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Number of Coders In Congress To Triple (From One To Three)

Sarten-X Re:Well that's a start... (158 comments)

I'm not sure if you're serious.

The expert system you're looking for is a "judge".

What's actually written in legislation or on a contract doesn't matter. What matters is how a judge will interpret that law or contract in the context of your particular case. Yes, there have certainly been cases where a criminal defendant has gotten away with something because it wasn't technically a crime, and many contracts have been useless because they didn't explicitly prohibit a particular interpretation.

Just like computer programs, all well-tested legal "programs" are far more complicated in detail than their basic design document. There are many edge cases and known weaknesses to account for, leading to many seemingly-irrelevant statements.

3 days ago
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A Worm's Mind In a Lego Body

Sarten-X An interesting specimen (200 comments)

I first learned about C. elegans while researching simple neural systems. There's a nice map of the neural connections available. Today, I stumbled across the name again, when Wikipedia informed me that Caenorhabditis elegans is the most primitive animal that sleeps. Now I find that there's a robot worm that I'd consider to be alive.

This guy's pretty awesome.

about a week ago
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How 4H Is Helping Big Ag Take Over Africa

Sarten-X Re:Alternative? (377 comments)

This is very much the case. Much of west Africa (Ghana in particular is mentioned in TFS) alternates between "too wet" and "too dry". In the dry season, the winds from the Sahara leave farmland covered in moisture-sapping dust, which isn't particularly fertile when the wet season comes, but it sure is good for letting the water run away downhill.

The best chance a farmer has is to have mostly-level farmland where he can control the runoff, to lengthen the short ideal growing season. There's not much land that fits those qualifications. On the other hand, West Africa has a thriving trade network, so getting chemicals and supplies is just a matter of making a deal with the local tro-tro master. Using seeds that are more likely to thrive in the harsh conditions is a pretty good bet for a farmer.

about two weeks ago
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Low-Cost 3D-Printed Prosthetic Hand To Be Tested On Amputees In Ecuador

Sarten-X Re:Manufacutring isn't the problem in the US. (16 comments)

So it's not exempt from environmental regulations (part 25), serial numbering regulations (subpart B of part 801, and part 830), written instruction regulations (subpart D of part 801), or reporting regulations (part 803). Then there's part 806, which requires a report to the FDA every time a design is changed. That could be interesting for a 3D-printed device.

about two weeks ago
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New Atomic Clock Reaches the Boundaries of Timekeeping

Sarten-X Re:Old saying (249 comments)

Just as basic geometry would normally dictate, 3 satellites are sufficient to find your basic location and elevation. (There are actually 2 solutions to the equation, but one of them makes no sense because it's at some point out in space.)

This is a Slashdot discussion regarding how many clocks we need on a boat, planning on using a centuries-old navigation technique, and debating the minimal number of signals we need to receive from space, just in case every timepiece on the vessel fails. The discussion started with pithy sayings.

We cannot assume that "making sense" is a requirement.

about three weeks ago
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New Atomic Clock Reaches the Boundaries of Timekeeping

Sarten-X Re:Old saying (249 comments)

Thanks to GPS, the accuracy has improved, but now you need four clocks to get a 3-dimensional fix, and more to improve accuracy. Fortunately, on the open sea there isn't much blocking your view of the sky.

about three weeks ago
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Technology Group Promises Scientists Their Own Clouds

Sarten-X PlanetLab (45 comments)

So it's PlanetLab, now on Internet2... because apparently some folks still care about that.

about three weeks ago
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FTC Sues AT&T For Throttling 'Unlimited' Data Plan Customers Up To 90%

Sarten-X Re:Meet somewhere in the middle (179 comments)

The problem then is perception. Network utilization isn't obvious to the end user, so when they're throttled, it just appears that their carrier is slow for no reason. An hour later, it could be fine, so the average self-centered user will blame their carrier for having service that just gets really slow all of a sudden.

With predictable limits, especially with a warning message or a way to check how much data the user has used, the user feels that it's their fault for hitting the limit, especially if the limit's low enough that they come close every month. They know it's coming, so when bandwidth is suddenly throttled to the slower speed, they're not surprised. It's business as usual, not their provider's inconsistent service.

about three weeks ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:So people figure out yet... (117 comments)

Redirect all international flights from risky nations to a small number of quarantine zones

When I flew to and from Ghana, I went through London. Is Great Britain considered a "risky" nation? Should my flight of 100+ people be diverted because one person came from a place where a rare disease is somewhat less rare? If so, then you must also divert thousands of other flights. Soon the logistics of scale creep in, and you're processing a ridiculous number of passengers through this "small number" of quarantine sites.

Let's not discuss the cost of diverting so much travel and disrupting so many plans.

If we have a sufficiently fast, cheap, and reliable Ebola screening test...

...but we don't. We don't have anything remotely like that. Reliable testing takes a few days to get results. Faster screening is asking "do you have these symptoms", but since symptoms don't appear for a week after infection, it's often inaccurate.

about a month ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:So people figure out yet... (117 comments)

Ellis Island processed a maximum of 11,747 immigrants per day. One terminal of JFK International airport can handle over three times that many.

This is not a solution that scales easily. Quarantining 3,150 people isn't a big deal in itself, but they're scattered among millions of passengers traveling from everywhere else in the world, coming into a few hundred terminals across the country. Back when all immigration came in by ships to New York or California, there were convenient locations to put such facilities. Today, the scale of the problem is far larger than you seem to imagine.

about a month ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:Cuba sends doctors, US sends soldiers (117 comments)

And you think altruism is purely the cause?

More likely, Cuba is using health care politically:

"Cuba is doing this first and foremost to polish its political image, secondly for economic reasons, and thirdly, so that countries that have received their help will vote in Cuba's favor in international forums like the United Nations," Guedes [a Cuban dissident and exile] told DW.

Of course, money's also a motive, especially considering the economic sanctions still in place against Cuba:

The government in Havana earns more than six billion euros a year ($7.6 billion) through these doctors, because only a fraction of what the doctors cost these foreign nations are paid out in their salaries.

Brazil pays Havana 3,100 euros per doctor per month. Only because of pressure from Brazil's government do these doctors now get at least 900 euros per month. According to WHO representative Di Fabio, the Cuban government receives a daily flat rate of 190 euros per helper.

Sure, I'd love to see Cuba join the world as a serious economic player, but not so much that I'll ignore the other reasons why Cuba has recently been exporting more medical care than cigars.

about a month ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:I think we might have a methodology for that (117 comments)

I, too, find it strange how often the United States starts hearing cries supporting one of several groups. At first, it's about individuals, who are quick to point out their differences, vying for control of the media spotlight. After a round of polling, the contestants pair off into new demographically-appealing sets, each promising their own brand of radical extremism. Eventually the major players on each side of the major ideological schism form alliances, and the battle for the public eye returns to the same terminology we had four years earlier: Democrats vs. Republicans.

about a month ago
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Pentagon Builds Units To Transport Ebola Patients

Sarten-X Re:So people figure out yet... (117 comments)

The more restrictive the quarantine rule is, the less likely someone will report symptoms. New cases don't announce themselves with a face-up card and a cube on a map. They arrive with aches and nausea, just like a thousand other ailments. If someone's at risk and starts feeling symptoms, are they going to voluntarily lock down their life for a week until a more accurate (and benign) diagnosis arrives? Of course not. They'll lie, say they're feeling great, then go out in public anyway.

Early and accurate detection is the key, not panicking every time someone gets a cough. If someone's at risk, encourage every report, but don't cause panic. After basic screening ("No, sir, erectile dysfunction is not a symptom of Ebola"), tell patients to be cautious and avoid contact with others. Make the patients feel like their conduct is the most important factor in protecting their neighbors. They're not just one of this week's overreactions. They're the center of attention, until their case is ruled out, like almost all such things are.

Ultimately, outbreaks like this only stop when there's either an effective vaccine/treatment, our when people can not or choose not to spread the disease to others. In the absence of the former, we must rely on others' good judgement to enact the latter. Panic is not conducive to that end.

about a month ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Do I Make a High-Spec PC Waterproof?

Sarten-X Re:Doesn't seem too hard. (202 comments)

Even if it cuts through metal, the simple solution is to just not put the computer in front of the jet. Like you said, put it in a box out of the way, with some baffles to stop water coming in the ducts, and just to be paranoid, elevate the computer within the box, so it's not sitting in a pool of any water that may come in.

about a month ago
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Ballmer Says Amazon Isn't a "Real Business"

Sarten-X Re: Is Microsoft a company? (283 comments)

Market cap doesn't have any bearing on ROI. If I'm looking to invest $10,000 for dividend returns, I'll be investing in something with a higher return for the price, with little concern* for the vehicle's total size, as market cap shows.

That Microsoft is bigger than Amazon is actually even more cause for alarm. Amazon has far less cash in their coffers, and does more (at least, more interesting to investors) with it.

* Some concern for diversity should always be held, but that's beside the point.

about a month ago
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Ballmer Says Amazon Isn't a "Real Business"

Sarten-X Re:Is Microsoft a company? (283 comments)

A quick check shows that they pay dividends quarterly, but the dividend rate (compared to stock price) isn't particularly great... While their dividends have risen somewhat in recent history, their stock price hasn't even kept up with inflation. IBM is about the same rate, and AT&T is notably better.

The investors were apparently right. Microsoft's stock price has gone roughly nowhere in the last decade, mostly because they're one of the most boring companies to invest in. They don't pay high dividends, they don't produce must-have new technology, and there's nothing that distinguishes them (in a positive way) from any other investment vehicle. They're just Microsoft.

On the other hand, Amazon is currently trading at six times Microsoft's price, and has shown enormous growth. Even if they don't make a profit or pay dividends, they're still interesting to inventors because they're doing interesting things. It's helpful to remember that investing in a company is effectively adding your money to the pool for whatever the company's project is. That project might be (and usually is) simply "make more money", but changing the world is also a possible goal. Being unprofitable is still reasonable for an investment, as long as investors are still interested in the company. I'll worry when Amazon's price falters, and they start using profit as a means to keep their value up.

about a month ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

No, but in a previous job I did assist clinical researchers doing this kind of testing. The examples I gave are pretty easy questions to test for. The hard one is usually "Does this product increase the risk of cancer?"

about a month ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

This guy comes up with something cool and you are shilling for the medical-gov't industrial complex.

Hardly. This guy comes up with something cool, and I'm wary of the claim that it will somehow overthrow the existing system, mostly because to informed observers, the current system isn't actually unreasonable (mostly, anyway). There are good reasons behind all of the seemingly-insane details, but they're not as obvious as "some kid is missing a hand".

In fact, I actually have to give quite a bit of credit to the designer of this particular device. On his website, he's not encouraging kids to try the thing or making any claims that it's something particularly special. Rather, he's asking for help from experts to refine the design and turn it into something that is fully-tested and documented. If he can do that and still keep it printable (by end users or even trained technicians... either would be a help), then we'll have a real boon to the state of the art.

I wish him the best of luck, but I also recognize that the obstacles he faces are a bit more realistic (and i daresay more difficult) than fighting a conspiracy theory.

about a month ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

I can tell you nobody has ever thought it was all that important with gloves and watchbands and we don't have a small army of people who were nerve damaged by their casio.

And I can tell you that nerve damage (especially around the fingertips) is important to glove manufacturers, especially concerning sporting gloves, where the risk of such damage is high with or without gloves.

As for watchbands, I actually do know a few people who've had allergic reactions to watchbands of various kinds, starting with myself. I can't wear a gold watch, because after a few hours my wrist turns red, and after an evening of wearing it my lower arm is covered in small red bumps. I have a lesser reaction to my gold wedding ring, but I've never bothered finding out exactly which part of the alloy it is that I'm allergic to. In discussions with others, I've met folks allergic to plastic and cloth watchbands as well as metals, some of whose allergies didn't show up until after months of use.

I can tell you that if it costs $40,000 and you don't have that kind of cash laying around, it might as well not exist at all.

That's what insurance is for. Sure, it's a slim chance that I'll ever need a $40,000 medical device, but that's why I pay into the pool. If I ever do need it and don't have the cash lying around, my insurance provider does. If I never do need it, then my premiums went mostly to somebody else in the pool who did.

Are you claiming people are better off with nothing? Are you willing to say that to their faces? Sorry, you're not rich enough to have a hand?

No, I'm saying that the cheapest options present more risks that have not been mitigated. I have no problem informing people of the risks they face, and I sincerely hope that a doctor would inform his patients of the risk associated with any treatment, regardless of the cost.

Or consider canes. If a cane is used improperly, it can cause back shoulder and arm pain. Should we make canes cost $40,000 or should we just adjust them differently if things start hurting?

For a cane, it's a different matter. Canes typically do not have prolonged contact with the wearer and their well-studied risks do not often cause long-term problems once the adjustments have been made.

Imagine the disaster it would be for the economy if we all had to wear only medically approved clothes complete with $40,000 belts and $100,000 shoes. But OMG, what if the belt fails and their pants fall and cause them to trip and trigger a nuclear meltdown, millions of lives are at stake here! $100,000 is such a small price to pay in order to safely not go naked in public!

...and what is the actual risk of that slippery slope? Certainly it's nowhere near probable enough that we'd need to regulate clothing as tightly as medical devices. If you're working with high-energy devices, however, the risk posed by clothing is far greater. I don't recall exactly which jurisdiction requires it, but I know that every piece of clothing worn at my local nuclear plant must be cotton. Cotton burns, while synthetic fibers usually melt. Though often cheaper, synthetic clothes increase the damage from accidents enough to warrant that small amount of regulation.

I imagine the kid will do what the rest of us do. If the hand starts causing pain he'll use it less until it can be adjusted.

By that time, the damage may already be permanent. That's one of the things that research would study before handing it off to an unsuspecting patient.

Meanwhile, unlike before, he has a functional prosthetic hand.

"Functional" prostheses are available for far less than $40,000, and typically are used temporarily while a primary device is being built or repaired.

I'll bet that the $500 beater is infinitely more useful than a Ferrari to someone who will never be able to afford a Ferrari.

....until they're dead because the airbag was stripped for resale and the seat belts were worn out.

In other words, that looks like about $39,955 worth of FUD (and unicorn hair). Most people really can't afford that much FUD. Thankfully, I'm not in the market for a prosthetic hand, but if I was, I would at least try the $45 one first.

In other words, you have no idea what a risk analysis is, but you follow the hacker mentality in thinking that you can do anything if you have the raw material and a tool to work it, without the need for actual expertise. As long as the stated objective is met, that's good enough, right?

Medicine doesn't work that way. Medicine (ideally) isn't about just meeting the primary target, but about improving someone's health. Sometimes, that means doing nothing, and occasionally it even means letting people die rather than making the rest of their life miserable. Throughout the process, every decision is based on risk. Every drug has a risk of side effects, every test has a risk of being erroneous, and even if a doctor performs to the best standards available, there is always a risk that their patient will die.

That's why we have the FDA. That's why we run clinical trials. That's why medicine costs so damned much, because someone has to do the research and find out what the risks are, before asking patients to commit their well-being to a new device.

about a month ago
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3-D Printed "Iron Man" Prosthetic Hands Now Available For Kids

Sarten-X Re:biocompatibility (64 comments)

So can you tell me what the long-term effects of wearing this $45 printed device are?

Is it weighted such that it pulls muscles awkwardly, causing pain after a few months of continuous use? Does the constant contact with skin cause any nerve damage? If worn during physical activity, does it create an additional risk of shattering or otherwise injuring the wearer or others?

Can you show test results indicating otherwise, even when the user may not have it attached properly? What resources are available so the user can be certain they're properly fitting the device?

Approved medical devices are expensive because they meet all applicable regulations, and have documentation to prove it. They've been reviewed and tested by experts in the field, who understand exactly what subtle problems to look for that are likely to cause harmful effects in the future. One of the primary principles of medicine is to do no harm. Can you assure patients that this 3D-printed model will be harmless?

Yes, you can buy a beat-up used car for $500. It will still accomplish the obvious goal of transporting you from point A to point B, but it's not going to be as good in the long run as a more expensive one.

about a month ago

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