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Single Microbe May Have Triggered the "Great Dying"

OldTOP Re:He is mistaken (171 comments)

Good point – but in fact a dictionary does show about half a dozen meanings for "theory", one of which is a synonym for hypothesis.

It's a real problem that many people seem to think that "theory" has only that one meaning, and don't understand that in science it more often means an established body of knowledge generally derived from a number of well-verified hypotheses.

about 2 years ago

Murder Is Like a Disease (No, Really)

OldTOP Re:Careful you don't run afoul (299 comments)

Another analysis might be that gun control laws are introduced in places that have problems with guns. There's room for any amount of discussion about why problems arise in some places but not others, but clearly the situation is very different in different parts of the country. It has also been noted that places with relaxed gun control laws are a significant source of the guns used to commit murders elsewhere. Why would you enact strict laws if you didn't have problems and your economy benefited from the sale of guns?

It's very similar to the problem of the single currency in the Euro zone preventing local economies from using monetary policy to deal with local problems.

about 2 years ago

Linus Torvalds Advocates For 2560x1600 Standard Laptop Displays

OldTOP Re:Damn it, Torvolds! (661 comments)

It's nice to have a couple of large files open side by side sometimes. When I have a lot of windows open at the same time I prefer to have them side by side rather than stacked vertically. As long as I have enough vertical pixels, lots of horizontal pixels are nice too. At the moment I kind of like 16:10 because 1920:1200 is the widest screen I can get for a reasonable price with 1200 vertical pixels.

about 2 years ago

Exposure to Backlit Displays Reduces Melatonin Production

OldTOP Re:Sample size too small? (192 comments)

Depends. You don't have to hit 1000 people on the thumb with a hammer to conclude that some people sustain damage when hit on the thumb with a hammer.

If you're trying to find correlations between events in a complex situation where you can't directly observe the relationship, large samples are necessary. If you give someone a radioactive tracer and track it with suitable instrumentation, you can figure out where that pill went without trying it out on 999 more people.

more than 2 years ago

Knight Trading Losses Attributed To Old, Dormant Software

OldTOP Re:As a Conservative (223 comments)

A bit simple minded.
Capitalism is a system with several distinct components. Investment is a process whereby wealth is accumulated and used to develop mines, factories and the like which in turn create more wealth. Finance is the operation of banks and other institutions to move money from place to place. Markets are places, real or virtual, where goods are traded or exchanged for money. Markets, mines, factories and banks all existed long before Adam Smith developed his theories about them.
Over the last couple of centuries we have (at least in theory) had a system called Free Market Capitalism. A market system may be considered free when it is not unduly controlled by governments or monopolies. We have also been rather keen on Free Enterprise, which means mines, factories and so on are privately owned and operated in a manner reasonably free of government interference. We do, however expect a system of laws governing contracts to enforce repayment of loans and delivery of goods that have been sold. There may even be laws holding mine and factory owners liable when they kill or poison their workers, although there are certainly those who regard this as undesirable interference.
Too Big to Fail generally means we're in a situation where owners no longer suffer the consequences of failure as they are assumed to do in Free Market Capitalism. We the people didn't get a voice in how they were run, but we're supposed to bail them out.
The stock market is the interface between Finance and Investment. It is indeed part of the capitalist system as we know it. If you buy shares in a limited liability company, you're putting your money at risk, hoping the operations of the company will be profitable. However, if you're just looking for a quick return in the short term, you probably don't care if the company is successful in the long term. You may pressure the directors to go for short-term profits to drive the share price up so you can sell your shares at a profit, leaving someone else holding shares that will lose their value when the short-sighted decisions lead to problems.
The stock market is not necessarily good for the long term health of the economy.
If companies are owned by people who have their own money invested, they will probably be managed for a balance of short and long term returns. If companies are run by managers who are trying to attract the interest of day-traders, then main street may very well suffer.
Capitalism requires companies to be able to raise money through investment in shares, but there's no guarantee that stock markets will operate in a way that leads to a healthy capitalist economy.

more than 2 years ago

US CIO/CTO: Idea of Hiring COBOL Coders Laughable

OldTOP Re:Good luck with that... (265 comments)

Do you think it would be a good idea to remove some regulation from government, as well as from private industry? Of course we're all supposed to be afraid that would lead to massive waste, but that's what we achieve with over regulation anyway. Are you ready to write your congresscritter and tell it to loosen up procurement procedures?

more than 2 years ago

New Mobile Plan Pools Data On Unlimited Devices

OldTOP Re:Good idea (68 comments)

If I had teenage kids I might agree with you.

more than 2 years ago

New Mobile Plan Pools Data On Unlimited Devices

OldTOP Re:Data, minutes, SMS (68 comments)

Sort of. But all data is not created equal. VoIP requires many small packets which consume more packet switching capacity than a smaller number of larger packets typical of other data. VoIP also typically requires higher QoS than other data. Of course that can all be swamped by streaming video.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Could We Deal With the End of Time Zones?

OldTOP Re:Why fix it? (990 comments)

What's to stop you using UTC in any situation where you think it's convenient? Why do the rest of us have to change? The relic of the past is separate time zones in every town. Standardizing that to a couple of dozen time zones plus Newfoundland stil leaves anomalies near the boundaries but it works well enough for people in most localities. Having the day change in the middle of the morning or afternoon would strike many people as a bit of an anomaly. It might be useful to give the UTC in parentheses after the local time for a few things like airline schedules. There are benefits to setting your watch to local times once you land, though. You have some idea how soon it's likely to get dark, when hotels are likely to let you check in or out, when restaurants are likely to be serving breakfast or lunch and so on. And you can leave the time on your phone set to UTC so you'll know when that conference call is -- or if you've given up wearing a watch, get a phone that's not too dumb to display local and UTC at the same time...

more than 3 years ago

Personal Electronics May Indeed Disrupt Avionics

OldTOP Re:Some activities warrant excessive caution ... (505 comments)

Anecdotal evidence can motivate scientific research.

Absolutely. And compilation and analysis of anecdotal evidence can lead to reasonable suggestions for modifying behavior even before there is a full understanding of the underlying mechanisms, trading off putative benefit of behavior change against cost of not doing so.

Besides, in this case, TFA quotes Boeing engineers demonstrating mechanisms by which the anecdotally described problems can be reproduced. In almost all serious accidents there are a number of factors, no single one of which would have caused the accident all by itself, although removing any single one of them might have been enough to prevent the accident.

more than 3 years ago

Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains?

OldTOP Re:The first people computers put out of work (622 comments)

were called computers. They were educated people who performed long, repetitive calculations such as artillery tables. Electronic computers were developed to do that work faster and more reliably.

There doesn't seem to be any fundamental reason that the power of machines to do both mechanical and information processing shouldn't be directed to providing leisure instead of increased production. In fact, the work week for some has come down from six or seven twelve hour days, which was quite common until about 100 years ago to five eight hour days now. Children from the age of five or six used to work those hours, often in dangerous jobs.

There have always been a few people who make a good deal of money from the output of both machines and other people. That money gives them a lot of influence, and they don't give up their profits willingly. Change requires society as a whole to focus on some paricular segment, to the point where it is impossible for even hired legislators to ignore it. That will be difficult, at least in the US, because FOX News does a brilliant job of persuading a sizable chunk of the population to blame and despise the victims.

Perhaps it would be easier to start by rallying sympathy for burger flippers and Walmart drudges, and maybe even teachers, than for lawyers, though.

more than 3 years ago

Cancer Resembles Life 1 Billion Years Ago

OldTOP Why do the "controlling genes" fail? (223 comments)

Maybe the few genes that regulate the primitive behavior are simple and incapable of evolving, although it’s not clear why those genes would not mutate. TFA doesn’t give any reason to believe there is only one mechanism for suppressing them, or that it only has one mode of failure.

more than 3 years ago

The Binary Code In Canada's Gov-Gen Coat of Arms

OldTOP How about doing the math? (486 comments)

Should be modded down, or FruitLoops should be modded up. As he says:
1972549D3 (hex)
6830770643 (decimal)
Since each Mersenne primes is (by definition) one less than a power of two, it should be immediately obvious that in binary, it will be a string of ones, with no zeros.

more than 4 years ago

Flying Cars Hop Slightly Closer With FAA Weight Waiver

OldTOP Re:Say what? (123 comments)

But really not the point.

As a lot of people have pointed out, flying is harder than driving. A roadable airplane would appeal to an existing market of licensed pilots. The concept of a flying car is that you trade in the clapped out Taurus and take off in your new whirlygig from the dealer's parking lot and somehow make your way home without making an appearance on the nightly news -- assuming that such mayhem had not become too commonplace to make the news any more.

This project actually expands the potential market a bit, since they've managed to get it certified as a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). You only need a Sport Pilot license to fly it, and you can get one more easily (and cheaply) than a Private Pilot license. There are restrictions (only one passenger, no night flying, and don't go near the major airports, for example -- and even with a Private Pilot license, the restrictions apply because it's an LSA) but it would be great for recreational use.

You'd still have to keep the old Taurus on the road, because you certainly wouldn't want someone rendering your $100K LSA un-airworthy while you left it in the supermarket parking lot.

"Roadable" means you don't have to leave it at the airport, and if you run into bad weather you can land and drive home, and if you fly down to the airport near the beach, you can drive the rest of the way -- if you think it's safe to park it off the airport.

Taking an airplane and making it roadable may not seem like much of an idea if you were thinking of the Jetsons, but if you're already a pilot, or are thinking about becoming one, it's a pretty neat idea.

more than 4 years ago

US House Passes Ban On Caller ID Spoofing

OldTOP Recieved out of band, delivered inband (171 comments)

Calls originated over ISDN can send a caller ID number in the out of band signaling channel. The SS7 switching network relays both the ANI and the Caller ID, which are identical for calls from POTS lines (which do not have an out of band signaling path to the local office). The phone company can provide the ANI for a call if there is an allegation of caller ID spoofing. The owner of the ISDN line which originated the call could then be charged for caller ID spoofing. Calls originating outside the U.S. might be harder to investigate.

Caller ID is delivered in band to POTS lines. This might allow the originator to send phony caller ID information inband. However, the speech path forward may not be opened until the call answers, which would make things tricky for the spoofer.

more than 4 years ago

US House Passes Ban On Caller ID Spoofing

OldTOP Re:Yet another legal solution to a technical probl (171 comments)

Since there is no out of band channel from the end office to your phone (unless you have ISDN or VoIP), you probably can't prevent caller ID spoofing. As I understand it, caller ID is sent to the called phone as a burst of modem tones. It sees unlikely at this point in time that the installed base of telephone switches would ever be modified to do things differently.

more than 4 years ago

"Pathfinders" Take Shape For Galileo, Europe's GPS

OldTOP Re:general relativity at work (105 comments)

I think the point is that without knowledge of GR/GS, the satellites would have had clocks set to run at the same rate as clocks on earth, and the system would not have worked until they figured out why the clocks in orbit ran at a different rate, and then figured out how to calculate the proper correction factor.

It took a couple of readings of the post at the top of this thread to figure out what it was trying to say.

about 5 years ago

Why Computers Suck At Math

OldTOP Re:Curse of binary floating point (626 comments)

There's more to it. Computers making math processing so cheap that we tend to just throw in the numbers without thinking about what's going to happen. TFA mentions that in the last paragraph, but unfortunately most of it is misleading sensationalism.

When you perform subtraction, you generally lose precision. 1234678 - 1234567 = 1. You start with 7 digits of precision and end up with 1. Look at it this way: if the first number was off by one, and error of about one part in a million, your answer would become 0 or 2 instead of 1 -- an error of one part in one.

When you are designing a control system, you have to understand what precision you need in your final answer, and you have to know whether each step in your algorithm maintains the necessary precision. If you don't know how to do that, you're not qualified to design the algorithm. Unfortunately, it's quite possible that neither you nor your bosses know that, so you'll design it anyway.

Handing people a copy of Excel and saying, "Here, this thing will do math for you -- it multiplies and divides and does a whole lot of statistical functions" is like putting them in an airplane and saying "Here, this thing has controls to make it go up and down, left and right -- go fly it."

It is true that computer software tends to hide the internals of how arithmetic gets done, and as a result it's particularly easy to get into trouble. The problems have been understood since before computers were invented. What's changed is that you used to have to study to find out how to do mathematical computation, and in the process you might learn enough to avoid the problems. Now the software tends to be distributed without even small print warnings that there are problems and you can get into serious trouble if you don't understand how things work.

about 5 years ago

3 Strikes — Denying Physics Won't Save the Video Stars

OldTOP Re:heh. (284 comments)

How about an Op Ed piece last week by George Will discussing decriminalizing marijuana?

Apparently some conservatives are looking at the tax impact of the war on drugs and the resulting prison population, and coming to the conclusion that a change in policy might be a good idea.

about 5 years ago

School System Considers Jamming Students' Phones

OldTOP Re:back in my day (785 comments)

I think you're addressing the wrong problem.

Cell phones let people inside the school communicate in an emergency -- to say "I'm trapped by a fire on the third floor, get me out please", or "There's a nasty man with a gun shooting people in my classroom" or whatever. Telephones in the classrooms only work if you can get to them and there's someone in the office to answer (unless the phones have outside access).

They're a bloody nuisance the reat of the time, of course.

more than 5 years ago


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