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The Courts

Writer Peter Watts Sentenced; No Jail Time 299

shadowbearer writes "SF writer Peter Watts, a Canadian citizen, whose story we have read about before in these pages, was sentenced three days ago in a Port Huron, MI court. There's not a lot of detail in the story, and although he is still being treated like a terrorist (cannot enter or pass through the US, DNA samples) he was not ordered to do any time in jail, was freed, and has returned home to his family. The judge in the case was, I believe, as sympathetic as the legal system would allow him to be."

Comment Nope (Score 1) 495

They agree on HOW to learn about those things. There's a huge gulf between empirical observations and explanatory theory. There are plenty of cosmologists around that do not accept the Big Bang theory even now - in fact, there are probably proportionately more now than 20 years ago. There are thousands of climatologists, geologists, meteorologists, and physicists who think that anthropogenic globe warming is crap. Few, if any, though disagree with the opposing theoreticians about the fundamental methods required to actually gain an understanding. What is interesting from an anthropology-of-science view point is that often these divisions between theory-based cliques lies along the divide between observation-based theory and theory-based observation. Theory-based observation expects observations to help verify theory, while observation-theorists often take any unexpected observation as grounds for new theory. The division that emerges is from the basic divide between mind sets that are convinced they have an explanation and mind sets that are convinced they have found a shortcoming the popular theory does not cover. Cliques tend to nucleate around issues and - ideally - new or modified theory emerges. The disagreement is not a bad thing necessarily, but occasionally it can devolve into what amounts to gang warfare.

Fossil of Ant-Eating Dinosaur Discovered In China 64

thomst writes "Charles Q. Choi of LiveScience reports that a farmer in southern Henan Province in China has dug up the first known ant-eating dinosaur, a half-meter-long theropod (the dinosaur family to which T. Rex belongs), whose fossilized remains were described as 'fairly intact'. The 83- to 89-million-year-old pygmy dinosaur has been named named Xixianykus zhangi by Xig Xu, De-you Wang, Corwin Sullivan, David Hone, Feng-lu Han, Rong-hao Yan, and Fu-ming Du, whose paper on the critter, A basal parvicursorine (Theropoda: Alvarezsauridae) from the Upper Cretaceous of China, was published in the March 29 issue of Zootaxa (the abstract is available in PDF format for free, the full article is paywall-protected.)"
Input Devices

Is the Line-in Jack On the Verge of Extinction? 411

SlashD0tter writes "Many older sound cards were shipped with line-out, microphone-in, and a line-in jacks. For years I've used such a line-in jack on an old Windows 2000 dinosaur desktop that I bought in 2000 (600 Mhz PIII) to capture the stereo audio signal from an old Technics receiver. I've used this arrangement to recover the audio from a slew of old vinyl LPs and even a few cassettes using some simple audio manipulating software from a small shop in Australia. I've noticed only recently, unfortunately, that all of the four laptops I've bought since then have omitted a line-in jack, forcing me to continue keeping this old desktop on life support. I've looked around for USB sound cards that include a line-in jack, but I haven't been too impressed by the selection. Is the line-in jack doomed to extinction, possibly due to lobbying from vested interests, or are there better thinking-outside-the-box alternatives available?"

Adobe Download Manager Installing Software Without Consent 98

"Not all is worth cheering about as Adobe turns 20," writes reader adeelarshad82, who excerpts from a story at PC Magazine's Security Watch: "Researcher Aviv Raff has found a problem in ADM (Adobe Download Manager) and the method through which it is delivered from adobe.com. The net effect of the problem is that a user can be tricked into downloading and installing software using ADM without actual consent. Tonight Adobe acknowledged the report and said they were working on the issue with Raff and NOS Microsystems, the company that wrote ADM."

Comment Re:I could have told you that. (Score 5, Insightful) 938

Bullies are scum. No 'if onlies,' no 'buts.' There's no reason why a kid with difficulty understanding social cues should spend grade school making sure an upper grade bully got fat off his lunch money. No one 'makes' a bully steal your stuff, throw tarred rocks at you or generally lurk around for a chance to otherwise make your life miserable. All understanding the social cues offers is the knowledge of whom to avoid. There's a reason so many bullies go by handles like "Chopper," "Dumbo" and "Buddy" (all ones that I knew personally) and it isn't because they're brightest bulbs in the lamp. However, my dad always said 'don't get mad, get even.' I expect that Buddy never did understand why when he stole my home work he still got D's, and I still got A's.

Comment Lost baggage?? (Score 2, Funny) 432

Great, this could put a whole new light on lost baggage: "Dear Mr. Jones. Your baggage was fired Tuesday. It should have arrived at the ISS before you did. Unfortunately, the capture system failed. The capsule has entered an unstable, atmosphere grazing orbit and will burn upon re-entry in about two weeks. We're sorry, but this loss is covered in the waiver you signed. Sincerely, A. Pratt"

Comment No brainer (Score 3, Interesting) 509

There are several published surveys of criminals in prison investigating what they do, how they evaluate targets, and what conditions discourage them from operating in given localities. The risk of being shot by a victim is a major factor. Apparently even criminals are capable of minimal cost-benefit analysis.

Comment Re:patent: new, useful, non-obvious, inventive ste (Score 1) 205

Actually, the mineral as specified in your example is a natural substance - "rock mineral". While modern and moronic patent examiners might indeed grant a patent on the mineral they should not have done so. The treatment in your example is novel and an invention and therefore should be patentable. Patenting the mineral itself forecloses on a fact of nature and as such would preempt any investigation of other properties of the mineral by anyone not holding the patent until the patent expired, regardless of how those properties were applied. Suppose for instance that lurking in the catalytic properties of the mineral was a trait that would - say - convert copper to a room-temperature superconductor - no such thing, but just suppose. That use of the mineral could in no way be construed as an infringement on your medical method for treating cancer using the mineral. Your persistence in defending a patent of a naturally occurring mineral would have delayed the advancement of science in general, physics in particular, and technology as well, merely because you are "protecting" your "discovery." In fact given the results of the University of Mississippi's attempt to patent tumeric, it seems possible that even your method of treatment might not be patentable if any prior art could be demonstrated.

Comment Heh (Score 1) 115

You plainly don't know science, and apparently missed the educational boat as well, if you are seriously pitching that "ivory tower" metaphor. If I assume your post is serious and not troll bait, you've been paying to much attention to the media declarations about nullities like "scientific consensus." There is not one field of science where there is uniform consensus among practitioners about anything. In very field you will find that the practitioners are divided into cliques, some of whom may have the media's and the politicians' ears and some of whom do not. These divisions would not exist if there was a true acceptance among the practitioners that a given theory was _the_ way things work. Not only that, science is not a democracy and the fact that a view is widely accepted is no assurance that it is true. If this were true, we would still be using Ptolemaic cosmology and fires would burn because of phlogiston.

You will often find many individuals in a field who treat some particular theory as the right one. I'm inclined to think that about plate tectonics for example. That does not mean that the currently preferred explanation is the correct one or the last word. There are dissenters in every field (even some geologists who doubt plate tectonics), even in fields that look pretty well settled, and they are dissenters (justifiably so) because the current and preferred explanation is _not_ quite adequate to all data available in the field. This the case from archaeology to cosmology, and as long as a given theory is not adequate to all phenomena addressed in a study area, that area will continue to be a science.

Comment Monoculutures - we salute you (Score 1) 250

The chief reason monocultures are a threat is that they represent a point source of failure. A single worm or trojan targeted at a weakness on a ubiquitous piece of software can take down every system exposed to it. If only a third of the systems exposed to a threat are vulnerable, the toxicity - so to speak - of the threat is far less. It is fairly obvious that no OS presents absolute security. The first Internet worm after all ran on Unix systems. Linux also has its hazards otherwise we would not have chkrootkit installed and running periodically.

Microsoft, though, is far and away the easy target because it IS the big target out there. We who adhere to OS's with lower target cross-sections salute your bravery and also thank you for volunteering to take point.

There are other targets of opportunity for black hats though, including Apache, Java, Flash and other utilities that are potentially more widespread than Windows, since they run on multiple OSs. However, the creators of cracks for these systems still seem to expect that the underlying OS will be Windows. So again, we thank you for being the proud targets you are.

Comment Texts and teachers (Score 1) 201

My view is that a text should supply sufficient information to get a handle on a subject or an area of study. It can't provide activity - that's a teacher's job - and besides, if I saw an "active book" I'ld probably shoot it on principle. The teacher's business is to persuade students to think, help them take in and apply information logically and critically, the text's task is to inform the thought process.

Courses where the "material" is in part or as a whole a matter of opinion: history, politics, history, anthropology, history, economics, etc. create a problem for this process for several reasons. The biggest is that special interest groups, i.e. minorities, "authorities," text book authors, etc., each have their own take on things and think it is as reliable as gravity. School boards, being elected bodies, as a rule are not made up of well-educated literate people with a feel for the fuzziness of much of what we (as our own special interest group) take for granted. Consequently, in Kipling's words they are often "lead by the loudest throat." The history of India, which has recently played such a part in California educational debate for instance is so immense and complex that even the inhabitants of India cannot agree on large parts of it. It is absurd to expect the California State Board of Education to be able to identify a good, well rounded book on Indian history that does not peeve someone. They listen to the loudest throats and cross their fingers in hopes the loud ones aren't whack jobs.

I'm not certain this can ever be mitigated let alone fixed.

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