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Secret Service Investigating Small Drone On White House Grounds

muecksteiner Re:Well, what did you expect? (146 comments)

Well, "Muslims". Actually I think that some basment-dwelling white male nerd would be far more likely to attempt an overflight of the White House with a drone that has "Allahu akbar" on it, than any local Muslim. "For the lulz", as it were.

But that having ben said, Occupy, Tea Party and real/imaginary Muslims are the most likely candidates for such shenanigans. The local chapter of the Democratic party would probably not do that sort of thing, right?

4 days ago
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Secret Service Investigating Small Drone On White House Grounds

muecksteiner Well, what did you expect? (146 comments)

Given the quality of the drone toys you can buy in pretty much any electronics store these days, the only thing that surprises me is that this sort of thing has not happened much earlier. And I don't even mean actual attacks that cause harm: that no-one has flown a regular autonomous cam drone over the White House lawn yet during a press conference, with "Allahu akbar" written on it with a sharpie, in spidery teenage handwriting, is actually fairly surprising. And the message wouldn't even have to be Muslim: something like "Death to Goldman Sachs" would probably be more in the spirit of the Occupy crowd, who probably feel fairly betrayed by Obama. And who would be more likely to do something non-destructive (but noticeable) like this in the first place.

4 days ago
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Belgian Raid Kills 2, Said To Avert "Major Terrorist Attacks"

muecksteiner Re:They've had that long. (257 comments)

It's actually a lot more subtle and complex than either of us has said so far.

For instance, the Arabic sounding names of some of the notables of the Islamic Golden Age were just "noms de plume": they actually were not Muslims, but found it easier to work under an Arab-sounding pseudonym. But this only applied to some of them - there were plenty of actual Muslim scholars in that era. The initial focal points of learning were Hellenistic, but I was oversimplifying things when I said that the science of the era was only Hellenistic, and did not carry over to the actual Muslim part of the population.

However, two things seem to be noticeable even so: first, the Arab-Muslim world did not succeed in developing systematic institutions of higher learning. Those universities that were founded dealt mostly with theology, and not so much with actual science. The brilliant scientists of the Golden Age were, by and large, not associated with them, and worked independently. And second, Islam itself changed at some point, and took the Golden Age with it: while in the beginning it was more tolerant of critical thinking, it somehow warped to turn its back on science:

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4...

The effect of the colonial rule of the Ottomans is a difficult point: technically, they saw themselves as the successors of the caliphs, and as the centre of the Muslim world. So they tried to continue this tradition, but how and why this did not have the desired effect is a long story in itself.

about two weeks ago
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Belgian Raid Kills 2, Said To Avert "Major Terrorist Attacks"

muecksteiner Re:They've had that long. (257 comments)

Nitpick: "spread it with sword and fire" was literally from day 1 onwards - take a look at some history books that don't only gloss over the early days of Islam.

You are right that they did relax somewhat later on, once power in the newly conquered territories had been stabilised the hard way. Note that I said "somewhat", though: the inferior treatment of unbelievers did not only take the form of extra taxes: they were fundamentally second class citizens. Their testimony was not worth as much as that of a Muslim in court (if it was allowed at all), they were only allowed to own certain amounts of property (if that), could not intermarry with Muslims, and were more harshly punished for any transgressions - in particular, if the transgression had been inflicted on a Muslim.

This treatment was actually to a large part responsible for the "brain deflation" suffered by the Islamic empires the centuries after their establishment. After the very violent initial phase, religious minorities were treated sort of bearably - but not in a way that was really tenable in the long run. In the long run, lots of smart unbelievers converted, if only to save themselves the sort of hassle that their parents had to endure. And if there is one Achilles heel to actual Islamic culture (at least the old school version of it), it is that it is very poor at science and learning: once the old scientist caste of the Hellenistic culture they had taken over had converted, their technological and scientific edge evaporated over the space of only two generations or so.

Most of the fabled science of early Islamic empires was done by the people who had been doing science before the Muslim conquests: Hellenistic men of learning, i.e. unbelievers who were taken over from the old system. Quite a number of them converted, and had a quite reasonable working environment for their day and age. However, the supply of new scientists dried up after that: universities that actually teach people to think critically are not really wanted in a warrior religion that demands total obedience of its followers.

If you think that I am exaggerating, take a look at the atrocious performance of pretty much all higher education institutions in the Arab (!) Muslim world. I am emphasising "Arab Muslim" here, as the newfound Muslim conservativism you mention is most prevalent there. There are some Islamic states, like for instance Malaysia, that have functioning educational systems, and universities. But the cultural make-up of Malaysian society is fairly different from classical Muslim Arab culture.

about two weeks ago
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Belgian Raid Kills 2, Said To Avert "Major Terrorist Attacks"

muecksteiner Re:They've had that long. (257 comments)

You start out young and idealistic, and you try to convert people peacefully.

Interesting idea. Except this is not quite what happened with Islam. You might want to read up on the historical development of that particular religion.

Hint: the whole "spread it with sword and fire" thing was not just a phrase from the sales brochure. They actually took that fairly seriously from day 1 onwards.

about two weeks ago
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Black Swan Author: Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin

muecksteiner Re:More conservative fear-mongering (432 comments)

The whole point that Taleb is trying to make is that you (resp. our species) might be wrong on this in some cases: he claims that if it can be reasonably argued that the consequences of a fuck-up in a given area would global and catastrophic enough, there is a case to be made for not taking chances in the first place. Even if said chances look just fine from the viewpoint of our current knowledge on the matter.

about 3 months ago
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CDC: Ebola Cases Could Reach 1.4 Million In 4 Months

muecksteiner Re:Endemic would be really bad.. (280 comments)

Except that Ebola is not really contagious *until you show actual symptoms*. Unlike with many other diseases, patients are not contagious during the dormant phase of the infection: so your sports stadium scenario fortunately does not apply.

Ebola is an extremely nasty and deadly disease if and once you catch it, but preventing its spread is apparently not that hard if you obey very basic sanitation rules. If it were ever to mutate to become more contagious, we'd be in Hollywood movie territory. But as long as it stays the way it is, there is no need to panic.

about 4 months ago
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Russian Government Edits Wikipedia On Flight MH17

muecksteiner Re:I don't see the problem. (667 comments)

To add to this, whoever pulled the trigger might have been under the misapprehension that the airspace above them was now closed to civilian traffic. The Donetsk region is hardly optimal for real-time access to all pertinent data, and from 00:00 on that day, there was actually a new (!) NOTAM in force that closed all airspace in the region beneath FL320 to civilian traffic. If the person reading the NOTAM is not the brightest bulb out there, or if the information had been passed around once to often and slightly modified and/or "streamlined" in the process (intentionally, or just unintentionally), this might have ended up as being read by those in the command vehicle as "completely closed". Misunderstandings like this have happened over and over again, sadly.

about 6 months ago
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Russian Government Edits Wikipedia On Flight MH17

muecksteiner Re:I don't see the problem. (667 comments)

If what you said is true that surface to air missile systems can be disabled from firing at a target by simply claiming to be civilian in their IFF response then they'd be less than useless as every military jet would be flying around pretending to be civilian.

Which might well be what actually happened. The goons at the aiming controls of the SA-11 might have seen a civilian transponder reply, thought "ha, you won't fool us!" (Ukrainian air force Antonovs also carry civilian transponders, to be able to move in civilian airspace), and then pressed the big red button regardless.

In conjunction with this it would be *very* interesting if there were some other, real targets in the vicinity when they fired. Say, if there really was an air force An-26 in the area, that - by coincidence or malice - happened to have set a civilian transponder code, to disguise itself.

Note that the Ukrainians might have done this to avoid being shot at - not assuming that the separatists would shoot anyway. Or something like that.

about 6 months ago
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Aliens and the Fermi Paradox

muecksteiner Re:Can't find aliens? Take head out of sand! (686 comments)

Excellent point. In particular, the Teheran UFO is a very intriguing case worth looking into. Whatever happened that day has never been properly explained - not even remotely so.

about 8 months ago
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MIT Designs Tsunami Proof Floating Nuclear Reactor

muecksteiner Not a retarded idea. No way. (218 comments)

Compare the relative frequency of major hurricanes/typhoons to that of major earthquakes. Add to that the various potential problems that any floating structure has (springing a leak and sinking comes to mind here).

Then, consider that in Japan, the nuclear plant closest to the quake epicentre actually survived unscathed. Because the people designing it did not stick with the minimum legal specs for the seawall height like the geniuses at Fukushima had, but did some research on their own. And simply made the seawall much higher.

Conventional plants are not that bad, if they are designed by competent people. If you put them on barges, though, as these dudes are proposing, you are just adding to the potential failure modes, while not avoiding any that are impossible to handle. Not a good thing.

about 9 months ago
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U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

muecksteiner No shit, Sherlock (135 comments)

It sure took you some time to notice the bloody obvious, folks. The only odd thing about this is why you only mention biomedical research.

Because pretty much all other fields have exactly the same problem: fairly massive over-production of graduates - in particular, people with a PhD. In times of shrinking university enrolments, and shrinking populations (in the West, that is). No one will ever need that many faculty. And for most jobs outside uni, that time spent in PhD comics land is not a good preparation. At all.

about 10 months ago
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Bugatti 100P Rebuilt: The Plane That Could've Turned the Battle of Britain

muecksteiner Oh my (353 comments)

Even by Slashdot standards, this is one of the dumbest headlines, ever.

Bugatti was no Nazi. He lived and worked in pre-war France, and was not a Nazi supporter at all. The reason the thing did not fly back then was because Bugatti, who had build the plane in France prior to it being invaded by Nazi Germany, successfully hid it from the invaders so they would not get their hands on it. Or rather, the technology used in it: in any case, the plane in the form it was built was never, ever, a "Nazi plane". Nor would it have been useful at all as a warplane: this thing, amazing as it is, is a pure racer, with zero capabilities for being armed. Nor would it probably have been much good in a dogfight, either: that crate was built to be fast, with everything else being a secondary consideration.

This headline is pure drivel, and really should be corrected ASAP.

about a year ago
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U.S. Waived Laws To Keep F-35 On Track With China-made Parts

muecksteiner Re:Magnets? How about jet engines? (348 comments)

Hey, but think of the bonuses the managers will be able to pay themselves for all the "growth" they are instigating. Suddenly makes the whole thing seem logical, no?

1 year,26 days
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Ted Nelson's Passionate Eulogy for Douglas Engelbart

muecksteiner Re:Engerlbart's Greatness (110 comments)

No, that is merely a systemic problem at work that has always been an issue:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect/

The skilled think that the impressive stuff they have done is easy, while the unskilled think the little they have contributed is the hottest thing, ever. Film at 11.

about a year ago
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China's State Press Calls For 'Building a De-Americanized World'

muecksteiner Re:Summary says it all (634 comments)

You know of course that overspending has nothing to do with it.

Well, actually, overspending has everything to do with it. And for me as an outside observer, the whole Democrat vs. Republican thing is not relevant at all (at least from a personal viewpoint) when trying to make sense of the situation right now.

You should consider the following: just because Bush criminally over-spent during his tenure, this does not mean that the complaint against *continued* overspending done during the Obama administrations is invalid. Bush was lucky in that he inherited a U.S. administration that was in great financial health. And like so many other vices, overspending takes some time to generate *real* problems. Bush just had the totally undeserved good fortune that during his tenure, he could still expand the national debt like there was no tomorrow.

Obama can not do likewise - and perhaps the only real criticism against him ought to be that he, as an experienced politician with access to all information there is, should have seen this coming much earlier. And adapted his policies accordingly. Much sooner, than now. He did have the very considerable misfortune of inheriting the financial mess Bush made. But when you are in your second term, excuses along the lines of "the previous guy did it" become somewhat stale.

But I'd concede to you anytime that Obama had the deck stacked against him pretty badly from the get-go: what with the financial crisis bursting on his watch, and all that. He took the helm at a not so fun time in U.S. history. And I'd also concede to you any day that the U.S. conservatives seem to have a very disconcerting habit of blaming everything that is going wrong right now on a man who had not all that much to do with the creation of the fundamental problems at the root of it all (i.e. two Bush administrations that basically left the place in financial ruin due to brainless warmongering, a basically unsupervised and unhealthy financial industry going amok, and other idiocies).

about a year ago
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China's State Press Calls For 'Building a De-Americanized World'

muecksteiner Re:Summary says it all (634 comments)

Well, actually, Thatcherism was not all bad. She did have her good sides: she destroyed the extreme trade unions, which had long lost sight of their purpose, and had turned into a cancerous growth that strangled the country. She gave Britain a new sense of moving forward. She got the finances in order. And she had the guts to stand up against the Warsaw Pact for, as it were, western values, in times when few in Europe were willing to. Also, she, as a person, was definitely not of the worst sort you see as a politician. As in: she took no bribes anyone was ever aware of, and was, at least on a personal basis, fairly honest.

However, as Tyrion Lannister so famously said in GoT, nothing before the "but" in a sentence counts. :-)

Even after taking all the undoubted merits of her tenure as prime minister into account, I still think she did more damage to the fabric of British society, than good. The main areas in which the Thatcher era was, especially in hindsight, disastrous are the following:

- It is all good and fine to shaft the kind of parasitic "caveman commie" trade unions she was dealing with. Shaft them well and thoroughly. That much was good conservative instinct, and good politics. But a truly great politician would have realised you have to put something else in their place afterwards, lest even worse stuff will fill the void in the medium term. But nothing was done, and labour relations, and with them the gaps between the classes, have grown alarmingly worse ever since. Amongst many other institutions, a functioning market based society needs something like trade unions, like it or not. If not in name, but in function. Basically destroying them was a very short-sighted and petty-minded victory.

- Overall, she was (and due to financial constraints, up to a point had to be) hell-bent on undoing a lot of the institutions aimed at increasing social cohesion which had been introduced over the previous decades. Such as the school system, which was much, much better when I was a kid, than it ever was afterwards. And arguably, the terminal decline of the state run school system started in the Thatcher years, during which everything that cost the government money was seen as an unnecessary expense. Even if in the long run incurring said expenses maid perfect sense - schools are a prime example of such an expense. But during the Thatcher years, the pendulum swung too far back. After excesses of state regulation, nanny state antics, and wasteful spending (there is a reason the movie "Brazil" was done in Britain, of all places), suddenly lots of sensible things were also thrown out of the window, along with the bad stuff. Perhaps inevitable in such circumstances, but still extremely damaging. Especially as few since then have really tried to repair this damage.

- Her tenure saw the birth of the modern financial sector in Britain, which has turned out to be a much worse cancer on society at large than any leftist structures could ever have been. And I'm saying this as a fairly conservative person who is not against banking, or even the financial industry per se. Far from it. But the anti-social, uncontrollable monster that is now the City was hatched in the "bugger thy neighbour, if there is profit in it" and "greed is good" era of Thatcherism, and has grown ever since.

- She herself was a more or less decent person, but the majority of chaps who got to power in her wake were not. Amoral, greedy little persons, to an alarming extent. Since she was boss at the time, I hold her at least partially responsible for this.

- And there is also something she is personally responsible for, with her jingoistic attitude towards all the other components of the UK - in particular, the Scots. When I was a kid (and I am Scottish), being pro-independence in Scotland was a quaint notion held by some university types. The high-handed and arrogant manner in which Thatcher in particular dealt with the early stages of the devolution process did a lot of damage to the Union, and to the idea of getting along within the UK. In terms of politicians being sensible in this regard, it did not get much better after her, of course. But at least in the timeframe after the war, she was the first prime minister who openly showed an active dislike for Scotland, and Scottish affairs. She let her personal feelings get the better of her, and this was absolutely not what was needed at the time.

I could go on, but these are some starting points, if you want to continue the discussion. :-)

about a year ago
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China's State Press Calls For 'Building a De-Americanized World'

muecksteiner Re:Summary says it all (634 comments)

And as someone who is old enough to have witnessed some of it firsthand, I can only second this. Thatcherism is something you do not wish on anyone, not even your worst enemies.

If it were to happen, though, it would be interesting to watch what Thatcherism without a Labour party as punching ball would look like.

about a year ago

Submissions

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The resignation letter of the year - current academia described as it really is

muecksteiner muecksteiner writes  |  about a year ago

muecksteiner (102093) writes "Apparently, an EPFL PhD student recently resigned from his studies in disgust, and sent an open letter to all faculty to describe his motives for doing so. Even if the story of how the letter was written were to turn out to be not entirely true — the content certainly is. A depressing and unfortunately spot on accurate assessment of contemporary academia."
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