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Submission + - The end is reportedly near for RadioShack

mrspoonsi writes: Reports of RadioShack's demise are nothing new, but now it seems like the electronics retailer may be done for good. Bloomberg reports that company is in talks with Sprint to hand over around half of its remaining stores to the wireless company. The rest of RadioShack's locations will close, and those that are included in the deal will be painted yellow and black. This means the shops where most of us purchased parts for a project will cease to exist. Nothing's final, and until the ink is dry, another suitor could swipe up the company and allow it to keep on chuggin' along. RadioShack is facing bankruptcy after years of declining sales, so even if Sprint doesn't agree to buy those stores, a move of some kind is imminent for the company that's been selling tech since 1921.

Submission + - R.I.P. Robin WIlliams (

wjsteele writes: Several news agencies, including CNN are reporting that Robin Williams, famed comedian, has died at his home in California. He was 63.

Submission + - Is "Scorpion" really a genius? (

An anonymous reader writes: CBS's upcoming hacker show Scorpion is pitched as based on the real life of Irish 'eccentric genius' Walter O'Brien a.k.a. "Scorpion". Some of the claims made for the real Scorpion are extraordinary. A child prodigy with an IQ of 197, hacking Nasa at age 13, [supplying] Ireland with more Personal Computers than DELL and Gateway together. Searching online I wasn't able to find anything which, for me, clearly backed up any of these (or other) claims. For example, rather than being the sixth fastest programmer in the world in 1993, his team ranked 90th out of 250 teams. Curiously, his degree grade was an ok, but hardly stellar B+ (II-I). Does anyone know anything to back up the genius claims being made about Scorpion?

Comment Fly neurons? (Score 1) 39

Very interesting; is there a technical book (or chapter) or paper with a good overview of this comparative aspect of fly neurons?

I was just starting to look around to see what's available on comparative neuroscience in general, based on an interest in the most salient functional differences from human neurons, so anything related to that more general topic would also be welcome.

Comment Re:What SETI can pick up (Score 2) 453

In theory, if we can capture coherent pictures in the visible spectrum from many billions of light years away, we should be able to do the same with RF.

It's actually very easy to see why the opposite is true: stars famously broadcast a truly vast amount of power in the visible spectrum, which is what makes solar energy and photosynthesis effective.

Humans clearly do not have the power resources of the entire sun to use to power RF broadcasts. The total amount of power we have at our disposal from all sources is a tiny, tiny fraction of what the sun broadcasts.

And most of our power does not go into RF in the first place, it goes into transportation, manufacturing, etc.

So it's quite straightforward that there is no comparison between the brightness of stars in the visible spectrum versus the Earth in RF. Stars win hands down.

It isn't the technology, it's just the hardware.

Unfortunately, it is very much both. It's true that we can do better by building better listening arrays, and SETI has been continually doing that for many years, but there is also a problem of signal to noise ratio that gives a hard limit on sensitivity due to noise from terrestrial sources and from thermal and quantum noise in the receiving electronics.

Part of that could be improved by putting radio telescopes e.g. on the far side of the moon. The electronics issue simply needs better technology.

Comment What SETI can pick up (Score 4, Interesting) 453

Yet the sky is not saturated with their communications. So therefor those civilizations must be using some other technology.

That seems logical, but that turns out not to be the case. A SETI scientist said in a talk (and I've seen this in articles since) that our deployed SETI listening technology is still nowhere near sensitive enough to pick up signals even from as close as the nearest star (Proxima Centauri, 4 light years away), if a planet there was broadcasting RF at current Earth levels.

(That doesn't mean SETI to date is pointless, because there's always a chance of a highly directional signal beamed our way, or of just something unexpected, like signals far far brighter than Earth's.)

So no, we have no idea whether the sky is saturated with radio waves or not.

Comment emphasis of GUI efforts (Score 4, Insightful) 52

I think that you being modded down to -1 is a bit much, but there is a problem here. What you said is potentially well and good for contexts that are purely utilitarian to the degree that anything but pure pragmatic functionality is to be viewed as an active negative, such as industrial control, power plants, etc.

But for most people's desktops, people expect both functionality *and* some degree of modern aesthetics, and there is an extremely common rejection of interfaces that look 15 years old, even if they were considered close to ideally functional and aesthetic 15 years ago.

Since that is demonstrably what the market generally wants, that is therefore the general trend over time: "flashy graphics" are sometimes overdone, but the word "flashy" is in the eye of the beholder, and most improvements to GUIs over the decades have been about modernization to meet the moving target of whatever "modern" means in each era, with actual breakthroughs in usability being far less common.

Furthermore, the people who design and implement GUIs are (with the exception of 1-person development teams) rarely the same team members who would address software vulnerabilities, so maybe that's where your -1 came from.

Comment Re:why does a decoder need execheap? (Score 1) 212

There *is* such a thing as (write, execute), and this is what it is currently using, and people are complaining quite bitterly about it doing that, because it's a security weakness that is exploitable via buffer overflows etc.

Basically the fact that it allows for dynamic JIT compilation is exactly what people don't want the bad guys to be doing; potentially that turns a small bug into a complete take-over-the-machine exploit.

I'm afraid I was taking all that for granted in my original comment, which instead was about potential reasons why they might not have done something different as people are suggesting in hindsight.

Comment Re:why does a decoder need execheap? (Score 1) 212

I did mean that about time pressure, but I don't understand what you are suggesting.

The scenario is to suppose that they have some audio algorithm that is based on creating and executing a block of code a bunch of times, but for a very small fraction of a second, and then, critical assumption, it needs to create and execute a slightly different block of code, and so on, over and over.

Long ago I saw a demo of an Amiga video capture program that had precisely that sort of thing going on, where they could only get the throughput they needed by using self-modifying code, changing one instruction in an inner loop on a regular basis, and their approach held up under scrutiny of 100 developers critiquing them; it really was needed.

So I am sure that such things do arise in the real world; whether the current codebase truly has such a need, I don't know.

So *if* they have this need, then every time they create or modify a code block, they need it to be writable, but when they execute what they wrote, security issues insist that it it should go from (write,no-execute) to (no-write,execute), every single time.

Making that permissions change requires a system call every time, unavoidably.

Any scheme that allows avoiding that system call is inherently making different assumptions than I did above. Without knowledge of their algorithms, I don't see how we can be sure that assumptions like that are either right or wrong; I'm just pointing out that *if* they are correct, they explain why the codebase does what it does.

An alternative explanation that I tried to give a nod to is that they may have simply done a premature optimization that was not actually needed, but again, motivated as outlined above.

Comment Re:why does a decoder need execheap? (Score 1) 212

Whether it is noticeably expensive depends on endless details of their code, but if they did extremely fast JIT code generation on a very frequent basis (possibly just a single instruction change), then the reflagging syscall would be equally frequent, and the context switch overhead could dominate.

The scenario under which it truly hurts is possibly unlikely, I'll grant, but at the time of implementation it probably seemed like the simplest and fastest approach, and clearly they were thinking about speed, not security and Return Oriented Programming and such.

Submission + - The Real Story of Hacking Together the Commodore C128 (

szczys writes: Bil Herd was the designer and hardware lead for the Commodore C128. He reminisces about the herculean effort his team took on in order to bring the hardware to market in just five months. At the time the company had the resources to roll their of silicon (that're right, custom chips!) but this also meant that for three of those five months they didn't actually have the integrated circuits the computer was based on.

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This is clearly another case of too many mad scientists, and not enough hunchbacks.