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Ask Slashdot: Is an Open Source .NET Up To the Job?

paulxnuke What will it change? (421 comments)

I don't see much advantage to switching languages if the existing one works. .NET is by far the easiest of those listed to be productive in, but it requires buying into the MS server platform: the cost of that is pretty much the only advantage the others all have, other than religious feelings about free software. There are enough web developers and Linux sysadmins available that there is no real reason to pay for Windows licenses except to develop a little faster, not the sort of thing the business types notice.

An open source .NET has obvious advantages for everyone, especially Mono, and I'm very happy about it. I don't see it changing anything quickly, but their market share will undoubtedly rise.

about a month ago

The Dominant Life Form In the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots

paulxnuke Thoughts on TFA (391 comments)

The most we can honestly say about artificial intelligence is that we have so utterly no idea what it is that it might be possible. Of course, we have no computing paradigm for it either, so that's on the TODO list as well, when and if the raw power becomes available.

I honestly hadn't considered that something could be considered intelligent without being conscious, given that we have no applicable definition of "consciousness" either. I understand that many researchers fear loss of all funding if the real state of their field becomes widely known, and I'm onboard with that since I think the research is worthwhile even if it's beyond the congresscritters. I won't pretend that it has accomplished much as yet, though: as I've said before, we're a heck of a lot closer to building a warp drive than than a conscious computer.

If we encountered a "superintelligence" that did not display consciousness, would we be justified in treating it as a machine to be used and turned off rather than a lifeform to be talked with? Even if it could talk, in a sense beyond a fancy shell or an Eliza bot? Could such a thing come into existence on its own? An organism descended from an alien race that uploaded itself doesn't really count, to my mind, but it seems by far the most likely case.

I could agree that such intelligences wouldn't be very interested in us. Earth has too much gravity and oxygen just causes rust; all asteroids lack are organics they probably don't need anyway, and heavy metals are much easier to reach on an asteroid. Given a reasonable power source other than a star, they'd be better off living in interstellar space where no one is likely bother them.

about a month ago

AI Expert: AI Won't Exterminate Us -- It Will Empower Us

paulxnuke BAD quote (417 comments)

"To say that AI will start doing what it wants for its own purposes is like saying a calculator will start making its own calculations." ... is not only a gross logical fallacy, but completely misses the point. AI is generally understood to mean sentience/self awareness/consciousness. Without that, an artificial intelligence is no more than a bigger and better calculator.

A calculator (or any other existing computer) is not AI in any sense whatsoever; it's internal workings are completely understood (or at least understandable.) There is no possibility of it ever doing anything unexpected, unless a human left a bug in its program.

TFA sounds like someone who spent 20 years in a field with no real advancement or progress, and is now nervous about being questioned. A working warp drive would need to be evaluated for safety as well, but no one is worrying about that yet, even though we are a LOT closer to building a warp drive than a sentient machine (for which we have no theoretical understanding and no credible roadmap towards one.)

about a month and a half ago

Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

paulxnuke Re:"Teaching" programming (155 comments)

Can't comment on Big Bang, don't have a TV. This makes perfect sense, though. Most Gifts are a matter of degree: you'd have risen to the top of that group with or without the class, it would just have taken longer to acquire experience and pick up all the little facts a programmer needs from day to day, none of which has any relation to ability. There are no end of entry level programmers who rise past colleagues without going into management; there are lots of graduates of good schools (in many fields) who can't do the work. I've known several in the shareware biz (VB), as long as it could be done almost entirely with ActiveX.

about 7 months ago

Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

paulxnuke Re:"Teaching" programming (155 comments)

Unfortunately, I believe that current educational "thinking" is much closer to the "talent is a myth" theory than yours.

"Current educational theory" verges on flamebait.

My theory has tons of anecdotal evidence. Theirs is based mostly on what someone in charge wants to be right, and mostly fails everywhere it's tried. There's a reason my kid is home schooled.

about 7 months ago

Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

paulxnuke "Teaching" programming (155 comments)

is an oxymoron. CS degrees (don't have one myself) are useful: DaVinci and Hendrix were born with talent, but not developed ability. No amount of training by itself could create a DaVinci or Hendrix, though it might help one develop faster.

It is obvious anyone who interviews that programming is a born in ability, and if it's not there no amount of training makes the slightest difference. If it is there, school makes things faster, but the end result is the same. I started in high school in the '70's with a single BASIC book and a teletype/300 baud modem. College gave me experience and some handy facts, but nothing fundamental that I wouldn't have figured out when I needed it.

What we really need is a one semester or less high school class to determine who has the "gift." Those who do don't require much more if they choose to become programmers, and they can get that in AP classes or in college; the rest (and their colleges) would know not to waste time and resources on CS classes. Yeah, yeah, everyone has a "right" to be whatever they want, but if they're going to fail, get it over with early.

about 7 months ago

Study: Earthlings Not Ready For Alien Encounters, Yet

paulxnuke "Not ready" goes without saying (453 comments)

I'm not too worried about aliens being hostile. If they have the technology to get here, they already know about us and we'd already know about them.

Interstellar travel is hard enough that anyone who can do it has had time to solve their problems, including how to get along with others. Our behavior towards our own people alone disqualifies us from going anywhere near equal or less advanced races, hopefully starfaring ethics would prevent them from meddling. Aliens who make open contact are probably up to something shady; aliens who deal secretly with the very worst of humanity (i.e., most governments) are a step worse than that.

And what would "shady" consist of? If they need materials of some kind, maybe because they don't have an asteroid belt, they could mine ours or scoop H3 from Jupiter or water from Saturn's rings without our ever noticing; we have nothing to offer them, so why put up with our gravity and behavior? It's hard to imagine how an interstellar colony would be better than a space habitat in one's own system, given the technology to do either. Taking a (sort of) habitable planet from an industrialized race is even worse: who wants the campsite where someone has (radioactively as well as organically) crapped on the picnic table and taken every scrap of firewood and edible berry?

about 8 months ago

71 Percent of U.S. See Humans On Mars By 2033

paulxnuke Old guy's view of things (266 comments)

I remember the 60's: I believe now that they were the peak of western (if not human) civilization this time around. We have fallen farther as a culture than you young folks can imagine since then, and it was our culture that landed on the moon. Given the will, money and technology can be managed; I see no sign now of the sustained will needed for a Mars trip. The only place to even look nowadays is maybe China, and while they don't have popular elections all the time they're still not stable over the time frame involved.

The one way paradigm lowers the cost and difficulty tremendously, but I doubt any government will go for it and I just don't see a commercial enterprise making the first trip; once their people land (assuming they could still return from Mars orbit), the company is locked into supporting a colony. Given the current legal climate, the astronauts would face more danger from bankruptcies and lawsuits back home than living on Mars.

The fundamental problem is energy. Our civilization may yet fail for lack of it and there is little prospect of that changing. Virtually all fusion research is going into tokamaks, a dead end at best; fossil fuel has unmanageable supply and pollution problems; renewables and fission have serious (at our level) scale problems. We've also have no way to use energy efficiently for space travel: getting people to the surface of Mars with chemical propellants amounts to admitting that we're making a one shot attempt to look at a few rocks and say we did it; putting (enough) nuclear power in orbit is politically impossible, especially for the US.

I fear it is already too late for a moon base; the cost and difficulty of the ISS makes a Lagrange point station look pretty unlikely. An asteroid mission, even a close one, relies on gear we haven't built yet and which changes every election. Unless a major breakthrough happens soon, I'm giving no thought to Mars.

about 2 years ago

A Humanoid Robot Named "Baxter" Could Revive US Manufacturing

paulxnuke Is this about patriotism, ... (414 comments)

or is it just cool to be replaced by a robot instead of a Chinese guy?

Seriously, this will reduce the number of jobs if anything, by the time the few remaining US industries lay off most of their workers and the others move back from Asia and don't hire any.

about 2 years ago

Replacing Windows 8's Missing Start Menu

paulxnuke Who has actually tried Win8 ? (396 comments)

I've been using it (actually Server 2012) at work for a while. To get the Start menu, you hit the Windows key (likewise on bootup to get the real desktop), much simpler than mousing over to the bottom left. There are _zero_ restrictions on installing signed or unsigned shareware off the 'net: how free can you be? Metro does sound like a complete bust, but I'll try it if I ever need to run a Metro app: turning off UAC, which is just as essential as it was on 7 or Vista, also disables the Windows store, BTW.

The new start screen works fine, if you don't see the app you want (and it displays a LOT more choices than the Start menu), just start typing and it works (AFAICT) better than Win7. If you want My Computer, Servers, the Run command, etc, you need to learn a couple of Windows-key shortcuts, that are much faster and nicer than going to ANY menu. I keep a list on my corkboard and people drop by to use and/or copy it.

What's the problem? I've concluded that I actually like Win8 (much better than Apple's Lion, the last version I tried) and would be likely to install it on a new machine. Disclaimer: I am oriented towards learning to use new software as delivered rather than tweaking it. I strongly avoid customizing OS's (i.e., disabling UAC is necessary, changing skins and shortcut keys generally isn't.)

more than 2 years ago

The Panic Over Fukushima

paulxnuke How the military thinks about radiation (536 comments)

Actually, the Navy (I was there.)

Radiation from natural sources is ignored; radiation from Navy reactors and related sources is all important.

Example: a sailor took his TLD home on leave (personal dosimeter, attached to your belt. You don't think about it.) His parents ran a veterinary clinic that had an old fluoroscope. When that TLD was read at the end of the month all hell broke loose, resulting in a new Navywide rule that TLD's be turned in to (and signed for by) the officer signing one out on leave. The main concern was proving that the exposure wasn't from a Navy source; hanging around that clinic might have been... unwise, but wasn't a problem for the Navy.

I was underwater for Chernobyl, and not scheduled to get surface air for a month or so. We were concerned that when we did, we might 'suck in' some radioactivity and set off alarms (yes, they were that sensitive.) If that happened, everyone in the ship would have to wear respirators for an hour or two while we proved it wasn't our reactor, after which we could relax and breathe freely, radioactivity and all. (Nothing happened, but we were standing by.)

Why? Not so much legal liability (though I'm sure that's considered), but the Navy's delicate relationship with the NRC. As one senior officer observed, during any given Christmas week there were at least a dozen reactors floating in the river at Norfolk, tended by a couple of (admittedly highly trained) 20-something high school graduates and one sleepy officer and CPO. No one gave that much thought, but imagine the outcry if someone suggested building a commercial reactor nearby (with much greater oversight and safety features than a submarine) to provide power to the city. The Navy, by virtue of its overachieving training, documentation, and safety programs, not to mention Cold War precedents and institutional secrecy, gets to run its reactors without NRC or much civilian involvement; anything that goes wrong and reaches the press threatens that arrangement, without which the program realistically couldn't exist.

I'm not complaining or trying to blow some kind of whistle, BTW: the program works. I probably averaged less rads underway than on a sailboat; certainly less than on a fossil fuel fired ship. I don't live in Denver but I would, and I don't worry about chest x-rays or long airline flights. I'm glad the Navy took good care of me, but I also understand their reasons.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Finding an IT Job Without a Computer-Oriented Undergraduate Degree?

paulxnuke Getting a foot in the door (504 comments)

Not quite the same thing: my undergrad was physics, and I did non-CS things for a good many years. I got my first dev job on the strength of a 3D package I wrote on my own, and the fact that no other Mac guys could be found (this was quite a while ago.) Now I have no problem getting work, but the first one is the hardest.

The main advantage to a formal CS education: sounding like a CS guy. I don't instinctively know all the types of sorts or their O()'s (I think of it as being upfront about having to look stuff up), the names of patterns (almost never need to), or UML (never needed it yet except for HR.) That sort of thing will keep you out of google, but not out of a job.

Being able to interview is by far the most important thing: you'll eventually get past HR somewhere, and then you have to impress someone who knows what they're talking about. We've hired some awful losers (didn't have the gift!) because they could sell themselves. Pursue contract work: the bar is lower, the pay is much better than the average postdoc, and it looks almost as good on a resume. If you're in the Pacific Northwest, you should have no problems.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: What Would Real Space Combat Look Like?

paulxnuke Two good accounts (892 comments)

The comparison to submarine warfare is apt: it's very much like a very slow and deliberate team video game (a very old school one, though), where the enemy is never real (in the sense of an aerial battle), it's just a number on a computer display or a mark on a sheet of chart paper.

My two entries are:
The Forever War, a mention of the ship's computer playing mathematical games with the enemy's ship's computer (IIRC; at work.)
Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy: the description of a battle between a freighter and a raider is probably going to be very true to life. It' all about intense pressure as the enemy closes to weapons range (nondestructive; they're slavers) and the freighter scrambles to target them with a nice big nuke (they not after plunder.)

more than 2 years ago

Opera Proposes Switching Browser Scrolling For 'Pages'

paulxnuke Bad idea (320 comments)

This "feature" sucks so horrendously in Adobe Reader that I'd drop the whole program if it couldn't be turned off. (disclaimer: I mostly use Foxit and Preview anyway.)

It's somewhat usable for reading on an iPhone: easier than scrolling and trying to keep track of the position, but reading a (sequential) book is very different from reading a webpage where one tends to hop around.

Go for it, guys, but make it very easy to disable completely and permanently.

more than 3 years ago

FBI Plans Nationwide Face-Recognition Trials In 2012

paulxnuke Look, sir,... (102 comments)

it's Guy Fawkes! Again!

more than 3 years ago

Outlining a World Where Software Makers Are Liable For Flaws

paulxnuke Re:You can't trust code ... (508 comments)

Providing the source is a pretty cynical way to escape liability. Who is going to examine the code? The user who just bought it? Maybe if that user is NASA.

How many accountants can check the code in a new spreadsheet program, or pay someone else to do it (and assume they'll do a better job than whoever wrote it in the first place.) Lawyers won't, if the very existence of the source code means they can't sue anyway.

For 99.9% of users those files will be useless, and since there is no requirement for how they're released (copyleft, etc), the Free Software guys won't be happy either.

more than 3 years ago

Outlining a World Where Software Makers Are Liable For Flaws

paulxnuke What a disaster (508 comments)

The net effect is to disallow EULA liability disclaimers rather than allowing customers to ask (and pay) for high reliability if they need it. If no one wants to offer such a feature, does it make sense to force them if it means that a useful product has to be removed from the market?

This will eradicate any small companies that manage to survive the new US patent laws, or force them to open their sources (which is ethically bad by definition.) Even if sources are only provided under NDA as part of a license, it will make the software cost more with no benefit for 99% of users.

more than 3 years ago

Obama To Sign 'America Invents Act of 2011' Today

paulxnuke Re:I don't get "First to File" (244 comments)

You still have to have the invention, you just don't have to be the inventor.

In other words, if someone invents something and can't afford to patent it, but tries to sell it, someone who can afford a patent will grab a copy, patent it, and sue the inventor for infringing his own invention. The patent is invalid of course (prior art), but if the inventor didn't have tens of thousands of dollars to file first he probably doesn't have hundreds of thousands to challenge.

Actually, if the inventor does manage to invalidate the pirate patent I'm not sure if he can refile, so the best possible outcome might be the patent being permanently lost.

But hey, America invents. If they're stupid.

more than 3 years ago


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