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This 1981 BYTE Magazine Cover Explains Why We're So Bad At Tech Predictions

smpoole7 Science Fiction (276 comments)

Those of us who love science fiction are used to this. It's fun to go back and read what some of the authors in the 1950's thought the future would look like. My personal favorite is that no thought it given to miniaturization; everything still uses tubes. Exotic tubes with magical abilities (like the power tubes in the Venus Equilateral series), but still vacuum tubes with filaments.

When it comes to computers, it's just as hit and miss. The way some authors handle artificial intelligence is by insisting that it won't happen. (David Weber, to name one -- in his books, the idea is that any true AI would quickly go insane.)

(But then, poor David has other concerns: in the Honor Harrington series, one key to Manticore's military superiority is the fact that they've harnessed "gravity waves" for faster-than-light communications ... and the physicists have long since determined that gravity propagates no faster than the speed of light.) :)

Likewise when I see anyone in a story "pressing a button" (even if it's a virtual button). We're already on the brink of direct neural interfaces. You think it, things happen. That's the future. But to be fair to these authors, it's hard to see what's coming in 10 years.

about 4 months ago
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Why There Are So Few ISP Start-Ups In the U.S.

smpoole7 Loser Pay Legislation (223 comments)

Loser-Pay Legislation would take care of the second one. Been saying it for years.

Eventually, those folks who oppose it simply because it seems too "conservative" for their politics are going to get their minds right.

The United States is the only major Western Democracy that doesn't follow the "british rule," where the winning party in a lawsuit is generally allowed to recover the costs of bringing or defending a suit.

about 4 months ago
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Massive Storm Buries US East Coast In Snow and Ice

smpoole7 Ok (And Crazy) In Alabama (290 comments)

I think everyone here learned from the Snowpocalypse last week. Most people stayed off the roads.

about 6 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Do You Do If You're Given a Broken Project?

smpoole7 Re:You were not hired to finish the project (308 comments)

> Other times you can work like an actual adult and solve the problems

I don't know the details in this case, and neither do you. But trust me, it ain't always that simple.

Years ago, back when I was still doing the contract programming gig on the side, I took a job for a major multinational. This was a relatively simple concept: write some software that read the AutoCAD files for the wire numbers, and then print heat-shrink labels to go on the wires. Sounds good, right?

First strike: it was done in Visual C++ 1.5, 16 bit. That compiler had some marvelous bugs (such as getting the segment and offset REVERSED when it loaded the ES and SI registers, HA HA that one was fun to track down).

Second strike: my predecessor had used that silly "frame-document-view" model for this relatively simple program (I can't even remember what they call it now). He decided to put everything in the View, so he had globals everywhere. Of course, they were getting clobbered, and of COURSE, I had to find each of these bugs.

Third: the people with this company had no idea what they wanted it to actually do. They said, "the stuff for the heater wiring starts with 'H," the motor wiring with 'M', and so on ... except for when it doesn't." (That's not a joke.) In other words, the files that I was reading (with a horrible third-party bolt-on DLL, by the way) weren't even guaranteed to be standardized!

I left this project and moved on to more pleasant things. That cured me. I went back into radio engineering, even though (with no false modesty) I was actually a very good programmer.

OH, and did I mention that this was using Visual C++ 1.5? Make sure you don't miss that. :)

about 7 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Do You Do If You're Given a Broken Project?

smpoole7 Re:Short answer: Run. (308 comments)

> that could directly impact the contractor's future work prospects, if they cite how bad a job the contractor has done

They're going to do that anyway, whether he stays to completion/collapse, or quits now.

I say quit now, find something else right away and let it blow over. It may not seem like it right now, but it WILL eventually blow over. Get another successful project or two under your belt and the one bad project won't glare too badly on the resume.

about 7 months ago
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The Human Body May Not Be Cut Out For Space

smpoole7 Re:squashed eyeballs (267 comments)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P...

The brain is intimately involved with how we perceive things. A bunch of experiments have been done, for example (recounted in the link above), one guy wore glasses that inverted everything -- he saw everything "upside down." After a few days, his brain flipped everything the right way!

I can imagine that years with low or no gravity would do far more than just affect the physiology. This isn't just a mechanical phenomenon. It's not just a matter of distorted eyeballs or inner ears. The whole time, your brain is trying to reinterpret what you're sensing to fit what it understands.

about 7 months ago
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Why We Think There's a Multiverse, Not Just Our Universe

smpoole7 Re:My God... (458 comments)

> Posts like this are why scientists like Lawrence Krauss have no time for philosophers.

Heh. Thanks for the laugh with my morning coffee. You are dead on the money.

> Karl Popper's rules do not claim to be science itself

And Popper himself was responsible for the Philosophy of Science. His rules are generally used because they work.

A good example for the layman (not scientific by any means, but illustrative) would be, you're sitting in your den, watching TV. "Where's the cat?" you wonder. One of his play toys mysteriously rolls from under the sofa, and you say, "ah." Is that proof that there's a cat under there? Of course not. But based on previous observations, experience, and the knowledge that your feline is a loveable knothead who can get into anything and at any time, it's a darn safe guess. :)

> Creationists, by the by, have an agenda; that is, 'prove' what they already take to be a priori assumptions. They aren't interested in knowledge, they're interested in influence.

Many are. But don't make blanket assumptions.

Me? I'm more of a libertarian, plotting endlessly to take over the world so that I can leave you completely alone. :)

about 7 months ago
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Why We Think There's a Multiverse, Not Just Our Universe

smpoole7 Re:My God... (458 comments)

> Is this testable?

I spent a good bit of time trying to explain this to laycreatures at my own Website. Karl Popper pretty well summed up the rules for scientific theories:

1. It must adequately explain that which is known about the thing being observed.
2. It must be falsifiable. In other words, it must make concrete predictions that can be tested empirically. If not, it is NOT a scientific theory.
3. This is the key: the SIMPLEST (i.e., the most "economical") theory that adequately explains the observations is preferred.

This is extremely important: just because you come up with a theory that seems to work does NOT mean that you're right. It simply means that you've found a mathematical model that works as far as you are able to understand and test it.

These guys seem to believe that inflation compels a belief in multiverses. They are certainly not alone in that. But in the interest of equal time, there are PLENTY of other cosmological-types who insist that there are alternate explanations. The "math" does NOT lead only and exclusively to that conclusion. In fact, while researching this for my Website, I found a flooding TON of physicists who went all the way back to Andre Linde (who was one of the first to popularize this) and beyond, and poked all sorts of holes in these arguments.

Disclaimer, I'm not a physicist and don't claim to be. But I'm about as up to speed on it as a layman can get and still remain sane. :)

about 7 months ago
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Why We Think There's a Multiverse, Not Just Our Universe

smpoole7 Re:Generally accepted? (458 comments)

> You imply the Big Bang is generaly accepted nowadays because Koch brothers managed to make money of it?

Indeed. I had to put my helmet on just to consider that one.

My head still might explode.

about 7 months ago
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If UNIX Were a Religion

smpoole7 Re:If it was a religion? (392 comments)

"Red Hat Lutherans ... Ubuntu baptists ... Android is like the Mormons ..."

OK. ... so whom are the snake handlers?

[Stephen pops a bag of corn and sits happily back to watch the debate ...]

about 8 months ago
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A Short History of Computers In the Movies

smpoole7 Re:Reel-to-real (165 comments)

> If an average vacuum tube lasted 6 months

This is a common misunderstanding about reliability, whether talking about solid-state or tubes. In fact, any manufacturer worth his/her salt can predict, with surprisingly accuracy, the number of failures over time -- say, 1% in the first month, 10% by the end of the first year, and so on. How they do this is fascinating to those who are interested.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality_assurance

Thus, you can buy electronics, made in the same factory, by the same people, but one branded "Sharp" and the other with an off-brand name -- identical units -- but one has a 90-day warranty, while the other is 1 year. The latter will probably cost more because ('ere's the secret) the cost of the warranty is factored into the price of the unit. (Moral: a longer warranty does NOT necessarily mean a better-built device. Another secret that "They" won't tell you.) :)

In this case:

1. You test each tube thoroughly before it's even approved for use in the computer. (This testing is one reason why "mil-spec" components cost so much.)

2. Since each tube is about the same age when the computer is first built, there will be a *window* when you expect to begin having cascade failures. You schedule PM (i.e., tube replacement) to occur *before* that window. For each of those 60,000 tubes, there's a replacement log.

This is a great example of how statistics can mislead. When the first really big computers were proposed, there were indeed some who argued that they'd never work, because with 10,000's of tubes, they'd be constantly breaking down. But real-life proved them wrong, thankfully.

about 8 months ago
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A Short History of Computers In the Movies

smpoole7 Re:Preventative Maintenance (165 comments)

> go to work down to the mill

In the snow and rain. Uphill BOTH ways. And we LIKED IT.

GET OFF MY LAWN!

about 8 months ago
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Microsoft's Ticking Time Bomb Is Windows XP

smpoole7 Re:The Solution is Obvious (829 comments)

>> "I own two machines which cannot be upgraded for very good reasons."

> What are those?

Plenty of reasons. Khyber's comment below about hardware drivers is one. If you have a sweet server that's still chugging along, you feel no need to replace or upgrade it. If you did, though, you'd have a time finding drivers for it.

Another reason is if you're using a very expensive software package that simply won't work with anything newer than Windows XP. Then it's not just a simple matter of upgrading Windows, but having to shell out tons of money for other software upgrades at the same time. Until the economy turns around, that ain't gonna happen.

We've run across cases where a software vendor will say, "don't install anything newer than service pack 2." We handle it by completely isolating these machines from the Internet and disallowing the use of external, user-supplied storage (which most smart admins do anyway, on general principle).

Here's a piece of trivia for you: one of the key audio streaming companies* for broadcast radio stations, as late as last year, made it clear in their contract that they would ONLY support Windows XP. We dropped them for that reason, but folks, this was in 2012. That kind of stuff still happens, too, and again, blame the economy.

This admittedly won't affect most users, but it does affect some of us.

(*actually, to be technically correct, they're an ad-insertion company -- they insert commercial inventory in your online stream -- but I figured everyone's eyes would glaze over if I tried to get that detailed.) :)

about 8 months ago
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Target Has Major Credit Card Breach

smpoole7 Re:don't connect everything to the internet! (191 comments)

@girlintraining:

Very, very interesting. My only observation would be that the police would be likely to accept what Target told them; I wouldn't think there is active collusion between them.

But if we accept the premise that this is a coverup, I have a rather pertinent question.

I don't shop at Target stores. I don't like them. But sometimes, my wife and I *do* use their online site. During the dates in question, we may have sent a Target gift card (via said Website) to a family member.

If this is a coverup, it'd be nice to know the actual details. I'd like to know if *we* are at risk. We have a couple of those "credit protection" plans on all of our accounts, but it'd still be nice to know. :)

about 8 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Can Digital Music Replace Most Instrumental Musicians?

smpoole7 Re:Automatons vs performers. (328 comments)

> I have yet to meet the synthesizer that can even remotely duplicate the dulcet noises of the old-fashioned dead trees and metal strings of my grand piano.

That's true to someone who is sitting at the piano, playing it.

But remember, when you're talking about *recorded* music, you should compare that to the sound of a properly-miked grand piano vs. a properly-sampled piano. Both sounds are ultimately stored and then played back through speakers, and test after test have shown that most listeners can't tell the difference (and/or just plain don't care).

From my own experience, I can get the sounds I want from digital synthesis and sampling, but it does take a lot more work. However, the benefit is that I DON'T have a giant grand piano and a drum kit in my small home studio. I'm willing to accept that tradeoff. :)

about 8 months ago
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GM's CEO Rejects Repaying Feds for Bailout Losses

smpoole7 Re:real socialism (356 comments)

> Yet people like you ... never complain when the IRS giving our money to the Military, or to form a police state ...

Stereotype much? :)

I hate big government AND I hate big corporations. (I'm an equal-opportunity curmudgeon.) So yes, I will complain about the GM bailout, but I will also complain about the military buying weapon systems that it arguably doesn't need and will almost certainly never use.

about 8 months ago
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New Documentary Chronicles Road Tripping Scientists Promoting Reason

smpoole7 Re:I'm an atheist. (674 comments)

> You seem to be under the impression that the Russians by large are atheists

I never said that. You decided that I must believe that and then prepared an (admittedly interesting) discussion about it.

What I said was actually quite simple. Facts:

1. STALIN and those around him were committed atheists. They were serious. Forget what historians have tried to divine about his beliefs (or lack thereof) and go read what the dudes actually wrote. They weren't playing or pretending.

2. As a result of that viewpoint, Stalin and his cohorts sincerely believed that, since there was no God and no afterlife, the only thing that mattered was the here and now. If that meant that you were obstructionist to their view of the future, you were (at best) persecuted or even killed.

The point I was making here was that Stalin horribly persecuted gays, even though he was an avowed and sincere atheist -- so the idea that religion automatically results in anti-gay philosophy is a terrible oversimplification.

about 8 months ago
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New Documentary Chronicles Road Tripping Scientists Promoting Reason

smpoole7 Re:If they are SO REALLY CONCERN about religion .. (674 comments)

Then I stand corrected on that technical point. (Seriously.) I try to respect the difference between atheist, agnostic and free-thinker.

He probably ought to watch what t-shirts he wears at some of these events. Just sayin' ... :)

I know, I know. He mostly attacks *religion* and not specifically the existence of God. For that matter, I attack organized religion myself. Have very little use for it.

What I especially object to are Dawkin's famous statements such as, "I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." That completely ignores that all through history there have been those who were intensely curious about nature BECAUSE they believed in a Supreme Being. They wanted to see how He did it. :)

about 8 months ago

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