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Comment Re:AT&T claimed users would destroy phone syst (Score 1) 310

This is getting a little far from Apple perhaps but it's fun to cite these cases of big companies throwing their weight around.

AT&T also tried to prevent the distribution by other companies of free covers for their phone books. They owned the phone book they'd given you. You did not have the right to put someone else's cover on it to protect it.

AT&T also tried to prevent a rancher from making an audio connection (phone speaker put next to radio microphone etc) from his phone to a radio so the rancher could make calls while driving around his ranch. That's the Carterfone case.

Marconi licensed, not sold, his radios to ships like the Titanic. The license prohibited communicating with non-Marconi radios. That lasted until WW1, when the US Navy said, stop that.

GE licensed the vacuum tubes in car battery chargers. The customer was prohibited from using the tube in a radio.

Comment AT&T claimed users would destroy phone system (Score 1) 310

There was a similar case of a big company claiming that allowing users too much power would be very destructive. Guess what? They were totally wrong.

Up to the early 1980s, AT&T had a telephone monopoly, including owning the wires and phones in your house. You were legally required to use an AT&T repairman to add a new phone outlet in your house. When AT&T's monopoly was broken up, they were required to let customers own their own wiring and phones. The company predicted that customers were incompetents who would attach defective devices that would destroy the phone system.

Of course, AT&T is the monopoly that tried to block a company from selling a plastic and cardboard cone that would attach to your phone's microphone, which you could speak into with less interference. It's the hush-a-phone case.

Apple is just the latest company trying to prevent competition.

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.

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