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Comment He's totally right (Score 4, Interesting) 269

The fact of the matter is, every day, millions of commuters drive to and from work while distracted. If I'm going to be driving anywhere near somebody who's surfing the net on his phone while driving, I'd sure as HELL prefer that his car have some kind of autopilot capabilities paying attention to the road when he's not. At the very least, cars with limited autonomous driving have the potential to eliminate most rear-end collisions and accidents caused by drifting out of a lane.

Maybe South Florida is unique, but I've noticed an EXPONENTIAL increase in both gridlock, phone use while driving, and rear-end collisions over the past few years. The moment traffic slows down to 5mph or less, you can literally see every driver around you reaching for his or her phone (or already using it). Even a PRIMITIVE system that's only capable of "stay in the current lane, follow the car in front of you if the lane becomes ambiguous, and maintain speed while braking if necessary to avoid a rear-end collision" on limited-access roads would be a net improvement over what we have today.

Comment Re:Can they legally do that? (Score 1) 305

Nearly every electronic component I've ever purchased had prohibitions against using it for life safety or medical purposes somewhere in the official datasheet.

Sure, there's nothing they can do to physically prevent you from attempting to power your mother's portable oxygen concentrator with a $50 inverter from Harbor Freight and a car battery during an extended power outage, but if the inverter dies & your mother suffocates because she can't survive without it, you'd have no (or at least, extraordinarily limited) grounds for being able to sue the inverter's manufacturer or Harbor Freight since you were by definition using the item for a prohibited use.

Likewise, if you tried to make your own personal portable flamethrower from a can of aerosol spray and a spark plug, and the spray can exploded & injured you, a court would laugh at you if you tried to sue the spray's manufacturer unless you could somehow establish that their advertising encouraged its use for that purpose.

By the same token, if you bought a cheap laptop, used it as the controller for a veterinary EKG & oximeter, Windows crashed halfway through surgery & the patient died (or suffered some other harm), the manufacturer would point to the "no life safety or medical use allowed" clause, and so would Microsoft. This is entirely legitimate. A consumer item that works fine 99.9% of the time & crashes occasionally might be an acceptable trade-off for saving a few hundred or thousand dollars when the main consequence is that you'd have the movie you were watching interrupted for 5 minutes... that same item would be COMPLETELY unfit to use for a purpose where there were literally life-or-death consequences potentially arising from its failure.

You can argue that sometimes, an imperfect product is better than nothing at all if it gives an extra bit of protection to someone who couldn't afford to buy an officially-certified product... but only if the user understands the implications of literally DEPENDING upon it to always work, and the very real possibility that when the time comes... it might not.

Comment Re: DNA testing is inherently racist (Score 2) 228

They also aren't short, anymore. Put a dozen middle-class 25 year olds who grew up in Shanghai next to a dozen middle-class Americans of random ancestry from Los Angeles, London, or Toronto, and you'll notice that there's no longer any meaningful correlation between height and ethnicity that can't be better-explained by wealth & social class (higher ==> access to better food and healthcare, and probably less stress).

Remember, 500 years ago, most EUROPEANS were short, too... except for royalty, who literally towered over their subjects, mostly because they had more and better food during childhood.

Comment Re:Fees == false advertising (Score 3, Interesting) 81

The thing is, this goes above and beyond their mass-market advertisements. You can go walk into one of Comcast's neighborhood service centers, give them your address & say you're shopping for services, and they STILL can't/won't give you an itemized breakdown of the exact fees that apply as of that day.

Literally, every scrap of paper you'll ever get from Comcast, including a computer printout made on the spot, inevitably has fine print saying that the entire thing might be a complete fiction and total lie if they feel like it.

Comcast bends over backwards to NEVER, EVER document any promises they make in any non-ephemeral form they can't turn around and argue was faked by you. Just TRY to make any changes to existing Comcast service & get them to send you an email confirming the changes and new charges. They won't do it. A few weeks ago, I had what SHOULD have been a simple, straightforward question... does "Digital Starter" include MSNBC, CNN Headline News, The Weather Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, NatGo, and/or the History Channel. I had to escalate it all the way up to the site manager at their service center before finding someone who could even VIEW the channel lineups for packages besides their two most expensive ones. And then, I caught HER trying to slip in, "Of course, this is just the potential lineup for what we consider a "typical" market... the exact channels available with that package in your neighborhood might vary." That was when I lost my temper & stormed out in rage over their inability/refusal to give real answers to even the most basic, straightforward questions imaginable.

Please, explain how it is that a DirecTV or U-verse employee in Nevada or India can tell you the precise monthly cost, including all local taxes, franchise fees, and whatever else for a subscriber at an address in Florida, but Comcast -- with local offices throughout their service area -- can't do it.

U-verse TV was extortionately expensive, but I do give them fair credit for being open & fairly transparent about their exact charges. Getting ANY kind of concrete detail out of Comcast almost requires divine intervention, and getting those details in non-ephemeral form from Comcast won't happen at all.

Comment Re: Back in my day we had 14.4kbps dialup... (Score 1) 170

You probably *didn't* use SSL/TLS, though. SSL/TLS is now used for almost everything, and the key exchange requires sending & receiving a huge chunk of data within a short timeframe (or it'll timeout).

Attempting SSL/TLS at 14.4k is an exercise in futility. It might work once in a blue moon, but it won't work consistently or reliably. You'll get lots of timeout errors while attempting to handshake.

Comment Re:Maximum yield (Score 3, Interesting) 813

Florida has some of the country's best roads, and way too many of the country's worst roads. Roads that have gotten demolished and rebuilt from scratch within the past 15 years are generally pretty good. Roads that haven't been touched since they opened to traffic as interstate highways back in the 60s and 70s are awful.

On the other hand, Texas has roads I'd classify as the gold standard of kick-ass excellence (the Dallas Central Expressway south of 635 is borderline erotic), while California seems to have the most uniformly good & adequate roads (individually, not quite as over the top as the best Texan roads, but almost universally adequate and generally quite well-maintained).

From what I recall growing up, Ohio's roads were generally good, except they got beaten up so badly every winter by ice, Ohio spent literally a third of the year scrambling to fix the previous winter's damage before the next one. I also remember that driving from Ohio into Pennsylvania was kind of like driving from Alabama into Florida... one minute, you're on a wide, freshly-paved road... 3 minutes later, the shoulders are gone, the asphalt is a half step above compacted gravel, there are potholes big enough to trash a lifted monster truck, and the road itself looks like it hasn't been improved since the 1950s.

Comment Re:Differentiated business model (Score 1) 68

Perfect example: if you've ever seen a "Farm Stores" site (they're all over Florida, probably nationwide), it's a tiny building staffed by a single employee with drive-through lanes on both sides. The catch is, you have to either know what they have, ask for it and hope for the best, or catch a glimpse of it through the window. Imagine if Farm Stores had IOS and Android apps where you could browse your neighborhood store's realtime inventory, order whatever you want to get from them, pay, then drive through their new "OnlineExpress" lane to pick it up 10 minutes later by swiping the credit card used to purchase it.

Comment Re:This is a bad idea. (Score 1) 68

Back in 1994, the *brick-and-mortar* book market WAS pretty saturated. Even small towns had a Barnes & Noble and Borders store within 50 miles unless they were totally out in godforsaken rural BFE, and every halfway-decent mall in America had a B. Dalton's and a Waldenbooks store. And that's not even counting stores like Books-a-Million, independent bookstores, etc.

Arguably, Amazon didn't GROW the book market so much as CANNIBALIZE a huge chunk of it (ultimately, putting Borders out of business & leaving BN with the table scraps).

The most tragic fuck-up of Barnes & Noble has been its persistent failure to realize that people don't go there to buy books because they enjoy the retail ambiance... they go there because they need a book about something RIGHT NOW. TODAY. The fact that there's STILL (and probably never WILL be) an easy way to search Barnes & Noble's web site for "books matching {some-criteria} that are available for immediate purchase at a retail store within 25 miles of {zipcode}" (as opposed to being forced to click, item by item, to see what its local store availability is) shows that they (like Best Buy and others) really, truly don't "get it".

But then again, Amazon doesn't entirely quite "get it", either... if they did, Amazon would have a way to search for "items matching {some-criteria} that can still arrive by tomorrow if I choose Prime Next-Day Delivery". I've toyed with writing an app to scrape Amazon's search results and filter out anything that can't be received by tomorrow, but I suspect that if I did and it became too popular, they'd probably find some way to detect it and block it for some insane reason. On the other hand, I've been a Prime customer for years, and I STILL haven't quite figured out why the fuck there are seemingly-random days when I can order things at 9pm for next-morning delivery, and other days when it's 11am and there's literally NOTHING I can order from Amazon and get the next day, regardless of what it is or what shipping option I choose.

Comment Re:This is a bad idea. (Score 1) 68

I think Amazon's general idea is that they can pack a small 2 or 3 story building with the footprint of a typical suburban 7-Eleven from floor to ceiling with almost as many items as a regular grocery store, without having to waste money on things like shelf appeal, in-store advertising, room for people to walk around and push carts, having carts at all, cashiers, and checkout lines. All they'll need is a website & apps for Android, IOS, and Windows, and anywhere between 1-4 employees per site whose only job is to gather items from the shelves, box/bag them up, and hand them over to people at the drive-up window as they arrive. They can avoid having to segregate refrigerated and unrefrigerated food by keeping the whole store air-conditioned to 62 degrees (without having to air condition wide aisles and huge amounts of wasted vertical space), skip the motorized scooter carts, basically ELIMINATE shoplifting & curtail most employee-related shrinkage, and use the stores as pick-up points for merchandise shipped for same-day pickup from regional warehouse sites.

Restricting access to the store's interior to only employees also eliminates most ADA-related expenses. The ADA is strict when it comes to making public spaces accessible to people in wheelchairs, but gives employers ENORMOUS amounts of leeway when it comes to "reasonably" accommodating otherwise-qualified handicapped job applicants & employees. If a typical pick-up site is staffed by 3 people at any given time, you pay them all equal hourly wages, and one of the 3 roles doesn't involve a need to climb ladders or stairs, someone claiming discrimination would have a REALLY hard time getting past the first pre-trial hearing. Likewise, building codes are strict about requiring multiple fire-rated means of egress from 3+ story buildings, but generally look the other way if you have a single cavernous interior with high ceiling & simply have shelf fixtures that are 30 feet high and have catwalks (on the grounds that the high shelves and catwalks might be a potential OSHA concern, but since they're non-structural, are beyond the scope of building codes).

Comment Re:Ya know... (Score 1) 116

Unfortunately, the only company that even conceivably has the resources to contemplate a "pure Linux" alternative to Android is Canonical/Ubuntu... and they dropped the ball so many times & made SO MANY design decisions that were just plain *awful* (like making literally EVERYTHING a gesture, to the complete exclusion of support for real hardware buttons AT ALL), their credibility in the mobile realm has been almost permanently ruined. And truth be told, even IF they pulled it off, they'd STILL basically be "Android, with a different wealthy corporate master". It's not like KDE or Gnome for Phones is coming anytime soon... if you have an Ubuntu phone, it's going to be running Unity. Guaranteed. And Unity sucks donkey balls (for the exact same reason that Windows 8 did: it sacrifices everything that makes PCs worthwhile at the holy altar of "write once, pretend to (sort of) limp everywhere, even if it means subjecting users to tedious and sub-optimal procedures for the sake of consistency across platforms).

It's sad, but sometimes, I really get nostalgic for Windows Mobile. WM6 finally got most of the core features right (and could be made sort of attractive with third-party apps and extensions), and WM7 was almost attractive out of the box. The fact is, Android was a cruel joke compared to Windows Mobile untill well into the Froyo era, and got most of its popularity JUST because Microsoft decided Windows Mobile should go away more than a year before its replacement was anywhere close to being ready, let alone its worthy successor. IMHO, if Microsoft had refrained from totally fucking up their mobile platform & just kept evolving Windows Mobile forward, it would probably have at LEAST half the market currently owned (pwn3e?) by Android.

OK, sure... you couldn't build Windows Mobile from source. But then again, even a NEXUS device whose ROM is 100% built from source has deficiencies compared to one running Google's very non-open ROMs. Don't believe me? Try using Google Wallet with an AOSP-based ROM on a Nexus 6p. The last time I checked, AOSP ROMs couldn't use the secure element of the NFC chip, so no NFC payments for you if you dared to build your own ROM. Fuck, even CYANOGEN went proprietary with the One+ One (it technically had a ROM developed BY Cyanogen, but end users couldn't independently build it from source or modify it... it was all or nothing: use the closed Cyanogen binary as delivered, or settle for a less-capable AOSP-derived ROM that might have been based on generic Cyanogen, but lacked features specific to the One+ One's Cyanogen-derived ROM. At the end of the day, Windows Mobile (5 and 6, at least) was at least as upgradable by end users as a Samsung Android phone... possibly MORE. Ten years ago, we were ripping .exe and .dll files from newer phones and copying them to the filesystems of older ones. Today, we often end up doing the EXACT SAME FUCKING THING with Android phones whose manufacturer has all but abandoned them. The main difference? Every new Linux kernel catastrophically breaks every loadable kernel module that came before it, while Windows Mobile (like Windows desktop) had a fairly robust Hardware Abstraction Layer (with a bit of tweaking limited to editing .inf files and possibly signing the driver with a private cert, even Windows 10 can often be coaxed and teased into loading drivers built for Windows NT 4).

Yeah, I've gotten cynical. Five years ago, I eagerly looked forward to the day when I could download everything needed to build the exact same ROM provided by the manufacturer, then use it as a starting point to make it work the way **I** wanted it to work. The harsh reality is that AOSP has stumbled badly with non-Nexus hardware over the past 2-3 years or so (compared to its golden age circa the Galaxy S3, to the point where Cyanogen officially quit supporting Samsung devices, and other manufacturers might as well have, because supporting chipsets with no real public documentation [like Exynos and Qualcomm's] is damn near impossible), and even Nexus devices running AOSP-derived ROMs are missing functionality provided by Google's proprietary ROMs.

Five years ago, a new phone meant a gigantic leap forward... from 320x240 to 480x320 to 854x600 to 1280x720/800 to 1920x1080/1200 to 2160x1600, from 512 megs of flash up to hundreds of gigabytes, and from anemic single-core CPUs wheezing at 308MHz to 8-core CPUs with specs that would have been impressive for a Windows-running LAPTOP just a few years ago. Now, a brand new 2016 model phone is basically the 2015 model with cheaper hardware that has fewer features... and is probably missing the headphone jack, so instead you'll have to carry around an octopus cable and mini-hub to simultaneously connect all the things you USED to be able to connect to the phone itself.

Comment Didn't V.92 solve the compatibility problem? (Score 1) 314

> because it doesn't work with security alarms, fax machines, medical devices such as pacemakers that require
> telephone monitoring, and other services, the union said.

I firmly believe that Verizon should be forced to either maintain its wireline network, sell it to someone who will at a fair price, or upgrade it to common-carrier fiber available for use by all on vendor-neutral terms.

That said... I swear I remember reading about a final extension to the v.92 standard for use primarily by FAX machines & credit card terminals that modulated 2.4kbps of data with a shit-ton of forward error correction to make it LOOK like 9600 baud to a wireless (or VoIP) codec. The general idea was that the codec would think it was dealing with a nearly-uncompressable complex waveform, mangle it anyway, but mangle it in a way that preserved its ability to convey 2400 baud data anyway.

The main issue I remember was that most/all NEW fax machines made after ~2000 supported it, but by that point fax was a fading legacy use, and few people cared enough to actually buy a new one after ~2000. However, the rise of multifunction printers/scanners/fax machines after ~2008 (since adding fax capabilities to a device that already has printing and scanning capabilities costs almost nothing) should have mostly solved THAT problem by now.

From what I recall, legacy 2400kbps didn't work, because the codec would either try to treat it like audio suitable for even lower bitrates, or would just plain mangle it so badly that the modem at the receiving end couldn't make sense of it.

Comment Re:Too many not too few (Score 1) 348

> by 1990, those holiday snaps from 1970 were kind of dusty and not worth keeping. So people chucked them out

Are you *serious*? I have elementary & middle school photos that were in boxes that got soaked by Hurricane Andrew (the baby pictures were mostly safe). Three days after Andrew tore the roofs off of every house within 20 miles, I talked my dad into driving 80 miles to buy a small chest-type freezer and enough dry ice to keep it frozen for at least two weeks, double-bagged all the photos in Ziploc freezer bags, and froze them to stop the clock until I could get them salvaged properly (without freezing, they would have deteriorated rapidly... assuming mold didn't get to them first). For the next ~20 years, keeping the freezer's contents frozen at any cost was practically an obsession. A couple of years ago, I finally had the money to pay a professional restoration company to thaw, dry, and separate them (the kind of company that gets hired by libraries & museums in places like post-Katrina New Orleans). I'll be honest... most of them are in terrible condition. But THROWING THEM AWAY is inconceivable, even though I now ALSO have 36-bit 2400DPI scans of them all, just because there's the hope that someday, some new method might emerge to recover them a tiny bit better.

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