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Comments

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Retired SCOTUS Justice Wants To 'Fix' the Second Amendment

hey! Re:Militia, then vs now (1405 comments)

It's not a "re-examination". It's a butchering.

You say that like it's necessarily a bad thing.

We've got to stop acting as if the Founding Fathers were like Moses descending from Mount Sinai with the Constitution chiseled on a couple of stone tablets. They were brilliant, enlightened men for their day, but the Constitution is not a document of divine inerrancy.

The US Constitution is the COBOL of constitutions. Yes, it was a tremendous intellectual innovation for its time. Yes, it is still being used successfully today. But nobody *today* would write a constitution that way, *even if their intent was exactly the same* as the founders.

For one thing it's full of confusingly pointless ("To promote the Progress of Science") and hoplessly vague ("securing for *limited times*") phraseology that leaves courts wondering exactly what the framers meant, or whether they were just pointlessly editorializing ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State").

It's also helplessly out of date. The Constitution was drafted before the existence of mass media and advertising; before photography even. It was the appearance of photography in newspapers that woke people up to the idea that they might have privacy rights that were being threatened. A Constitution written in 1900 would almost certainly have clauses explicitly recognizing a right to individual privacy and empowering the government to protect that right. A Constitution written in 2000 would almost certainly have clauses restricting the government from violating individual privacy.

And then there is slavery, an outright *evil* which is enshrined in the founder's version of the Constitution. That alone should disqualify any claim they may have had to superhuman morality.

So if we take it as given that the US Constitution is not divinely ordained, it's not necessarily a bad thing that the current generation should choose to butcher what the founders established. Would you re-institute slavery? Allow *states* to deprive citizens of liberty and property without due process? Eliminate direct election of senators?

So it's perfectly reasonable to butcher anything in the Constitution when you're proposing an *amendment* to the Constitution. That's the whole point. We should think for ourselves. In doing so, we're actually carrying on the work the framers themselves were doing. Every generation should learn from its predecessors, but think for itself.

yesterday
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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

hey! Re:Hypocrisy abounds (753 comments)

What's so hilarious is that to most of the commenters here, the Koch Brothers exemplify the absolute evil in the system whilst (and simultaneously) George Soros is merely 'doing the right thing' and 'helping people speak truth to power'.

So in other words, what somebody says is less important than who says it.

yesterday
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Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

hey! Re:Tyrant: The computer game (753 comments)

While sorta fun, those games are not simulations. All you revealed was the program(mer)'s built-in biases and assumptions, rather than any insight about what happens in reality.

That's true of social science research as well. The difference is that social science research has to pass peer review, and stand up to contrary reearch in the literature.

yesterday
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! Re:I have a degree in computer science. (727 comments)

Sinews (aka "tendons") are bundles of fibrous collagen bound together with an organic glue of proteins and polysaccharides. Sinews can be pounded to extract those collagen fibers, and then those fibers can be spun into cordage of any desired length.

The process is exactly the same as spinning short wool fibers into skeins of yarn, or transforming cotton bolls into cotton thread. The fibers are bundled together and twisted so they lock together and the axis of the resulting cord cuts across the axis of orientation of the fiber, producing a very strong thread. As the fibers are locked together into a thread, you continually add more bundles of fiber to the loose end. You finish by tying off the end of the thread you've created, or twisting the thread into a multi-strand rope.

Collagen fiber from sinew is an excellent cordage material, but less available in large quantities than plant fibers. For that reason you don't see sinew ropes. Although such a thing would be physically possible, sinew is a costly material so it is only used in specialized, low volume applications like fishing line and bowstrings.

Primitive people are every bit as smart as engineers who design microchips or airplanes; they just express that ingenuity through materials they can harvest and process themselves.

3 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! Re:I have a degree in computer science. (727 comments)

Well, my first choice would be to use surplus and scavenged materials, like polyester or silk. In the long run as these materials become more difficult to find, I'd go for hemp or flax. Just about any fiber can be spun into a workable cordage. Shredded animal sinew yields extremely strong cordage.

4 days ago
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Obama Says He May Or May Not Let the NSA Exploit the Next Heartbleed

hey! At last a politician who speaks the truth. (134 comments)

He MIGHT let the NSA do it, OR he MIGHT NOT. That's a credible a statement as anyone could make.

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! Re:I have a degree in computer science. (727 comments)

You can always concoct a situation in a scenario where your skills aren't important.

You're a farmer? Seems like your skills would be useful but wait -- what if the neighboring tribe burns all your crops and steals your seeds?

You're an emergency room physician? How will that help you when bandits club you to death in your sleep?

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! Re:I have a degree in computer science. (727 comments)

go into "crazy-land" a bit. I'm not saying the historian necessarily has the best answer, but someone who actually has first-hand knowledge and experience with draft animals in large numbers would undoubtedly have a huge amount of insight over a random CS nerd who has never seen a horse.

Agreed, but your hypothetical persons with first-hand knowledge of managing large numbers of draft animals is likely to be in short supply *in the stipulated scenario*.

Seriously -- there's a reason we make jokes about mathematicians or physicists saying, "Assume a spherical cow...." The real world is messy, and unless you already have access to a person who knows almost enough to run the draft army already who can feed you good data to solve the problem in the abstract, I'm not sure your scenario is realistic.

My point is *about* the limitations of simplistic models. In the simplistic model, a computer science major can do computer science -- and nothing else. In the simplistic model you can obtain precisely what you need, which is either a two hundred year-old soldier or a historian who specializes in the logistics of pre-mechanized armies. But chances are *in our scenario* people with precisely such skills will be hard to find as unicorns, and people with CS degrees will be common as muck. So, do you look for a historian, or someone with a degree in a somewhat math-y field who happens to have a little of both common sense and imagination?

This is actually a situation which is less exotic than you might think. When you hire an employee, it's often the case that you've got a round hole to fill and a bin full of square pegs. None of the candidates are exactly what you're looking for, so you have to imagine how the candidates you *do* have might adapt.

I just think real-world scenarios are often quite messy, and until you accumulate enough data to construct an accurate model, your algorithmic solutions are likely to have serious flaws.

Right. And this is different from the pre-apocalyptic use of whatever your academic specialization is, how? You get out of school and you have to apply your ivory tower training in idealized problems to messy real-world problems. Does that mean that the ivory tower training is useless, and that the time would have been better spent just getting real world experience? Of course not.

When my dad had a heart attack, my oldest brother was going into his senior year as civil engineering student. He quit school and got a job selling restaurant and food service equipment. He did very well at it, probably made more money than he would have as a civil engineer. That was mainly his people skills, but his engineering training made him the go-to guy for large projects. You might not think there is such a thing as a large restaurant supply project, but it turns out that if you're opening a new theme park and you've got to figure out how to feed a couple million visitors a year, it's very useful to have an engineer who understands food service.

That's the hallmark of a good engineer. A good engineer doesn't just apply his skills, he finds ways of making his skills applicable.

Umm, you're doing it wrong, if you're waiting to sort until you get the bags in your house. I don't have a computer science degree, but my sorting begins as I put items in my CART.

Please, give me some credit for not being stupid. Anyhow, you're just making my point.

This does not require a CS degree

Never said it did.

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! Re:I have a degree in computer science. (727 comments)

While you are busy intellectualizing a food redistribution algorithm, someone with a club will just smack you and take it.

Not before I put an arrow between his eyes. I can not only shoot a primitive bow pretty well, I could make one, including the bowstring, with nothing but a knife. If I didn't, then I'd have to fall back on my boxing and (admittedly rusty) judo skills.

It's a common misconception that people capable of unusual intellectual feats must necessarily be physically helpless, hopelessly specialized, and oblivious to everything around them.

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! Re:I have a degree in computer science. (727 comments)

Naturally, my model would not starve the farmers. The real challenge is figuring out how to stop the bandits who are starving the farmers. Fortunately, you only need about seven samurai for that.

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! Re:Medical doctor (727 comments)

So when you break your leg, you're going to have your witch doctor set it for you?

Vaccines and antibiotics are not high tech -- by which I mean something that requires an extensive and intact industrial infrastructure to produce. Crude replacements could be created by someone with 21st C scientific knowledge and the kind of technology that would have been available to 18th C gentleman scientists.

As for other drugs, a doctor could work with herbalists. Willow bark replaces aspirin; foxglove replaces digitalis; Ephedra sinica replaces pseudoephedrine; absinthe replaces anti-worm medications. A herbalist working under medical supervision is a lot better than nothing.

4 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

hey! I have a degree in computer science. (727 comments)

Which, it turns out, has very little to do with actual computers.

The intellectual skills involved in CS could, with not much difficulty, be turned to other kinds of problem solving such as operations research. Seriously, you're going to leave questions like how to most efficiently distribute scarce resources such as food to someone with a *business* degree? As a computer scientist, I'd create a model of the underlying problem, develop alternative algorithms, then show how those algorithms and model apply the real world problem. I use computer science every time I come home from grocery shopping. As I remove items from the bags I stage them by where they are eventually going to go. Why? Because efficient sorting algorithms eliminate lots of entropy early on. Consequently I only open my refrigerator *once*.

Computer science is essentially about figuring out the resources needed to accomplish things. If you want to figure out how much fodder it would take to move your draft animal powered army over a certain distance, you *could* consult a historian who specialized in the logistics of pre-mechanized warfare who'd tell you how Viscount Howe did it in the New Jersey Campaign of 1776-1777. Or you could find some CS graduate who pulled at least a "B" in algorithms to figure it out for you.

As for experts in gymel -- a technique for singing polyphony with one voice -- it's worth considering that the technique was developed in a period of human history that would be considered apocalyptically awful by modern standards. Even when times are violent, disordered, and desperately poor people still need art and music, and if we're stipulating that apocalyptic == "no computers", that means no iPods either. So it seems quite plausible to me that experts in gymel might find their services *more* in demand in a post-apocalyptic world.

4 days ago
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CSIRO Scientists' Aquaculture Holy Grail: Fish-Free Prawn Food

hey! Just like food, your food itself is what it eats. (116 comments)

We think of fish is heart healthy, but fin fish don't produce omega-3 fatty acids; they bioaccumulate Omega 3s produced by the algae at the bottom of the food chain. Farm-raised fin fish may or may not have a healthy fat profile based on their diet. Grass fed beef has a healthier fat profile than grain fed beef, as well as containing useful phyotchemical (chemicals from plants) like carotenoids. Same goes for pork; lard from pasture raised pigs is relatively high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

The pattern seems to be that the best thing to feed an animal is something that approximates that species' natural food in the wild. So I'm skeptical of a secret, proprietary, industrially produced feed. It's not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if it's just a matter of skipping a few trophic levels (i.e., feeding the animal something prepared from stuff that's lower on its natural prey's food chain). Aquaculture needs something like that. The world's population demands more seafood than can be wild caught. But I'm not enthusiastic about buying meat from animals raised on mystery food.

5 days ago
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GM Names Names, Suspends Two Engineers Over Ignition-Switch Safety

hey! There's one thing you can be sure of. (236 comments)

This is a self-serving move by GM.

Perhaps the engineers named are responsible for the deaths caused by the faulty switch. Perhaps they are not. We don't know. But we can be certain that GM is naming these engineers in the hope that the public will blame and vilify them instead of the company.

This is an attempt to evade corporate responsibility disguised as an act of transparency. Even if the engineers bear some responsibility for the faulty design reaching production vehicles, it should be impossible for two engineers alone to put an obviously unsafe assembly into a production car, even if they conspire to do that *deliberately*. Obvious flaws should have been caught in design reviews, non-obvious flaws in prototyping and testing.

5 days ago
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Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project

hey! Re:Stop Now (172 comments)

Well, it shouldn't be a question of some random person pulled of the Internet vs. the scientists *working on the project*. It should be a matter of what an educated person would think if all the pros and cons were laid out impartially then intelligently explained to him.

The problem with GP isn't that he thinks that ITER is a "massive and pointless waste of money" that will "never lead to a practical source of energy." The problem is that he hasn't explained the reasoning he used to arrive at that conclusion, and shown that he has thoughtfully weighed the contrary argument. He may well have done so and formed a very sound opinion of the project. We just don't know.

5 days ago
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Crowd Wisdom Better At Predictions Than Top CIA Analysts

hey! Re:But why would the CIA release their best result (136 comments)

While I am sure there are occasional situations where it might be advantageous to be thought foolish and incompetent, in general this is likely a bad thing.

It's like being thought *weak* in military terms. There in tactical situations you'd like the enemy to underestimate your strength, strategically it's better to be thought stronger than you actually are. If a hostile country is considering violating some treaty they have with us, we'd want them to think our intelligence agencies will catch them red-handed. Once they actually go down that road, we'd want them to think our agencies are completely incompetent.

5 days ago
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93 Harvard Faculty Members Call On the University To Divest From Fossil Fuels

hey! Re:Unsustainable ivory tower bullshit. (214 comments)

You seem to think that Harvard divesting from fossil fuels will cause companies like Exxon-Mobil to collapse overnight.

This is largely a symbolic action. If many other institutional investors follow suit, it's *still* not going to stop companies from pumping natural gas out of their wells, any more than divesting in gold mining would cause gold mines to stop taking gold out of the ground. The last thing a troubled business would do is starve a cash cow.

What divestiture *might* do, in the most wildly optimistic scenario imaginable, is divert a *tiny* fraction of the world's investment in developing new energy stocks toward renewables. Were that to lead eventually to electricity shortages, the price of fossil fuels would automatically rise. That would attract plenty of new investment. A modest rise in prices would swamp any conceivable stock price effect of divestiture, even if all the universities in the world did this.

Finally, as an MIT alum who's taken courses at Harvard, people who manage to land a professorship at the country's oldest and most prestigious university are usually pretty damned smart. That doesn't mean "always right", but it does mean that they probably understand the practical effects of such a move better than you apparently do. This is a university that has managed to build the largest endowment of any educational institution in the world: over 32 *billion*. If that were *market capitalization*, it'd put them on S&P's list of the 100 largest companies in the world. Halliburton's only worth 30 billion.

about a week ago
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Nest Halts Sales of Smart Fire Alarm After Discovering Dangerous Flaw

hey! Re:The internet of things...that might get you kil (128 comments)

This is something software engineers should have learned in school. Sometimes a software failure can kill. Did they make *you* study the Therac-25 incident? I bet they didn't, much less to do when confronted with a project which puts lives in danger.

It must have seemed like a no-brainer to go from making thermostats to fire alarms, but I would be very, very reluctant to work on such a project. There's something ethically questionable about replacing a simple, highly effective device that saves lives with a more complex replacement. Even -- or perhaps especially -- if the replacement offers conveniences that simple device doesn't.

about two weeks ago
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How Many People Does It Take To Colonize Another Star System?

hey! Re:How many Earthworms? (392 comments)

How many species would we need? I don't think that question has an answer, because of the somewhat vague definition of what a species is. Culex pipiens, restuans, and quinquifasciatus are very similar mosquito species that readily hybridize to form completely viable offspring; would you need *all three of them*? You might; these are important disease vectors, both human (Saint Louis and Japanese Encephalitis) and animal (dog heartworm), and its quite possible that some genetic populations don't spread certain diseases nearly as well.

And why would you need that? It turns out that pathogens and disease vectors might play an important part in maintaining ecosystem diversity. Hantavirus is common in rodents for example. Differences in hantavirus strains might prevent one population of rodents from taking over the range of another. In effect by co-evolving with a pathogen, a population can use it as a natural defense. This diversity in turn contributes to the resilience of the overall population to environmental changes.

Suppose meadow vole populations A and B live next to each other, but invade the other's territory. There is an environmental change that wipes out one of them, say B. Then A is free to spread into B's territory, and overall the population of voles looks pretty much the same. But if B had previously overrun A's territory, then the voles would have been wiped out.

The operation of the biosphere is immensely complex. The more you know about it, the less plausible things like terraforming seem. I think it may be possible to create a self-sustaining generation ship, particularly if the enclosure is very large and energy is essentially limitless. But I think such an environment would be a dead end. I don't think it would be possible to bootstrap anything like the Earth's biosphere on another planet, at least not for millions of years.

about two weeks ago

Submissions

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Paypal Forces E-Book Sellers to censor Erotic Content.

hey! hey! writes  |  more than 2 years ago

hey! (33014) writes "On February 18 of this year, global giant payment processor PayPal sent eBook publisher Smashwords an ultimatum: if Smashwords didn't remove all eBooks with certain erotic content from its catalog in the next several days, PayPal would immediately stop handling payments.

Smashword's TOS already precluded child pornography, but now PayPal wants them to also censor depictions of consenting, non-related adults acting out incest fantasies. Likewise fantasy novels in which human characters transform into non-humans are affected if those characters have sex. ZDNet has a summary of the impact of these changes, which would among other things ban Vladmir Nabokov's *Lolita*.

As outrage mounts, finger pointing is in full swing. Smashwords blames PayPal, and PayPal blames the banks it deals with. The crux seems to be that erotica buyers have a higher rate of "chargebacks" — customers who buy stuff then demand their money back. Fair enough, but is a customer really more likely to return a book because it depicts one kind of fantasy between consenting adults vs. another? Perhaps the problem is just the quality of writing."

Link to Original Source
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hey! hey! writes  |  more than 6 years ago

hey! writes "Fantasy author Lloyd Alexander, author of the Chronicles of Pyrdain, Time Cat, and the Westmark trilogy passed away last week at the age of 83.

Alexander, who graduated high school at the age of fifteen, left college at the age of nineteen to serve in World War 2, where he rose to the rank of staff sargeant in the Army's intelligence service. He received his intelligence training in Wales, and became fascinated with the country's romantic history and literature. The Chronicles of Pyrdain, his best known works, are set in an imaginary land resembling the mythical Wales, and draw heavily upon the medieval Welsh Mabinogion for inspiration. That series won two Newberry Awards, one for the second book in the series, The Black Cauldron, and another for The High King, the final novel length work set in the Pyrdain universe. He received or was nominated for many other prestigious awards.

Alexander published his first work in 1955, the year after Tolkien published The Fellowship of the Ring, and the next decades saw many attempts to follow in Tolkien's footsteps. Like C.S. Lewis, Alexander remained firmly outside that stream of High Fantasy literature, writing in the simpler language of the young adult literature market. But while Alexander did not write with the elaborate theological symbolism of Tolkien or Lewis, his works often have an similar (if humanistic) moral gravity, touching as they do on themes of heroism, loss, and even political irony. In his own words:

"In whatever guise — our own daily nightmares of war, intolerance, inhumanity; or the struggles of an Assistant Pig-Keeper against the Lord of Death — the problems are agonizingly familiar. And an openness to compassion, love and mercy is as essential to us here and now as it is to any inhabitant of an imaginary kingdom."


I have written an appreciation of Lloyd Alexander. For more information, refer to his Wikipedia entry and his NY Times obituary. Lloyd Alexaner (1924-2007), rest in peace."
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hey! hey! writes  |  about 7 years ago

hey! (33014) writes "As many of you are aware, the folks who engineered the merger of Daimler-Benz and Chryslter into DaimlerChrysler are having second thoughts. Chrysler has a long history of doing interesting things, but they also have a long history of financial ups and downs. And current management is eager unload Chrysler while the unloading is good.

Meanwhile, while Chrysler's situation is precarious, Al Gore's stock is at an all time high. He just starred in a smash hit, double Oscar winning movie. He's just been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. And the public seems to have decided that his impassioned opposition to the Iraq war was not, after all, a sign of mental instability. In short, although it seems incredible, Al Gore has become cool. If there were any doubt of it, he has been awarded an Emmy, not for his nascent work in TV, but a special award designated for those "touch our common humanity". In other words an award for cool people.

It's been widely speculated that Gore could let the Clinton and Obama wound each other over the Democratic nomination for a few months, then step in for a last minute coronation. On the other hand Rick Haglund, a Michigan journalist who covers the auto industry, puts one and one together and comes up with this intriguing idea: Gore should make a play for Chrysler. Gore even has his own VC firm to do it. Should he put his investor's money where his mouth is, or should he go for a fourth run at the presidency?"
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hey! hey! writes  |  more than 7 years ago

hey! (33014) writes "The Bush administration has announced a new space security policy, which includes the statement that "Consistent with this policy, the United States will preserve its rights, capabilities and freedom of action in space ... and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests."

Strictly speaking, this doesn't say that the US policy is to deny space access to hostile countries. It just says that the US can do so if it is "necessary". Possibly this is meant to cover situations similar to those in which we would deny a hostile seafaring nation access to non-territorial waters. While attacking hostile assets in space would be a regrettable scenario, it is probably inevitable that spacefaring nations contemplate this. Even so, this has been widely reported as a kind of declaration of space imperialism by the US (e.g., "US spreads its wings over space control", "US turns space into its colony", and "America wants it all — life, the Universe and everything"), whereas China's blinding of a US satellite a few weeks ago was largely tolerated or even lauded. Could US international prestige possibly sink lower?"

Journals

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Geez, I'm starting to get cranky

hey! hey! writes  |  about 9 years ago

I've done two posts today in which I call the subject of an article "stupid" (example 1 and exzample 2).

I have to watch it. It's a bad habit to start thinking of yourself as superior.

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Two questions

hey! hey! writes  |  more than 10 years ago

Just an experiment. I'd like to know two things.

(1) Does anyone read journal entries?

(2) How do people find journal entries they might want to read?

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