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How One School District Handled Rolling Out 20,000 iPads

ttsai Re:Mission creep. (285 comments)

Yes, the kids love them and yes, they probably do have educational value...

Actually, the question of educational value is the big elephant in the room. It is completely questionable and absolutely not obvious that these tablets have educational value. Do the kids learn more, faster, or in different ways? Can this be quantified or even vaguely estimated? There are huge IT capital and operational costs involved, and such large expenditures must be justified in terms of return.

It's telling that the article and even the discussion on Slashdot centers on technical questions because those issues are all tangential. If the main goals focus on avoiding the theft of machines and the bypass of parental controls, then the entire project is misguided. How are the children learning, and how does that learning compare to the previous system of learning? What did the $20 million buy?

about a week ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Many Employees Does Microsoft Really Need?

ttsai Re:How many employees does Slashdot need? (272 comments)

Unfortunately, these MS employees are likely to be unceremoniously dumped with minimal chance of re-employment.

It depends. It could very well be that the main reason for this mass layoff is not that Microsoft carries more deadweight than another company, say Google or Apple, for example. Many of Google's employees are not necessary, but it can afford to pay them due to its money spigot. Financial metrics, such as operating profit or more importantly projected stock price appreciation, quickly turn non-deadweight employees into deadweight. It's obvious that Microsoft (or any other company) does not execute layoffs in response to an appraisal of the quality or necessarily even the usefulness of employees but rather the financial implications of the cost centers that these employees represent.

about two weeks ago
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People Who Claim To Worry About Climate Change Don't Cut Energy Use

ttsai Re:user error (710 comments)

I've never made any concerted effort for "environmental reasons," but I do notice that I don't use nearly as much energy as most people do, which is a side effect of how cheap I am.

Yes, energy usage moderation is a matter of economics and not religion. Rich people with big houses use lot of energy regardless of their views on the environment. Similarly poor people tend to try their best to minimize their energy usage, not because they necessarily care about the environment but because that is what they can afford. This is what I've seen in my life from my experience as part of the bottom 10% as well as the top 5%.

about two weeks ago
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Elite Group of Researchers Rule Scientific Publishing

ttsai Re:Um, here's a glaring fact (123 comments)

Academic publishing would be a much fairer process of reviews would be truly double blind, and if there were a severe penalty for breaking the rules. In the absence of that, people win Nobel prizes and will continue to do so. But that's because those people are outliers, not because the system is sane.

Outstanding papers for the most part will continue to be published. That's not the issue. The problem is that the overwhelming portion of submitted papers are not seminal papers, and it's these papers that are subjected to the defects in the review process, including the following:
(1) Not all reviewers are equally competent for their assigned papers.
(2) Not all reviewers are equally committed to spending the minimum amount of time needed for a thorough review. I have seen reviews submitted by well-known and regarded individuals that were obviously hastily written with a cursory reading of the submission.
(3) The assignment of papers to reviewers is mostly random. Explicit conflicts are filtered, but the assignment is mostly random, even if some sort of bidding process is used, as is done for some conferences.
(4) The number of reviewers is often minimal. For journals, often two reviewers are used. For conferences, 2-5 reviewers may be involved. However, that number includes the less competent and apathetic reviewers.
(5) Decisions are often swayed by a few very opinionated individuals. Especially on a PC, it is not at all rare to see political motivations determine the fate of a paper.

Double-blind reviews are idealistic but not practical. For many/most papers, it's almost trivial to figure out who the authors are based on the title, the subject material, and the references. Most authors will self-reference their own papers.

about two weeks ago
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Slashdot Asks: Do You Want a Smart Watch?

ttsai Yes, but only if it's independent (381 comments)

Fourteen years ago I carried a phone and a PDA. The PDA had wifi, office apps, games, etc., and when needed I could use the phone as a data modem. I eventually migrated to a single device with both phone and PDA functionality, and I've gotten used to the convenience of a single device with the same functionality. I would not want to go backwards in time to once again carrying two devices for the same functionality.

I consider bio-sensors to be gimicky. I imagine most of the people who would find those sensors to be a positive have already bought existing sensor devices.

Using a watch as a convenient but significantly crippled interface to a phone seems like a huge step backwards. I would only accept that huge loss of interface functionality if I could leave the phone behind, i.e., if the phone migrated to the watch. Now, that is something that I would buy in an instant. Anything else is just Pebble++, even if it happens to have a fruit logo on it.

about two weeks ago
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How Google Map Hackers Can Destroy a Business

ttsai Re:why the word needs openstreetmap (132 comments)

Fifteen years ago, you opened the yellow pages for the same information. Did you say then, who controls this book? Did you worry about all the power being in the hands of a single phone company?

Likely not, and for two reasons. If the phone company abused it, they'd lose the trust and goodwill that makes the very product valuable, and if it was no longer accurate someone else would come alone and make an accurate version.

Why is that not the same for Google? If their maps become unreliable, won't people move to Bing? If not, why not?

The problem with "hacking" is the openness and crowd sourcing aspect of Google Maps. Wikipedia has the same problem, and the answer was to decrease the openness for editing. Maybe Google will have to adopt a similar strategic decrease in openness for certain parts of Maps.

Will people move to an alternative if Google Maps becomes unreliable? Well, maybe but probably not. If I'm misdirected to a competitor but I'm still able to complete my transaction, then I probably don't care or maybe I don't even realize the misdirection. If a small percentage of the links I click on fail, but most links continue to work and the rest of Maps functionality remains intact, then I won't switch. The losers are not the browser users but the businesses trying to get free advertising. I imagine Google will take care of paid advertising businesses, but they probably don't care as much for the "freeloaders", i.e., Google wants the freeloaders to populate their database, but they don't really care if they benefit or are hurt.

about three weeks ago
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Tech Workforce Diversity At Facebook Similar To Google And Yahoo

ttsai Re: This means nothing without context (265 comments)

One interesting study would be the correlation between the characteristics of the hiring manager and team members. In my experience the correlation is strong, especially in terms of race and ethnicity. At Bell Labs in the 90's, one out of the three research area organizations had a very high representation of Indian managers and researchers. At Sun, the same was true except that most managers and researchers were white (Americans, Europeans, Australians, etc.). I worked at another company where the manager was Serbian and two other researchers were Serbian.

This is a hypothesis that can be fairly easily corroborated with statistical studies. I'm fairly certain that the bias exists. Of course, whether that bias is good or bad is a separate question.

about a month ago
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Human Language Is Biased Towards Happiness, Say Computational Linguists

ttsai Research methodology questions (86 comments)

Two questions about this research:

(1) How did the researchers account for operational language profiles? Language A may have more negative words than positive words, but maybe the one happy word is used 80% of the time. To me, the incidence of positive vs. negative usage is much more important than the histogram of the available vocabulary.

(2) How did the researchers compare the same word in different languages? Is this comparison possible without the introduction of bias in the selection of words for each of the two languages. From the paper authors' website, "This is a comparison between the average user reported happiness scores between several languages. The "happiness" of each word is rated by 50 distinct users on a scale of 1(sad) to 9 (happy). Words from each row language are then translated into each column language and intersected with each other corpora."

So, how much are the results a reflection of the experimenter's biases and skills in translation to the 2nd language. I'm suspicious of this type of comparison. From the article (not the paper), "For example, on a scale of 1 to 9 with nine being the happiest, Germans rate the word “gift” as 3.54. That’s slightly negative. By contrast, English speakers rate “gift” as strongly positive at 7.72." As a somewhat fluent German speaker, I know that the German word "gift" means poison, and I would consider it not just slightly negative but extremely negative. If the experimenters actually presented the German speakers with the German translation of the English word "gift", e.g., something like "Geschenk", then I imagine the German response would have been very positive.

about a month ago
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Washington Redskins Stripped of Trademarks

ttsai Re: Chicago Blackhawks too? (646 comments)

Niggardly...

Some people many find it offensive because it sounds like an offensive word. However, that does not make their offence legitimate.

Now, if people started to get cute and "niggardly blacks" came into common usage as an euphemism for the notorious N-word it could become offensive, but that would be based on the facts around the usage and not the feelings of a black person.

The problem is with the concept of a "legitimate" offense, as though some quintessential characteristic of an action or statement should outlaw personal feelings. How one feels is reality. For those of who are married, try telling your wife that she shouldn't feel offended because you didn't mean to hurt her, so that should make her feel better.

This entire discussion of "legitimate" offenses boils down to whether one cares about what others feels. If I care about the listener and that listener feels offended, then I would address their feelings, regardless of my personal feelings about the offense. If I don't care about the listener, then I either ignore the listener, or if I feel the sting of societal condemnation, I attack the "legitimacy" of the offense or the morality or intelligence of the listener.

about a month and a half ago
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Washington Redskins Stripped of Trademarks

ttsai Re:Chicago Blackhawks too? (646 comments)

The person it's deriding gets to decide if it's offensive. That's kind of how it works. The white guy doesn't get to decide if Nigger is a bad word. The white guy doesn't get to decide if Chink is a bad word. The white guy doesn't get to decide if Redskin is a bad word. Etc etc etc... This is plain common sense, and everyone arguing against it is an ass.

I completely disagree. It's common sense that the person using the word decides if it's offensive. If someone says "negro" referring to the color of a couch, it's not offensive even if a black person takes offense at it. If a child calls the black paymates he adores "niggers" because that's the only word he's ever known for them, that's not offensive. His black friends may request that he use a different word because they take offense at the term, but the child meant no offense by using the word and it'd be a serious miscarriage of justice for him to be chastised for using the word.

It's much more nuanced than that. There's this incorrect aggregation of the notion of offense, as though something is either offensive to everyone or offensive to no one. A speaker can offend without intention to offend. It should be obvious that each individual is the only person who has not only the right but the ability to determine personally felt offense. The right and ability to determine offense for oneself should not be confused with the legal or moral right to determine the resulting societal actions.

That is, each person gets to decide if the term "redskin" is personally offensive. However, just because one or more people take offense doesn't necessarily grant that group or society as a whole to impose sanctions for that offense. But, likewise, the lack of societal sanction should not be extended to prohibit personal feelings or thoughts. In fact, in my opinion, hearing "You have no right to be offended!" is much more hurtful than the original offense.

about a month and a half ago
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Yahoo's Diversity Record Is Almost As Bad As Google's

ttsai Re:Sensationalist summary (435 comments)

Making any comments about the desirability or appropriateness of the percentage of women, blacks, hispanics, etc. in a company implies personal knowledge about the desired or appropriate range of percentages. But, that's where it gets difficult. It's easy to say that the numbers are too low, but it's hard to pin down what the target numbers should be. Should the percentage of women be 50%? But, if there are 10x more men applying for the job, is that appropriate? As others have discussed in this forum, a separate question is whether the 10:1 ratio of men:women applicants is appropriate.

This discussion also presents perhaps a hazy melding of two distinct, important questions: (1) Are there an appropriate percentage of a certain demographic group within a company, and (2) do the members of that demographic group have the same opportunities to get a job in that company? The first question deals with the aggregate end result, while the latter question deals with the probabilities for an individual. In my opinion, the second question is more important but difficult to measure. So, the first question is used as a lazy alternative.

about a month and a half ago
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Endurance Experiment Writes One Petabyte To Six Consumer SSDs

ttsai Re:context (164 comments)

A few years ago, Google published a study of hard disk failures. Failures were not correlated with how much data was written or read. Failures were correlated with the amount of time the disk was spun up, so you should idle a drive not in active use. Failures were negatively correlated with temperature: drives kept cooler were MORE likely to fail.

Actually the paper says that the Google guys approximated power-on hours with a notion of age, which I assume was approximated by a knowledge of either the manufacture date of the delivery date. From the paper, annualized failure rate (AFR) is somewhat correlated with age, but not necessarily strongly enough to predict probability of failure. Even with their large drive population, the paper points out that the drive model mix is not consistent over time and therefore, not much can be made of the apparently weak correlation between AFR and age, which could be perhaps be more greatly influenced by drive model.

The negative correlation with very cold temperatures is interesting but hard to understand without further analysis. Perhaps some drive models didn't handle fly height adjustments well at low temperatures. It's hard to figure out without more data. It should also be pointed out the temperatures were obtained via SMART, and the SMART standard doesn't mandate how temperature is reported. So, different manufacturers could report temperatures in different ways, i.e., different locations (which can easily vary by up to 30 degrees C), different aggregation methods (time windows, sampling frequency), etc. So, the aggregate data is probably not as useful as the data per drive model.

about a month and a half ago
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Driver Study: People Want Fewer Embedded Apps, Just Essentials That Work Easily

ttsai Re:What I want (148 comments)

Nobody needs a $4000 in-car navigation when their $400 phone already does the same thing better.

I actually prefer the built-in system. For example, I have a limited data plan because my non-wifi data needs are low, so using an online map like Google Maps or Waze costs extra on a recurring basis. With a phone, I would have to go through the motions of removing it from my pocket, attaching it to the bracket, and plugging it in, as well as the reverse motions when leaving the car. I would also need a special bracket to hold the phone, and even with this bracket, the screen would shake more than an integrated system. The phone screen is significantly smaller. The phone audio is not integrated into the car speakers, so audio levels have to be adjusted, and navigation directions sometimes compete with music. The built-in system also has a physical joystick and dial with voice feedback (not to mention voice recognition) so that I can control it more easily than the using the phone's touchscreen.

I do use my phone for navigation sometimes when I drive my older car. But, given a choice, I always prefer the built-in system.

about 2 months ago
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Crucial Launches MX100 SSD At Well Under 50 Cents Per GiB

ttsai Re:Ye Gods, an Ad (107 comments)

The goal of the upgrade was an easy performance upgrade, i.e., pop it in and enjoy the speed.

What my experience shows is that DRAM costs less, yields a better performance increase, and most importantly is plug-and-play. Obviously, different machines and operational workloads will affect results, but if SSD performance is not plug-and-play, the value proposition for many users is greatly diminished.

about 2 months ago
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Crucial Launches MX100 SSD At Well Under 50 Cents Per GiB

ttsai Re:Ye Gods, an Ad (107 comments)

IOPS is simple: how many random seeks can your storage device perform? If you can scootch your heads to the starting sector once per second, you have 1 IOP. Divide the rotational speed of your drive by 60. EG: 7200/60 = 120. That's the literal maximum number of seeks you can get out of your hard disk heads assuming that there is no seek time.

Hmm, if you assume there is no seek time, then ideally IOPS will be 120 if your request size is exactly a full track, which is almost never the case. IOPS will be 1s / (seek_time + rotational_latency + access_time + overhead). How many IOPS you can get from a 7200rpm drive depends on a lot of factors. Are the requests uniformly randomly distributed? Is NCQ enabled? What is the max track span of the requests? If the max track span is narrow and on the outer part of the disk, then you can get a lot IOPS, quite a bit more than 120.

SSDs are now only about 5x the cost of HDDs in many cases. In past years, it's typical to have, multi-disk arrays solely to improve performance. In these cases, a single SSD can be not only dramatically faster, but significantly cheaper to boot.

Whether or not an SSD is worthwhile depends on the use case. I just put a low-end SSD in an old desktop to replace an HDD. The performance difference was basically negligible. I was quite disappointed. The system bootup was a bit faster, but application startup wasn't any better. And, since I always put my machine to sleep instead of shutting down, bootup times are unimportant. Fortunately, I could live with the dramatically smaller storage capacity because my main storage is on another machine. In contrast, I doubled the DRAM on my other machine, and the performance boost was amazing. The $30 I spent on the DRAM was a much better investment than the $70 for the SSD.

about 2 months ago
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Temporary Classrooms Are Bad For the Environment, and Worse For Kids

ttsai Re:Oxymoron (187 comments)

This is an example of correlation not necessarily indicating causation. There's nothing inherently wrong with a temporary structure. Does the fact that some temporary structure have bad ventilation mean that all temporary structures have bad ventilation? If you take the same temporary structure and move it to a rich neighborhood, do the rich kids have similar levels of absenteeism?

Of course, a poorly designed or erected temporary structure is bad, just as a poorly designed or erected permanent structure is bad. However, the underlying problem is funding (and the associated problems arising from neighborhoods with less educated and poorer parents).

about 2 months ago
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Data Center With a Brain: Google Using Machine Learning In Server Farms

ttsai Modeling outpaces practical feedback (26 comments)

Artificial intelligence and neural networks are a hot topic, so this is piggy-backing on that trend. It's not a surprise that Andrew Ng's work is referenced quite a bit.

While the modeling is interesting, it's seems to be just modeling at this point. The main claim of the white paper is high PUE prediction accuracy by the model. While that's academically interesting, the real use is in feedback for optimization. The white paper author realized that and included that optimization problem as one of the examples in the paper. However, the optimization was achieved "through a combination of PUE simulations and local expertise." I'm guessing that the local expertise part was relatively significant because there is basically no discussion of this even though it is the one application that would really make this work practical and really interesting. The paper claimed that this neural network-based optimization reduced PUE "by ~0.02 compared to the previous configuration." But, I have no idea how that would have compared to optimization using just local expertise without the benefit of neural network modeling.

about 2 months ago
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Professors: US "In Denial" Over Poor Maths Standards

ttsai Re:Coded Racism (688 comments)

Anyone who has experience outside the public education system figures out real quick that you can't look at the skin color or bank account of a student to see how well they're doing.

While it's true that skin color and wealth cannot be used as independent indicators or predictors of academic performance, the correlation is nonzero. I would even venture to guess that the correlation is more than weak. Yes, correlation is not causation, but correlation is a definite indication of, well, correlation, i.e., there's a relationship.

Racism is the last excuse that our failed public education system still clings to. That and "we don't have enough money."

It's an excuse when we don't like the idea, but a truism when we do. Racism may not be a relevant cause of poor academic performance, but it's statistically clear that racial factors have significant correlation to academic performance. [Please no correlation is not causation garbage -- that type of thinking is just an excuse to avoid further discourse.]

about 2 months ago
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7.1 Billion People, 7.1 Billion Mobile Phone Accounts Activated

ttsai Re:Not a BS number (197 comments)

It's funny, but I dislike using my phone for basically all of those things, and so I don't. IMHO, typing on a smart phone is much like trying to assemble Christmas toys while drunk; not pleasurable, and noteworthy mainly for the occasional disaster it causes.

I agree. I only use my phone for situations where a PC is unavailable because the PC user interface is almost always vastly preferable. Yes, Angry Birds is better with a touchscreen, but it's the exception. A physical keyboard is so much better than a virtual keyboard in terms of speed and annoyance. A mouse with buttons has much greater speed and utility than a touchscreen. A 24" screen is much more readable than a 5" or 10" screen, and web page formatting is more usable.

The sole redeeming value of the phone is its mobility.

about 3 months ago
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Sony Warns Demand For Blu-Ray Diminishing Faster Than Expected

ttsai Re:Blame Hollywood (477 comments)

Absolutely. The original commentary that it's the disc-based DRM that's offensive is illogical. Streaming is the always on, immediately revocable, non-bypassable version of DRM. It's the perfect DRM.

about 3 months ago

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