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Americans Support Mandatory Labeling of Food That Contains DNA

jc42 Re:Remember the good old days? (351 comments)

Remember when news organizations didn't so blatantly try to push agendas?

I can't remember that far back. It must've been well before the sinking of the USS Maine.

It must have been before recorded history. We have documented examples of such behavior for as long as we have documents.

2 days ago
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Americans Support Mandatory Labeling of Food That Contains DNA

jc42 Re:No it is a combo of 2 factors (351 comments)

Precisely. The study asked a question that results in an expected answer 80% of the time. So why would such a study be conducted in the first place?

Well, duh, they did it to verify that the people did give the "expected" answer most of the time. There are lots of scientific studies showing that something the "everyone knows" isn't actually true, so such beliefs are often worth actually testing. In this case, a number for what fraction of the people haven't a clue about DNA is interesting and potentially useful. It does put a lot of other such surveys in an "interesting" light.

2 days ago
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Analysis Suggests Solar System Contains Massive Trans-Neptunian Objects

jc42 Re:I still think Pluto is a planet (170 comments)

The most likely result will be that astronomers will eventually reject the term "planet" entirely. Sorta like how, a few centuries back, they rejected the older term "astrology", due to all its baggage and mis-use by pseudo-scientists and charlatans.

You realize that you are implying that the astronomers who voted in the current astronomical definition of planet are all either psuedo-scientists or charlatans?

That raises some very serious thought-provoking questions. IMHO, using only common sense and no optical assistance mechanisms, it looks to me like they are probably pseudo-scientists, and not charlatans.

Well, they apparently spent some time in meetings of an international organization discussing the definition of "planet", when they could have been doing actual scientific work. ;-)

Of course, sometimes terminology is important scientifically, and it's worthwhile spending time to get it right. But they were mocked by other actual astronomers pointing out that any term that includes both Mercury and Jupiter but not some objects with intermediate properties must be an absolutely worthless term for any scientific purposes. So, at least during the time they spent in such discussions of the definition of "planet", they weren't functioning as scientists. But they were pretending that the terminology involved had scientific value, so it probably did qualify for the term "pseudo-science", in at least one of its common meanings.

about two weeks ago
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Analysis Suggests Solar System Contains Massive Trans-Neptunian Objects

jc42 Re:I still think Pluto is a planet (170 comments)

It has not cleared it's orbit of debris and Eris is in the same boat yet LARGER than Pluto.... how is Pluto a planet then?

Neither has Earth; there's a rather large, bright rock visible in our sky about half the time. ;-)

Seriously, though, it's probably just a matter of time before a rock bigger than Earth is discovered out in the Kuiper belt and/or the Oort Cloud, and chances are pretty slim that its orbit will be "cleared" of rubble. This will either put an end to the current (somewhat bogus) definition of "planet", or it will cause the debate over what's a planet and what's not to bumble on indefinitely.

The most likely result will be that astronomers will eventually reject the term "planet" entirely. Sorta like how, a few centuries back, they rejected the older term "astrology", due to all its baggage and mis-use by pseudo-scientists and charlatans.

In any case, the big rocks in the sky don't really care how we classify them. They just go about their orbiting, occasionally bashing into each other (and occasionally us) at widely-spaced intervals.

about two weeks ago
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NASA, NOAA: 2014 Was the Warmest Year In the Modern Record

jc42 Re:call me skeptical (360 comments)

Is it monthly averages that they average for the year? Is it daily data that is averaged for the whole year?

Are you really not aware that those are the same number?

If so, well it's good that you seem to realize that you truly do not belong in this discussion.

Actually, it's quite common for local weather data to play fast-and-loose with the concept of "average" in ways that produce such anomalous results.

Thus, it's common to record the "average" temperature for a day by averaging the high and low temperature. It should be fairly obvious how this can produce days that are mostly below (or above) average, like when a front moves through and produces a peak high or low that's very different from most of the day. Similarly, I've seen the "average" monthly highs and lows calculated by taking four numbers (the min/max of the daily highs/lows) and doing similarly misleading averaging.

Actually, meteorologists typically record such things on an hourly basis, and do averaging across all of them. You still run into questions like whether the results are means or medians. But it's not unusual for the politically inclined to ignore such data (which is often only available by grovelling through the databases), using an "average" of only a small set of highs and lows.

Yes, these should average out over the long run. But we've seen so much "cherry picking" in this subject area that one should be skeptical of all the data until you've verified that the writers aren't trying to pull a fast one to support their religious/political/economic theories.

about two weeks ago
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NASA, NOAA: 2014 Was the Warmest Year In the Modern Record

jc42 Re:Interesting to note... (360 comments)

Last winter was the coldest one on record around here, in over 100 years of record keeping... Pipes were freezing everywhere

Well, which was it... "around here", or "everywhere"? You do know there is a difference, right?

You must speak a rather restrictive dialect of English. In my native dialect (US West Coast), the phrase "everywhere around here" is quite normal, and you can figure out its meaning by inserting "that's" in the right place. The first quote above used the two halves of the phrase in a common way, and speakers of such dialects will automatically carry the "around here" over to the second sentence.

So what dialect do you speak, for which this isn't true. Online linguists studying English dialects are curious ...

about two weeks ago
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Google Sees Biggest Search Traffic Drop Since 2009 As Yahoo Gains Ground

jc42 Re:Have you ever noticed that ... (155 comments)

... ever since the first search engine (altavista) appeared the search paradigm has essentially remained unchanged? ... and it's getting stale ...

Can't the search engine companies, and I don't care if it's Bing, Google or Yahoo, come up with something new? Something that is disruptively simple and yet extra-ordinarily innovative?

Nah; they can't do that. The reason is simple: They're now big, established companies, and big, established companies never, ever innovate. To them, "innovation" means making a few superficial tweaks to the product's appearance, while loudly proclaiming "New! Improved!". Any true change is a threat to the product that provides their current income.

If you want something that actually works differently, you have to go with the experimental, upstart companies. Most of them will eventually fail, of course, or if they start to succeed, they'll be bought out by one of the big guys, who will quietly shut them down. Or maybe they'll be sued out of existence by all the big guys via their list of vague patents. But a few will become "the next Google" or whatever was the successful upstart 1was called 0 years ago in their field. Then they'll no longer innovate in any meaningful sense.

about three weeks ago
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Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

jc42 Re:Parameter mismatch (83 comments)

Except, it being a moon informs about the potential properties and behavior of the object. A moon has properties that decreases the likelihood of life forming on it.

That's also hard to take seriously. Extrapolating a sample of one to a universe with billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, is just silly. Not that I'm saying you shouldn't do it, of course. I'd be tempted to answer by arguing that an Earth-size "moon" around a gas giant may be more likely to have life, but of course that would be extrapolating from a sample of zero. (Unless we discover life on one of Jupiter's moons, or on Titan. ;-)

Without a lot more evidence than we have, conjectures about the possibility of life in/on various astronomical objects are just conjectures. This is fun, and a lot of scientific work is based on such conjecture, but there's not a chance that we can accurately calculate the probabilities with what we know now.

about three weeks ago
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Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

jc42 Re:Parameter mismatch (83 comments)

..., Titan is a moon.

Yeah, yeah; but any classification system that puts Mercury and Jupiter into a single class, while putting Earth and Titan into different classes, is just too silly to take seriously. Lots of astronomers take this sort of attitude, and either avoid using such terms at all, or have a bit of fun trolling the people who take them seriously. Some have also pointed out that it makes a lot more sense, scientifically, to consider the Earth's orbit to contain two planets that exchange positions on a monthly cycle. This might also be considered a sort of trolling, though it does have its serious side, as these two bodies do significantly influence each other through mechanisms like their mutual tides.

In any case, none of these heavenly bodies care at all what we call them, and nothing we say can influence their properties or behavior.

about three weeks ago
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Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

jc42 Re:Parameter mismatch (83 comments)

On the other hand, there are two planets in our solar system with less mass than Earth, but denser atmospheres: Venus and Titan. Venus is only slightly smaller and less massive than our planet, but has a much denser atmosphere. Titan is a lot smaller as well as less dense, but has an atmosphere roughly 50% denser than ours -- and full of organic molecules.

Our kind of life couldn't exist on either one of them, of course, mostly for temperature reasons. But we don't have many samples of the conditions in which life can exist and evolve, so it's sorta presumptuous to claim that we "know" anything about what's possible.

about three weeks ago
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Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

jc42 What's conceivable? (83 comments)

Most are inhospitable — too big, too hot, or too cold for any conceivable life form.

Whoever wrote this has obviously never read any science fiction. ;-) The term "conceivable" covers a very wide range of planets (and various environments not based on planets) in which intelligent creatures might evolve.

Some years back, I read Robert Forward's Camelot at 30K novel, about a human expedition to an inhabited Pluto-like planet out in the Oort Cloud; the title references the mean temperature of that world. Part of the story was a quite imaginative method that the world's inhabitants used to colonize other large rocks fbig enough to have useful gravity and far enough from any star that their sort of life was possible. That turns out to be most of the galaxy, of course.

Going back even further, to 1957, we find Sir Fred Hoyle's novel about a dense cloud of gas (similar to what's called a Bok Globule) approaches our Solar System, and instead of passing through, settles into a small, dark ring around the sun. As the catastrophic effects on Earth settle down, scientists discover that the cloud itself is an intelligent creature that just stopped by for a meal of photons and assorted small molecules emitted by the sun. It is, of course, surprised to find itself being contacted by intelligent creatures living in such an unlike spot as a planet, since you'd expect true intelligence to evolve only in the rich clouds of interstellar space.

I'm sure that many readers of this forum can list many other literary works that depict life in environments not the least bit like ours. Anyone who can only conceive of life on a planet similar to ours is seriously lacking in imagination. But there are thousands of writers who aren't so mentally crippled, and millions of readers to read their work. ;-)

about three weeks ago
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Study: Birds Slur Their Songs When Drunk, Just Like Humans

jc42 Re:Animals love to drink (63 comments)

Your story would be believable, except for the fact that strawberries do not grow on trees.

Strangely enough, the fruits of the strawberry tree aren't strawberries at all.

And this is yet another good example of why the scientific naming system was developed. English and most other "natural" languages tend to have a lot of illogical, confusing terminology like this. The strawberry tree is called that for the dumb reason that it bears fruit that superficially resemble the common strawberry. This satisfies people who only look at outer appearance, but tends to lead to incorrect reasoning when things that aren't closely related have similar names.

Similarly, we have a "highbush cranberry" bush in our back yard. It's a species of Viburnum that bears fruit the same size, shape and color as true cranberries. Both are about equally tart, and require some sugar to be made edible. But they're not close relatives, either, so the name can confuse people who don't understand the many problems with "plain English" names. They don't substitute directly in recipes, since the Viburnum "cranberry" contains one large seed, plus a lot of water. It works best if you squeeze the juice out and use it as a substitute for lemons or limes, with a flavor that's rather different from any citrus fruit.

about a month ago
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United and Orbitz Sue 22-Year-Old Programmer For Compiling Public Info

jc42 Re:Hadrly a new story (349 comments)

One of my favorite cases of such prohibitions was in a physics text for a physics course that I once took in college. One of the end-of-chapter exercises was of the form "Using the equations in this chapter, and tables X and Y at the end of the book, calculate the critical masses of the following isotopes ...". This has a reference to a footnote, which informed the reader that telling the answers to this question to an non-citizen was a felony under US federal law, punishable by N years in a federal prison. I've forgotten which textbook this was, unfortunately, or I'd include that info. I wonder if it's still in print?

about a month ago
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United and Orbitz Sue 22-Year-Old Programmer For Compiling Public Info

jc42 Re:Hadrly a new story (349 comments)

Especially if you use multiple sources instead of copying a single one.

There's an old joke in academic circles, to the effect that stealing from one source is called "plagiarism", but stealing from multiple sources is called "research".

about a month ago
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United and Orbitz Sue 22-Year-Old Programmer For Compiling Public Info

jc42 Hadrly a new story (349 comments)

There's a fair amount of precedent for this sort of idiocy. One of the funniest example, which got a bit of news coverage at the time, was back in the 1970s. The US Defense Department funded a study by a couple of academics, and paid them several hundred thousand dollars to study what could be learned from public sources about US military deployment. After the study's report was submitted, it took only about 2 days for it to be classified as a US government "secret".

The press and the professional comedians had a good time mocking the US government for that one. But various people also pointed out that it wasn't the first time such idiocy had been enforced by law, in the US or in other countries. A long list of similar punishment for making publicly-available information public also appeared back then.

Maybe we can start a thread of other similar recent attempts to suppress public information. Do you know a good one in whatever country you live in?

about a month ago
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Russia Plans To Build World First DNA Databank of All Living Things

jc42 So which is it? (83 comments)

"First DNA Databank of All Living Things"
"database that will house the DNA of every creature known to man"

Those might be grammatically similar, but the numbers differ by several orders of magnitude.

Humans really know mostly about multi-cellular critters, plus the tiny fraction of the single-celled species that interact with us somehow. Almost all single-celled species are yet to be discovered.

One of the more interesting bits of evidence is that all of the deep-drilling projects, which have sampled only a tiny chunk of the planet's crust, have reported single-celled living things "all the way down". It'll take a while for us to do a good study of everything living deep down there. Similarly, several deep-water sampling projects have turned up large numbers of unknown microscopic species throughout their water columns.

I guess this mostly goes to show how difficult it can be to do a good journalistic job of summarizing scientific work so that non-scientists can understand the actual results. "Ordinary English" (or French or Russian or any other human language) is sufficiently imprecise that it's very difficult to avoid misleading mistakes like the two summaries of this story.

about a month ago
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Trees vs. Atmospheric Carbon: A Fight That Makes Sense?

jc42 Re:That's revolutionary (363 comments)

They can't be carbon sinks - everyone knows that wood floats

Heh. Everyone except the folks who work with wood know that. There are some varieties of wood, e.g. ebony, boxwood, and ironwood, that are (usually) denser than water, and don't float. It depends on what percent of the wood is the little internal spaces filled with air. Similarly, there are some humans who don't float unless their lungs are completely filled with air. They're they folks without the fats that account for most people's buoyancy. (Here in the US, we have a lot fewer such dense people than we used to, so we had to repurpose the term "dense" to refer to mental capacity. ;-)

But your remark deserves its "funny" rating.

about a month ago
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Verizon "End-to-End" Encrypted Calling Includes Law Enforcement Backdoor

jc42 Re:It's required (170 comments)

Your indignation should not be directed at Verizon - it should be directed at Washington, DC.

A fun part of this is that the government employees at ARPA back in the 1960s explained it all to us. They firmly rejected building any sort of encryption into the network itself, on the grounds that such software would always be controlled by the "middlemen" who supplied the physical connectivity, and they would always build what we now call backdoors into the encryption. They concluded that secure communication between two parties could only be done via encryption that they alone controlled. Any encryption at a lower level was a pure waste of computer time, and shouldn't even be attempted, because it will always be compromised.

This doesn't seem to have gotten through to many people today, though. We hear a lot about how "the Internet" should supply secure, encrypted connections. Sorry; that's never feasible, unless you own and control access to every piece of hardware along the data's route. And the ARPA guys didn't consider that, because that first 'A' stands for "Army", and they wanted a maximally-redundant, "mesh" type network that would be usable in battle conditions. They went with the approach that you use any kind of data equipment that's available, including the enemy's, and you build in sufficient error detection to ensure that the bits get through undamaged,. Then you use encryption that your team knows how to install on their machines and use. And you probably change the encryption software at irregular intervals.

Anyway, the real people to direct your anger at are the PR folks in both industry and government, who keep trying to convince you that they can supply encryption that's secure. Yeah, maybe they can do that, but they never have and they never will. And the odd chance that they've actually done so in some specific case doesn't change this. The next (silent, automatic;-) upgrade will introduce the backdoor.

Unless you have all the code, compile it yourself, and have people who can understand its inner workings, you don't have secure encryption; you have encryption that delivers your text to some unknown third parties. It's the US government's own security folks who explained this to us nearly half a century ago.

about a month and a half ago
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Federal Court Nixes Weeks of Warrantless Video Surveillance

jc42 Re:undocumented immigrant (440 comments)

Why does the fourth amendment apply? If he is not a citizen of the US, our laws shouldn't protect him.

So you think tourists shouldn't be protected by US law?

There are a lot of people and companies in the tourism industry who would strongly disagree with you. Not to mention the shipping industry, whose employees often make short visits to places where they aren't citizens, as part of their jobs.

If your suggestion were put into effect, it would be a disaster for a lot of valuable businesses. For that reason, it's not how the law works in the US or in any other country.

about a month and a half ago
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Federal Court Nixes Weeks of Warrantless Video Surveillance

jc42 Re:this is ridiculous (440 comments)

In that case, why not get a warrant ?

Because they didn't have any evidence against the guy.

Remember this when you hear (or use) the argument "If I'm doing nothing wrong, I have nothing to fear."

about a month and a half ago

Submissions

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Neanderthal nuclear genome sequenced

jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 4 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "The first successful sequencing of the Neandert(h)al genome has been published in Science, by a team led by Svante Päbo of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Among their conclusions is that the Neandertals most likely did interbreed with the Cro Magnon invaders from Africa. There were a number of gene variants shared with modern Europeans but not with several other groups in Africa. The article states that "Modern humans and Neanderthals are so closely related that a comparison of their genomes must take into account the fact that for any particular part of the genome, a single modern human and a single Neandertal could be more similar to each other than two modern humans would be." So it looks like we'll have to look for a different hominid for the split that produced Homo sapiens. And, of course, further research is needed."
Link to Original Source
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That nice format of the past few days reverted

jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 5 years ago

jc42 writes "For several days, slashdot's main page showed on my screen (in several browsers) in a very nice format: Just the stories. That left column which is mostly just white space was missing, and that silly right column that took up half the screen and just listed a few of my recent messages was also missing. I could make the window about 1/3 the width of my 1920x1200 screen and see 4 or 5 summaries at a time. It was a real pleasure to be able to read /. without wasting most of the screen space. Today, it reverted to the old format, with mostly wasted space and a narrow column for the stories, one at a time. If I want to get more than one summary on my 1920x1200 screen, I again have to make the browser window full screen, and most of the screen is blank. Is there some reliable way to get the simple format again? It'd be nice to be able to read /. in a format that doesn't waste 2/3 of the window with stuff that I don't read. (And is there some better way to ask such questions? I've long wished there were a /. "place to ask dumb questions", but I've never seen one. Of course, there might be one that I don't about. If so, I'll go ask my dumb questions there. ;-)"
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Latest Earth-crossing asteroid passes by tonight

jc42 jc42 writes  |  about 7 years ago

jc42 writes "Astronomers have been looking at the first images of asteroid 2007 TU24, the 250-meter asteroid that will pass 540,000 km from the Earth at 8:33 UTC (3:30 EST) Tuesday morning. So get your telescopes out; it's a 10th-magnitude object. Or just hold your breath as the time approaches. Maybe astronomers will get good enough numbers for its 2000-year orbit to calculate how long until it hits our planet. It might be sobering to consider that it was just discovered last October, and we know about maybe half of the objects like this in Earth-crossing orbits."
Link to Original Source
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OLPC "Give One, Get One" offer extended to

jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 7 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "The One Laptop Per Child program has extended its North American "Give One, Get One" program to the end of the year. It seems they've been deluged with orders, and are realizing that this thing could be very popular in the First World, too. My wife and I have ordered some as Xmas presents for children/grandchildren, since it seems to be the first computer aimed at kids that, as some reviewers comment, "isn't a toy". We're wondering if we should get some for ourselves, for our second childhood. We're both software developers who'd like to get our hands on this new GUI. Anyone else have any comments, pro or con? Have you ordered one? Why?"
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 7 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "NPR, PCworld, and some 400 other news sources (according to Google News) are reporting on a new Google feature: Google Earth, in cooperation with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum now presents details of the growing disaster in Darfur. They give a virtual tour of the area, with details of events in many villages in the words of local residents. So in addition to their "Do no evil" motto, they apparently now have a policy of exposing evil. Needless to say, the Sudan government didn't exactly cooperate with this project."
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 8 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "The latest skirmish in the ongoing escalation of "Intellection Property" rights to cover everything in our culture, a number of news sources are telling the story of James Worley, a "portly fellow with a full white beard" who was being mistaken for Santa Clause by children at Disney World in Florida. He was approached by Disney people and ordered to change his appearance, because "Santa is a Disney Character". Is there anything that Disney doesn't now claim to own?"
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 8 years ago

jc42 (318812) writes "A recent study published in Nature documents the accelerating release of methane from melting permafrost. Methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more "effective" than carbon dioxide, so this may signal more rapid warming in the near future. If you don't subscribe to Nature, the Guardian has a good summary. [Ed: What's an appropriate topic for this? I see nothing appropriate in the menu.]"
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jc42 jc42 writes  |  more than 8 years ago

jc42 writes "Breaking news: The IAU has voted, and Pluto is now a "dwarf planet", not a "planet". Note the bit about an astronomer holding up a Walt Disney Pluto under an umbrella. Cue the endless debate on this vital topic ..."

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