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Kevlar Protects Cables From Sharks, Experts Look For Protection From Shark Week

redlemming Where is the biology research? (103 comments)

How much do we spend on armouring cables, and is this the right solution to the problem?

For the short term, we might need to armour the cables, but it seems like a better long term approach would have to follow from research that lets us better understand the electrosensory mechanisms that sharks (like skates and rays) use to sense prey.

This could help us understand why the sharks mistake cables for prey, with the goal of possibly being able to change the design of the cables and/or the signalling to reduce the likelihood of shark attack.

We have a very simple and crude understanding of the electro-sensory systems of these creatures, but the current research (as of the last last time I looked at it) is lacking in the kinds of details engineers would need to design systems.

There is so much to learn about the sensory and nervous systems of animals, and much of this research will eventually benefit humans. This seems like a great opportunity for a long term research project that will be beneficial to society and, as a bonus, a project that won't automatically have the enviro- and animal-rights fanatics up in arms ...

about two weeks ago

About Half of Kids' Learning Ability Is In Their DNA

redlemming Re:Two questions (227 comments)

What is meant with "skill at reading"?

It's not easy to find. You'll find a rather vague overview in the "methods" section. There is considerably more detail in the pdf files in in the "supplementary information". In particular, they seem to be applying measures as follows:

1. the "Peabody Individual Achievement Test", and the "Goal Formal Assessment in Literacy for Stage 3" for reading comprehension,
2. the "Woodcock-Johnson III Reading Fluency Test", and the "Test of Word Reading Efficiency (Form B)" for reading fluency
3. the mathematics test comes from a different paper (reference 6), but largely seems to be about really basic stuff

I suspect if one looked closely at these tests, there would be considerable grounds for questioning how well they really measure the "children's ability in reading and mathematics" (as you mention). There is so much involved in both subject areas, after all, and thus coming up with a really good measure for "ability" is quite difficult (and not all the differences are necessarily going to appear at the high end). Also, are we measuring the ability to take the test, or real ability? Further, there may be effects across a culture or nation that contaminate the results. This kind of testing (I'm not prepared to call it "measurement" at this point) is always somewhat problematic.

Another consideration worthy of note is that the mathematics in a lot of social science research has gotten really complex in the past few decades (a point that might surprise many Slashdot folks, who traditionally tend to look down upon the social sciences). This makes it very difficult for someone that is not a subject matter expert to assess the results of a study like this without investing considerable time and thought into the details. Subject matter experts will often have their own biases and preconceptions, of course.

Often the mathematics used in modern social science relies on some very tricky assumptions, and it can take a major effort to think through whether or not the use of a given statistic in the particular circumstances that apply is actually reasonable (something the researchers don't bother to spend much time discussing).

The claim is made that the twins are representative of the general population ("the sample remains representative of the UK population"), but I always tend to be a little bit suspicious of such claims. Note also their statement: "We also excluded twins whose zygosity was unknown or uncertain, whose first language was other than English, and included only twins whose parents reported their ethnicity as 'white', which is 93% of this UK sample.".

about three weeks ago

Microsoft Tip Leads To Child Porn Arrest In Pennsylvania

redlemming Re:Why wouldn't you think they are scanning? (353 comments)

My significant other deals with teenagers all the time in schools, and it's amazing how many of them get irate when parents/teachers/police start to question them about stuff they posted on Facebook... Their typical response is, "that's my private Facebook page!"

It's not only teens that can have an expectation of privacy in public places. Most human beings do. For example, everybody "uses the facilities" that nature provides when hiking on public lands, which are, by definition, public.

There can also be an expectation of privacy in a crowd, simply through anonymity, particularly when there is no obvious surveillance equipment in use. Is that not what we ultimately rely on when posting to Slashdot, even as AC?

Perhaps the problem here does not involve unreasonable expectations with respect to privacy, but rather unreasonable standards of when privacy can be violated.

about three weeks ago

Psychology's Replication Battle

redlemming Re:You cannot replicate everything (172 comments)

Occam's Razor is merely a pithy statement of the principle of parsimony. It is not a law in any sense, and it "rules out" nothing. It merely suggests that the simpler explanation is more likely to be correct.

Indeed, Occam's Razor is a principle of philosophy, not of science.

When we look at physics, certainly the most rigorous of the sciences, we find that the simpler explanation is often shown to be incorrect over the long term. No "simple" explanation of "how things move", for example, would have come up with quantum mechanics, or relativity, or chaos theory.

This suggests that Occam's Razor is largely worthless as an intellectual tool.

about a month ago

How Gygax Lost Control of TSR and D&D

redlemming Re:Dangerous Journeys (183 comments)

How do you define really good? It seems to me that most paper-and-pencil RPG players today fall into two groups:

1. Those who massively emphasize role-playing over gaming (they like to call themselves "story gamers" in my area), and
2. Those who really enjoy the gaming aspects, but like to mix some role-playing in.

There is a third group, who want all gaming and no role-playing, but these folks tend to occupy themselves primarily with computer games, or with tabletop games like Descent, both of which arguably have no real role-playing. So these people aren't really "RPG players".

Whether or not people will like DJ and consider it good will likely depend upon which of these groups they fall into. It has moderately complex rules. People in group [2] tend to like this, because this provides the foundation needed for creative tactical play: mastery of the rules in this setting is an asset.

People in group [1] tend to prefer games with less in the way of rules. Instead of being a tool that provides a foundation for creativity, the rules are often seen as an obstacle by these folks. Mastery of the rules for this group is often characterized as rules-lawyering.

Much of the criticism of DND 3.0/3.5 and Pathfinder comes from people in group [1], because these games have rich rule sets. These critics would not enjoy DJ for the same reason. Many of the folks making negative comments regarding Gygax in the current discussion probably also come from this group, because his work certainly fell into group [2].

The other aspect to consider is that DJ was killed, possibly as a result of abuse of the legal system (that seems to happen a lot in the USA), long before it had a chance to develop its full potential. There is only one campaign setting, and very little in the way of canned adventures.

For a RPG group to be successful requires far more in the way of good chemistry, a reasonable degree of maturity, shared interests, and an experienced GM, than the use of any particular rules system. From this perspective, the differences from one system to another are pretty insignificant. If a group has these things, one can easily have a good experience with DJ. Certainly there is some real creativity in the system.

about a month ago

For Half, Degrees In Computing, Math, Or Stats Lead To Other Jobs

redlemming Re:Incomplete data (174 comments)

Computer Science is ultimately a branch of mathematics. That much should be obvious to anyone that's been through a decent University program.

Computer Science is not a branch of mathematics. Mathematics is done in a fantasy world. One creates a fantasy world when one creates axioms, and then proceeds to develop lemmas and proofs using those axioms and agreed upon rules of logic. There are no straight lines, or points, or even line segments (as defined in geometry) in the real world.

All science is different from mathematics in that it is based on real world experiments and measurement (in the case of computer science, the experiments are done on or involving a computer). Mathematics in science is merely a tool, not the end. That much should be obvious to anyone that's been through a decent University program in any science, but the many mathematicians teaching in computer science departments sometimes fail to discuss this issue ...

For example, consider the following: the mathematician mistakenly believes we can't determine, in general, whether or not a program will halt, and will teach a theorem stating this as a significant result. The computer scientist, on the other hand, understands that all programs will eventually halt, as a result of thermodynamics. There are no infinite loops: entropy (a quantity based upon experiment and measurement) will increase in the system until the computing device eventually fails. Mathematical results such as Turing's Halting Theorem can exist only in a fantasy world that disallows thermodynamics, and thus are trivial to the scientist.

In modern processors, we expect mechanisms like diffusion or hot electron ejection or traps to eventually degrade the cpu's silicon-based structure, destroying the devices and hence causing any program running on it fail. Future systems will have their own limitations appropriate to the technology.

The engineer, of course, understands that the "in general" aspect of the Halting Theorem is far too general to be useful, even if the rest of the Theorem had validity. The engineer is concerned with building a specific system, not with a system "in general" as the mathematician defines such things ...

about a month ago

Massachusetts SWAT Teams Claim They're Private Corporations, Immune To Oversight

redlemming The argument is irrelevant (534 comments)

The argument being made is irrelevant.

It is easy to show that a right to public oversight over private entities arises under the 9th Amendment as a right "retained by the people". We show this using a technique known since Euclid, namely proof by contradiction.

Assume that no such right exists. Then it follows that the government may infringe any right by appropriate delegation to third party entities. From this, it follows that no rights exists. But the Bill of Rights, the highest law in the land (superior even to the pre-Bill of Rights Constitution, as the history clearly shows) provides both for explicit rights and unstated rights. Hence we have a contradiction, and the assumption is shown to be invalid.

Government may not hide behind 3rd party entities, nor may it hide behind private property. As a corollary, it follows that the Bill of Rights can and often does limit the actions of private entities.

Law such as contract law and property law is only valid to the extant that it does not violate fundamental rights, including any rights arising under the 9th Amendment (rights retained by the people) or the 10th Amendment (rights reserved to the people) that are not explicitly stated in the law.

Thus, in this case, an argument based on contract law is irrelevant. If the request for information was appropriate, and if the refusal to provide information was made by a legal professional, sworn to uphold the Bill of Rights, while engaged in the practice of law, it follows that person is in violation of that oath.

All rights have limits, of course. In most situations, the only oversight that is required is of the long-term variety. In the case of government, long term oversight allows police, military, and espionage operations to be carried out with some degree of secrecy when appropriate. For instance, the identities of undercover agents may be concealed under many circumstances, for a reasonable period of time. In the case of private entities, long term oversight allows trade secrets to be kept for a reasonable period of time.

The people have the final authority to decide what is appropriate. That is inherent in the nature of rights retained to the people.

In practice, getting the legal profession to recognize the authority of the 9th and 10th Amendments seems difficult (aside from a few well known exceptions such as Roe vs Wade). This problem can primarily be ascribed to ethical conflicts on interest that arise on the part of the legal profession with respect to this issue. That last point that has been made numerous times on Slashdot during prior discussions, in the context of discussions on copyright law, patent law, contract law, and property law, so I won't belabour the point here.

Law is far too important to trust to the legal profession.

about 2 months ago

Age Discrimination In the Tech Industry

redlemming Re:Same old same old (370 comments)

I remember reading about this problem 30 years ago when I was a young programmer.

It seems like what might be needed here is some judicious regulation, so that the situation will be different 30 years from now. It seems fairly straight-forward:

Age and date of birth should not be part of an employment application for those who are legally adults, nor should they be allowed in a job interview. No company database should have this information. Managers should be taught that it is unethical and inappropriate to ask people their age or date of birth. There can be no mandatory retirement ages, but regular tests of physical ability may be appropriate in certain jobs.

More generally, commercial and government databases should not have age or date of birth, except under extremely limited circumstances (and with extremely limited access). The age of individuals does not, in general, and should not need to be made available by government to the public (for example, in freedom of information requests or police reports). Identification cards may have codes to indicate whether one is legally an adult and/or eligible for certain privileges (such as buying alcohol), but shall not have age or date of birth.

We can go further. There is no need even for most doctor's offices or hospitals to identify patients on this basis. Even in medicine, this information should be available on a need to know basis only (such as when it is actually relevant to a diagnosis in the eyes of a reasonable person).

The challenge here is getting society to recognize that age based discrimination is wrong, so that lawmakers have an incentive to do something about it. Then the next challenge is to make sure that whatever they do does not create more problems than it solves.

about 2 months ago

Workplace Surveillance Becoming More Common

redlemming Re:I was fired when I discovered the CEO's monitor (195 comments)

No. We're a "work at will" state, so they can fire anyone for any reason at any time.

This kind of thing is why James Madison added the 9th Amendment to the Bill of Rights, and didn't restrict it to just limiting Congress (unlike, for example, the 1st Amendment).

The 9th Amendment is there to provide a mechanism to allow people to assert rights against state and local governments as well as against the federal government, and to have those rights supersede the state and local law. In joining the union, the states are bound by this, and local governments come along with state government.

Madison knew from his own legal experience that state governments would attempt to violate fundamental rights. He went to bat for the Methodists against the state of Virginia attempting -- in violation of its own Bill of Rights -- to force them to pay to support the Anglican church. He won (and this victory would later pave the way to getting him elected to Congress in the predominantly Methodist districts his home was located near, in spite of massive gerrymandering by senior Virginia state officials intended to keep him out of Congress).

In this case, one could assert a right to not, in general, be spied upon by one's employer. Such a right respects basic human dignity, and thus can be considered a fundamental right. It is part of the right to privacy.

In some circumstances, infringement of this right could be justified (all rights have limits), but the circumstances under which this could be done would have to be carefully worked out (not just with respect to when surveillance could happen, but what could be done with the data). If private entities can arbitrarily violate fundamental rights, then they can become a tool for government to violate fundamental rights, and thus the protection of these rights against government necessarily involves limiting many private entities as well.

Here, as is so often the case, the challenge in fighting this kind of thing is not in defining right and wrong (the company was clearly in the wrong, if the facts described are correct), but in getting the legal profession to remember that they swore oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights, and act appropriately.

about 2 months ago

Are the Glory Days of Analog Engineering Over?

redlemming Re:The world... (236 comments)

Digital is generally much more complicated than analog design...Also, most analog stuff can simply be found in cookbooks.

Stuff found in cookbooks is about the only analog the average digital designer can handle (without years of retraining and practical experience), so perhaps that's the only analog stuff you've been exposed to.

I suspect you're assuming that device count measures complexity. It doesn't.

Many people have experience using computers to solve relatively simple mathematics problems. Very few people have experience getting computers to solve really hard math problems, such as those found in analog design.

I suspect this lack of familiarity causes many people, like you, to massively underestimate the difficulty of this task. I'll take a moment to try to educate you:

Modern analog design uses many tools that are completely different tools from the tools used in digital design. It takes years of experience to learn to run those tools efficiently and effectively. The tools often produce no answer at all, or even incorrect answers. It takes considerable patience, plus a deep understanding of the underlying physics and mathematics (not just differential equations, but also nonlinear modeling and numerical methods), combined with enormous amounts of time on the tools, to allow one to eventually get a realistic answer.

Here I used "realistic" meaning the tools are predicting how the real system will work when it is fabricated, with a reasonable level of accuracy. There is no "formal verification" for analog!

Even with a highly experienced team, there will often be issues when the real hardware is fabricated. The models provided by a foundry will probably not be sufficient to correctly predict some aspects of a typical design. Needing multiple spins of a design is common, and completing a single design is typically a multi-year process.

When I say "eventually" above, I'm being literal! Simulation times for analog designs can be quite long, even with the assistance of modern computing grids. The amounts of data generated can be quite large (it's not unheard of for a single designer to fill an 8TB RAID), and managing simulations (both time and space) can be a challenge in itself.

In addition to solving the design problem once, the analog designer must make sure the solution continues to work across corners such as process and temperature. Analog designers spend a lot of time thinking about this, and it greatly complicates their designs (reducing degrees of freedom, and sometimes making it impossible to meet a spec the customer wants). Many digital designers these days don't even think about these issues. In a modern digital design group that's usually the concern of a specialized digital back-end team (or this task may be farmed out to a third party).

Fortunately, much of the computing time for this part of the process (simulating across corners) can benefit from the parallelism provided by a computing grid.

While we're on the subject of back-end, in general analog back-end can't be automated the way digital back-end is. Most layout is still done largely by hand. Computer tools are used to help the process as much as possible, but a human brain is usually deciding where to place every single rectangle.

Further, the ideas and concepts the analog designer works with are often quite different from what the digital designer needs to know. Both the mathematics and the physics are quite different. Digital designers get a shallow exposure to this material in school, but they don't live in that world every single day, and as a result, most will never have any real skill at it (as measured by industry standards, not by academic grades).

Then there's the related issues of verifying an analog design before production, and measuring the design once the chip is produced. Each of these poses many challenges of its own, most of which will be unfamiliar to the digital designer. The test equipment needed (or the way in which the equipment is used), the test fixtures one must build, and the ideas one must master are very different from what one needs to know to do digital test. Even the packaging can be difficult, as many designs will require a custom package, which requires a specialized analog design process in itself!

Taking all this into account, an analog portion of a chip with a few hundred transistors can EASILY be VASTLY more complicated than a digital design with hundreds of thousands of devices. It can easily require a larger time, cost a lot more, take a lot longer, and involve far more risk.

Though there is some overlap between the two worlds, analog requires a different mindset and different skills. Very few digital designers can do it (or would want to do it), and vice-versa.

about 3 months ago

Perl 5.20 Released, and Mojolicious 5.0: the Very Modern Perl Web Framework

redlemming Re:We banned Perl (126 comments)

I don't ascribe the bad code to the language, but to the bad developers.

Unfortunately, Perl limits even good developers.

The major problem I have with Perl is not its sometimes ugly syntax, but rather its limited mechanisms for enforcing code correctness at compile time. This means that many types of error can't be found until one runs a program. This in turn means one runs up against the classic combinatoric explosion problem associated with run time testing. Given that even the best developers have bad days, this can be a big problem.

Perl is a lot like Visual Basic, or spreadsheet languages, in this sense.

Languages such as Java, C#, C++, Ada, VHDL, SystemVerilog, and many others all provide a much stronger level of support for checking things at compile time. This can even be done to some extent in a really old language like C, with tools such as the mainstream lint tool, and the many lint extensions that are available or which can be readily written.

As a bonus, many of these mechanisms to exist to support compile time checking of code make reading other people's code easier (and with modern development tools, they also make modifying that code to help understand it easier).

With Perl, "use strict" gives you a little bit of this, but it really doesn't compare to what is possible in other languages. Even modern Perl extensions such as Moose are pretty limited in comparison to what can be done in other languages. In the final analysis making smart compilers and other tools for code checking depends on the type system the language implements, and Perl falls short.

I don't think Larry Wall understood this (if he had done his research, he would have, since Ada had been around for several years when Perl was created, and even then -- 1987 -- these issues were well understood), and I don't think most Perl programmers understand it either to this day.

Perl also has the problem that it's difficult to parse, so a coding team has to have pretty strict standards regarding language use if it's going to be developing code checking tools. Hence, the "there's more than one way to do it" concept in the design of the language actually creates a serious problem for users of the language, because it complicates the problem of parsing the language (and there's no built-in parser that can readily be customized for use in writing a code checking tool).

It would have been better to have strong type checking be the default, with a more limited syntax, then let the user relax the strictness when desired (sort of like using Java and Groovy together, getting the benefits of a scripting language when appropriate, but also getting the benefits of a well thought out language).

As a result of this issue, I prefer not to use Perl for anything more than 5-10 pages in length. In such a short program, it's not that bad to review the code, fully understand it, and test it. Within those limits, it's a useful tool.

about 3 months ago

An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

redlemming Re:I started with a Humanities Degree (264 comments)

One point I was trying to make is that you are using the word "artifact" in a manner that even most scientists and engineers -- and we're not the worlds most semantically aware people -- will not recognize as valid. Certainly some justification is required if you want to go off the beaten path. You might, for example, attempt to find something in the OED that you can cite as justifying your definition. Or you could find a well known piece of writing that uses the word in this manner.

Another point is that you haven't explicitly showed your definition to be valid to all arts. This is like giving the solution to a PDE without showing how you got it.

Another point: Maxwell's equations are concise (at least in their modern form, they certainly weren't concise in the 19th century), but it still takes entire books to explain them and show how to apply them to hard problems. Even then, students have to spend lots of time trying to use them, fail, then learn from their mistakes to really understand them. The typical undergraduate class in EM doesn't even begin to let people solve the kinds of problems that students in a graduate class learn how to solve.

Conciseness is nice, but it is not an end in itself.

You will find very no papers in STEM journals that are two sentences, even if the key ideas could be summarized in a few sentences for an audience with the right (usually highly specialized even within STEM) background.

Conciseness, to be useful, always requires support, typically in the form of lots of non-concise text, and often in the form of many hours of effort learning the implications of a concise formulation.

about 4 months ago

An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

redlemming Re:I started with a Humanities Degree (264 comments)

1. It must be an Artifact, literally "made with hands"

Is a dance an artifact? Do you intend your definition to exclude dance from the arts?

What about stage acting? There is certainly art involved in that. Where is the artifact there?

What about the martial arts? Is a martial artist somehow involved in creating an artifact while pursuing/studying/practing that art?

Your definition would be better if you changed "Artifact" to "Artifact or Performance", since none of the usual definitions of "Artifact" can easily be considered to include performance art.

Even then, it's not clear how we fit the martial arts in.

about 3 months ago

Intuit, Maker of Turbotax, Lobbies Against Simplified Tax Filings

redlemming Re:We' never see tax code simplification (423 comments)

This is why I don't think we'll ever see tax code simplification: there are too many people making too much money with the existing overly complex system.

This is not just a problem with the tax system, it's a problem with the US legal system in general (and not just at the federal level).

The legal profession, as a class in society, is in a position of ethical conflict of interest with respect to the complexity of the legal system.

Most legislators are legal professionals. Large numbers of legislative staff members are also legal professionals. The prosecutors that decide what aspects of the legal system to enforce are legal professionals. Most judges are legal professionals. In short, we have huge numbers of people with a vested interest in having a complex legal system.

As a result of this ethical conflict of interest, the US legal system is an unmitigated disaster.

Note that the mess we're currently in isn't the result of conspiracy. There aren't any secret meetings in the dead of night. It's just the result of individual decision making over many decades by a lot of unprincipled, self-centred, and short-sighted people. If anything, it might be that the best way to look at this is in terms of entropy in the system.

The only difference between the ethics problems in tax law and, say, Constitutional Law, or Contract Law, or Copyright law, or Patent law is the makeup of the specific groups with their hands in the pie. For tax law, it's the legal profession, the accounting profession and certain companies, plus those wealthy entities in society that need a complex tax system to hide loopholes in.

The right to ethical practice of law and ethical government is certainly a right retained by the people (9th Amendment). Even the appearance of conflict of interest must be avoided whenever possible.

It follows that a) the current tax law is unconstitutional, and b) any legislators that accept lobbying funds in return for preserving the current system are in violation of their oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights (oaths which happen to be preconditions for holding any position of public trust or responsibility).

Further, any legal professionals involved in a lobbying effort to preserve this unethical system are in turn in violation of their oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights (which happen to be preconditions for being licensed to engage in the practice of law).

Rights retained by the people being retained by the people, any precedents to the contrary are null and void. Putting that in other words, if the legal profession could decide it didn't have to be ethical, or any group make up of legal professionals could decide this, there wouldn't be any rights retained by the people - a contradiction.

about 5 months ago

Carpenter Who Cut Off His Fingers Makes "Robohand" With 3-D Printer

redlemming Re:Good for him (91 comments)

Yep, and unfortunately it seems to be patented to the hilt so anyone who can't afford one will just have to risk losing a few fingers until other manufacturers are allowed to do their own versions.

Presumably, few patent lawyers use power tools, so as a group they have no incentive to do anything about a patent system that -- by limiting access to safety technology -- contributes to people getting crippled for life in the workplace (or at home).

In ethics terms, the problem here has a name: "conflict of interest".

There is a conflict between coming up with a sensible patent system that works to the benefit of humanity (or deciding to have no patent system), and coming up with a system that makes lots of money for patent attorneys.

Every legal professional working in the area of patent law has the choice to speak up about this ethics issue (which is just one of many affecting the patent system), or simply say nothing and -- presumably -- make lots of money. Silence, apparently, is golden.

Even if we suppose that -- someday -- one of the children of one of these lawyers gets badly hurt using a power tool, that still won't be sufficient to fix the patent system. That single individual is likely to change their attitude regarding the ethics and morality of the patent system, certainly. But one lawyer recognizing that a problem exists can do nothing when the majority is corrupt.

about 5 months ago

Navy Creates Fuel From Seawater

redlemming Re:They do. (256 comments)

At sea refueling is trivially easy, all you need is a ship that can carry a lot of fuel, a pump, and a hose.

If you study the history of naval operations in the 20th Century, you'll find that navy vessels have had to operate under a wide variety of weather conditions. You can find lots of descriptions of warships experiencing brutal conditions, and some great pictures.

Becoming a bit more informed about the reality of naval operations may cause you to rethink your ideas concerning the difficulty of seemingly simple tasks.

For example, it is impossible to look at some of the awe-inspiring pictures of the icebound ships involved in the Arctic convoys to Russia during WW2, and continue to keep the mental impression that on-deck or ship-to-ship operations are always going to be "trivially easy".

Suppose we ignore the complicated issues of getting the fuel to the right location on earth at the right time, during wartime.

At sea refuelling is still a dangerous and tricky operation.

A certain amount of risk is inherent to moving flammable material from one moving object with lots of metal parts (and high voltage electrical machinery) to a nearby moving object, both subject to wind and wave action. Sea and wind conditions can easily be such that merely going on deck is extremely dangerous.

A high level of skill and professionalism on the part of Navy crews is required to make this difficult operation look easy and be somewhat routine.

Even with all this experience, there will be times when it simply isn't practical to transfer fuel. Further, people still get injured doing this (for example, four sailors were injured 16 Oct 2012 aboard the Harry S. Truman during exactly such a transfer, when a line parted).

Look up "underway replenishment" for more detail on the issues that can complicate the process.

about 5 months ago

EU Should Switch To ODF Standard, Says MEP

redlemming Re:Innovation? (111 comments)

I read the article, but it escapes me how switching document formats "would allow real innovation, and real procurement." ... But claims it would help innovation, procurement, or even cost savings are suspect at best.

Many businesses (and other organizations) have data created using Office that they need to get into some external application. Often these businesses have processes that they've been using for many years, and have a huge investment in, but which result in data that is not well suited for import into third party tools. Even when a custom data-entry application could be developed, users will often prefer to do their data entry in a familiar tool, so the process of putting data into Office documents is ongoing.

As a result, I've been asked over the years to write many mini-applications that work with data stored in Visio, Excel, or Word. A typical application will have to read data, check it, sometimes post-process it with one or more filters, and than finally convert the data into a form suitable for use in some other tool.

The innovation occurs in the development of these applications.

Sometimes I use Visual Basic, sometimes C#. Sometimes one can work directly with the document files created by Office using third party tools, but in other cases the Automation interfaces are the only reasonable choice.

Often, Microsoft's documentation is pretty awful, and the development process for these applications is heavily bottom-up: you have to do a lot of experiments to figure out what is possible.

Working directly with data files is much easier when the target for the data is piece of software running on a Linux system. Otherwise, you have to jump through some hoops to get the data from Windows to Linux. Sometimes it's as simple as saving to a shared filesystem, but for other applications you need a client-server setup.

Thus, there are two barriers to application development: 1. The documentation, and 2. The need to (sometimes) run at least part of the application on Windows.

Remove these barriers leaves more time for being creative in developing any particular application, since one doesn't have to spend as much time jumping through hoops. This is where open formats have potential for increasing innovation.

about 5 months ago

It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

redlemming Re:Pseudo-science in the Survey! (470 comments)

It also only works if there isn't pseudo-science in the survey.

Unfortunately, many people are very credulous when it comes to interpreting survey results.

It is worth while remembering that a survey is (at best) a form of social science measure, and that measurement in social science is a much harder problem than measurement in physical science. Any idiot can create a survey, and many do. It takes years of very difficult and time consuming work by professional social scientists to validate a survey as a measurement tool, if it is possible to do at all. A survey does not become a legitimate measurement tool simply because it has been around for a long time.

Many physical scientists are quite naive, even arrogant, in assuming that their physical science training qualifies them to understand the difficulties of measurement in social science. We might also note that many physical scientists forget how many centuries it took to develop reliable measurement in their disciplines.

The problem with not understanding the difficulty of social science measurement is not just limited to physical scientists, it affects the press, policy makers, legislators, legal professionals, and the public.

Even in social science, it appears to me that the need to get publications (publish or perish!) often interferes with making effective assessments of measurement techniques.

In a number of current debates (such as the scientific literacy debate, the health care debate, and the gun control debate) I see few people asking serious questions regarding whether or not we are measuring what we think we are measuring, or whether there is any validity to the measurements being made. Since science is based on measurement, many of the conclusions people draw regarding these issues are effectively logical structures built on quicksand.

We really need to add to the list of classic blunders:

1. Never start a land war in Asia.
2. Never assume correlation implies causation.
3. Never assume a survey is telling you what the authors or users claim it is telling you.
4. Never assume that what you think you are measuring is what you are actually measuring.
5. Never assume the true cost of something is what you are told it is.
6. Never assume accuracy and precision are the same thing.

If anything, we should be bringing more social science training into the high school classroom. "Think for yourself and question authority" should apply to questioning all social science measurements.

about 5 months ago

U.S. Court: Chinese Search Engine's Censorship Is 'Free Speech'

redlemming Re:Congratulations! (284 comments)

Private individuals, or corporations, are not bound by the constitution, only the government is. If we were to bound private individuals it would run counter to everything they stood for.

This is way over-stated. Enormously powerful companies such as the East India Company had been in existence for over 150 years by 1776. Some of the Founding Fathers were certainly well aware of the power such corporations could wield, and nothing explicit was written into the Bill of Rights that limited the assertion of rights against corporate entities.

There are several considerations you will want to think about:

1. First we have the issue of third party entities being used as agents of the government to infringe fundamental rights. If the Bill of Rights can not be asserted against these entities, then it might as well not exist: government can infringe any right simply by delegating to a third party.
2. Second, one can reasonably assert all manner of rights under the 9th Amendment as being retained by the people, or the 10th Amendment ("reserved to the people"). If such rights can be taken away by third party entities, they are no longer retained -- a contradiction.
3. Third, we have the issue that many rights enjoyed by private entities actually flow from authority granted by government. The various rights associated with private property, for example, flow from property law, and since property law is part of state law, it is in turn limited by the Bill of Rights. Similar assertions can be made for the many laws governing commercial or business entities and transactions.

It is entirely appropriate to limit what can be done by private entities with respect to property they own, or with respect to contracts they create, as a consequence of this point.

For example, the current practice of fencing off (or posting) much off America (I suspect this has been happening as a result of people being afraid of lawsuits) can be viewed as a massive infringement of the 9th Amendment right to travel. Fencing off a small area around a private home makes sense, as an exercise of the 9th Amendment right to privacy, but should we allow private entities to fence off large tracks of land that isn't even in use?

None of these exceptions are applicable to the current situation. If people want to use a search engine known to do censorship, that's ok.

about 5 months ago

U.S. Court: Chinese Search Engine's Censorship Is 'Free Speech'

redlemming Re:The Founding Fathers are crying.. (284 comments)

When the founding fathers wrote this, they intended to for the states to be able to pass laws restricting freedom of speech and religion.

It is always dangerous to refer to the "founding fathers" collectively, since they had many disagreements.

You can get a better idea what Madison intended by looking at his draft:

"The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any matter, or on any pretext, infringed."

"The people shall not be deprived of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments, and the freedom of the press, as one the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable".

"No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases".

The explicit reference to limiting State power surprises many who mistakenly believe that the Bill of Rights was intended only to limit the power of the federal government. Certainly Madison was aware of the danger of abuse of state government authority. Richard Labunski, in his book on Madison, has asserted that this was Madison's favorite amendment.

By the end of the ratification process for the Bill of Rights, Madison's text was substantially rewritten. We could reasonably suppose that much of what he wrote was already implicit in the 9th Amendment, and thus did not need to be made explicit.

The "official" 1st Amendment does in fact only apply to Congress under the "official" Bill of Rights (but since it is the only Amendment so explicitly limited, a reasonable person would infer the others apply to state and local government as well).

Hence, the slave states could in fact pass laws authorizing people speaking out against slavery to be put in prison, or have laws specific to particular religions (in some cases, this was prohibited by the state-level governing documents). In a sense, there is a loophole in the 1st Amendment.

It can be argued that a number of aspects of state law, such as libel laws, and laws authorizing coerced testimony in the courtroom, are only allowed to exist as a result of this decision to limit the 1st Amendment restriction to Congress. But nobody pays attention to this (which has interesting implications for the ethical practice of law).

The 14th Amendment is supposed to close this loophole, which in turn has interesting implications for all those things done when the loophole existed.

Madison's writing on "full and equal rights of conscience" seems particularly applicable to the issues of today when one considers some of the current controversy regarding so-called "whistle-blowers"...

about 5 months ago


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