Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Comment: It's certainly not a killer app for Maths (Score 4, Informative) 416

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#38751898) Attached to: Apple Unveils Software To Reinvent the Textbook
I just downloaded the "iBook Author" app. It's neat. But it has no cabability to enter maths. Until Apple adds LaTeX support, this is not going to fly in maths and physics at the university level. I do research in applied mathematics for a living. In the texts I write, over 50% of the page space is covered with formulae. That's just the way maths works. I also need special characters (various binary operators, calligraphic, fraktur and blackboard bold symbols, ...), not just Greek letters and sum symbols. There's another catch, which also applies to other fields, not just my personal niche: It's nice that I can add 3D models, videos and all. But creating these kinds of objects takes a lot of time. Time that expert authors don't have. It will be interesting to see how this works out in schools, but I'm not holding my breath regarding graduate academic writing.

Comment: Re:Scientists Vote Sceptic (Score 1) 695

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#38050502) Attached to: What is Your position on Climate Change?

I voted sceptic. Which frankly I feel every self respecting scientist should do. [...] Saying you "believe it" is bad science. It is a belief. It isn't evidence or data based. Saying you're sceptical but the evidence up to this point shows X, Y, and Z keeps you a neutral observer which is an important position within the field.

I'm a scientist, specialising in empirical inference.

The word "belief" is a well-defined term in probability theory, and hence in data analysis. When I say "I belief in climate change", I mean that I have access to noisy data providing strong evidence in favor of the hypothesis that humans are changing the planet's climate. Saying "every scientist should be a sceptic" is bad science. Yours is the nihilistic logic of orthodox statistics, by which it is impossible to discover anything, only possible to disprove hypotheses. While there is no way to ultimately _prove_ the existence of any physical effect, given sufficent amounts of data, it is possible to collect evidence in favor of one hypothesis over others.

But there is a second point in here, already made implicitly by others above: Our belief in favor or against the hypothesis of climate change is only the inference step of a decision problem: What matters is what we do, not what we believe. The problem here is that the loss from doing nothing if climate change is real is far worse than the loss from acting if climate change should turn out to be false. So, even if you assign equal evidence to the hypotheses of "false" and "true", the rational decision is to almost act as if climate change were known to be true. Sadly, we humans are very bad at rational decision making. Our brains are just not build that way.

Comment: Re:Past transgressions (Score 1) 145

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#35858112) Attached to: Google Teaches Computers "Regret"
Somewhere between Google's researchers and the Slashdot editors, someone must have messed something up. If Google actually thinks that the concept of regret is new (and I don't think they do), than they hired the wrong guys.

By the standards of Computer Science, regret is an ancient concept. Here's a paper from 1995. By that time, the concept was established enough that the author used the word "regret" in the title of his paper without any further explanations.
There is really nothing new here.
Microsoft

Microsoft Research Takes On Go 175

Posted by Soulskill
from the narrowing-the-possibilities dept.
mikejuk writes "Microsoft Research has used F# and AI to implement a consumer-quality game of Go — arguably the most difficult two-person game to implement. They have used an interesting approach to the problem of playing the game, which is a pragmatic cross between tree search with pruning and machine learning to spot moves with a 'good shape.' The whole lot has been packaged into an XNA-based game with a story."

Comment: Re:cheap shot (Score 1) 772

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#33501032) Attached to: Researchers Say Happiness Costs $75K

I also think it's quite realistic to expect to strike a balance where society's poorest members can be helped in times of need without bankrupting the entire nation.

Okay, you are asking for differing opinions, so let's have a serious debate. My household is not located in the US but, at purchasing power parity, its income falls within the top 3% of US households (two working young professionals). As a member of that income bracket, I can tell you that making money gets easier the more you already have. That's because you have more "disposable" (i.e. investable) income, you can afford a good tax advisor, unemployment is a very small risk, disability insurance is cheap for white-collar workers, etc. I can also tell you that professional success, while impossible without hard work and determination, is also to considerable extent a question of luck and good starting conditions.

The upshot is that capitalism is a positive feedback system. That's not just an old Marxist meme, it's actually true. If you accept that, then you have two options: Either you prefer a system in which the rich have it easier than the poor, and society separates itself over time into the lazy rich and the working poor, with no middle class. Personally, I find that option morally unacceptable. Alternatively, you have to accept that the states' role is more than just to provide emergency assistance for those who have fallen upon hard times, but to create a dynamic equilibrium, in which everyone has not just the right, but also an actual chance to pursue happiness. And that it is the duty of the fortunate ones in a society to contribute more of their labour to the common good than others.

You can probably guess from this, my socialist viewpoint, that I'm European. I find it genuinely sad that the nation who used to hold the right to pursue happiness a self-evident truth -- to which Europeans like me have looked up to, up until very recently, as the pinnacle of freedom and fairness -- has recently developed such a misanthropic stance.

Comment: Re:Cue increase in accidents (Score 4, Insightful) 825

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#33483698) Attached to: Gubernatorial Candidate Wants to Sell Speeding Passes for $25
Fully agreed. I'm German too, and I have driven several thousand miles on American roads. I fully agree that 100mph to 110mph (180km/h) is a convenient speed on a German Autobahn, with a decent car. In fact I find driving on the Autobahn relaxing, especially at night, with a good talk radio programme.

Many interstates in the US are of comparable or in fact better standard than the Autobahn. Especially in warmer parts of the States, the climate makes potholes rare, and the wide green strips between the opposing directions are a good safety feature that most Autbahns lack. In many parts of the States, the traffic density is also very low compared to the incredible bustle on Autobahns (Germany is right in the middle of the EU, and it seems everyone needs to get from Poland to France, from Austria to Denmark, and the other way round, every other day).

But the big difference between the States and Germany is the culture of driving. Germans (and everyone else driving on the Autobahn) have learned to live with unrestricted roads, and they started learning, as a society, back when cars had a top speed of 60mph. There are laws requiring everyone to drive in the rightmost lane currently available (the "Rechtsfahrgebot"), and in contrast to the States or Britain where these laws also exist in principle, virtually everyone actually obeys them. Indicating is a reflex rather than a concious gesture: people even indicate at 2am on deserted roads in the middle of a forest, with noone but the moon to watch. And they have acquired an intuition for how fast a car is approaching in the rear view mirror, which is crucial on roads where the relative speed between cars on the right and middle lane can easily exceed 50mph. Americans would have to learn these things for everyone to be able to drive on those roads. In the meantime, there'd be a lot of accidents.

Comment: Re:I Guess I Don't Exist Then ... (Score 4, Interesting) 350

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#33150076) Attached to: Why Wave Failed

after that small amount of time, I grew bored of it and didn't consider it a viable or necessary communication channel. Of course, I'm not trying to write code with someone on the other side of the world either.

Just recently, I was trying to write code (Matlab code, and the resulting academic paper in LaTeX) with someone on the other end of the continent, so we gave Wave a try. Within minutes I realised that it's useless even for this, the task it was seemingly built for.

The reason: It's a sandbox. If you write code, you like to be able to save it, and compile it. To do either of the two you have to, literally, select, copy and paste your code from the wave into your IDE / text editor / local file system. That of course breaks the whole "keep everything in sync in one place in the cloud" idea.

So I guess there is one, and only one use case for wave: If you want to write unformatted text in collaboration with others, for the sole purpose of notetaking and, eventually, printing it on a piece of scrap paper. I guess there are not that many people out there in the world who actually need this sort of functionality. For everyone else, Wave is a hassle.

Now here's what would be awesome: If I could share a window in my text editor / IDE with someone else on the planet, edit a piece of source together in real time, and still be able to save and compile directly from within the software. Oh, wait...

Comment: Re:Or become real reporters. (Score 4, Insightful) 227

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#32972246) Attached to: Pay-Per-View Journalism Is Burning Out Reporters Young

Doing that gets the Daily show a lot of viewers, I would think that doing the same thing in a more rigorous journalistic environment would get you a lot of eyeballs.

This is exactly what I do not understand about online journalism. At the moment, newspapers seem to be in a race to the bottom, with each trying to publish the same sort of crap before everyone else; mostly rehashed press-releases, all the while complaining that nobody wants to pay for their news online.

Maybe I am part of a small target group. But, dear newspaper publishers: Please give me a website that
1. pays talented journalists a decent salary to go out and investigate complex stories, actually reveal novel information, and then come back and write lucid, enlightening stories.
2. does not show any ads, thereby making itself independent from corporations for revenue, turning the readers into the sole customers.
3. has a calm, clean layout, accessible from both the desktop and mobile devices, hassle free. Oh, and please actually fill my damn screen with text and images, instead of using 20% of its width to show 50-line articles broken into 5 pages, filling the rest with horrible flash ads.

I am willing to pay, say, 200$ a year for a subscription to this site (I currently pay a similar amount for print subscriptions to a weekly and a monthly paper). It doesn't have to have hourly updates, all I want is something to read for an hour in bed every evening. I don't understand why such a website doesn't exist yet. I know, ads are an important part of traditional publishing, but web publishing is cheaper (printing presses and paper boys are more expensive than servers and bandwidth), and there are great economies of scale: The first publisher to establish a high-quality online news service will be able to attract readers from the entire English-speaking world.

Seriously, I don't get it. Why is everyone still trying to make money with ads?

Comment: Re:The market disagrees (Score 1) 348

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#32878918) Attached to: The End of Free

Information is easier to share than at any other point in history. News is replicated and spread in seconds now, and people, not just the young kids, are used to it for FREE. The only way this "may" be possible is if every single news media group put up walls at the same time... AND noone found a way to bypass this. It's just not feasible.

Maybe I'm part of a very small group in this regard, but I would be very happy to pay for online news that is well researched, provides in-depth, intelligent analysis, and presented through a convenient, ad-free front-end. I currently can not get this online, so I pay for a print subscription.

The times have changed so that content en masse is no longer valuable, just the content itself. Good news, strong stories... well written... that's what matters now.

You say that, but can you point out a single good online news source that provides the journalistic rigour of the likes of the New Yorker or the Economist? I don't think so. If you don't know what I mean, buy an edition of those newspapers at the newsstand and compare it to your favourite online news outlet. Bad journalism has become so commonplace online these days that many people have forgotten what a good newspaper reads like. There is just not enough money in online news to pay for the sort of work required, and the interface in its current form (mobile phones / desktop computers) is not amenable to long stretches of text. Maybe the iPad will change this, but I'm not holding my breadth. I was never worried about music, or the film industry, even in the hayday of Napster. But I am seriously worried that, over time, print will die out, and we will all be left with the current tornado of dumbed-down, superficial, spin-doctored soundbites out of the big news agencies, and that will be a serious loss for democracy.

Comment: Re:"Fair representation" (Score 2, Interesting) 375

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#32630812) Attached to: "Cumulative Voting" Method Gaining Attention

What they really mean by "fair representation" would be more accurately described as "damn voters won't vote for the people we want them to, so we're screwing with the rules."

Well, it's pretty much the opposite. Cumulative voting is a system for elections involving party lists (such as city councils, in some jurisdictions). The point is that you get to assign your votes to the candidates you actually want to elect, rather than having to vote for a list of candidates that some party drew up for you, while still giving the parties a chance to nominate candidates and suggest to (not force upon) the voter a ranking among them.
This system is commonly used in local elections in Switzerland and Germany. Works well there.

Software

WordPress 3.0 Released 79

Posted by timothy
from the now-even-wordier dept.
An anonymous reader writes "WordPress 3.0, the thirteenth major release of WordPress and the culmination of half a year of work by 218 contributors, is now available for download and comes with 1,217 bug fixes and feature enhancements. Major new features in this release include a new default theme called Twenty Ten. Theme developers have new APIs that allow them easily to implement custom backgrounds, headers, shortlinks, menus (no more file editing), post types, and taxonomies."

Comment: Re:Privacy (Score 4, Interesting) 303

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#31024698) Attached to: Bill Gates Knows What You Did Last Summer
Okay, I'm confused. Whenever privacy is discussed around here, we say "wouldn't it be great if we could retain personal control over our data, and could willingly decide whom to sell our data to?"

So know someone with a great deal of economic leverage is trying to push exactly such a system, and all of slashdot goes "Oh my god, how evil! Quick, everyone give your data away for free, so nobody can monetize them any more, not even yourself!"

Guys, Bill Gates stopped being the most evil man about five years ago. I care much less about the shortcomings of Windows than I care about Google and Facebook knowing more about me than I do myself. At this point, I'd be willing to pay Bill Gates if he offers to secure all my personal data.
Image

US Grants Home Schooling German Family Political Asylum 1324

Posted by samzenpus
from the come-get-you-some-learnin dept.
A US judge has granted political asylum to a family who said they fled Germany to avoid persecution for home schooling their children. Uwe Romeike and his wife, Hannelore, moved to Tennessee after German authorities fined them for keeping their children out of school and sent police to escort them to classes. Mike Connelly, attorney for the Home School Legal Defence Association, argued the case. He says, "Home schoolers in Germany are a particular social group, which is one of the protected grounds under the asylum law. This judge looked at the evidence, he heard their testimony, and he felt that the way Germany is treating home schoolers is wrong. The rights being violated here are basic human rights."

Comment: Re:Definitely questions for... (Score 1) 434

by DancesWithBlowTorch (#30229916) Attached to: Australian Govt. Proposes Internet "Panic Button" For Kids
This sounds like a job for arithmetics!

Let's say every child calls this service exactly once in their whole life (that's an underestimate, I guess, if the situation is really as bad as this populist makes it sound). So very roughly 1% of the overall population of Australia dials that number once a year. How long does it take to sort out one such call? Either (a) five minutes, if they don't actually do anything about it (like when you call the police to tell them you found a car with a smashed window). In that case, this all makes no sense in the first place. Or (b) they do some sort of magic, like trying to identify the perpetrator, or "send someone over", or whatever. Either way, that'll cost them at the very least five hours, including the paperwork, and their appearance in court.
Policemen work on average (correcting for weekends and holidays) like, 5 hours a day, so one policeman can cover something like a 300 to 500 calls a year.
0.2% of Australians are policemen.. In other words, there are 5 calls per policeman, per year. That's five calls per policeman per year, divided by 500 calls per policeman per year, meaning 1% of Australia's police force will be busy chasing boogiemen, classmates, schoolyard bullies, and neighbourhood mums, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt. And in consequence, I will boldly claim that the crime rate will go up by, like, 1%, thanks to less policemen on the beat catching actual criminals. Okay, it doesn't quite work that way, but it's still a better estimate than the shady "1 in 4 children are sexually abused by the internet." from the summary.

Sounds like a great plan. A few more murderers and actual child molesters on the loose are a small price to pay for a cuddly, reassuring dolphin next to every PC.

Numeric stability is probably not all that important when you're guessing.

Working...