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Vint Cerf on Why Programmers Don't Join the ACM

shic Professional body... (213 comments)

I've recently thought again about potential membership of professional bodies. I used to be a student member of the ACM - and, despite a steep discount, I felt there was little value there... so dropped it as soon as my discount eligibility changed.

The idea that a professional body should prosper by restricting access to content might work in academia, but it does not represent a compelling proposition to me.

I would consider joining a professional body if it were:

1. Relevant to professionals who work with software - neither pandering to esoteric academic nor lowest common denominator content.
2. Needs to involve (fairly local) physical gatherings "Conferences" - at which I will meet relevant people and discover interesting things beyond what can be found on the web.
3. Needs to be recognised widely as conferring an active interest - to bolster academic credentials and professional engagements.

Not only does the ACM fail to meet even one of these criteria... I can't find any other organisation that does much better. In fact, I came to wonder if membership was actually counter-productive... does it suggest someone who is not sufficiently confident in their other credentials... someone who hopes to buy recognition.

about 5 months ago
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Famo.us: Do We Really Need Another JavaScript Framework?

shic We need something... (104 comments)

I come from a background of systems-level software... server-side and thick client, predominantly. I've recently been looking at in-browser Javascript again - and recognise that it has come a long way in recent years. JQuery is nifty; Backbone useful; Angular is neat... but they lack a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.

In one sense, I love the flexibility of dynamic programming with Javascript - but, on larger projects, this benefit becomes a burden. What I'd really like is a Javascript-like language - that compiles to efficient Javascript - where I get to structure my application; enforce type constraints at compile-time; provide test-time assertions... etc... and allow me to implement my Javascript application as a collection of independently tested components. Client-side libraries are going in the right direction - but remain an evolutionary step away from where, I think, web-technology deserves to be.

Javascript has come a long way - but the journey isn't over yet... IMHO.

about 6 months ago
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Should programming be a required curriculum in public schools?

shic Re:The problem... (313 comments)

In the 80s, lots of adults were fascinated... this enthused them to study alongside students. That happened. Today, adults are either specialists already or are disinterested. Specialists are, in my experience, today, unlikely to find a career teaching a mandated subject (likely to a bunch of less than enthusiastic high school students) a compelling occupation.

about 10 months ago
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Should programming be a required curriculum in public schools?

shic Re:The problem... (313 comments)

That description of measure theory re-affirms why I wanted to know more in the first place. I tried reading one book - and, while the subject material was interesting, the language used to explain the concepts felt rather opaque and this represented an uphill struggle - for me - as a non-specialist. I cheekily mentioned it - erm - because I'd love to find someone who has a deep understanding who wants to de-mystify the subject... My interest was piqued by the possibility that measure-theory might illuminate an approach to comprehending scale - distinct from "counting units". Everyone has an intuitive grasp of the real line - but - I suspect - it is a poor model for lots of observations. I don't know what a better measurement model would be - but think a clear understanding of measure theory might provide helpful insights. I am enthusiastic about the idea that novel measurement models might have significant practical applications.

I was not previously aware of a connection from measure theory to Kolmogorov - though it doesn't surprise. This is something I'd love to know more about - but I'm failing to find accessible material from which to learn.

about 10 months ago
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Should programming be a required curriculum in public schools?

shic The problem... (313 comments)

Show me one person capable of explaining how to write software and I'll show you one person who doesn't want the job of providing such tuition.

Show me one person who wishes to do such tutoring - and I'll show you someone who can't competently explain any of it.

Sorry - those are the breaks.

If someone wants to learn, they will. If someone doesn't have that drive - they won't. Making this material more 'accessible' won't make the blindest difference. Please teach the main subjects... and embrace every question from a student. I've LOADS of questions... the interesting thing is that the ones about programming are either trivially answered by an on-line search... or are far more complex and in-depth than training could ever hope to address. I desperately want education to be engaging - if that involves programming, fine by me... Education must be relevant... when it is... it is the most addictive activity imaginable. If educators strive for relevance (rather than following a dull script) students will be transformed from reluctantly accepting drudgery... to engaged fanatics. Couple that with teachers who are knowledgeable and flexible... and you have a winning combination. It is easier, of course, to employ cheaply those who couldn't get another job... mandate a script... and blame the students when they, inevitably, and reasonably, fail to see the point in any of it.

P.S. Anyone care to tell me about "measure theory"? Any genuine teachers out there who want to impart knowledge rather than get paid for doing a mandated dance? Can you explain it? Do you care if you can or can't? Do you need me to tell you what you need to teach - rather than react to questions from students? For me, education is about such questions... No, I don't demand a dramatic production - this isn't entertainment... I'd like educators to be the sort of people who - when they see a question like mine - are enthused... point me at books or web pages or films or documentaries... then - after I've put in the legwork.... they talk to me about what I've found out... Such resources are as rare as hens' teeth... but that is how people learn. The rest of "education" is an exercise in politics... "one size" does not "fit all"... pretending it does gives rise to an entire industry... not one that benefits the students.

about 10 months ago
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How long before most automobile driving is done by computers?

shic Re:Never gonna happen. (472 comments)

How would that work with cars? If you have to be there paying close attention in case you need to take over, doesn't that negate the purpose of the automated system in the first place?

I thought this was an interesting poll question. I started thinking about Google-esque driverless cars, and thought - perhaps in 20 years or so... then I thought "would I want one?" and answered that you can "pry the steering wheel from my cold dead hands." Yes, I do realise that I'm vastly inferior to a developed automated system - so, my cold dead hands wrapping a steering wheel is more likely than it need be. No, I'm not into 'racing' - or even really enjoy driving much - it is a means to an end... but my end involves me having control over how I travel, it matters that I make choices... and, yes, I'm aware that this seems preposterous when I'm also a sat-nav junkie.

I recently replaced my car - after a decade... and it's interesting to me how things have moved on. Last time I was adamant that I wanted a petrol car and that it had to be manual, as I didn't trust the apparent lack of control in automatics - which might prove relevant in an extraordinary situation. This time round, most automatics leave me with the same feeling - but DSG diesels from VW gave me exceptional confidence... and - now I own one - I no-longer want the hassle of a gear-stick. A few months on, and it's been a revelation... a huge improvement. Perhaps we will never see driver-less cars, but - instead - technology will continue to evolve... slowly reducing the necessary effort? That's a future I can believe in, because it is identical to the past. Of one thing I'm sure, cars aren't just about convenience - they're also about empowering people with freedom of choice... and any technological idea will ignore that at its peril.

about a year ago
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Calibre Version 1.0 Released After 7 Years of Development

shic Re:Android client? (193 comments)

Quite possibly... I might need to jump through some hoops to get this working on my LAN... but, on the surface, it looks as if it might be exactly what I need. Thanks. :)

about a year ago
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Calibre Version 1.0 Released After 7 Years of Development

shic Android client? (193 comments)

I've used Calibre on my desktop for a few years - it was the best tool I could find, but it was frustratingly slow Version 1.0 seems to have that fixed I'm officially impressed.

What I'd like to do is access my (ever growing) library from my Android tablet (a Nexus 10 which I bought for its near-laser-printer screen resolution). I'm a real tight-arse when it comes to paying for software... but I'd pay for an application that gave me seamless access to read my Calibre library (on my LAN) from my Android device (with limited local storage).

about a year ago
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Possible Proof of ABC Conjecture

shic Diophantine textbook... (102 comments)

I find these titbits about number theory absolutely fascinating... I followed a few courses at undergraduate level that touched on this material - without giving me a solid grounding. What I'd like to know is this: Is there a good textbook that would bring me up to speed with this material? I like Wikipedia articles - but I find them disjointed.. what I'd like from a textbook is something that leads me through the subject from undergraduate level onwards. Can anyone make any recommendations?

more than 2 years ago
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How Big Data Became So Big

shic How big is 'big data'? (105 comments)

And how are we measuring the size? What sizes are measured for typical 'big data'?

Are we talking about detailed information, or inefficient data formats?
Are we talking about high-resolution long-term time series, or are we talking about data that is big because it has a complex structure?

Is the data big because it has been engineered so, or is it begging for a more refined system to simplify?

more than 2 years ago
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Television Next In Line For Industry-Wide Shakeup?

shic Re:The man has a point. (381 comments)

Perhaps... I'm considering buying a replacement for my 2000-vintage 28" 4x3 ratio CRT TV. I'm not in a hurry as I rarely "watch TV".

I like the Samsungs - especially the ultra-thin 46" ones... with fast refresh and high-definition. Their biggest down-side is that they aren't competitively priced relative to other manufacturers - IMHO.

I am interested in a seamless way to use the TV to display what would be on my Laptop otherwise... I like the idea of watching internet video on a big screen... and I like the idea of lounging with a keyboard and having a full-PC environment on my wall... but I don't know if these will be mere gimmicks for me.

I don't care about 3D - but I do care about slimline high-resolution displays with great connectivity. Thereafter, for me, it's price, price, price.

more than 2 years ago
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Looking For Love; Finding Privacy Violations

shic Re:Online dating (112 comments)

Congratulations.... I'm pleased to see that things worked out for you.

When I think about it, I notice a number of weird problems with the idea of dating sites. Free dating sites, inevitably, will be the preferred haunt of the insincere who lack commitment to the idea of forging a new lasting relationship... you'd expect the participants - if genuine at all - to be looking for cheap thrills... encouraged that by avoiding handing over credit card details, they're in some sense shielded by anonymity. Conversely, paid dating sites turn my stomach. I'd have no objection to paying a fair commercial price for introductions to people of interest to me... romantic or otherwise. The snag is that dating sites aren't selling a competitive introduction service - the most charitable description of their business model would be that they're trying to 'sell love' - though maybe they should just be regarded as old fashioned pimps. The obvious lack of integrity in the sales pitch for such services leaves me feeling very negatively towards them.

If there was a site that introduced me to groups of locals interested in obscure topics that might interest me - I'd pay for that... assuming the party I paid understood that they were engaged in a merely administrative capacity. I guess that a useful service like that doesn't present the same opportunities to gouge the vulnerable - so I don't expect to be a customer of such a service any time soon.

more than 2 years ago
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Faster-Than-Fast Fourier Transform

shic Re:Security (271 comments)

One of the compelling mathematical insights of Fourier's mathematics...

Perhaps not an ideal way to ask a question, but you sound authoritative. :)

Can you recommend a book for someone who's broadly familiar with Fourier transforms who wants to get to grips with all of "Fourier's mathematics" rather than just some limited aspects of it as exposed by a particular practical application?

more than 2 years ago
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The Bosses Do Everything Better (or So They Think)

shic Re:It's not only programmers vs bosses (469 comments)

Most programmers (including those egotistical twits who call themselves "developers" or, god forbid, "software engineers") DO need everything laid out in black and white. They also start with the assumption that any problem is the fault of the "lusers" misunderstanding the software or unrealistic expectations.

It seems you overlooked that my post referred exclusively to "competent programmers".

You think that 'programmers' are born with these innate skills ...
You're just another nerd who thinks everyone outside your profession is incompetent. Look in the mirror.

Thanks for the chuckle. I trust you notice the irony in this as a response to my suggestion that competent programmers have skills beyond ad-hominem?

Programmers are not 'born' - people (worthy or respect as such) are born. Through application and study, they may become skilled/competent programmers. You seem to be under the illusion that the label 'programmer' is a genetic deviancy - presumably one you don't think afflicts yourself?

Programming competency (obviously) is not a sufficient universal qualification - but those who are able often have a wide range of related transferable skills applicable to a far wider range of activities. It is the responsibility of competent management to make best use of these abilities, and to facilitate effective communication to establish the best possible outcomes.

more than 2 years ago
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The Bosses Do Everything Better (or So They Think)

shic Re:It's not only programmers vs bosses (469 comments)

While I've met a few 'programmers' whose skill set is limited - requiring everything to be laid out in black and white... far more often, I find competent programmers are also deeply insightful analysts; innovative problem solvers; dedicated, hard-working and have an eye for accuracy and an ear for honesty. While you can resort to ad-hominem when people disagree with you, such attacks don't work on machines... with fallacious argument off-the-table, those who program are forced to exercise other skills.

I definitely respect sales and marketing - when it's done well. There's a real skill in creating a buzz about a product or service you can deliver - and in closing deals to generate revenue. However... this does not mean that anyone who associates themselves with sales or marketing is automatically above constructive criticism. A major problem for both sales and marketing is that there's a motivation to short-termism... Marketing can blame someone else if they create a buzz about a product that can never be delivered (and it's easier to get people excited about things that are impossible than the mundane...) Sales suffers from the ABC - "Always Be Closing" problem, too, where there is considerable motivation to promise anything, no matter how dishonest, to 'get the deal done' - especially when some convenient 'office politics' can lay the blame for any subsequent disaster at someone else's door.

The underlying problem with all this is management. If sales and marketing run amock - without clear instruction to the aims of the business - they'll run the company into the ground soon enough. Similar catastrophes hang in the balance with technical staff and R&D... Executives need to both respect their staff, and take responsibility for the big picture... They need to avoid the temptation to micromanage (which leads to inevitable failure); they need to learn to draw on the experience of others - and to delegate without washing their hands of a matter. Without suitable direction, you'll end up with a ramshackle bunch of people all blaming each other as the company fails... this is not the fault of the employees - per se... or, even, of day-to-day management... but of the executive. In large corporations where failure as an executive is rewarded similarly to success, we should expect this sort of organisation-wide failure to be endemic.

more than 2 years ago
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Are Programmers Ruining the Design of eBooks?

shic Wrong approach. (470 comments)

I don't want specific media for ebooks. I want an ebook device that accurately displays the printed page.

Where's my A4 300+DPI E-ink tablet that's been promised 'just around the corner' for years now.

more than 2 years ago
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Wielding Supercomputers To Make High-Stakes Predictions

shic Re:Scepticism... (65 comments)

Doubling your computational effort to extend your weather forecast to a 24th day might well be justified, as might doubling it again to get an extra hour. Doubling again to get the next few minutes, or again for an extra few seconds is far harder to justify - especially as other addressable factors might have greater influence on the uncertainty of the predictions.

We clearly have a different subjective take on the typical practical value of calculations at the cutting edge of 'brute-force' computation. Without specifics we are unlikely to progress the debate. There are, undoubtedly, some problems that can only be tackled by more grunt (tightly coupled computation) but - in my opinion - progressing these problems head-on, typically, does not offer benefits commensurate with the cost.

about 3 years ago
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Wielding Supercomputers To Make High-Stakes Predictions

shic Re:Scepticism... (65 comments)

The diminishing returns implied by the Lyapunov exponent definitely lend credibility to my claim that much of supercomputing is objectively pointless, but I was anxious not to focus upon only one of the ways in which calculations might be irrelevant.

I'd agree that "bigger is better" - but only if we exclude cost from our assessment.With significant financial overheads for marginal improvement in accuracy, I have to wonder - at the extremes of industry practice - might the same funding might been more effectively deployed otherwise? Might a better strategy be to simply accept the limits of inexpensive computing, and focus on finding more effective approaches to practical problems?

about 3 years ago
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Wielding Supercomputers To Make High-Stakes Predictions

shic Scepticism... (65 comments)

I like supercomputers in the same way I like architectural monuments - there's an element of beauty in stretching technology to ever more extreme goals, but I'm far from convinced that there's an objective, practical, point to any of the calculations they make.

I'm very sceptical about climate change prediction - because, without any calculation, it's blindingly obvious that climate will change (all evidence suggests vast changes throughout history) and - because mankind is significant among life on earth - obviously we should assume a fair chunk to be 'man made'. I seldom see the questions that matter addressed... for example, in what ways can we expect climate change to be beneficial to mankind? When we ask the wrong questions, no matter how large-scale or accurate our computation, it will be worthless. Don't get me wrong, I see immense value in forecasting... but I don't see available computational power as a limiting factor... in my opinion there are two critical issues for forecasting: (1) collecting relevant data accurately; (2) establishing the right kind of summaries and models. While some models are computationally expensive - in my opinion - the reason for attempting to brute-force these models has far less to do with objective research and far more to do with political will to have a concrete answer irrespective of its relevance... The complexity of extensive computation is exploited to lend an air of credibility, in most cases, IMHO.

"Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday."

The reason is simple: avoidable disasters occur not because we haven't done enough calculations - but because the calculations we do are done for the wrong reasons and produce irrelevant results. If we want to move forwards, we need more observation and more intelligent consideration. Iterating existing formulas beyond the extent possible with off-the-shelf technology, IMHO, is unlikely to yield anything significant.

about 3 years ago

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