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Ask Slashdot: Is Pascal Underrated?

rjh Re:This. SO MUCH This. (488 comments)

This is true and good, so long as you're interested in making software that can be done entirely with existing technologies. As soon as you hit the brick wall of "but there isn't anything in the standard library that does this," you need the old graybeards who spent their entire careers making the standard libraries you rely on.

Speaking as one of them, the pay and hours are both good and it keeps me on the cutting edge of some fascinating technologies.

The common idea is that we over-40s who've been doing this professionally for 25+ years can't adapt to modern software dev practices. Quite the opposite, really. Mostly we're kept so busy that we don't have the time.

None of this is meant to disrespect what the younger generation does with (as you say) "connect the dots library calls". That code needs to be written, and it's best if it's written by smart people who care about their work. :)

4 days ago

Silicon Valley Security Experts Give 'Blackhat' a Thumbs-Up; Do You?

rjh Awful. Insulted my intelligence. (98 comments)

Terrible. It insulted my intelligence at every opportunity. To pick just three:

  1. A hard drive that's been at Ground Zero of a Chernobyl-level event, exposed to hundreds of sieverts of ionizing radiation, extraordinary extremes of temperature, a hydrogen-oxygen explosion with such tremendous overpressure that it blew the containment dome, and seawater pumped through the building as a last-ditch effort at cooling the core, is still somehow so readable that it just requires a classified forensics program to recover it fully.
  2. The main bad guy's ultimate plan involves speculating on the future of a commodity that isn't exactly rare.
  3. Targeting nuclear reactors in the U.S. and China as a practice run for the real attack is pretty stupid, as the practice run is so devastating that it guarantees an immediate and vigorous reaction from two world-power countries known to have active cyberwarfare programs, thereby announcing your presence to exactly the people you want to keep completely in the dark

This movie insulted my intelligence at every turn. I have a long (and spoilerific) list of all the what-the no-they-didn't good-Christ moments I saw in the movie; if there's interest I'll post them here.

about two weeks ago

Entanglement Makes Quantum Particles Measurably Heavier, Says Quantum Theorist

rjh Momentum, not mass (109 comments)

The photon has zero rest mass, yes.

E = mc**2 is a nice popularization; it's also wrong. It's actually E**2=(mc**2)**2 + (pc)**2, where p is the momentum. When momentum is zero, you can usually simplify this to E=mc**2, but a photon's existence is defined mostly by its momentum. Since m is zero for a photon, this means the energy of a photon is given by entirely by E=pc.

Hope this helps!

about three weeks ago

Reaction To the Sony Hack Is 'Beyond the Realm of Stupid'

rjh Re:Land of the free (580 comments)

So, the NJ State Senate Majority Leader admits that New Jersey's law, which would make smart guns mandatory within three years of the first commercially-available smart gun being sold anywhere in the United States, can be reversed... if only the NRA will agree to stop obstructing the sale of smart guns within the United States, which they do specifically because of the New Jersey law?

I don't see the problem. The NRA is obstructing a law that goes against their stated interests, and New Jersey is promising to reverse that law if only the NRA will stop obstructing what that law regulates?

For the NRA's stated position, see here. Particularly:

NRA does not oppose new technological developments in firearms; however, we are opposed to government mandates that require the use of expensive, unreliable features, such as rigging a firearm so that it could not fire unless it received an electronic signal from an electronic bracelet worn by the firearm's lawful owner (as was brought up in Holder's recent testimony).

That's their stated policy, right there.

about a month and a half ago

Reaction To the Sony Hack Is 'Beyond the Realm of Stupid'

rjh Re:The Batman, Theater Attack Comparison (580 comments)

Not quite. Courts have been willing to hold businesses liable for damages due to foreseeable criminal acts, yes, but so far no court has been willing to hold businesses liable for damages due to acts of war levied by a foreign state.

That's a pretty big jump to make, incidentally.

The risk is not that the courts might hold the theater chain responsible -- the courts wouldn't, on the grounds that the theater chain isn't responsible for protecting their clientele against acts of war from a foreign nation-state. The risk is that the lawsuit would be filed and it would cost the theater $20 million or more just to get the courts to dismiss all charges.

That $20 million is probably considerably more than they would make from screening The Interview, so the logical business case is to not screen it.

It's sad, but ... the real problem is not that the courts might hold the theater liable: it's that in our current system, getting sued is, in itself, its own punishment.

about a month and a half ago

Reaction To the Sony Hack Is 'Beyond the Realm of Stupid'

rjh Re:Land of the free (580 comments)

The NRA does not object to smart gun technologies, and believes that people who wish to be allowed to buy them should be allowed to buy them.

The NRA objects to smart guns becoming mandatory, because the technology for smart guns is nowhere near mature.

The number one desired trait in a firearm, moreso than caliber or capacity or anything else, is reliability. The reason why Glocks are so popular isn't because of caliber, capacity, or aesthetics -- all of which other firearms do better. It's because a Glock is as reliable as gravity. If you chamber a round and pull the trigger, it goes boom. If you don't pull the trigger, it won't.

I have personally seen a Glock get thrown into a bucket of wet, goopy mud and left there for fifteen minutes just so the mud had the opportunity to permeate the whole of the firearm. At the end of the fifteen minutes the owner pulled the Glock out, shook it precisely three times to dislodge mud from the barrel, and fired one hundred seventy rounds through it in the space of about five minutes, just one magazine after another after another... just to prove the weapon was reliable.

Do you believe the current crop of smart gun technologies are equally reliable? The ones I've had the chance to play around with definitely aren't. They can't even agree on whether they need to fail safe or fail deadly.

about a month and a half ago

Astronomers Find Brightest Pulsar Ever Observed

rjh Re:New Object (70 comments)

Note the word "energetic". Earth's matter is not particularly energetic when compared to an active fusion reaction or the angular momentum of a neutron star. Likewise with gas giants.

about 3 months ago

Astronomers Find Brightest Pulsar Ever Observed

rjh Re:New Object (70 comments)

A neutron star is a gravitationally-bound sphere of neutrons, not plasma, and yet it's still a star.

I would respectfully suggest that a good definition of a star would be, "a gravitationally bound collection of energetic matter engaged in largely Brownian motion." That covers everything from brown dwarfs (D-D fusion requiring substantial energy to initiate) up to hypergiants and neutron stars. (Even a cold, dead neutron star possesses enough energy to dramatically warp spacetime -- there's a lot of energy there to be tapped.)

This definition would also exclude black holes, as a singularity isn't really "matter" per se -- matter requires volume, and a singularity has none of that.

It would also exclude galaxies and accretion discs, as those are not engaged in Brownian motion.

about 3 months ago

Hawking Radiation Mimicked In the Lab

rjh Re:Sound waves as quantum particles? (66 comments)

You can thank wave-particle duality. In the quantum world, if something has an existence as a wave, it must also have an existence as a particle. Sound waves have a particle analogue: phonons.

Also remember: in quantum mechanics there's no such thing as a vacuum. Virtual particles spring into existence constantly, making it possible to interact with vacuum in a number of really surprising ways.

about 4 months ago

Back To Faxes: Doctors Can't Exchange Digital Medical Records

rjh My story with Epic (240 comments)

Some years ago after being laid off from one programming job, my old CS prof from college suggested I stop by to interview with the Epic recruiter who was visiting the campus. I was told to block out about four hours time, and that it would be a very in-depth technical interview. It turned out to be nothing of the sort: it was maybe ten minutes of talk with a human being, and hours and hours of filling out a badly-written "technical exam". Allegedly it involved seeing how well the taker could think about programming languages and programming language concepts by giving us a toy language to write a parser and compiler for, but ... holy toledo, was it a stinker.

First, the language was defined in plain English. There was no BNF. When ambiguities of English occurred (as they always do), the Epic rep was unable to give any resolution as to what the language was supposed to do. My protest of, "Well, if you don't know what it's supposed to do, how can you expect me to write a parser or compiler for it?" fell on deaf ears.

Second, certain mathematical operations were supposed to be supported ... but the language was vague: they were supposed to have their "conventional" meanings. But some mathematical operators are defined sort of vaguely: for instance, it's not really well-defined mathematically what the modulo of two negative numbers are. As a result, different programming languages tend to implement it differently. (For instance, C++03 says it's implementation-dependent, while C++11 has a strict policy on it.) How did they want the modulus operator implemented? They had no idea.

Ultimately, when it came to writing a parser and compiler for their toy language I decided to do it the right way as opposed to their way. Instead of having an ad-hoc thing, I turned the exam over and started writing a formal BNF and lex/yacc rules on the back of the pages. I took the full four hours to do the technical exam, turned it in, told them that my work was on the *back* of the exam and not the front, and walked out.

Six weeks later, not having heard a thing from Epic, I sent them a politely-worded email saying, "If I'm going to spend four hours on a Saturday on an interview for Epic, I would appreciate the courtesy of being told whether I would be receiving a job offer or not."

A week after that I received a one-line email: "We regret to say that we're going with other candidates."

Anyway. That's my experience with Epic. Take it for whatever it's worth. I didn't think much of their interview process, and they sure didn't think much of me.

about 4 months ago

Unpopular Programming Languages That Are Still Lucrative

rjh HTML5 is a language. (387 comments)

HTML5 is, indeed, a programming language -- at least when paired with CSS3. You can implement Rule 110 in nothing but HTML5 + CSS3, and Rule 110 is known to be Turing-complete. Ergo, HTML5 + CSS3 is capable of any computable process, and is a full programming language.

It's a horrible programming language, but hey, when has that gotten in the way of widespread acceptance?

about 5 months ago

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 7 months ago

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 9 months ago

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 10 months ago

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 10 months ago

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 10 months ago

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 a year ago

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 a year ago

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 a year ago

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 a year ago



Dennis Ritchie has died

rjh rjh writes  |  more than 3 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

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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