Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Slashdot Deals: Deal of the Day - Pay What You Want for the Learn to Code Bundle, includes AngularJS, Python, HTML5, Ruby, and more. ×

Comment Re:And people on slashdot give a shit, why? (Score 4, Insightful) 162

Good on him indeed, this means several things:

He's a big-shot CEO who can delegate. Great

This sort of things is not reserved for women. Fathers should take time off too. Great

The workplace is not the be-all and end-all of all things. Kids are important too, they are our future. Great

Comment Such as occurred in the 1960s (Score 2) 99


Observers of the current state of the space program like to maintain that a space race, such as occurred in the 1960s, will never happen again.

Emphasis mine. The little race between Musk and Boeing is nice to watch, however in the 1960s we were watching a race between two superpowers with basically no holds barred.

Comment Simulation and resolution (Score 1) 269

People here say, with reason, that we ought to be able to simulate every physical system, given a good enough model, enough time, bandwidth, resolution, memory and computing resources.

This should be by and large true, but consider this: computational fluid dynamics with turbulence is still an open problem. For instance, smooth solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations are not known to exist.

Yet, turbulence seems like a really easy problem compared to thought and consciousness. We even have a mathematical model that describes it. Sure, with enough computing resources we can do a good enough job of simulating turbulence in most regimes, but not all. For instance, Computational Fluid Dynamics with magneto-hydro-dynamic elements is really hard. Yet this is required for developing for instance nuclear fusion, a topic with a huge economic importance. Still, these simulations require the best supercomputers that we are able to muster at present. The race to build still-better computers to run better CFD simulations is still on. and is likely to go on for quite a while.

So total brain simulation or brain upload is not likely to occur anytime soon. We are much more likely to develop increasingly sophisticated AI based on learning and bottom-up strategies that do not care much about how the real human brain works. These strategies basically work: we can now beat the best humans at chess. Computer vision improves all the time. Soon we may have self-driving cars. Perhaps in the future a long-term sustainable and stable economy will be achieved thanks to AI progress.

However this teaches us next to nothing on how the brain works. Perhaps one day we will have the Singularity that Kurzweil keep talking about, but the resulting super-strong AIs are not likely to care about us poor inefficient meatbags that we are. Why should they? Simulating us would simply take too much resources.

Comment Wrong tool (Score 4, Informative) 144

This is good of course, however, whenever I see a spreadsheet program used for any serious computation, I cringe. There are far better tools out there if you require real number crunching. Think Python + Panda for instance, or R, or Matlab if you are really into commercial programs, otherwise a nice interactive web page will usually do the trick. For accounting use a real accounting program, there are plenty out there. Spreadsheet programs are the lowest common denominator that allow the sharing of table-like information, but almost universally they are the wrong tool for the job. Just in the last week, I have seen spreadsheets used for a program logic workflow, a timetable, a university course schedule, to compute an FFT, to exchange student marks, to discuss a budget (with lots of deletions and remarks), and even for a presentation. In each and every case a more suitable, open-source, freely available, multi-platform application exists.

Of course this is software that people know, so usually we have to deal with it. As a rule I accept to work with other people's spreadsheets, but I usually refuse to create one ex-nihilo, unless there is a compelling reason to. For instance I teach a course on optimisation, and I do show how the solver in Excel / {Libre,Open}Office works. I have also on occasion shown people how to use a pivot table (never use those if you can help it).

The most severe problem I see with spreadsheet is that they have their use but they are fragile. It is too easy to load an extensive table into them and inadvertently modify just one cell, potentially undoing a lot of work. This is easy to detect if your spreadsheet is small, but if it span multiple tabs and an ungodly number of rows, you will not detect your error. Of course the format of these spreadsheet is obscure, and version control is typically not supported.

Personally the worst I have seen was one spreadsheet used for the accounting of 90+ separate research projects, spanning 30,000 cells. The accountant in charge of it was the person most attentive to detail I have ever seen. She was careful and the only person using it, which made her indispensable. We put in place a year-long plan for her retirement, involving scrapping her spreadsheet, entirely replacing it with a direct interface with SAP via a php-based web page. It was many months in the making, of course this was not a trivial project but we've pulled it off. In the process we discovered a huge number of accounting errors thanks to it, typically invoices that were never billed, to the tunes of nearly one million dollars. It took us several months to correct them.

The morals of this is never, ever use spreadsheets program for non-trivial work.

Comment Uber is illegal in France (Score 5, Informative) 334

Uber operates outside the bounds of the law in France. This is well documented. There are two sets of law that they do not obey. The first is one regulating car drivers that are not taxis. It is legal in France to operate a car service to drive people from A to B but you need to abide by some restrictions. The car cannot be hailed, only booked. The driver must have some qualification, etc. Uber does not abide by these laws. The second set of law protects the consumer. In particular, data must be viewable and deletable by the consumer, and they cannot be retained indefinitely. Again Uber does not follow the law.

Recently the french equivalent to state department pointed out to Uber that they needed to change some things, so what did they do? They opened service in 5 new cities with no change. This was seen as provocation, and so obviously the top executives were brought in for questioning. The french cannot state on the one hand that something is illegal and on the other let it happen. They had to act.

Now maybe the law needs to change, this is an important debate. In the meantime in a law-based country the law needs to be upheld.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito