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Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda Resigns From Slashdot

jcampbelly You are a gentleman and a scholar. (1521 comments)

Rob Malda, thank you so much for making this site and working so hard to make it the heart of the Open Source Software/Internet Security/Freedom of Information news beat. I can only imagine how stressful it was to maintain quality and balance time/personal life issues with a site of this magnitude. My hat is off to you, Sir.

I've been O.C.D. tailing Slashdot for about 10 years; this site has been the source of much education and a lifelong interest in science, technology, programming, education, freedom of speech, businesses and even government for me. There's nothing quite like hordes of technology masterminds with personality disorders debating furiously until nothing but hurt feelings and rock bare truth remains. The discussions here have been a font of wisdom that I hope remains online forever.

I have a gigantic list of Ask Slashdot threads and various other legendary comments that I will cherish as tomes of barely tapped, limitless technical wisdom. Each thread was sparked by a headline, and then built up by hundreds of deeply interested, knowledgeable, passionate people as well as many times as many fools, whose unappreciated role of making horribly flawed arguments made for golden opportunities to dispense hard-earned real-world understanding. I gleaned much from the sidelines.

more than 2 years ago
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Search For Alien Life On 86 Planets Begins

jcampbelly Re:lol (248 comments)

If you are more than idly interested in learning about SETI, they have a youtube channel here: http://youtube.com/user/setiinstitute/

They aren't looking for wasteful noise from neo-technological civilizations (but we'll take any unnatural signal we can get!). As you've pointed out, that might occur for a very limited period of time before their physicists move on to better communication technologies. But don't make the assumption that these people are "short sighted," (SETI is 50 years old) or aren't criticizing their own techniques, or actively exploring new ideas. They're looking for broadcast devices, robotic beacons, communications nodes, cross-talk between interstellar routers, gigantic mechanical artifacts, etc. The holy grail would be an alien satellite designed specifically to attract the attention of developing civilizations, like the one in Contact.

There are really good reasons to look in the radio spectrum. The radio range has a noted trough of low noise in 1-10GHz, which is an excellent candidate for communications, if not outright shining a beacon out to the farthest distances. It also penetrates mollecular clouds (and our atmosphere, for that matter) easier than optical and higher frequency light, which scatters easily, and doesn't take nearly as much energy to generate as X-ray and Gamma ray radiation. You will need an EE to further explain.

We may not be prepared to guess at alien biology or sociology, but we do get to project what we know about physics. "They" refers to technologically advanced civilizations.

- Some civillizations may be well beyond anything we can fathom (interdimensional beings, control over gravity, faster-than-light communication). But if they do exist (and that's a big leap), there's very little chance that they are the only other civilizations in the universe. If we make the assumption that "life is out there." We can expect there to be a tremendous variety of life forms and civilizations and some may be within our detection capabilities.

- They all most likely use electromagnetic radiation for communication, since it's the de-facto fastest way to move information through space. Cite wormholes or entanglement if you like, I'm not ignoring the possibility. The algorithms SETI uses pick out general anomalies in known radiation patterns. Even technologies we can't possibly understand have a good chance of emitting some kind of interesting radiation as a side effect.

- They will probably choose communications techniques that are easy to detect against most background sources and will certainly need to be very robust to get through the interstellar medium (charged particles) in the case of an interstellar signal. We might even make assumptions about the kinds of engineering practices another advanced civilization would employ: redundancy, longevity, efficiency. These can help constrain the behaviors we look for.

- If they have at least one outpost beyond their homeworld/star (even a satellite in their own solar system), they will be using directed communication. That means their directed beam is slowly sweeping out a wobbling, circular path across their sky. If we're lucky, and that direction is in line with our star, we might pick up a hint of their artificial signals.

- As the poster above mentions, we are made of some very common materials in the universe and in similar proportions (obviously profoundly more dense on average). That leads to a sound assumption about how life might be elsewhere. At the very least, this is our only /example/ and it's a good practice to focus on planets whose properties are not stupendously hostile to our form of biochemistry.

more than 3 years ago
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Search For Alien Life On 86 Planets Begins

jcampbelly Re:What exactly.. (248 comments)

I don't usually feed trolls (or sock puppets), epsecially not this tired old argument, but I'm feeling saucy.

No, the researchers will declare that they have found an atmosphere on another planet unlike anything we can explain with modern science. They will explain their methods for trying to fit the data to natural conditions and point out where the models don't fit. Then they will posit that life is one possible explanation. Speculations will fly in the scientific community, some credible, some not. The popular science media will decisively pick up on the "we may have found life!" headline, neglect to link to the original paper, and publish the least credible ideas with quotes from dubious scientists not even peripherally involved in the project. Some radio host will learn how federal tax dollars were received by the university funding the research and immediately declare that the government is wasting your money searching for aliens. Then people like you will take your opinion to the internet in legion.

more than 3 years ago
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Search For Alien Life On 86 Planets Begins

jcampbelly Re:What exactly.. (248 comments)

I was actually mixing up two techniques in my knee-jerk reaction to comment after skipping the article, heh. However, Kepler and SETI go together like beer and hot dogs and the groups collaborate (that's what the ATA was supposed to be doing). SETI has been surveying stars in the milky way galaxy all along, but they have had to make speculations about habitability, the presence of worlds, etc. But now they have data as a basis. These are presumably not just stars with planets, but ones with planets in the habitable zone, or planets near the mass of Earth. With JWST they can get spectrographic data which will allow them to be able to isolate rocky worlds, or worlds with interesting atmospheres, narrowing the search further.

You are correct, this project is for doing targeted radio measurements (a broader range of searches than their usual algorithms) on stars with known exoplanets that are good candidates for bearing life.

more than 3 years ago
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Search For Alien Life On 86 Planets Begins

jcampbelly Re:What exactly.. (248 comments)

Kepler is the pioneer for the effort, cataloging good candidates for further study. They have something like 2 more years worth of observations to make before it's done with its primary mission. The reason most of the planets we know about right now are super-jupiters close to their stars (and we're just now discovering super-earths) is because we haven't observed enough transits for the longest orbit candidates. Nearer bodies orbit faster, so we have the data for them early on. More exotic planets will come out of Kepler in the following years.

I thought the Kepler mission had the resolution to capture enough of the detail in the "fuzz" at the edge of the transits, but maybe I'm mixing up theory and a handful of other missions. I do know for a fact that this will be one of James Webb Space Telescope's tasks:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DsdXWwAkBs&feature=relmfu&#t=048m27s

Here is a talk about some of Kepler's latest findings (1/10/2011)
"Catching Shadows: Kepler's Search for New Worlds"

http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-silicon-valley-astronomy/id213308887

more than 3 years ago
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Search For Alien Life On 86 Planets Begins

jcampbelly Re:What exactly.. (248 comments)

I must be sleepy -- you are correct and I have now RTFA.

more than 3 years ago
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Search For Alien Life On 86 Planets Begins

jcampbelly Re:What exactly.. (248 comments)

They're going to take a while to capture the data on each planet, since they can't watch continuously with an earthbound telescope. They may only have a window of a few days to capture a transit on some target planets, so it will take multiple transits to get that much data for all of them (the project will last a year). I believe they get the most valuable data when the planet first passes into the star's disk and then again as it leaves, as this gives some sense of differentiation between different parts of the atmosphere.

more than 3 years ago
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Search For Alien Life On 86 Planets Begins

jcampbelly Re:What exactly.. (248 comments)

Over the planet's transit over the face of the star, from our angle, the light interacts with the atmosphere of the planet before passing through to be seen by our telescopes. The light is broken down into component frequencies to determine the chemicals present and their relative concentrations in the atmosphere. Some chemical signatures can be understood as the the result of natural processes, while others do not seem to occur without the influence of biological processes. We are looking for 'unnatural atmospheres' modified by exotic processes that cannot be readily explained under natural conditions.

more than 3 years ago
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A Lost Civilization Beneath the Persian Gulf?

jcampbelly Re:A book? (277 comments)

It was a work of fiction by HP Lovecraft called "The Nameless City"

Cool story - a lot of his stuff can be found fulltext on the internet, but here's the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nameless_City

more than 3 years ago
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NASA Head Ignores Congress, Eyes Cooperation With China

jcampbelly Welcome to Scientific Progress (271 comments)

I woke up this morning and read the news with the blue side of the stereo glasses: "Short-sighted fear-mongering populist pandering pointlessly nationalistic republican running for re-election attempts to derail human progress again."

Then I flipped to the red lens: "National hero fights valiantly to defend capitalism and national security against communist regime seeking to steal American jobs, overthrow American space technology superiority and likely launch weapon of mass destruction into orbit."

After I had my coffee, I took off the goggles and rubbed my eyes.
"The United States has moved forward with its planned defunding of an aging method of launching cargo into space, diverting all available funds to more fruitful robotic missions and more complicated manned spaceflight projects. Meanwhile, other nations and even private enterprises are developing their space programs. NASA is looking to avoid spending more of its limited resources by taking advantage of technology which is already under significant development by other technologically capable societies. With cooperation from every advanced space-faring nation, all of Human civilization stands to benefit from shared scientific developments made by each other's civilian and scientific programs."

I've considered the "you don't understand what the Chinese are capable of!" and the "we're funding an oppressive regime!" and the "you really think they're only using this for civilian technology?" angles, and I remain unconvinced that they carry any real weight. I'm willing to be convinced, but I stopped being mystified by big political words in high school, the Red Scare is a sad chapter of our history, the Russians' and subsequent space-faring nations' contributions to our own space exploration ambitions have been fruital for everyone and from the L2 Legrangian point at >60,000 kilometers, we are all just a single, interdependent colony of ants on the surface of a tiny ball of dirt.

more than 3 years ago
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Google Announces Project 10^100 Winners

jcampbelly Re:Too Much Hype for the Khan Academy! (133 comments)

Really? These funds aren't your tax dollars. They are Google's private contribution. If congress had decided to give Khan $2m you would have a real position to debate their judgment.

Research is the expansionist force at the boundaries of science. It's critical to understanding the previously unknown. We're talking about a man making instructional videos about foundational math and science and making it available for free to the world with no strings attached. Your position is that this is somehow /dangerous/.

more than 3 years ago
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Google Announces Project 10^100 Winners

jcampbelly Re:Too Much Hype for the Khan Academy! (133 comments)

Less-than optimal teaching methods are nothing new to any form of education. That is hardly justification to discourage their use in the absence of better methods, especially when the less-than-optimal methods are vastly more accessible and largely accurate. Research into the human brain's powers of cognition, learning, intelligence and emotion are likely to be an ongoing research area in science for the breadth of human civilization. I wouldn't advise waiting for their resolution to begin making those fruits available for consumption. Reeducation is a small price to pay for elevating minds out of plain ignorance.

more than 3 years ago
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Google Announces Project 10^100 Winners

jcampbelly Re:Too Much Hype for the Khan Academy! (133 comments)

I should add that there is some degree of absurdity in criticizing this material for its inadequacy at teaching people who do not want to learn.

more than 3 years ago
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Google Announces Project 10^100 Winners

jcampbelly Re:Too Much Hype for the Khan Academy! (133 comments)

I agree that watching lectures online is not the most effective way to gain a true mastery of knowledge. It's also true that there are some subjects which require access to lab equipment and other physically expensive or rare materials. It's worth looking into ways to make it more effective and it will still be a very long time before people such as hiring managers will be convinced of the credibility of self-taught students. But it IS an excellent way to prime yourself for an upcoming class by seeing some example problems, or simply to gain an introductory level knowledge through recorded survey-type courses requiring little technical background (iTunes U has a lot of this kind of material).

Not all learners are trying to replace a traditional university education with online lectures, or to achieve parity with a graduate student. Some of them are middle-aged, career-laden, family-burdened, cash-strapped people who just want to broaden their horizons or professionals who just want to gain interdisciplinary knowledge. And, of course, some learners live in places and situations where they could not dream of getting a college education. Any effort to get knowledge closer to these people and conditions is to be praised.

There is no harm in a private company making a large donation to one of the most prolific individual contributors to the field. The money is partially going towards translating his content into many languages. If anything, that will allow this material to be used as modern teaching aids in places where no free material is available in the most common languages of the region. Much of the internet's undergraduate-level educational resources are still English-centric.

I applaud Khan, the many YouTube channels dedicated to sharing knowledge, institutuional projets like OpenCourseWare and of course Wikipedia for making free knowledge available online. I can find no good reason not to be glad that Google is making a cash contribution and for maintaining YouTube as a free service, without which, Khan might not have been able to get started with hosting and streaming this much video to as many users.

more than 3 years ago
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The Strange Case of Solar Flares and Radioactive Decay Rates

jcampbelly Re:Stoned... (408 comments)

You make a lot of good points about separating the cold, rational side of science as a discipline from what is not its proper domain. But I must steal back some of the soul you have purged from it by abstracting away the person – science does not happen in the absence of a human actor.

It has not been my experience that science offers none of the pleasures and dilemmas you neatly factor from it. There is something to be said for luminaries whose unique insight would have been ignored if they did not have the venue of science to knock heads against hard facts and force cultural change. Hard work, altruism, empathy, controversy, struggle and desire to touch lives are no less evident in the everlasting life stories of many scientists whose names, long engraved on their tombs, can still be found embedded in research papers for novel cures, in their contributions to institutions for human progress and the countless human generations their work will continue to effect.

As for whether science can tell right from wrong, why you are here, your purpose in life, or push you to become a better human being, I doubt that any of these could so easily be factored from the scientist in the person as from the raw, disembodied notion of science. The pursuit of knowledge is a passion that has led to many deeds of both profound and dubious value, but always by the hand of people.

In the spirit of skepticism, I hope that when you met your example of an evolutionist (and chided him for the mistake of simplifying it down to mere randomness), you gave fair thought to the analogously religious man who defers to supernatural authority when justifying earthly violence. We can both agree that any doctrine will not necessarily impart its wisdom in all fullness, to fallible humans, and that humans need guidance of many kinds to be both rational and emotional beings.

more than 3 years ago
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The Strange Case of Solar Flares and Radioactive Decay Rates

jcampbelly Re:Stoned... (408 comments)

Thank you for this rational perspective, which, for the sake of responding to a central point, I shall crudely boil down into “question everything.” At the heart of science is critical thinking, which, even in the presence of mountains of evidence, cannot be suspended. Knowledge is truly illuminating, but just as we might endeavor to shine a light on a dark spot in our mind, we might then turn away in confidence that we have explored enough of its folded surfaces to explain its true nature.

Science builds our understanding of the universe through rationalizing observations of reality and adhering to logic for arguing our conclusions. We may gain a reasonable confidence that our models fit the reality we observe if our data and logic support those models. But “fit” may be the best that we can do in any case. There is no shame in this – all good science acknowledges falsifiable experimentation. Regardless, that perpetually unresolved mystery is the dynamo that fuels young minds to make their life work out of attacking those shadowy folds. A world without that mystery would be very dull to me.

Science could neither be said to be a purely academic exercise of irresolvable and tenuous conclusions, nor does it typically lead to absolute truths. We make use of those models to explain, predict and improve our world through engineering, medicine, commerce and any number of fields for which their application is, for most purposes, to our great benefit. It is not the fault of science that its students often come away with the belief that there are usually absolute truths (they are indeed rare). Not all minds are prepared for or necessarily benefit from filtering all imparted knowledge through intense critical thought. To ignore that and continue on regarding others crudely for their misunderstandings forces us to behave as pedantic jerks and without regard for the very people our science and teaching actually effects.

It is important to recognize that our experts (good scientists) often regard their conclusions with even more scrutiny than we do, and stake their careers on it. Sometimes their motives, methods or deductive powers are suspect, but our protection from that is built directly into the scientific method, to which they must adhere if they are to be respected. Falsifiable experimentation, well documented, repeatable methods and attainable data, as well as adhering to strong logical arguments and mathematics constitute the language of higher order understanding.

It is a question for philosophers whether it is necessary to strictly rationalize everything. I believe science, through critical thinking, is the way to raise rational humans and that doing so will lead to a better plural civilization, but I will defer to understanding little about raising good people.

more than 3 years ago
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Ray Kurzweil Responds To PZ Myers

jcampbelly Re:Here We Go Again (238 comments)

http://www.vimeo.com/siai/videos/sort:oldest
http://singinst.org/media/interviews
http://www.youtube.com/user/singularityu

Well, lack of searching is not a lack of material, you can find several hours of Ray's talks on video at Singularity Summit 2007, 2008, 2009, TED.com, Singularity University and just plain independent YouTube videos. He also has two movies out (I haven't seen either), the Transcendent Man criticisng his esoteric side and The Singularity Is Near (based on his book) supporting his ideas.

All of this talk about his figures being wrong is quite far from the point. To say we'll have conversations with virtual humans in 2030 or that we may have to cope with an AI superintelligence by 2050 is quite far from noting that either of these situations are entirely possible extrapolated from trends and the discussion should be had.

As a computer scientist, I can say that it will be hard to do. As a scientist, it's pretty foolish to say that because something is hard that it will never happen (we did and building a human is pretty hard).

more than 3 years ago
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Did Sea Life Arise Twice?

jcampbelly Re:We all know about the scientific method. (238 comments)

You’re right that the 30000:1 error ratio was pulled out of someone’s ass as a dogmatic argument, it’s the ratio of 90 million to 3000, and it was brought up to espouse the unsupported claim (it doesn’t mesh with my beliefs, therefore there must be something positively wrong with it) that radioactive decay is so inaccurate as to be unusable as a scientific tool, often based on willful denial of scientific experimentation (which is the opposite of dogma).

The rate of radioactive decay is measured in decay activity per second (curie) in experimentation but it is usefully indexed for radiometric dating purposes in terms of half life, which is a period of time in which 50% of a sample will decay to its stable isotope. We don’t have to wait for 50% of a sample to decay (although we can in particle colliders to the tune of picoseconds!). Half life is converted up from its much finer measurement in a far shorter time with a much more accurate instrument (using, say, accelerator mass spectrometry). Imagine the absurdity of presuming to date an object millions of years old accurately in terms of seconds it would be like saying I always get 3% of the way to work in 27,128.395 milliseconds when it is far more useful (and for all practical purposes analogous) to say that it usually takes me 15 minutes to get to work. Note that I am being confidently more accurate than “between a fraction of a second and 313 days.”

Far from ignoring cosmic radiation, I’ll cite research, experimentation and data: http://donuts.berkeley.edu/papers/EarthSun.pdf

more than 3 years ago

Submissions

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Is there a cloud standard?

jcampbelly jcampbelly writes  |  more than 4 years ago

jcampbelly (885881) writes "Anyone with a sizeable IT department is trying to find ways to turn their cost center into a revenue source by selling their compute power and IT staff as ‘the cloud.’ Every colo and web host has their own cloud because it’s really just a service built on top of some of what they already do. This is spawning thousands of unique implementations of VM farms, control panels, and management APIs. The last hurdle of ‘the cloud’ for ubiquity seems to be the complete utility abstraction from the developer side. Users are still getting the same service whether I’m using provider A or B, but which one I choose dramatically changes how I build and manage that service. Does anyone know of any open source effort to standardize 'the cloud' on an API? Are there providers who are adhering or paying particular attention to this and profess interoperability?

Some examples: I may have dozens of VMs built on top of images from a cloud provider. If my customer or I don’t like their edge performance, I would like to be able to extend their cloud with my own equipment at a regional datacenter or in their building. Maybe I just like the idea of competition amongst the thousands of providers, because my VMs or apps are universal and so are my custom-built control tools. There is potential for a distributed platform hosted on dozens of providers around the world that doesn’t depend on a single corporate entity."

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