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Comment Enjoy the journey, not just the destination (Score 1) 211

You are getting the PC for fun (gaming) right? So consider the process of building the hardware and customizing software part of that fun. You get to learn about various technologies available in 2015 and the art of putting them together. If you go with Linux and spend effort to customize your system, you are also getting marketable CS knowledge. All in all, the enjoyment of the process is worth the price of a few games even if you can't compete with Dell purely on price.

Comment The China Syndrome movie didn't kill nukes. (Score 1) 252

And it sure has hell wasn't Greenpeace or the Clamshell Alliance.

It was the 1980s oil glut that did the deed. That was especially devastating following on the heels of the 1970s oil crisis, because so many companies who entered the alternative energy business in the late 70s only to have the floor cut out from under them in 1980. I had a good friend who quit his job at a software company in 1980 to go to work for a company developing a seasonal thermal energy storage scheme. He was an accountant and according to him the numbers were solid as long as oil prices were north of $100/bbl. That was in May of 1980 when oil was trading at $114/bbl. 13 months later the price of oil had fallen to $60/bbl. For the next five years the Saudis tried to prop up falling oil prices by cutting back production, but in '85 they gave up, opened the spigots, and oil prices dropped to $23/bbl.

The economic reaction was entirely what you'd predict with oil prices at a 40 year low. The development of new energy technologies stalled. Cars got bigger again and SUVs of unprecedented size and low fuel economy became wildly popular. And new nuclear plant starts dried up. Oh, the industry pointed the finger at the big, bad environmental movement, which is laughable because so far as I know they only nuclear power plant ever canceled due to protests was the monumentally stupidly sited Bodega Bay in 1964. Imagine for a moment the Clams and all those guys didn't exist; it wouldn't have mattered in the least. Nobody is going to invest in new nuclear power plants when oil is priced at $18/bbl. But it sounds better to say that the Greens have put you out of business than to say the prices you used in your revenue projections were off by an order of magnitude.

Submission + - Air Force hires civilian drone pilots for combat patrols - legality questioned (latimes.com)

schwit1 writes: For the first time, civilian pilots and crews now operate what the Air Force calls "combat air patrols," daily round-the-clock flights above areas of military operations to provide video and collect other sensitive intelligence.

Civilians are not allowed to pinpoint targets with lasers or fire missiles. They operate only Reapers that provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, known as ISR, said Air Force Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command.

Comment Re:Because the CIA is evil. (Score 1) 285

No, there were no WMDs in Iraq

Ok, so the WMDs in Iraq, used by Saddam to kill thousands of people in Iraq - those didn't exist? This sort of nonsense is supposed to make you sound credible? Who do you think your audience is - people just like you, but even dumber, who won't wonder if you paid any attention whatsoever to stacks of dead people killed with Iraq's chemical weapons? Man, it must be really annoying to be you, with reality being such a constant irritant like that.

Submission + - We Need a New Atomic Age

HughPickens.com writes: Peter Thiel writes in the NYT that what’s especially strange about the failed push for renewables is that we already had a practical plan back in the 1960s to become fully carbon-free without any need of wind or solar: nuclear power. "But after years of cost overruns, technical challenges and the bizarre coincidence of an accident at Three Mile Island and the 1979 release of the Hollywood horror movie “The China Syndrome,” about a hundred proposed reactors were canceled," says Thiel. "If we had kept building, our power grid could have been carbon-free years ago. Instead, we went in reverse."

According to Thiel, a new generation of American nuclear scientists has produced designs for better reactors. Crucially, these new designs may finally overcome the most fundamental obstacle to the success of nuclear power: high cost. Designs using molten salt, alternative fuels and small modular reactors have all attracted interest not just from academics but also from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists like me ready to put money behind nuclear power. However, none of these new designs can benefit the real world without a path to regulatory approval, and today’s regulations are tailored for traditional reactors, making it almost impossible to commercialize new ones. "Both the right’s fear of government and the left’s fear of technology have jointly stunted our nuclear energy policy," concludes Thiel. "supporting nuclear power with more than words is the litmus test for seriousness about climate change. Like Nixon’s going to China, this is something only Mr. Obama can do. If this president clears the path for a new atomic age, American scientists are ready to build it."

Comment Re:Books thesis (Score 3, Insightful) 143

Well, having worked in both the non-profit sector and in public health, I think the criticisms of the Gates Foundation's public health efforts are malarkey. It's basically an opportunity cost argument and by that standard virtually every charitable foundation is wanting. Why are you spending money on the ballet when there are kids who can't read? Why are you spending money on literacy education when there are kids who don't have enough to eat etc. The problems of the world are endlessly varied and complex, and you can't ask much more of anyone than that they pick a spot and take a whack.

That said, the idea that spending money on infectious diseases is wasteful is particularly inane. Sure, in some places obesity may result in more premature deaths than malaria, but the fact is nobody really knows how to effectively fight an "obesity epidemic", whereas malaria is clearly eradicable -- and once it's gone, it's gone forever, because P. falciparum has no natural host other than humans. The same goes for communicable diseases for which we have vaccines; we know how to fight those cost effectively, even eradicate them in many cases. The missing piece of the puzzle is money.

Now criticism of the foundation's education efforts is a lot more warranted. Just like everybody thinks they're qualified to design a website because they have opinions about which sites they like and don't like, everyone thinks they're qualified to redesign the educational system because they went to school. The difference is that Gates has the money to make his bad ideas materialize. It may be hacker philanthropy, but most attempts at "hacks" result in kluges.

So overall it's a mixed bag. While you do have to give props to Gates for being "the man in the arena", sometimes, unlike in Teddy Roosevelt's famous speech, the man in the arena's failings don't fall exclusively on himself. So while philanthropy is admirable in itself, where the philanthropist's activities impinge on areas of public policy like education his actions should be held up to scrutiny like anyone else's.

Comment Let freedoms ring (Score 1) 390

Self destructive actions of an individual negatively affect society


your freedom ends when it negatively affects others.

False. My calling you names or otherwise being offensive (including, gasp, making racist and sexist statements), for example, however negatively it might affect you and millions of others, does not end my freedom of speech.

Comment Re:Where was the CIA, FBI and NSA... (Score 3, Insightful) 285

How do you know it was credible, besides through the benefit of hindsight? The CIA/FBI/police get 100 tip-offs per day that the stranger down the street must be a drug dealer/kiddie fiddler/international terrorist because he can't whistle 'Dixie'.

Strawman argument. The point is that there were several credible warnings of both an Al Qaeda attack and specific concerns with piloting students affiliated with them, some from foreign intelligence agencies; all these reports were not duly considered and discarded -- not because they were the moral equivalent of not being able to whistle "Dixie", but because of organizational and political dysfunction.

It was a failure -- specifically a failure to do something that was well within the government's power to do. I'm not saying that signals intelligence is not important, but it's an evasion of responsibility to claim our failure to take effective action was because we needed some technical capability that we lacked at the time. We had everything we needed to catch the 9/11 hijackers before they struck except for leadership.

Comment Re:This is *SO* unethical ! (Score 1) 241

Sadly, EULAs and the like tell them they can do this. Courts have upheld it. Which means taking them at their word is pretty much useless.

What? If the user who wants to participate in online discussions on a private company's web site agrees to a EULA that states that the owner of the web site reserves the right to change the conditions of using the site, then that's exactly what you signed up for. The only "sadly" involved is users sadly not reading what they agree to. Most people in the gimme-dat-free-stuff mindset don't think things through anyway.

Real names policies exist because companies say "what value can I get from selling the fact that SuitWrinkler53 commented on the website?" and deciding that they can't sell that information.

Or, if you're a publisher, those policies exist in order to spare the publishers huge ongoing legal expenses in dealing with inquiries and even subpoenas related to digging out real names or other information about trolling, libelous, or otherwise criminal users.

And then you realize they don't know much about the underlying technology, and are probably using something like WordPress.

No, then we realize that you're talking out of your ass and haven't bothered to so much as view the source on one of their pages in order to see that you're wrong. And that the paper - like so many who can't afford to go about it in any other way - are using a third party SaaS solution. Which means a single code base for many clients, which means no, customizing it for one customer isn't always desirable or even do-able.

They just have to remind you it's technically private property, and that the license says they can change the terms if they wish.

Oh, so you DO get it. What are you bitching about, then?

Comment Re:Increase productivity?? (Score 3, Insightful) 390

Here's my anecdote: Many interesting ideas I had back in the day came to me under the influence of pot. Some of those ideas brought me a great deal of money.

I never said this doesn't happen, but your reasoning is post hoc ergo propter hoc: your ideas came to you while you were stoned, therefore they must have come from the pot. In order to conclude that you'd have to have done all of your thinking about the problems while you were stoned.

As I said, I think it quite plausible that drugs can, at the right time, help you escape the limitations of self-censorship in your thinking. But in my experience people who are stoned all the time certainly have novel ideas, but those ideas aren't particularly useful. That's because creativity actually involves a kind of interplay of critical and imaginative thinking. Enough people have anecdotes like yours to think there's something to it, but the very nature of creativity -- at least as I'm defining it -- makes me doubt you can get it entirely out of a bottle.

For the record, I consider creativity the finding of novel approaches to a thing that are better in some way than pre-existing approaches. This almost certainly presupposes an intimate familiarity with pre-existing approaches, unless we count pure dumb luck as creativity. Picasso, for example, didn't draw the way he did because he couldn't to realistic work. He had very good drawing skills, and his early works were representational. That level of draftsmanship doesn't come without struggle; and from that he derived his interest in geometric figures, most easily seen in the development of his landscapes. Note if "House in the Field" seems a bit crude, it was painted when he was twelve years old.

The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was.