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Fukushima's Biological Legacy

Will.Woodhull Re:Impact of humans (114 comments)

I don't think I will end up agreeing with parent post (that the removal of humans from an urban region would foster genetic diversity among the remaining species), but this idea is something to think about. If I had mod points at the moment I would give parent post a "+1 interesting". It does not deserve the "-1 troll" it currently carries. An odd concept but not a trollish one.

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Should You Invest In Documentation, Or UX?

Will.Woodhull Re: You're doing it wrong. (198 comments)

If the UX is really good, you can let the user documentation slide somewhat. You can also think about presenting the basic user docs as a wiki and encouraging your user base to expand and expound on that. Editing user contributions will be a heck of a lot easier than writing from scratch (you can start things off by just publishing an outline of what needs to be covered).

about a week ago
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Do Dark Matter and Dark Energy Cast Doubt On the Big Bang?

Will.Woodhull Re:Low Quality Article, Uses Question Mark. (224 comments)

IS 2+2 REALLY 4?

Well, the concept of "two", or "twoness" is imaginary. It has no physical, chemical, astronomical, or any other scientific qualities. So it is outside the set of things that are "real". "Twoness" only exists in your head; it is at best an artifact of your perception of reality. But such artifacts are not real in themselves.

There is no reason to believe that doubling something that is not real will make it real. That would not be logical. (Invoking the Spock argument.)

Thus "2+2" does not "REALLY" equal "4" in any place other than in your head.

That you can use the totally imaginative structures of "language" to construct a pattern of sounds or pixels that evokes in someone else an imaginary statement of "2+2=4" is something to wonder about, but again no part of that process has any real component. It is all imagination. Highly discipiined imagination in some cases, such as QED, but still just imagination. Not real in any meaningful sense of reality.

about two weeks ago
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Do Dark Matter and Dark Energy Cast Doubt On the Big Bang?

Will.Woodhull Re:Oh good lady, and lord. (224 comments)

we'd like to have non-baryonic fairly massive (so relatively cold) particles. Dark matter is anything that doesn't interact with regular matter via the strong or gravitational interactions. Neutrinos don't.

More and more I'm getting a feeling that science has been down this road before. That our understanding of subatomic particles and the distant edges of the Universe is similar to the pre-Copernican use of epicycles to understand astronomy. That the search for dark matter (and probably string theory too) is a search for that final missing epicycle that will make the model work just right.

I think we need to look for a Galileo or Copernicus who has some whacky, undeveloped alternate concept that if only we could change our point of view, we would see that it makes everything so much more clear.

about two weeks ago
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Can We Call Pluto and Charon a 'Binary Planet' Yet?

Will.Woodhull Re:Self-awareness (115 comments)

The Earth-Moon barycenter is very nearly outside of Earth itself (it's about 0.75 Earth radii from Earth's center), so let's not get too high on our horses...

And the Earth - Moon should be classified as a binary planet. They are in such an intimate dancing orbit with each other that neither one can be adequately described without refering to the other.

This is more than a semantic squabble. Any exoplanet that is likely to support life as we know it must not only be in the Goldilocks zone, it must also have a companion close enough to create tides (and tide pools, and generally act as a celestial stirring rod).

about two weeks ago
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Edward Snowden Is Not Alone: US Gov't Seeks Another Leaker

Will.Woodhull Re:Another leaker (204 comments)

Of course there are other leakers.

What is remarkable about Snowden is not that he was able to obtain all this "secret" information, but that he went public with it. Rather than selling it to someone like maybe one of those rich guys who are paying ISIS's way. It is some of the other "leakers" who are unquestionably doing that.

The NSA, etc, needs to be shut down. If only because it is demonstrably true that persons who make a career in climbing bureaucracies lack the kind of intelligence necessary to managing the needed level of security.

There may or may not be other good reasons for getting the government out of this kind of spying and database management. But just as it would be stupid to hire Cordon Bleu chefs to run an explosives manufacturing plant, it is stupid to put even the very best bureaucrats in charge of this kind of data collection and database management. They might be very good at what they have experience in doing, but this kind of stuff is going to blow up in everyone's face. Explosive technologies cannot be handled with cookbook methods.

The only sane course is to get USA government out of this activity. It is not something a democratically oriented bureaucracy can do. We need to look to other methods.

about two weeks ago
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Ebola Outbreak Continues To Expand

Will.Woodhull Re:Risk of mutation to something worse? (170 comments)

From what I have read about ebola (EVD-- whatever), it has an incubation period of 21 days and its early symptoms are easily confused with the flu. Just about everywhere other than Antarctic research stations is within 21 days travel time of west Africa.

Mecca is going to be an epidemiologist's nightmare this year. Lots of Muslims in west Africa, and some infected Boko Haram nuts might think that they were doing Allah's will in bringing the disease to impure muslims and infidels. Sort of like the way the USA gave smallpox to the American Indians through infected trade blankets.

about a month ago
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Ebola Outbreak Continues To Expand

Will.Woodhull Re:World War Z (170 comments)

Right. Just like bubonic plague isn't airborne--- until it mutates into pneumonic plague.

Ebola is a rapidly changing virus. Rather like the flu in that respects. That its initial symptoms are indistinguishable from the flu yet the victim is already contagious is a nasty touch.

about a month ago
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UK Cabinet Office Adopts ODF As Exclusive Standard For Sharable Documents

Will.Woodhull Re:Why ODF? (164 comments)

Why are you treating your customers as if they were your collaborators? They should never see your word processing documents, and they should never, ever, have access to your spreadsheets. Even in those situations where you have absolute confidence in the integrity and technical capability of your customer, you should not invite man-in-the-middle attacks with the inappropriate use of unsecurable formats.

Learn how to use PDF. Most current word processors and spreadsheets offer this as an export (I don't know about Microsoft).

about a month ago
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UK Cabinet Office Adopts ODF As Exclusive Standard For Sharable Documents

Will.Woodhull Re:Why ODF? (164 comments)

Perhaps in your little corner of the world MS documents still reign supreme. But can your MS Word open a .doc written by your Mom in 1995, allow you to add commentary, and then save it back into the archive in its original format?

Short answer: Microsoft's breakage of its own standards to leverage its marketing position has you screwed. You might not know that yet, but you are definitely screwed.

Hop off that dinosaur, its in its death throes (beware that thrashing tail). Get on some critter that has some life left in it. Just about any of the newer office suites (other than Microsoft) will support ODF and assure that you will always have access to your archives.

about a month ago
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Brazil Nut Effect Explains Mystery of the Boulder-Strewn Surfaces of Asteroids

Will.Woodhull Re:It is still just a theory (58 comments)

Mod parent up.

Too many people fall into the trap of mistaking scientific authority for scientific method. A scientist may be an excellent authority in his specialty, but he is still just an authority and is prone to all the kinds of errors of that any man can make. The scientific method with its hypotheses and experiments is the gold standard, and even its results should be rigorously questioned.

A scientist who is not a profound skeptic about just about everything is not really a scientist, but merely an imposter.

about a month ago
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Brazil Nut Effect Explains Mystery of the Boulder-Strewn Surfaces of Asteroids

Will.Woodhull Going a little beyond intuitive (58 comments)

TFA describes the situation on a dry asteroid.

An asteroid or comet that contains water as well as stone is likely to behave differently. If its ice is melted by impact or increased exposure to sunlight, then frost heaves might cause a faster migration of big stones to the surface than would happen by granular convection. But if the ice is acting as a concrete binding agent, then there will be no frost heaves and no granular convection. Probably on a lot of asteroids both processes will be active.

I'm thinking that determining whether frost heaves or granular convection has been at work is going to be important in figuring out how to deflect any asteroid or comet. I'n guessing this will need to be done on a case by case basis.

about a month ago
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Brazil Nut Effect Explains Mystery of the Boulder-Strewn Surfaces of Asteroids

Will.Woodhull Granular convection and frost heaves (58 comments)

There is possibly some confusion in parent post between granular convection and frost heaves.

In New England and other climes that have a winter freeze and spring thaw, the winter freeze pushes rocks upward as the water in the soil expands into ice. In the spring thaw, the ice under the rocks melts from the periphery inward, and slurries of ice water mud fill the voids. As a result, the rocks stay in their higher place as the soil settles back to its spring level.

One of my chores when I was growing up was to help with digging the big and deep holes in the garden next to the emerging boulders that were too large to remove. We'd roll the boulder into the deeper hole and bury it, and be able to use the rototiller and tractor over it for a few years before it would rise again.

about a month ago
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Brazil Nut Effect Explains Mystery of the Boulder-Strewn Surfaces of Asteroids

Will.Woodhull Re:Explains the TV News (58 comments)

Brazil nut effect is an excellent way to distinguish this process from the superficially similar strawberry effect (which happens in grocery stores where the biggest and reddest strawberries are always visible at the top of the container).

about a month ago
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Damian Conway On Perl 6 and the Philosophy of Programming

Will.Woodhull Re:syntax (132 comments)

Some languages are simply easier to make mistakes in, thanks to insane syntax.

This is true. But it is not a weakness of the language. And do not confuse "insane syntax" with what Perl is doing.

Perl holds the author responsible for using the correct syntax in the context of the author's intent. It does not hold the author's hand, as if they were some kindergartner just starting out. One of Perl's axioms is that the author must be allowed to do whatever he wants without regard to some imposed notion of what is reasonable, for who but the author can know what his intention is?

That means a lot of shitty scripts are written in Perl. But a lot of shitty verbiage is written in English. Neither language should be judged by the great volume of shitty work that has been done in it. Each language should be judged by the quality of the most elegant work that it can support. There has been some really elegant work done in Perl.

For critical work, Perl should not be used by programmers who do not yet know what they are doing. While it is a great language for studying things like Knuth's work on algorithms (TAOCP), it should not be used in mission critical applications until the student has mastered those studies.

And determining which programmers are sufficiently capable to be allowed to use Perl is a problem for the IT managers and software team leaders. It is not a problem with the language.

Don't try to use Perl in anything that is mission critical until you no longer need the training wheels.

about a month and a half ago
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Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

Will.Woodhull Re:Photosynthesis has its disadvantages. (133 comments)

I agree with all the points made in parent post, except the one about "comparatively low efficiency".

Conversion of biomass left after harvest of crops to biochar involves pyrolysis which is exothermic and can produce electricity through steam or turbine driven generators. By properly marrying together mature technologies that we have been using for over a century we could be turning agricultural waste directly into electricity WHILE AT THE SAME TIME removing 30% - 50% of the carbon in that biomass from the active carbon cycle. When the charcoal that is produced is crushed into pea sized granules and tilled back into the field, it improves the soil while remaining sequestered for a few thousand years.

We should be putting more effort into plucking this kind of low hanging fruit, and less into esoteric research on manufacturing solar / chemical panels that will have serious costs of production, operation, and maintenance and will do nothing to reduce atmospheric CO2.

Of course this is all fully mature technologies, with little room for monetizing new patents. So only everybody would benefit. That doesn't attract investors to the project.

about a month and a half ago
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Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

Will.Woodhull Re:Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (133 comments)

There is a notable lack of reading comprehension showing in parent post.

To make the obvious more clear, the vegetation is converted to charcoal. Roughly 30 - 35% of the carbon in the vegetation is sequestered, as charcoal, for tens of thousands of years, so long as it is kept too moist to burn. And to repeat, charcoal granules are an excellent soil amendment promoting better soil ecology and retention of irrigation water.

Google on "biochar" for more about this approach.

about a month and a half ago
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Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

Will.Woodhull Re:Amazing technology (133 comments)

Trees (and agricultural "waste") can be converted to charcoal through pyrolysis. About 1/3rd of the carbon that was captured by the plants becomes biochar, which is a useful soil ammendment, and which sequesters the carbon for tens of thousands of years. So in effect as good as changing it back into coal (but with nicer side effects, like apples, zucchini, etc).

about a month and a half ago
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Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

Will.Woodhull Re:Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (133 comments)

Photosynthesis offers the same advantages, without the technology overheads. In addition it offers some nice byproducts, like grains, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.

Using vegetation as feedstock for charcoal production will effectively sequester carbon for tens of thousands of years, if not longer. Additionally, carbon sequestered in this way is a good soil ammendment, that can make poor soils more productive.

Google on href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar">"biochar" for more about this approach.

about a month and a half ago
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Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

Will.Woodhull Re:The point (133 comments)

We've already got CO2 scrubbing technology that is remarkably effective: photosynthesis in plants. In terms of cost/benefit, this method is by far more efficient than the one talked about in TFA. Plus there are numerous advantageous byproducts, like grains, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.

What we could use is a more effective means of sequestering the carbon in vegetation materials. Charcoal is great for sequestration: chemically inert for thousands of years, and with microscopic structures that promote good soil ecologies, much like coral promotes sea life. Currently most methods of producing charcoal return about 2 parts of carbon to the atmosphere for every part that is potentially sequestered ("potentially" since it needs to be put in soil or water and not in the barbeque).

"Biochar" is the word to google on for more about this form of carbon sequestation.

about a month and a half ago

Submissions

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A weighty comic: xkcd on gravity wells

Will.Woodhull Will.Woodhull writes  |  more than 4 years ago

Will.Woodhull writes "xkcd's comic for today is a wonderful description of the solar system in terms of gravity wells. Don't miss it!

It does raise a couple of questions: how accurate are the numbers (can we trust our comics in this day and age)? should this be incorporated into K-12 schooling? And what's with those Titanics: it seems like like they are singing a Frank Sinatra lyric with their lungs full of helium?"

Link to Original Source

Journals

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First Entry

Will.Woodhull Will.Woodhull writes  |  more than 5 years ago

I was active on Slashdot from June, 2002 to about a month ago as MysticGoat, account #582871.

I am continuing from this time forward with this account, under a nickname that is very close to my name in real life.

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