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Is Alibaba Comparable To a US Company?

hey! Re:What a question? (111 comments)

You are confusing "state capitalism" with "socialism".

2 days ago

Emails Cast Unflattering Light On Internal Politics of Rollout

hey! Re:Was it really so bad? (375 comments)

Imagine if a state like Mississippi or Oklahoma had to get a system made? They'd hire a guy named Jom Bob from church to do it. They'd piss away the entire budget before they even found Jim Bob. They'd run it on index cards and toilet paper in type writers with no correction ink.

Well to be fair the deep-red state Kentucky had a very successful rollout of Obamacare (rebranded as "Kynect"), including it's own health insurance exchange AND medicaid expansion -- the whole Obamacare enchilada.

Under Obamacare, the federal insurance exchange was never intended to serve the entire country. In fact ideally nobody would have to use it, because states were supposed to set up their own exchanges that would better reflect the needs of their citizens than a federal one would. If you are forced to use the federal exhange, it's because politicians who run your state made that choice for you.

Of course some states have had their own exchange rollout disasters -- including blue states like Maryland and Oregon. If you're experienced with this kind of project you'd expect that. But others have had very successful rollouts, including a handful of red states like Kentucky.

2 days ago

Torvalds: No Opinion On Systemd

hey! Re:Simple set of pipelined utilties! (379 comments)

I don't think people understand the Unix philosophy. They think it's about limiting yourself to pipelines, but it's not. It's about writing simple robust programs that interact through a common, relatively high level interface, such as a pipeline. But that interface doesn't have to be a pipeline. It could be HTTP Requests and Responses.

The idea of increasing concurrency in a web application through small, asynchronous event handlers has a distinctly Unix flavor. After all the event handlers tend to run top to bottom and typically produce an output stream from an input stream (although it may simply modify one or the other or do something orthogonal to either like logging). The use of a standardized, high level interface allows you to keep the modules weakly coupled, and that's the real point of the Unix philosophy.

5 days ago

Developing the First Law of Robotics

hey! Re:So, a design failure then. (165 comments)

It depends on your design goals.

In Asimov's story universe, the Three Laws are so deeply embedded in robotics technology they can't be circumvented by subsequent designers -- not without throwing out all subsequent robotics technology developments and starting over again from scratch. That's one heck of a tall order. Complaining about a corner case in which the system doesn't work as you'd like after they achieved that seems like nitpicking.

We do know that *more* sophisticated robots can designed make more subtle ethical systems -- which is another sign of a robust fundamental design. The simplistic ethics is what subsequent designers get when they get "for free" when they use an off-the-shelf positronic brain to control a welding robot or bread-slicing machine.

Think of the basic positronic brain design as a design framework. One of the hallmarks of a robust framework is that easy things are easy and hard things are possible. By simply using the positronic framework the designers of the bread slicing machine don't have to figure out all the ways the machine might slice a person's fingers off. The framework takes care of that for them.

5 days ago

Apple Edits iPhone 6's Protruding Camera Out of Official Photos

hey! Re:The protruding lens was a mistake (424 comments)

I don't think you've really grasped Apple's design sensibility. Job one for the designers is to deliver a product that consumers want but can't get anywhere else.

The "camera bulge" may be a huge blunder, or it may be just a tempest in a teapot. The real test will be the user's reactions when they hold the device in their hand, or see it in another user's hand. If the reaction is "I want it", the designers have done their job. If it's "Holy cow, look at that camera bulge," then it's a screw-up.

The thinness thing hasn't been about practicality for a long, long time; certainly not since smartphones got thinner than 12mm or so. They always been practical things the could have given us other than thinness, but what they want you to do is pick up the phone and say, "Look how thin the made this!" The marketing value of that is that it signals that you've got the latest and greatest device. There's a limit of course, and maybe we're at it now. Otherwise we'll be carrying devices in ten years that look like big razor blades.

At some point in your life you'll probably have seen so many latest and greatest things that having the latest and greatest isn't important to you any longer. That's when know you've aged out of the demographic designers care about.

5 days ago

Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

hey! Re:Where the pessimism comes from. (191 comments)

I'd argue that we do try to write about the future, but the thing is: it's pretty damn hard to predict the future. ...
The problem is that if we look at history, we see it littered with disruptive technologies and events which veered us way off course from that mere extrapolation into something new.

I think you are entirely correct about the difficulty in predicting disruptive technologies. But there's an angle here I think you may not have considered: the possibility that just the cultural values and norms of the distant future might be so alien to us that readers wouldn't identify with future people or want to read about them and their problems.

Imagine a reader in 1940 reading a science fiction story which accurately predicted 2014. The idea that there would be women working who aren't just trolling for husbands would strike him as bizarre and not very credible. An openly transgendered character who wasn't immediately arrested or put into a mental hospital would be beyond belief.

Now send that story back another 100 years, to 1840. The idea that blacks should be treated equally and even supervise whites would be shocking. Go back to 1740. The irrelevance of the hereditary aristocracy would be difficult to accept. In 1640, the secularism of 2014 society and would be distasteful, and the relative lack of censorship would be seen as radical (Milton wouldn't publish his landmark essay Aereopagitica for another four years). Hop back to 1340. A society in which the majority of the population is not tied to the land would be viewed as chaos, positively diseased. But in seven years the BLack Death will arrive in Western Europe. Displaced serfs will wander the land, taking wage work for the first time in places where the find labor shortages. This is a shocking change that will resist all attempts at reversal.

This is all quite apart from the changes in values that have been forced upon us by scientific and technological advancement. The ethical issues discussed in a modern text on medical ethics would probably have frozen Edgar Allen Poe's blood.

I think it's just as hard to predict how the values and norms of society will change in five hundred years as it is to accurately predict future technology. My guess is that while we'd find things to admire in that future society, overall we would find it disturbing, possibly even evil according to our values. I say this not out of pessimism, but out my observation that we're historically parochial. We think implicitly like Karl Marx -- that there's a point where history comes to an end. Only we happen to think that point is *now*. Yes, we understand that our technology will change radically, but we assume our culture will not.

about a week ago

Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

hey! Where the pessimism comes from. (191 comments)

The pessimism and dystopia in sci-fi doesn't come from a lack of research resources on engineering and science. It mainly comes from literary fashion.

If the fashion with editors is bleak, pessimistic, dystopian stories, then that's what readers will see on the bookshelves and in the magazines, and authors who want to see their work in print will color their stories accordingly. If you want to see more stories with a can-do, optimistic spirit, then you need to start a magazine or publisher with a policy of favoring such manuscripts. If there's an audience for such stories it's bound to be feasible. There a thousand serious sci-fi writers for every published one; most of them dreadful it is true, but there are sure to be a handful who write the good old stuff, and write it reasonably well.

A secondary problem is that misery provides many things that a writer needs in a story. Tolstoy once famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I actually Tolstoy had it backwards; there are many kinds of happy families. Dysfunctions on the other hand tends to fall into a small number of depressingly recognizable patterns. The problem with functional families from an author's standpoint is that they don't automatically provide something that he needs for his stories: conflict. Similarly a dystopian society is a rich source of conflicts, obstacles and color, as the author of Snow Crash must surely realize. Miserable people in a miserable setting are simply easier to write about.

I recently went on a reading jag of sci-fi from the 30s and 40s, and when I happened to watch a screwball comedy movie ("His Girl Friday") from the same era, I had an epiphany: the worlds of the sci-fi story and the 1940s comedy were more like each other than they were like our present world. The role of women and men; the prevalence of religious belief, the kinds of jobs people did, what they did in their spare time, the future of 1940 looked an awful lot like 1940.

When we write about the future, we don't write about a *plausible* future. We write about a future world which is like the present or some familiar historical epoch (e.g. Roman Empire), with conscious additions and deletions. I think a third reason may be our pessimism about our present and cynicism about the past. Which brings us right back to literary fashion.

about a week ago

Navy Guilty of Illegally Broad Online Searches: Child Porn Conviction Overturned

hey! Re:When the cat's absent, the mice rejoice (286 comments)

Well, I'd be with you if the government was poking around on the users' computers, but they weren't. The users were hosting the files on a public peer-to-peer network where you essentially advertise to the world you've downloaded the file and are making it available to the world. Since both those acts are illegal, you don't really have an expectation of privacy once you've told *everyone* you've done it. While the broadcasting of the file's availability doesn't prove you have criminal intent, it's certainly probable cause for further investigation.

These guys got off on a narrow technicality. Of course technicalities do matter; a government that isn't restrained by laws is inherently despotic. The agents simply misunderstood the law; they weren't violating anyone's privacy.

about a week ago

Original 11' Star Trek Enterprise Model Being Restored Again

hey! Re:Crude? (99 comments)

Compare that to some of the ST:TNG props that I've seen that look fine on screen, but when examined closely look like someone gave a 5-year old a couple of shots of vodka and turned them loose with a paintbrush.

There's a certain wonder to that too.

I had the same reaction when I saw the ST:TNG props in person. You wouldn't buy a toy that looked that cheesy. The wonder of it is that the prop makers knew this piece of crap would look great onscreen. That's professional skill at work. Amateurs lavish loving care on stuff and overbuild them. Pros make them good enough, and put the extra effort into stuff that matters more.

about a week ago

High School Student Builds Gun That Unlocks With Your Fingerprint

hey! Re: Great one more fail (599 comments)

These kinds of responses are conditioned on certain assumptions that may not hold for all users.

For example, let's assume that you have no need whatsoever to prevent other users from using your gun. Then any complication you add to the firearm will necessarily make it less suitable, no matter how reliable that addition is. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a big game hunter who carries a backup handgun.

On the other hand suppose you have need of a firearm, but there is so much concern that someone else might use it without authorization that you reasonably decide to do without. In that opposite situation you might well tolerate quite a high failure rate in such a device because it makes it possible to carry a gun. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a prison guard -- prison guards do not carry handguns because of precisely this concern.

This isn't rocket science. It's all subject to a straightforward probabilistic analysis *of a particular scenario*. People who say that guns *always* must have a such a device are only considering one set of scenarios. People who say that guns must *never* have such a device are only considering a different set of scenarios. It's entirely possible that for such a device there are some where it is useful and others where it is not.

about a week ago

New Nail Polish Alerts Wearers To Date Rape Drugs

hey! Re:I wish we didn't need something like this (595 comments)

No need to paint the male gender as a whole as being filled with sociopaths. It's just the law of large numbers at work. There's maybe 30 million American men in the age rage that are likely to pick up srange women; if just 1/10 % of them are sociopathic predators that's 30,000 predators; and since they *are* predators they'll be overrepresented in young women's encounters with men in pick-up scenarios. Small numbers can produce disproportionate problems. In this case it represents numbers the actions of such a small proportion of men that our ideas about how normal people act aren't a reliable guide.

Drink spiking is a very rare crime. Most studies that look for evidence of it find very little. The highest I found was a government study which found date rape drugs in 4.5% of the cases from four sexual assault clinics. Note this is 4.5% of the cases where the assault occurred, so we're not talking about 4.5% of encounters, we're talking 4.5% of rapes. 4.5% is certainly high enough to be a concern in certain situations, like residential parties at a college. In such a situation a date rape drug detector might actually have some utility, even though it addresses relatively rare actions by a tiny proportion of men.

A bigger concern than what we think of as a "date rape drug" is alcohol itself. The same study that found date rape drugs in 4.5% of sexual assault samples found alcohol in 55%. This result is consistently found across studies: alcohol is very frequently associated with sexual assault -- around half of the time. This is especially concerning because some people (men and women both) don't believe that surreptitiously incapacitating someone with alcohol in order to have sex is rape. They don't distinguish ethically between two people getting drunk and having sex and one of them slipping extra alcohol into a drink.

But the fact remains most men wouldn't do something like that. But that doesn't preclude the possibility that a woman might often encounter the few remaining men who would. A typical man has sex with a small number of women many times; a man who has sex with a large number of women only once is bound to be encountered by women disproportionately often.

about a month ago

If Java Wasn't Cool 10 Years Ago, What About Now?

hey! Re:A stupid consideration (511 comments)

Exactly. If you want to regard yourself as an engineer, you have to start by accepting you are working to serve the interests of the client, not your career. I've seen so many problems occur because programmers want to have a certain technology on their resume. And the sad thing is that it works to get them through the HR filter. If HR is told to look for experience with a particular technology, it doesn't seem to matter whether the candidate's experience with that technology is failure.

about a month ago

FCC Warned Not To Take Actions a Republican-Led FCC Would Dislike

hey! Re:By that logic... (338 comments)

A republican FCC shouldn't do anything a democratic one won't like either. Unless they enjoy being hypocrites.

And your point would be?

about 1 month ago

The First Particle Physics Evidence of Physics Beyond the Standard Model?

hey! Re: While you're at it (97 comments)

You realize calling the Big Bang an "explosion" is a metaphor, right?

about a month ago

Scientists Find Traces of Sea Plankton On ISS Surface

hey! Re:This actually makes perfect sense. (117 comments)

Except water vapor is the gaseous form of water; the plankton would have to be transported on individual molecules of water to reach the ionosphere.

If plankton were transportable in microscopic *droplets* in the troposphere as you suggest, a more plausible explanation is that the equipment was contaminated -- both the station itself and the gear used to test it.

about a month ago

German Intelligence Spying On Allies, Recorded Kerry, Clinton, and Kofi Annan

hey! Re:Trust, but verify (170 comments)

I disagree. It means trust but don't rely entirely on trust when you have other means at your disposal.

Consider a business deal. You take the contract to your lawyer and he puts all kinds of CYA stuff that supposedly protects you against bad faith. But let me tell you: if the other guy is dealing in bad faith you're going to regret getting mixed up with him, even if you've got the best lawyer in the world working on the contract. So you should only do critical deals with parties you trust.

But if the deal is critical, you should still bring the lawyer in. Why? Because situtations change. Ownership and management change. Stuff can look different when stuff doesn't go the way everyone hoped. People can act differently under pressure. Other people working at the other company might not be as trustworthy as the folks sitting across the table from you. All kinds of reasons.

So you trust, but verify that the other party can't stab you in the back, because neither method is 100% effective. It's common sense in business, and people usually don't take it personally. When they *do*, then that's kind of fishy in my opinion.

about a month ago



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

hey! hey! writes  |  more than 7 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."

hey! hey! writes  |  more than 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?"

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?"



Geez, I'm starting to get cranky

hey! hey! writes  |  more than 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.


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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