DRM: The sky does fall

DRM stands for “digital restrictions management”. (Those who are in the business of peddling it as something positive will tell you it’s “digital rights management,” but the former is really a better descriptive name.) It is software that prevents you from using some other software or digital files on your computer unless you meet certain criteria.

DRM has actually been with us for a long time. Back in the 1980’s, games and other software you could buy for your Apple II or Commodore 64 came with “copy protection.” These were tricks that the software publishers would use to make it difficult to copy the disks. The computers hadn’t been designed to support this, so typically copy protection relied on writing key bits of data to parts of the disk that the hardware wasn’t documented to be able to read, or by putting disk errors that had to be there for the software to run. Sometimes these things would break if new versions of the software came out, and sometimes they would actually damage the disk drives or, at least, cause more wear than the same amount of normal use would. This also meant you couldn’t back up the software you’ve purchased. The result: lots and lots of “backup” and “archival” programs were written to facilitate copying of these programs. Copy protection was a hassle for legitimate users, but did not really stop software piracy at all. Eventually, it more or less fell out of favor.

Nowadays its back, and it’s still causing headaches and problems for legitimate users.

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Why most of Astronomy isn’t Cosmology

This is mostly just an MLP (“Mindless Link Post”), and it’s nearly two weeks late, but there’s a post by Julianne over at Cosmic Variance that I think is of crucial importance. People who are outside the field of science very often lose sight of the huge amount of important science that is done, but doesn’t produce the “amazingly sexy discovery” news headlines, or, say, the Gruber prize. Also, people working in one field of science often don’t appreciate the value of other fields of science when it doesn’t obviously overlap theirs… even though, as Julianne points out, all of that other “uninteresting” stuff may well have included things necessary to generate the bits that overlap their field!

In one of my first years at Vanderbilt (back in the days when I used to be a professor), one of the older experimental particle physicists came into my office, wondering why we were talking about supporting all the other boring star-and-planet formation science being done, when I was the only astronomer doing anything “really fundamental.” (I was still working in supernova cosmology at the time.) One of these other astronomers was David Weintraub, not then but now the author of a successful popular science book Is Pluto a Planet?— a topic that would be hard to argue has no general interest. David was and is working on things that addressed the formation of our own Solar System, something which was not only one of the current hot and sexy topics in Astronomy, but which is easily of as much “basic human interest” as the origin of our Universe, and more immediate (so to speak) and tangible besides! This particle physicist nodded, indicating surprise, saying that I had a good point that different people might think different things are of the most basic interest.

It’s easy to find particle physicists who think that cosmology is the only thing in astronomy even vaguely of interest. (Just as it’s easy to find atomic and solid state physicists who think that particle physics is useless musing whose valuable period ended well before the 20th century, and just as it is easy to find astronomers who think that cosmology is all poorly-grounded crap that represents only borderline interesting science, and is mostly a land grab by particle physicists interested in astronomy funding sources.) There really are two things here. First is the fact that there is an awful lot of interesting science out that that people in your field genuinely have no reason to care about. Second, though, and this is something that as an astronomer as frustrated me watching particle physicists come in and think they know how to use telescopes: people outside of your field know a lot of things about how to do their science that you don’t know, and you dismiss them at your peril. Julianne says it best:

…if you limit astronomers’ ability to go forth and characterize what the universe is actually like, no one will be laying the foundations for the next generation of crazy-physics-you-can-study-in-space. For astrophysics, the Universe is our LHC, and we’ve got to be free to characterize our widgets, even if they’re boring ole brown dwarfs rather than panels of supercooled silicon wafers.

Overstimulation

This post has been resurrected from my old blog’s location. I’ve copied the 2006-03-19 post as-is, and I’ve added a few addenda at the bottom.

I overstimulate fairly easily. This is a serious social disadvantage.

I don’t know how much there is really to this, but I’m attracted to the notion of the Highly Senstiive Person (HSP). (Also see the links from that Wikipedia article, which is really just a stub.) It doesn’t completely describe me– for instance, I am quite enamored with excessively violent video games, and even many excessively violent movies.

However, in almost every other way, the stuff about the Highly Sensitive Person describes me to a “T”. (Whatever the heck that means.) In particular:

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Cheapass airports drive me nuts

I’ve only sampled a few outlets, so I can’t say this definitively. However, the few electrical outlets I’ve sampled at the Nashville airport are not working.

I’ve read before at BoingBoing about Pay-per use electrical outlets at DFW.

I’m guessing (just guessing; again, I don’t know, as I’ve only tested a few outlets) that some bean counter at BNA here pointed out “hey, we’re spending $XXX on electricity every year for all those moochers in our airports charging up their laptops and cellphones while using the highly overpriced concourse Wireless they purchased and while waiting for all of their delayed planes! If we cut them off, we’ll save this much money!”

Never mind that it’s just one more data point in the increasingly large column I have that reads “drive whenever possible.” I will definitely drive if any trip is under 6 hours, and almost certainly drive if the trip is under 8 hours. At 6 hours, you spend nearly as long waiting in airports and on the plane (about a 1-1.5 hour flight, probably) as you do driving, and you deal with all the aggravation of the War on Liquids and such, and there’s a good chance you spend more time than you would have driving due to a delayed flight.

If the drive is 8 hours, I’m still very likely to drive rather than fly.

I’m wondering if I should make the cutoff 10 hours. Or, perhaps, anything that’s less than a full day.

Boldly Going

I’m off on 2 weeks+ of travel. At the moment, I’m sitting in the Nashville airport, waiting to take off on a two-day flight to New York for FNORD. I come back Sunday, and Monday I leave for a 2-week trip to San Francisco to spend a couple of weeks at the main Linden Lab office (with perhaps a side-trip to the Mountain View office one day).

I’ve been rather slow blogging the last two weeks because most of my focus and creative energy has gone into getting started up in a new job. I predict this will continue for at least two more weeks as I do all this traveling. I do have at least two different posts in my “mental queue” that I’d like to get out soon, but we’ll see.

There is some chance you’ll see some fluffy posts about FNORD in the next few days, however….

Second Life Q&A on the Accelerating Universe

Following the talk I gave in Second Life about the discovery of the accelerating Universe, we held a couple of Q&A sessions. The original plan was to have questions right after the talk, but the Second Life main grid crashed right at that moment. We all got online about half an hour later, and I held one Q&A session for the people who came back. There was another one the next day.

Troy McLuhan (his Second Life avatar name) logged the session, and has done the hard work of formatting and lightly editing it for web publication. You can find the transcript of the Q&A session online here.

Several comments just published

I realized that I had several comments that hadn’t been flagged as “junk,” but which had been flagged for moderation. I don’t see those much, so I haven’t been looking for them. As such, several of them have been sitting there for as much as 3 weeks.

I apologize to those of you whose comments languished.

And I, for one, welcome my new Linden overlords

It’s been a few days. I was out in West Virginia last weekend watching my cousin get married. After driving back Monday, I started the new job with Linden Labs, and that has been occupying most of my focus.

I’ve spoken at length before (in that and other posts) about why, despite how much I loved the science and the teaching, it was time for me to leave academia. I have asserted, however, that my new job isn’t just “rebound” (i.e. me saying, ak! I’m sad! Find me something else!), but actually something that I’m really looking forward to.

Why?

(Before I go further, I should underscore what’s in the left sidebar: this is my personal blog, and nothing I say here should be construed as the opinion or policy of Linden Labs. I speak for myself only. Heck, not even the Seed folks who run the site sign off on what I post before I post it, so I’m not speaking for them either!)

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