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Damian Conway On Perl 6 and the Philosophy of Programming

rjh A story about Damian... (132 comments)

At OSCON 2006 I was sitting in one of the green rooms (the spaces set aside for speakers before presentations). My laptop was open and I was happily hacking away on a project. As I killed a bug and checked the code back in, I muttered under my breath, "Python, I love you. You make the hard stuff so easy."

I noticed a few seconds later the room had gone utterly silent. I looked up, and sitting at the table across from me was Damian Conway, tapping away on his own laptop doing his own thing. I blinked a couple of times and suddenly noticed the entire room was expecting a Perl-vs-Python argument to erupt.

Damian looked up from his work, noticed everyone was looking nervous. He looked over at me, I gave a "I don't know what's up with them, uh, help?" look and a shrug.

Damian then looked back at the crowd and grinned. "Listen, the only thing I love more than Perl is well-written software, even if it's written in Python." He looked back over to me. "Kill a bug, didja?" I nodded. He gave me a smile and a thumbs-up, then returned to his code. I returned to mine, and after a few seconds the room let out his breath.

I love Python. But the only thing I love more than Python is well-written software, even if it's written in Perl. :)

about 2 months ago
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Reason Suggests DoJ Closing Porn Stars' Bank Accounts

rjh Re:Communist revolution is needed (548 comments)

here on Slashdot we frequently have people (the "2nd amendments folks") allude to using their guns to overthrow the US government by force (which is obviously a totalitarian strategy) and also threatening to arbitrarily kill people for various perceived offences without a proper trial

Hi! As a card-carrying NRA member, I'm one of those "Second Amendment folks" you're talking about here. A couple of points:

  1. It's "the Second Amendment," not "the Second Amendments." There's only one Second Amendment.

  2. Overthrowing the government by force is the right of the people, yes. It's also unbelievably stupid in the overwhelming majority of cases. Civil war is horrific and something best avoided. The Framers did intend the armed populace to be a bulwark against governmental infringements on liberty, yes, but mostly by means of making the government afraid to violently oppress the people for fear of the armed resistance they would face.

    In this, the Framers have been overwhelmingly successful: where in past eras a government would've just bludgeoned people into believing the law was what they said it was, nowadays our politicians have learned to couch things in terms of "counterterrorism" and "protecting the children" and we'll quite amicably assent to whatever they say the law is.

    The Framers had the right idea, they just weren't quite clever enough: they thought the risk would be a government that used force against the people, whereas the real risk is from public relations and focus groups.

    Anyway -- short version: although I am one of those "Second Amendment folks," I, and all of the other "Second Amendment folks" I know, am absolutely against civil war. Horrible, terrible idea. I've seen enough gunshot wounds already in my life, thank you very much: I feel no need to be the cause of them.

  3. This would amount to "terroristic threats", and would be considered grossly illegal in all 50 states. I, and all of the other "Second Amendment folks" I know, think this behavior is reprehensible.

about 4 months ago
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NSA Allegedly Exploited Heartbleed

rjh Re:You don't understand, yep! (149 comments)

I'm not weighing in on that one. I'm only correcting the original poster, who said the U.S. rarely waives sovereign immunity. In fact, the opposite is true: it rarely invokes it. Tens of thousands of tort claims against the U.S. government are underway even as we speak, all of them with waived sovereign immunity.

about 5 months ago
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NSA Allegedly Exploited Heartbleed

rjh You don't understand, yep! (149 comments)

One cannot simply sue a branch of the government without asking permission from the government to allow it to be sued - guess how often THAT happens?

Glad you asked: it happens all the time, ever since the Tort Claims Act of 1948 substantially waived the sovereign immunity doctrine. You can read more about it at Wikipedia.

People sue the government all the time. It's literally an everyday occurrence.

about 5 months ago
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Should NASA Send Astronauts On Voluntary One-Way Missions?

rjh Not in any way the same! (307 comments)

Patton told his troops they were strictly forbidden from dying gloriously for their country, but were instead expected to make the other poor bastard die gloriously for his.

When we send soldiers off to battle we expect them to win and come home alive. We accept that reality will not always permit this, but that's the nature of the beast. If we send people on a one-way trip to Mars, we are demanding that they die gloriously for us -- which is exactly what Patton forbade his soldiers to do.

Your comparison, not to put too fine a point on it, is crazy.

about 5 months ago
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How Well Do Our Climate Models Match Our Observations?

rjh Great job in critiquing the models (560 comments)

Nowhere is it written that your critique can only be taken seriously if you fix the problem you discover, propose an alternate model, or solve the problem outright. By your logic, all the people from the 1800s on into the early 20th century who said, "You know, Newtonian mechanics has a serious problem: it cannot correctly describe the precession of Mercury" were doing a poor job of critiquing Newtonian physics.

Rubbish. They were doing a superb job of critiquing Newtonian physics by pointing to something in the Newtonian model that was clearly, unambiguously, wrong. They may not have been able to realize why it was wrong or able to construct a better model, but they pointed out an important anomaly. Later on, Einstein came along and proposed General Relativity, and one of GR's greatest initial successes was its ability to correctly model the precession of Mercury.

If John Christy's reading of the facts is in error, then that's ample grounds to say he's made a poor critique. But to say that he's made a poor critique just because he hasn't fixed the models, put forward a new model, or explained the differences between model and observation, betrays you as a very poor scientist.

about 6 months ago
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UK Men Arrested For Anti-Semitic Tweets After Football Game

rjh Re:Posted by a typical American? (598 comments)

If you yell "fire" in a crowded theater where there is no fire, you have taken a safe situation and turned it into an immensely dangerous one.

If you yell "fire" in a crowded theater where there is a fire, you are attempting -- as best you can -- to mitigate the risk of an immensely dangerous situation.

The law prohibits shouting "fire" in a crowded theater where there is no fire present. There is no law against alerting your fellow patrons to the fact the building is on fire.

about 9 months ago
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UK Men Arrested For Anti-Semitic Tweets After Football Game

rjh Re:Posted by a typical American? (598 comments)

I agree with you. I get quite irritated when people in the UK tell me we should emulate them in gun control laws, healthcare laws, or their habit of dropping random 'u's in words where they clearly don't belong. Courtesy requires I refrain from telling the UK how they ought pattern their free speech laws on our First Amendment.

It is enough to say that I am pleased to live where I do, and that I believe the evils of generally-unregulated free speech are far far outweighed by the good.

about 9 months ago
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Killing Cancer By Retraining the Patient's Immune System

rjh Re:Cancer cured! (175 comments)

Thank you for being a physician. Seriously. It's appreciated.

(-- would've been dead in the '90s except for someone like you)

about 9 months ago
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Killing Cancer By Retraining the Patient's Immune System

rjh Re:Cancer cured! (175 comments)

The reason why progress has been so slow is because there is no one single disease, "cancer." Instead we have a few thousand different diseases which we collectively call cancer. Many of them look extremely similar, even to professional oncologists. First we have to identify all of these different cancers, and then we have to discover effective treatments against them. Some cancers will have common weaknesses; many (most?) do not.

There's a reason why cancer is called "the Emperor of Maladies". Cancer is probably the hardest scientific problem the human race has ever wrestled with. It makes the moon shot and the internet look like pikers by comparison.

Cancer is hard, and every day we don't have a cure more people are going to die in horrible ways. The first part makes us want to give up on cancer research, or to say that it's too hard, or to say that we haven't made any progress... but the second part will always keep us coming back to do more research and make another attempt.

My dream is that cancer might be cured in 100 years. I think it's a dream worth working for.

about 9 months ago
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Killing Cancer By Retraining the Patient's Immune System

rjh Re:Cancer cured! (175 comments)

I'm reminded that when President Truman had his heart attack in 1956, the official prescription from his physician was bed rest accompanied by Mrs. Truman to keep him warm.

That was the whole, complete prescription.

Anyone who says medicine hasn't improved since 1952 simply isn't paying attention.

about 9 months ago
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Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You

rjh Re:Show time (722 comments)

Not only am I from the United States (born in Iowa, currently live in Virginia), but I've spent enough time in emergency rooms (pursuant to EMT work) to know this is the law. Sorry, kid. :)

about 10 months ago
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Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You

rjh Re:Show time (722 comments)

Check the bankruptcy declarations. The City of Detroit made various statements under penalty of perjury, and one of the most shocking was their admission that emergency response times averaged 58 minutes.

I can't explain the discrepancy between what Detroit says on a web site and what Detroit says in a courtroom. What I can do, though, is point you to my reference. :)

about 10 months ago
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Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You

rjh Re:Show time (722 comments)

Mostly Detroit having been in a state of slow-motion collapse for 30+ years. Even the bankruptcy is caused by that -- it's not as if it suddenly came out of the blue.

30 years ago Detroit had 1.8 million people. Today it has about 700,000. A lot of businesses have also left, too. The city has spent 30 years acting as if nothing has really changed while the entire tax base has fled. Now the city is in a financial emergency of unthinkable proportions. Something like two-thirds of the ambulances have over 200,000 miles (320,000km) on them; there are 40% fewer police patrolling the streets than there were a decade ago; to save money, the city has shut off streetlights in something like half the city.

To make matters worse, half the city is functionally illiterate and thus can't find work in a modern economy. Unemployment in Detroit hovers around 50%.

Detroit's problems are the result of the city itself collapsing. The bankruptcy is just a symptom of the much bigger problems. Even if the federal government were to cut a $20 billion check to bail Detroit out of bankruptcy, these deeper problems would still exist.

about 10 months ago
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Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You

rjh Re:Show time (722 comments)

Detroit is infamously bad, yeah. 58 minutes is the *official* Detroit response time. A few years ago I had to call the ambulance in Detroit for a neighbor who was having a stroke. We never found out what the response time was. We called the ER, who told us to bring her down ourselves. By the time we took her to the ER, sat with her through her diagnosis and admission and returned home, the ambulance *still* hadn't arrived. So I called 911 and canceled the ambulance call.

about 10 months ago
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Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You

rjh Re:Show time (722 comments)

Where I come from, that's called "gross negligence" and "endangering lives".

I don't know where you are so I can't comment on your local laws. In the United States, it would likely be considered neither. Acts necessary to save human lives are neither criminally prosecutable nor subject to civil litigation.

The important word in that phrase, of course, being "necessary." Here's how a judge would evaluate your affirmative defense of, "Your honor, I had to drive like a madman: I had a man in obvious cardiac distress in the back of my car."

  • First, did you have a reasonable belief the person was in extreme cardiac distress? "He was clutching his chest, short of breath, complaining of chest pains and having trouble remaining conscious. Okay, yes: the driver had a reasonable belief this individual was experiencing a life-threatening medical event and timely treatment was necessary."
  • Second, was your action reasonable in light of the other options which were immediately available to you? "The defendant didn't bother to call an ambulance... then again, we *are* living in Detroit, where the response time to an emergency call hovers around one hour. His options were to either bring the guy to the hospital in his own vehicle, or attempt to provide cardiac care right there in the apartment. Transportation seems like a reasonable choice."
  • Third, were unnecessary risks taken? "Sure, the guy was barrelling down Jefferson Avenue at 80 miles an hour. That was necessary. If he'd taken a detour and gone 80mph down a side street to hit a 7-11 along the way to buy a Slurpee, that would've been unnecessary... but he didn't do that, or anything like that."
  • Fourth: if there was a reasonable belief someone's life is in jeopardy, if your action is reasonable in light of the options available to you, and if you avoided unnecessary risks, then brother, you are protected.

I am generally not a fan of urban driving. I own a Mustang GT and I go to the speedway whenever I can to race at high speeds in a controlled environment, but once I'm on public roads I obey the speed limit and I live in mortal fear of Suzy Homemaker in an SUV who's jawing on her cell phone instead of paying attention to her lane merge. I welcome the development of automated driving: for 99% of people it will be a massive step up in safety.

But let's not pretend that driving at 80mph in response to an immediate threat to a human life is something that we need to condemn. Those drivers amount to such a vanishingly small fraction of all accidents that I'm happy to give them a free pass. Go with God, may your tires have good tread, and I hope your passenger makes it.

about 10 months ago
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Quantum Computers Check Each Other's Work

rjh Re:No, it's quite correct. (77 comments)

Yes, the Halting problem is undecidable. That doesn't stop it from being NP-hard also.

Saying that it exists somewhere in NP-Hard may be technically true, in that NP-Hard encompasses all classes NP-Complete and harder (and UNDECIDABLE is definitely harder). But I don't know of a single reputable computer scientist who would characterize the Halting Problem as NP-Hard, in the same way that I don't know of a single one who would characterize 3SAT as being in EXPTIME. As my advisor once quipped, "That idea is too clever to be taken seriously."

Assuming one has an oracle is not the same thing as assuming one has a Turing machine that does something.

Clearly not, because if it were a Turing machine it wouldn't be allowed to exist. Hence the phrase, "hypercomputation." But if such an oracle could exist, it would mean P=NP simultaneous with P != NP, and that's just for starters -- a short list of the contradictions that would be forced to be true if any hypercomputational oracle existed is the sort of thing that will give mathematicians nightmares. This is why virtually the whole field of computer science believes that hypercomputational oracles cannot exist, and why a significant fraction believes that any line of reasoning that involves a hypercomputational oracle is invalid because it starts from a false premise -- that such a thing can exist.

And no, Davis is not condemning people trying to do real hypercomputation. He's condemning the entire field of hypercomputation as a discipline.

about a year ago
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Quantum Computers Check Each Other's Work

rjh Re:No, it's quite correct. (77 comments)

No. The Halting Problem belongs to class UNDECIDABLE, not class NP-Hard. I admire your attempt at rationalizing it, but Alan Turing proved this to the world's satisfaction. If you wish to prove the Halting Problem does not belong to UNDECIDABLE then you're going to have an uphill road to hoe. If you still believe the Halting Problem belongs to NP-Hard, I would suggest you begin by correcting its Wikipedia article.)

Your argument involving an oracle that solves the Halting Problem is absurd because you're assuming the existence of hypercomputation -- and if such an oracle could exist, then we would simultaneously have P=NP and P != NP. Martin Davis has gone so far as to declare hypercomputation both "a myth" and "a nonexistent discipline." Those are strong words coming from one of the brightest lights in the field of computational theory and computational complexity.

It's a bedrock principle of logic that if you start from a false proposition anything can be proven. You assume the existence of an oracle that can solve the Halting Problem. This is a false proposition. Anything can be proven once you make oracular assumptions.

about a year ago
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Quantum Computers Check Each Other's Work

rjh Re:No, it's quite correct. (77 comments)

At this point I'm pretty sure you're trolling. The Halting Problem is UNDECIDABLE -- it exists in a complexity class considerably beyond what is normally thought of as 'NP-Hard'.

And if you don't understand my parenthetical remark, well... that should be taken as a sign that your computational theory is seriously lacking. The meaning is quite clear to someone who has a proper understanding of what complexity class NP-Hard is about.

Goodbye, troll.

about a year ago
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Quantum Computers Check Each Other's Work

rjh Re:No, it's quite correct. (77 comments)

No, even then your characterization of NP-Hard is incorrect.

"A class of problems is NP-Hard if being able to solve it in polynomial time..."

If you can solve it in polynomial time, then it's in P. Even under your revised definition, you're implicitly arguing that P=NP, because that's the only way you can solve an NP-Hard problem in polynomial time. (And even then, you would only be able to solve the NP-Complete subset of NP-Hard.)

about a year ago

Submissions

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Dennis Ritchie has died

rjh rjh writes  |  more than 2 years ago

rjh writes "Dennis Ritchie, father of both C and UNIX, has died at age seventy. (English-speaking news outlets haven't yet picked it up yet, but Google Translate does well with the link.) In a career that not only spanned modern computing but defined it, he developed many tools and systems that we take for granted today. He received a Turing Prize in 1983 for his services to the industry, but even then he didn't slow down: he had a sterling career with Bell Labs and Lucent until finally retiring in 2007."
Link to Original Source
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rjh rjh writes  |  more than 7 years ago

rjh writes "John Backus has died. During his epic career he developed FORTRAN, invented the BNF syntax for describing programming languages, pioneered functional programming — oh, and even picked up a Turing Award here and there. This ends a career that can only be described as legendary. See you around, John, and thanks for all the elegant hacks. We'll miss you."

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