Daniel Cartin updates us with his latest paper modeling interstellar colonization in the local solar neighborhood, on the Wow! Signal. Given that "Fact A" of the Fermi Paradox is true (no alien colonization of our solar system), does that mean that there are no aliens out there? Maybe not.
Slashdot videos: Now with more Slashdot!
Tim Jones talks to Tom Barbabet about his ALife platform, Naked Ape on the Wow! Signal.
I spoke to scientists David Grinspoon and Geoff Landis about Venus exploration: why, when and how.
If this to read too much learning you have.
I have to say, Skype conferences are not great for podcasting.
The Wow! Signal podcast finally covers the August 1977 event it is named after, with guest Bob Dixon, who was instrumental in bringing the Ohio State Big Ear radio telescope to bear on SETI. We also learn about Argus, which if built full scale could potentially detect many such signals.
I don't think I've written this down anywhere before, so here's my story about the first time I had a face-to-face conversation with Steve Jobs.
I was working for Richard Kerris in Apple Worldwide Developer Relations, on a group called the SWAT team. I was the Cocoa expert on that team, and I had colleagues who had expertise in UNIX internals, Windows development, and the Metrowerks tools.
Our role was to help third-party developers bring their products to Mac OS X, whether they were coming from Windows, Solaris, Mac OS 9, etc. We would look over their code, and consult with them on how to go about porting and/or rewriting their products for the new platform.
I went to Fred Anderson's retirement party which was held at Cafe Macs in Building four of the Infinite Loop campus. I saw Steve there, and I went over to introduce myself. I said "Hi Steve, I'm John Randolph. You may or may not recognize my name, but I used to flame you from time to time before I worked here." He asked me "Why did you stop?" I told him "Well, I work here now, and I respect the chain of command."
At the time we had this conversation, there was a big fight going on between the foot-dragging laggards who wanted to keep using the old Mac Toolbox API (which had been cleaned up considerably and put into a framework we called "Carbon"), and those of us who wanted to get everyone using the NeXTStep-derived "Cocoa" frameworks,
At the previous WWDC, Steve had started the keynote with a bit of theater: a coffin had risen up through a trap door on the stage, in the midst of a cloud of dry ice fog. Steve had opened the coffin to show a big Mac OS 9 box, and he praised OS 9 in a eulogy, to make the point that Apple developers should consider it dead and gone.
So getting back to our conversation.. I told Steve what I was doing on Richard's team, and I said "I know that you can't do this politically, but I wish you could have another coffin on the stage at the next WWDC...." and he said: "With Carbon in it?"
He was grinning. At that point, I realized that I could quit worrying about where Apple's development environment was heading. Steve knew what we needed to do, and in the years that followed, Apple has kept the best of NeXT's technology, and let go of what we didn't need.
We miss you Steve, but we're doing fine. Thanks for the things you made happen.
So 104 people were killed by police in the USA during August, 2014. To my eyes, that's an absolutely enormous figure. As a Brit, I compare it to the 1 person killed over 3 years by the UK police. Yes, they're two different countries, yes there's a lot more people in the US, yes they have different cultures, yadda yadda yadda; people are dying here.
Let's do some maths:
- Population of the USA: 319 million (source: http://tinyurl.com/bpotuf9)
- Percentage chance for a person to be shot in August is then: (104 x 100%) / 319,000,000 = 0.000033%
That's a scarily huge percentage, given that it's normalised by population. Bear in mind that police in the USA are not
Now let's consider extrapolating for the period of time that most shootings occur (i.e.: suspect between the ages of 15 and 40), and see how that changes things:
- Chance to be shot over 25 year period = (104 x 12 x 25 x 100%) / 319,000,000 = 0.0097%
- Rounding that, since this is an extrapolation, we get 0.01%
Now that's an amazingly large percentage chance of being shot dead by a policeman. Let's do the same thing for the UK:
- Population of the UK: 65 million (source: http://tinyurl.com/kzsalbe)
- Percentage chance for a person to be shot over last 3 years is then: (1 x 100%) / 65,000,000 = 0.0000015%
- Therefore percentage chance for a person to be shot in August 2014 is 0.0000015 / 12 / 3 = 0.0000000427%
- Therefore percentage chance to be shot over 25 year period is 0.0000000427 x 12 x 25 = 0.0000128%
Compare 0.01% and 0.00001% and remember these are normalised by population. Yeah.
BTW, I know the website's not pretty, but the guy who volunteered to be the webmaster has not been on it.
Earlier today, I read an account of a little girl getting a severe sunburn while on a school field trip, because of an unconscionable policy prohibiting children from possessing sunscreen while at school or on school activities. I looked up the name of the spokesman who had the nerve to try to defend this policy to the press, and wrote her the following e-mail:
Miss Chancellor, you and the pinheads you serve in the Northeast Indecent School District are a tragic example of the kind of abject incompetence that pervades American public schools in the past several decades.
I would urge you to resign and pursue employment in the janitorial services industry, but youâ(TM)re obviously too goddamned stupid to be trusted with cleaning supplies.
Well, it would appear that Miss Chancellor was offended by my criticism, and she replied thusly:
Your comments do not warrant an intelligent response. Clearly - you do not have all the facts.
Now, it's rather unusual for an apparatchik in a shitstorm to bother to respond to any of the angry e-mails they get, so naturally I have replied:
On Jun 6, 2014, at 10:26 AM, Chancellor, Aubrey wrote:
>Your comments do not warrant an intelligent response.
Since youâ(TM)re entirely incapable of an intelligent response, that just works out fine and dandy now, doesnâ(TM)t it?
>Clearly - you do not have all the facts.
The fact is that when you screw up like this, the thing to do is apologize and promise the parents, the child, and the rest of the community that it will never happen again. You donâ(TM)t double down on your idiotic policy of depriving children of sunscreen.
When children are entrusted to you by their parents, your paramount duty is to ensure their safety and well being. it is NOT to sacrifice their welfare to your psychotic need for obedience.
More on this as it develops. Start the popcorn.
Then-PFC, now-SGT Bergdahl may in fact have deserted his post. There are certainly credible accusations to that effect, and if so, then he should be tried and convicted for the crime. But it's a whole lot easier to investigate those charges with him here, and we don't let the Taliban mete out justice for us.
The military idea of "taking care of your own" has a lot of different aspects. Holding the line and leaving no one behind are obvious; less obvious, perhaps, is that our people are ours. Loon or no, deserter or no, even traitor or no, whatever else Bowe Bergdahl may be he is someone who raised his right hand and took the oath, and that means that whatever reward or punishment he receives is ours and ours alone to give.
It astonishes me sometimes, having at this point been out of the service several more years than I was in it, how strong and pure those ideas still are in my head: how much "us" the profession of arms still is to me, and I suppose always will be. I'm a civilian and happy to be one now, but both the infantryman and the medic are still very close to the surface. The latter is concerned mainly with bringing back the wounded--and the former is ready, willing, and perhaps even eager to kill anyone who stands in the way of that mission.
Whatever else we did, whatever else we may do, we had to bring him home.
Last post to FB:
In the time since I created this Facebook account in 2006, I found a bunch of old friends, met many new ones, wasted a whole lot of time, had some arguments that never would have happened in real life, and been frequently annoyed by the business decisions FB has made.
This post will be my last. I will delete this account 48 hours from now. Those of you who want to keep in touch can reach me as always at firstname.lastname@example.org, which I've had for at least a decade.
All's well that ends. I wish you all peace, love and happiness.
It feels like leaving high school. There are people there that I will always care about, some that I love, some that I barely know, some that I have no idea how I met in the first place or why they're in my FB friends list.
A very smart friend of mine is working on changing social media from a site and a vendor that sells the users' info to advertisers, into a protocol that would operate on a peer-to-peer basis, with strong security to ensure that what we write goes to those we wish, and no one else. I hope he succeeds, and I look forward to making a fair bit of cash shorting FB when the writing appears on the wall.
I will thank my friends who worked on FB, and every user there who ever shared a heartwarming, interesting, inspiring, or even outrageous bit of information that I wouldn't have found otherwise. Congrats to all the FB millionaires and worker bees, I wish them all the best.
I'll still be NSResponder here on
[cranky rant warning]
"Lies, damned lies, and statistics." It's coming up again with depressing frequency, being used as an argument instead of a snide observation.
Okay, here's the thing. Can you lie with statistics? Sure. Statistics is a branch of mathematics*, and math is a language; you can lie in that language as easily as in any other. Does this mean all statistics are lies? No more than all statements in any language are lies--and if you believe that, you've gone so far down the rabbit hole of anti-intellectual mysticism that you'll probably never find your way out.
Meanwhile, in the real world, and in the ever-expanding torrent of data we have about that world, statistics as a discipline is pretty much the only hope we have of understanding anything. The low-hanging fruit has been picked. The equations we learn in Physics 101 are as valid as they ever were, but they're not nearly enough. No matter how certain you think you are, no matter how many times you repeat your experiment and get the same result, if you don't do the statistical tests you don't actually know whatever it is you think you know. And if you do the tests--well, you may still be wrong, but you can at least quantify your uncertainty. And you have to do that, because you can always be wrong.
None of this is meant to defend the misuse of statistics, any more than as a writer I'd defend the misuse of natural language. People can and do wilfully misinterpret statistics, or cherry-pick them, or just outright make them up, and those are bad things. Guess what? They do that with every other kind of statement too. At least half of statisticians' job is fact-checking, and it's a charge we gladly accept.
So the next time you're tempted to say "lies, damned lies, and statistics," or "figures don't lie but liars figure," or "correlation does not imply causation" or any of its variants, or post the umpteen-thousandth link to "How To Lie With Statistics," and think you're being clever--please, just stop. Because one thing I am so sure of that I don't even need to put a p-value on it is that if you feel the need to resort to any of those lazy, thought-free responses, you don't know enough about the issue at hand to have an informed opinion, and the best thing you can possibly do for yourself and everyone else is to keep quiet.
*Opinions vary on this issue, but if statistics isn't exactly a branch of mathematics, we can at least say that math is the language in which it's written.