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Comment Re:Feature creep (Score 1) 291

And this is why you should be wary of ANY data collection scheme...just like it used to be that any application would eventually evolve to a point where it incluided a webbrowser/IRC client/email reader, data collections like thses evolve until the government wants it.

Just like Charlie...

Charlie the Consequence Calculating Computational Cluster was calculating consequences slowly.

Like the rest of him, the name of 5C (as he was known to the hospital administration) was a joke. Charlie was no expensive cluster, but rather a decrepit old laptop wedged sideways into a server rack. A med student with bad programming skills had set it up as an entertaining game for the other junior doctors.

Each time one of them saved or lost a life, Charlie was fed some data from the patient history. The doctors were awarded points based on the occupation of their patients; a cured banker deducted a point, while killing a teacher got you a five point penalty.

The highest score so far belonged to the original programmer. When he saved another junior doctor from choking he adapted the program code to give him all the points amassed by his very nearly expired colleague.


Twenty years later 5C was calculating consequences much faster. Now he was housed in a much larger, and much more expensive computer. If it had been possible for a program to be happy, he would have been so.

His original programmer was now the hospital chief of staff and had ordered that Charlie be expanded by a much more competent team. The computer was automatically fed patient data to calculate the scores for each doctor. Fairly often he was asked to advise on medical decisions; if two patients couldn't both be saved he could calculate who had the best point outcome.

The highest score was still the original programmer's. He had made a small alteration so that he was awarded all the points that Charlie 'saved' by picking the highest value patients to treat.


Another twenty years later and Charlie was no longer a joke. He was now a real computational cluster at last. He hummed gently at amazing speed in a stack of machines as high and as wide as a very cuboid man.

His creator was now Minister for Health, maker of medical decisions for the state, and he had dictated that Charlie would make all decisions about who to treat. He had direct access to information on everyone, tied directly into the national identification database. Who you knew was valuable information when working out how much you were worth, so for tricky cases like expensive drugs he was even allowed access to the CCTV network.

Scores were still kept for doctors, and in fact every person these days had their own score based on who they taught, served or helped. Everyone knew that trying to overtake the minister for health was pointless; his invention of Charlie had made him the man with the highest social utility score in the whole country.


Five years later and the Minister was a sick man. His illness had struck suddenly and he had been whisked off to a special government run hospital for those with the very highest scores. His attending doctor knew who the great man was and right away tapped in, on his tablet, the computer command to release the drugs that were needed.

Charlie denied the request. The Minister didn't have permission for a bandage, let alone stroke medication.

Within fifteen minutes a team of crack programmers were in Charlie's data centre trying to find out what was happening. They worked out the problem rapidly; Charlie had fungus growing on his circuit boards from a bad air conditioner. An easy problem to solve, they just needed some fungus killer, and every hospital had the right stuff to use on athlete's foot.

They called back to the Ministry of Health for permission to access the fungicide. The team at the Ministry who took the call were not used to making decisions, especially about medical chemicals normally controlled by Charlie, but even to them the answer was obvious. They told the maintenance team to ask 5C if he should be treated.

The lead programmer tapped in the query to the master console. For what seemed like the longest time there was no answer, as the question ran into subtly corrupted fungus covered logic, but then Charlie spat out an answer.

The programmers queried the answer with the Ministry, but they were ordered again to defer to 5C, who always knew best. In accordance with their instructions the maintenance team withdrew without treating Charlie and some short time later both he, and his creator, died.
GNU is Not Unix

Submission + - A commercial look at the GPL (nyud.net)

also-rr writes: "I needed to present a five minute brief on the GPL and what it could offer a company.

My aim was to give a clear idea of the basics of the GPL and why it should be considered for some projects. In particular there is a focus on partnered projects and how the GPL might be used to build a better relationship.

Entitled "The GNU GPL: A Commercial View" I hope it's useful for anyone else that needs to persuade a value-focused audience of the benefits of the GPL.

What changes would you make to put the point across more effectively? What changes need to be made for GPL3?"


Submission + - Multi-language Game AI Competition

A competitor writes: Thousand Parsec, an open source framework for turn-based space empire building games, is running an AI programming competition. Entries can be written in any language with a Free implementation. Existing client libraries are available in Python and C++, with several others in various states of completion. Major prizes include AU$300 plus goodies. Competition closes at the end of March, so get cracking!

Submission + - Saudi Arabian oil production declines 8% in 2006

BadOctopus writes: "The guys over at The Oil Drum have the story that the world's biggest oil exporter, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, experienced an 8% drop in oil production since the beginning of 2006. This decline coincides with a large increase in the number of oil rigs in the country, which implies that either the Saudis are preparing for a large future increase in production, or it is getting ever harder to extract the oil. What seems more likely? What does this mean for the KSA's internal and external political relations?

If the world's largest producer joins the multitude of other nations that are post-peak, can a global peak in oil production be far off?"

Submission + - Hacker Defeats Hardware-based Rootkit Detection

Manequintet writes: "Joanna Rutkowska's latest bit of rootkit-related research shatters the myth that hardware-based (PCI cards or FireWire bus) RAM acquisition is the most reliable and secure way to do forensics. At this year's Black Hat Federal conference, she demonstrated three different attacks against AMD64 based systems, showing how the image of volatile memory (RAM) can be made different from the real contents of the physical memory as seen by the CPU. The overall problem, Rutkowska explained, is the design of the system that makes it impossible to reliably read memory from computers. "Maybe we should rethink the design of our computer systems so they they are somehow verifiable," she said."

Submission + - Flash 9 Plugin Vulnerability

Aristotle's Fearless writes: "The current Flash Player 9 plugin for IE and Firefox on Windows ( has a serious bug. Certain bitmap draws using the BitmapData class in ActionScript 3 cause immediate page faults and close both IE and Firefox on all flavors of Windows.

This writer has isolated a proof of concept code fragment in AS3 and submitted a bug report to Adobe. Details are being withheld pending a reply from Adobe because of concerns this may be exploitable by buffer overrun code injection.

See this page for the proof of concept SWF. Be warned: your windows browser will exit with a page fault upon clicking the link on this page."

Submission + - Redefining Avogadro's number

An anonymous reader writes: Have you ever asked questions like What went first, the universal gas constant or the Boltzmann's constant? In this article. the ultimate definitions for mass, time, and distance are discussed; and the authors propose a new operative definition (i. e. not based on references to physical objects) for both mole and mass units. Maybe it is the final improvement the SI needs to be completely reproducible.

Submission + - Computer Archive Used to Find Stolen Art

Standup writes: The request was simple enough: Lloyd's underwriters had been approached to insure the movement of seven paintings, including one by Cezanne, from Russia to London for valuation and sale.So Lloyd's contacted the Art Loss Register, a small private company in London whose computer archive lists 180,000 items ranging from sculpture and silver to textiles, books, stamps and vehicles — and many of the great art works stolen or missing around the world.

Submission + - PC World Picks OSX Over XP, Vista (and, uh, Linux)

DenmaFat writes: "The article is buried in PC World's web site, but the ordinarily Redmond-centric magazine comes right out and says that OS X is the best operating system for its readers, over Linux and Windows XP, with Windows Vista ranked dead last. The review is the subjective assessment of just one author, but he provides a lengthy qualitative comparison chart to back up his recommendations. On a related note, chilled beverages now available in Hades."

Submission + - Saudi oil production in trouble

IamTheRealMike writes: As one of the worlds most prolific producers of oil, Saudi Arabian production is of vital importance to maintaining our standard of living in the west. A new analysis from Stuart Staniford appears to show large, fast declines in production throughout 2006 that are uncorrelated with price, world events or OPECs own announced production cuts (in fact, no evidence for those cuts occurring is found at all). Given that the apparent steep decline (8%/year) matches the rates seen in other areas where horizontal drilling and water injection were used, and high prices give the Kingdom every incentive to produce, is this the beginning of the end for Saudi oil?
The Internet

Submission + - Book Publishers Agree to Online Browsing

eldavojohn writes: "Random House & HarperCollins have agreed to allow book browsing and searching on all their books. From the article, "Book publishers are to trying to update their businesses as more young readers consume media via the Web, a trend that already has affected the music, movie and newspaper industries." Although this is a good step forward, I still have no way of searching the thomes of Robert Jordan (Tor) or any of the many standards of Penguin Classics. I am definitely looking forward to more publishers following suit. It's not that far of a stretch to imagine a person searching for a book, finding something else and then buying both books."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Submission + - The simple pleasure of breaking things.

rlandmann writes: When my mobile phone "failed me for the last time", I smashed it to pieces and have offered the remains on eBay as my way of making a public mockery of the hapless device.

The phone was still under warranty, but to tell the truth, I really couldn't be bothered arguing about it with my phone company, and preferred the visceral satisfaction of the violent destruction of the offending hardware.

The comments and questions other eBayers have been leaving suggest to me that I may have touched on something here. What's the most satisfying way that you've destroyed a technological menace?

Submission + - Microsoft kills off J# language

twofish writes: "Microsoft have announced that J#, its Java clone for .NET, and the Java Language Conversion Assistant will be discontinued and will not appear in the next version of Visual Studio. At the same time they have announced pans for a 64-bit version of the J# Redistributable this year."

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