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Comment wireless over the ocean was impossible (Score 1) 711

Marconi sending a radio signal across the Atlantic is a good example of an engineer doing something that the scientists said was impossible.

Since the earth is round and radio waves travel in a straight line, it should have been impossible to send a signal more than a few hundred miles.

In fact, they bounced off the ionosphere, which hadn't been discovered yet.

Marconi factoids:

In Newfoundland, the receiving end of Marconi's experiments, the undersea cable company, who had a legal monopoly on all trans-Atlantic communications, discovered or not, got an injunction forcing Marconi to stop his experiments and move elsewhere.

Marconi licensed, not sold, his radios, with a legal restriction prohibiting them from being used to talk to non-Marconi radios.

OTOH, in the 19th century there were several inexplicable observations, like the orbit of the moon. All except for the precession of Mercury eventually had classical explanations.

Comment PNAS: easy forum for NAS members (Score 1) 191

PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) is an easy place for National Academy members to publish their papers. While their papers are externally reviewed, I don't think their papers always get the same rigorous review process that might happen at some other journals. It's a way for NAS members to publicize what they think is important.

Comment Re:Punishment Must Exceed Profit (Score 1) 227

Not true, at least in cities.

The VW scam was uncovered in Europe because German cities' air was not getting cleaner, as it should have been as the cars were supposedly getting cleaner. So, the EU version of the US EPA measured tailpipe emissions on the streets, perhaps with a laser. This was years before the US discovered this. The problem was that hi levels inside the EU decided to ignore it.

Submission + - Nvidia GTX 1080: export-controlled munition

Petronius Arbiter writes: My employer's export control lawyer says that the Nvidia GTX 1080 is a controlled munition. The rules say that computers faster than 8TFLOPS are munitions, and the 1080 is 9TFLOPS.

Allowing the wrong people, e.g., Iranians, access to a munition can lead to serious trouble. Presumably this includes the vendors on Amazon and Amazon UK.

The list of controlled "sensitive" technologies is surprisingly broad.

E.g., Xiaoxing Xi , the chairman of the physics dept at Temple U, was arrested last year for sending completely innocent tech, that an ignorant person thought was controlled, to China.

My employer also says that Amazon's EC2 is export controlled, but that's another story.

Comment fingerprints have been spoofed for decades (Score 1) 56

Two New York State police from Troop C (Binghamton) were convicted and jailed for spoofing fingerprints (and possibly other physical evidence) about 20-30 years ago. IIRC, they used scotch tape to lift the print of the innocent person they wanted to frame and then deposited the print on the piece of evidence connected to the crime.

So, even w/o using computers, fingerprints can be faked. Physical evidence is not as solid as prosecutors claim, but we already knew that from several other convictions for faking evidence. However NYS troopers are, as a group, ethical.

But, fingerprint readers do look cool.

Comment Death Valley NP couldn't contact Google to update (Score 2) 622

From the linked article about deaths from GPS in Death Valley NP:

The mapping people at the National Parks Service were unable to contact a human being at Google to update their map, but could talk to Tom Tom.

I've heard that story also from other professional source.

That doesn't absolve stupidity, but still, it's nice when maps mark the important stuff. But then, Google maps violates most of the rules of good cartography.

Garmin's response to someone following their GPS half-way under a low bridge was, "Would you follow your GPS through a red light?"

Comment Re:"each increasingly difficult to find." (Score 4, Informative) 132

Math is also fascinating because of how it can often work around impossibility proofs.

E.g., what class of polynomials is solvable depends on what elementary functions are allowed. With Jacobi theta functions, you can exactly solve quintics.

For another example, with cosine and acos, you can exactly solve cubic polynomials, w/o using cube roots. Better, if the solutions are real, then the solution does not require imaginary numbers, unlike if you solve with cube roots.

Comment Don't lie or mislead (Score 1) 370

Making a false claim on a resume, even if not caught for years, has, in the last few years, gotten a senior MIT administrator and a company CEO fired.

The federal government sometimes checks items that are 20 years old on your resume.

Using an unaccredited PhD got some Ryerson University faculty in public trouble.

Don't even mislead or be ambiguous. If I read a resume that says, "attended Miskatonic", I assume 2 things. 1) The writer didn't graduate. 2) He wants me to think that he did.

Do not say that you attended Harvard if you went only to the Summer School.

Know your market. Some places value the degree quality and some do not. In the latter case, WGU or Excelsior are fine.

CS accreditation is optional and sets only a very low bar. MIT was not accredited until relatively recently. Accreditation is a hassle and everyone already knew that they were good.

Engineering accreditation is not optional. Stanford was threatened with losing their EE accreditation if they made a proposed change that probably would have been an improvement.

Comment Vermont Yankee: lying incompetent (Score 2) 249

Vermont Yankee is also a lying incompetent organization.

  1. They denied that there were tritium leaks although they knew. Then they said that they were unable to locate the leaks' source (and so couldn't fix them). IIRC, they also denied that the tritium was reaching the Connecticut River.
  2. A few years ago, a wooden cooling tower collapsed from lack of maintenance (i.e., wood rots). Do you want to trust an organization that cannot maintain a simple wood structure with running an obsolete nuclear reactor?

Comment Re:Aussies, now you know why... (Score 1) 150

In 1776 the Magna Carta was 550 years old. It had nothing to do with democracy, but supported the barons against the king. That was arguably a step backward. It became (wrongly) associated with democracy only hundreds of years later, when people were searching for precedents, even flawed ones, to support democracy.

Also, in 1776, most people in England did not have a vote. Look up rotten borough. There were three major reform bills in the 19th century that basically brought democracy to the UK.

Comment Fictitious degrees (Score 1) 130

In addition to plagarized theses, there are a lot of completely fictitious degrees being flaunted.

A few years ago a senior MIT administrator had to resign.

Last year there was the CEO of a tech company.

About 30 years ago, the President of the IEEE claimed to have a doctorate from a minor German university, but no one could find any record of it. However, his friends rallied around, and he was given an honorary doctorate.

Then there are the unaccredited doctorates. E.g., when Ryerson Polytechnic Institute was transitioning to Ryerson University a few decades ago, many of their faculty did not have doctorates. RU strongly encouraged doctorates, so a bunch of faculty got them from a degree mill in central Europe.

Finally, there's the faculty member at The King's College in Manhattan who lists himself as PhD, Princeton (ABD). ABD means that he does not actually have a PhD, but many readers might not know that.

Submission + - 'Death by GPS' in desert (

Petronius Arbiter writes: Visitors to Death Valley die from following closed roads that are in their GPS databases.

Quoth the wilderness supervisor:

"I'm pulling my hair," he said. "I was never able to reach a single human with Google Earth Maps. But in their system, they have a way you can let them know something is wrong. And over the course of a year, I was able to get their maps updated."

Things went more smoothly with TomTom, a major manufacturer of GPS units for cars. "I had a representative right here. He was real professional. I was able to sit down and say, 'Nope, that doesn't exist,' " Callagan said.


Submission + - Online Storage - 1 man’s battle with interne (

GrazReed writes: Years ago I was stung with losing my hard drive without a decent backup. This was in my early days of IT and thought Windows XP would create a DVD using the built in software, oh how wrong I was!

Since then I have been sure, almost OCD, to backup regularly, recently onto an external hard drive. 5 months ago, a good friend of mine posed the question about the best backup solution possible:

“Permanence, Security, Integrity, Accessibility, Redundancy”

Internal hard drives can fail or become corrupt.
External drive and flash drive can also fail. USB storage in particular has a limited number of read-writes (depending on the workload this is not a massive amount of time!)
CDs/DVDs will fail at the slightest touch
Tapes will stretch and fade over time (ok a long time), and are not in great use for the home user.
All of the above, unless you take precautions (fire proof safe, take it with you) will not be of any use in the event of a major accident like fire, or more appropriate these days, flood!

But all of these suffer from a more common issue: How often do you actually backup to these other devices? Because it doesn’t matter just how much you do, much like saving you Word file: you’ll do it in a minute, in a minute, opps too late its BSOD-ed (Blue/Black Screen of Death) on me


I began investigating online storage, starting with Google Docs as, at the time, the most popular/well known. My specification for storage has changed since I started, but has settled on the following:

It has to be free. I am about to bring a baby into this world, I have no money for most things let along online backups!
I want it to be accessible anywhere. If the computer dies on me, I need to still use my files
I want to sync. Otherwise I fall into the same traps as the above point.
I would like it to be available on different devices. Like my iPhone, again, some convenience, but not a deal-breaker.
I need to backup: Documents, Pictures, Music
This is the story from there to here, where I am now.

Choice 1: Google Docs – 2/5 (Free version only)

I began with implementing Google Docs, as I already had a Gmail account it seemed like a convenient place to start. Instantly I noticed that without paying (Big no no!) for the Google Apps account, I had only 2GB storage, and there is no sync available, so everything needs to be uploaded via the web interface. I tried using this for a few weeks, but I had far too much to backup even trimming down to bare essentials.

Google Docs is ok for storing and sharing the odd few files, but further than that needs a better solution

Choice 2a: Syncplicity – 4/5 (Free version only)

I came across Syncplicity during my search for an alternative for Google Docs, and was instantly attracted to the sync tools it offered. Syncplicity still offered only 2GB of storage, but during my research I found that this is the standard for free offerings. At this point I decided to split my backups between different providers (not idea, but allowed me to take advantage of each companies niche facility), allowing me to comfortably have 2GB for storing my documents. I used this for some months before looking again at alternatives

Syncplicity’s attraction comes from the software which allows you to select which folders to sync on your hard drive. It monitors these files and immediately updates when needed, both directions. It claims to be able to sync with Google Docs, but I could not get this to work successfully, but a good option for anyone looking for a simple but robust backup. iPhone app available but, and this is where the dropped mark comes in, you are charged per download.

Choice 2b: MeCanto – 2/5 (Free) [Mark awarded for their recent change in policy]

Music backups are a luxury, really saving me the time and frustration of copying back from a device or, god forbid, from CDs, in the event of failure. MeCanto also offered streaming facility to any device including iPhone, iPhone in particular has an app specially. To top that off, you get unlimited storage for your music. All you abide by is the usual fair use policies.

This seemed like a perfect solution and began using the software to sync my music to their web servers, all good. Even used on the iPhone for a while. Perfect service. I had an issue with the software in the last few days of using, and their support team were somewhat helpful in resolving.

MeCanto gets this mark because, and hence the reason I have left, as of May 2011 they will begin charging for this service. It is only £1.49 per month, but for something I really only use as a backup, this killed the service for me. The app and site itself really should get 4.5/5.

Choice 2c: Picasa – 3.5/5 (Free)

Google’s Picasa is a combination of web photo storage service, much like Photobucket and Flickr. The web service is nothing special, and sometimes can be frustrating to use. It does allow for simple online editing of photos, but nothing fancy.

Picasa — good sync
Picasa application is more interesting, and allows for photo management and manipulation and has taken social networking into account with tagging and geo-tagging of photos, which even links into Google Earth if you want. I again get frustrated with the software, navigation being the biggest culprit, but it does offer synchronisation with the web service. Additionally, and I think this a bonus (professional may not use this option), Picasa allows you to sync a reduced size copy of the photos to save on web storage space. I sync all my current photos to Picasa in 1024×768 format, giving me around 4 times the space. Once I set folders to sync with the web service (It has to be folders that contain photo, you cannot sync a root folder which is a little annoying), Picasa recognises any changes or additions to those folders and automatically synchronises them to the web.

Picasa has a nice array of mobile apps that effectively give me access to all my current photos wherever I am (Handy with baby here soon!).

Choice 3a: Dropbox – 4.5/5 (Free)

Dropbox appears more than simply storage, more so a social site. Recently Dropbox advertised a set of challenges to complete to ‘earn’ their users more storage space.

Dropbox — simple to use
Dropbox offers user initially 2GB of storage space, but through doing such events, and linking (once) to your twitters and facebooks, and referring new accounts to dropbox via you, you can increase this to 8GB free. Charges apply to take this up to 100GB.

Dropbox can sync with your PC and other devices, and also has apps for Android and iPhone. So it has ticked every box. The online and PC software is very each to use and set up, it is very simple. My only criticism of it is it only sync files located in a ‘Dropbox’ folder that you set up when you first start. I have my files in my Documents folder, and this needs to stay here to preserve links to databases I have, and so this is a slight problem. This becomes only a minor fault as I have implemented Symbolic Links to the Dropbox folder (These act much like shortcuts, but the Dropbox folder believes that the folders actually reside there).

This is the option for my current Documents I continue to use today.

Choice 3b: Psonar – 4/5 (Free)

Psonar lost out originally to MeCanto for music sync, storage and streaming only because the lack of apps to iPhone. With MeCanto off the list, Psonar is back and does everything the same as MeCanto in syncing music files to

Psonar — free
the unlimited free storage online. Psonar free does only allow 12 hours of streaming a month, but for me this is totally fine!

Psonar does not have a mobile app, but does have a very efficient mobile web page to connect to, and the streaming via on this just fine.

Psonar states on the website that the service will be free. Forever. Lets hope so!

Choice 4: Microsoft SkyDrive/Windows Mesh – 3/5 (Free)

In this whole process I have looked at streamlining what I backup where possible, and archived a lot of documents, photos and videos away. I would like these backed up, but if they got lost it would not be the end of the world.

I had not looked into Skydrive by Microsoft, but was shocked to see 25GB of free storage available to all Live Mail users. This is comparable to Google Docs in that you need to upload all documents via the website. But integrated with this is the predecessor to Skydrive: Windows Mesh (now Live Mesh), which allows 5 of the 25GB to be synchronised with your PC, so a Dropbox with 5GB of storage. Mesh does not allow you to edit documents synced using their Office apps online, and there is no iPhone or other device app. SkyDrive, being linked to Hotmail, is often blocked by organisations and so is difficult to get access to.

This I am now using as my archive backup, continuing to use the convenient and fast (Skydrive can also be quite slow) facility Dropbox offers.

Final word:

I have ended up with:

Dropbox – current documents (currently 4.6GB space, available anywhere)

Psonar – all music (unlimited space, available anywhere)

Picasa – current photos (2GB space, available anywhere)

SkyDrive – Archive document, photos, videos (5GB synced space, available almost anywhere)

All of these services (bar Psonar at this time) are big reputable companies or very well known/used/liked and so are unlikely to disappear overnight. Considering this is only a BACKUP, I can sleep soundly. Any advice I can give, like most thing: If a lot of people are using something online, it is probably a good thing, so go with it.

And I have not paid a penny.

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Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian