Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?

Slashdot videos: Now with more Slashdot!

  • View

  • Discuss

  • Share

We've improved Slashdot's video section; now you can view our video interviews, product close-ups and site visits with all the usual Slashdot options to comment, share, etc. No more walled garden! It's a work in progress -- we hope you'll check it out (Learn more about the recent updates).


Comment: Re:Not Dumb.... (Score 1) 197

When did pornography become illegal in the US? I was under the impression that pornography came under the umbrella of 1st amendment protected free speech. I think there have been a number of cases won by pornography publishers on these very grounds. It has been a while since prosecuting pornographers was a big thing, but I think there was some guy named "buttman" who made milk enima porn who was targeted a couple of years back and won. Obscenity has been illegal for almost as long as the US has been a country - ill defined as it may be, but that has been a pretty high bar for some time.

Comment: Re:Tilting at Windmills (Score 1) 347

by Cytotoxic (#49146923) Attached to: The Programmers Who Want To Get Rid of Software Estimates

Wow, project much?

You managed to cram reading comprehension fail, reiterating my main point while telling me I don't know what I'm talking about and preening all into one post. Great job!

As to the substance of why estimates are a good thing, we are in perfect alignment. But how do you provide an estimate for the issues I was talking about? Let's say the one of the financial reports on Hyperion is not working right. Upon immediate inspection your guy doesn't see what the problem is. How do you provide an estimate? This is something you intend to have fixed in the next hour or two. You have your best people on it.

But it could be a problem with the report. Or a bug in the report server. Or a problem with the SQL server. Or a problem with the optimizations on the view it is calling. Or maybe it is a problem with the account mapping application - or maybe someone in accounting changed the map and didn't realize what the consequences would be elsewhere. At this moment in time you literally have no idea at all what the timeline is. It could be an hour. You hope it is an hour. But it could just as easily be a bug in Hyperion that will require a fix from the vendor. That would take weeks. Now, in an hour or two you'll have enough information to provide a decent answer. You'll know if the problem is bigger than you can handle with your staff. But they want an answer right now. This is where the real clash comes in .

They are demanding an answer for the reasons you have outlined. But you can't give one. Not the honest answer anyway. Because the honest answer at that moment is "I don't know", and nobody wants to hear that. The solution to this problem for us was to let them know we were looking into it and we would set a time to give them an estimate in a couple of hours. Now, in this situation the problem will be solved before the estimate is due most of the time, which just feels weird. But it addresses all of the issues that people have with the process. By saying less than we know, we communicate better. Saying "I'll look into it and get back with you by 3 o'clock" works perfectly. But coming from our culture of "everything ASAP" this felt wrong. My real intention was to have the whole thing done by 11am. But that wasn't a number you could promise to anyone, because you have no clue if you are dealing with horses or zebras. Once we figured out that the new people would rather wait a little longer and hear a firm answer, everything was fine. But in our startup years that would never have worked.

Comment: Re:meh (Score 2) 148

by Cytotoxic (#49142051) Attached to: Artificial Intelligence Bests Humans At Classic Arcade Games

That echos my point, somewhat. It is pretty easy to design an AI for a lot of video games that can beat a human (without cheating). The AI code from Quake was only a couple of pages. Whether you use the moniker "constraints" or call it "dumbing down", it would take a lot more code to give the AI more human-like abilities. Probably several times as much code.

The same goes for the enemies. The code that gave them a degree of autonomy and communication was pretty small, but it made them unstoppable because they would just run away and warn all the other enemies and come attack en mass and from cover. It wasn't sophisticated AI at all. Making an AI that was competitive with humans required a lot more coding, restricting the capabilities of the enemies. It is odd that the hard part about making a game AI would be making an AI that isn't too competetive, but that's where we are.

As to your other point, making a machine think like a human strategically is probably much more difficult. But here's the philosophical question: does the motivation behind someone's actions really matter, or is what they actually do the only thing that actually counts? If the computer is unbeatable because it is just that much faster than you does it really make for a difference in gameplay as compared to a computer that is unbeatable because it truly understands better than you and always initiates a better strategy? Sure, one might be a lot more exciting from a programming point of view, but either way you still got beat by the computer.

Comment: Tilting at Windmills (Score 5, Interesting) 347

by Cytotoxic (#49141875) Attached to: The Programmers Who Want To Get Rid of Software Estimates

I used to tilt at this very windmill myself. It took me a long time to realize that people really, really need to hear an answer to "how long?". When we were in startup mode a long project was a matter of a few weeks. Everything had to go into production immediately. So we got used to banging stuff out in small chunks and doing it as quickly as possible. Entire project timelines were completed in less time than it takes to draft a proper requirements document.

But as we grew in size, the new people were not happy with our development team. Even though they would ask for a new report at 10am and have it in production before they returned from lunch, they still felt like we were not responsive. It was one of those reports that began to help me understand the psychology.

There was a problem with a very complex Crystal Reports document one morning. The Director of the department called to let us know about it. I told him we were already working on it and would have it fixed as soon as possible. "When will it be fixed?" he asked. Well, I had no clue. We had only learned about the problem 10 minutes before and hadn't figured out what was broken. So I explained this to him and told him that we had this as our top priority and it would be fixed as quickly as possible. I certainly thought that should make him happy. Well, it didn't.

He was rather pissed that I wouldn't give him a timeline. The day before we had made some changes for him that took about 2 hours, but he was upset that we didn't let him know how long it would take. Being an engineering type, when I hear "how long will this take?", I hear a request for a certain degree of precision. The problem with short projects like this is that by the time you have enough information to give an honest estimate, you are pretty much done. Maybe you have 15 minutes or an hour to go, but nothing worth reporting to anyone. Well, after explaining my position a few times and just making him more angry I finally gave up and just gave him a made-up deadline of Thursday afternoon. He was perfectly happy. I had just spent 15 minutes trying to explain to him that we were working feverishly and would be done as soon as we could (which would likely be a couple of hours, but who knows) and he hated that answer. "We'll have it for you in 3 days!" made him very happy. Even though his production was impeded by the lack of this particular report. From a human psychology standpoint he would rather know that it will be done in 3 days, barring delays, than not know when it will be done and have it in two hours. I personally think that is a dumb way of doing things, but I am the outlier, not the director.

After that learning experience we began implementing a more comprehensive SDLC process and providing timelines for projects. Everyone was much happier with the development team after this. Even though their projects went into production much more slowly. They loved the perceived control that having a timeline gave them. We developers know that these things are basically fictional documents - just educated guesses really - but it provides real customer satisfaction, so we keep with it. In fact, we kept evolving this idea into more and more involvement from the business unit as we moved into Agile and SCRUM methodologies.

I would say that unless you are working in an organization of less than 25 people, providing timelines is an absolute requirement from a purely human standpoint. This comes from hard experience - even though I think that everything about a timeline is probably B.S. and all of the effort that goes into preparing one would have been better spent solving problems and building something useful. In the real world you can't ignore the psychological needs of the group.

Comment: Re:Because capitalism, idiots. (Score 1) 245

by Cytotoxic (#49136451) Attached to: The Peculiar Economics of Developing New Antibiotics

I am no expert on Swedish healthcare, but this didn't sound right to me. So I asked google. On the first page of results I learned that transgendered people seeking sex change operations have very onerous conditions imposed by law. Namely, if you want to get gender reassignment surgury, you have to be sterilized. Needless to say, they are not very happy about this.

Because healthcare is run by the government, getting these requirements changed involves changes to Swedish law, rather than a choice of healthcare provider.

Since this is a comment post rather than an academic study on the topic, I'll stop with this first article I found and say "I'll see your Swede who needed healthcare and didn't get it and raise you a 'wanted a specific treatment and got a forced sterilization on the side'".

Comment: Re:meh (Score 4, Interesting) 148

by Cytotoxic (#49136065) Attached to: Artificial Intelligence Bests Humans At Classic Arcade Games

When Id released Quake C, this "you have to dumb down the AI" idea became very apparent. Someone wrote a replacement AI for the enemies that allowed them to learn and communicate. They had to follow the rules and physics of the game - so if they were within earshot they could communicate your position to each other, otherwise they couldn't.

The first couple of interactions would be pretty easy kills. Then one enemy would see that you were better armed and run away. That would be the last enemy you would see for a while. Then, when you were in a vulnerable position, the entire population of the level would ambush you in a coordinated attack. Game over. They were way, way, way too smart to be beaten. It was pretty fun to explore their learning capabilities and watch how they would win. But it didn't make for engaging gameplay, unless you are a complete masochist.

The same AI was applied to deathmatch player bots. They had no prior knowledge of the level, or strategies for playing the game. The first few kills were very easy as they figured out what to do. But as they learned your tendencies, they would very quickly evolve into a circle-strafe master. They also learned the map layout pretty quickly, including drop sites and periods for weapons and health. They would then time their circle-strafe to always be on the spawn site immediately as the health or ammo spawned. They would invariably win against even the best human players by monopolizing all of the supplies and winning a war of attrition. Very impressive to watch.

This "AI" program was very rudimentary, and it was already much too difficult for human players, despite being limited to the same "in game" knowledge and input capabilities as the human players. It makes perfect sense that the challenge and complexity of programming the AI for games mostly revolves around "dumbing down" the AI in a way that makes the enemies challenging and interesting, but also the right amount of "beatable".

Comment: Re:Real forensics *science* (Score 1) 183

by Cytotoxic (#49102791) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Can Technology Improve the Judicial System?

I see you are a fellow traveler on the Don Quixote side of life. Nice too see you on the lunatic fringe.

You'd think that "don't throw innocent people in jail if you can help it" would be a mainstream idea.... but, not so much. Pretty close to zero interest in such things from team red and team blue. Only true wackaloons are even aware of the problem to any great degree.

Comment: Real forensics *science* (Score 3, Insightful) 183

by Cytotoxic (#49101371) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Can Technology Improve the Judicial System?

There is much to be done, but a great place to start would be moving to an independent system of true forensics science. In our current system, the forensics people work for the prosecution. They are not blinded as to what the police and prosecutor think about the crime or potential perpetrators. Much of what passes for "science" in the courtroom has absolutely no scientific basis, despite their "Frye Standard" of evaluating scientific evidence. There is very little research into the accuracy of forensics conclusions.

Radley Balko over at the Washington Post just published a 4 part series on the flawed science of bite mark analysis. Our system is so increadibly screwed up that even getting caught on video tape framing an innocent man using junk "science" that has been discredited by actual scientific research isn't enough to get the courts and prosecutors to consider the possibility that they might have an innocent man in jail. The series is well worth the read, and if you really want to get your blood pressure up, follow the links to individual cases down a rathole of righteous indignation.

Comment: Re:errr. huh? (Score 1) 532

by Cytotoxic (#49098551) Attached to: Stephen Hawking: Biggest Human Failing Is Aggression

compensation for violent crimes goes way, way back. In the old testament there are long lists of crimes in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy with required compensations - even including things like causing a miscarriage. These can also be trace back to Hammurabi and the Hittites, among others. So basically as far back as we have anything in writing.

Apparently vengeance has been a problem for as long as there have been people. And one would suppose that for as long as people have been living in groups they have been coming up with sets of rules to handle these transgressions in order to prevent unbridled vengeance-seeking.

Comment: Re:errr. huh? (Score 2, Informative) 532

by Cytotoxic (#49098493) Attached to: Stephen Hawking: Biggest Human Failing Is Aggression

Non-aggression is a principle of ethics.

From the Wikipedia:

The Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) is the idea that each person has the right to make his or her own choices in life so long as they do not involve aggression, defined as the initiation of force or fraud, against others.

More technically, the principle asserts that aggression, a term defined by proponents as any encroachment on another person's life, liberty, or justly acquired property, or an attempt to obtain from another via deceit what could not be consensually obtained, is always illegitimate. Aggression, for the purposes of NAP, is defined as initiating or threatening violence against a person or legitimately owned property of another.

Like all ethics principles there are edge cases that create long, contentious discussions. But the basic idea is that you can use force to defend yourself (or others) against aggression as defined above. Otherwise, you leave everyone else alone.

Strangely, "We don't start things, but if you do we'll finish it and you won't like that." is probably an accurate synopsis of self-defense for a proponent of the NAP.

Comment: Re:errr. huh? (Score 5, Insightful) 532

by Cytotoxic (#49096355) Attached to: Stephen Hawking: Biggest Human Failing Is Aggression

You'd be surprised. A major percentage of the posters here on Slashdot are openly hostile to the "non-aggression principle" and its proponents, mostly due to tribal affiliations of one sort or another. You'd think something like this would be non-controversial - but in human endeavors there is no such thing as non-controversial.

Even things like "thou shalt not kill" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can stir up controversy. People are just a contentious lot. But then I suppose that was kinda the point, wasn't it?

Comment: Tradition of ruination (Score 2, Insightful) 227

by Cytotoxic (#48951099) Attached to: The NFL Wants You To Think These Things Are Illegal

I will be practicing the modern tradition of ruining any chance of enjoying the game by attending a SuperBowl party. Ostensibly a gathering to watch a championship sporting event, the SuperBowl party actually results in a gathering of families where the game is on a television that happens to be in the same location. Every now and then someone will exclaim and attention will divert to a big play that just happened, but for the most part the wives' small talk and rounding up the kids will occupy the fathers attention. Except when the commercials come on. For some reason the wives are really interested in the commercials, so they'll stop everything and have everyone be quiet for at least some of the commercials.

At least there will be lots of finger food and drinks.

Comment: Re:whose payroll is the scientist on? It matters (Score 2) 514

by Cytotoxic (#48938755) Attached to: The Gap Between What The Public Thinks And What Scientists Know

The point is simply saying climate change got 106B may sound like "oh my god climate researchers are getting rich!!!!". .

The argument is not "OHM those climate researchers are getting rich!!!"

The argument is "those evil, rich oil companies have so much more money to throw at creating biased research studies!" The counter argument the GP made was "the GAO says the US alone is spending many orders of magnitude more on climate change research".

The number of UNIX installations has grown to 10, with more expected. -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June 1972