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IRS Misses XP Deadline, Pays Microsoft Millions For Patches

Wulfrunner Re:It makes perfect sense (322 comments)

"...switch to a new system with unknown security risks..."

Yeah, that Windows 7 has only been out since 2009 and practically nobody uses it.

about 5 months ago

It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

Wulfrunner That's nice but... (470 comments)

While not an advocate for pseudo science, it's illuminating to consider how these seven symptoms can be applied to the practice of regular science:

1. The use of psychobabble – words that sound scientific and professional but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner.
Most specializations are rife with jargon, often using words that have been incorrectly appropriated from the English language and had their meaning changed. To test this at home, apply a spell check to a scientific paper.

2. A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence.
Anecdotal evidence is there to guide your research (though not to validate it). It doesn't need to appear in your paper, but it is a critical part of the discovery process.

3. Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence.
I think this is a prerequisite to getting published in Science or Nature. Your claims have to be sensationalized to sell. Take your convenience sample with ten data points and spin it until it's ground breaking!

4. Claims which cannot be proven false.
Anything described as "universal" or "ubiquitous" probably falls into this category.

5. Claims that counter established scientific fact.
A dialectic is necessary to advance science. Surely you don't want dogmatic group-think to predominate?

6. Absence of adequate peer review.
Have you been through a peer review process? Why aren't you making eye contact with me?

7. Claims that are repeated despite being refuted.
You mean the type of stubbornness necessary to overcome the inertia of the currently dominant paradigm? So I should withdraw my research if a single group publishes a study indicating that they "were unable to reproduce" my results?

about 6 months ago

Environmentalists Propose $50 Billion Buyout of Coal Industry - To Shut It Down

Wulfrunner The Numbers Don't Add Up (712 comments)

One of the largest coal miners in the US (e.g. Arch Coal) has annual revenues of just under $5B and they claim to supply 17% of the US' domestic energy supply. Their Black Thunder mine produces around 115 Mt per year.

To put that into context, the US mines approximately 1 Gt of coal per year. At around 66 USD/t, you couldn't even buy all the coal the US produces in one year, let alone the companies that produce it for $50 billion!

The costs of purchasing a mine, then shutting it down in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner, are astronomical. The cost to acquire a SINGLE COAL PROPERTY (not even the company that owns it) can easily hit $0.5 - $1 billion, then you have to PAY to close it down and do something with the THOUSAND people who work there. Then you have to repeat this with every single mine, and who is going to do the phase out work and what are you going to pay them with?

The life of a mine may be 50 to 100 years and a lot of the costs for "close out" are reduced to their "net present value". As an oversimplified example, if it will cost $100 to build a fence in 100 years, and you get 2.5% return on every dollar you save for the purposes of building that fence, then you need to put in just under $9 today to pay for that fence in 100 years time. Regulations vary depending on the state / province / territory, but in many cases the company will need to pay the NPV of all their closure costs up front. If you prematurely close out the mine, you better hope you have enough money to cover the lost 20, 50, or 100 years of additional investment and interest, or you may go to jail.

about 6 months ago

Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician's Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation

Wulfrunner Re:Confidential Grading (264 comments)

My thought was that they wouldn't even get their grades before finals, but afterwards. The only way to bring up questions about grades would be to file a grievance. Make it as much work for the student as it is for the department and you might see less people complaining. It would take a little attitude adjustment for both the institution and the students, but might in the end be less work and hopefully lead to a higher quality of both teaching and learning. On the other hand, most post-secondary course design and evaluation is somewhat ad-hoc, with departments relying on the expertise and experience of their individual instructors to both create and deliver useful content. The learning outcomes are wildly inconsistent, ranging from change-your-life-amazing to why-did-I-waste-my-money.

I think a significant part of the problem with grade-centered learning stems from the fact that many instructors use grades as incentive rather than evaluation. As a product of the very system they are perpetuating, they often comment to their classes on the importance of good grades and the strategies they personally used to obtain them. Many math and CS professors will actually take time to statistically analyse the results of assignments and tests as part of regular lessons. That activity loses value for the students after the first couple of showings.

I had many instructors excitedly review my grades with me when I had done particularly well on an assignment; however, this was not a motivator for me as I was always horribly cynical about the whole evaluation process. After all, if I recognize your evaluation of me as valid, I am tacitly acknowledging that you are a master of that subject area (and while this is sometimes true, I know too many post-secondary instructors among my friends and acquaintances to have much faith in the quality of their instruction).

about 7 months ago

Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician's Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation

Wulfrunner Confidential Grading (264 comments)

It would be interesting to grade students in the following way:
For assignments and tests, grade the assignments as usual but don't let the students see the actual mark until the end.
Instead, give them a "credit / no credit" assessment for each item, coupled with feedback / answer sheets / group review.
At the end of the year, students will receive a final grade based on the value of all the assignments. This could eliminate some of the pressure that professors feel from students who are constantly badgering them about marks. It would have the side benefit of making it impossible for students to obsess over every single percentage point and instead focus on learning the material (or, conversely, they would be crippled by uncertainty and--rightly--weed themselves out of the system).

This would also necessitate increased accountability. For example, the professor and student would each be expected to keep a copy of all materials submitted for grading and if there was a dispute at the end of the year, a 3rd party audit could be conducted.

Has anyone experienced a system like that? How well did it work?

about 7 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What Do You Do If You're Given a Broken Project?

Wulfrunner Re:All Programs Are Like That (308 comments)

In 20+ years in the industry I haven't seen a single well-designed piece of code.

This reminds me of a funny story I heard once:
There is this guy who is driving home from work when his wife calls him on the phone and warns him,
"Be careful on the way home, the news report says there's a maniac driving into oncoming traffic on the highway!"
To which he replies, "One maniac? There's hundreds of them!"

about 8 months ago

Largest-Yet EVE Online Battle Destroys $200,000 Worth of Starships

Wulfrunner Re:It sounds cooler than it is... (463 comments)

As beings raised in a mostly 2 dimensional plane,

I have stairs in my house, don't know about you. :)

about 8 months ago

Largest-Yet EVE Online Battle Destroys $200,000 Worth of Starships

Wulfrunner Re:It sounds cooler than it is... (463 comments)

Yes, EVE is great at perpetuating broken game mechanics. For example, please explain how an energy transfer module can provide more energy to its target than it takes to activate? Or, explain how a starbase (POS) forcefield can "eject" the ships inside at a velocity that will literally "bowl" anything in their path out of their way (e.g. Drebuchet)? I'm sure you had fun in B-R5RB but let's face it, EVE's subscriber base isn't exactly growing.

about 8 months ago

Largest-Yet EVE Online Battle Destroys $200,000 Worth of Starships

Wulfrunner It sounds cooler than it is... (463 comments)

To manage the number of users involved in that battle, the system went into "Time Dilation". What that means in practice is that you queue an action, go make coffee, drink the coffee, then queue another action. Very cool in concept, but when a 30 "minutes" take 6 hours of real time to process, it looses its novelty fairly quickly.

Let's say you own a Capital Ship and want to play EVE, so you commit to the fight. An hour later you have to go get groceries / make dinner for the family / go to the toilet. You are unlikely to be able to disengage, and so you can just log off and your ship gets destroyed instead. Not much fun.

To me, the battle doesn't even look cool. The ships are all mashed on top of one another, pointing in random directions, and it's almost impossible for an observer to see what's actually going on. If I wanted to interest someone in EVE, I wouldn't show them a video of this battle, nor The Battle of Asakai. I would show them the Alliance Tournament XI (if anything).

about 8 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Educating Kids About Older Technologies?

Wulfrunner Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm (BBC) (208 comments)

The following series are great for both children and adults. Fantastic production quality, packed with factual information, but lacking the terrible sensationalism typical of American documentaries. I challenge you to watch even a single episode and not learn something awesome!

I used to teach a technology related course at a local college, and I liked to show an episode of the 6-part BBC documentary Victorian Farm to show students how advances in technology during the industrial revolution had a massive impact on day-to-day life. Off the top of my head, I can remember seeing demonstrations of technologies like basket-making, clamps, black-smithing, steam trains, horse-powered machinery, straw-plaiting, etc.

The same group of academics who did Victorian Farm were part of the 12-part BBC series Edwardian Farm. There are cool technologies like early fish farms, brick kilns, tractors, automobiles, vacuums, bicycles, leather-making, stoves, mining, fertilizer, pesticide, wool mills, etc.

There's also the 8-part BBC documentary Wartime Farm which is a recreation of the English farmer's life during World War II. Technologies like canning, paraffin range cooker, electric clothes iron, and linoleum flooring are just a few of the things covered in this series.

There is also a 12-part documentary with the same people called Tales from the Green Valley but I haven't seen it and can't comment though it's probably also really good.

about 8 months ago

Canadian Government Trucking Generations of Scientific Data To the Dump

Wulfrunner Re:FOI (209 comments)

I guess you missed the part about--oh, well, nevermind. Here's a link if you want to file a request.

about 8 months ago

Canadian Government Trucking Generations of Scientific Data To the Dump

Wulfrunner Re:A war. (209 comments)

Saving $500K/year AND getting people better access to information is a good thing.

Except that number is manufactured. Did you know that many governmental institutions rent space from themselves? For example, the library is in a government owned building, but the DFO has to pay premium rent for each square foot of space to one of these other Canadian government departments. Then there are the heating and power costs. Although the space has to be heated anyways regardless of its use, they factor that into the costs of operating that library. Do you think they employ an army of librarians? Or maids to dust the books? Or exterminators to hunt bookworms? No, the library is a storage space and if we have anything in Canada it's tons of space. The $500k figure might just be for rent, power, and heating most of which they will continue to pay to themselves even after the library is gone. You really have to have worked as a bureaucrat in Canada to understand this madness.

Secondly, if you have ever tried to get access to information, scientific or otherwise, from any Canadian federal, provincial, or territorial government website, you know that it is a crapshoot. Sometimes you hit a good site (or at least one that isn't terrible), and then for some reason they feel the need to change it next month and make it terrible so that it fits the nonsensical shitty guidelines constantly under development by CIOs and lawyers (of all people) who are completely disconnected from the reality of how their clients use their sites. Better access to information? They should have shipped it all to Google. I wouldn't be surprised if that's where those dumpsters went after all, because our bureaucrats are wicked sneaky sometimes.

about 8 months ago

Canadian Government Trucking Generations of Scientific Data To the Dump

Wulfrunner Departmental Mandate (209 comments)

Did you catch this:
"“The department may remove only content that is duplicated at one or more libraries and, in rare instances, materials which fall outside the subject disciplines pertinent to the department’s mandate,” says the DFO website, describing the material discarded from its collection."

Departmental mandates are revised to suit the political flavour of the day as part of strategic planning activities (mission, vision, values, etc.) and it happens every couple of years. This allows for some really pernicious and creative manipulation of public institutions that exist to regulate and monitor shared resources. Here is the mandate for DFO. In real terms, a high level deputy minister might instruct his senior management staff that, "it is not in our mandate to keep records of X because it is not required by the legislation that defines our work." It's a very prescriptive and disingenuous approach, but it works with career bureaucrats because they lack the expertise to form a cohesive argument against it. You can be sure they're digging in their heels, but they have to pick their battles very carefully. Federal agencies have been eviscerated in the last few years and management is trying to weather the storm in the hopes that the political climate will change soon.

This is reminiscent of the de-funding of the Experimental Lakes Area in 2012, which also involved the DFO. It was a project area that had existed for 45 years and produced 745 peer-reviewed scientific articles, 126 graduate theses, 102 book chapters and synthesis papers, 185 data reports, and several books. With respect to the destruction of data, I'm sure one could argue, "Since the ELA is no longer part of the DFO's mandate, that data can be destroyed."

What's noteworthy about this article is that the DFO has impressive, far-reaching regulatory power and this cost saving measure is part of an attempt to make the department more "effective" in conducting its regulatory duties. Ultimately, the hope is that industry projects can be approved in a more timely manner. I don't think it's an evil plot to destroy the environment, rather it is a misguided attempt to make a Canadian governmental agency better able to do its day-to-day job. Ultimately, it will impede the agency's ability to adapt and respond to changing client needs. A lot of people of a certain political ideology don't value research because it is hard to describe its utility in financial terms. This is self-evidently foolish, as continuous research is essential to improving the health of the population, effectively managing resources, and developing new technologies and techniques. Unfortunately, this reasoning really appeals to the masses of Canadians who "don't want their tax dollars wasted."

about 8 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What's the Most Depressing Sci-fi You've Ever Read?

Wulfrunner Re:or Brazil (1365 comments)

I hear most Universities offer courses in Political Science.

more than 2 years ago

Ray Bradbury Has Died

Wulfrunner Re:His most famous work (315 comments)

My favourite quote from the book was,
“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I feel like that was one of the main themes of the book, which I only read a couple of years ago.

I grew up hearing about how Farenheit 451 was a dystopian authoritarian state-control type story. I was completely surprised by the prominent role of individual agency and the poetry of the prose. The value of the book is completely lost in the "Coles Notes Version" (or the summary your friend gave you) because a good portion of the work is conveyed through the deliberate use of specific language.

more than 2 years ago

The Link Between Genius and Insanity

Wulfrunner Re:I'm sorry for writing this... (402 comments)

I think you might be posting to the wrong audience.

The average highly-trained adult human can give the impression of higher than normal intelligence, even though they are fundamentally the same fumbling child they always were. They may say "insightful" or "interesting" things but are simply imitating something they read or heard somewhere else. The interesting thing is that they don't even fully realize that some of their contemporaries possess orders of magnitude more capacity.

more than 2 years ago

The Link Between Genius and Insanity

Wulfrunner Re:Stack overflow? (402 comments)

If you are a programmer and can see the myriad of possibilities inherent in every state we occupy then you should be able to harness those few days of inspired capacity to create solutions for the crowd that they didn't know they needed.

You might end up still unemployed but you also stand a chance of realizing one of your many dreams, despite the bitterness.

more than 2 years ago

The Link Between Genius and Insanity

Wulfrunner Re:This just in... (402 comments)

While "you reap what you sow" may be true to some extent, the concept of a just world is generally used as a way to build an illusion of safety. For example:
The woman who gets raped was asking for it. If we are morally chaste, nobody in my family is likely to be raped.
The person who is poor simply isn't working hard enough. As long as I work hard, I will never be poor.

(1) The world isn't fair - being a genius doesn't automatically mean you have compensating disadvantages. It's quite nice actually!

That reminds me of the All Children Are Gifted diatribe.

more than 2 years ago

Who Is Still Using IE6? the UK Government

Wulfrunner Re:Let go? (141 comments)

Yes you've got a valid point -- procurement in government is just as broken as the overall IT infrastructure. On the other hand, if someone isn't willing to raise a stink and put their job on the line to prevent a disaster of that nature, they don't deserve to call themselves a public servant. The "lowest bidder" is not the same thing as the "best value", and you have to be willing to fight for what's right.

more than 2 years ago

Who Is Still Using IE6? the UK Government

Wulfrunner Re:Let go? (141 comments)

I recognize you! You work for the [insert government here] ITS department down the hall from my office. You and your just adequate, barely competent colleagues are the reason I'm stuck with a brand new, yet somehow still limping, T520 that takes four minutes to start. You are the reason I can't "exceed the level of my cluster". You are the barrier to innovation. The attitude you just espoused is the reason our monolithic organization is stuck in the stone age. How is it that you guys can take five years and one billion dollars to develop an application that is buggy, user un-friendly, doesn't do the job it's supposed to, and cripples the department it's supposed to be helping by eating their entire IT budget. You and your colleagues have never heard of Brooks' law, are complacent, risk averse, and unimaginative. I hate you.

more than 2 years ago


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