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76  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Adobe drops the gauntlet - going forward it's cloud - or nothing. on: May 09, 2013, 11:55:26 AM
What does it really mean for software to be "in the cloud"?

Because I don't see anything interesting in Adobe's change, in terms of software architecture. So far as I can discern, the only things that are changing are:

  • Only available via download, no physical media
  • Auto-update via download
  • Change from a single payment perpetual license to a recurring subscription payment
  • Optional online storage of data (which we already have via tumblr, etc., anyway)

So it's a minor tweak to delivery, and a fundamental change in how you pay for it.

Given that, where are the benefits to the user that are so undeniable? The *only* benefit I can see is the convenience of automatic updates, but to me that's quite minor. It doesn't make the pricing model change undeniably better, and the once actual change is something that I'm not willing to pay any extra for.
77  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Have you ever gone Geocaching or Letterboxing? on: April 24, 2013, 12:08:15 PM
I've been doing geocaching for years. It's a great excuse to get out of the house and get some exercise. And being into photography, it's also a way to introduce me to new areas to photograph.
78  Other Software / Found Deals and Discounts / Re: Glarysoft Giveaway of the Day on: April 19, 2013, 12:04:55 PM
It's just remarkable how many video converters, cutters, etc., are out there. The space is flooded, yet people continue to create more of them, and even try to sell them.
79  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: A Netware server that's been running non-stop for 16+ years on: April 02, 2013, 01:14:05 PM
Don't try some FUD BS. Because it is total BS. And you darn well know it.

Renegade, I resent the implication that I'm lying, and I think you oversell your own perception if you believe that you know what I am (or anybody else is) thinking.

It might be available to major corporations, but none of that kind of durability is available for typical IT use by SMEs.

Actually, it seems to me that it was Google that pioneered the use of disposable computing hardware. Their server farms are based on consumer-grade computers packaged into rack mountings. And you don't get much more "major corporation" than that.

Everything fails. I've seen ASP applications just deteriorate after being thoroughly tested.

If you think that deterioration can be built into software, in a way that's not detectable, I think your tinfoil hat is too tight. And think about it: why would the software publisher want to invest the extra development cost in order to design that "feature" in?

FWIW, RAID does not increase reliability. All it does (and can do) is minimize downtime. Two disks are twice as likely to fail as one disk.

It's true that RAID just has you multiplying the chance of a *single* failure. But you're also multiplying your chances of surviving a failure, at least to the extent that multiple *simultaneous* failures are geometrically less likely. It's not a perfect solution, but generally speaking, this does greatly enhance reliability: even at home, I can pretty much always rely on my RAID-1 NAS to be available.

I'm not sure I can agree with that as a general principle in that the consensus of 300 baboons is no better a decision (IMHO) that the opinion of one baboon. And from my experience, "the wisdom of crowds" is highly overrated at best - and wishful thinking more often than not. Especially when it comes to technology.

However, I do agree that 'choice' should be the exclusive prerogative of the chooser.

I think we're actually agreeing here. I'm not claiming that a committee can come up with a better answer applicable to everyone. Your latter statement is exactly what I'm trying to say: there does not exist any one single answer that's good for everyone, so the fact that each person can optimize it individually is a good thing.

UPDATE: 40hz and I cross-posted. I agree with everything in his later post.
80  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: A Netware server that's been running non-stop for 16+ years on: April 02, 2013, 11:56:17 AM
*cough* planned obsolescence *cough*

How about a concrete example, and an argument about how that situation is worse than it was back X years ago? 'Cause although I acknowledge the phenomenon, I don't see it getting any *worse*.
81  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: A Netware server that's been running non-stop for 16+ years on: April 02, 2013, 11:09:12 AM
Just goes to show what drives were capable of when engineered such that capacity (and price) took backseat to reliability.

I don't remember a time when disk product designers emphasized reliability at the expense of capacity and price. Indeed, up until the last few years, capacity was a huge concern.

And today, YOU can make the choice between capacity and reliability. The use of RAID technology allows you to decide whether you want to use part of your capacity for additional storage space, or dedicate it to redundancy in order to achieve reliability.

It think that today, putting the tradeoff directly into our hands makes us all better off. If we're all tied to a single decision made by the product designers, then the solution is only optimal for a small set of people. Now we can all optimize.

(I get tired of people pining for the good old days. These are the good old days.)
82  Other Software / DC Gamer Club / Re: Rogue likes for PC on: March 08, 2013, 03:37:50 PM
I know the topic specifies PC, but I just thought I'd add:

I've been having a lot of fun recently playing a Rogue-like called Cardinal Quest on my Android.

83  Other Software / Found Deals and Discounts / Re: Free Software from Microsoft. on: March 08, 2013, 03:18:42 PM
They don't say what the website has to be like - you can put up a single page on windows server running on a local VM

That's not correct, they do say what the web site has to be like:

“Web Pro Websites(s)” means new public and Internet-accessible websites(s):
  • developed by Web Pro on behalf of its Web Pro Clients using Program Software;
  • that contain significant and primary functionality or content beyond the functionality of Hosting Servers; and
  • whose primary purpose is for the Web Pro Client to provide information and/or services to Web Pro Client’s


2.  Examples of Eligible Web Pro Products or Services.
2.1.  Eligible:   
a.  A new public and Internet-accessible website that Web Pro is engaged by a Web Pro Client to develop and/or maintain using Program Software. For example, website for a small business.
b.  A hosting relationship in which Web Pro hosts a Web Pro Website on behalf of a Web Pro Client, using the Hosting Servers provided through the Program and in accordance with the Agreement and the SPLA.   
c.  A combination of a) and b) above, where a small business website developed and hosted by Web Pro using Hosting Servers and Program Software.   
2.2.  Not Eligible:   
a.  Web Pro provides Hosting Servers or any other Program Software to Web Pro Clients, Web Pro Clients’ customers, Hosting Partners, or anyone else.
2.3.  For clarity, Microsoft retains full discretion to assess whether a given application created by a Web Pro satisfies this Agreement and/or the Program requirements. The list above is provided purely for purposes of explanation, is not exhaustive, and will not be considered binding or otherwise interpreted to limit Microsoft’s rights to determine the eligibility of a given application.

How do you deduce approved when it says Windows Server (on a Hosting Server or with a Hosting Partner) ?

It's in the agreement:

“Hosting Partner” means companies identified as such and featured on the Program Website, who can provide hosting services for Web Pro Websites and with whom Web Pro has contracted to outsource the hosting of Web Pro Websites for Web Pro’s provision of Software Services to Web Pro Clients.  The use of Hosting Servers by Hosting Partners to provide those hosting services for Web Pros is governed by separate agreement between the Hosting Partner and Microsoft, and Hosting Partners will obtain directly from Microsoft the Hosting Servers used by them to provide such hosting services to Web Pro.

“Hosting Servers” means the Microsoft server software that Web Pro may use in the Program to provide Software Services.  The list of Hosting Servers is on the Program Website, as updated from time to time.

Seriously, people: if you want to get several thousand dollars of software for free, the least you can do is read the agreement, and then be sure that you are prepared to abide by its terms.
84  Other Software / Found Deals and Discounts / Re: Free Software from Microsoft. on: February 27, 2013, 02:54:02 AM
I don't see why you guys are still saying there are no limitations, that this is free. As I posted above, you're promising that you'll deploy an MS-powered website (onto one of their approved hosts or servers, i.e., not el cheapo hosting) within the next year. It may be that they can't enforce it -- other than to terminate your license rights -- but you'd still be acting in bad faith to make the agreement without the intent to follow through on this promise.

d.  Web Pro will deploy a Web Pro Website on Windows Azure or Windows Server (on a Hosting Server or with a Hosting Partner) by the first anniversary of Web Pro’s enrollment in the Program.
85  Other Software / Found Deals and Discounts / Re: Free Software from Microsoft. on: February 25, 2013, 11:28:09 AM
The agreement refers to the person getting the license as the Web Pro. There are a bunch of requirements, notably the last one:

Web Pro must submit a complete and accurate quarterly WebsiteSpark License use report within 15 days after the last day of each calendar quarter that overlaps with the Term.
 Web Pro will keep accurate and adequate books and records relating to its (a) eligibility for the Program and (b) use of Program Benefits, including but not limited to its use of Program Software and the Software Services) provided by Web Pro to Web Pro Clients until two years after this Agreement expires or terminates.
 The Web Pro must be either a professional service firm or an individual person whose primary business is providing Web development and design services, and in some cases hosting services, for its clients.
Web Pro must provide accurate and correct information about itself in the Program registration process and ensure that during the Term, information about Web Pro remains accurate and is kept an up-to-date, including Web Pro’s profile on the Program Website.
a.   Web Pro will provide complete, accurate and correct information about itself in the Program registration and/or renewal processes, and will ensure that such information is updated if it changes during the Term;
b.  On the first and second anniversary of Web Pro’s enrollment in the Program, Web Pro will reaffirm its eligibility for the Program and renew its enrollment, accept the MPN Community Agreement, and confirm that all Web Pro account and profile information is still complete, accurate and correct;
c.  Web Pro will maintain compliance at all times with the terms and conditions of the Program Agreements;
d.  Web Pro will deploy a Web Pro Website on Windows Azure or Windows Server (on a Hosting Server or with a Hosting Partner) by the first anniversary of Web Pro’s enrollment in the Program.
(emphasis mine)
86  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Yet another reason why I often wish I lived in Massachusettes on: February 08, 2013, 12:47:05 PM
A standard tax fee for all people (say, $X,000 per person) is regression-neutral: everyone has to pay exactly the same amount, so it's neither regressive nor progressive. A flat income tax (e.g., 11% of your income) is progressive, because those making more money have to pay more money. Our marginally-increasing income tax you might think of as being doubly-progressive, because its progressive scales up super-linearly.

Possibly. But only if you ignore the fact a flat fee or percentage disproportionately impacts those in lower income levels who can least afford the hit.


Addendum: FWIW, sales tax is a flat tax - and it also hits the lower income bracket harder than it does the higher wage earners. That's been one of the biggest arguments against the "fairness" of sales tax when it's put on necessities such as: food, non-perscription medication and health products, non-luxury forms of clothing, etc.

I wasn't even attempting to address "fairness", since that's a nebulous concept tied up in individual world views (see Moral Foundations Theory).

What I was trying to demonstrate is that (a) sales tax isn't regressive; and (b) the type of tax used has many other repercussions beyond fairness. Of course, whether or not sales tax isn't labeled "regressive" is just semantics. If we leave that label behind, we can still productively discuss whether it's the right thing to do.

Your addendum notes one of the complaints about sales taxes, that because poorer people spend a larger portion of their income on the necessities of life, the tax harms them more than it harms richer people.

First, I'll slip in the observation that you've implicitly acknowledged that taxes *do* harm people. I imagine that you'd admit to that, but say that it's a necessary evil, and we shouldn't make the weakest elements of our society be harmed by them even more than the rich folk.

But more importantly, I'll point out that most sales taxes that I've seen exempt many of those essentials (especially food, sometimes clothing, and I've never heard of rent being taxed), so the playing field gets closer to level.

You're also assuming that the portion of the rich guy's income that's not being spent on essentials will escape taxation. But in fact, Daddy Warbucks will either be spending his money (in which case it still gets taxed, so he winds up paying tremendously more), or it gets invested. And encouraging investment is a very good thing, because it leads to greater productivity, more jobs, etc.
87  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Yet another reason why I often wish I lived in Massachusettes on: February 06, 2013, 02:02:57 PM
As I noted, sales taxes are among the most regressive forms of taxation, and I personally think that they should be replaced with more progressive forms of revenue, like income, or preferably, wealth taxes.

This isn't true, sales taxes are not perticularly regressive. And most economists will tell you that, moral questions aside, they're probably the best way to do taxes.

In America, the most regressive taxes are Social Security and Medicare. That's because wealthy people tend to live longer; while young black men (unfortunately) live much shorter (because they're far more likely to be murdered, what with gang violence, drug culture, etc.; note that I'm not saying this is inherent to being black, but it's the result of the situation they find themselves stuck in). The result is that SS is significantly a machine for transferring money from young black men to rich old white ladies. THAT is regressive.

And many common deductions, particularly on mortgage interest, are regressive. And egregiously so, because they're forcing people who can't afford to buy a house to make up the difference from the people who were lucky enough to get to that level.

So SS is entirely regressive. A standard tax fee for all people (say, $X,000 per person) is regression-neutral: everyone has to pay exactly the same amount, so it's neither regressive nor progressive. A flat income tax (e.g., 11% of your income) is progressive, because those making more money have to pay more money. Our marginally-increasing income tax you might think of as being doubly-progressive, because its progressive scales up super-linearly.

By way of comparison, Ben Franklin's idea was that rich people should pay more, because it's the job of the government to protect ourselves and our property; so if you've got more property, you're getting more of the government's services, thus you should pay more. So if you make twice as much, you should pay twice as much. But that's a FLAT tax rate, not America's current system of marginally-increasing rates.

Sales taxes are not regressive in this way, because they don't get lower for richer people. If you're picturing an ostentatious millionaire living off the backs of the poor, that's not accurate. That rich guy is going to be buying all sorts of fancy cars, expensive wine, etc., that the poor can't even afford. And he's paying the sales tax on that.

The good thing here is that there's a loophole to the sales tax: just don't spend the money, but invest it instead. And the thing about saving is that it's actually an investment: your savings will be turned into the money for someone else's mortgage, or paying to start up a new business, or to invest in newer more efficient equipment for an exist business or something like that. And all those investments are helping other people achieve their own goals, creating jobs, etc.

The end effect of taxes is that when you tax something, you wind up having less of it (and conversely, removing the tax will generally result in greater demand for it). The governments understand this, and frequently use this fact intentionally, such as increases in cigarette taxes to get people to quit smoking.

This is why income tax is a bad thing. We don't want to discourage people from making an income (i.e., working): we want to encourage them to work, to produce more. But at the margins, there are people saying "it's not worth me working any more time, because the amount I will make after taxes isn't going to pay for my childcare" or something like that. And that decreases total productivity.

A "wealth tax" is essentially the same thing, since wealth is just the accumulation of income over time. And the way to avoid that wealth tax would be to spend more -- and just as with a sales tax, we don't want to be encouraging the commercial, consumerist economy.

We want people to buy what they need to achieve their own ends, and to save (i.e., invest) the rest in order to enable the rest of society to pursue their dreams.

EDIT: added some clarifications
88  News and Reviews / Mini-Reviews by Members / Re: Calibre - e-Book (Personal Library/Document) Management - Mini-Review on: February 04, 2013, 01:46:18 PM
Do other eBook readers "hide" files depending on how they were acquired?

On my 3rd generation Kindle, nothing is hidden. If you connect the device to your PC by USB, it just looks like a flash drive.

Of course, the file names are inscrutable. But you can figure it out by opening on the device the book you're looking for. This causes its bookmark file to be re-written, which gives it the newest timestamp in the directory. And if there's DRM on the bok, being able to see the file may not help you.
89  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Global Warming & Statistics on: February 03, 2013, 07:53:44 PM
Would you sign over your back yard so a family can move there to live?

Real estate really isn't the problem, there's more than ample room for everyone. Check my math, but by my calculation, if you divided the world's population of 7 billion into families of four, and gave them each 1/4 acre to live on; then add on another 20% for infrastructure (roads, schools, stores, etc.), then the entire population of the earth would fit into an area the size of Greenland -- which, we're told, will be pretty comfortable next century Wink .

Damage to culture is still worth discussing, but that question cuts both ways: what's being asked is a significant change in the way of life for the industrialized "rich" nations. I'm sure those who already have an opinion on the outcome will all be able to find moral arguments supporting either side of that argument.

Here's an article I read this evening, it is *not* science but written by a scientist

I respect Brin, particularly as a SF writer. But he is squarely missing the mark in this essay -- again, in the same manner I've been complaining about. Although in his introduction he very briefly mentions costs and alternatives, his discussion never actually visits those topics. The entire essay is entirely devoted to whether someone should be considered an open-minded skeptic, or is a closet denier. But knowing what label to hang on a person doesn't get us any closer to deciding if any action needs to be taken, and if so, which one.
90  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Global Warming & Statistics on: February 03, 2013, 01:20:40 PM
the increasingly obvious fact we cannot continue to go down the present road we're on without suffering dire consequences.
those who are polar bears mostly think it sucks

With all due respect, 40hz, your comment is exactly the kind of lack of debate I'm talking about. You seem to have jumped directly from a scientific observation about climate, to a determination that high-carbon-footprint industries must be reined in, without engaging in any kind of cost-benefit analysis whatsoever. Granted, you might be turn out to be right, but you don't get any points toward winning the debate if you don't show your work: explain *why*, including the cost-benefit.

The tone of most skeptics' delivery is guaranteed to alienate the majority

That's true. But on the other hand, Al Gore has admitted that he's willing to exaggerate the arguments if that's what it takes to make his point. When (at least) one side of the debate (maybe both) is willing to engage in intellectual dishonesty in order to achieve their own ends, the chances of reaching the best outcome is rather poor.
91  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Global Warming & Statistics on: February 02, 2013, 07:49:34 PM
It seems to me that although there's significant questions about the extent of climate change, and the future trajectory (and even more so, its causes), there's enough serious science behind it that we ought to be paying attention.

What I find most frustrating in the "debate", though, is the lack of ... debate. Nearly everyone seems to be concentrating on whether the Earth is warming. Surely that's an important question, but it's very, very far from all that needs to be decide in order to conclude on policy.

Even if this is happening, we need to understand

  • What the possible climate outcomes are, and the relative likelihoods of each.
  • In human terms, what are the costs associated with those outcomes.
  • What can be done to avoid those possible outcomes?
    • How likely is it to work?
    • What is the cost of pursuing this alternative?

I mean, just because the earth is getting warmer, sea levels may rise a bit, optimal farming areas may move, etc., that's not in itself reason to just radically change our way of life to significantly curtail carbon emissions.

To begin with, some of the changes may actually be net-positive (looking at the big picture across all humanity; clearly there are always significant costs to change at the individual level): plants like warm (other things being equal), and having the opportunity to farm up into Canada, northern Asia, etc., could help global food production. It's not likely everything is bad, so once you add all the pros and cons, what's the total damage?

We frequently hear the most apocalyptic scenarios, probably because those are the ones that sell the most newspapers. But unsurprisingly, we're discovering that at least the worst scenarios will almost certainly not come to pass. For the more likely scenarios, what are the pros and cons?

Radical changes to our lifestyle might curtail the climatic changes. But what will it cost us to do so? I mean, if we can't run our industry at full capacity, it's going to mean that some people won't be able to get health care, so people won't have food. Certainly, a lot of people aren't going to be able to go visit grandma at Thanksgiving, and commuting (for those of us that will still have jobs) will get a whole lot more expensive. When we compare the costs of averting danger, are you so sure that they're actually smaller than the cost of the problems that are predicted?

And, of course, there may be other "third roads", various approaches of "climatic engineering" that may avert the problems while costing far less in terms of our way of life. Of course, these have their own attendant risks, but it's another thing that ought to be weighed before deciding any policies.

It's just silly to jump from scientific evidence of a warming earth directly to "oh my god, we've got to shut down half our industry". But who's actually discussing this aspect of it, at least in the theater of broad public discourse?
92  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Why is it so hard to find a decent image organizer? on: February 02, 2013, 03:43:17 PM
Also ACDSee has a fairly attractive offer at the moment which only runs for another 1.5 days or so, but me being 'unexperienced', it doesnt give me enough time to test it and get a feel for it ...

What ACDSee does, it does pretty well. Its biggest strength is that its database is really only an optimization: the primary datastore is the images themselves. All of the data is written into EXIF and IPTC data in the image files. This ensures portability and longevity of the data.

On the other hand, it has some significant holes that it doesn't do. The two biggies in my book are:
  • Face recognition - Many modern tools (Picasa, Lightroom, and heck, even the free bundleware that came with my new printer) will automatically recognize faces and tag them with names. I've developed a workflow that uses Picasa to do the job and import its data, but it's rather cumbersome.
  • Photoshop plugins - ACDSee Pro claims to be a full-featured image editor, and it is to a certain degree (e.g., non-destructive edit). But Photoshop plugins do a lot of the gruntwork for me (noise reduction, contrast adjustment, sharpening), and ACDSee isn't compatible.

All things considered, I find that ACDSee is still the best option. But like so many other programs, it makes me feel like it's just the least bad one out there.
93  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Mid-range DSLR Camera Recommendations on: February 01, 2013, 01:11:45 PM
First, let me echo Wraith's suggestion that you consider the new form factor of "mirrorless" cameras. They also sport interchangeable lenses, and are far smaller than DSLRs, making it easier to have them with you wherever you go. That said, my approach is tiered: I've got my phone if I just happen to spot something; I've got a ruggedized compact for active stuff, and I've got a DSLR for when I want to do real photography.

Also, two tips on what to look for regardless of the form factor. First, don't get caught up in the megapixel count. Pretty much anything you'll find is going to have more than enough resolution for you. Second, the big leaps in technology in the last couple of years have been in handling low lighting gracefully: today's cameras can deliver clear, sharp pictures at ISO numbers that, a couple of years ago, would have made a noisy mess. So if you decide to save money on a used camera, be sure to evaluate this feature of the camera carefully.

If you decide that a DSLR is really where you want to go, let me suggest a dark horse candidate: the Pentax K-30.

Much of the photography debate is monopolized by Canon and Nikon, but there's really no good reason for that. Olympus is still out there; Sony is resurgent (although Sony products aren't allowed in my house, but that's a different story). And Pentax has historically been one of the leading camera and optics makers.

One reason that Pentax gets left out of many discussions is that their line-up doesn't fit neatly into the same slots created by "the big two". In particular, the K-30 is clearly a very strong mid-range contender, but its pricing gives a lot of bang for the buck.

There are a couple of attributes to the Pentax line that make it stand out from other competitors:
  • Backwards compatibility - any Pentax SLR lens ever made can be used on current Pentax cameras (in a few cases a cheap adapter is required). That means you can get cheap, good-quality used optics off of Craig's list, or use your dad's old lenses from the closet.
  • Sensor-based image stabilization - the image stabilization function is achieved by mounting the sensor itself on a movable platform (Sony does the same). This has a couple of great effects. First, those old backwards-compatible lenses automatically benefit from the image stabilization, and you don't need to pay more for the feature on new lenses you buy. Second, the way it's mounted allows for additional degrees of movement that lens-based stabilization can't achieve.
  • Rugged usage - All current Pentax DSLRs are designed to be used in unfriendly conditions (rain, beach, very cold weather). You wouldn't want to take your Canon or Nikon out in the pouring rain, but my Pentax doesn't care (so long as I'm using a water-resistant lens as well)

Of course, there's no such thing as a free lunch. I've found a couple of down sides as well. First, because the Pentax market is smaller, lens manufacturers don't cater to it as much. That means that there's a somewhat smaller selection of available lenses, and they tend to be more expensive (this is greatly mitigated by the fact that you can buy cheaply all that old used glass). Second, also because their market share is smaller, there are fewer people around that you can go to for help, or to test out other products (lenses, flash, etc.).

If you're willing to consider it, I'll leave you with pointers to some reviews. These sites should be good resources for reviews of other cameras as well:

94  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Kaspersky - Clandestine State Sponsored Hacking on: January 16, 2013, 12:16:09 PM
On the other hand, an article in a recent Wired magazine (sorry, don't have link handy) makes one wonder if Kaspersky is itself in the espionage business.
95  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: NASA Considers Putting an Asteroid Into Orbit Around the Moon on: January 08, 2013, 11:01:38 AM
Although building the rockets required to make this happen would most certainly be an economic stimulis.

Renegade is actually on the right track. This would not be a stimulus, because spending the money on this means that you can't spend it on something else. It's the point of Bastiat's famous Parable of the Broken Window, which should be required reading for anybody advocating the idea that forcing people to put money into something they didn't want in the first place might be a good thing.

Beyond that, I'm of very mixed emotions about this idea.

When I was a kid (I was born in '67, so I was 2 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon), we used to have grand dreams. Science fiction novels were about wondrous galaxy-spanning civilizations, and the limits to what we'd eventually accomplish were dictated only by what we could dream. But somewhere along the way, we ran into a wall. We stopped dreaming grandly. The galactic civilizations were replaced by dystopian cyberpunk stories, in which we're trapped in a cesspool, with a dark future only as long as we can avoid our own self-destruction. I really appreciate what might be a return swing of the pendulum, replaced by big ideas again.

That said, I completely don't trust NASA to do this. The overall structure of NASA (some specific success stories like the Mars Spirit rover not withstanding) is entrenched in the top-down risk-averse structure that's dedicated primarily to ensuring its own continued existence. I'd be much happier to see it being attempted by an organization like Space X, or Planetary Resources.
96  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: New Cars Must Have Middle-Man on: December 21, 2012, 01:54:22 PM
in an ideal (and therefor nonexistent mrgreen) free market capitalist economic system all businesses will eventually become "natural monopolies"

That's not really true. In the short term it sure sees that way. But that's because our models don't have any way of foreseeing disruptive technologies and creative destruction.

I mean, 15-20 years ago, could you imagine that Microsoft would be virtually on the ropes, unable to cope with the onslaught of Google and Apple?  Or prior to that, that IBM would be at the mercy of Microsoft?

Kodak used to be the kings of the photo industry, from film to cameras; now they're bankrupt and selling off their patents to Samsung and others. GM and Chrysler went bankrupt despite all sorts of protective regulations from the government because they couldn't deal with superior products and production methods of foreign competitors. Lotus used to own the spreadsheet market, and WordPerfect similarly with word processors; when was the last time you used a product from either company? Looking much farther back, what about Bethlehem Steel or the railroads; they used to virtually run the country, right?

It turns out that over time the primary vendor will frequently take control of the market for a particular commodity, and competitors are all but locked out. That's true.

But they grow ossified, which prevents them from reacting (or even noticing, perhaps) when their inability or unwillingness to change their product (changing would itself make them vulnerable to competition!) leaves them with a product that nobody's much interested in. They're still kings of that market, but it's a market that nobody much cares about anymore.
97  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: New Cars Must Have Middle-Man on: December 21, 2012, 12:14:42 PM
This is what's known as "regulatory capture", and it's an inevitable result of a system that's based on the idea that State regulators are better able to decide how things should run than the private sector.

Consider this. Somebody sees that industry X is doing something that might be bad for the society (and maybe that person's even right). So the government creates and agency designed to keep an eye out against industry X being abusive.

But who is going to work for that agency? You aren't going to hire any Joe off the street, you need somebody who understands how the industry works. And where are you going to get that except from people who used to work for the industry?

The thing is, those people who used to work for industry X -- even if they're trying to be impartial and above corruption -- will naturally have a certain view of the importance of that industry, and are likely to have preconceived notions that it needs to operate in some manner close to the status quo.

Once you've gone through a few terms with such people running that agency, you'll find that the regulations that are being passed tend to ensure that business keeps getting done more or less the same way, because that's what they understand about the industry. And even more to the point (and even more likely), their view of the industry's importance will lead to creating of rent seeking regulations that fortify the power of the industry's leaders, protecting them from any kind of competition.

And like I said, it's pretty much inevitable. It's a natural consequence of the fact that for the regulators to do anything that makes sense at all, they need to have industry experience. And anybody with some experience is bound to have established ideas already, and they're bound to have a world view that considers the industry very important (even if they've left the industry because of disagreement with certain businesses within it).

The only way to prevent businesses from capturing the regulatory agencies like this is to strictly limit the power of those agencies, so that there's nothing there to be abused.

So pick your poison: a system in which industry X is largely free to do business however its customers will let it get away with; or a system in which the leaders of industry X are virtually guaranteed continued power, because the regulators ensure that nobody can shake them loose.

Skeptical? Look at the finance industry.
98  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Instagram can sell your photos, but you won't get paid or told. on: December 19, 2012, 10:53:48 AM
Apparently they've backed down: http://blog.chasejarvis.c...photos-against-your-will/
99  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: UN Trying to Hijack YOUR Internet on: December 13, 2012, 01:09:54 PM
Fortunately, to the extent that the network is controlled at all, it's controlled by a combination of public and private entities in the US, who haven't (yet) been taken in by UN nonsense. They understand that just because a bunch of appointed delegates say they believe something, doesn't make it so.

Given that all the technical stuff *works*, the international community shouldn't have any more concern. After all, the Internet is just a network of networks; nothing more, nothing less. If they don't like what's in that network, they can then go ahead and cut the wires and keep their network(s) separate.

Really, it's nothing but the "if you don't like what's on TV, change the channel" argument, but at a huge scale.
100  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Wanted: App to separate multiple photos on page on: December 01, 2012, 09:55:20 PM

Thanks, that appears to be what I'm looking for. Since the ImageMagick one can be run as a batch, that will be the direction I take.
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