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The Gap Between What The Public Thinks And What Scientists Know

itsdapead Vital information lacking... (452 comments)

It would help enormously if the survey makers would kindly supply the correct answers to those questions (along with some indication of confidence intervals) so we could judge whether the "scientists" or the general public had got it right.

(Hint: in most cases I suspect the correct answer is "Please could you ask a more specific question that could lead to a meaningful answer, not one borrowed from a tabloid headline?")

E.g. I don't worry about dropping dead because I've eaten a GM tomato, I worry more about GM crops who's raison d'etre is to sell more weedkiller, or what insect-repellant varieties could do to insect populations (and whatever used to eat the insects that fed on the non-GM plants) and I worry like hell about all the world's essential food crops ending up '(c) & Pat. pending Monsanto , all rights reserved'.

yesterday
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Gamma-ray Bursts May Explain Fermi's Paradox

itsdapead The scale just doesn't compare (236 comments)

There was still plenty of room left in Europe when pilgrims settled in America.

You're assuming that the task of crossing the Atlantic in the 17th Century is a feat comparable to a more advanced civilisation travelling dozens of lightyears in space. We are a more advanced civilisation - and not only are we still doing pretty badly at human space exploration, we're staring to form pretty successful scientific theories that show the task will be very, very difficult - and could be impossible. You're basing your argument on the (non-falsifiable) notion that an advanced civilisation will develop technology indistinguishable from magic - in an age where science is capable of asking quite a few awkward questions about magic w.r.t. little things like causality and the laws of thermodynamics...

At that time, travelling to America may have not been a picnic, but was still "only" a matter of months. Ships were readily available (the Mayflower was just a garden variety merchant ship). Coming back was unlikely (for the majority of the passengers) but not impossible. Trade with the old world was still feasible (much of the exploration of the new world at the time had a view to bringing resources back to Europe) and the climate on the East coast of America may have proven to be a bit nippy, but you could breathe the air, drink the water, eat native plants and animals and be reasonably confident that your seeds would go.

So, the question is, would the pilgrims still have left Europe for America if it meant a shipbuilding programme that made Apollo look like a science fair project, then spending the rest of their life on a ship, never seeing land, in the hope that their great-grandchildren would finally arrive in America - and then face the task of another generation or two on the ship terraforming the land before they could start ploughing and planting?

Especially given that, if you could buy a ship that could survive for many lifetimes in the middle of the Atlantic without support, wouldn't it be a hell of a lot easier just to build a big raft and park it sufficiently far offshore that the people you were running from wouldn't bother you?

Then, seriously, what do you think the chances are of a bunch of religious fundamentalists crewing a generation ship without overpopulating, schisming, squandering resources, killing each other and regressing to savagery (the 56th law of Science Fiction)? Yet in a society without the tendency for people to persecute each other in an argument over the colour of the sky fairy's wings, their motivation for embarking on the journey wouldn't have existed...

3 days ago
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Latest Windows 10 Preview Build Brings Slew of Enhancements

itsdapead Re:Ugly as it can be? (207 comments)

But it's a stretch to say this trend is copying Apple. Windows 8 came out long before Apple's new "flat" look came out, unless I'm aware of a trend that started before that in the Apple camp.

Nah - I think the "skeuomorphism considered harmful" movement comes from form-over-function graphic design numpties who were tired of actual content, meaning or useful visual cues for functionality polluting their minimalist design and stealing valuable screen area that could be used for whitespace, irrelevant generic images of shiny happy people or corporate identity guff. It was showing up on websites etc. (Slashdot's Bucking Feta was fairly late to the party) long before Apple went flat. Google have been going down the same route for some time, too.

Apple didn't help by coming up with some appallingly bad skeuomorphic UIs shortly before they went flat: someone had completely forgotten that the point of making something look like, say, a physical book is to suggest to the user that it works like a physical book (e.g. with data arranged in pages). Apps like Contacts and Calendars looked like books, or flip-over calendars, but didn't work remotely like such things, leaving the user with a load of totally misleading visual cues. (Subsequently copying them from iOS to OSX, where the mouse-based interface made them work even less like the physical object didn't help, either). Now, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and we're left with "mystery meat" UIs with nothing to distinguish the controls from the content.

3 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: Is Pascal Underrated?

itsdapead Early fragmentation (488 comments)

One early problem with Pascal was fragmentation: while there were various decent, proprietary, dialects that let you actually write code that did stuff, *standard* Pascal was as much use as a chocolate teapot. Standard Pascal had lousy I/o and minimal libraries. the standard didn't even specify how to open a file, whereas C always had a decent subset of the Unix API as part of the de-facto K&R standard.

Had Pascal come a few years later when the IBM PC had crushed all before it, then something like Turbo Pascal might have been far more successful. However, back when there was more than one type of PC to worry about, C's huge standard library, and it's preprocessor for fixing minor dialect issues made it unbeatable for writing portable code.

5 days ago
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UHD Spec Stomps on Current Blu-ray Spec, But Will Consumers Notice?

itsdapead Re:Uh...no (332 comments)

I miss the days of NTSC, a standard that lasted half a lifetime. This upgrade-your-TV-every-6 months crap is getting old. And get off my lawn.

Some of us grew up with PAL, which made HD even less of a priority.

Quite frankly 720 or compressed-to-shreds 1080i isn't worth the effort c.f. PAL, and although proper 1080p from BluRay is rather more impressive, I can't say it has spoiled me for anything less - a PAL DVD on a ~40" HD screen with upsampling doesn't exactly make you want to claw your eyes out.

about a week ago
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UHD Spec Stomps on Current Blu-ray Spec, But Will Consumers Notice?

itsdapead Re:3-format packs coming (332 comments)

DVD, Blu Ray and UHD in the same box. For only $10 extra, be even more future proof than with just dvd and blu ray!

Don't forget the 3D Blu Ray version and free Digital Copy (download only, not compatible with iTunes, Linux or any system that our proprietary player takes a dislike to, offer expired 1 month before this disc dropped to a sane price).

about a week ago
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Ask Slashdot: Has the Time Passed For Coding Website from Scratch?

itsdapead Depends on the need... (302 comments)

I'd ask yourself (or the client):

  1. Is the content regularly changing?
  2. Does the client want to update and add content themselves?
  3. Are they happy with a slightly generic look and structure rather than a completely bespoke interface?
  4. Do they want 'blog' functionality - i.e. users can comment directly on each article?
  5. Do they want a system where the bloody <ol> tag is still bloody broken? :-)

If the answer to several of those questions is "yes" and you don't already have a bulging toolkit of your own solutions, then I'd go with off-the-shelf CMS or blogging software. Alternatively, you could do a really nice front-end "sales brochure" in lovingly handcrafted HTML and then link to a CMS/Blog for news, support, customer forums etc.

Frameworks... can have uses but beware the "rapid application development" tarpit whereby you get your basic site/application working in record time and then hit a brick wall because you need to do something that the framework designer never anticipated.

about two weeks ago
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Justified: Visual Basic Over Python For an Intro To Programming

itsdapead Easy... (648 comments)

So, if it was your call, what would be your choice for the Best Programming Language for High School?

The problem I'd have with VB at that level is that it is PC/Windows-only, and only available for free/cheap subject to Microsoft's licensing whims.

JavaScript?
Pros: runs on anything with a web browser - if you host the kids work on a server they can run their work on their unrooted phones, tablets, games consoles, chromebooks...; you can get jobs writing it; it goes hand-in-hand with web design skills and its relatively easy to make nice UIs in HTML; easy for kids to share their work.
Cons: it's Javascript!

I think I'd seriously look at Javascript because of that list of 'pros' - and if that is unconscionable, something like Dart or Haxe that 'compiled' to JavaScript but fixed its, er... more easily misunderstood features, set up with a web-based editor/UI that made writing and running a simple function straightforward and hid all the boilerplate.

Of course, an important part of the course, later on, would be to learn about other programming languages, compilers, libraries etc.

That said, the main thing is not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and not to force teenagers into something obscure or incomprehensible on the belief that if they didn't learn {insert trendy programming paradigm de jour}, or used something that didn't have a A**** freeness rating from the FSF, that they'd be scarred for life. The world will not end if they learn VB, Python or Java.

about two weeks ago
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FDA Approves Implantable Vagus Nerve Disruptor For Weight Loss

itsdapead Re:Just World Fallacy vs. Vanity Industrial Comple (168 comments)

Well, I don't know who to root for.

Don't worry - the tendency to see both sides of an issue is a genuine medical affliction brought on by an over-active brain. Soon they'll have an implant to help such people reduce every issue affecting the world to a simplistic false dichotomy, taking away the uncomfortable urge to try and deal with complexity.

Meanwhile, you just need to rely on willpower to suppress your skepticism when reading stories like this.

about two weeks ago
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Best current live-action TV show based on comics?

itsdapead Re:Can I have four? (148 comments)

After being burned by them so many times I'm afraid of watching the show and liking it, only to turn around and watch it get cancelled on some cliffhanger

Spoiler: Gordon survives to become police commissioner, young Bruce Wayne survives and grows up to be Batman, Selena Kyle survives and becomes Catwoman; Cobblepot survives and takes to wearing a tux and top hat; several "good" characters with familiar names and hints of a "dark side" survive and turn into villains; while any character that doesn't appear in the comics probably won't survive a cliffhanger.

about two weeks ago
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Best current live-action TV show based on comics?

itsdapead Re:Utopia? (148 comments)

I don't think it was cancelled, in the sense that it was never implemented as a series in the way a traditional US series is implemented (100 episodes to guarantee syndication etc.)

Well, that's true of virtually all UK shows (and they're generally better for it). I think "cancelled" is still appropriate when the creators looked set to continue but the channel pulls the plug for commercial reasons (which seems to be the case for Utopia) c.f. ones that are intentionally concluded like "Life on Mars".

Of course, with some shows its hard to tell a cliffhanger from a conclusion.

It really, really annoys me when shows end the season without resolving anything - have the makers never heard of shows getting cancelled? At least both series of Utopia resolve the main plot in the final episodes before throwing a curve-ball cliffhanger.

NB: Apparently there's talk of a US remake of Utopia. Hmm.

about two weeks ago
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Pope Francis: There Are Limits To Freedom of Expression

itsdapead Re:Freedom of what exactly. (894 comments)

Freedom of speech is freedom from oppression from the government.

No, freedom of speech is freedom of speech.

What you say may be completely true of the US 1st Amendment, and somewhat true about Article 10 or the European Declaration of Human Rights, but neither of those is the be-all and end-all of the ideal of "freedom of speech".

about two weeks ago
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Best current live-action TV show based on comics?

itsdapead Utopia? (148 comments)

OK, Utopia is neither based upon a comic or, technically, current (since its been cancelled*) but it does feature a fictitious comic book as a plot device and the cinematography is heavily influenced by comic book art (if you like over-saturated colour, you're in for a treat).

Not for the faint hearted or easily offended, though.

(* but it does come to a reasonably satisfying conclusion so don't let that deter).

Of the official list: only really seen two: SHIELD is OK (but it ain't Firefly, although 'the bus' looks hauntingly familiar from some angles) and Gotham is rather good (and certainly isn't like any Batman story you've seen - I just hope they keep their nerve and don't break out the tights, top-hats and make-up until the last ever episode).

about two weeks ago
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Authors Alarmed As Oxford Junior Dictionary Drops Nature Words

itsdapead FTFY (174 comments)

Let me fix that for you using the junior dictionary:

Wow, I'd only be, like, OMG for stuff that is like, real, you know, not this stuff that is, like, meh, whatever.

about two weeks ago
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Authors Alarmed As Oxford Junior Dictionary Drops Nature Words

itsdapead Re:All words (174 comments)

The full unabridged OED takes up a huge chunk of wall space

...or a memory chip the size of a baby's fingernail. I mean, it is reassuring to have a few physical copies sitting in libraries around the world for sentimental purposes and backup in the event of the great EMP, but there's no other rational need for a paper dictionary. In modern society, if the power has been out for a week, the inability to have a properly refereed game of Scrabble is going to be the least of your worries.

Up until the coming of digital books nobody had space for a full unabridged OED

...which ceased to be an issue a quarter of a century ago with the arrival of the CD-ROM. Not sure exactly when it became feasible to have the entire OED on your phone, but it certainly wasn't yesterday.

Consequently, you now need exactly 2 versions of a dictionary: the unabridged version and one abridged just enough to make it unsuitable for professional linguists (so you can make a profit from the pros). Size is not an issue for any of those and there's no reason whatsoever to take out words 'to make room for new ones'. If a word has fallen out of use, make a note to that effect: the fact that it was used is valuable information.

about two weeks ago
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NASA's New Horizons To Arrive At Pluto With Clyde Tombaugh's Ashes

itsdapead Re:Not all of his ashes.. (108 comments)

but honouring individuals who don't exist anymore and are never coming back, including parts of their dead bodies?

Hell, personally, I'd have settled with just a plaque, but if a few grams of ash has more emotional value with some people, why not? I certainly don't agree when people risk their lives to recover dead bodies, or waste valuable real estate on graveyards, but this is harmless. Plus, the inscription was purely factual.

I cannot see any reason for this other than a religious superstition that there is something after death.

There is something after death: the lives of everybody who didn't die that day, and their descendants. The possibility that what you did in your life might have a positive impact on your survivors, that they might even remember you or your work, is the real life after death.

about three weeks ago
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NASA's New Horizons To Arrive At Pluto With Clyde Tombaugh's Ashes

itsdapead Re:Not all of his ashes.. (108 comments)

And still a tremendous waste of money to placard those who fund NASA for emotional reasons, not scientific reasons

Show me evidence that some valuable scientific experiment was bumped from the mission to accommodate this weight, or that a significant sum of much-needed money was diverted from elsewhere, and I'll agree with you.

Meanwhile, I Am Not A Rocket Scientist, but it seems like a no-brainer that you don't design a half-tonne space probe without holding a few grammes of capacity in reserve for contingencies. Something like the ashes could have been bumped at the very last minute with out consequence if the probe weighed in 0.01% over weight.

but if someone did in the far future, they would have to conclude that 21st century humans believed in magic.

No, just that they had emotions and honoured their dead. In fact, you're feeding a Sky Fairy cult strawman (or rather straw Vulcan - see points #4 and #5).

about three weeks ago
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Several European Countries Lay Groundwork For Heavier Internet Censorhip

itsdapead Re:WTF (319 comments)

There is no difference. How do you propose to censor speech if not by the threat of consequence?

You can't if you get punishment confused with consequences - but calling "punishment" "consequences" is a circular argument.

To use the cliche'd "Shouting 'fire!' in a crowded room" example: the 'consequence' is the risk of causing a dangerous stampede. Acceptable 'punishment' is what comes after you've convinced a court that the stampede actually happened, or presented compelling evidence that it was a serious risk. Unacceptable censorship is banning the discussion of combustion in a public place based on a hypothetical worst-case "stampede" scenario.

about three weeks ago
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Several European Countries Lay Groundwork For Heavier Internet Censorhip

itsdapead Re:WTF (319 comments)

No, freedom of speech is the freedom to offend (or rather, "criticize") your government.

I think you're confusing laws like the 1st Amendment to the USA Constitution, or article 10 or the European convention on human rights with the wider, concept of freedom of speech as an ideal. Even the 1st Amendment goes further than you suggest, but I think you've hit on the original motivation behind it.

As a non-USAian it took me a while to work out that the spirit of the US Bill of Rights is to protect local government, corporations and organised religions against (specifically) the federal government, and that any benefit for individuals implicit in the letter of the law is a nice bonus.

The European convention of human rights, by contrast, seems to be mainly about enumerating all the exceptions to freedom of speech, so that the government can micro-manage your freedoms for you. Sounds cynical, but freedom is a paradox, and if you want to enshrine all human rights in law, that's the tarpit you end up in.

I think it is true, though, that both of these examples only prohibit suppression of free speech by government - they don't specifically oblige that government to prevent others from restricting your free speech (but then that really is a can of worms, and a lot of the people who pushed for Amendment 1 or Article 10 to protect their right to express their views really don't want to eat their own dogfood).

However, you should never rely on the law of the land as the last word on right and wrong, and general freedom of speech (insofar as it can be protected without descending into paradox) is a good thing.

about three weeks ago
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Anonymous Declares War Over Charlie Hebdo Attack

itsdapead Re:So they are doing what? (509 comments)

It's kind of the paradox of democracy -- how do you square the rights of a free society against those would use those rights to advocate against them or overthrow them?

The first step is to accept that it is a paradox, that no solution is going to be perfect and you're not going to fix everything. Politely ignore anybody who speaks in absolute terms or comes up with trite little not-even-wrong aphorisms like "you have the freedom to do anything you want except the freedom to take away freedom from others".

Then, before imposing any laws, you have to remember that the acid test is not how they will be interpreted by judges and juries, but how it will be interpreted by publishers, employers, landlords, public institutions, police, security guards etc. who will tend to interpret them in the broadest, most restrictive possible way to cover their own backs.

Everything is a risk/benefit tradeoff - and the risk can never be zero.

In the case of freedom of speech, though, it's possible to be almost absolutist if you insist that any activity you do want to control (harassment, incitement to violence, etc.) must involve actions or behaviours that go beyond the words that are said or published. So, if you want to prosecute someone you should not simply have to prove that they uttered the word "fire" in a public theatre, but show evidence that they intentionally set out to cause disruption*. You can prohibit "inciting violence" if you like, but it needs to be absolutely literal, or supported by other activities. Harassment should need to include a pattern of behaviour that shows victimisation. Once you start banning speech that might induce panic, could be interpreted as inciting violence or that made the victim feel harassed the slippery slope beckons.

Unfortunately, both religious extremists and politicians do like to pretend that they have the solution to everything, while lawyers lurk to apply 20:20 hindsight to anybody who takes a risk and loses, and lawmakers who seem to think that if a legal decision misinterpreting their law is put right on the third appeal then everything is rosy.

(* Of course, although this is a popular example, they're quite rightly going to that special hell reserved for people who talk at the theatre *anyway* so free speech isn't really relevant)

about three weeks ago

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