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Comment: We didn't need this space station, either! (Score 1) 142

by Dr. Spork (#49363017) Attached to: Russia Wants To Work With NASA On a New Space Station
The ISS was a huge waste of NASA money, costing as much as all of NASA's "space exploration activities" combined (source:). This prevented, killed and neutered many missions that would have produced genuine science. It was simply a mistake. So hooray, let's make a bigger one!

Comment: Re:Need the ISS (Score 1) 142

by Dr. Spork (#49362979) Attached to: Russia Wants To Work With NASA On a New Space Station
Do you really think there are going to be humans in LEO turning bolts with hand-held wrenches, and that's how the Mars ship will be built? Did you not notice that even in the safety of Earth's factories, humans aren't really doing that kind of stuff anymore? By the time we get around to building a Mars ship, I doubt our automated manufacturing machines will be worse than now, and unlike humans, these machines can actually be designed to perform optimally in space.

Comment: In Finland, teacher spots are hyper-competitive (Score 5, Informative) 213

by Dr. Spork (#49317935) Attached to: Finland's Education System Supersedes "Subjects" With "Topics"
Check out these facts about Finnish teachers, and weep (if you're American) (source):

Becoming a teacher in Finland is as competitive as getting into an Ivy League school, and Finland offers no other route into the profession. So, there is no Teach for Finland. To teach in Finland requires a five-year master's degree in education. Admission to a teacher preparation program includes a national entrance exam and a personal interview. Only one of every 10 applicants is accepted into a teacher preparation program in Finland; competition to become a primary school teacher is even tougher, with 1,789 applicants for only 120 spots, for example, at the University of Helsinki in 2011-12. Only eight universities offer teacher preparation programs in Finland, which allows the country to ensure consistency from program to program. Contrast that with Minnesota which has about the same population as Finland (5.2 million) but about 30 colleges that offer teacher preparation programs.

I also remember reading that about 90% of Finnish teachers graduated in the top quintile of their class. In the US, that figure is more like 4%. American students of education typically get the worst SAT and GRE scores of all the majors. We cannot ignore these facts when we're comparing educational systems. In the US it's easier to get into med school than it is for a smart Finn to get into teacher school. The quality of the people who make it through means that pretty much every innovation they try is bound to produce satisfactory results, because highly their best and brightest are in charge.

Comment: Re:What's the point of the NSA knowing everything? (Score 1) 569

... I doubt that these are the needles they [the NSA] are seeking.

Yeah, but why not? This sort of thing obviously undercuts national security by tying up our cops, making them complicit in some asshole's prank, and causing potentially deadly danger. And compared to the effort and expense of mobilizing and deploying a freaking SWAT team, it is a comparative trifle for the NSA to answer a call from the cops asking for the malicious report to be traced to its source.

Comment: Scarier than humans being beaten at chess (Score 1) 90

by Dr. Spork (#49293731) Attached to: Google: Our New System For Recognizing Faces Is the Best

Facial recognition and object recognition was always thought of in the AI community as a "pattern interpretation" skill, and we suspected that human brains have special magic gears for "effortlessly" succeeding at these sorts of tasks, while AI coders struggled to emulate our success.

Now we're seriously talking about computers already being better at these tasks than we are. This is one of those milestones in AI research when we have to cross off another item from the list of "things that keep AIs from matching or exceeding human intelligence". For now, there are still many items on that list, but I wonder which ones will be crossed of next, and how soon.

Comment: The strategy against Assange has worked (Score 1) 169

by Dr. Spork (#49250239) Attached to: Swedish Authorities Offer To Question Assange In London
When Assange went to hide in the Ecuadoran embassy, he had the world's attention. But now looking back, it looks like he basically put himself in prison, and not in the heroic way. If the US had grabbed him, tried him in some kangaroo court and imprisoned him, he'd stay relevant as a sort of journalistic martyr. But his embassy self-imprisonment left him just as isolated, while also looking vaguely like a fugitive instead of a martyr. Basically, he's been rendered irrelevant, without anything actually being done to him, apart from some sketchy accusation from two Swedish women. If this was some political chess match, Assange lost to a far superior opponent. I wouldn't be surprised if they just let him walk now. Either way Wikileaks has been killed without its killers having done anything that looks like a heavy-handed suppression of journalism.

Comment: Swiss watches need to get thinner (Score 1) 389

For some reason, when men buy fancy Swiss watches these days, they buy these fat monstrosities that don't play well with the shirt cuff. The Apple watch is fat, but not fatter than many of the dumb watches from Switzerland. There are also some wonderful thin Swiss mechanical watches, but they aren't in fashion right now. If the Swiss push a new generation of sturdy but slim, elegant mechanical watches, I think they will be able to convince many men that they are better off choosing a wristwatch over some gaudy thing that duplicates the functions of their phone.

Comment: They didn't model (predictable) human behavior (Score 1) 247

Their model basically assumes that you - the person who read the study - would be the only one who would flee to some location where you expect to be safe, and everyone else would stay where they were. If humans really were like that then by all means, follow the advice. But of course, many other humans would react to a zombie apocalypse by fleeing to the country. Quite probably, some would bring infected (still asymptomatic) victims along, which would infect others in the "isolated" sanctuary. How many residents from LA would drive to Death Valley because it seems like a place where zombies wouldn't be? Well guess what: That immigration wave is exactly how zombies get there. A better model would account for this predictable human flight behavior before arriving at a final recommendation.

Comment: Re:This is creepy! (Score 4, Interesting) 100

by Dr. Spork (#49118631) Attached to: Police Use DNA To Generate a Suspect's Face
I think we'd feel much better about it if we used this tool to remove suspicion from people, rather than to add suspicion. For example, this tool could probably rule out that the suspect is black or asian, that it's not a woman, it's not someone over 5'9, etc. Using the tool to generate a crappy portrait is the real bad move, because if you look like that, people will think that's evidence for your guilt. If this tool were only used to exonerate people and to remove them from the suspect list, who could object?

Comment: Bio data for interstellar colonization ship (Score 1) 36

by Dr. Spork (#49081725) Attached to: Storing Data In Synthetic Fossils

This might be useful if we ever build very slow, small and cheap interstellar colonization ships. Basically, I'm picturing something like a seed from which an entire civilization could hatch. In practice, it would be a tiny fabrication plant, plus lots of data. Once it arrives, the thing would use material from an asteroid or a comet to build larger and more specialized 3D printers, which would turn asteroids into a habitable space station, bioreplicators, etc. The bioreplicators would produce living germ cells from DNA data, artificial wombs would gestate them, and very fancy AI would parent the kids that come out. It's fun to think about how tiny the initial payload could be so that it's still big enough to eventually get the job done. Probably, the best way to do it would be to start with a single crude and tiny 3D printer, which is able to make a larger, better 3D printer, and so on.

Obviously, a big proportion of the mass of this thing would be the storage medium that carries all the data, because you won't just need software, videos, libraries, etc. You'll also need genetic info for an adequately diverse population of humans, plus an adequately diverse population of all the other living things those humans will need and want to have around, like gut bacteria, broccoli, earthworms, butterflies, kitties, etc. That's a lot of data, so you obviously want a robust and low-mass storage medium for it. The trip might take thousands of years, and space can be nasty. But if this DNA-in-glass medium can reliably last millions of years - more at 3 degrees K, I presume - maybe it would do the job. It would be really cool if it turned out to be possible to reconstitute our civilization in another solar system from a seed no larger than a trashcan. I don't see any reason to think it's impossible to go even smaller, maybe to the size of a beer can. The smaller it is, the easier it is to accelerate and decelerate. If it rides a laser beam on the way out, and decelerates with solar sail (like a parachute), it might be practical to make thousands of these rather cheaply. Any seeds that germinate could then make thousands more. (I think Freeman Dyson once discussed an idea like this.)

Comment: Can't prisoners mail out letters? (Score 3, Interesting) 176

I know this sounds terribly traditional, but what could be wrong with sending a friend a letter in which you give instructions to post an update to social media on your behalf? I'm sure that all letters from prison would be read to make sure they're not carrying out something illegal, but it's not illegal for the friend to post an online update, right?

Or how about this: The friend starts a blog called "Letters From Sam in Jail" and just posts a scan of each letter received. That's a clear case where the prisoner is (indirectly) blogging, but nobody is doing something wrong. Right?

I never cheated an honest man, only rascals. They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something. -- Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil

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