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Comment Keyboard has single-color LEDs, not RGB (Score 2) 129

I don't know about you, but the only time I notice the LEDs on my keyboard are when something's wrong (e.g. everything's frozen, and I look at the disk LED to see that it's just the disk busy again), and they're not very bright. This has a brighter RGB LED that gives you a wide range of colours. In practice, no, I wouldn't bother using one of these things on my laptop, because it's physically awkward; might be fun to build something like this for a desktop machine, I suppose. (OTOH, the next desktop machine I'm likely to build would be a Raspberry Pi, which has its own support for this kind of thing, and the LED could be useful because the box itself would be jammed behind the TV.)

Comment Simple Microcontroller Blinky Designs (Score 2) 129

In this case it's an Atmel atTiny85 instead of a PIC chip, and a tri-color RGB LED instead of three separate LEDs, but yeah, it's not all that complex. It also has a printed circuit board, not particularly complex, and yes, you could build it yourself on breadboard. You could also snark about how Arduinos cost ~$30 when they only have
You could also buy a Digispark for ~$9 which has a Tiny85 and a voltage regulator, and breaks out the pins for convenient access, with room for headers so you can build the equivalent of an Arduino shield. Instead of a USB socket, it uses the trick of printing traces on the PCB in a layout that acts as a USB Type A plug, so it's more compact and doesn't need a wire.

Or you could spend ~$8 for an Adafruit Trinket and add an LED; it may be a shade less convenient than the Digispark just because they put the connectors on two sides of the board instead of one (so it's harder to use an RGB LED, but you could put it on the back of the board.)

Comment Re:Dictatorships (Score 1) 462

No, and no "thanks for playing", either. There are no clear lines in a dictatorship, it's whatever The Authorities feel like doing, and while you know that some things are definitely forbidden, like criticizing the dictator, you can never trust that anything else you do is safe.

Dictatorships have almost all the bad parts of monarchies*, with newer technology, and the leaders don't even have the excuse that some strange woman lying in a pond handed them a sword or that a Divine Being appointed them, so they have to make sure that the population stays afraid to mess with them. Ever.

By the way, if you want to read an astoundingly good article on Machiavelli, it starts here, at Ex Urbe's blog.

* Most dictatorships don't have hereditary succession, so the dictator is usually somebody who was competent and/or vicious enough to rise to the top, as opposed to being some random idiot who was lucky or unlucky enough to be the kid of the previous king. (North Korea excepted, along with many years of the Roman Empire..) On the other hand, this means that they know they're only in power as long as they suppress or coopt anybody else who's competent and vicious enough to displace them, so they never get to relax unless they can abscond with a lot of cash and move to the South of France.

Comment Re:Don't even try (Score 1) 120

The arguments for Nick being Satoshi, other than the fact that he's one of the few dozen people with the skills and interests to do the design right, came down to

  • "he uses this set of technical terms, and so does Satoshi" and
  • "he also uses a few other sets of phrasing in his academic papers that Satoshi uses" and
  • "pay no attention to the US-vs-UK spelling differences."

But the technical terms that the current speculation mentions are all standard terms in the field, like "trusted third party" (which was probably used more 5-10 years ago than today), "timestamp" used as a verb (common), "timestamp service" (there have been some done by crypto people like Stu Haber, and it's a well-understood concept.) The general language choices are mostly using passive phrasing like lots of academic papers do; you could argue that Satoshi is probably either an academic now, or has been one once, or learned English in an academic environment (i.e. learned it in college if he's actually Japanese.)

It's more likely that Satoshi is really Nick than that he's really David Chaum, but unless Nick admits to it in public or suddenly starts using his billions of dollars worth of bitcoins to build an Evil Genius Secret Headquarters, it'd be rude to hassle him about it even if you think it's true. (Also, in the latter case, you'd be saying that Nick isn't capable of maintaining his disguise as a mild-mannered academic while also secretly building his Secret Headquarters, and saying that "We can't tell who's really building this Secret Headquarters so it must be Nick!" doesn't really cut it.)

Comment Form Follows Function; or use Raised Floors (Score 1) 250

If you get the core of the wiring done in a way that supports the actual work that needs to be done, the additional wiring that evolves over time is going to be relatively simple, neat, and save time and money.

If you build the core of the wiring in a way that doesn't fit with the actual communication patterns, you'll quickly end up with a jerry-rigged mess that'll look worse and waste time doing the wiring, plus you'll waste more time arguing with the idiot who forced you to do it wrong.

If neither of those options appeals to you, spend the money on a raised floor, which will not only handle your cooling needs but let you hide the wires.

Comment Statis Spreadsheets, *office, and LAMP (Score 1) 275

Most of the early load on the system was people trying to find out what was available. Instead of building fancy dynamic web pages loading database-generated content, that's really a job for a big static spreadsheet that can be cached (or one spreadsheet per state, or maybe a few per state if they have different plans in different regions.) Sure, the Republicans didn't help this by insisting that everybody's income had to be verified before they could sign up (which complicates the database linkages), but you don't need that for browsing and comparing plans.

And yes, not everybody has a spreadsheet; put OpenOffice or SomeGNUSpreadsheet or whatever out for people to download as well.

The actual sign-up load is under 100 million forms filled out. That's a day or so of processing on a medium-sized server if you implement it well, or several months of never finishing if you do it badly.


RF Safe-Stop Shuts Down Car Engines With Radio Pulse 549

An anonymous reader writes with news of a device built by a company in the U.K. which uses pulses of electromagnetic energy to disrupt the electronic systems of modern cars, causing them to shut down and cut the engine. Here's a description of how it works: "At one end of a disused runway, E2V assembled a varied collection of second-hand cars and motorbikes in order to test the prototype against a range of vehicles. In demonstrations seen by the BBC a car drove towards the device at about 15mph (24km/h). As the vehicle entered the range of the RF Safe-stop, its dashboard warning lights and dials behaved erratically, the engine stopped and the car rolled gently to a halt. Digital audio and video recording devices in the vehicle were also affected.''It's a small radar transmitter,' said Andy Wood, product manager for the machine. 'The RF [radio frequency] is pulsed from the unit just as it would be in radar, it couples into the wiring in the car and that disrupts and confuses the electronics in the car causing the engine to stall.'"

Comment Bad Digital vs. Bad Analog (Score 1) 192

How much range you get depends on how much power the broadcaster is using. Maybe it's that way for you in Australia, but not generally in the US. My mom had a weak analog signal for the channels she cared most about (US public broadcasting), but the sound was ok and if the pictures were fuzzy, most of the programs were just talking heads anyway. When they switched to digital, they were probably putting out less power, but the important problem was that the audio would cut in and out; the pictures were also blocky, but the parts that didn't change actually looked better some times.

Comment Cable can be analog or digital (Score 1) 192

Broadcast TV went to digital a few years ago in the US, but for cable TV it's on a system-by-system basis. My town's Comcast cable went digital a year or so ago; it gave them room to squeeze more channels onto the cable than analog. I didn't have a digital-capable TV at the time, so for me the difference was that I now had to make room for a cable box, which fed analog to my TiVo, and program the TiVo to talk to that cable box. More recently I got an HDTV, so until I do something about the cable box, I've got a choice between getting all the channels on non-HD through the TiVo, or getting a subset of the channels directly from the cable into the TV (but not all of them, and the TV guide information knows about the regular channel numbers, not the digital ones.

Comment Recharging cell phones is easy (Score 1) 582

First of all, even that smartphone has a few hours of talk time, if you stop playing games and doing other battery-burning stuff, though they're not as reliable as old dumb phones were. If you can safely get out of the house, you can charge the phone in your car; if you can't safely get out, you should have called the emergency folks already.

Power for the cell towers is an issue, if the roads are down and the phone company can't refill the generators, but usually they're designed with enough slack to handle that.

Comment POTS is dying (Score 1) 582

I started working for The Phone Company before divestiture, but after the first Electronic Switching Systems, though crossbar and step-by-step were still around for a long time (and may still be, in some rural areas.) Heard on the radio recently that only 30% of households have POTS lines these days; mobile phones and cable TV companies have displaced most of the rest. As far as "civil unrest" goes, your kitchen phone's only useful if you're at home, and you could just as well use your cell phone. Power failures don't bother my cell phone (widespread power system outages can, if the cell towers don't have adequate backup power, but these days that's only a problem if the power and roads are out long enough that refueling generators is a problem, or if somebody's stolen the generator.)

If you really need emergency backup communications, get a CB radio and a 2-meter ham set, and nobody's going to mind too much that you don't have a ham license if you're using it for legitimate emergencies.

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