Harvard Study Suggests Drone Strikes Can Disrupt Terror Groups
I cannot speak for the AC, but I can say that the way I read his post, I figured that
either he felt compelled to say something but was not able to come up with wording that he wanted associated with his name (perhaps something was making him too angry to think clearly),
or he was concerned about the kind of retribution that might happen if the fans of the poster he was responding to were an organized and retaliatory group. It does seem like he did a little more background research than is commonly done in responding on /. Maybe something he came across got his dander up.
Or maybe he had been moderating the thread and did not want to waste the points he had spent. Although I think anyone who has been awarded moderation points knows how to say they are posting anonymously to protect them.
If he has been around for as long as some of us old timers who go back to the days of CompuServe and BBSs (the era before the Internet), he may have used anonymity to avoid today's equivalent of mail bombing, etc. Or he may have history with the Scientologists and be a bit more paranoid than some of us because of that. Hard to say. Maybe he felt compelled to put on a Guy Fawkes mask when he typed his reply.
The main thing, though, is whether the content of the post furthers the discussion. Not whether the AC is truly a coward. Even cowards can be insightful at times.
Dark Matter Filament Finally Found
Very well put.
Science is nothing more than making models of what may or may not be, and determining which of those models is closer to reality than the others. It has nothing at all to do with reality itself: that is way too complex for the human mind to comprehend. But if we can come up with simple models that are close enough to what is Really Out There, then we can devise some neat things like cell phones and maybe sustainable fusion generators that make our lives more fun. And that making of neat things is called technology.
Dark Matter Filament Finally Found
If you accept the premise that the universe is fractal and self-similar on different levels, and the premise that at least some human beings are sentient, then the logic is inescapable: She is sentient.
Of course it is easier to get your religion out of a book written by some dead guys back in the days before science, arithmetic that used zero as a placeholder, or most of today's technology. When you bind a God between the pages of an ancient story book, then you do not have to worry about how to interact with Him (or Her) while you mess about with your cell phone and Internet connection. There is, for example, no possibility that some random slashdot post by an AC was actually authored by Her. Or be concerned that She might have no more regard for you than you have for the cells that form the callus on your left heel.
And that simplifies your life oh so much.
Teaching Natural Sciences To Social Science Students?
Ah, the enlightening words of someone who has been around slashdot since the 100,000 days, and has managed to accrue an abysmal fan-to-freak ratio (3:18). That clearly takes a devoted effort; nobody can engender such statistics without deliberately working to screw up the discourse.
Antarctic Ice Is Growing, Not Melting Away, At Davis Station
You now have 186 freaks. And counting.
Are Human Beings Organisms Or Living Ecosystems?
$quote = '
In every case that we know of there is more than one way to usefully carve up the universe into conceptual chunks. Stupid people think that one of these must be the One True Way, which is, well, stupid. The universe is what it is, but how we carve it up is as much about what we are as about what it is.
$quote ~= s/carve up/model/g; # makes above quote truthier
Point being that the underlying fault is not in the way some peep believe so strongly in the particular way they chunk the Universe into categories. The really basic fault is the rock-bottom premise that the human mind can perform any manipulation on the Universe at all. Our intellect can only work on the models that we build within our heads; how things are really chunked together is forever beyond our ken (literally, outside what one can see by the light of one's torch). It is uncomfortable to work with the constant recognition that not a single one of the models you might conceive of is going to accurately reflect reality. But it is absurd to pursue knowledge without recognizing that all we have to work with are simplified models in our heads that can never be more than "good enough" for some small subset of what is Out There.
To wit: "centrifugal force" is part of a physics model that is good enough for analysing a traffic accident. Of course it is not good enough for modeling celestial mechanics— we need inertia and Newton's laws for that. But within its appropriate realm, centrifugal force is as true a model as classical physics or quantum mechanics.
The Sugar Beets described this insight in song, and I don't think anyone has put it more elegantly than they have:
I can't believe I used to think that what I thought was happening was really going on.
What Do You Call People Who "Do HTML"?
Unfortunately, this is the first answer that begins to make any kind of sense in my experience.
I don't have a good name for what I do. "Web Developer" comes closest, but that implies activities with CMS, Apache, IIS, and so on, which isn't my thing. I like "Web Scribe", with the implication that what I'm doing is similar to the work the scribes did in holding together the world of the Pharoahs' Egypt. But Web Scribe is not widely used. Yet.
Microsoft Won't Vouch For Linux
Yes, I've had the unpleasant experience of providing this kind of training through a state agency (not Washington state). The training material will be from existing companies that are Microsoft-approved to do the teaching; the dollars Microsoft pays out will stay within the Microsoft ecosystem. The training will cover basic Windows operations and portions of MS Office (typically Access training is weak or non-existent, while PowerPoint is unduly emphasized). Graduates will have skills in such things as creating form letters and mailing lists, and doing arithmetic operations in a spreadsheet. The result is similar to training someone who has never driven a vehicle in how to "drive" a truck-- turn the wheel, work the pedals-- without actually teaching them how to back up to a loading dock, what adding 10 ton of gravel will do to their stopping distance, or what common road hazards they need to know about. (I'm so sorry, my fellow slashdotters, but I couldn't think of a car analogy.)
It should be noted that these training materials are tightly integrated into the version of MS software they were developed for. That is, the materials for MS Office 2003 cannot be used effectively with MS Office 2007, because they identify tasks by keystroke and menu selections that change with each version, leaving students hopelessly confused. So undoubtedly all these training vouchers will need to be used on Win7 computers loaded with Office 2007. Graduates will need some retraining if they are hired by employers using WinXP and Office 2003.
Graduates of these courses are definitely better off than they were beforehand. But there are really serious questions about whether this level of "pull the blue knob A until the yellow dial C shows 950 rpm" is the most effective way to prepare someone for the work force. There are probably less costly and more effective ways of making someone employable. Most of the good the students I've worked with have received has been in secondary benefits (improved self-confidence; how to actually follow instructions, learning to get along in a classroom / office setting, etc), and these would be part of any other training program. It takes about 6 months to bring someone through all the MS courses, and even if the courses are free, that's 6 months State paid benefits and support invested in the student. Which far outweighs the costs of the training itself. If that much is going to be invested, maybe there needs to be some serious evaluation of whether the training is actually going to make student more job-capable than putting him or her through other training.
He's a Mac, He's a PC, But We're Linux!
Linux isn't for just everyone, you know. You sound like one of those for whom Linux isn't intended.
Go back to your virtual reality of 1999 and be happy in your matrix life, for as long as you can afford it. Don't bother with those of us who are trying to drag the world into the twenty-first century. You won't understand the issues, and you'll just cause yourself, and anyone who listens to you, unnecessary frustration and aggravation.
Don't try to lead me, for I won't follow. Don't try to follow me, for I won't lead you. Don't try to walk beside me, either. In fact, why don't you just go away. Reduce, re-use, recycle... and go away. Griefer.
I prefer to consume my caffeine from a vessel of ...
Since glass is pretty much inert in a desert environment, storing it for future recycling in this manner seems reasonable. It will eventually see use in place of sand in concrete and mortar, or in some similar fashion (I've a decade of bicycling on streets resurfaced with ground glass / asphalt slurry, and it has been a nice experience-- my understanding is that the County will use this when it has accumulated enough glass to make the processing worthwhile). At some point the cost of re-using it will become lower than the cost of processing and transporting natural sand.
Recycling doesn't necessarily mean that what you throw out today should pop back up on the supermarket shelf tomorrow. If done in a green way, a few decades of accumulation until there is enough material to run an efficient batch process can be part of the over-all scheme of things.
I prefer to consume my caffeine from a vessel of ...
Like all traditional methods of product cost accounting, parent ignores the post-consumption costs. This is not thinking green.
The energy cost involved with environmentally safe disposal of styrofoam far outweigh all other costs of the product's life cycle, which puts it in the same category as current nuclear power generation. Styrofoam that has escaped the recycle stream tends to break down into beads very rapidly, but then linger as beads or fluff for dozens of decades. These long-lived breakdown products are impossible to remove from the environment, and alter the natural processes at critical interfaces between soil and air and water, soil, and air. They are serious pollutants of the most active edge-based ecosystems..
My understanding is that styrofoam within the recycle stream is still very expensive to deal with: its physical and chemical properties make it difficult to handle, and there are few products that can be made from recycled styrofoam.
Something we have needed for several decades is a reformation of accounting practices, that will fold anticipated future costs into current valuations of products and processes in a way that reflects verifiable reality rather than corporate fantasies. Until we have that, we cannot quantify the full cycle costs of anything... and being able to quantify those is extremely important with regard to managing things like styrofoam and nuclear power usage, where the major costs are incurred after the product is used.
Scientist Forced To Remove Earthquake Prediction
This is a step in the right direction. However Walter Mooney (NPR interview) never specifies who he means when he says "we": he might be attempting to represent all geologists everywhere, but it is more likely that he is representing only the experts with the US Geological Survey, and much more likely that he is representing only his colleagues at Menlo Park. There is also the possibility he is representing only his own household (himself, his dog, his cat, and his goldfish), but that is as absurd as thinking that he is speaking for all of Science.
Best guess: Mooney is saying that his group at Menlo Park has not found a way to predict earthquakes by monitoring radon levels. If he had been asked to do so, he would most likely would have been able to easily count off the methods his group explored, and he would most likely have been able to imagine several other possible methods that were not explored for one reason or another.
Main points: Mooney appears to have the background to assess Giuliani's work, and is familiar with similar approaches that have not led anywhere. But he does not offer a critique of Giuliani's work, nor does he say he knows anything about Giuliani's methods. His statement condenses down to "We tried some things that are probably similar to what Giuliani did, and we couldn't make any of them work."
The LA Times story is similar to other rehashes of the story. Basically, it is saying that authorities on earthquake prediction have found that none of the other work to date has shown radon emissions to be good predictors of earthquakes. Again notable for its absence is any statement by any scientist that he has looked at Giuliana's specific methodology and data.
Basically, Giuliani's work is being dismissed in the media based on statements of authority, not on scientific principles. We don't know what Giuliani based his predictions upon (perhaps he was seeing radon spikes a hundred times greater than anyone else had ever seen; perhaps he was seeing a perfect correlation between radon spikes and pre-shocks... who knows?)
Undoubtedly Mooney's group at Menlo Park will review Giuliani's data, methods, and conclusions when these become available. It would be imprudent to do otherwise. So at some point we can expect a judgment based on scientific principles. But that hasn't happened yet.
Yeah, above is a rant. As I get older, I get increasingly intolerant of the failure of intelligent people to use critical reading skills. Especially with regard to confusing the current beliefs of "scientific authorities" with the actual practice of the scientific method. Yeah, reporters are not making the distinction and it would be good if they would do so, but they are simply reporters, fercryinoutloud, not rocket surgeons. Besides, the responsibility for assessing the value of the written word always belongs to the reader, and cannot be reassigned.
Scientist Forced To Remove Earthquake Prediction
The call to evacuate was stupid, I agree.
However it is regrettable that the authorities decided to dismiss the warning out of hand. They could have dusted off their emergency plans, checked the inventories of bottled water and blankets, done some drills, done some public education on how to save yourself in an earthquake, etc. That could all be done without starting a public panic, and would have been an appropriate, and responsible, way of addressing the warning.
Perhaps no public official was actually negligent in their duties, but there was certainly a lot of room for a more prudent response than attempting to discredit the warning.
Scientist Forced To Remove Earthquake Prediction
Seriously. I'm interested in knowing what research approaches involving radon emissions have been done in the past, which particular method Giuliani duplicated, and why he duplicated it rather than modifying it.
What we seem to have here is either a case of bad science, or just another case of a slashdotter jumping to an unwarranted conclusion. A citation should clear that up.
Large Ice Shelf Expected To Break From Antarctica
Thanks for your reply.
So unless there is some mechanism that would cause the formation of new ice to replace the melt, the situation is self-limiting and will not have a long term impact on climate. That makes sense.
It is also reassuring. The increased reflective surface that is so obvious in comparing satellite photos before and after the making of one of these megabergs was a disturbing sight.
Yet it does seem like the remaining ice shelves are large enough to keep creating megabergs (and lots and lots of lesser bergs) for ten decades or more. So while each instance is self-limiting, there might be a long row of icy dominoes that will fall one after the other. That is a worrisome thought.
Also the melt from all this broken ice will form a fresh water layer on top of the salt water in all those wave sheltered crevices between the remaining bergs. Some of these will freeze in the coming winter, and collect high albedo covers of snow.
My momentary warm feeling of reassurance has just refrozen into chilled worries about greater disturbances in Gaia's heat engine....
Large Ice Shelf Expected To Break From Antarctica
they [ice shelves] are normally a couple of meters thick
Since they are so thin, then clearly my concern has no basis.
OTOH, NASA states the maximum thickness of the Wilkins Ice Shelf is 200 - 250 meters. Without knowing more about the topology of these sheets and they way they fracture, whether the area of reflective surface increases significantly seems to remain an open question.
From the satellite photos, it does appear that the shards from the break up has increased the amount of reflective surface by quite a bit from what it used to be.
Large Ice Shelf Expected To Break From Antarctica
Your calculations assume all the ice on the berg is above the water and thus able to reflect more light because of a greater suface area.
No, that is not my assumption. Try visualizing this:
On the top of the ice shelf, mark off a rectangle 100 meters long by 10 meters wide. It is a reflective surface of 1,000 sq meters. The ice is 250 meters thick. Now calve off that chunk of ice. It is not stable, it will topple so its surface is 100 meters by 250 meters by 10 meters thick. Its reflective surface area is now 25,000 sq meters. The surface area has increased 25 times, because the berg's orientation changes as it calves from the mother ice.
This is a very simple model to illustrate the nature of the problem. But an increase in reflective surface of ice, and a corresponding decrease in absorptive surface of open water, may be a significant factor in climatology as the ice shelves continue to break up.
So is anyone modeling this yet?
Large Ice Shelf Expected To Break From Antarctica
Parent post is the first complete and succinct answer to "why sea level is not going to change" that I've seen. It looks like a good place to hang my question.
Background: As these 1,000+ year old ice shelves break away, the amount of icebergs calving from them is increasing as well. With the increase in icebergs comes an increase in high albedo reflective surface on the ocean. On first look, it would seem that this increase in surface area is quite a bit: break off a 10 meter wide by 100 meter long berg from an ice shelf that is 250 meter thick, and the berg that floats away is 100 meter wide by 250 meter long by 10 meter thick. The white surface area has increased 25 times. So a significant increase in reflective area. It seems possible that a free floating ice shelf the size of Connecticut could become a reflective surface the size of Pennsylvania before it melts away completely.
Has anyone done any modeling of the increasing density of Antarctic ice bergs, and whether the increase in albedo is sufficient to affect climate?
Texas Senate Proposes a Budget With a No-Vista-Upgrades Rider
Kudos to Texas legislators for attempting to prevent an expensive "upgrade" to an OS with a clearly limited service life and a reputation for high hidden costs. It needs to be noted that this situation would be very different if Microsoft committed to fully supporting Vista for the next five years. But instead MS has been mumbling about offering some kind of low cost "upgrade" from Vista to Win7, which is a strong indicator that future Vista support is going to be marginal at best. There is no business logic that can justify Texas spending money on Vista in this situation.
The rider should have a sunset provision: "no upgrading to Vista during this budget year", or "no upgrading to Vista until Service Pack 1 is released". Or something like that. That would make the bill more palatable and probably make its intent more clear (which could be useful when this is challenged in court).
I don't really see any better way to write this kind of legislation.
First, banning all software upgrades is clearly inappropriate: in the last year I've upgraded Ubuntu twice at no expense and benefited with lower TCO afterward; I am looking forward to another upgrade within 30 to 90 days, and Texas institutions that are using Ubuntu have likely done the same. Ubuntu is not unusual in this way: most OSs and distros are now using 6 to 12 month upgrade cycles where the total costs of upgrading are generally offset by immediate cost reductions from improved functionality.
Second, interfering with any current migrations from proprietary software to FOSS is also inappropriate. Or migrations from one proprietary OS to another, when there is sound business logic for doing that. That would constitute meddling in technical matters, and should not be done by any legislature. But specifically delaying upgrades to Vista is a matter of business logic, not technical logic, and setting business logic policy for a government is definitely within the scope of its legislature.
So in this situation, I think it is fully appropriate to identify Vista by name. That is merely a recognition that Microsoft has created a very unique business situation where the product it is now selling offers no compelling reason to upgrade from the earlier version, while MS is also saying that there is a new product that will do it all even better coming Real Soon Now.
Questions Linger Over Google Book Rights Registry
Even with screens of excellent quality, I prefer a book-like format to my computer for reading. The computer screen locks me into one posture, one particular lighting set-up, and a very narrow range of viewing distances. With a book, I can easily vary all of these conditions even as I read, and I find that I do so, constantly. I might spend an evening reading for pleasure (currently re-reading LOTR). But I'm changing my position, or the angle of the book to the lighting, or how far I'm holding it from my face almost constantly.
If I spend an hour working up a spreadsheet or editing a web page then go outside, it takes several minutes for my acuity to return to normal: things are a little blurry until my eyes adjust from the fixed conditions of the computer work to rapidly shifting focus between the path at my feet and the mountains miles away. That period of adjustment doesn't happen when I'm reading for pleasure, and I think its because I'm not locking myself into tight constraints on posture, etc, when I'm reading a book.
I'm thinking that I might see ebook hardware that I would like as much as deadtree books in the next 10 to 20 years, but we aren't there yet.
Time for an update on EmGee's continuing presence on Slashdot.
There's not much to say. This is after about 10 years of reading Slashdot every morning and usually again in the evening, and writing comments perhaps an average of once a week. Slashdot has been, and continues to be, one part of my data gathering strategy to stay in touch with the world. It has been an effective way to identify things I want to know more about.
I've been lurking for more than four months. Posting anonymously provides a curious freedom of expression that I am glad I have tasted, but I don't want a steady diet of it.
Life is much the same, and if my views are now more moderate than they were, it is only because the center of the curve is shifting toward my position.
About slashdot: for a long while the slashdot community was getting more juvenile, and I was beginning to wonder if it was headed into end stage teenybopperism. However in the last four to six months it seems like the voices of those with a little more life experience have started to become clearer again. I'm wondering if much of the younger set has moved on from slashdot to more interactive things like facebook or something. In any event, it seems like the slashdot community is achieving a healthier mix of ages.
We could use a few more women though...
It has been 3 years and 11 months since I last had Mod points. I am unable to recall any reason why I have been blacklisted; apparently some editor took grievous offense at some minor infraction of some unwritten rule that I broke without intent, nor even awareness of having misbehaved.
My karma is excellent. I metamoderate around 3 times per week. I have been a slashdot subscriber and will be so again. But I have not seen any mod points.
I have been reading that slashdot will sometimes take people off the blacklist if they go fallow for a few months. So I think I'll try that.
So, ttfn. I'm going into lurk mode.
First entry from FF under Kubuntu
This is my first session on slashdot using Firefox under Kubuntu. It is also my first session on slashdot with Kubuntu at all. In fact, at this point my total experience with Kubuntu is less than 4 hours— and half of that was just reading the noobie toots. Most of the rest has been in just looking around to see what came in the package.
I'm dual booting with WinXP Pro on a Dell 4400 with 768 MB ram and about 40 GB internal hard disk (spread across 2 drives). AIR, the CPU is rated at 1.66 GHz. This is a modest 6 year old system.
This is my fourth attempt over about 5 years at dual booting a linux (with the intent of doing a controlled migration from Win XP). The first was Red Hat, then I tried Debian, then Mandrake v9.2. These were unsuitable because the technical hurdles of getting peripherals to work and managing upgrades of applications during the early stages of system setup were too high for me. I was unwilling to spend the time to learn the sub application level stuff that those distros required.
I'm pretty sure that Kubuntu is going to work out well. I have spent a total of maybe 5 minutes in the System Settings dialog, mostly because I use an odd tablet mouse (Wacom Intuos 2) and I'm fussy about the acceleration setting. The screen came up perfectly without any fuss on my part at all! No fuss automated setup of my internet connection! Installing Firefox was almost a one-click operation with the Adept package handler! I just did the most painless upgrade of systems and applications I've ever experienced by clicking an item in the toolbar and saying that yes, I wanted the 200+ upgrades that have become available since the CD image I used for the install was created! That's it: the smoothest installation I've experienced since the golden age of DOS 3.3, Quattro Pro, and Word Perfect. And a lot neater and faster than shuffling through the piles of floppies had been.
This is all good.
Plan is to keep identical apps on WinXP and Kubuntu and swap back and forth between the OSs until I'm comfortable enough with the KDE desktop to do almost all my work in Kubuntu. Then I'll delete all but the few Win apps that I absolutely have to keep (photoquality 11x17" printing on the Canon is not something I'm willing to give up, and I've got years of experience invested in some PaintShop Pro techniques). I'll resize the Win XP partition to a minimum, and start thinking about using Wine, or maybe a VM, to replace it completely.
A quiet hurray is in order. After waiting patiently for years, finally a Linux that I can cross over to without pain has arrived. Good for Kubuntu.
It took about 3 months longer than I expected it would, but I finally burned through the minimum $5 subscription I bought 7 months ago. I've re-upped for another whopping $5.
On another issue, I've done some trolling the last couple of days and I've not been entirely happy with the result. I hooked an interesting mark (despite blatantly saying I was trolling), but I didn't have time to play him out; I had to let him get away. There was every appearance that this fellow was claiming a knowledge that he does not have, but matters at work got in the way of researching him and laying the groundwork for the verbal trouncing I believe he deserves.
Quarterly journal entry: re slashdot subscription
I actually bought a subscription to Slashdot last Christmas. I paid for the minimum 1,500 pages, thinking that with care they would last me 3 months.
It is now 4 months since that purchase, and I've used a little over 33% of the subscription, despite having liberalized my use of the ad blocking, etc. I'm on slashdot at least once and usually several times a day, I read 6-12 articles per day, I sometimes make comments, and I metamod about once per day. (I haven't seen moderation privileges for more than 2 years despite "excellent" karma).
Such a deal.
It has been 10 months since my last journal entry.
I subscribed to Slashdot today: $5 for what will be around a 3 month subscription is an inexpensive way to check out what the "plums" provide. I'm not terribly interested in the ad blocking; mostly I want to harvest some of my earlier posts for raw material for some writing. I'm also curious about whether I can spot any patterns in those old posts that were moderated up.
I haven't had mod points since June, 2003: about 30 months. It will be interesting to see if I get any now that I've subscribed. I have continued to metamod daily; I've got excellent karma. I've submitted a couple of articles that were rejected and I've got a humorous one in the "pending" category right now.
I think the slashdot demographics have stabilized. There is a large contingent of students, often with some whacked out opinions that suggest some really bizarre world views. There are a lot of posts coming from this group. There are a lot of experienced geeks who generally post less often but are more worth reading. There is an active MS astroturf contingent, and two active FOSS contingents: one of these groups is emotionally whacked out but the other offers sound experience and insight on a regular basis.
Slashdot remains a good place to get some direct information from experts in several fields, though there remains a need to filter out a lot of fools. Slashdot has become for me a good place to take the pulse of a couple of vocal no-mind groups-- MS and Linux fanboys, etc.
I've got to say that I enjoy tweaking the MS fanboys from time to time. It is fun to make them squirm by bringing up history that MS would prefer to bury.
This morning I metamodded a post that claimed slashdot was going downhill because the editors were selecting more stories that favored Microsoft and other enemies of FOSS and the emerging postcapitalist  economy (my words, not his). The writer wasn't sure what was happening but suggested that maybe slashdot was bowing to economic threats from its advertisers or maybe it was trying to expand readership among people who held more centrist opinions than the old slashdot core. He thought the changes were ungood. He had been modded "insightful" and I concurred, though with many reservations. I think he hit close to the nail, but not quite straight on its head.
Now I wish I had responded to his post but I continued metamodding and I signed off without opening a reply. So I lost that opportunity-- I don't even recall which discussion he was involved with.
I think what may be happening to slashdot is that the news media have come to see this place as a credible representative of the FOSS and postcapitalist movement. Many suits and others who don't read slashdot themselves are now aware of its existence. When they come across a statement in the NYT or WSJ that says "...there was lively discussion on Slashdot with the majority appearing to favor X", they take this to mean that FOSSers and postcapitalists as a group probably hold this opinion. That's okay (so long as everyone is playing by the rules of honest discourse). In fact, that's good-- it advances public discussion of issues and means that some of those non-slashdot people are going to take our viewpoints into consideration as they think about their strategies and tactics.
But this also means that slashdot has now become a target for groups who oppose FOSS and postcapitalism. If they can game the slashdot system so that their perspective appears to be the dominant one on slashdot, then they have scored big points. If their gaming makes it harder for NYT or WSJ to identify the FOSS and postcapitalist concerns, then they have also scored.
We've long been aware of the MS astroturfing phenomenon, and there is no reason to believe that astroturfing could not evolve into something more subtle and destructive. While I think that minds exposed for too long to the Microsoft corporate culture lose an appreciation for both elegance in software construction and basic personal ethics, I see no indication that these minds are dulled. I think it is a self-evident truth that when ethical constraints are removed (or dummied down to pre-kindergarten levels) these people become willing and able to let their cleverness shine forth in all kinds of dazzling new ways (where others would tend to rein themselves back).
To bring this back to concrete, observable reality, I think there are now some very clever posters on slashdot whose motives are to disrupt certain discussions while they push their hidden agendas. They are neither trolling nor flamebaiting nor spewing obvious FUD; they are instead using more subtle tools. More on the tools below. But I also think it is not just the Minions From Redmond; from some of the posts I've seen, I think there are persons from the Religious Right who are also sometimes attempting to steal the slashdot soapbox (or at least bust it down).
Rhetorical tools that I'm seeing used more frequently are the "cloak of authority" and "begging the question".
In the "cloak of authority", the poster suggests in an almost subliminal way that he represents a large contingent or a respected contingent of the slashdot community. He is not writing to those involved in the current discussion; his intended audience is out among the silent people who are not slashdot members but have come across the thread while googling, or researching for the WSJ article they are writing, etc. When this technique is used by a shrewd disruptor, the post is on target and is valid by all slashdot rules. It cannot be modded as flamebait or trolling: the appropriate modding would be "over-rated". The appropriate response when you see this technique used is to force the poster to clarify his authority before you reply to the points he has raised. Let it become obvious that this guy is not speaking for FOSSers or postcapitalists. There's a 3 second sound bite for this: On slashdot, you should always challenge authority before you engage in argument.
"Begging the question" is an interesting technique of misdirection. The poster presents something that he knows is going to be challenged: it may be a strawman that he knows will be defeated or it may be something legitimate. He hopes his respondents will see the red cape he is waving off to the side of his main point and charge it, and not notice that the real issue is in the poster's unstated assumptions (the part that goes begging for a reply). When things go the way he intends, the discussion that develops lends legitimacy to the beggar's main point, even though it is never actually stated. The key here is to examine all of the poster's assumptions before jumping in with a reply, and challenge those assumptions rather than engaging in argument when that is appropriate. On slashdot, make sure the underlying assumptions are acceptable to you before you engage in argument.
 "Postcapitalism" is a word of my own coinage, though I think it is such an obvious extension to our language that I expect I am not the first one to use it. What I mean by "postcapitalism" is an emerging and still pretty much unformed economy where the entrepreneur and venture capitalist are replaced by community efforts. Linux and Mozilla are currently the shining examples in the software world, with IBM's new business model looming in the shadows. But I'm seeing a similar thing in other venues, like Portland's Community Cycling Center, which blends a traditional bicycle shop with volunteer recycling in a way that generates a living for several employees while donating more than a 1,000 refurbished bicycles per year to disadvantaged kids.
It's been about 2 months since my last entry here.
I continue to read /. at least daily. Some of the stories and some of the commentary are interesting and valuable. The 80-80 rule seems to apply, ("After skipping the 80% that is obvious bullshit, 80% of the remaining content is also bullshit"). But that leaves one or two stories and a number of comments that are truly worthwhile.
I haven't had mod points for longer than some of the youngest slashdotters have been on line. I wonder what's up with that. I do metamoderate daily. Karma is excellent (mostly due to having been on /. for a long time, and not posting all that often).
It has been about 13 months since my last entry. Pro'ly time for an update.
Karma remains "excellent" throughout this period. I'm continuing to metamoderate once or twice each day. I haven't had moderation privileges at all during this period; I believe I was last a moderator about 18 months ago. I wonder what's up with that?
For a while, it seemed like /. was getting excessively silly, but that seems to have corrected itself. Politics on /. seem to me to be more conservative than they were a year ago (as opposed to liberal or the faux conservative "faith-based" radicals).
Last year I was thinking the average age of /. was approaching 14. Now the average age of the posts that I am reading seems much higher; but I am filtering out a lot more posts.
I'm currently reading at the 2+ level, but awarding extra points to posts labelled "insightful" or "interesting". This is working out pretty well. I'd like it if /. revised its point system: How is it that
ends up as 4+?? At least that kind of thing appears to be happening.
I'm still pretty harsh about what's not really funny. I'm also getting harsh about what is not really flamebait, trolling, off topic, or redundant. I guess I'm getting more harsh about negative moderations.
In general Slashdot remains a useful data stream for me: often enough it is genuinely informative in some way. I am spending a lot less time with it though. I'm not sure whether that is because more of it is of less interest to me now, or because I'm getting better at filtering out the stuff that doesn't interest me.
That's about it for the year. Until the next post, whenever.
I'm now very likely to make the "unfunny" metamod choice. IMO the quality of discourse on /. has been sliding the last few months, partly due to an increase in sophomoric attempts to be clever. Perhaps that can be corrected. Anyway, I'm tired of the inappropriate use of
- In Soviet Russia....
- ... you insensitive clod
- ... 3. profit!
- all your [whatever] are belong to [whoever]
- etc, etc
<bombast>I'll continue to ignore the appropriate use of these formulae most of the time, and on rare occasion I even find one of these jokes funny and metamod it so. But IMNSHO "funny" on a place like slashdot means witty, and the witless use of formulaic japes is not to be tolerated.</bombast>
Something still has to make me spray coffee out my nose onto keyboard before I'll metamod it as "funny". And generally speaking, I need to be scrubbing coffee-stained snot from the monitor before I'll use up a mod point on a "funny".
I'm now reading /. at the 2+ level most of the time, but I've also been tweaking my custom bonus points to assure that anything that has gotten a point for "insightful" or "informative" is boosted above my threshhold. My working hypothesis is that there is no good way to read slashdot, but that some variant of this approach is less bad than all other known approaches.
It's been a little over 6 months since my last entry to this journal, so an update is in order.
I scan the slashdot offerings at least once a day, along with the NYT headlines, usually as I have my first cup of coffee. Depending on what I find and what else is going on, I may come back to slashdot a few times as the day goes on.
I almost always have metamod status now. It's a chore that can take less than 5 minutes to sometimes 15 minutes. I usually do metamodding once a day only-- there's more to my life than slashdot.
Here are some of my metamod rules:
- Never do "unfunny", unless it's grossly obscene. I've got a more highly developed sense of humor than most slashdotters, but it's not my job to try to upgrade the humor of geek culture.
- Rarely do "funny". If it hasn't made me blow my coffee out my nose, just don't rate the "funny/unfunny" at all.
- "Interesting" and "insightful": Judge these as I am now, then try to judge them as I would have when I was fifteen, then go with the most positive of those separate judgments. So usually I score these as "Fair" though sometimes I don't score them at all. When I score an "interesting" or "insightful" as unfair, it's usually because I see the post as a troll or flamebait. Or sometimes because it's an unthinking bleat of flock noise that only serves to help keep all the sheep together, making the same stupid sheep noises.
- "Troll" and "flamebait": These can require a lot of time and no little effort to metamod. Often I need to look at the post in context and read the threads that led to it.
Something that has occurred to me is whether discourse on slashdot would be improved if a "-1 Personal Attack" option was added to the moderation choices.
I'm getting moderator status about once a week, which is good since I don't have time for much more than that. When I'm setting out to moderate, I read at the -1 level, and that can really slow me down. But it seems to me that one of the better uses of my mod points is to correct the misuse of "flamebait", "troll", and "over-rated" by people who are pushing their own private agenda. For instance, there are people on slashdot who work in Redmond and given the opportunity will mod down any criticism of Microsoft out of a Louis L'Amour cowboy sense of "riding for the brand" infantile loyalty to their employer. And there are those whose use of mod points is too much influenced by an over reaction to the MSer's fudding around. The metamod system should weed these assholes out, over time, but correcting some of the specific damage they have done seems to me to be worth the effort.
It isn't just MSer's and the ones they have antagonized, either. There are other sharp divisions of prejudice on slashdot-- the MS thing is just the most obvious one.
Waht else? Erm, I currently read /. at the +1 level, but lately I've been wondering about whether I'd be happier using a higher level. I think I'll try the +2 level for awhile-- then maybe I can cover more ground with less frustration with the chatter. I'm not opposed to the chatter-- /. is a social phemomenon-- but I don't have all day to mosey through all the sidebars and cocktail conversations.
Well, I've finished my morning coffee and should get to work. Until next time, then...
A couple of interesting things happened in the last 24 hours:
First, I got a karma boost. From "good" to "excellent". So maybe now I won't have that nightmare about coming back as a cockroach any more. Ha ha.
Second, I acquired another fan. That makes three. But I still wonder if I should count either of the other two. One befriended me before I ever made a comment or did a journal entry or anything. I don't think he was just hitting on a newbie; I think he was clueless and fumblefingered and prolly made me his friend w/o even knowing he'd done so, or how to undo it. The other older fan prolly was hitting on me, maybe I looked succulent. No thanks, and mind the thorns.
A /. friendship seems a rather trivial thing: the rite of annulment is easily done.
My "Journal Topic" for all my journal entries to date has been "User Journal", which is dumb. I need to look into how to use this field in a relevant way, and whether I can go back to my old entries and change their topics.
Twenty years ago, I would have taken the time to learn all the ins and outs of /. usage, and done so with great gusto. But that was back in the days when I thought that learning new interfaces was an investment that would pay off in the future-- before it became obvious that the future would be mostly more new interfaces. Now my strategy is usually a minimalist one of attempting to identify the smallest subset of commands and things I need to know just to get by.
I've just completed my seventh round of moderation since I was first given moderator points about a month ago. So I'm being tapped for this about once every 4.5 days.
I would rather it was once every 7 days.
This is the 146th day of mysticgoat on slashdot.
I've now been moderator five times in the last three weeks. That rate is a bit much both in terms of the work moderation requires and the size of the pool of potential moderators, but my baseline is so short that this could be just a random fluke in a generally agreeable process.
Work of moderation, for me, involves more time on reading /. than I really want to spend. It is a chore. I feel obligated to log on more frequently and to read posts below my usual cut-off point. The hardest part is dealing with commets from an insightful troll or a piece that is bothe interesting and also full of flamebait.
If I keep getting selected for moderator duty at the current rate of more than once a week, that would be a strong indication that the moderator pool is much too small for /. to remain healthy.
My moderation has been metamoderated numerous times, and always judged "fair".
Karma still good. I still think that the current karma rating system sucks.
Just completed my first ever bit as a ./ moderator.
I felt an obligation to read slashdot more often, so I could award points early enough to be effective (I see little value in modding day old comments that no one is likely to read). I felt an obligation to read comments below 2 points, which is my usual cut-off. It took more than one day for me to give away the five mod points. I am happy enough to go back to my more abbreviated scans of slashdot.
It seems an okay system. I suspect that it has a centrist bias so that the bell curve of slashdot's diversity will become more peaked as the extremes leave for more supportive pastures. That is to say, I think the mod system probably discourages participation by the outliers so that the standard deviation grows more narrow. By which I mean, I think the mod system tends to make emphasize group conformity and discourage a diversity of opinion. That is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it is balancing tendencies toward too much diversity, which can be destructive to the group.
I continue to miss the numeric karma scores. I think the natural desire to see one's score go up and to avoid things that could cause one's score to sink tended to get people to work a little harder at writing quality posts.
This brief stint at moderation also motivated me to go through my preferences and change a couple of things.
...And I'm no richer than I was before. And I'm not all that much smarter either. And my love life still sucks.
Actually it's 10 weeks and 3 days. And I've posted 23 comments, sent in no articles, not been given an opportunity to mod (that I know of anyway) and still have two fans (they must be weird) and one foe (definitely weird).
Oh! And my karma is "positive". Whatever that means.
It might mean that slashdot's karma scoring system is busted and nobody knows how to fix it and they won't own up to their mistakes. Whoever they are. That's typical behavior for the species-- the USA Veterans Administration agency can be used for the prototype. Sure way to get fame and a shot at a promotion is to sell some novel idea (it doesn't have to be a better idea, just a new one with new buzzwords). And when it croaks because nobody bothered to engineer it for life beyond the sales room, declare it as having been useful at its time, but gosh we just got to move beyond it. And bury the carcass downwind of you and your bosses.
I miss those karma points. I never got very many-- but I miss them all the same.
Still there are a couple of fun things here to play with. This public journal is silly-fun. And some of the articles posted are interesting things I would never come across otherwise. Slashdot is good, it just doesn't do much for your sex appeal.
Enough of this early morning pre-caffeine ranting. Time to write write write another chapter in next decade's greatest saga!
Sixth week on /.
Their karma is still busted. It's one of those between-the-ears things.
Group activities like slashdot are a lot like governments. They don't have to work well; they only have to work well enough that the patrons don't go elsewhere.
Five weeks on slashdot.
I've posted sixteen signed articles, and I played the AC once.
My karma is "positive".
There has definitely been a drop off in the average quality of both the articles and the commentaries in the last week. This may be a "summer silly season" phenomenon: there has also been a decline in quality of New York Times and Reuters articles.
Plan: Speed up my skimming of /. by sampling the comments before accessing the articles-- I should be able to identify and avoid many of the real dogs this way. Expect that things will start to get more interesting again in September, after people are back at work from summer holiday and schools are back in session.
On a separate topic--
A major disappointment is that /. has changed its policy on how karma gets reported: instead of showing the -10 - +50 number, a one word descriptor is used to report which of several bands one's karma lies in. Cmdr Taco says in the FAQ that this new policy was adopted because people were putting more emphasis on the karma number than /. had intended. I've written him about my disappointment with the change, and to point out that unless somehow the numeric scores were interfering with /.'s function, I didn't see where the way the readers might use those scores was really any of /.'s concern. And I invited him to be more forthcoming on the reasons for the change.
The response from CT was "I guess we disagree". Well, Doh!
I guess we'll not see anything about the reason for the change. That's too bad-- /. is an interesting experiment, but this observer feels he is being unnecessarily deprived of access to one the more interesting streams of colateral data...
But it's their marbles and their game.
I don't understand the karma to points relationship. Some of my posts have 2 points before moderation, some appear to only have one point. There should be a table around somewhere that shows the relationship of karma to points but if it is in the FAQ, I missed seeing it.
Most /. comments are criticisms of the original material, and many of these show that the commentator did not read or failed to comprehend the material. I guess that is to be expected. Probably /.'s point system encourages the people who are, um, let's say "less encumbered by experience" to attempt to demonstrate their cleverness. Sometimes this leads to dumb discussions where the original information is replaced by conjecture and preconception of what the unread or misunderstood article just must have been about. Some posts should be moderated downward with a /. equivalent of RTFM.
There is a much smaller percentage of posts that are worth reading-- legitimate attacks on the ideas of the articles, and reasonable defenses of the articles. Twice I have seen author participation in these.
In the area of Open Source and licensing issues, slashdot is easily my best source of information about what is going on. The whole subject area of intellectual property rights is downplayed in the popular press. Which is unfortunate as this is one of the key areas that will shape the emerging new age.
Slashdot remains worthwhile, but I could use a better way of avoiding the dross. I'm thinking of boosting my threshhold to scores of 2 or better.