made one batch of beer, and it was from a kit that did basically all the work for you (it has a malt-hops syrup that you ferment.) Once I've used up a bit more of it, I'll try a small batch of with a somewhat more authentic method. (If I'd known there were kits for brewing a gallon at a time, I'd have started brewing years ago; homebrew used to be a 5-gallon-and-up activity, which is way more beer than I can consume before it's gone bad, and you need to do a few experimental batches before you've got anything you can dependably bring to a party, unless you're a college student with friends who'll drink anything they can get.)

Why do it? Same reason it's worth baking your own bread on occasion, you get to experiment, make something tasty, and have fun.

Comment Business market's different than Consumer market (Score 1) 120

Blackberry really was a better product for quite a while, between corporate email support and vertical application integration support, but it was a business product, not a consumer product, and it was more specialized than generalized. Apple sold millions of phones to consumers, and while they've never been easy to support in a business environment (still aren't really), they were a big enough force for consumers to want to use them for business, and BB tanked.

Comment Satellite TV (Score 1) 410

Satellite TV's pretty common in the US - in rural areas that don't have cable, or in areas where the phone company doesn't provide TV so cable's the only choice, there are lots of satellite users, but it's almost all subscription anyway; somebody wants you to pay $30/month and then try to upsell you on extra channels.

Comment Thought they required it a few years ago? (Score 1) 415

Didn't everybody in Europe switch to Micro USB a couple of years ago?

I've still got a couple of devices that have Micro USB but don't seem to use it for charging. My GPS has a cradle with a proprietary connector that's fed by a Mini USB from a cigarette lighter adapter, and while it has Micro USB for a data interface, it can almost run from that but doesn't actually charge (as you might guess, I know this because the Mini USB on the back of the cradle is broken.) And I've got a Coby Android tablet that has a little ~1.5(?)mm charger which runs on 5V; it could perfectly well run off a USB wall or cigarette lighter adapter if it didn't have the proprietary cable, and it also has the "USB will keep it sort of running but not charge the battery" feature.

It doesn't matter as much for cell phones, but I wish everything could use a power cord like the Apple Mac laptop magnetic-disconnect ones. Of course, every new generation of laptop seems to want more voltage than the previous ones; I've seen them go from 12 to 14 to 16 to 19. (Sigh - if they could still use 12V we could just use simple car adapters, instead of 12V->110V->19V.)

Comment Re:...and suddenly (Score 2) 150

My siblings and I used to joke about Evil Aunt Martha (she's no particular relation, except that all Stewarts are either descended from a 12th-century Scottish king or peasants on the land of his descendents, so we might be distantly related to her husband.)

She's going to shiv Lodsys, and it'll look fabulous when she does, with legal papers that are black and white and red all over, in nice wintery colors.

Comment Why you would trust insurance companies on this (Score 1) 385

Insurance companies are in the business of making money by accepting risks in return for premiums. If they don't charge enough for premiums, or the risks are higher than they expect, they'll lose money (sometimes catastrophically, if they've covered too many correlated events.) But if they charge too much for premiums, customers aren't going to buy from them, and customers like banks and big corporations have more choices about who to buy from (including self-insurance) than you do.

So they have to either charge rates that are vaguely realistic, or they're not going to make money, especially if they have competitors who have roughly the same information about risks that they do and will undercut them if they get too greedy.

And as one of the spokescritters said, they have to base their rates on actual science; basing them on politicized "science" doesn't work. Coal companies are in the opposite position - if real science says they're destroying the world with greenhouse gasses, and politicized science says "Sure, no problem", they've got a big incentive to politicize science so they can sell their coal, instead of having policies based on real science that force them to stop.

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