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Comment: Re:Not sure (Score 1) 107

by danheskett (#47957269) Attached to: Is Alibaba Comparable To a US Company?

You bring up a great point about the rule of law. This is something that attracts investment, and it's something is close to undefinable. Not being governed in a logical way is business negative, but it's a gray line of when you go from a country ruled by law, and not.

The US has been sort of the gold-standard on this. Most large business disputes are handled in Federal court, which despite the reputation of the government, is well regarded as efficient in the international business world. It's the "rocket docket", meaning cases move. In some countries a business dispute could take 5+ years to get to trial, or resolution. In most Federal jurisdictions, with motions, filings, pre-trial conferences, it's between 12 and 24 months, with many on the lowside of that scale.

There is an untold economic benefit to this. Investors are unlikely to invest large capital outlayws without assurance that if something goes wrong they have an avenue of legitimate relief. Russia and China goes through spurts of foreign investment, but it comes and goes, largely because of this issue. When Putin starts jailing critical corporate executives and nationalizing large businesses it creates a tremendous amount of consternation within the investor class.

This IPO is interesting because it's a test case for how well China can provide a code of laws assurance to the worldwide investor. So far, so good. But the Chineese system has a similar habit of disenfranchising shareholders, and in this case, it could happen in the blink of an eye.

Comment: Re:Was it really so bad? (Score 2) 354

by hey! (#47956707) Attached to: Emails Cast Unflattering Light On Internal Politics of Healthcare.gov Rollout

Imagine if a state like Mississippi or Oklahoma had to get a system made? They'd hire a guy named Jom Bob from church to do it. They'd piss away the entire budget before they even found Jim Bob. They'd run it on index cards and toilet paper in type writers with no correction ink.

Well to be fair the deep-red state Kentucky had a very successful rollout of Obamacare (rebranded as "Kynect"), including it's own health insurance exchange AND medicaid expansion -- the whole Obamacare enchilada.

Under Obamacare, the federal insurance exchange was never intended to serve the entire country. In fact ideally nobody would have to use it, because states were supposed to set up their own exchanges that would better reflect the needs of their citizens than a federal one would. If you are forced to use the federal exhange, it's because politicians who run your state made that choice for you.

Of course some states have had their own exchange rollout disasters -- including blue states like Maryland and Oregon. If you're experienced with this kind of project you'd expect that. But others have had very successful rollouts, including a handful of red states like Kentucky.

Comment: PDP11 (Score 1) 278

by danheskett (#47942197) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: What's In Your Home Datacenter?

I had a PDP11 in my basement, all full working, with loads of equipment to go with it. I had a fun time learning about the genesis of the industry and learning about the internals and workings of the machine.

Then I had a housefire. The machine and all of its components were completely ruined. I had a good laugh explaining it to the insurance adjuster. I think I got decent money for it because it was an antique, but it was limited because I didn't declare it separately on my policy.

Comment: Re:Simple set of pipelined utilties! (Score 1) 378

by hey! (#47930309) Attached to: Torvalds: No Opinion On Systemd

I don't think people understand the Unix philosophy. They think it's about limiting yourself to pipelines, but it's not. It's about writing simple robust programs that interact through a common, relatively high level interface, such as a pipeline. But that interface doesn't have to be a pipeline. It could be HTTP Requests and Responses.

The idea of increasing concurrency in a web application through small, asynchronous event handlers has a distinctly Unix flavor. After all the event handlers tend to run top to bottom and typically produce an output stream from an input stream (although it may simply modify one or the other or do something orthogonal to either like logging). The use of a standardized, high level interface allows you to keep the modules weakly coupled, and that's the real point of the Unix philosophy.

Comment: Re:So, a design failure then. (Score 1) 165

by hey! (#47921919) Attached to: Developing the First Law of Robotics

It depends on your design goals.

In Asimov's story universe, the Three Laws are so deeply embedded in robotics technology they can't be circumvented by subsequent designers -- not without throwing out all subsequent robotics technology developments and starting over again from scratch. That's one heck of a tall order. Complaining about a corner case in which the system doesn't work as you'd like after they achieved that seems like nitpicking.

We do know that *more* sophisticated robots can designed make more subtle ethical systems -- which is another sign of a robust fundamental design. The simplistic ethics is what subsequent designers get when they get "for free" when they use an off-the-shelf positronic brain to control a welding robot or bread-slicing machine.

Think of the basic positronic brain design as a design framework. One of the hallmarks of a robust framework is that easy things are easy and hard things are possible. By simply using the positronic framework the designers of the bread slicing machine don't have to figure out all the ways the machine might slice a person's fingers off. The framework takes care of that for them.

Comment: Re:That's interesting data but.... (Score 1) 165

by Amazing Proton Boy (#47921823) Attached to: Developing the First Law of Robotics

I used to think this way too. I would tell all my friends that if a boat were sinking with my wife and small children in it, I would save my wife first as we can always make more children. This is logical and makes sense to me. Then I had kids. It turns out that many of us are "genetically programed" (or however you want to phrase it) to save the kids first. Our minds don't always seem to work the way we want them to. I can still clearly see the logic of saving my wife first and would agree that this is the proper course of action but my brain simply won't allow me to do that. I am 100% sure I would save the kids first and let her & myself die. Wierd huh?

Of course I still believe strongly that if you are going to have a kid then you should also have redundant back-ups (more kids).

Comment: Re:The protruding lens was a mistake (Score 2) 424

by hey! (#47921441) Attached to: Apple Edits iPhone 6's Protruding Camera Out of Official Photos

I don't think you've really grasped Apple's design sensibility. Job one for the designers is to deliver a product that consumers want but can't get anywhere else.

The "camera bulge" may be a huge blunder, or it may be just a tempest in a teapot. The real test will be the user's reactions when they hold the device in their hand, or see it in another user's hand. If the reaction is "I want it", the designers have done their job. If it's "Holy cow, look at that camera bulge," then it's a screw-up.

The thinness thing hasn't been about practicality for a long, long time; certainly not since smartphones got thinner than 12mm or so. They always been practical things the could have given us other than thinness, but what they want you to do is pick up the phone and say, "Look how thin the made this!" The marketing value of that is that it signals that you've got the latest and greatest device. There's a limit of course, and maybe we're at it now. Otherwise we'll be carrying devices in ten years that look like big razor blades.

At some point in your life you'll probably have seen so many latest and greatest things that having the latest and greatest isn't important to you any longer. That's when know you've aged out of the demographic designers care about.

Comment: Re:Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 4, Insightful) 191

by hey! (#47915329) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

I'd argue that we do try to write about the future, but the thing is: it's pretty damn hard to predict the future. ...
The problem is that if we look at history, we see it littered with disruptive technologies and events which veered us way off course from that mere extrapolation into something new.

I think you are entirely correct about the difficulty in predicting disruptive technologies. But there's an angle here I think you may not have considered: the possibility that just the cultural values and norms of the distant future might be so alien to us that readers wouldn't identify with future people or want to read about them and their problems.

Imagine a reader in 1940 reading a science fiction story which accurately predicted 2014. The idea that there would be women working who aren't just trolling for husbands would strike him as bizarre and not very credible. An openly transgendered character who wasn't immediately arrested or put into a mental hospital would be beyond belief.

Now send that story back another 100 years, to 1840. The idea that blacks should be treated equally and even supervise whites would be shocking. Go back to 1740. The irrelevance of the hereditary aristocracy would be difficult to accept. In 1640, the secularism of 2014 society and would be distasteful, and the relative lack of censorship would be seen as radical (Milton wouldn't publish his landmark essay Aereopagitica for another four years). Hop back to 1340. A society in which the majority of the population is not tied to the land would be viewed as chaos, positively diseased. But in seven years the BLack Death will arrive in Western Europe. Displaced serfs will wander the land, taking wage work for the first time in places where the find labor shortages. This is a shocking change that will resist all attempts at reversal.

This is all quite apart from the changes in values that have been forced upon us by scientific and technological advancement. The ethical issues discussed in a modern text on medical ethics would probably have frozen Edgar Allen Poe's blood.

I think it's just as hard to predict how the values and norms of society will change in five hundred years as it is to accurately predict future technology. My guess is that while we'd find things to admire in that future society, overall we would find it disturbing, possibly even evil according to our values. I say this not out of pessimism, but out my observation that we're historically parochial. We think implicitly like Karl Marx -- that there's a point where history comes to an end. Only we happen to think that point is *now*. Yes, we understand that our technology will change radically, but we assume our culture will not.

Comment: Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 5, Insightful) 191

by hey! (#47914675) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

The pessimism and dystopia in sci-fi doesn't come from a lack of research resources on engineering and science. It mainly comes from literary fashion.

If the fashion with editors is bleak, pessimistic, dystopian stories, then that's what readers will see on the bookshelves and in the magazines, and authors who want to see their work in print will color their stories accordingly. If you want to see more stories with a can-do, optimistic spirit, then you need to start a magazine or publisher with a policy of favoring such manuscripts. If there's an audience for such stories it's bound to be feasible. There a thousand serious sci-fi writers for every published one; most of them dreadful it is true, but there are sure to be a handful who write the good old stuff, and write it reasonably well.

A secondary problem is that misery provides many things that a writer needs in a story. Tolstoy once famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I actually Tolstoy had it backwards; there are many kinds of happy families. Dysfunctions on the other hand tends to fall into a small number of depressingly recognizable patterns. The problem with functional families from an author's standpoint is that they don't automatically provide something that he needs for his stories: conflict. Similarly a dystopian society is a rich source of conflicts, obstacles and color, as the author of Snow Crash must surely realize. Miserable people in a miserable setting are simply easier to write about.

I recently went on a reading jag of sci-fi from the 30s and 40s, and when I happened to watch a screwball comedy movie ("His Girl Friday") from the same era, I had an epiphany: the worlds of the sci-fi story and the 1940s comedy were more like each other than they were like our present world. The role of women and men; the prevalence of religious belief, the kinds of jobs people did, what they did in their spare time, the future of 1940 looked an awful lot like 1940.

When we write about the future, we don't write about a *plausible* future. We write about a future world which is like the present or some familiar historical epoch (e.g. Roman Empire), with conscious additions and deletions. I think a third reason may be our pessimism about our present and cynicism about the past. Which brings us right back to literary fashion.

Comment: Re:When the cat's absent, the mice rejoice (Score 5, Insightful) 286

Well, I'd be with you if the government was poking around on the users' computers, but they weren't. The users were hosting the files on a public peer-to-peer network where you essentially advertise to the world you've downloaded the file and are making it available to the world. Since both those acts are illegal, you don't really have an expectation of privacy once you've told *everyone* you've done it. While the broadcasting of the file's availability doesn't prove you have criminal intent, it's certainly probable cause for further investigation.

These guys got off on a narrow technicality. Of course technicalities do matter; a government that isn't restrained by laws is inherently despotic. The agents simply misunderstood the law; they weren't violating anyone's privacy.

Comment: Re:Crude? (Score 2) 99

by hey! (#47904781) Attached to: Original 11' <em>Star Trek Enterprise</em> Model Being Restored Again

Compare that to some of the ST:TNG props that I've seen that look fine on screen, but when examined closely look like someone gave a 5-year old a couple of shots of vodka and turned them loose with a paintbrush.

There's a certain wonder to that too.

I had the same reaction when I saw the ST:TNG props in person. You wouldn't buy a toy that looked that cheesy. The wonder of it is that the prop makers knew this piece of crap would look great onscreen. That's professional skill at work. Amateurs lavish loving care on stuff and overbuild them. Pros make them good enough, and put the extra effort into stuff that matters more.

Comment: Re: Great one more fail (Score 1) 598

by hey! (#47904749) Attached to: High School Student Builds Gun That Unlocks With Your Fingerprint

These kinds of responses are conditioned on certain assumptions that may not hold for all users.

For example, let's assume that you have no need whatsoever to prevent other users from using your gun. Then any complication you add to the firearm will necessarily make it less suitable, no matter how reliable that addition is. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a big game hunter who carries a backup handgun.

On the other hand suppose you have need of a firearm, but there is so much concern that someone else might use it without authorization that you reasonably decide to do without. In that opposite situation you might well tolerate quite a high failure rate in such a device because it makes it possible to carry a gun. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a prison guard -- prison guards do not carry handguns because of precisely this concern.

This isn't rocket science. It's all subject to a straightforward probabilistic analysis *of a particular scenario*. People who say that guns *always* must have a such a device are only considering one set of scenarios. People who say that guns must *never* have such a device are only considering a different set of scenarios. It's entirely possible that for such a device there are some where it is useful and others where it is not.

Comment: Re:KIlling off the Microsoft Store Name Too (Score 1) 352

by danheskett (#47892325) Attached to: Microsoft Killing Off Windows Phone Brand Name In Favor of Just Windows

There are 3 criteria that will eliminate a huge subset of apps that devalue all app stores:

1. An app that simply wraps a mobile website is not an app, it's a short-cut. If the app has no function offline, it's really not an app.

2. Games that are free but have in-game purchases. All garbage.

3. Apps with similar names to highly rated apps, walk-through, and otherwise knockoff apps.

Another way to go about it is to require new apps to have a beta period, to open it up to users who opt-in to beta, and to only release to the public after a 30 or 60 day beta period or when enough users in the beta approve it for general release.

Anything, actually, is better than the screening which happens now, which is essentially none.

Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future. - Niels Bohr

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