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Cuba Calculates Cost of 54yr US Embargo At $1.1 Trillion

redlemming (536 comments)

In neither Norway nor Sweden are the means of production owned by the state

Some people believe these are socialist states. That's a misunderstanding of the term socialism (just as it is grossly misleading to call systems such as the British health care system socialist).

It's more accurate to say these are capitalist states that use some of the surplus resources generated by their capitalism to fund social programs (such as the kinds of things you mentioned in your list). This does not make them socialist.

It's also worth noting that these small states depend in part in capitalism in other states with larger economies, since they can't even come close to funding the kind of research and manufacturing that the bigger states can, which affects all kinds of things (like health care). In a sense, they mooch off the larger capitalist states. If they had to fund everything themselves, they would not be able to provide high quality social services over the long term.

I'd go further and say that is it misleading and dangerous to claim these are socialist states, it simply encourages the true socialists, who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that socialism (as it is classically defined) has been tried many times over the past century and more, and has been a massive failure every time. Encouraging people this deluded is never a good idea.

Alternately, we can think of calling Norway and Sweden "socialist" as falling prey to socialist propaganda.

In fact, not only has socialism been a huge failure, the most successful anti-poverty or welfare program in the history of the human race was the Chinese switch from socialism to capitalism, which brought millions of people out of poverty. Similarly, India (while it still has a long way to go) has seen huge improvements in the standards of living of much of the population since switching from socialism to capitalism.

The right path forward for humanity (in terms of the greatest good) does not involve switching from capitalism to socialism, it involves for each nation figuring out how much of a nation's production can be allocated for the general good, then trying to spend those resources as efficiently as possible. Also, just as Adam Smith noted, some regulation of capitalism is necessary for the greater good.

If a nation takes too much of it's production to spend on social causes, it goes into debt, which is likely to cripple it over the long term (something the USA and Britain are struggling with now, yes I know the USA doesn't spend it's resources well but that is a separate issue).

There are two fundamental issues here that the true socialists do not want to understand, namely 1) that production is very inefficient under their system, and 2) that taking too much of the production of any system to fund social causes cripples the system and hurts everybody (creating a welfare state and/or massive levels of corruption). This is why encouraging socialists is a bad idea. Instead we should be focusing on finding a reasonable level of production of allocate to social causes, and then paying attention to spending that production with a reasonable level of efficiency.

about a week ago

Top EU Court: Libraries Can Digitize Books Without Publishers' Permission

redlemming Re:Legal Deposit (102 comments)

It would nice if this was extended to requiring source code for all software/web pages, and HDL for all hardware/firmware, to be deposited. It is, after all, part of the intellectual record and publishing heritage of the nation.

I suppose this material wouldn't necessarily have to be released to the public right away, to provide a reasonable period of time of protection for trade secrets.

Is anything along those lines being pursued?

about two weeks ago

Cuba Calculates Cost of 54yr US Embargo At $1.1 Trillion

redlemming (536 comments)

This is INDEPENDENT of any other economic axis. You can have capitalist socialist countries, fascist socialist countries, marxist socialist countries, and even free-market socialist countries.

You appear to be using some sort of non-standard definition of socialism and capitalism that you haven't provided. By the standard definitions, the above is not a correct statement, i.e.:

"Socialism is a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy"


"Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit."

where both quotes are taken from Wikipedia.

Social ownership of the means of production is not compatible with private ownership: they are completely opposite things. Further, operating "for profit" of private owners is very different from operating with "co-operative management" for the benefit of society.

The existence of welfare or public aid programs in a state is not socialism. Many states throughout history have had welfare, e.g. the Roman "bread and circuses" and the British "Poor Laws" going back to 1536.

Were you trying to suggest that some sectors of an economy could be run in a socialist manner, while others were run in a capitalist way? Is there any nation that does this?

about two weeks ago

3 Decades Later, Finnair Pilots Report Dramatic Close Encounter With a Missile

redlemming Re:Nice timing (138 comments)

Stalin effectively threw away a mobile warfare doctrine that was arguably as good as Germany's

I'm not really sure "Germany" had a "good" mobile warfare doctrine at the start of the war. Yes, they had a few moderately large mobile formations, and those formations had trained together. However, most of the German army was still on foot, and using animals for transport. Many of the vehicles the Germans did have were captured during the invasion of Czechoslovakia!

Further the German tanks were hugely inferior to the best French models (inferior as in the German shells often bounced off the French armor, a problem the German anti-tank guns also had!). Logistics was another big problem in their doctrine: they made an attempt to plan for this, but the plan didn't survive contact with reality and the mobile units often operated on a shoestring during the battle for France.

The one big thing the Germans did get correct was to emphasize combined arms. As it turned out, this made up for the other deficiencies (especially since their logistics, while severely stressed during the battle for France, turned out to be sufficient given the short length of the campaign and the relatively small amount of time they had to spend in combat).

The Germans had excellent communication systems, allowing better tactical coordination than their opponents could achieve, facilitating combined arms operations. Further, they discovered (probably as a result of frantic improvisation) that they could turn their 88mm anti-aircraft guns into superb tank killers (the high velocity cannon needed to reach high altitude had exactly the characteristics needed to penetrate heavy tank armor).

These factors, plus the skilled use of the Luftwaffe aircraft in an air-ground role (and excellent ground-based mobile anti-aircraft systems that kept up with the other mobile units, providing very effective protection from enemy air), were, IMHO, the keys that gave them tactical superiority over the French and British forces in the key stages of the Battle for France.

An enormously high level of average officer competence (and the impressive willingness of these officers to exercise initiative, quite unlike the stereotype of the rigid Teutonic type) allowed those (relatively few) German units that did have mobile capabilities to move quickly once they made the initial breakthrough. I don't think anybody in Germany ever dreamed that things would go as well as they did!

It would probably be better to say the Germans had a mediocre and flawed mobile warfare doctrine, but what they had was better than what anybody else had! A high level of officer competence allowed them to adapt quickly and effectively to fluid situations, using the equipment and people they had in creative ways to overcome the deficiencies in both their equipment and doctrine.

As for the Soviets, they were extremely active in developing the T-34 tank as a result of the lessons learned in the battles with Japan (where the older tank models revealed some very serious defects). This shows that whatever the fate of particular individuals in the purges, a key element of mobile warfare was being actively pursued with considerable vigor. Similarly, Khalkhyn Gol demonstrated some active Soviet officers (post-purge) were fully capable of understanding the role of logistics and the use of combined arms in mobile warfare (far better than their Japanese opponents!).

about two weeks ago

3 Decades Later, Finnair Pilots Report Dramatic Close Encounter With a Missile

redlemming Re:Nice timing (138 comments)

For one, Stalin's army had suffered severe purges of qualified generals in the 1930s

I have a couple of minor quibbles with this. For one, it wasn't a severe purge:

"At first it was thought 25-50% of Red Army officers were purged, it is now known to be 3.7-7.7%. Previously, the size of the Red Army officer corps was underestimated, and it was overlooked that most of those purged were merely expelled from the Party. Thirty percent of officers purged in 1937-9 were allowed to return to service." Stephen Lee, European Dictatorships 1918-1945, page 56, quoted via Wikipedia.

It has been argued that many of those purged were incompetent or overly ambitious, with Stalin using the purges to remove potential troublemakers. It's unclear these were particularly qualified folks, either. Few senior military people are, in any army - most are "politicians in uniform" who often do far more harm than good to the causes they serve.

Further, that so many were allowed to return to service suggests that some sort of competence filtering was going on.

Note also that the invasion of Finland started on 30 November 1939, AFTER the 1938-1938 Battles of Khalkhin Gol and the Battle of Lake Khasan, during which the Soviets thoroughly defeated the Japanese after some initial setbacks. As the Soviets were the only major power that would be able to beat the Japanese for some time, it follows that they had qualified leaders who could be very effective when given the freedom to do their jobs.

It seems to me that the direct impact of the purges is not a strong factor in explaining the initial disasters that followed the decision to invade Finland (or, for that matter, the disasters that followed the later German invasion of the Soviet Union). The Soviet system (and paranoid leadership) was more at fault. Competent people were not involved in the planning and initial execution of the operation, even though they were available.

Your points are otherwise well taken.

about two weeks ago

3 Recent Flights Make Unscheduled Landings, After Disputes Over Knee Room

redlemming Re:Anthropometrics (819 comments)

The reason for european economy flights being comfyer is that we have true competition in Europe, with several dozen companies, as opposed to the US where you have only 3!

The USA badly needs laws limiting the size of corporations that do business in the USA. No corporation should be larger than the medium sized town, implying a limit of 10k or perhaps at most 20k employees! All the major US airlines are way over either limit.

Further, no business should ever be allowed to buy, or merge with, a competitor.

Allowing corporations to become overly large creates huge bureaucracies (which, in itself, results in all kinds of negative consequences for the employees and the larger society), and inevitably results in executives that are badly out of touch with the workers (causing all kinds of problems for the workers, and - indirectly - causing more problems for society). Further, this is just simple sanity from the perspective of legal and governmental ethics: large corporations simply have too much ability to buy the legal profession and the government.

Given that the right to legal and governmental ethics is certainly a right "retained by the people" under the 9th Amendment of the US Bill of Rights, the current policies of allowing effectively unlimited business size should even be considered illegal.

While there is some merit to the concept that economies of scale matter, this needs to be balanced against the overall good of society. Even Adam Smith was well aware of the dangers of unregulated capitalism.

about two weeks ago

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 a month 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 a month 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 a month and a half 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 and a half 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 2 months 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 2 months 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 4 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 5 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 5 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


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