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Comment Re:Chinese (Score 4, Insightful) 514

Many language varieties in China would be seen by linguists as distinct. Compare putonghua or guangzhou hua with holooe. Whether you call these 'dialects' or 'languages' or fangyan depends on how you define the term 'language'.

While it is true that some spoken variants of English are quite difficult for other English speakers to understand (such as Black Country English, or the Glasgow Patter), there's not the linguistic range that you would find between the Chinese languages/dialects. Most English varieties are mutually intelligible, and differ primarily in pronunciation and a few words.

Comment Re:use encryption (Score 1) 325

The aim here is not to shield a single individual from government intercept, but to protect the wider community from wholesale surveillance by the state.

The latter requires simply that strong encryption becomes defacto, as part of email, as part of browsing the web, as part of all communication. The primary difficulties are not around message encryption (for example, many people use Skype, which is encrypted by default), but the decentralization of keys in a way that is usable en masse.

Comment Re:use encryption (Score 1) 325

Assymetric cryptography is used for key exchange in transport layer security. So this protects you from man-in-the-middle attacks, since the private key is never transmitted (and the session keys are encrypted), at least in an ideal world where implementations are perfect.

The real structural issue is the chain of trust; the certificate authorities are rather more centralized than is healthy. But subverting these involves more than just sitting in the middle of the network.

Comment Re:Speaking of computers and bitcoins... (Score 2) 438

You don't invest in money, whether it is fiat currency or bitcoin currency. You invest in things that are known to have long term desirable value. You may speculate on currency fluctuations (and futures, and so on), you might even do well out of it, but that can only work while there is liquidity in the system, while transactions are being made.

For bitcoin to have long term desirable value, it has to have a purpose. It's purpose is to make transactions, at the moment specifically catering to a desire for anonymity. However, in order for there to be transactions, there has to be both a buyer and a seller, and this can only happen if the currency is stable. In unstable currencies, all transactions cease (because either buyers or sellers stop trading, depending on the direction of the instability).

At the moment the bitcoin currency is relatively stable (allowing for the small size of the economy), as mining replaces the bitcoins that have been squirrelled away into 'investment' accounts. As mining becomes exponentially more difficult, the deflation will also increase exponentially. Initially, that will simply increase the value of a bitcoin. At some point though, either people will start to bail out when they see the end in sight (which happens when there aren't enough sellers in the system), or the satoshi will no longer be small enough...

There's no point in having a million dollars worth of bitcoins if you can't spend them on something you actually need or want.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a peer based financial system, and I watch the bitcoin experiment with interest. It has technical merit, but I am not convinced of its long term stability. And stability is the key factor in a sustainable trade system.

Comment Re:mesa (Score 1) 79

It is a software implementation of OpenGL, but it now also provides the libGL glue to various hardware acceleration drivers. So it does have a role on most Xorg systems. An exception is the Nvidia proprietary infrastructure (which replaces large portions of the normal 3D graphics stack).

Comment Re:Considering... (Score 2) 157

Language boundaries are defined by mutual intelligibility of the communication system. This can be simplistic, but it provides a good first approximation that is testable. There are border cases (such as language chains), but on the whole it is a useful definition.

In comparison, dialect contours are defined in terms of specific language features. What speakers call a "dialect" is an identification, and while this may correspond roughly to collections of language features, it is really a sociolinguistic definition of language variety.

The notion of race is analogous to these sociolinguistic definitions, not to language; it is not defined by external factors, but by social ideas. There may be superficial features that are assumed to be associated with particular "races" (much as superficial language features are assumed to be associated with particular dialects), but these features are a poor definition of "race", because they are not clustered, and cross the boundaries of what people perceive as "race". In other words, "race" is a social construct.

It is the notion of species that is analogous to language. Species boundaries are defined by fertile offspring. Again, there are border cases, but it is testable.

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