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Statistics Losing Ground To CS, Losing Image Among Students

HalfFlat Statistics is awesome (115 comments)

It's a shame it has such a reputation for being boring, and it is a shame that it seems to be rarely taught in an engaging way.

Statistics is the first artificial intelligence. It formalises what we know when we 'know'. It is fundamental.

It's also fairly hard to do right. But many worthwhile things are hard.

about 4 months ago
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Overeager Compilers Can Open Security Holes In Your Code

HalfFlat Bad advice (199 comments)

Short of bugs in the compiler's optimizer — and we all know there have been many — the idea that "if the entire code absolutely must stay fully intact, it shouldn't be optimized" is already dangerous.

A compiler conforming to its documentation or standard isn't going to change semantics that have been guaranteed by that document. Those guarantees though are all you have: even without explicit optimization options, a compiler has a lot of freedom in how it implements those semantics. Relying on a naïve translation from a line of code to a particular, non-guaranteed assembly representation is a very brittle practice.

about 6 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Books for a Comp Sci Graduate Student?

HalfFlat Theory and practice (247 comments)

Graduate-level CS encompasses a lot of ground!

Knuth is of course a valuable addition to the book-shelf — as others have pointed out, it's a superb source for chasing up information, details and citations for algorithms and data structures one needs to justify or investigate, if nothing else.

Okasaki's Purely Functional Data Structures has also already been mentioned, and I'd add my endorsement!

I would recommend two other texts to add to a collection:

  • Computational Geometry by de Berg et al.: computational geometry techniques have a habit of turning up all over the place in CS and computing more generally, and this is probably the best overview text, providing motivating examples, a good high level theoretical discussion, and pseudo-code.
  • Category Theory for Computing Science by Barr and Wells is an excellent introduction to both type theory and category theory, each informing the other.

I would recommend a book on convex optimisation and probabilistic graphical models, but frankly I don't know of a single text on either topic that I could whole-heartedly recommend. Any suggestions?

about 8 months ago
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Big Pharma Presses US To Quash Cheap Drug Production In India

HalfFlat Huge success (255 comments)

Hundreds of billions spent on drug development, primarily driven by state investment and infrastructure, and billions of people in India and elsewhere gain significant health benefits. Really, this is the way it is supposed to work. That some private individuals are not making as large a personal profit is purely their own problem.

about 10 months ago
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Sweden Is Closing Many Prisons Due to Lack of Prisoners

HalfFlat Re:Repulsive! Government Waste! (752 comments)

There are countries far more socialist than Sweden that have a prison and murder rate per capita far higher than the US.

Well, no. No, there isn't. Because the US is in fact the world leader in per capita incarceration rate. The US is, in this metric, really number one.

Murder is another story. If you compare the US though with its economic peers, you have to go a long way down the per-capita GDP axis before you find another country with a higher per-capita homicide rate.

about a year ago
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Visual Studio 2013 Released

HalfFlat Re: TFS... (198 comments)

I'm willing to believe things are going great in your environment — we have been plagued by problems. (Some of the gripes in my post may have been specific to TFS2008, though the mind-boggling line transposition was just two months ago.) We will almost certainly be upgrading TFS when we move to VS2013, though given some of the egregious compiler bugs present in the new release, we will probably wait until the first SP. In the meantime, we're migrating projects over to git, and ultimately we will probably not use TFS at all for source control.

It is good to know that some issues can be addressed with tfpt; it would have been very helpful to have that functionality accessible from within Visual Studio (hint, hint.)

I haven't any repeatable set-ups of brokenness, but things do seem to be way less reliable when we have files with mixed line-ending characters, or when TFS is operating in a non-constantly connected network environment (owing to the VPN link.)

about a year ago
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Visual Studio 2013 Released

HalfFlat Re: TFS... (198 comments)

TFS2010 very good? Oh, my.

I've seen: check-ins transpose lines on check out; complete failures to update to actual latest versions of code; and random check-outs of code with no local changes.

Other fun aspects: can't unshelve to anything but the changeset that the shelf came from; industry worst? merge and diff tool; no non-connected way of getting changeset info for automatic version information; despite being a centralized model, local workspaces can't be moved (say, in the advent of hardware failure on a development machine). The only way I can be assured that the check-in state actually correlates with what I have locally is to manually run a compare over the project directory and check.

It's also terribly, astonishly, slow over a VPN. Start typing to make a change, only to have all but the first character thrown away as TFS laboriously attempts to check out the file first.

It is so crushingly painful to use now, that I honestly can't imagine they've fixed all their shit in two years to make TFS2012.

about a year ago
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Visual Studio 2013 Released

HalfFlat Re:TFS... (198 comments)

As someone who is obliged to use TFS, I would say that your reading is correct.

about a year ago
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Ask Slashdot: Should More Math and Equations Be Used In the Popular Press?

HalfFlat It's pathetic (385 comments)

We don't expect journalists to write articles only in Basic English. If someone were to profess that they had never heard of Shakespeare, or didn't know what a metaphor was, we would rightly judge them as being ignorant, or at the least, highly under-educated. Yet, apparently, balking at the simplest of equations is perfectly acceptable.

It's no wonder that we have such shallow thinking, such an abysmal and superficial political discourse, such a disengagement with the notions of science and society, when everyone is given a free pass when it comes to mathematics and logic. Put equations in your writing. Judge those who complain about 'math'. People who are unwilling to think can barely be counted as citizens, having abrogated a fundamental and necessary duty.

Regular ignorance can be cured. Wilful ignorance is a blight. We need to demand better of our peers.

about a year ago
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Canadian Couple Charged $5k For Finding 400-Year-Old Skeleton

HalfFlat What is property? (601 comments)

It is by no means clear that anyone has a fundamental right to own land. Indeed, few individuals own land outright — in common law states, real property is typically held fee simple.

If all land were owned and its use restricted to private individuals, how could one live without being a property owner, or being beholden to one? Land exists independently of human art, and our literal existence demands that we at the very least reside in it, breathe the air on it, and so forth. Morally, the private, exclusive use of land must come with an obligation that that ownership benefits our society more than a lack of ownership would — there is an obligation of stewardship, if nothing else.

The system whereby our governments enforce property ownership is almost certainly better than one where individuals maintain the exclusive use and benefit of land by force. Yet it is by no means a natural system, and those who benefit by it to the exclusion of their fellows should not be divorced from the obligations associated with it.

about a year and a half ago
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With Sales Down, Whale Meat Flogged As Source of Strength

HalfFlat Re:It's actually surprisingly cheap... (311 comments)

Things may well have changed in the last 7 years or so, but I don't recall many izakaya offering nomihodai courses back then.

about a year and a half ago
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NASA's Basement Nuclear Reactor

HalfFlat Re:It will still be radioactive (368 comments)

63Ni might have an annoyingly long half-life, but it is a pure beta emitter at a relatively low energy (max 67 keV). I wouldn't lick it, but it is a much more manageable risk than 137Cs, which produces a lot of nasty gamma.

about 2 years ago
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NASA's Basement Nuclear Reactor

HalfFlat Re:Chart of the nuclides (368 comments)

Beryllium-7 decays naturally (to Lithium) by electron capture, but obviously Hydrogen doesn't, without some sort of push.

According to one of the presentations at the LENR symposium at CERN last year, the required energy deficit is on the order of 1.28 MeV, which in principle can be supplied by surface plasmons. The author states that observed neutron generation in lightning discharges and piezoelectric rock fracturing can be explained by this process.

about 2 years ago
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US Educational Scores Not So Abysmal

HalfFlat Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (412 comments)

Social mobility when achieved through government policy rather than economic reality will cost more in the long run.

I think both theoretically and evidentally, this is not the case. If you are brought up with wealth, you have better nutrition, better education, more lucrative social networks, more useful free time, and a far less severe exposure to risk. If there is no government policy to redress this imbalance, then probability dictates that wealth concentrates and poverty, on the whole, becomes entrenched. And this is what we see in the modern US.

Individuals certainly have opportunities to make for themselves a better life. But if they are coming from a poor background, those opportunities are far fewer, they must work harder to take advantage of them, and the consequences of failure are much more severe. Essentially, the dice are loaded.

Moral considerations aside, a society where 80% of the population have the opportunity to take risks and be innovative and exploit usefully the extant infrastructure is going to be economically more successful than one in which only 20% do.

about 2 years ago
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US Educational Scores Not So Abysmal

HalfFlat Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (412 comments)

And yet there is greater socioeconomic mobility in the US than in other places, such as Europe.

It would be hard to be more wrong — the US is on par with the UK, and both are well behind most of Western Europe. See, for example, this Wikipedia entry.

about 2 years ago
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Juggling By the Numbers

HalfFlat Re:I can juggle three ... (59 comments)

Much like BlackPignouf, it took me a month of daily practice to learn how to do the standard three cascade, and having been through that, I've found it very easy to teach others how to do it. (Probably, familiarity with a whole suite of failure modes helps.)

I persisted with juggling, and had a lot of fun with more complicated patterns, pass juggling, and so on. But it is all a case of directed persistance overcoming a complete lack of any natural ability.

about 2 years ago
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A.I. Advances Through Deep Learning

HalfFlat Re:Sources of improvements? (162 comments)

[...] using real numbers (real, not floating-point) would give a trans-Turing capability.

Given that almost every real number encodes an uncountable number of bits of information, I guess this isn't especially surprising in retrospect. The result though should make us suspicious of the assumption that the physical constants and properties in our physical theories can indeed take any real number value.

about 2 years ago

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