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Ask Slashdot: Choosing a Web Language That's Long-Lived, and Not Too Buzzy?

jonnyj Re:Perl (536 comments)

I've never used Perl, but the parent makes a very good point. Why move unless you have a problem?

This topic is already full of fanboys touting thir favourite tool, but one man's meat is another's poison. You already know the options (Perl, Java, PHP, Python, C#, etc) - if you don't, you're not ready to make a decision yet - so what you really need is a decision-making process.

List out all of the things that might matter to you: team skills, staff availability, platform dependence, maturity of platform, speed of development, ease of maintenace, cost, execution speed, availability of hosting, etc. You should know what those things are; if you don't you're not yet ready to make a decision. Give each attribute a weighting from 1-5 that reflects your business priorities.

Now score each language against each attribute. Sometimes you'll have to guess, but that's not going to be too much of a problem. 1-5 is a good scale; anything else will be spurious accuracy.

Now total the scores and weight them. Keep the top 3 options and look at them more closely. Was your scoring accurate? Do you trust the result? This is where your professional judgement takes over: a scoring model can only get you so far.

Do this, and you'll find out what _you_ really need, and not what some random guy on /. thinks is good for you.

about a month ago
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Toyota Investigating Hovercars

jonnyj Re: aka (186 comments)

Presumably the hover car would also have wheels. The benefit would come at motorway speed - an incredibly smooth ride with no road noise and, possibly, improved fuel economy. The off road potential of a hover car is also interesting.

about 3 months ago
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R Throwdown Challenge

jonnyj true, but not really because of R itself (185 comments)

Completely right.

We use R extensively in work. Programmers talk about R's libraries, but that's not the real reason we use it. The killer blow is that the _documentation_ is written by statisticians. That means that it's reliable, easy to understand, and honestly tells you the pitfalls of the techniques you're using.

We're financial guys who are doing stuff in consumer finance that has rarely, if ever, been done in our field. The statistics aren't particularly advanced, but it's impossible to hire someone who understands the industry and knows the statistics already. Statistics text books tend to either be so basic that you already know what they say, or so advanced that you need a PhD to understand them. On the other hand, much of the R documentation is beautifully simple to read, and comes with brilliant worked examples - albeit from fields that are very different from our own. Whenever we're researching potential new statistical approaches, we find blogs stuffed full of examples written in R.

In short, the R ecosystem makes you a better statistician. Julia and Python can't offer that.

about 3 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: E-ink Reader For Academic Papers?

jonnyj iPad with GoodReader (134 comments)

In the business world, I and many others use an iPad and GoodReader for annotating board papers. To be honest, it's the only thing that I use an iPad for, as I prefer a proper PC, a smartphone or a smaller tablet for anything else.

GoodReader allows you to annotate pdfs with a wide range of tools - I usually scribble free form text with my finger - and you can read the annotations with any pdf reader. The large format of the full size iPad simplifies finger writing, and the large retina screen means that I can read dense data tables without needing to zoom in.

Despite Apple's dumbed-down iOS, GoodReader allows you to organise documents in a hierarchical folder structure, and you can synchronise your documents with a wide range of server types and cloud storage systems.

It's not the cheapest solution around, but it's by far the best that I've ever encountered amongst my business associates.

about 7 months ago
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Facebook Patents Inferring Income of Users

jonnyj Re: patenting statistical hypothesis? (129 comments)

This is patently absurd. In the UK, Equifax, Experian and Call Credit already sell income predictions based on statistical modelling of credit bureau information. How is switching the underlying data set in any way a unique or clever thing to do?

This is nothing more than a fancy regression algorithm.

about 9 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Application Security Non-existent, Boss Doesn't Care. What To Do?

jonnyj Re:EASY (310 comments)

I agree, but I wouldn't be underhand and I certainly wouldn't use read receipts. That looks horribly like the very worst kind of arse covering.

You shouldn't go over your boss's head. Juggling a large number of conflicting priorities is what managers are paid to do, and you won't do yourself or anyone else any favours by undermining your boss's judgement in that way. But you should also consider the risk that she consciously has her own best interests at heart rather than the business's interests. She might have the view that, in the event of a security debacle, she will pretend that the team messed up and failed to follow instructions, and simply ride out the storm. In the meantime, she looks efficient and appears to gets jobs done quickly with a minimum of fuss.

Instead, you should sit down with her and clearly express your concerns. You should then follow up your meeting with a very clear email that summarises the conversation. You need to start with an assertive but non-hostile comment that leaves no-one in any doubt what has happened - something like this, "As we discussed earlier, these are the security issues where I believe that we are falling short of regulatory expectations..." Print out that email and take it home with you.

At that point, your boss has three options. 1. She can fix things. 2. She can escalate up the food chain, so that someone bigger than her can decide whether poor security is really in the company's best interests. 3. At huge personal risk, she can quietly ignore you.

Middle managers tend to have pretty strong survival instincts, so option 3 is very unlikely to to fly. Option 2 is pretty likely, and her manager might well say that security is too expensive/awkward/boring/inconvenient. If that happens, you're probably better off working some place else where you can be proud to turn up in the morning.

about 9 months ago
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Raspberry Pi Hits the 2 Million Mark

jonnyj Re:Purchased 4 so far (246 comments)

One Raspberry Pi is a toy. The other runs my home network and presently stands at an impressive 117 days uptime with even more impressive power consumption.

My lowly workhorse Pi with its ARM 6 processor performs admirably as a:

- DNS server
- DHCP server
- Authentication server (Kerberos, OpenLDAP server and phpLDAPadmin) and publication service for network assets (OpenLDAP again)
- Mail server (Dovecot, Postfix, Squirrelmail, Spamassassin, ClamAV, Amavis)
- HTML image gallery
- Home wiki (MediaWiki)

Performance is no issue with any of this. MediaWiki is the slowest, but most pages load in 1-2 seconds. We're a busy, high-tech household so it serves up to seven laptops, five destops and nine mobile devices, many of which dual boot. Device management was a nightmare before the Pi saved the day.

about 9 months ago
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Linux Format Magazine Team Quits, Launches New Profit-Donating Mag

jonnyj Re:Afraid not (90 comments)

The whole industry is in sharp decline and everyone knows it, especially those within.

True. But Linux Format has been bucking the trend in recent years. Its circulation has been rising steadily and, at 21,784 print copies per issue in 2012, it has a similar circulation to the venerable New Statesman (24,910). It trounces many other very familiar specialist mags such as Mac Format (6,842), PC format (6,249) and What Mountain Bike (13,870). It's not even too far behind the 100-year old Autocar (40,168).

All figures from ABC.

about 10 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Best Language To Learn For Scientific Computing?

jonnyj Re: More details? (465 comments)

R is by far the best solution that I've found for statistical analysis and data mining. It's ugly, inconsistent, quirky and old fashioned but it's absolutely brilliant.

The whole syntax of R is based around processing data sets without ever needing to worry about loops. Read up on data tables - not data frames - in R and you'll learn how to filter data, aggregate it, add columns, perform a regression and beautifully plot the results all in one line of code. The Zoo package will sort out your time series analysis and longitudinal analysis. With R, you can calculate the statistical significance of you hypotheses and apply the model you've developed to your hold-out sample using built-in functions. And the concept of workspacecd means that you don't need to think of funky ways to store your interim results.

Using knitr, R will produce publication quality documents and presentations. ggplot will give you the best data visualisation tools in the business.

R is the tool that has been purpose-built for the task in front of you. Anything else might be easier to learn or more widely supported - but it won't be as effective.

about 10 months ago
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Its Nuclear Plant Closed, Maine Town Is Full of Regret

jonnyj Re:We'll never have a sane debate about nuclear po (380 comments)

I'm a strong supporter of nuclear power, but I believe that the 'stupid and irrational' people actually bring insights into important issues that are often overlooked by technical folk. And this article raises thought-provoking issues that I've never heard acknowledged in the media by any nuclear expert.

Any conceivable nuclear safety regime requires plant employees to act with honesty, integrity and procedural rigour. But what happens to honesty and integrity when the future economic prosperity of your family, friends and community depend on the answer? You will be under huge internal, personal pressure to downplay risks, underestimate costs, cut corners to save money, cover up poor practice, lie to inspectors and rebut any conceivable negative news item.

Technologists are human. No matter how rational they appear, the answers they provide us with are always subject to considerable personal and emotional bias and must be regarded with an appropriate level of scepticism.

about a year ago
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The Canadian Government's War On Science

jonnyj Re:And no one was surprised... (474 comments)

The Left has its blind spots, too. GMOs, perhaps? Nuclear power? Michael Shermer, in his recent book The Liberals' War on Science, says, "Surveys show that moderate liberals and conservatives embrace science roughly equally." I think he's probably right: many people prefer to use science to rationalise rather then overturn their prejudices.

about a year ago
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Ars Reviewer is Happily Bored With Dell's Linux Ultrabook

jonnyj Re:Too Expensive (181 comments)

Actually 50% more than the new MacBook Pro I bought last summer.

The nearest equivalent Apple laptop is the 13" Macbook Air (disclaimer: I have one and it's very good). In the UK, the two machines are almost exactly same price and are effectively dimensionally identical too. But the Air has less RAM (4GB vs 8GB), a slower processor (i5 vs i7) and a lower resolution screen (1440x900 vs 1920x1080).

I bought my Air to run Linux; I like OS X, but I much prefer Ubuntu. If I were buying today, I'd take the XPS over the Air. Both machines seem good but, for my use case, the XPS has the edge: better innards, better screen and manufacturer support for my OS of choice.

about a year ago
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Falling Windows RT Tablet Prices Signify Slow Adoption

jonnyj Re:Would I buy one? (290 comments)

No, I wouldn't buy one either. But the inconsistency of the technical press is quite entertaining.

Apple strips most of the functionality out of OS X, erects a walled garden around the system, dumps it onto an ARM-based tablet and, voila, a cool, hip, trendy iPad that the critics adore.

Microsoft strips a small part of the functionality out of Windows, erects a walled garden around the system, dumps it onto an ARM-based tablet and, voila, a vile, loathed RT device that the critics lambast for being dumbed down and failing to run Excel macros.

I don't want either device, but it's clear which one has been dumbed down the most. Microsoft needs a new PR department.

about a year ago
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UK To Use "Risk-Profiling Software" To Screen All Airline Passengers and Cargo

jonnyj Re:It Believes (222 comments)

Credit risk profiling is part of my job and these models do indeed wok. Unfortunately, they need large sample sizes to be effective. Unless the UKBA has intercepted more than 1,000 terrorists about to jump on a plane, I'd be very sceptical indeed.

Another big concern is that these models all assume that the future is the same as the past. Feeding the model data on Islamic terrorists isn't likely to help you detect extreme right nationalist groups, for example. As conflict moves around the world, there's a risk that the model will find last year's terrorist-turned-nobel-peace-prize-winner and completely ignore the perpetrator of next year's atrocity.

about 2 years ago
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NASA To Encrypt All of Its Laptops

jonnyj Re:They waited this long because? (226 comments)

In the UK, the Information Commissioner has for many years routinely fined any company that loses an unencrypted laptop - even, in one famous case, where the laptop was stolen in a burglary at an employee's own home. It's unheard of for any large organisation over here to _not_ have encryption on all portable devices. I'm gobsmacked that NASA has been so slack.

about 2 years ago
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Has the Command Line Outstayed Its Welcome?

jonnyj Re:really?? (1134 comments)

Excel is a case in point. Used by tens of millions of non-technical users, and at the heart of almost every business in the western world. And it's a graphically presented array of command lines.

more than 2 years ago
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Europe Agrees To Send Airline Passenger Data To US

jonnyj Re:Good job! (403 comments)

No-one is forcing you to travel there. No-one has an intrinsic right to visit the States in any case. As EU citizens, when you or I travel to the USA, we're effectively guests of that country. The USA extends very wide-ranging freedoms to its guests - unlike many governments that don't believe in freedom at all - including the right to travel freely and anonymously, the right to speak freely and to criticise the government, and the right to go about your life without government interference. Unfortunately, those rights can be and have been abused by some visitors to engage in activities that threaten the lives and freedom of American citizens. There should therefore be no surprise that the US government wants to take steps to ensure that it only extends those freedoms to visitors that are not intent on harm. You might argue that their methodologies are ineffective, but I'd like to hear the alternatioves that you would suggest yourself.

I hope my own British government also takes the strongest practicable steps to protect our own borders from undesirable aliens. I would certainly prefer some innocent foreigners to be accidentally barred from the UK than see genuine enemies of our state being unintentially admitted. Given the level of international travel that is a wonderful feature of our age, an intelligence-led solution is the only workable approach. It's not nice, but it's the lesser of the available evils.

I have absolutely no qualms about continuing to visit the USA. I'm much more concerned about the freedoms that the American government continually seeks to take away from me while I'm still in Europe, usually in defence of its commercial interests rather than the safety of its population - I'm thinking of American pressure on European intellectual property law, extradition treaties and legislation like Sarbanes-Oxley, for example.

more than 2 years ago
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New Study Confirms Safety of GM Crops

jonnyj Re:GMO Crops are OK? Whatever (571 comments)

It's not about preconceived notions: most scientific examinations of GM don't ask the right questions. Few people doubt that the current generation of GM foods are probably safe to eat and probably don't cause massive environmental harm. But some rather more relevant questions are:

- Can we rely on the integrity of the people who will test the next generation of crops and do we have sufficient controls in place to prevent biased testing

- Are the risks of GM food - however small they may be - borne by the people who profit from the technology? If not, how do we address this fundamental disconnect?

- What are the long term risks of reducing genetic diversity amongst our food crops? Does it make us more vulnerable to unexpected, intercontinental crop failures or reduce our ability to cope with climate change?

- What are the social, economic and geopolitical consequences of making third world farmers dependendend on multinational companies?

- What are the social, economic and geopolitical consequences of the planet's primary food sources being subject to patent controls?

I'm not comfortable that any of these questions have been properly addressed.

more than 2 years ago
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iPhone and Location: Don't Panic

jonnyj Re:Anecdotal (362 comments)

No one has access except you because you keep your phone and PC confidential? Maybe... except your partner. Except your partner's hi-tech friends. Except your practical-joking mates. Except your kids. Except your stepkids. Except your fosterkids who plan to file a false report with their social worker. Except your kids' friends when you're down the pub. Except the chap who nicked your phone when you were in the pub. Except your housekeeper, if you have one. Except your employer, if it's a corporate phone. Except the guys at the Genius bar when it breaks. Except the police, when you're stop-and-searched. Except the Al Quaeda cell that have been targeting you as a member of the police / military / government and nicked your phone. Except the unscrupulous private detective hired by a journalist writing a story about your private life if you're a public figure. Except US immigration, and UK immigration, and everywhere else's immigration. Except the guy who put a Trojan on your PC. Relax! What could possibly go wrong?

more than 3 years ago

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