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Comment Why concerned about only one side of Keystone XL? (Score 2) 243

Interesting that the OP is so deeply concerned with tech companies' lobbying against Keystone XL, but not concerned with the Koch brothers, whose organizations have spent a nine-digit amount of dollars on campaigns and advertisements (often misleading or just plain false) to influence campaigns, with an eye toward issues of interest to the Koch brothers themselves, like getting limits on campaign donations removed and, just to pick a random example, getting the Keystone XL pipeline approved.

Submission + - New Zealand Spy Agency Deleted Evidence About Its Illegal Spying On Kim Dotcom (

An anonymous reader writes: The latest news in this: GCSB appears to have deleted key evidence in the case in a hamfisted attempt to cover up its illegal activities. Even more ridiculous, GCSB is trying to cover this up by claiming that the material had "aged off" — implying that it was deleted automatically. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key claims that they had to delete the information under the law.

Of course, there are a few problems with that. The first is that under New Zealand law, like most countries these days, parties have an obligation to preserve documents likely to be necessary in a legal case. But, even more damning is that there's video of John Key in the New Zealand Parliament trying to defend against an earlier claim that GCSB had deleted some evidence by insisting that GCSB does not delete anything ever:

Submission + - Exam Cheating Scandal Hits Navy Nuclear Force (

mdsolar writes: "In a new twist to a widening tale of ethical lapses in the military, the Navy is investigating cheating allegations against about one-fifth of its trainers at a school for naval nuclear power reactor operators.

It is the second exam-cheating scandal to hit the military this year, on top of a series of disclosures in recent months of ethical lapses at all ranks in the military as it transitions from more than a decade of war-fighting.

Unlike an Air Force cheating probe that has implicated nearly 100 officers responsible for land-based nuclear missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch, those implicated in the Navy investigation have no responsibility for nuclear weapons."

The trouble with eternal vigilance is that sometimes you blink and eventually you'll blink at just the wrong time....

Submission + - New Type of Star Can Emerge From Inside Black Holes, Say Cosmologists (

KentuckyFC writes: Black holes form when a large star runs out of fuel and collapses under its own weight. Since there is no known force that can stop this collapse, astrophysicists have always assumed that it forms a singularity, a region of space that is infinitely dense. Now cosmologists think quantum gravity might prevent this complete collapse after all. They say that the same force that stops an electron spiralling into a nucleus might also cause the collapsing star to "bounce" at scales of around 10^-14cm. They're calling this new state a "Planck star" and say it's lifetime would match that of the black hole itself as it evaporates. That raises the possibility that the shrinking event horizon would eventually meet the expanding Planck star, which emerges with a sudden blast of gamma rays. That radiation would allow any information trapped in the black hole to escape, solving the infamous information paradox. If they're right, these gamma rays may already have been detected by space-based telescopes meaning that the evidence is already there for any enterprising astronomer to tease apart.

Submission + - Curiosity Has Breached 'Dingo Gap' Mars Dune's Crest (

astroengine writes: On Tuesday at precisely 12:55 p.m. EST (17:55 UTC), Mars rover Curiosity successfully breached the crest of the dune in “Dingo Gap.” The 1 meter-high dune stands between the rover and a smoother route to the mission’s next science target. The timestamps on the raw imagery suggests the short drive up the sandy slope took around 25 minutes, where it appears to have paused at the dune's apex.

Submission + - Utah cable companies want to prevent broadband growth by law also (

symbolset writes: On the heels of the smackdown received by cable lobbyists in Kansas, Ars reports out of Utah that the cable companies aren't giving up hopes of preventing competition through legislation. The bill called Interlocal Entity Service Prohibition would prevent a regional fiber consortium from building infrastructure outside the boundaries of its member cities and towns — a direct attack on Google's work in Provo and the UTOPIA network. Utah is the third state to be involved in the Google Fiber rollout of gigabit fiber to the home.

Submission + - Vector vengeance: British claim they can kill the pixel within five years (

MrSeb writes: "The humble pixel — the 2D picture element that has formed the foundation of just about every kind of digital media for the last 50 years — may soon meet its maker. Believe it or not, if a team of British are to be believed, the pixel, within five short years, will be replaced with vectors. If you know about computer graphics, or if you’ve ever edited or drawn an image on your computer, you know that there are two primary ways of storing image data: As a bitmap, or as vectors. A bitmap is quite simply a giant grid of pixels, with the arrangement and color of the pixels dictating what the image looks like. Vectors are an entirely different beast: In vector graphics, the image is described as a series of mathematical equations. To draw a bitmap shape you just color in a block of pixels; with vector graphics, you would describe the shape in terms of height, width, radius, and so on. At the moment, bitmaps are used almost exclusively in the realm of digital media — but that isn't to say they don't have their flaws. As display (and camera and cinema) resolution increases, so does the number of pixels. The obvious problem with this is that larger bitmaps are computationally more expensive to process, resulting in a slower (or more expensive) workflow. Pixel bitmaps don’t scale very gracefully; reduction is okay, but enlargement is a no-no. There is always the issue of a master format, too: With pixel bitmaps, conversions from one format to another, or changing frame rates, is messy, lossy business. Which finally leads us back to the innovation at hand: Philip Willis and John Patterson of the University of Bath in England have devised a video codec that replaces pixel bitmaps with vectors."

Submission + - 19 yr hacker reveals how the results of a state election in Brazil was altered (

Bruno Cassol writes: "Accompanied by an expert in data transmission and a police chief, a young 19 year old hacker showed how — through illegal and privileged access to the intranet used to transfer election results — intercepted data and modified results benefiting candidates over others. All without anything being officially detected."

Comment Ridiculous (Score 1) 371

It's ridiculous to blame the Black-Scholes model, the Black-Scholes equation, or the Black-Scholes formulas. There are two groups of individuals responsible for the crash, even if the corporate press refuses to acknowledge it: bank executives who knowingly did ridiculously risky things and the ratings agencies that gave them the cover to do it. It's also ridiculous to refer to the crash as the "subprime crisis," because the problem most definitely was not subprime mortgages. The sum total of all the subprime mortgages was on the order of a few hundred million dollars, but the damage done by the crash was in the tens of trillions of dollars. The bailout of 2008 amounted to over one-and-a-half trrillion dollars, which was enough to pay off all the subprime mortgages several times over, and yet it didn't solve the problem.

Let's start with the ratings agencies. With winks and nudges to their friends running the banks, the people at the ratings agencies gave ratings of AAA, which means "as close to risk-free as you can get," to packages of mortgages in which they knew many were "subprime" and many, many more had been given by unethical lenders (who later sold them off in packages) who did not check the ability of their customers to pay. In some cases, the AAA rating was even extended to complex derivatives based on the mortgage packages, despite the fact that the people at the ratings agencies didn't understand those derivatives well enough to give a rating at all. It's worth mentioning that among those customers were many middle-class and wealthy individuals counting on the obviously unsustainable growth of real estate prices in the US market so they could take out mortgages to buy properties, hold on to them for 6-18 months, and then "flip" them for a huge profit. Also among them were many companies. So don't go blaming the lower-middle-class and poor holders of "subprime" mortgages, who only represented a small fraction of the number of bad mortgages. Anyway, a rating like AAA should only be given to things that are as risk-free as a government bond. Since wealthy people and economists love to talk about there being "no such thing as a free lunch," it's worth pointing out that that idea is a basic principle used in things like pricing assets. In that context, it's called the "no-arbitrage principle." Arbitrage basically means "risk-free profit." The idea behind the no-arbitrage principle is that if there were an opportunity for risk-free profit, somebody would have already taken advantage of it and driven prices to the point where the opportunity no longer existed. In today's world of high-frequency trading, the no-arbitrage principle actually works pretty well. A classic example of arbitrage would be a stock that's sold in two different exchanges. If the price is lower in one and you can buy it quickly enough, then sell it quickly enough in the other exchange, where it's worth more, then you can make a profit with basically no risk. The thing is that if anyone notices and tries to do that, it drives up the price (buy increasing demand) in the exchange where the price was lower and brings the price down (by increasing supply) in the exchange where the price was higher. The prices are thus driven rapidly toward equilibrium. And in fact a crucial step in the derivation of the Black-Scholes equation is an application of the no-arbitrage principle, equating a risk-free return to the rate paid by government bonds.

Additionally, when heads had to roll at the banks for, y'know, breaking the world economy, you know the execs wanted to protect themselves and their own and put all the blame on their quantitative analysts, but they couldn't because the quants had done a good job of covering their own asses by sending e-mails to their superiors warning that there were all kinds of risks not being controlled or managed, and that there were even new risks introduced by modeling that could lead to problems. So the execs were fully aware that they were trading in assets that were giving returns as high as tens of percent per month while pretending they actually believed those investments were as risk-free as buying government bonds. If you believe that the execs didn't know, I have a prospectus on some excellent investments I'd like to show you. The thing is that when some banks are giving their investors these enormous returns, under the cover of ratings that say there's almost no risk involved, the execs in other banks have two choices: protect the bank and its investors and clients by sticking to legitimate risk management practices or pretend along with their peers that the packaged mortgages and the derivatives based on them were nearly risk-free and thus get huge returns while not setting off any alarms among people looking for risk on the banks' balance sheets. Since the execs' bonuses in a given quarter only depend on the result for that quarter, they basically didn't give a rat's ass if the bank or the world economy was going to break at some point in the near future, because all they wanted to know was how much they'd be getting in bonus that quarter.

Summarizing, the following parties were not responsible for breaking the world economy: poor people getting home loans, quantitative analysts doing the analysis their bosses told them to do, or Merton, Black, and Scholes. The following parties were responsible for breaking the world economy: bank executives and ratings agencies.

Comment Re:Get a project manager. (Score 2) 304

The important thing is not to get a project manager, but to give the project manager the power to actually do things like manage priorities. I worked at a software start-up in 1999. At the first company meeting after I got there, I tried to get an idea of what were the highest priorities among the tasks facing the company at that point, not necessarily in order, but just putting a priority from "1" to "3" (I had originally suggested 1 to 5) on each item. Out of 20-odd items, one got a "2" and the rest were "1." I tried to explain that I understood that everything was important and urgent, but that in order to get anywhere, we'd have to give some things higher priorities than others. I explained that "3" didn't mean "unimportant," just "less of a priority than a 1 or a 2." They all looked at me like I had 9 heads and outvoted me 3-1 to keep the utterly useless priority list as it was.

Comment Free literature (Score 1) 421

For free literature, most classics are already in the public domain. You can get many of the greatest works of literature in English free (and without violating even today's ridiculous copyright laws) at places like Project Gutenberg. Some things, like the later Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, are in the public domain in Australia, but not in the USA. In any case, there are a few Project Gutenberg sites. I got the first few Barsoom novels from the Project Gutenberg site for the USA (linked above), and the rest of them from the one for Australia.

Comment Re:Duh (Score 2) 3

After Citizens United, I don't think it makes a difference anyway. As Colbert has so brilliantly shown, a SuperPAC can be "not at all coordinating with" a candidate and still help him. I expect something on the order of 10^9 dollars to be spent on ads attacking Obama. And as the "debate" over health care reform and the 2000, 2004, and 2010 election cycles showed (even before Citizens United and SuperPACs) facts simply don't matter. How many people voted for "Tea Party" candidates in 2010 because Obama is a Kenyan socialist who's trying to impose Sharia and kill Grandma?

I think my favorite anti-Obama lie is the one that says the proof he's a socialist is the mandate in the "Obamacare" health care system. The mandate is something that's only necessary in a market-based (i.e. capitalist) attempt at similar-to-universal health care system, especially one with no public option. If the new health care system were single-payer or actual UK-style socialized medicine, there would be no need for a mandate, because everyone would simply have health care. Nobody would be forced to buy health insurance. And that's why Republicans (and not just Romney) are the ones who originally came up with the mandate in previous health care reform proposals.

Because of Citizens United, the RNC can be completely rebuffed in this latest affront to democracy, and it won't make a bit of difference. I know that wasn't your point. Your point is a good one, but I'm used to it. Did you see all the hypocrite Rs giving Newt a standing ovation for his evasion of the question about his personal life, with an attack on CNN for even asking such "appalling" and "despicable" questions? Do you have any doubt those same people thought it was great when the media, pushed by Newt himself, dogged Clinton with similar questions? Anyway, back to my point, there will still be several months of corporate-funded ads attacking Obama before the RNC has to spend a dime. Obama won in 2008 when the whole country was really pissed off at Bush and Obama set all kinds of records for fundraising from small donors. Even if Obama doubles the amount he gets from each donor and doubles the number of donors, individuals' contributions simply won't be even noticeable next to unlimited C.U.-enabled corporate donations to SuperPACs. While a lot of people are happy to see that Obama's campaign strategy appears to be somewhat populist, focusing on income disparty as (gasp!) a problem, I think that's just going to stimulate the flow of even more corporate (and wealthy individuals') money to R-friendly SuperPACS.

I really believe C.U. is the end of anything resembling democracy in the USA. I'd love to be wrong, and my bets are hedged (look at my /. username), but I really think very bad things are going to happen in the USA starting this year.

Comment Torture apologist (Score 1) 6

Not only was he an ardent supporter of the stupidest war ever, he was also an apologist for the Bush Administration's use of torture. I won't miss him at all.

Disclosure: I suspect my position on the theistic questions is similar to yours. I reject the questions themselves as ill-defined and don't waste time trying to answer them. I certainly don't have the (donning asbestos underwear) faith an individual has to have to declare that the answer to those questions is "no."

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