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Comment Productivity is an exponential function of talent (Score 2) 466

The relationship between programming talent and programming productivity, at least in complex real-world systems, isn't linear. The very best (top 10%) of programmers can get things done dozens of times faster than average programmers. And it's not just about speed. The very best programmers produce code with fewer defects. They are less prone to making unfortunate architectural decisions that cause problems later. They can find difficult bugs and solve difficult problems that average programmers simply cannot, regardless of time spent.

Sure, there are jobs out there for people with limited talent, mainly involving software that solves simple problems. There are reports to be generated that are too complex for someone without a certain amount of database and software experience. There are relatively isolated scripts that connect stuff together that wasn't originally designed for that. There are the sort of third-tier corporations that need some IT but can't attract top-flight talent. All kinds of stuff that's more complicated than an Excel macro but simpler than a web browser.


Submission + - Minnesota Supreme Court rejects DUI challenges based on buggy software (

bzzfzz writes: In a case with parallels to the Diebold Voting Machine fiasco, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the reliability of the Intoxilyzer 5000EN breath testing machine on a narrow 4-3 vote. Source code analysis during the six-year legal battle revealed a number of bugs that could potentially affect test results. Several thousand DUI cases that were pending the results of this appeal will now proceed.

The ruling is one in a series of DUI-related court victories for police and prosecutors. Other recent cases upheld a conviction of a person with no evidence that the vehicle had been driven and convictions based solely on urine samples that may only show impairment hours before driving.

The Intoxilyzer 5000EN is now considered obsolete, and replacement devices are being rolled out with the last jurisdictions in the state scheduled to retire their 5000ENs by the end of the year.


Are Patent Wars Worth the Price Tag? 128

ericjones12398 writes "It's beginning to feel like a TV series, a weekly patent war drama. Apple and Samsung have consistently been going back and forth with claims of IP infringement, to the point where who is accusing who of what is exhausting to follow. The question I would like to ask and try to answer is what the opportunity costs are of pursuing litigation versus just toughing it out? Would it be more economic for both companies to live and let live, or is there value to be captured in legal finger pointing? My best guess would be that this isn't about stopping sales this quarter or next, nor is it about defending the small-scale tech features that merely mildly differentiate. It's instead about momentum and branding. Winning these cases is PR that says, we are the leaders in smartphone technology, we are the innovators."

Submission + - Sources in the U.S. government confrirm Israeli and U.S. authorship of Stuxnet (

bzzfzz writes: While there has been widespread speculation in the technical community that Stuxnet had official sponsorship from the U.S. and Israel, there was no clear evidence until now. In what appears to be a deliberate leak, "current and former U.S. officials" state that the project code named "Olympic Games" and now known as Stuxnet was initiated under the Bush administration and continued under secret orders from Obama.

Submission + - Sources in the U.S. government confirm U.S. and Isreali authorship of Stuxnet ( 1

bzzfzz writes: While there has been widespread speculation in the technical community that Stuxnet had official sponsorship from the U.S. and Isreal, there was no clear evidence until now. In what appears to be a deliberate leak, "current and former U.S. officials" state that the project code named "Olympic Games" and now known as Stuxnet was initiated under the Bush administration and continued under secret orders from Obama.
Your Rights Online

Submission + - Minneapolis Airport Installing 1800 high-definition surveillance cameras (

bzzfzz writes: The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) is beginning a $20 million dollar upgrade of its surveillance system. The upgrade will include 1800 high-definition cameras, facial recognition systems, and digital archiving to replace the analog tape system in use since the 1980s. The system will serve both security and operational goals. The MAC asserts that improved camera technology yields improved security as though the connection between the two is so strong that no proof is required.

Comment Always been? Hmmpf. (Score 5, Funny) 192

Before GCC there were some excellent (for their day) compilers available from what was then an obscure technology company called Microsoft. There were cross-compilers for unusual platforms from Manx Software.

Kids these days. Next thing you know they'll think they invented sex.

Comment Re:Stupid humans, why do we still need this crap? (Score 1) 198

We just need obeisance to a single world government run by you then it will all work great. We can switch Spain to the same time zone as England to follow your rules and make a few other adjustments.

But that aside, it's not as easy as you make it. For example, there are a few large metropolitan areas that would be split by a time zone if the world did it your way, at great inconvenience to many. Political boundaries shift. I believe there are still a few half-hour time zones in island nations to place the whole nation in one zone.

Comment An incentive to keep files small for usability (Score 1) 236

I believe that Amazon has the fee in place to provide an incentive to publishers to keep their files small, not because of bandwidth or storage costs, but rather because large files degrade the user experience on the Kindle.

This thread on an end-user bulletin board shows the frustration that users frequently experience because of the device's limited memory. Amazon sells the idea that the Kindle will hold 1500 books despite having only 2 GB or 4 GB of storage, depending on model. Image-rich files, especially if the image compression is not applied with care, can easily exceed the 1-2 MB size that must be reached for that promise to come true.

Rather like the U.S. government rationing gasoline during the second world war despite its abundance. The real goal was to limit tire wear and therefore consumption of rubber.

Comment Wikipedia itself has plenty of funding (Score 1) 608

The technical, legal, and administrative costs of Wikipedia are not the problem. There's plenty of funding for that, and if the site were truly in jeopardy there would be a long line of institutional donors ready to support it.

The problem is that there's a bloated global administrative organization that doesn't actually help the core projects, and which drives up costs immensely. There are people in charge of partnerships who fly around the world looking for the next great thing, trying to get the foundation's foot in the door so that the empire will expand. There's money spent handling administration, legal matters, and software maintenance for projects like WikiNews, WikiBooks and WikiSpecies that, after using up more runway than Wikipedia did before it went aloft, still don't show meaningful signs of growth and relevance. There is money and effort being spent to maintain an egalitarian spirit and level playing field by supporting Wikipedia projects in dying languages, even though there is ample evidence to show that beyond the top 100 or so languages worldwide (maybe fewer) there aren't going to be enough contributors. There is money being spent on international staff travel that serves no useful purpose beyond demonstrating that the staff is globally engaged.

Perhaps these are all laudable projects and the effort is worthwhile. But the major institutional donors don't agree, and so the money isn't coming in.

If a foundation were created with a mission limited to supporting the largest 10, 20, 50, or 100 Wikipedias plus the commons image hosting platform, using a small administrative and technical staff in a single location with a token travel budget, there would be plenty of money. There would be enough money to build an endowment.

The smaller Wikipedias, the side projects, the partnerships, the in-country "chapters" could all be spun out to succeed or fail on their own merits. But that's not the way the foundation wants it. They want something bigger.

As though Wikipedia isn't enough of a success to be worth maintaining.

Comment SSDs are the future (Score 2, Interesting) 222

I think a more realistic assessment is that the rate of growth in hard disk densities will decline.

We've had a recent article on the shortcomings of SSDs, but I think the maturity of hard disk technology and the minimum cost posed by the complicated mechanical design will make hard disks obsolete for most applications in a few more years. Hey, people thought 3.5" disks would be here forever, too.

Comment Most clients don't need high-end design (Score 5, Insightful) 569

The problem that 99designs solves is that most clients don't need a $20,000 design and don't have $20,000 to spend.

Years ago I worked for a company that made point of sale systems. They had a logo that looked like a monogram on someone's shirt. It was drawn by a marketing VP who had no design experience, in the early days of the company. Eventually it became an embarrassment and they hired a consultant who made a new logo, new letterhead, etc., for $80,000.

But the thing is that they only sold to industry and didn't need that degree of expertise. Something from 99designs would have been good enough, and if it happened to look exactly like the logo some real estate management startup in Boise, Idaho was using, too, so what. Since then I've worked for a bunch of startups and the logo and website design has always been a problem. Usually it gets done by somebody's kid or somebody's friend, because startups don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a logo unless they're selling a consumer product.

Comment Re:Duke Nukem Forever (Score 4, Informative) 97

Cellulosic isn't remotely cost effective even when the source materials are free or nearly so, as when wood chips or other waste products from other industries are used.

I used to grow corn. The subsidies vary from year to year. For the last several years, they have amounted to around 5-10% of the price of corn. There are also subsidies for ethanol production itself.

One fact to consider is that pulpwood has subsidies, as well.

Comment Duke Nukem Forever (Score 2, Interesting) 97

There have been research and "breakthroughs" in cellulosic ethanol production reported with stunning regularity since 1898. Yet, a commercially viable process remains elusive. The combination of enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation described as a breakthrough in TFPR is prior art and covered in the Wikipedia article (see link in summary).

Until the process becomes cost competitive with corn, this is just a story about some enzymes and yeast that only a zymurgy nerd could love.

We'll see whether they commercialize this before cold fusion becomes a practical source of commercial electrical power.

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