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Gamma-ray Bursts May Explain Fermi's Paradox

Roger W Moore Travel is hard, Radio is not (89 comments)

An alternate "simplest" explanation (though less likely) is that we are first.

Just curious but why do you say that? We have no clue how likely intelligent life is to evolve. All we know is that it has happened once, and it took 3.5 billion years from the formation of the first like on Earth. Suppose that this was very much faster than average and the the mean time for intelligent life to evolve (once life itself has started) is 30 billion years? Such a long time would hugely reduce the number of intelligent species since you need a very stable environment for a long period of time and even then you have to get lucky.

Trying to quantify what you don't know is a mug's game...in order to be able to do it you really need to know what you don't know. If anything I would argue that there is, perhaps, some weak evidence for intelligent life being rare: travel might be hard but radio is easy. We have not heard ET's broadcasts which would suggest perhaps that there is no intelligent life nearby (or they use some technology beyond EM waves).

3 hours ago
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Doomsday Clock Moved Two Minutes Forward, To 23:57

Roger W Moore Global warming = doomsday? (215 comments)

you have to wonder why anyone would put any stock in it.

Especially given that they now track global warming. Nuclear war is a doomsday scenario but global warming is most certainly not. It may cause economic hardship and the displacement of populations as sea levels rise plus the need to alter crops etc. but it is not going to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. Since the clock is supposedly set by scientists if they can be so wrong about something scientific then I have little faith they can predict the likelihood of nuclear war either given that this depends on politics.

2 days ago
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US/UK Will Stage 'Cyber-Attack War Games' As Pressure Against Encryption Mounts

Roger W Moore Homegrown Initiative (77 comments)

Fortunately the US is likely to tell Cameron to fuck off, since it would be unconstitutional to ban encryption...

Just like it is unconstitutional to torture prisoners etc. etc.? I expect that you are right in that they will deny his request but the reason will be because it is the request of a foreign power. I also expect that many US politicians will think that it sounds like an excellent idea and after a suitable period so that they can claim it is their own idea there will be an American lead initiative to do the same thing. Why would they listen to some idiotic right wing UK politician when they have plenty of their own to choose from?

about two weeks ago
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Authors Alarmed As Oxford Junior Dictionary Drops Nature Words

Roger W Moore Re:Literally (174 comments)

"Incorrect" in languages is only incorrect until we change the rules.

True but there needs to be some definition of what counts as 'we' when it comes to changing the rules. A few ignorant kids posting comments on Twitter and Facebook showing they have no clue what 'literally' means should not be enough to get the meaning changed in a dictionary. Indeed I would guess the way that most people saw the 'new' meaning was through reposts with a comment to the effect of "look what this idiot wrote".

about two weeks ago
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Authors Alarmed As Oxford Junior Dictionary Drops Nature Words

Roger W Moore Simple Definition (174 comments)

What constitutes a forest might be complicated in the UK. But it's simple in the US .

No, what constitutes a forest is simple everywhere. It is just defined as ...er... a ...um... ok who who thought dropping 'forest' from the dictionary was a good idea?

about two weeks ago
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Exploring Some Lesser-Known Scripting Languages

Roger W Moore C++ (60 comments)

C++ might be a well known language but it is generally never though of as a script language. However if you are curious you can have a look at ROOT C++ or as some of us like to call it C+/-...because it is only C++ to within some (wide) margin of error.

about two weeks ago
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How Close Are We To Engineering the Climate?

Roger W Moore Re:Start with Venus... (319 comments)

The first nuclear bomb test heated a volume of atmosphere to higher temperatures, and reached higher pressures, than any similar volume of atmosphere in the entirety of Earth's history, by natural or artificial means.

What about a meteorite impact? The shockwave from a sufficiently large one (and there is plenty of evidence of these) would presumably be very similar to that of a nuclear device. While the energy density at the core of the explosion might be less than a nuclear bomb presumably it is the shockwave heating which you need to generate the chain reaction since this will create high temperature and pressures rather than just temperature? I'm not a plasma physicist though...

about two weeks ago
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UK Prime Minister Says Gov't Should Be Capable of Reading Any Communications

Roger W Moore EU != UK (329 comments)

Why should they? When the banking secret was killed by the EU, the banks did not threaten to go elsewhere.

There is a large difference (of almost 400 million people) between the EU and the UK. Large businesses cannot afford to pull out of the EU, much like they cannot afford to pull out of the US. However I imagine they would be far less adverse to moving their HQ from London to Frankfurt, Dublin or some other non-UK, EU location.

about two weeks ago
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UK Computing Teachers Concerned That Pupils Know More Than Them

Roger W Moore Knowledge not Fashion (388 comments)

The other thing I wondered about is the different expectations. If your instructor still thinks myspace is where the cool kids hangout....

Well having grown up in the UK and been to computer lessons in school (in the 1980s) I'd say that my expectations were that the teachers knew the subject material. When it came to maths, physics, chemistry etc. the teachers I had really knew their stuff and I learnt a heck of a lot from them but with computing it was far more variable.

I almost got into real trouble in one class using BBC Micros. We were told to write a program to add two numbers together which was incredibly trivial so, having the same computer at home, I thought I'd do the assignment in a more challenging way and teach myself assembly to add the numbers using the 'Advanced User Guide' which they had at school but I'd not got at home. I ran into some problems (you had to loop the assembly code through the parser twice to compile it) and when I asked for help and she saw the code she threw a fit. I was threatened with detention for not doing the assignment etc. etc. despite my protestations and explanation.

Fortunately the senior computing teacher walked in before anything got set in stone and she got him to come over to show him how badly I'd been behaving. His response was 'leave him to me' at which point he sat down and proceeded to show me what I was missing and then set me the challenge to figure out how to add two numbers which gave an answer greater than 255 (since it was an 8-bit machine) and how to store negative numbers using 2's complement. I learnt more computing in the 10 minutes he spent with me during one of his free periods than I learnt in the entire rest of the term with the idiot we had who was supposed to be teaching us.

So this is hardly a new problem. Teachers have a duty to make sure that the know what they are teaching and, worse, if their reaction to someone who may know more than they do is anger and hostility then they really have no business at all being a teacher at all. Who cares what they think about "fashion" - that's only relevant to education when it comes to engagement and sometimes being hopelessly out of date can be more engaging than being up to date.

about two weeks ago
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UK Prime Minister Says Gov't Should Be Capable of Reading Any Communications

Roger W Moore With an Idiot in charge (329 comments)

This is why it will fail. Not because it would destroy everyone's privacy but because it will destroy the privacy of large, international companies. They will threaten to move out of the UK, the tories will panic and the bill will disappear until the idiot in charge forgets again and attempts to resurrect it for a third time in a couple of years from now (assuming he survives the general election).

about two weeks ago
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UK Prime Minister Says Gov't Should Be Capable of Reading Any Communications

Roger W Moore Government or Authorities? (329 comments)

Let's hope he means "the authorities" and not "the government" since the government consists of MPs and if they have to be able to read it they will probably need to outlaw words with more than 3 syllables and writing something in a language other than English will count as use of advanced encryption.

about two weeks ago
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Education Debate: Which Is More Important - Grit, Or Intelligence?

Roger W Moore Einstein (249 comments)

Not really - in this analogy grit would be the engine, intelligence would be knowing where to drive it. As Einstein put it “Science is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”. You need the 'grit' to get you through the perspiration and your 'intelligence' to provide the inspiration. So it is just like a North American road trip: you spend 99% of your time driving down a long, boring motorway getting to the city but once you get there you need some intelligence to navigate the one way system to get somewhere interesting.

about two weeks ago
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Education Debate: Which Is More Important - Grit, Or Intelligence?

Roger W Moore Grit? (249 comments)

I thought grit was what you put under the tyres to stop them slipping when it's -30C and icy.

about two weeks ago
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How Close Are We To Engineering the Climate?

Roger W Moore Deliberate vs. Side effect (319 comments)

How much effort does that require?

Well technically none at all - absolutely no effort was put into changing the climate whatsoever it was just a byproduct of doing something else. While I would tend to agree that I think that the environment is particularly stable and will be very hard to affect I would expect that if we deliberately set out to change it we will probably find it an order of magnitude or two easier to do than changing it inadvertently.

about three weeks ago
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How Close Are We To Engineering the Climate?

Roger W Moore Re:Start with Venus... (319 comments)

I wasn't around then, but one of the complaints about the atom bomb was that it could "set the atmoshpere on fire" causing a chain reaction that consumed all the oxygen and killed the entire planet's biosphere

Yes, and you'll note from the fact that we still have oxygen to breathe that this did not happen. Similarly the LHC did not create a Black Hole that set off a chain reaction to swallow the Earth. Planets are bombarded by lots of high energy radiation all the time and have been for billions of years. Setting off a chain reaction is going to be incredibly hard because any reaction we can produce will already have happened many, many times over in nature. Indeed after all the CO2 we have pumped into our atmosphere over the past century or more we have only managed to create a tiny deviation in the temperature so far.

about three weeks ago
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Little-Known Programming Languages That Actually Pay

Roger W Moore Re:Symptom of thinking vocabulary is the key (242 comments)

Mathematica does not sound that unique - CERN's ROOT allows you to mix compile-time and run-time constructs in a very complex, not-well documented and extremely buggy environment. I imagine that if you can survive that Mathematica will be a breeze by comparison. As for major paradigm shifts the switch from procedural to OO programming is far more major than the addition of a feature like 'yield' to Python. Indeed I'd put meta-classes (for Python) or templates (for C++) as a far more major language feature than 'yield'.

However this misses the point somewhat which is that features like 'yield', meta-classes and templates are not needed to write any program. They may make your code more elegant and easier to maintain in the right circumstances but you do not need them. The priority is to do good science not write the most efficient and beautiful code that anyone has ever seen (although that's certainly nice if you can manage it). Hence knowing all the intricacies of a language is unnecessary: you just need to know enough to do the job well.

about three weeks ago
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Little-Known Programming Languages That Actually Pay

Roger W Moore Re:Symptom of thinking vocabulary is the key (242 comments)

Then, he will have very hard time getting proficient in, let's say, Mathematica.

Why do you assume that? I would agree that it is hard to imagine anyone with a strong technical background only knowing Fortran in this day and age but, should such an individual exist, I would not see it as a barrier to hiring them. During my time as a student and a postdoc I taught myself Matlab, Perl, C, C++, Python, Alpha CPU assembler, SQL, ROOT and an interesting variation of BASIC which ran on an old Caviar CAMAC crate controller from the late 1980s! Learning a new language when you already know how to program probably takes a day for basic proficiency and a bit longer to get fully up to speed. It's far more important that you have someone who understands the science and has a strong technical background: if you have that the language is easy to add, if it isn't then you do not have someone with a strong technical background.

about three weeks ago
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Little-Known Programming Languages That Actually Pay

Roger W Moore Re:Symptom of thinking vocabulary is the key (242 comments)

You are absolutely correct. I laughed when I read the line in the article which said:

For example, if you master a couple math and science programming languages, you might find opportunities as a programmer working at a scientific research center.

since it shows how clueless the author is about programming languages in science. When I am hiring a postdoc I could not care less which programming language they have used: if I am looking for someone with technical skills all I care about is that they have experience programming. The delay in learning whatever specific languages and packages we use is minimal so long as they have a strong technical background.

about three weeks ago
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Extra Leap Second To Be Added To Clocks On June 30

Roger W Moore Re:Better way (289 comments)

AM and PM mean "anti-meridian" and "post-meridian", and at noon on the day of the summer solstice, the sun should sit on the celestial meridian.

This is only ever true if you happen to live precisely on the meridian for your time zone. Given that almost nobody does and that timezones often are determined more by politics than science most people on the planet are already living out of sync with the strict astronomical definition of time by many tens of minutes if not hours.

If we can handle timezones which are an hour wide then we can handle being an hour off between astronomical time and legal time and so if should be fine to buffer the changes until they make up an hour which will take ~7,200 years if the rate is one second every ~2 years (a period longer than any human calendar has ever remained in use for).

about three weeks ago
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What Language Will the World Speak In 2115?

Roger W Moore Re:Common vs. Rare Vocabulary (578 comments)

This is true for writing, but when it comes to speaking, it is far easier for an English person to pronounce German convinicngly than French.

Actually it is true for speaking as well. I agree that accent-wise it is far easier for us to pronounce German than French but that accent does not usually hinder comprehension. However not knowing the vocabulary because it is completely different can significantly hinder comprehension. There is also the issue with the very different, and very strict, word order in German which can be hard to get right for an English speaker.

about three weeks ago

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