The Brain, as explained by John Cleese

February 7, 2010

Seen on Language Log: "John Cleese’s doubletalk neuroscience lecture".

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USGS Earthquake Facts and Statistics

February 7, 2010
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Gus mentioned to me that the USGS collects earthquake data. Among other things, they will tell you the last earthquake in New York (or any other state) and show you a seismic hazard map of New York (or any other state if you follow the link from their by-state index). However, in trying to find a "last five or ten earthquakes in New York" feed, I stumbled on the Earthquake Facts and Statistics page, which contains this gem:

We detect, but generally do not locate, about 50 mine blasts (explosions) throughout the United States on any given business day. These blasts typically occur between noon and 6 PM local time Monday through Saturday. Of these, about one event every two days is large enough that we compute a location for the blast and post it to a separate explosions listing.

(See a map here.)

You guys! You bunch of crazy scientists.

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iPad is a “Huge Step Backward”

February 7, 2010

I was browsing this thread on Slashdot and came across a really interesting meme:

I bought an iPhone this year. This is one asset that is so important that I just want it to WORK. I don’t want to worry about viruses, or ongoing maintenance. This is my ONLY TELEPHONE LINE, and so I finally do approve of somebody keeping it locked down and pristine.


The lockdown here is on two devices. You want a laptop or desktop you can do whatever you want with? There’s the macbook, imac and mac pro for that. Want an expandable handheld appliance with a limited (albeit ever-expanding) functionality that’ll have no hidden surprises? There’s your iPad and iPhone.

You may as well criticise arcade machine makers for vetting all the roms you can put in their hardware. Or any of the console makers for vetting what’s available for theirs. Or that kindle can’t do anything but display books. Experience has shown them all, time and time again that as soon as you open up a platform to anyone and everyone, quality and reliability take a hit, not to mention susceptibility to attack. It’s a specific product for a specific market and like the iPhone, will be hated by geeks everywhere, but loved by everyone else who want something that just works. Apple will likely do little to stop people jailbreaking these things, they’ll just make it difficult enough that only determined people do it.

CrazyBusError (emphasis mine)

First, the FSF needs to convince us average users need to have control. Why should average users have control over their computer? Isn’t this what got us the virus nightmare in Windows?


The idea that most people don’t want control over their computers, and that having them be locked down offers tangible benefits, is new to me. In particular, a locked down device obviates the need to perform "good houskeeping" sorts of system maintenance. Some commentators respond that you can have a good design that eliminates housekeeping without control, but by definition if a user has the potential to do whatever they want with a device, it’s just a matter of social engineering to turn their computer into a spambot.

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LCA: Static analysis with GCC plugins

February 7, 2010

Seen on LWN: a fascinating article about static analysis done using GCC plugins.

There are a few interesting plugins in the works. One of them is the LLVM compiler, which can be plugged in to perform the back-end functions for GCC. Another is milepost, which uses a brute-force approach to figure out the optimal settings of the command-line flags for a specific body of code. Then, there are "the hydras," which are Taras’s work. These plugins take an interesting approach, in that the actual analysis work is done in JavaScript scripts. The idea was originally seen as amusing – "wouldn’t it be fun to put Spidermonkey into GCC?" – but it has actually worked out well. JavaScript is a relatively nice, concise language which makes it easy to implement the needed capabilities.

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