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Best 1990s Sci-fi show?

Ghostworks Re:X-Files vs. Bab-5 - ouch! (209 comments)

The first two seasons of TNG were pretty bad, but after that they improved. The big issue they overcame was breaking away from the original series mold.

In the early episodes you can really see how they tried to take original series roles and divide them up among a new crew (Riker as the stand-in womanizer for Kirk, Data as the stand-in for Spock, etc.). It also uses a LOT of the conventions of the old show trying to get ahold of that remnant original series audience. We can look back on the omnipotent Q abducting people and making them fight dog-faced Napoleonic soldiers and cringe at how hokey it is. We can look back on the relatively-omnipotent Excalbians abducting people and making them fight Kahless and Genghis Khan with a little help from Abraham Lincoln and get a giddy little thrill. The difference is that TOS had a shoestring budget was aimed at a more forgiving youth audience, and TNG had a respectable budget (but still hokey scripts) and was aimed at those same people after they grew up in to sophisticated adults.

It took two seasons, but they eventually got over that hurdle and turned into their own show. When asked when he first knew that they "had something" in the show, Patrick Stewart said it was while shooting "the Measure of a Man" (s2, ep9). If you think of the question a different way -- "at what point did you realize the job wasn't necessarily shit?" -- then the answer says a lot about the quality of the preceding 33 episodes.


Is It Time To Throw Out the College Application System?

Ghostworks Re:College admissions is not a life-value system (389 comments)

If you think "inane, stupid, and soul-crushing" ends at high school, you've been sheltered.

While the goal if college per se is not to churn out office drones, there is a lot of drone-ery to be done, and someone in college can do worse than to fall into one of those jobs. It's a good fallback plan for, say, the history major who just can't find in-field work. For those people, a college degree proves you can show up every day, do a task of moderate complexity, and meet deadlines reliably. That's also exactly what being anything other a straight C student demonstrates.

But most History and Philosophy and Liberal Arts departments around the country don't feel (or at least can hope) that they are training people who will stick with and contribute to the field. At that point, you can argue that you need some creative skills to break new ground. Unfortunately, opportunities for ground-breaking is foreseeably rare, and it's not going to be done if you don't have the necessary information and tools to create. Even a kid making a building-block tower needs to be given building blocks. They need students who are going to absorb that information and grow through participation. Which is exactly what C students have failed to do.

For other fields -- such as engineering -- where you can reasonably expect to get a job in the field, and then to flex your creativity once you're there, "innovation" means being basic competence, coupled with experience. Innovation as people imagine it today -- that the fruits of hard, long work can be cheated out through something cheaper and easier -- is a myth.

I would gladly concede that we need to do more to give our C students real options for becoming productive, prosperous members of society. I just don't think the rest of us are missing out for lack of their "creativity".

about 4 months ago

Lost Opportunity? Windows 10 Has the Same Minimum PC Requirements As Vista

Ghostworks Re:Lost opportunity? I doubt it (554 comments)

I'm curious what kind of cutting edge file management, load balancing, and slide-show-presenting needs are such a challenge that the OS needs to be above 1 GB. It doesn't take that much effort to support people who just want to scroll through thumbnails of their vacation photos. If you have an interesting program -- a 3D video game, a compiler, a simulator -- it will have its own minimum system requirements. And like those programs that have lower requirements, the OS generally scales up (to a point) in capability with better specs.

about 4 months ago

How many devices are connected to your home Wi-Fi?

Ghostworks Data elaboration for those that care... (260 comments)

Two person home. Two each of cell phones and laptops connected. Two entertainment devices (gaming console and Blu-Ray). I also have another wifi-ready console that I've just never setup for network play. Also one tablet, and one printer. Considering a wifi thermostat.

That's 8 devices without trying, for two users. That's also not counting "sometimes" devices on the whitelist: work laptop, frequent visitors' phones.

about 5 months ago

Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

Ghostworks Hell no. That solves nothing. (421 comments)

1) We recognize that Summer break was never meant to be time off (it's time when you needed all hands in the field and wouldn't have sent your kids to school anyway), and that do-nothing, responsibility-free childhoods are a rather recent human development. However, it's still healthy for kids to have to learn through play and be free to pursue things on their own. They need the break.

2) We recognize that the break puts a burden on parents to find activities, day care, or camps during the summer. However, it also provides a huge block of time for lengthy family vacations, which would otherwise be impossible to schedule, or even costlier because all kids get the same three week-long mini-breaks. This is good for the entire family's health and quality of life.

3) We recognize that other countries are lapping us in education. But we also have to recognize that that has nothing to do with time or money spent per student. We invest more per student than pretty much any other country, but we get worse results. That's because the fundamental changes to in teaching methods that we've made over the past 50 years have been for the worse, and other countries have made changes for the better.

4) No one wants to pay teachers for the nine months of work that they do already. More time means more cost, which no district's taxpayers are going to pay.

Ending Summer break is another costly distraction from the real problems: many teachers are unqualified for lack of training or materials, all teacher now teach mechanically to standardized tests which distract from the actual material, and many students are never going to achieve their full potential unless we first address some very hard, very real social problems first.

about 5 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About the Sorry State of FOSS Documentation?

Ghostworks Re:Software Documentation is bad everywhere (430 comments)

For developers, there are some times when the documentation SHOULD be larger than the code. The most important questions for many documentation efforts should be along the lines of "why did we choose this value" and "what values can this never be changed to without breaking something". The undocumented code must always be treated fragile, because it only gives you the final state of an engineering process. It doesn't convey any of the many small decisions that hemmed in that design. It gives you something that may work, but does not tell you how to build something that will work in the future if things change. If you give good documentation to a competent programmer, he can probably build something very close to the original program.

about 6 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About the Sorry State of FOSS Documentation?

Ghostworks Re:Software Documentation is bad everywhere (430 comments)

"documentation is bad everywhere" is one of those lies developers tell themselves to help them sleep at night. There are programs out there with outstanding documentation. (For example, as a grad student who had never toughed MatLab before I was easily able to teach myself in about a week by just scrolling through the help files.) It's just that those programs are rare, and almost none are FOSS.

This makes sense, because involvement in projects is voluntary, and contributors choose where to dole out their time. There are generally no "customers" with a carrot and stick to make the developers sweat about their failures and oversights. It makes sense that almost no one choose to spend time documenting. Even if they understand that it's a necessary pain, no one wants to be stuck doing in.

The solutions would have to be institutional. I can't think of a single OS project I've seen that had something like "decent documentation for new features" as a gating condition for a major release. That kind of cultural change is hard (and unlikely), but needs to be done if anything is to be accomplished. The only alternative is automated documentation, which doesn't really do anything more than re-state the source code in a different form. It's still only useful if the developers are religious about updating meta-code comments, which they never are.

about 6 months ago

Judge: US Search Warrants Apply To Overseas Computers

Ghostworks Re:It's almost sane(really) (502 comments)

Is there any circumstance where you think USA prosecutors should not be allowed to force foreign entities to hand over evidence without going through that country's legal system?

Sadly, if you have a brick and mortar presence and employees in a country, operating under the legal auspices of a corporation under the laws of that country, you probably don't have much right to claim to be a "foreign entity". A better example would be "if an Amsterdam tourist is suspected of trafficking drugs, and the DEA gets a warrant to search his hotel room in the U.S." That's still not an example of what we're talking about in the article, but it's a more accurate version of a "foreign entity operating in the U.S." than your example.

about 6 months ago

Judge: US Search Warrants Apply To Overseas Computers

Ghostworks Re:It's almost sane(really) (502 comments)

But this is how it already works. For example, China could say to Google "give us access to G-Mail or we'll just block it completely, may be even kick your company out". Then it's a game of chicken. But China does have the right under their laws to block G-Mail or ban Google, as well as to demand unreasonable things from resident companies as the price of doing business. Laws everywhere have always worked this way. This is not new.

Now the question: if (beyond a certain point) businesses really have no choice but to deal with corrupt regimes, and customers have no choice but to deal with businesses that deal with corrupt regimes, what protects consumers in one jurisdiction from corruption in another? The answer is competing laws. If China imposes harsh penalties for failing to do X, but the U.S. or Europe impose equally harsh penalties for doing X, then businesses torn between them actually have some refuge through ceded responsibility.

This is exactly how U.S. bribery laws work: "We would love grease your palms, great Poo-bah, but U.S. law says that if we do then we can't do business there, which would mean we also don't have business to do here, so please don't even ask." When there is risk of cross-corruption in the market, it is the government's responsibility to step in and throw up a wall.

(As a side note, this notion of ceded responsibility is why there are some industries that actually petition for _stronger_ regulations. For example, it's common in some parts for large arms dealers to have to "sweeten the pot" with government buyers by agreeing to pay for side projects, such as the construction of a hospital, as a condition of sale. This is a cost arms dealers would rather avoid, so they petitioned Congress for years to have such "gifts" declared a form of illegal bribery.)

about 6 months ago

California Legalizes Bitcoin

Ghostworks And now for the down side... (162 comments)

California generally has immaculate consumer protection laws. A good number of those laws eliminate methods stores sue to lock money that could otherwise be taken elsewhere, or even strip money away without providing any services at all. For example, they were first to make it illegal to charge monthly fees on a gift card (which would eventually bring a card's worth down to nothing even if the owner never spent a dime of it's starting value).

Gift certificates and cash-like coupons like Starbuck's stars, Kohl's cash, and the like are fine as as an option, but I certainly wouldn't want to get them back in lieu of real cash if I, say, returned a purchase.

Sometimes California is a large enough market to drag the whole country along for the ride, and sometimes not. In this case, I think Californians will mostly be affected, ad the rest of the country will plow on as usual. Even so, we should all have a critical eye towards any reduction in consumer protections.

about 7 months ago

Facebook's Emotion Experiment: Too Far, Or Social Network Norm?

Ghostworks Re:more interessting,.. (219 comments)

The line is drawn pretty clearly at psychological testing. Facebook did NOT test it's systems: it manipulated their systems to test the psychology of the population. This was not a usability study, or even a technical study, just a a psychological study. The deliberately skewed their results and monitored feedback with the intention of studying how their subjects (people, not devices) reacted.

In theory, there is a gray area where we might ask if something that might be ethical without technology is now somehow unethical (and vice versa). But that's not the case here. This case is blatant, deliberate, and callous.

about 7 months ago

Supreme Court Rules Cell Phones Can't Be Searched Without a Warrant

Ghostworks Re:FP (249 comments)

It is common sense obvious. It is not common law obvious. Previous rulings on cell phones extended the findings for pagers, and the finding for pagers was that they were a container of information, like an address book, which can be searched like any other container during a stop or arrest.

There was obviously strain between previous rulings and reality, but that doesn't mean with any certainty that it was going to be corrected today by the Supreme Court. The court could have even further extended the previous cell phone findings, or even delivered a weaker test for whether the "container" can be searched. That makes this a rare, decisive, and unanimous(!) ruling from the court.

about 6 months ago

Kids With Operators Manual Alert Bank Officials: "We Hacked Your ATM"

Ghostworks I want to be shocked, but I just can't be. (378 comments)

Back before the internet, it was common practice to put hard-coded admin passwords in documentation, in case anyone should forget the real password. In some industries (say, construction road signs) it just never occurred to them that anyone would ever care to look it up for a prank. In other industries, like ATMs, the assumption was that documentation was obscure and difficult to lay hands on without writing to a real person who then had to mail a manual to a real address of an existing customer.

The fact that they still do this is depressing, but doesn't surprise me in the least.

about 7 months ago

U.S. Drone Attack Strategy Against Al-Qaeda May Be Wrong

Ghostworks Missing the (well, a) point (433 comments)

Saying that drone warfare is not particularly good at decapitating an institutional terrorist organization like Al Qaeda is missing the point. Or at least a key point. Drone warfare has made large scale terrorist training largely impossible. The boot camps and months long, practical courses in guerrilla warfare that used to be an Al Qaeda staple are now just very visible, attractive targets for drones. Drone warfare occasionally knocks out a head, but it really undermines the base.

In all force, there is some deterrence power. For some technologies, the deterrence is the whole point. For example, land mines aren't meant to be a good way to blow up people, they're meant to be a good way to prevent groups of people from traversing an area once you advertise that it's full of mines. Here, drones are useful for rapid, cheap attacks of opportunity... but the fact that they are almost always ready means long-term, open-air training camps are suicide.

about 8 months ago

Yahoo Stops Honoring 'Do-Not-Track' Settings

Ghostworks Re:Privacy only works when it's in your own hands (300 comments)

Exactly. It was always a pretty bad idea. In fact, it reminds me a great deal of the RFC 3514 "evil bit"

Do-Not-Track is basically a "Don't be evil" bit. It makes a plea on behalf of the end user and the end user hopes some distant system honors it. Any time you implement some version of the evil bit, you should expect that it's not going to work.

(Then again, there are a lot of tech features in use now -- such as a PDF owner_pass edit lock, or phone service Caller ID blocking -- which are also based on "please keep private" bit, and those are effective for 98% of the people out there who are just to lazy to get around them. So maybe there's something to be said for an evil bit after all.)

about 9 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What Good Print Media Is Left?

Ghostworks Short news is dead, long analysis lives. (285 comments)

"Long read" periodicals, which rely on research or expertise are still worth reading. The Economist and Foreign Policy are tow that stick out in my mind.

Local news may or may not be good. When national coverage dominates, you're basically getting a watered down version of last week's CNN. When local coverage dominates, at least you know there was was probably no other source for that information.

Industry Journals probably cover esoteric topic no one else will, so those count if your are actually interested in the esoteric topics.

Sadly, the niche, hobby magazine is pretty much dead. Big players release news and content directly to the web, and the best commentary is spread around blogs and web-zines. In fact, if the bulk of a magazine can be described as "news about X", or a "a community newsletter for Y", then it's dead.

about 9 months ago

The Poor Neglected Gifted Child

Ghostworks A Reminder: there is no STEM worker shortage (529 comments)

America's tech leaders are literally going to Washington with demands for "comprehensive immigration reform that allows for the hiring of the best and brightest".

I'm honestly surprised that more hasn't been said so far of this statement. I suppose it comes up rather frequently here when visas come up, but I think that it needs to be stated again: there is no STEM worker shortage. There is no lack of qualified people. American companies are just too cheap to train, and don't want to pay American workers proportionate to their talents and the cost of living in America. And I think it's worth repeating that again, and again, and again, because as near as I can tell policy-makers actually seem to believe the nonsense they are being fed.

about 10 months ago

Time Warner Deal Is How Comcast Will Fight Cord Cutters

Ghostworks The move may be counter productive (424 comments)

First, my immediate response, as a Time Warner customer was, "well, we're canceling then. I literally would prefer to deal with Satan than Comcast." That's not an abuse of the word literally: I mean in all serious that the Morning Star, enemy of man, font of lies and evil has a better business track record than Comcast, and I would be more likely to extend him the benefit of the doubt. This means we're ditching cable, internet, and phone from Time Warner.

Second, AT&T still sells internet connections. As do others if we really need to move to a smaller firm. And that's just because we've so far been too lazy to set up either of our devices as a cell modem or link it to a larger screen. Mobile phones make the land line and the cable lines have a lot less value. Comcasts' proposition -- that cable is inherently valuable even with shitty service provided to relatively few true television-viewers -- is already on very shaky terms.

Third, the wife and I immediately re-evaluated how much TV we watch. We quickly came to the agreement that we DVR more than we ever watch, that most of those could have been received over-the-air from networks, and that we really aren't that interested in most of them anymore. Most of the time we ignore the DVR-ed material to binge on classics and series on Netflix, new releases on Red Box, or just plain, old-fashioned, 3-seasons-on-sale-for-$15 DVDs. We can do with a lot less in terms of cable.

In the short run, people who will be most affected are families that can't imagine ditching the Disney Channel. In families without adolescents yet, I think a lot more people will just be too cheap to ever -start- on the Disney Channel. Their strategy, like every Comcast strategy, is short-sighted.

about a year ago


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