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David Cameron Says Brits Should Be Taught Imperial Measures

AthanasiusKircher Re:Idiot (788 comments)

Yes, they are measuring by weight; I don't think I implied otherwise. In fact, I stressed its importance. I merely said that when they state a recipe, often it is given in terms of percentages, which are all based on weighing ingredients.

9 hours ago

David Cameron Says Brits Should Be Taught Imperial Measures

AthanasiusKircher Re:Simple answer (788 comments)

So what is the difference exactly, except that you learned a set of numbers in Fahrenheit trough your experience, and we learned another set in Celsius trough ours?

There's no difference -- it's all arbitrary. I think that's what the GP's point was. The Fahrenheit range of 0-100 is roughly the range where it's possible for humans to actually be outside for a while and be okay. (I said "roughly" -- I know it isn't precise.) 0 C is also a meaningful number for weather purposes, etc., but 100 C is not.

All the scales are arbitrary, and they all have advantages and disadvantages.

Personally, other than noting roughly where 0 C is for the purposes of knowing whether I'm likely to see rain vs. sleet vs. snow, I find the whole concept of temperature used for weather forecasts nearly useless. Between wind chill, effects of humidity, effects of cloud cover vs. full sun, etc., temperature is just one factor that really isn't all that relevant -- since, to our bodies, what matters is rate of heat transfer, not temperature.

When I've lived in a relatively warm, humid climate, for example, the number I MOST cared about in weather forecasts was dewpoint. If the dew point is above 70 F, I'm going to be perspiring like crazy outside, no matter whether the temperature is 72 F or 95 F. If the dewpoint is 55 F, it's possible for me to be comfortable even if it's in the 80s or even higher. In other situations, it might be some other factor that's most important.

Point is -- the temperature scales are all based on arbitrary references points, so who cares? The only reason to argue is just so we all work on the same standard. And the main reason to argue for Celsius over Fahrenheit is that most of the world has adopted Celsius, not because it has some wonderful features that make it superior. (I'm all in favor of dropping Fahrenheit, by the way -- even though I grew up with it. It doesn't matter to me. But, on the other hand, there's also no real good "scientific" reason to make the switch other than ensuring consistency internationally.)

11 hours ago

David Cameron Says Brits Should Be Taught Imperial Measures

AthanasiusKircher Re:Idiot (788 comments)

1 cup of flour is trivially measured by volume: Just grab the "1 cup" cup from your set of measuring cups, scoop up flour from your storage container, level. You're done.

This is indeed easyâ"but very inaccurate: it can lead to the measurement being out by as much as 30%.


Professional bakers actually don't use volumes or weights when they state a recipe -- they use something called "baker's percentage," where 100% = the weight of the flour. Not the volume; the weight. All other ingredients are stated in proportions relative to the weight of the flour, making it easy to scale a recipe up or down. This is because bakers actually realize that weighing is so important because of the compressibility of flour.

If you're making bread, for example, an error of 30% in measurement of flour is the difference roughly between the stickiest wettest possible dough you could work with (producing a very crusty bread with large holes, like pizza or ciabatta dough) and a dry dough that is so tough that it's barely kneadable by hand (like bagel dough). Almost all of the varieties of bread fall in that range of about 30% error in flour measurement.

Baking requires somewhat more precision than other cooking, because once you throw the batter/dough in the oven, you can't make modifications. It's not like making soup where you can just taste it while cooking and say, "oops! I forgot the salt!" and just add some and everything will turn out okay.

If you're baking bread or a cake and say "1 cup of flour," you might as well just say "Add enough flour to get the 'right' consistency... whatever that is... you just have to know." Because with volume measurements of flour, it's REALLY hard to get consistent results unless you're skilled in recognizing what the final batter/dough is supposed to be like already.

12 hours ago

At CIA Starbucks, Even the Baristas Are Covert

AthanasiusKircher Re: Why do they even have a Starbucks? (241 comments)

Until Starbucks came along, though, we really didn't even pretend very hard to have good coffee.

That's not strictly true, at least not in some big cities and college towns that had decent coffee shops pre-Starbucks. It was really quite sad where I was living at the time when Starbucks came to town and basically started taking over spots that used to be indy coffee shops. Sure, not all of them were great, but they were generally better than Starbucks... Which frankly is terrible. Even if they had decent coffee, I wouldn't prefer to go there because of the pretentious BS of it all. No, I don't find it sophisticated or even cute to call sizes by some bizarre names, no I don't want to be asked 20 questions including my name just to order a plain standard drink. In Italy, you can find better coffee on any block at the local bar, and they don't need any of this crap "grande white chocolate mocha 1% with whip" to serve up something decent. You don't need white chocolate syrup and whipped cream to make a decent espresso taste good. I'd personally rather get a coffee from Dunkin Donuts than Captain Ahab's mate's joint.

2 days ago

Could We Abort a Manned Mission To Mars?

AthanasiusKircher Re:Rushing to mars is crap science (265 comments)

The cost of launching from earth is much higher than from space because we have to break Earth's gravity and pass through the atmosphere.

While this is certainly true, I don't think your general conclusions follow from this fact.

Build the next space station already. Build it big and ship it people and supplies and do it there.

The biggest expense is getting things into orbit, as you point out. It requires a certain amount of fuel for every pound or kilo of stuff we want to lift up there.

Given that space isn't exactly filled with random supplies (food, fuel for other missions, etc.) floating around, most of it is still going to have to come from Earth. So, exactly HOW is it cheaper to launch a mission from space if we still need to lift all the supplies from Earth anyway? Eventually, if we start being able to ferry people between a space station, the moon, other places, etc., we wouldn't have to lift the PEOPLE up again (if they're willing to basically live in space), but it's going to take quite a while until we can actually have a mechanism for deriving most of the other necessary SUPPLIES for missions from space... which will just have to be lifted up off the ground from Earth anyway.

So, what you're proposing is rather than flying ONE "high cost" mission up through the Earth's atmosphere, we should spend years or decades launching dozens (hundreds?) of times that material up through the atmosphere to build a giant space station or moonbase or whatever. And meanwhile, we have to keep sending up supplies continuously for any people there.

How exactly is that supposed to save costs??... except perhaps in a REALLY long term, assuming that space travel becomes an established thing in the next few decades (which is far from determined... maybe it'll catch on a few decades, maybe in a century or more).

If we cat accomplish that, we don belong in space.

From my perspective, this whole "Mission to Mars" idea is mostly a kind of propaganda move, though not in a negative sense. As other posters have said, why else bother sending humans? Robots can do just fine. But, just like the moon missions in the 1960s and 70s, this is supposed to reignite the public interest in space travel, which will make it easier to raise the kind of funds necessary to build your space station or whatever.

The first missions will be sort of "proof of concept." You're proposing investing in a giant infrastruction that will likely cost hundreds or even thousands of times the cost of one mission just to save some phantom money on not having to lift things out of Earth's gravity to launch a mission to Mars (when we had to lift most of that from Earth anyway to the space station or whatever).

I'm not saying your idea is bad in the (VERY) long term. But right now the psychological effect of launching one slightly more expensive mission that achieves a bigger goal may provide a spark. And that spark may get more people interested in the much larger amount of funding necessary to create the incredibly expensive infrastructure which you argue should make things cheaper.

3 days ago

Sci-fi Predictions, True and False (Video 1)

AthanasiusKircher Re:Grades by Category (139 comments)

Somebody from the 1950's given Siri to play with for a few hours would be quite impressed.

By that standard, all your categories should get an A. Some random dude from the 50s driving a modern car, for example, would probably be quite impressed -- from gas mileage, to airbags, to antilock brakes, to the smooth ride and incredible "quiet" possible in a luxury sedan compared to the 50s. It may not be flying, but it'd be darn impressive to many.

But I thought your standard was about predictions, not about what would seem impressive to average Joe.

No, it's not human-level, but human level would be "A".

Yes, human level would be an A. And what I'm saying is that compared to that we might barely be squeaking by with a C, and that's being really generous. Siri is really quite good at accomplishing very specific tasks it has been programmed directly to do. " Intelligence" implies an adaptability, a creativity, an ability to process abstract concepts and learn, etc. Siri has absolutely NONE of that. It's somewhat better at pattern matching than a toaster which automatically detects when your bread is likely toasted. I'm NOT saying Siri isn't impressive: I'm saying it displays little in coming with what we generally call "intelligence," including what the 50s guys used that term to mean.

Also keep in mind that back then they considered winning at chess a strong test of AI.

It was considered a good test at that time because the kind of hardware necessary for a sort of "brute force" solution to chess was inconceivable. But that's effectively how Deep Blue won: through exhaustive searches of moves far in advance of what human players do and pattern matching with an enormous database of just about any game that has been played on record. Humans simply aren't capable of that sort of exhaustive data analysis on that scale, and yet our brains still allow us to be pretty good at chess -- again because of abilities such as creativity, ability to form abstractions and inferences connected to them, efficient learning rather than exhaustive search, etc.

As I said in my first reply to you, most of our "progress" toward AI has been made possible by the computer and electronics revolution you mentioned, which was not predicted in the 50s. So, we've passed a few "tests" by simulating "intelligence" through radically different methods from what the 50s thought possible. That's why I'd say we might squeak by with a C. But once anyone who actually made these predictions from the 50s tried to probe the "intelligence" of modern devices (as in Turing's Shakespeare example), they'd immediately be able to see we've made precious few advances other than faster computers and bigger databases (and admittedly better searching and matching algorithms).

about a week ago

Sci-fi Predictions, True and False (Video 1)

AthanasiusKircher Re:Grades by Category (139 comments)

Artificial Intelligence: B-

Really, B- for AI? I'd give it a C-minus at best, and that's mostly due to the unexpected increases in computer technology and speed, and also due to data aggregation and connections on the internet (which were largely not predicted). If you grade AI and curve it based on 1950s predictions about the state of electronics, computers, etc., I'd say you're looking at a solid D-minus.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm thrilled with the kinds of things computers can do and the limited "intelligent" functionality we have developed, particularly just in the past few years. But are we really anywhere near the predictions of "Sputnik era" (as you put it)?

My baseline has always been the original Turing test description by Turing himself (from 1950, close to Sputnik era), where he describes a skilled "interrogator" comparing responses between an intelligent human and an AI, trying to sort out which one is human. In Turing's example, the "interrogator" has to resort to a complex discussion of the appropriateness of potential word substitutions in Shakespearean sonnets, including layers of subtlety of meaning -- because the AI is apparently so fluent in the English language that it could converse on that that level with no errors.

Turing predicted that, by the year 2000, we'd have AI that could fool 30% of intelligent interrogators on such a test with machines that would have 100 MB of storage capacity.

Instead, 14 years after Turing's prediction, we have people claiming to have "passed" his test by having a chatbot pretend to be an annoying, nonresponsive teenager who doesn't even really speak the language of the interrogator. Debating the scansion and subtle meanings of Shakespeare's poetry, indeed...

But don't take this one prediction as an example. Take a look at an actual study on AI predictions and their accuracy. Heck, that article starts with discussion of the 1956 Dartmouth Conference, where they proposed that a team of 10 guys working for only 2 months over the summer could basically solve the basic problems of AI like comprehending natural language, forming abstract concepts, and becoming self-learning.

That's definitely "Sputnik era," and that's what the top researchers thought at that point. It didn't happen in two months or even two decades, and only in the past decade have we really started getting close to actual natural language voice recognition, let alone understanding or comprehension.

Yes, through terms like "neural networks" and "deep learning," AI researchers have convinced us that something LIKE human "intelligence" is involved in their algorithms, but mostly we just have computers that can do computations faster and draw on larger databases to make better guesses. We're just even beginning to do basic things like have computers be able to recognize language constructs to detect what the antecedent of a pronoun is -- and even that is in its infancy and only tends to work in circumscribed cases. With that sort of benchmark now, it's safe to say we've made precious little progress in having AI actually "understand" or "create" abstract concepts, when it often can't even figure out how to parse a paragraph in a way that connects sentences together. (I'm focusing on language understanding issues because Turing did, but there are other similar limitations for AI applications in other areas.)

Again, I do NOT wish to downplay the significant advances we have made. And I applaud AI researchers for the awesome things we are starting to see glimpses of in recent technology.

But to claim we are anywhere even on the spectrum of what people thought in the 1950s? No way.

about a week ago

Ask Slashdot: Any Place For Liberal Arts Degrees In Tech?

AthanasiusKircher Re:Liberal Arts Teach Rhetoric not Critical Thinki (392 comments)

Most liberal arts courses are driven by writing essays where you defend a thesis. The actual validity of your thesis didn't matter so long as you are able to find several points to defend it.

Then you had poor teachers, unless you were taking only courses in the art of persuasive writing (or, as you call it, rhetoric). If your other professors let you get away with this, then shame on them.

As someone who has taught university courses (and who has discussed pedagogy and writing with a lot of faculty in both sciences and humanities), I do see the value in constructing a thesis with supporting evidence as a first step to writing an expository essay. But at some level you do need to question the validity of the argument and the significance of the evidence -- if your professors never required this level of rigor, they did you a disservice.

On the other hand, as someone who has read thousands of student essays over the years, let me also say that faculty are often overwhelmed with simply trying to get students to put together some semblance of a logical chain of an argument in the first place, let alone requiring the rigor you're talking about. That's not to excuse what you describe, but a significant percentage of university-level students have such poor writing skills now that they can get nowhere near the standard you suggest. And professors are often just happy to have a kid submit something that "sounds like an argument," even if it isn't fully rigorous, because it's better than much of the crap that has to be read and graded.

What I commonly saw was students starting with a conclusion and working backwards to find evidence which best fit the chosen thesis. [snip] In a science course this would be called cherry picking the data, in liberal arts, it's called another day.

Well, it's also called "confirmation bias," which is problem both in scientific experimental design and in humanities arguments. Part of the problem is that humanities issues are often not quantifiable in the same way that science ones are, and even if you try to quantify them, you end up with so many interacting variables that statistical analysis can be pretty meaningless. So, in some ways it's related to the fundamental nature of the content of the field -- which still doesn't excuse poor reasoning.

My science course work on the other hand is where critical thinking was encouraged.

Okay, let's see what that entailed....

I was taught how to write logical proofs, I was taught how to represent both everyday situations, and also computational operations in the form of atomic sentences.

That sounds like a course in "formal logic," which is often taught in philosophy departments, not science courses. And as for "represent... everyday situations," I have met many, many science undergraduates who have very little perspective on applying their methods to "real-world problems," unfortunately.

I was taught the dangers of conflating correlation with causation, I was taught the dangers of Type I and Type II errors.

This is basic statistics, which should be a required course for everyone, no matter what major. (Frankly, I think it should be required to graduate high school.)

I was taught about common logical fallacies.

This is traditionally the purview of a rhetoric course in English or the logic courses in the philosophy department, though given your background in Cognitive Systems, I assume you might learn about this in the course of various cognitive biases.

I was taught how to evaluate information critically, I was taught the importance of internal consistency, I was taught how critically examine evidence.

Now we're finally getting to "critical thinking," and this should be important in any rigorous college course, regardless of discipline.

The problem is that those last skills you mention are often much more difficult to apply to real-world scenarios than the earlier "critical thinking" skills you discuss. Formal logic, statistics, etc. are great tools, but the real world is pretty messy. I've met a lot of science majors who simply would have no idea how to approach a vague problem that couldn't be quantified or expressed symbolically -- like "humanistic" problems of ethics or abstract value, etc. Those issues come up in the real world, and the critical thinking required to deal rigorously with them is hard to pull out of raw stats or formal logic.

I'm NOT saying that humanities are the only approach, and I recognize that many humanities courses are badly taught -- resulting in ignorant humanities grads today with bad critical thinking skills. But the problem is not the disciplines themselves, but the rigor we require in those courses. It sounds like your humanities courses did not require that sort of effort, which is unfortunate... but it doesn't mean the whole set of liberal arts disciplines are fundamentally flawed.

about two weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: Any Place For Liberal Arts Degrees In Tech?

AthanasiusKircher Re:Ya, but... (392 comments)

If an English Lit grad has decent programming skills, I would be very confused why the person would get the degree in English Lit in the first place???

Why does anyone get an English Lit degree? (I know some other people here might ask that question seriously.) Other than those who go on to grad school and then become professors of English literature, or maybe high school teachers, why would anyone major in English Lit? (And even if you wanted to become a high school teacher, do you really need a full-blown degree in English Lit? It's not like you're going to be debating the complex structure of Joyce's Ulysses or doing a radical post-structuralist reading of the colonialist implications of Melville's obscure poetic works with your average high-school class. You're going to be teaching them to write in complete sentences and maybe reading a novel or two if you're lucky.)

So why DO people major in English Lit? Maybe because some of them still believe in the classical idea of "liberal arts" as a gateway to the "critical thinking" skills you call a "buzzword." Sorry, but "critical thinking" is NOT a buzzword if you look at older -- often more rigorous -- liberal arts curricula. Those were the kind of systems where you worked your way through the original geometric proofs of Euclid, various scientific essays up to at least the 19th century, as well as reading novels and interpreting poems. The point was that you were exposed to a LOT of different areas of thinking, and by trying to understand, confront, and analyze these disparate ideas, you'd develop "critical thinking" skills that could be broadly applied to many areas.

Until the past few decades, it was quite common for English Lit., History majors, etc. to make up a large part of the business workforce, partly because of exposure to a lot of disparate ideas in college. Now, everybody just gets generic "business degrees," and many English Lit. departments have partly transitioned into pop culture sociology departments (though certainly not all).

Or even the person can do programming, I would not want to maintain the code the person wrote because the code may not be well formed.

That's why I'd never hire somebody unless I could look at examples of what they'd actually done. A degree tells me next to nothing, by itself. But I see no inherent reason why an intelligent, motivated, and organized English Lit. major who worked as a programmer for a number of years couldn't pick up quite a bit of high-level coding skills, whereas some code monkey with a CS degree from nowhere might just be at the "top of his game" when he graduates and never go further from there.

Context is everything. People make various life choices. I see no reason to care why a person made the choice of an English Lit. degree unless that person is relatively fresh out of college. After a couple years, I care about what they've been doing lately, and how good is their work now. Have they shown significant growth and adaptability? I've also met way too many people with a degree in X who took advanced courses in X, but basically forgot everything from those courses within a few years because they never really had to use that material. Hiring them 10 years after degree expecting them to be able to do high-level work based on 10-year-old coursework is insane.

about two weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: Any Place For Liberal Arts Degrees In Tech?

AthanasiusKircher Re:Let's see your portfolio. (392 comments)

While I'd tend toward Computer Science (since that is what my degree is in) I'd FIRST want to see what they've done already.

Exactly. I've met plenty of people with degrees in X who have little practical experience when they're fresh out of school. They may have some sort of vague theoretical sense of the field, but even that can be very nebulous, since real understanding without doing is rather difficult.

It's not that you cannot get a programming job with a Lit degree. It is that the other candidates will probably have more DEMONSTRATED skills in the programming field.

THIS. Especially if you're more than 5 years out of school, I'd barely give a crap what your major was unless you've actually been working in that area.

That's one of a number of things I'd add to the college major:

(1) How long since degree?
(2) What experience since degree?
(3) Is degree from a known school with unusual demographics?
(4) How did student perform in degree?

For an extreme case, I'd be much more likely to hire a guy with a English Lit. degree from MIT (yes, they do have them) who had a perfect GPA and has done serious high-level work in programming since graduation, than a guy fresh out of school with a C-average in CS from Upper Bucksnort State Teachers College of Nowhere.

And, by the way, I'm NOT saying one should automatically look for MIT or Ivy League or whatever degrees over others, but those schools do have a targeted demographic for admissions that tends to consist of very talented people to begin with. If they did well there, regardless of major, it's something to perhaps pay attention to. (On the other hand, if I'm looking at someone with an A average from Duke vs. C average from an Ivy, probably go with the Duke guy.) Also, tech-heavy schools tend to have more rigorous math/science requirements for all students, so even a person with a Lit or History degree from such schools may have a stronger tech background than a tech major, say, from a much lower-ranked liberal arts school or something.

To me, a college degree is mostly a certificate saying, "I can follow instructions and am responsible enough to pass courses." Beyond that, the details matter a lot more than the major. A smart, motivated person can figure out how to do things on the job. A guy with a CS degree who barely scaped by at a crappy school may have already hit his cognitive limit and may be a terrible hire.

This is one of the reasons why applicant screening should never be based on some stupid credential that isn't equal everywhere. With experienced hires who both have real work experience but one has a degree in another field, I'm often actually more intrigued -- all other things being equal -- by the guy with the weird degree who switched into the field and was successful, because that guy has shown competence in multiple areas and adaptability. Not saying I'd hire on this basis, but if I wanted someone who could actually think and be useful in a variety of ways in a job, I might give that resume a second look.

about two weeks ago

Technological Solution For Texting While Driving Struggles For Traction

AthanasiusKircher Re:A solution in search of a problem... (326 comments)

Incorrect. (3) is 100% unaffected by speed, as many already know.


It is a factor of shitty drivers braking for no reason, causing motorists behind them to brake for no reason in a chain reaction. I only apply my brakes on the highway if I actually need to decelerate; 99% of the time someone in front of me is braking, I can just let off the accelerator and decelerate to their speed (because I never follow very closely)

The last clause of your sentence there is critical. Notice in my post I mentioned for the SAME TRAFFIC DENSITY. People in general follow too closely. Therefore, if they are all going at 65 mph and someone has to brake, a chain reaction will follow.

But, in the same traffic density (i.e., the same spacing of cars), the same cars driving 45 mph might have adequate time to maneuver without heavy braking.

You're correct that the problem is following distance, and if we could get everyone to maintain that, you could all drive at 90 mph. But that's simply not feasible at rush hour in many places, because too many cars keep joining the traffic, and people don't adequately expand the following distance to compensate.

So, if there's going to be a high traffic density no matter what, the only efficient way to solve the problem is to lower the average travelling speed. That's something that could at least be enforceable. Trying to enforce adequate following distance (except for really egregious behavior) would be nearly impossible.

about two weeks ago

Court Rules the "Google" Trademark Isn't Generic

AthanasiusKircher Re:Lucky them (159 comments)

Actually, when people say googling, they really do mean "look it up using Google." They don't mean "look it up using DuckDuckGo"

No, they mean "look it up using an internet search engine." I've seen plenty of more clueless folks who just happen to have Yahoo or Bing or whatever as their default search page that opens in their browser, and they still use the word "google," rather than a cumbersome phrase like "use an internet search engine to find..."

or "look it up using Yelp" or "look it up using" or "look it up using Wolfram Alpha."

You're right, they don't mean those things, because those are specialized search, not a generic web search, which is what "googling" means.

When Google no longer dominates generic web search (as opposed to specialized internet search like Yelp) and there are other comparable players, only then would there be a case for genericization.

There are other "comparable players," at least ones that work well enough for many people, like Bing and Yahoo. Look up the stats -- Google may have the majority of searches, but it's only something like 2/3 of general internet searches. The other 1/3 is done on other search engines.

So, 1/3 of people are somehow managing to do general internet searching without Google. And many of them still use the word "googling" rather than "perform a general internet search" for what they are doing.

about two weeks ago

Court: Car Dealers Can't Stop Tesla From Selling In Massachusetts

AthanasiusKircher Re:Footnote mania (155 comments)

19 footnotes for a 24 page opinion, including one so long that spills over from one page onto the next.

You obviously haven't read many legal opinions. Such footnote practice is commonplace.

Ouch! Detracts from what is otherwise a great read

Uh, you do realize that footnotes are optional to read, right? That's why they are footnotes, as opposed to part of the main body of text.

I've never understood people who complain about excessive footnotes -- either they're so ADD that they get distracted by the numbers and the text so they can't stay focused, or they're so OCD that they can't resist reading words at the bottom of the page, even if they are tangential to the argument.

Don't get me wrong: footnotes in legal arguments are often important. But they're not generally essential to the main argument. That's the point. If you just want to read the core argument, read the text, and don't read the footnotes. (If the text is not understandable without the footnotes, that's a different writing problem, which should be criticized.)

Complaining about footnotes from distracted readers who can't focus on the text is what leads to monstrosities like endnotes -- which basically makes the notes unusable. (Or even worse, the current publishing trend where endnotes don't even have numerical references on the page -- so you have to match up the endnote with some phrase of text to find out there even is supposed to be a note there.)

If you don't want to read footnotes, just don't. I certainly don't if I'm just reading the main argument. But there's often a reason why they can be helpful to SOME readers, and forcing writers to either turn them into invisible endnotes or incorporate them into the text just makes things worse.

about two weeks ago

MIT's Cheetah Robot Runs Untethered

AthanasiusKircher Re:Asian-only team? (90 comments)

European researchers work at MIT and nobody beats an eye,
Asian researchers work at MIT and everybody looses their mind.

Uh, who is "everybody"? Certainly not MIT itself. Stats on their international students show that about 50% of all international students and scholars come from Asia, much more than Europe.

MIT cares about "diversity" numbers, sure, but they already can claim that they are a "minority majority" campus with over 51% of undergraduates from minorities. So, they'd really have no reason to further inflate the Asian numbers... unless, well, the Asian students were actually more qualified.

Which means Asian researchers are probably working at MIT because MIT actually is looking for highly qualified people -- and thus, MIT hired/admitted them.

The only people "losing their mind" are racists, who clearly aren't "everybody." (If they were, MIT wouldn't have such high numbers of minorities in the first place.)

And why are we discussing this anyway? TFA has a photo of the lab team, which is certainly not all Asian in composition.

about two weeks ago

Technological Solution For Texting While Driving Struggles For Traction

AthanasiusKircher Re:A solution in search of a problem... (326 comments)

Speeding = higher risk of crash.

Meh, that propaganda has been around for awhile...

How is this modded "Informative" when this thread (GP's and GGP's posts) is about speeding in a school zone (not the Autobahn)?

The main reason for slower speeds in school zones is often to avoid pedestrian injuries and deaths -- since little kids sometimes do unexpected things and run into roads without thinking.

To an extent, speeding can perhaps make a crash worse, but that isn't really why we have speeding laws.

I think if you hit a kid going 25 mph (a typical school zone speed limit), you are already going to seriously injure and maybe kill him/her. But at least at a lower speed you might have a better chance of avoiding the kid by braking, swerving, etc. If you're going 45 mph or whatever the normal speed limit is on that road, the kid is probably dead. Sorry -- but speeding in a school zone BOTH (1) results in a higher risk of "crash" AND (2) will likely result in greater injury.

We have them to generate income for the government, specifically local and state government, to the tune of $6.2 billion last year.

Yeah, we'd never enact speeding laws to protect pedestrians in high-traffic areas, or anything silly like that!

The German Autobaun is safer per mile driven than US highways. Many reasons for it:

While you make some reasonable points, this has little to do with the present discussion of a school zone. But even outside of schools, there are all sorts of reasons for speed limits that are not politically motivated, like:

(1) Residential areas or business districts with higher pedestrian traffic

(2) General density of environment -- e.g., curves or other obstacles that decrease visibility of road ahead, how easy it is to see cars pulling out from side streets/driveways, how many random "manuevers" you're likely to see because cars need to change lanes to make turns, park, etc.

(3) Traffic flow on busy roads and congested highways: traffic has transition thresholds, sort of like laminar vs. turbulent flow in fluids. If everyone is driving at 65 mph in a highly congested area, and someone just brakes at the wrong time or cuts someone off, it can set up a traffic wave that propagates backwards and might result in stop-and-go traffic for 20 minutes. If, instead, people drive at 45 mph on average in the same traffic density, they have more time to react, and it can actually increase traffic throughput by making stop-and-go traffic less likely. That's one of the reasons many cities have introduced variable speed limits on highways that get lowered near rush hour: they're not trying to generate more revenue (usually) -- they're actually trying to help you get home faster. If you refuse to obey them and end up braking hard because of something unexpected which you would not have been a problem at a lower speed, you're likely contributing to traffic jams.

SUMMARY: Your argument is about maximum speed limits on straight highways. This thread is about the vast majority of roads which exist in less optimal conditions with less visibility, more obstacles, pedestrians, etc. In those cases, perhaps unlike the Autobahn, speed limits definitely make sense. And Germans agree, since they have speed limits under these scenarios.

And if you're that jerk you keeps weaving through traffic and passing me on the right in mornings when I'm going through school zones on a busy 4-lane road, STOP IT. You're endangering people, mainly pedestrians (one of whom I actually saw hit during my commute). THAT'S why we sometimes need speed limits.

about two weeks ago

Justice Sotomayor Warns Against Tech-Enabled "Orwellian" World

AthanasiusKircher Re:if only (166 comments)

But only as far as the cases that come before it, whether or not they accept them.

That's true both in the strict sense, and the broader sense. The Supreme Court can not initiate any action.

Well, as of last year, it seems it can (in a way), as long as someone involved in a lawsuit elsewhere asks nicely. The Court has now created ex nihilo a new veto power for itself. The precedent is United States v. Windsor. As Justice Scalia wrote in dissent:

The Court is eager--hungry--to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case. Standing in the way is an obstacle, a technicality of little interest to anyone but the people of We the People, who created it as a barrier against judges' intrusion into their lives. They gave judges, in Article III, only the "judicial Power," a power to decide not abstract questions but real, concrete "Cases" and "Controversies." Yet the plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well. What, then, are we doing here?


Windsor's injury was cured by the judgment in her favor. [...] What the petitioner United States asks us to do in the case before us is exactly what the respondent Windsor asks us to do: not to provide relief from the judgment below but to say that that judgment was correct. And the same was true in the Court of Appeals: Neither party sought to undo the judgment for Windsor, and so that court should have dismissed the appeal (just as we should dismiss) for lack of jurisdiction.

In other words, there was no dispute before the court to adjudicate, and thus no case (in a legal sense). Yet the Supreme Court nevertheless chose to offer its opinion on gay rights and overturn a federal law, despite a lack of any standing, any dispute, or any case.

It's probably the most important element of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence to come out of the recent gay marriage decisions -- much more critical legally than the gay rights issues themselves. The Supreme Court has basically come up with a justification to offer its opinion on a matter where no legal dispute exists. This is really unprecedented, but it's a newfound power of the Court. Look for this to pop up again in some unexpected way in coming years. Scalia called the idea "jaw-dropping," "an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people's Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere "primary" in its role." :

We have never before agreed to speak--to "say what the law is"--where there is no controversy before us. In the more than two centuries that this Court has existed as an institution, we have never suggested that we have the power to decide a question when every party agrees with both its nominal opponent and the court below on that question's answer.

So, technically someone still has to suggest the idea of an action to the Court, I suppose, but I don't know after Windsor whether we can really say that an actual "case" is required for the Supreme Court to offer an opinion and change laws.

(Note that I'm not arguing against the outcome of Windsor -- only that no parties in the lawsuit were actually arguing for the Supreme Court to take any actual normal legal remedy within its jurisdiction; the correct action would have been for Obama to appoint a third-party to defend DOMA and argue for the law, if he felt the Justice Department shouldn't do it. Without doing so, there was no legal justification for SCOTUS to take any action.)

about two weeks ago

Justice Sotomayor Warns Against Tech-Enabled "Orwellian" World

AthanasiusKircher Re:So did Orwell (166 comments)

Weak. You start blaming the guy currently in charge, currently causing the issues and then backtrack to "But Bush" because you are afraid of Obama supporters. Its people who fear being called names by idiots that let idiots like Obama get a free pass no matter what he does.

Another poster already defended me, but let me be very clear about why I made the second comment: some of the actual cases listed in the article I linked were actually originally brought against the Bush administration. Some of these recent rulings took years to get to the Supreme Court, and the Obama Justice Department was put in the position of defending actions that were originally brought against the Bush administration. This is a common legal situation.

My point is that some people might have viewed my first post as sound like "yeah, the Supremes hate Obama so much they overruled him unanimously 13 times," when actually it could be argued that a number of those actions were really cases which originally involved the Bush administration.

So, I added a clarification that I think BOTH of the administrations are culpable for ONGOING bad actions. I'm NOT "backtracking" or giving Obama a "free pass" AT ALL, since I absolutely think that he has continued some of the worst policies of his predecessor and in many ways has made things significantly worse.

But regardless, the point is the violation of fundamental rights -- no matter what adminstration or who is doing it.

about two weeks ago

The MOOC Revolution That Wasn't

AthanasiusKircher Re:Silicon Valley Rebrands Correspondence Courses (182 comments)

For the record, correspondence courses have been around since 1892.

Huh? From your own link:

The earliest distance education courses may date back to the early 18th century in Europe. One of the earliest examples was from a 1728 advertisement... [snip] The first distance education course in the modern sense was provided by Sir Isaac Pitman in the 1840s,

And schools were even offering entire degrees through distance education by the 1850s:

The University of London was the first university to offer distance learning degrees, establishing its External Programme in 1858.

I am by no means downplaying the significance of the Chicago model in the history of education. But why did you omit mention of decades and perhaps centuries of preceding distance-learning courses in your claim?

about three weeks ago

Justice Sotomayor Warns Against Tech-Enabled "Orwellian" World

AthanasiusKircher Re:if only (166 comments)

Do you understand how the Supreme Court works? They can only adjudicate cases brought before them.

While true in a strict sense, in a broader sense the Supreme Court has the ability to shape jurisprudence around bigger issues. Take, for example, the recent plethora of federal court rulings overturning gay marriage bans in a number of states. The Supreme Court did NOT rule on this issue directly. In fact, the majority rulings last year explicitly avoiding tackling that issue. But, as Scalia noted in dissent at the time, the type of argumentation used in the majority opinion strongly implied that no legal logic would support a gay marriage ban.

So, in the process of adjudicating a case before them, the Supreme Court laid the groundwork for other rulings that were strictly unrelated, but followed from the legal arguments employed.

In this way, Supreme Court justices can shape jurisprudence on cases far beyond their docket. If they begin to make strongly worded objections to Fourth Amendment violations and present new legal justifications for stopping those violations, chances are those sorts of legal arguments will be upheld by lower courts.

And even then, she's one vote out of nine. [snip] If you want something "done", you've got to talk to your congressbum.

True, but 1 out of 9 is somewhat better odds than 1 out 435 in terms of hoping to "get something done," particularly when a number of privacy-related cases have been coming before the Court in recent years.

about three weeks ago

Justice Sotomayor Warns Against Tech-Enabled "Orwellian" World

AthanasiusKircher Re:So did Orwell (166 comments)

Until a case is before her, Sotomayor can do absolutely jack shit.


Where does the notion come from, that so many people here seem to have, that a Supreme Court justice has any "direct" power to initiate some kind of policy change?

Who said anything about "initiating" anything?

I said she was one of the few who "potentially have the direct power to constrain" the government's overreach, since the other two branches have obviously gone along with various Fourth Amendment violations in recent years. Obviously, implicit in that "potentially" is that it would require a case to come before the Court. Given that numerous people have been filing court cases against the government in recent years about privacy violations, it's reasonable to say that Sotomayor WILL have a number of opportunities to try to rein in government overreach.

This is why they should never have stopped teaching civics in school.

I took Civics in school. There I learned about something called checks and balances, including the Supreme Court's ability to overrule laws and executive actions that are Constitutional violations.

Perhaps, given your overreaction to something I didn't say, the larger criticism should be about how our schools are failing at teaching reading comprehension.

about three weeks ago



Music Training's Cognitive Benefits Could Help "At-Risk" Students

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about a month ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "In recent years, emphasis on standardized testing and basic skills has forced many schools to cut back on things like arts and extracurricular activities. A study out this week from Northwestern University hints that schools may be hurting "at-risk" kids even more by cutting such programs. Just two years of music lessons were shown to have significant effects on brain activity and language processing which the researchers argue could help close achievement gaps between at-risk students and more affluent students. Aside from better brain response to language observed in the lab, practical effects of the interventions were readily apparent: 'Leaders at Harmony Project approached the researchers after the non-profit observed that their students were performing much better than other public school students in the area. Since 2008, over 90 percent of high school seniors who participated in Harmony Project’s free music lessons went on to college, even though the high school dropout rates in the surrounding Los Angeles areas can reach up to 50 percent.' Note that this is only one of several ongoing studies showing significant cognitive benefits for music training among at-risk students; an article last year from The Atlantic gives a more detailed summary of related research."

Thousands of Workers Strike to Reinstate Fired Grocery CEO

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 2 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Have you heard of Market Basket, a regional grocery chain which brings in $4 billion per year? If you're not from New England, you may not know about this quirky century-old family business, which didn't even have a website until two days ago. But that's only the beginning of its strange saga. In a story that labor experts are calling 'unique' and 'unprecedented', shelves in grocery stores across New England have been left empty while thousands of Market Basket workers have rallied for days to reinstate former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who was fired last month (along with a number of his management allies) as part of a long-standing family squabble. At a protest this morning, 6,000 protesters gathered at the Tewkbury, Massachusetts location where the supermarket chain is based, similar to rallies that have been staged at various locations over the past week. Unlike most labor protests, the workers have no demands for better working conditions or better pay--they simply want their old boss back. Reaction from consumers has been swift and decisive as well: a petition was submitted to the board this morning with over 100,000 signatures from customers calling for the reinstatement of the CEO, and over 100 local lawmakers have expressed support for the workers' cause, including the governor of New Hampshire and candidates for U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in the region.

In an age where workers are often pitted against management, what could explain this incredible support for a CEO and member of the 0.1%? Columnist Adrian Walker from the Boston Globe described his interview last year with 'Artie T.': 'We toured the Chelsea store together... the connection between the magnate and his employees was frankly shocking. Demoulas knew almost everyone’s name. He knew the name of the guy cutting meat whose wife had just completed chemotherapy and asked about her with obvious concern. Customers came up to him and hugged him, cheered him on. The interactions were too numerous and spontaneous to be staged.' Workers at Market Basket are loyal to their employer and often stay for 20, 30, or more than 40 years. Even lowly store clerks receive significant quarterly bonuses, and experienced loyal workers are rewarded and promoted. Despite running a $4 billion per year business, 'Artie T.' over the years has shown up at countless family events for employees, even visiting sick family members of employees when they are in the hospital. But his generosity hurt the bottom line, according to other board members, who have sought for years to increase profits by raising prices and reducing employee benefits to be in line with norms at other grocery chains. (Market Basket has commonly led grocery store lists for value in regional price surveys.) As one possible resolution to the crisis, the former CEO yesterday offered to buy the entire grocery chain from other board members; this morning, the board stated they were considering the offer."

Judge Throws Out Thoughtcrime Conviction and Frees "Cannibal Cop"

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 2 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "The story is classic: Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl. Boy goes on the internet and writes about his fantasies that involve killing and eating Girl. Boy goes to jail. In this case, the man in question, NYC police officer Gilberto Valle, didn't act on his fantasies — he just shared them in a like-minded internet forum. Yesterday, Valle was released from jail after a judge overturned his conviction on appeal. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe wrote that Valle was "guilty of nothing more than very unconventional thoughts... We don't put people in jail for their thoughts. We are not the thought police and the court system is not the deputy of the thought police." The judge concluded that there was insufficient evidence, since "this is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace" and "no reasonable juror could have found that Valle actually intended to kidnap a woman... the point of the chats was mutual fantasizing about committing acts of sexual violence on certain women." (A New York magazine article covered the details of the case and the implications of the original conviction earlier this year.)"

An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 5 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Deborah Fitzgerald, a historian of science and dean of MIT's School of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, speaks out in a Boston Globe column about the importance of the humanities, even as STEM fields increasingly dominate public discussion surrounding higher education. '[T]he world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale, and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities, from deeply felt cultural traditions to building codes to political tensions. So our students also need an in-depth understanding of human complexities — the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence — as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social sciences.' Fitzgerald goes on to quote a variety of STEM MIT graduates who have described the essential role the humanities played in their education, and she concludes with a striking juxtaposition of important skills perhaps reminscent of Robert Heinlein's famous description of an ideal human being: 'Whatever our calling, whether we are scientists, engineers, poets, public servants, or parents, we all live in a complex, and ever-changing world, and all of us deserve what’s in this toolbox: critical thinking skills; knowledge of the past and other cultures; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; access to the insights of great writers and artists; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change; and the ability to navigate ambiguity.' What other essential knowledge or skills should we add to this imaginary 'toolbox'?"

Wu-Tang Clan to Release Only One Copy of New Album

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 6 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Wu-Tang Clan's double-album The Wu — Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was recorded in secret, and they recently announced that only one copy will be sold. Wu-Tang member Robert 'RZA' Diggs described the concept: 'We're about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before... We're about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We're making a single-sale collector's item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.' Before the album is sold, probably for millions of dollars, it will tour the world as part of special listening exhibits. Patrons will be subjected to heavy security to ensure that no recording devices are allowed, as a single leak would spoil the artistic project. As RZA noted: 'The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years. And yet its doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.'"

A Corporate War Against a Scientist, and How He Fought Back

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 8 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Environmental and health concerns about atrazine — one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S. — have been voiced for years, leading to an EU ban and multiple investigations by the EPA. Tyrone Hayes, a Berkeley professor who has spearheaded research on the topic, began to display signs of apparent paranoia over a decade ago. He noticed strangers following him to conferences around the world, taking notes and asking questions aimed to make him look foolish. He worried that someone was reading his email, and attacks against his reputation seemed to be everywhere; search engines even displayed ad hits like "Tyrone Hayes Not Credible" when his name was searched for. But he wasn't paranoid: documents released after a lawsuit from Midwestern towns against Syngenta, the manufacturer of atrazine, showed a coordinated smear campaign. Syngenta's public relations team had a list of ways to defend its product, topped by "discredit Hayes." Its internal list of methods: "have his work audited by 3rd party," "ask journals to retract," "set trap to entice him to sue," "investigate funding," "investigate wife," etc. A recent New Yorker article chronicles this war against Hayes, but also his decision to go on the offensive and strike back. He took on the role of activist against atrazine, giving over 50 public talks on the subject each year, and even taunting Syngenta with profanity-laced emails, often delivered in a rapping "gangsta" style. The story brings up important questions for science and its public persona: How do scientists fight a PR war against corporations with unlimited pockets? How far should they go?"

Federal Government Surveillance of Santa Superior to Private Companies

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 9 months ago

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "This year, competing tracking services for Santa led to confusion for children worldwide. At one point on Christmas Eve, Santa was reported to be over Romania by NORAD's Santa tracker, while Google claimed he was in Madagascar at the same time. Moreover, the estimates for total toys delivered varied wildly, with Google claiming only 770 million at the same time Google estimated 2.8 billion. Veteran Santa analyst Danny Sullivan explained the discrepancies: "the precision offered by NORAD’s satellites likely is superior, offering it the ability to lock onto the position of the sleigh within a matter of inches. 'They’ve been doing it for almost 60 years,' Sullivan said.... He said Google likely relies on alternative technology, such as tracking Santa’s in-sleigh WiFi signal, causing a possible lag in showing his exact location. Sullivan also guessed that Google was using an algorithm to estimate the number of gifts delivered, while NORAD might have the ability to identify individual gifts, and perhaps even smaller items such as stocking stuffers.""

"Brain Activity" Found in a Dead Salmon Demonstrat

AthanasiusKircher AthanasiusKircher writes  |  about 5 years ago

AthanasiusKircher writes "Neuroscientist Craig Bennett used a dead salmon in his Dartmouth lab as a test object while they were evaluating new lab methods. The lab even followed proper experimental protocols, including showing the salmon photos of humans displaying various emotions. They were somewhat surprised by the results:

When they got around to analyzing the voxel (think: 3-D or 'volumetric' pixel) data, the voxels representing the area where the salmon's tiny brain sat showed evidence of activity. In the fMRI scan, it looked like the dead salmon was actually thinking about the pictures it had been shown.

Of course, the salmon wasn't actually responding to pictures illustrating human emotions. But the data manipulation commonly used in brain studies caused apparently significant patterns to appear by chance. More from the Wired article: 'The result is completely nuts — but that's actually exactly the point. Bennett, who is now a post-doc at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his adviser, George Wolford, wrote up the work as a warning about the dangers of false positives in fMRI data. They wanted to call attention to ways the field could improve its statistical methods."

The study demonstrates the potential for misinterpretation and misuse of data in brain studies, particularly as data manipulation becomes more and more complex. Bennett notes: 'We could set our threshold [of significance] so high that we have no false positives, but we have no legitimate results.... We could also set it so low that we end up getting voxels in the fish's brain. It's the fine line that we walk.'

So far the paper has been rejected for publication a number of times, but there is a poster available that was employed in a conference presentation. Recently it has been making the rounds informally in the neuroscience community."

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