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Comment Benefits seem pretty contrived (Score 1) 18

I read TFA and it struck me that this is the invention of salesmen who are working very hard to find a rationale for their product. The two examples they came up with, where the benefits of their system are supposed to be maximally evident, are just not convincing. In the case of the mice who are kept awake at night: Wouldn't the test group and the control group of mice both be equally affected by the noise? If the thing being tested for really was making a difference, shouldn't that difference still be visible? This sounds an awful lot like: We went into the experiment knowing what results we wanted, and we twiddled knobs and kept discarding "bad" data under the thinnest pretenses, until we finally got them. And that's not how you do science.

When it comes to the researchers whose polymer was being degraded by UV photons from normal daylight... I'm sorry, they just don't sound very smart. I have to wonder if their situation would have improved if they had installed this monitoring system. What would it have told them? "Your experiment is occurring at room temperature, earth gravity, normal daylight, air of terrestrial composition, yadda yadda." Are the salesmen suggesting that these bumbling scientists would have looked at all this "data", slapped their foreheads and yelled: BY GOD, WE JUST LEARNED THAT OUR EXPERIMENT IS OCCURRING IN NORMAL DAYLIGHT!

Comment A welcome improvement in the age of PC stagnation (Score 4, Insightful) 73

I've been building PCs long enough to remember a time when things were improving so quickly that it made no sense to keep a computer for more than 4 years. But since then, the progress in CPU performance has reached a plateau. People like me, who bought a good Sandy Bridge system in 2011, still have a system that doesn't come close to feeling crippled and lazy. We don't have much reason to envy the people who bought the latest generation of i5/i7 systems. Five years used to mean an order of magnitude improvement in performance. Now it's not even a doubling. I've sometimes wondered when I will finally start feeling the urge to upgrade my system.

These SSD latency numbers are the first thing I've seen that gave me the feeling that there is some truly worthwhile trick that my present computer can't come close to matching. I'm not saying that I now want to upgrade, but on reading this, I have become upgrade-curious for the first time in many years.

Comment Re:Nitpicking (Score 3, Interesting) 262

I remember plenty of Slashdot blurbs that consisted of several sentences lifted directly from the article, but giving no credit to TFA. Where I teach, that would be considered a case of representing someone else's words as yours, which is straightforward plagiarism, and gets you an unpleasant appointment with an assistant dean. So even though this execution isn't flawless, at least it clearly distinguishes the words of the blurb author and the article author. I consider that a huge step forward for Slashdot.

Comment Re: Eventually... But not yet (Score 1) 406

Either you're young or haven't paid attention. For twelve years (1996-2008) my computer had been running a Sony GDM 500PS with 1200 vertical pixels, at 85Hz. And yeah, through a VGA cable. In that time I went through many generations of computer upgrades, but If that beast of a monitor hadn't been sent to the recyclers, I'm sure it would still look beautiful today. Thinking about all the amazing things I've seen in that monitor makes me nostalgic. It was my companion for a huge chunk of my life. The the last computer for which it served as a display was more that 100 times more powerful than the first one.

Comment Clearing off administrator-barnicles? (Score 5, Informative) 308

It sounds like most of the cuts don't affect the people who are fulfilling the core mission of the university, the ones who teach, do research and advise the students. US universities have hired so many administrators that they need more administrators just to keep track of all the administratoring they do. When there are budget cuts, it's administrators who draw up the cost-cutting plans, so it turns out as one would expect. At least in the US, universities can just keep raising tuition. In Finland that is impossible.

Comment Really misguided! (Score 1) 75

What's depressing about this is not so much that the data is available, but that important idiots will use the data to make significant decisions about students. You can bet they will do it even without any evidence that library time is an independent variable causally responsible for positive outcomes, and that A- students who go to bars are somehow worse employees/grad students/med students/interns than A- students who go to the library.

There is a growing pressure in universities to reward students merely for going through the motions. I have colleagues who actually penalize students for being absent from class. I asked point blank whether any students who get top scores on all the tests ever get less than an A for the course, simply because they missed some meetings. Apparently, this happens, and I was disgusted when I learned of it. I hate the encroachment of high school paternalism into college.

Comment Putting it in orbit would solve all these problems (Score 4, Interesting) 22

One of the challenges of using a large mirror is that it tends to bend under its own weight and the force of wind.

I think it's a scandal that we aren't building a massive telescope in space, where you don't have to worry about gravitational sagging or gusts of wind... (or clouds, atmospheric distortions, light pollution, etc.). When we think of near-future space program ambitions, everybody talks about sending people to Mars. But we would learn so much more from building and using a kilometer-scale telescope mirror in orbit. From the article, it's clear that even terrestrial telescope mirrors now consist of a thin glass sheet with scaffolding behind it. Isn't it time to think about how to build that kind of thing in space, where the scaffolding requirements would be much smaller? It's inevitable that for a certain size of mirror, it will actually more expensive to build it on Earth than in space, for the reasons mentioned in the article. So come on, let's get some courageous nerds like Elon Musk on the job and build a telescope that could actually resolve extrasolar planets and see the formation of the first galaxies. Compared to this, people on Mars seems like a vanity project.

Comment 2000 kilometers *south* of the North Pole? (Score 3, Informative) 138

Pedantic point: It's redundant to say "2000 kilometers south of the North Pole". Any point on the Earth's surface that's 2000 kilometers from the North Pole is automatically 2000 km south of the North Pole. There is no way for something to be west or east of the North Pole, and definitely not north, so naming the cardinal direction is pointless. It's south by necessity.

Comment This would require real social networks (Score 3, Insightful) 108

This whole operation is based on meeting people face to face and trusting them to be generous. That's the kind of trust-thy-neighbor attitude which is largely dying out in richer countries. We've become so rich that we don't need to cultivate neighborly kindness. When we want something, we just get it ourselves, whether it's through wires, Amazon or an SUV trip to the store. I wouldn't want these opportunities to go away, but at the same time, I sometimes think that our wealth has brought us too much self-reliance. We've forgotten what it's like to actually rely on the kindness of strangers, and I we hardly many opportunities to show strangers our kindness.

Comment Colonization doesn't require human travel (Score 4, Insightful) 330

You can make human colonies in faraway places without humans having to travel there. In 200 years, I expect that we will be able to reproduce entire ecosystems from data alone. That data "recipe" could be packed into a rather small package and transported slowly to many distant solar systems to germinate into diverse islands of life and civilization. Once this becomes possible, I really doubt that nobody is going to get around to doing it. We will need an autonomous asteroid miner, ore processor, and a primitive 3D printer to produce other, increasingly more precise and specialized machines. To do their job, all they will need is the right software, lots of ordinary rocks, and the energy of a nearby star. The system will be able to build anything that we are able to build, including viable cells with human DNA, and the technology to gestate them. With careful planning, I suspect that the starter kit will fit inside the volume of a shipping container. Since the data/software will be stored in a very stable medium, these seeds will work even if their trips to the stars are slow. But if we spam the galaxy with these little seeds, the future of humanity will eventually be pretty grand.

Comment Re:Not a surprise (Score 1) 45

I doubt that one scheduling decision had much of an impact on anything. I don't know how to gauge the overlap in the audience of SC2 and DOTA2, but my guess is that it's rather small. LOL and DOTA2 may be fungible products, but SC2 is an entirely different beast, for a very different audience (that isn't growing right now). I would love this buyout if it meant that SC2 will return to MLG, because it's the only esport that I care about. I'm just not sure how committed Blizzard are to SC2, now that it's clear there will be no new expansions and the game is basically set loose to naturally coast to a stop. It's a game with a business model designed around box sales, not in-game purchases, and there will be no new boxes of SC2-anything, so investing in SC2 hype may not have payoffs for Blizzard. Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm might be the future they care about. I hope not. I watch ever major SC2 tournament (and some minor ones), but I have zero interest in any other esport.

Comment A system like this might be super-habitable for us (Score 2) 105

I think it's amazing that there could be a system with enough comets to block out such a big portion of starlight. It gets my imagination going because when I picture the future of human expansion, I don't see us living on the natural surfaces of planets, putting up with all the ways in which they are ill-suited to our comfort (wrong gravity, wrong color starlight, wrong day/night cycle for our circadian rhythm, wrong atmosphere, wrong temperature range, too much radiation, etc.). I know that people want to address some of these problems with some sort of transforming, and that will make sense on some planets, but most stars will not have eligible ones.

However, most stars will have enough ordinary junk in their orbit that we will be able to manufacture (with self-replicating AI machines) a perfectly awesome and huge spinning habitat that could have a habitable surface area comparable to that of the Earth. The easiest source for the materials for such a habitat are smallish rocks, because it takes so little energy to eject habitat material from a quarry on a rock with such a small gravity well. A colony would simply dispatch an AI-controlled factory that would convert asteroid material into duplicate AI factories, plus fuel and thrusters that get these to other asteroids. Then the factories retool to convert the asteroids into parts for a giant spinning space station, in which the interior light, atmosphere, gravity and temperature are optimized for terrestrial life, while the star-facing exterior is covered with solar panels, and the shady side is a spiky forest of heatsinks. If the orbit is close enough to the star, the panels alone should generate enough energy to power all the systems and more.

It's very 1960's thinking to picture ourselves living on the surfaces of other planets, and yet, even many scientists have not gotten past that obsolete picture. AI technology plus robotics will allow us to thrive even in extrasolar systems that have nothing but perfectly ordinary crap floating in orbit, because perfectly ordinary crap is exactly what we and every important feature of our biosphere are made of.

What's exciting about a system like this is that if there are lots of comets, it means that there's a lot of great crap within arm's reach from which to build a gigantic new home.

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