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Programmable Quantum Computer Created 132

An anonymous reader writes "A team at NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) used berylium ions, lasers and electrodes to develop a quantum system that performed 160 randomly chosen routines. Other quantum systems to date have only been able to perform single, prescribed tasks. Other researchers say the system could be scaled up. 'The researchers ran each program 900 times. On average, the quantum computer operated accurately 79 percent of the time, the team reported in their paper.'"

Comment Slackware on a 10MB partition (Score 1) 739

My first Linux experience was back in school about 1995, when one of my friends wanted to show me how awesome it was.

We somehow freed up about 10MB of space of the 40 MB disk on mum & dad's computer, and repartitioned it to install whatever version of Slackware was current at the time.

So what was so awesome about a 10 MB installation? I asked, and I was shown how cool it was to be able to switch between several different text consoles. (That multitasking sure beats DOS or Windows 3.1!) Another supposedly impressive feature was how you could change the font of the text consoles to be something more italicised and comicey! The Slackware installer of the day let you do this.

The other awesome thing I could apparently do, which my friend mentioned as he was leaving, was recompile the kernel. Wow! Of course on a 10 MB installation, I didn't actually have a compiler, or any kernel source, or a working modem to get any kernel source, and to be honest I didn't know what a kernel was or why I'd care about compiling it. But if I'd been able to, I'm sure that recompiling the kernel over and over again would have kept me completely satisfied. I bet it would have been better than staring at a command prompt all day with barely any storage space and no applications to run.

I couldn't figure out how to switch the text back to a normal font after my friend had gone, when it was hurting my eyes. Not that it really mattered, because I didn't spend a lot of time booting into Linux, except for when I wanted to feel cool. :P

So my Slackware installation of 1995 didn't last terribly long. In later years I tried to move to Linux several times with a dual partition, but always had problems due to some Microsoft application lock-ins with certain jobs I was doing for other people, as well as problems getting an X server to run reliably. Since about 2001, though, I've been persistently running Debian on my desktop and laptop computers. I did away with Windows at about that time, and I love it.

Comment Re:Now I know who to blame (Score 1) 226

The purpose of copyright isn't to enrich the creator and his heirs, it's to encourage the creator to create more.

I generally agree but one small correction -- I think it's to encourage people to publish more. A problem before copyright existed was that authors were creating, but many were hoarding their work and being very careful who they showed it to (perhaps for a price), lest it get leaked. By providing the temporary monopoly over the work, there was much greater incentive for people to release it into the open where other people could access it.

Other than that, I'm for shorter copyright terms all the way. I'm completely in favour of one initial term of perhaps 15-20 years, plus up to one extension for which the copyright holder must explicitly state their interest in holding the copyright.

I don't really care about duplicating Steamboat Willy, but I think others should be able to. I also find it concerning how rare works without traceable owners are being lost into obscurity because projects such as Gutenberg aren't allowed to reproduce them, as a direct result of mega-corps such as Disney not wanting to forfeit the ownership on their very small minority of copyrighted material.

Comment The data in a usable format seems most important (Score 1) 715

Assuming you're using the SAAS for some kind of data manipulation, I personally think the critical thing is to be able to conveniently pull down any or all of your data any any time you choose for backup purposes, and have it in a form that you're satisfied with so you can keep using it without the online service. Perhaps this is a very rich form which will let you re-import the data into some other application, or it may just be a simple text file.

The main advantage I can see of having source code for a SAAS application is if you want to completely re-create the service and point it at your data, or if you want to examine the specs of whatever format the data was stored on the server so you can access it again. Neither is very useful if you could never get your data in that format in the first place.

Comment Re:I must not use it? (Score 1) 715

I tend to agree with this, but I'm a bit of a hypocrite. It's not the software that bothers me with SAAS. It's the data storage, for two reasons:

  1. If the service disappears, I might lose the data.
  2. Having someone else store my data may be a risk to my privacy.

I'm reasonably comfortable using GMail, because I find it very convenient with moving between the 4+ computers I tend to use every day.

I've solved problem 1 with a script on my home PC which runs on a cron job, periodically downloads all my sent and received emails from my GMail account via pop3, and stores them in a nice openly-specified Maildir format. From here they get backed up. I also try to avoid using my GMail address directly, because I don't want to encourage people to email me at an address that I don't own and which I might no longer control one day.

I haven't quite solved problem 2, and this is what bothers me. For now at least, the convenience of GMail has won out over concerns about my privacy. Perhaps I'll regret it one day if GMail's security is compromised, or if Google's policies about data change.

I'll post on Slashdot because I don't think I'll be too concerned when it closes down one day and zaps all my correspondence. (Hell, maybe I'll be relieved. :)

Comment Re:It was a shady mafRIAA backroom deal (Score 1) 216

The politician who got this section slipped into the law, Judith Tizzard (Labour party MP), did so, right before an election and right before the end of her career. She retired.

This is rubbish. She was voted out, and she only lost her electorate by 1500 votes after getting 13200. She retired because people didn't want her any more, not because she was going to anyway.

Judith Tizard's actually done lots of really good work over a long period of time, and it's a shame that she took such an awful stance on copyright law.

Comment I disagree about the corruption (Score 1) 269

Really, it's just ignorance and a group of politicians on both sides who run a small country with limited resources and didn't appreciate until now that anyone but the entertainment industry seriously cared about an issue that the media doesn't traditionally make a lot of noise about because copyright is usually very boring. They've been caught by surprise, which is why there's suddenly so much open controversy in the media.

The New Zealand government has its problems as any government does, but it's naive to just assume that it's corrupt because it's a government and because the overtones on Slashdot tend to be that governments are corrupt. NZ politicians aren't perfect or inherently uncorrupt, and nor are public servents, but the country's much smaller, the election cycle is faster, there's only a single tier of representation, and the people in the government are much more directly accountable to the people who they govern. Mistakes get made but there are still checks and balances in place, of which the Official Information Act has had a huge impact, and for 3 years running Transparency International has rated NZ first equal in its corruption perceptions index. It's been in the top 3 for 9 of the 10 years that the index has been published (in 1998 NZ was ranked 4th).

Section 92A is very badly worded and badly thought out, and you could quite easily claim that Labour made some seriously bad mistakes in drafting it as they have with several other recent things, but I think it's a real stretch to claim that this is blatantly corrupt.

Comment Re:Presumed guilty (Score 1) 269

With the incoming NZ law, it would be up to the ISP to decide if there's a breach of the law, and then cut the connection accordingly. The biggest issues that ISPs and the NZ Internet community have with this law isn't that it tries to stop copyright infringement on the 'net. It's that it's using a very blunt, inaccurate and disproportionate instrument to do it.

It's disproportionate because people could have their whole connection cut if someone using it might have violated a copyright, even though the Internet is now a huge and essential part of many people's daily lives that goes far beyond obtaining download music. eg. It's like saying that you're not allowed to use a road because someone who lives in your house once parked illegally outside a nearby shopping mall.

There's also an unrealistic assumption that ISPs have legal expertise and resources to make decisions about law that should really be made in a court. Several large ISPs in NZ have already stated that they'll probably have to set policies on the safe side which will make it more likely for people to be disconnected after accusations instead of being treated fairly under copyright law.

Comment Re:Why don't the Austrailians build differently? (Score 1) 397

Yes, the building code could certainly do with an upgrade. When I was growing up many people had small fire bunkers dug into the ground and every local fire-brigade had a air-raid style siren. Neither are common today.

I'm from NZ rather than Australia so much of my knowledge of how things work in bushfires isn't first-hand. We don't exactly have them here as a day-to-day thing, and I'll welcome being corrected on this. That said, would fire bunkers have helped much in this situation?

I had a friend at the recent meteorology conferences in Melbourne (she flew in on black Saturday amidst lots of smoke and eerie orange light). If I understood correctly I think she was telling me that the temperature within 5 metres of some of these fire fronts was estimated to be on the order of 2000 degrees celsius. (In perspective, that's about 1/3 the absolute temperature of the surface of the Sun!) Many of the people who were sadly trapped and killed in this were expected to have died very quickly from the heat, or very suddenly boiled alive in water tanks where they were hiding as a last resort, a long time before the fire came anywhere near them.

I guess they could help a lot in fires that are more normal, but if more people had been encouraged to stay in supposedly safe bunkers on this occasion, with trees and houses exploding around them through the heat, I'm curious if it could have resulted in even more casualties simply through them all becoming ad-hoc inescapable ovens.

Comment Re:who would do the work? (Score 2, Interesting) 345

If the task falls to Obama's staff who weren't even there during the whole Bush thing, then I can't really blame him. If you took on a new job, would you like to be told that rather than focus on the tasks that they were hired to do, instead your staff was going to have to digging around through your predecessors crap to try to find something that may or may not be there?

In principle I agree, but I'm confused about why partisan staff should be involved in this kind of thing in the first place.

Surely something like the IT system for the Whitehouse, as with many other things, should be run by an entity that's independent from partisan politics in the same way that the courts are independent and the law enforcement is independent. These people shouldn't report to the President or his/her staff except for very indirectly. They should report to someone who ahs a responsibility to the government but not to the currently presiding party.

Security and robustness should be required as part of the design of how the government works -- not something added on a whim by the current administration if it happens to match their policies at the time. If old partisan staff get fired and new partisan staff get hired whenever there's a change of government, it makes it very clear that they're only there to do things the way the current administration requires, and not the way that's best for everyone.

Comment Re:malware.... (Score 1) 803

That or it's just a lazily written installer. Not every part of Microsoft talks to every other part.

If Microsoft were good at following the same recommendations it makes for everyone else, all its apps would be written in DotNet using Windows Presentation Foundation and take 30-40 seconds to start up. (This would be okay though, because as recommended by Microsoft, they'd have splash screens to distract the user from the amount of time they were taking to load.)

Comment Re:Answer is obvious? (Score 1) 284

The real issue here is that in this situation I would want to see an individual from the private sector because when you work for the government you really don't have metrics on profit. Since the returns on investment are largely intangibles and have little for comparison it is difficult to quantify value. Because of this I want someone who can come in and at least have an idea of profit and value instead of just having to make things better.

Isn't it at least as important to have someone who's familiar with recognising that stockholders aren't necessarily the only stakeholder? Efficiency should be important both in the government and in the private sector and I'm not trying to suggest that there couldn't be big improvements in efficiency of the US Federal Government, but government is (or should be) very different when it comes to prioritising outcomes. Not everything in government can be profitible, and it's not all about sacrificing benefit to everyone so that higher dividends can be returned to a select few who happen to be owners.

I'm not a US citizen so it's not directly important to me, but if I was then I'd want to see someone possibly with experience in the public sector, but definitely with a demonstrated interest in providing good, practical and useful services for people where it makes sense to do so, rather than simply cutting costs with nothing but a profit motive.

Comment Is local politics any different? (Score 2, Interesting) 129

I know you're being satirical (probably justified), but are more local politics, such as at the state level, any less absurd? Overseas we don't hear about much other than US federal politics.

I've never lived in the US, but it seems like a huge government compared with many, and in many ways I can appreciate why there are so many people who don't bother voting. Especially when I compare it with what I'm used to in New Zealand, where the government represents 4 million people, and I guess that's more similar on scale to the population of a typical US state. Personally I think it works okay (opinions vary) and you're never really too far away from other voters or hearing about issues that other people think are important.

If I had a vote for a government of about 300+ million people, though, I'm not sure I could be bothered because it'd just be too hard to fully comprehend how I fitted in with everyone else. My own vote would be irrelevant because it'd be completely outweighed by people voting because of issues I hadn't even heard of, let alone understood. From the outside, it sounds as if the EU's moving in that direction, too, with a government that's extensive enough to be good for the economy, but too huge for many people to care about or perceive themselves as having the slightest bit of significance in its operation.

Correct me if necessary, but my understanding was that the USA was formed with the understanding that the federal government was always supposed to be fairly minimalist, with individual states having a lot of independence to choose how to govern themselves. How and when did this change? Was it all during WW2 or something like that, or has it been more of a slippery slope?

Comment OSS and subscriptions don't make sense (Score 1) 543

Technically she may be required to pay-up, but that doesn't mean she has to. It's very likely she could ignore the email, never pay, and the scammers would drop the bill because it's too expensive to file court cases to claim $96.

I'm not a lawyer and more importantly I'm not a German lawyer, and ultimately I think that getting German legal advice if possible is a much better idea than asking Slashdot. I'm finding this whole case difficult to understand, however. I can't see how she could be liable for anything or how this distribution could have been legal, simply because they shouldn't be allowed to change the OpenOffice.Org LGPL distribution licence.

What I find very confusing is the use of open source software with subscriptions. How does that actually work, and how is it possible to offer a "1 year subscription" to use at all?

OpenOffice.Org 3.0 is distributed under the LGPL, which to my understanding (please correct me if necessary) typically means that once you have the software, you can use it as you like, even as far as giving the software and its source code to someone else. Given that the LGPL already says that you can only re-distribute LGPL software under the LGPL (or the GPL), what right would some random company have to attach extra conditions such as requiring that a user may only use it for one year?

Subscriptions and OSS go together frequently, but in such cases the subscription is nearly always for services that surround the software, but which aren't specifically for using the software. Is this company perhaps trying to claim that she agreed to purchase a 1 year support contract? (Hint: Get a lawyer to check the actual wording and give real advice.)

It's also not uncommon to see companies charging for OSS, but in such cases as others have already pointed out, the charge usually accompanies the form of distribution (like a disk or in a package), and the distributor still can't stop the user from receiving the software under (L)GPL. If the distributor already gave the user the software in this case, surely it must have already been given with the complete LGPL licence (if it was given legally), and the company wouldn't have any mechanism to demand further money after it's been received.

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"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.