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Interviews: Forrest Mims Answers Your Questions

under_score Re:Too bad about evolution (161 comments)

Lastly, Dr. Amit Goswami, Ph.D., theoretical nuclear physicist

And a theoretical nuclear physicist is more qualified than biologists like Coyle and Dawkins to write about evolution because... ?

That's a veiled ad hominum argument - a logical fallacy. Just like you have asserted that someone should read Coyle and Dawkins, you in turn might consider setting an example by examining the arguments of Dr. Goswami.

FWIW, I haven't read any of these references, but I have read extensively on all sides of the argument including evolutionary biologists, intelligent design proponents and other non-standard models for what we observe. I've read other Dawkins books and found them to be just as weak as many of the ID books. As far as I can tell, it's all still philosophy, and the science that we have, namely molecular biology, breeding and the fossil record do not show evolution as the conclusive final word on how life works.

about 1 month ago
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Airbus E-Fan Electric Aircraft Makes First Flight

under_score Add solar to extend range? (160 comments)

I have no idea if this would help, but with developments in solar technology, would it make a significant difference if the tops of the wings, fuselage, tail and fan ducts were all solar panels? Seems like a simple thing to do to help with range... maybe not done because it's not reliable.

about 2 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Choose Frameworks That Will Survive?

under_score Bake-off (227 comments)

I've been faced with this kind of decision a number of times. I always remember: if I'm not filthy stinking rich right now, then I'm probably bad at predicting the future. Any attempt to do so should be taken with a huge dose of scepticism.

That said, I think that the practical answer is simple: invest a bit of time doing a bake-off of the likely candidates. Try to choose some real high-priority business features, and then get very small teams of 2 or 3 people each to use each of the frameworks to build production-quality functionality for those business features. Don't take more than a week to do this. To use your example, Flex vs. HTML5, you would get two small teams to try to build the _same_ functionality using the two different frameworks.

Evaluate your results based on how much the teams actually got done. (Remember: production quality, not prototype quality.)

Since you can't predict the future, I also strongly recommend good Agile Engineering Practices to help to build a system that is not just change-tolerant, but is actually easy to change.

about 9 months ago
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First Exoplanet To Be Seen In Color Is Blue

under_score Re:Question: what atmospheric constituents? (139 comments)

That is cool! I'm sure that in the distant future when we get to actually explore these places (probes or human explorers), that we will find all sorts of nifty things... and probably discover all sorts of ways in which we are wrong :-) I wish I could see that future!

1 year,18 days
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Ask Slashdot: Development Requirements Change But Deadlines Do Not?

under_score Re:Agile is about commitment, not flexibility (221 comments)

This is a great way of describing Scrum, but I would be more clear about the fact that Agile != Scrum. Agile is the abstract base class (or maybe even just an interface/protocol) described by the Agile Manifesto: http://www.agilemanifesto.org/ and Scrum is a subclass that implements/extends Agile.

That said, the yardstick analogy is great and I'm going to use that right away in a class I'm teaching about Scrum!

Thanks!

PS. BSP below...

1 year,18 days
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HR Departments Tell Equifax Your Entire Salary History

under_score Re:Privacy and Abuse (472 comments)

I agree that it is a long process... possibly centuries (although I hope just decades). I'm an optimist at heart! One quote that I have found particularly inspiring is:

"The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct."

To me, that means that all the people who are trying to improve the world (the environment, politics, community life, etc.), and even my own modest efforts, are having an effect.

about a year and a half ago
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HR Departments Tell Equifax Your Entire Salary History

under_score Privacy and Abuse (472 comments)

In our culture, we are afraid of abuses.... legitimately! Having this information for sale can easily be used for such obvious purposes as rejecting a job candidate because their past salary is "too high". Stronger privacy protection is generally considered the antidote to such potential abuses. However, more and more regulation leads to greater and greater bureaucracy and therefore the cost of government increases.

Another solution is a longer-term solution and that is to address the underlying cultural assumptions and shift the world to a more positive outlook based on the idea of the inherent nobility of humans. Our bureaucracy has grown as we have moved away from a perspective on the noble human to the animal human with greed motivating our every move. In fact, this is a cultural choice, not a foregone conclusion.

At some point, I hope that we (culturally) will start responding to these sorts of crisis with a long-term view to improving humanity rather than reacting to the down-side.

about a year and a half ago
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Interviews: Ask James Randi About Investigating the Truth

under_score Your Axioms... (386 comments)

I was wondering what axioms you hold to be true? Any rational system has a set of axioms that are the unprovable foundation of that rational system. What do you believe on faith?

about a year ago
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The Android SDK Is No Longer Free Software

under_score Does this surprise anyone? (535 comments)

Google has long been willing to compromise on their "do no evil" mantra and is probably under huge pressure from successful incumbent phone device manufacturers to create barriers to entry in the market. This is common with any market where goods or services start to become commoditized.

about a year and a half ago
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Is Silicon Valley Morally Bankrupt and Toxic?

under_score Re:In a word, YES! (469 comments)

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

1) I agree with what you have said. I'm not sure if you followed my point, but you can think of it like DRM: content producers/distributors distrust their customers and that has the unintended consequence that their customers (due to the DRM anti-feature) look to other sources for their content, some illegal sources. The environment of distrust creates bad behavior.

2) I have three hobbies: robotics, coin collecting and making music. There is nothing inherently wrong with money or physical things or pasttimes. I didn't say there was. Materialism is a philosophy or culture of placing material things at the highest rank of importance and possibly even denying any other important things. American society is _not_ purely materialistic. For example, the importance of liberty in American society is non-materialistic. Nevertheless, my experience of the Bay Area/Silicon Valley is of an extreme of Materialism.

3) Toronto is also home to some of the largest refugee communities in the world and is incredibly diverse as a result. I'm not going to claim that Toronto is more or less harmonious/integrated than the area in California. What I _am_ saying is that there is a notable hypocrisy of an outwardly-seeming open, inclusive culture that tolerates some pretty extreme ghettoization. (White) people there seem very proud of their moral relativism, tolerance of diversity, etc. and yet that pride seems to ignore the social responsibility for some deep race-related problems. They may have their immediate causes based in bad government. But the root cause is clear to outsiders (including many of those who are refugees there, that I have spoken with): racism.

4) Moral bankruptcy? An environment of distrust, extreme materialism, and hypocrisy. But again, that wasn't my point. My point was that when you live there, the culture is so powerful that, for me at least, it became my culture even though I was fighting it. I only really realized how much it had effected me when I moved away. Moving back again, I was there for mercifully short periods of time and did not feel as deeply effected. I have discussed this effect with other outsiders and they have experienced similar things. Not only is the area morally bankrupt (which is different than saying any individual is so), but it is pervasive and persuasive.

I am financially successful. I have a very nice house, I have a successful business and I am not bitter about other people's success. I'm not (quite) a millionaire, but I'm in the top five percent of income earners in Canada, and probably top 1% in my city. However, my success is not solely based on pursuing material aspirations. I also try very hard to "do good" for it's own sake. I have been very poor (to the point of living on state assistance) and I have also been close to financial bankruptcy twice in my life. I _don't_ believe that my current success is solely due to my own hard work. There is a very good portion of luck and other good people thrown into the mix. I can clearly identify several points in the development of my career when the only reason I succeeded is because I made what seemed an arbitrary choice that happened to be "correct".

Doesn't suck to be me :-)

about a year ago
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Is Silicon Valley Morally Bankrupt and Toxic?

under_score Re:In a word, YES! (469 comments)

I agree that there are some people whose behavior is almost exclusively anti-social, or even could be called sociopaths. I believe that there is still the possibility of reform/redemption for these people, but I'm not an expert and so I would not claim to have a "solution". I have met one person that I think may legitimately be called a sociopath, but it was a long time ago. The experience was incredibly damaging to me in many ways and I am no longer in contact with that person.

about a year ago
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Is Silicon Valley Morally Bankrupt and Toxic?

under_score Re:In a word, YES! (469 comments)

I haven't reversed cause and effect. I have only observed that there is a negative feedback loop in the US that does not exist everywhere else (although I would guess it isn't exclusive to the US). Not only that, but I am not trying to say every individual behaves the same way or can be painted with the same brush. Certainly there are muggings, but I would hesitate to say that there are "muggers".

Actually, what I am saying is not so foreign to the "Slashdot mind". I mentioned this in another part of this thread: Slashdotters commonly bring up the idea of DRM as an anti-feature on [software|music|movies] that perpetuates "pirating". In other words, the environment of distrust on the part of producers and distributors of digital content creates a higher likelihood of bad/illegal behavior on the part of potential users of that content. This is not so difficult an example for people in the US to understand because it is very specific and falls within the American cultural norms of rebellion against authority. The example that we started with, a street attack, is not so obvious because that environment of distrust is not as specific nor as directly connected to the behavior. Nevertheless, my observation is that _any_ environment of distrust breeds bad behavior, and any environment of trust encourages good behavior. The boundary conditions are what is interesting: in an environment of trust, if someone breaks that trust, how do people in the environment respond to that breech? Do they then start to distrust (and put in place policies, procedures, institutions, etc. that formalize that distrust)? Or do they continue to work within a culture of trust (and put in place all the things that can help to recover from the breech)?

Why didn't you defend yourself? And why score others who do?

I didn't defend myself because, fundamentally, it was not a developed habitual reaction. I can't claim that in the moment of attack I did a deep rational analysis of the situation. Instead, I simply lacked a defensive response habit and so I didn't defend myself. As it turns out, the situation defused itself and I lost nothing in the exchange. I believe that it was simply time passing that allowed the situation to become defused: the attacker lost energy. (I'm guessing there. I don't really know what was going on inside the person chemically, emotionally, etc.) I also want to point out that I am not naive enough to believe this would always "work". Certainly some attacks conclude with death, rape etc. even with passive response on the part of the attacked person.

And to repeat, I don't scorn others who do defend themselves. What I am concerned about is perhaps over-reaction or escalation. Honestly, I haven't thought it through to make _any_ generalizations and I suspect that I could only respond on a case-by-case basis to such things.

This complete debasement of the individual is incomprehensible to my American mind...

Actually, I feel that in America the individual is almost completely debased. Consumerism, culture of fear and distrust, breakdown of the extended family and the neighbourhood all lead to individuals behaving more like animals and less like noble, social beings. Individuals can certainly become excellent through their own hard work and choices, but there seems to be a real lack of recognition that "the individual is organic with their environment": there isn't simple first cause (individual merit) and then lots of effects (success in life). Instead, there are complex feedback systems where the environment limits, changes or empowers an individual and individuals make choices that in turn limit, change or expand their environment. Since the environment includes other people who are also making choices, we need to recognize both our liberty and our responsibility: through our choices, no matter how personal, we limit, change or empower other people.

"violence," and not "harm"

Hmm. Not tolerating violence against innocents... this is certainly an important foundation of society. No argument there. But one individual self-defending is not the only way (nor in my opinion the best way) of a society not tolerating violence against innocents. I don't consider self-defense reprehensible! I am actually often impressed by people who are able to defend themselves... and even more impressed by people who are able to defend themselves and at the same time transform a violent environment/encounter to a non-violent environment/encounter... and _even_ more impressed when that transformation goes from violence to forgiveness, love and the mending of hearts. (I'm not good at this, fwiw.)

I would like to use an analogy with healthcare. There are preventative techniques and healing techniques. Both are important. American society seems to prefer institutionalizing healing techniques and leaving preventative techniques mostly up to the individual. This is partly because of the question of freedom (I guess). But it has the consequence that it is much easier for people to become unhealthy due to lack of institutional support for preventative techniques.

The same could be said about violence. There are certainly both preventative and reactive techniques. Again, American society seems to prefer reactive techniques (the justice system, self defence) rather than preventative techniques. I've already mentioned some reasons I believe this to be the case, but most of it is rooted in a history of British colonialism and subsequent rebellion. In Canada we never had that. In fact, Canada is one of very few countries that gained independence without any bloodshed. That deeply effects our respective cultures.

about a year ago
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Is Silicon Valley Morally Bankrupt and Toxic?

under_score Re:You sound like somebody worth knowing (469 comments)

:-) Thanks. I'm not just some pimply kid although regrettably I still get the occasional spot. I wish I had signed up for Slashdot just a bit earlier and hit that magic UID: 65536. Missed it by a few hundred. I'm in my early forties and been on Slashdot since the late 90's. My "Homepage" links to one of my businesses which is related to Agile training. Agile is one of those things that is compatible with my overall view of things: you can treat people like responsible adults and they will mostly rise to the occasion and behave that way! The ones that don't rise to the occasion may need remedial help or may be beyond help (in a given organization), but they will be relatively few and far between. As we like to say so often here on Slashdot about DRM: don't treat all your customers like criminals because that encourages people to behave like criminals. Instead, give them a reasonable option to do good and most people will take it!

about a year ago
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Is Silicon Valley Morally Bankrupt and Toxic?

under_score Re:In a word, YES! (469 comments)

My vacuous twaddle is just my own opinion. I may be wrong. I may have observed the wrong sample of reality to come up with my opinions. Sorry.

That said, my use of the word "soul" shouldn't be construed as some mystical mumbo-jumbo. I mean simply our seemingly unique human capacity to use reason to discover the nature of the universe... which capacity we frequently ignore as we become emotional about issues and circumstances. I'm not sure if you've read the book "The Black Swan" but it has a few great sections on common logical fallacies that are based in emotional mechanics of our brains. Very cool stuff. And yet we clearly are able to transcend that emotionality and move to rationality.

I just believe (again based on limited evidence) that most people choose moral relativism, capitalism, American culture etc. because it is emotionally easy, not because they have thought clearly and rationally about it.

about 2 years ago
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Is Silicon Valley Morally Bankrupt and Toxic?

under_score Re:In a word, YES! (469 comments)

Less abstractly, why do you find it noble to allow yourself and others to be victimized? Although I'm sincerely glad you're safe, a society that tolerates violence against innocents is no society at all.

I didn't use the word "noble" although I might have thought it :-) Actually, there is a mental perspective about our relationship with others that is implied by the word "victimized" that I'm not sure I agree with. Victimization is a perspective oriented in power relationships (you have a gun, I don't, => you have power over me and could potentially victimize me). Again, my point is not about a particular power dynamic, but instead about a cultural dynamic: that people who expect a thing of others often get that thing, and in America, an expectation of danger and distrust leads to those very things. It is inherent in so many parts of American life and culture that I can understand why it is hard to see if you are in the culture (and if you aren't, I'm surprised that you don't see it, but interested in what you _do_ see as the distinguishing features of American culture). For example, the fundamental structures of government with a "system of checks and balances" is founded on distrust... which is historically understandable given English colonialism. But that structure does not increase trust. Instead, it perpetuates distrust and, compared to what I have seen in other countries, that distrustful attitude is reflected throughout the culture at a higher level than in other cultures (particularly my native Canadian culture).

Where do you have "quality of life" without Life?

I probably wasn't clear enough... of _course_ you need life to have quality of life. But if we simply focus on the binary of life/not-life, we can miss building on that to get to quality of life. In Canada, to be specific, we also have the right to life, and liberty, but to security of the person (rather than property) (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Charter_of_Rights_and_Freedoms). As you can imagine, we take those rights seriously. However, the difference between a right to property and a right to security of the person has significant consequences in how as a society we treat those who are poor or needy. Security of the person is a quality of life right rather than an economic right.

a society that tolerates violence against innocents is no society at all

I agree. This is a bit like Asimov's laws of robotics. It makes sense that a society should not allow harm to come to innocents (what about the guilty?) So why does the society in the USA allow this to happen so often? In the name of freedom (e.g. an attempt to be free from taxes, or freedom of choice in health care) there is great injustice perpetuated against great numbers of citizens in the USA. And it's not just a "falling through the cracks" type of problem where a very small number of people are affected. I was flabbergasted when I learned how many people there are not protected by health insurance or are under-insured. In Canada, it would be very difficult to get away with a private health system because it would be challenged as violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: to security of person.

about 2 years ago
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Is Silicon Valley Morally Bankrupt and Toxic?

under_score Re:In a word, YES! (469 comments)

That's pretty cynical, and no, I'm not saying that "America is populated with people". In fact, I specifically said that as an outsider to that area I found _differences_ in how people behave that appeared to me to be based on a less idealistic moral standard and, not only that, with some good old philosophical/cultural hypocrisy thrown in... compared to other places I have lived/observed (e.g. the Canadian Prairies, the US East Coast, and Big Cities in China).

about 2 years ago

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