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Comment Geologic time (Score 1) 125

The age of the Earth (and presumably Vanus) is about 4.5 billion years. 100 million years is about 2.2% of that. An event that takes 100 million years could happen 45 times in the Earth's lifetime. If it were a day, this would be about a half hour lunch. So more of a moderate length of time, geologically.

Compare it to what the Earth looked like 100 million years ago.

Comment Checked exceptions as API (Score 1) 262

Checked exceptions are probably better viewed as part of a the API, in the sense that if exceptions didn't exist, these would be implemented as return parameters, which you would also have to declare and either check, or pass to the calling code.

Maybe all exceptions should have been checked, but the difference (not always followed) is that checked exceptions are supposed to be for things the deployed program or user has some control over (missing file, sleep interrupted - that is, things you should plausibly expect to happen), and unchecked exceptions are for bugs or uncontrollable things (NULL, out of memory - bugs you should have fixed, or can't expect). In other words, handling checked exceptions should be as natural as checking to see if fopen returned NULL in C.

Not done as consistently as it should have been in Java though. Made them confusing, inconsistent, and irritating to a lot of people who just decided checked exceptions were wrong rather than misimplemented (similar: operator overload abuse makes many people dislike the entire idea).

Comment The software generation (Score 1) 320

The big advance of the F-35 isn't the physical capabilities. Jet fighters have reached the limits of what humans inside can endure a while ago. It's basically a refinement to (theoretically) lower costs and maintenance, and expand range.

The big thing is the software, which is supposed to give the pilots an unmatched situational awareness, and ability to respond. Metaphorically it's supposed to be like being surrounded by a mob wearing masks with tiny eye slits looking around for other people around them, while you can just see them all. Probably not actually like that, but that's the idea.

to give a historical example of how this is important, you can compare the MIG-29 to something like an F-16 or F-18. The MIG is physically superior in some ways, but was designed for "dumb" pilots to follow real-time orders from ground based radar and controllers, so the pilots can't get a good idea of what's around them. When Germany reunified, they had plenty of MIG 29s in the air force, but got rid of them for this reason - they just crippled the pilots too much, and upgrading the avionics would have cost more than new planes (the Eurofighter Typhoon, which has similarly advanced software).

I think starting with the current batch of planes, you're not going to see vastly improved physical capabilities, so they'll seem boring, in the same way that all modern mobile phones look like boring, featureless rectangles.

Comment Germany vs. Russia (Score 1) 258

80% of German casualties were against the USSR. And they were the ones that made it to Berlin. Once Stalin stopped interfering and let the Generals run the war, either Germany would have lost, or would have had to withdraw from all other fronts anyway and didn't have the resources for a sustained war against Russia, and would have lost (surrendered or negotiated a truce). The Allies just shortened it (not a small accomplishment though).

Comment Automation or not (Score 1) 1291

The economy has a lot of feedback which makes it hard to model. But the unemployment problem from automation is not the result of automation itself. Generally, long term, automation may eliminate jobs, but that's because it's cheaper. This means savings for the rest of the economy, so other things become cheaper, to varying degrees. Some number of things pass an affordability threshold, and become more popular, leading to some booming sectors, which need people, and employment rises to a stable level again.

The two main problems are: Short term, the interim change isn't good for those unemployed - a big disruption until replacement employment is available. And the rich and powerful changing the system to benefit themselves over the rest, which is independent of the automation, but they can certainly use it for leverage. It's the system changing for the rich that's the main cause of the income disparity and wage stagnation lately.

Basically, feudalism is inherent in human activity (based on ratio of people who's desire is productive work vs. wealth accumulation, the accumulators spend more time on it), unless some system of governance modifies it to benefit more people (usually government, but could be consumer activism, unions, the press, violent mobs, or just smart rich people who know better).

When technology changes quickly, a lot of short term unemployment disruptions can build up into what seems to be a long term problem. Government can (and should) help with that too, but it's not yet clear that it'll become a long term problem.

Comment What IED? (Score 1) 87

I'm constantly dismayed when terms get misused to the point that they lose their original meaning, but the culprits are usually people wanting to use words they don't quite understand to look smarter than they are. Your sentence "Hayabusa 2 is carrying [...] an IED meant to blow a hole [...]" is an example - do you actually know what the "I" in "IED" stands for? Hint: if it's carefully designed, it's not improvised.

Sadly, most things called IEDs aren't particularly improvised either, they're just "ED"s - or as they used to call them, "bombs".

Comment More than 90% (Score 2) 417

The Permian-Triassic extinction event didn't just kill of 90% of all life. It killed of 90% of all species - that is, it killed off 100% of 90% of species. Of the remaining 10%, it killed off 99% of some species, 98% of others, and so on. It was frighteningly close to sterilizing the planet.

Humans do have the capability to actually do that - sterilize the planet. It's highly unlikely, but possible if the entire world economy were dedicated to that - and it could be, as a side effect, because of two important effects:

  • The result of all technological progress is to allow people to do things they couldn't before, either by making something new possible, or making something existing available to more people.
  • There will always be some fraction of those people who are sceptical of the consequences, ignorant of them, or think they can get away with it just for themselves.

This means there will be a steadily growing number of people who are willing and able to do an increasing amount of damage in pursuit of their own goals, and if those goals result in hugely profitable corporations that can influence (or ignore) government policy throughout the world, extinction of all life could then become the main product of nearly all human activity. And humans are pretty good at accomplishing their goals.

To be fair, at some point the consequences will be obvious and the number of people willing to continue will fall. But that's as likely to be too late as not - see Rapa Nui (Easter Island) for what tends to happen then. And see Venus for how bad it could get.

Comment Ashton-Tate Framework (Score 1) 79

This actually happened at an important point in software history. Under founder George Tate, Ashton-Tate ("Ashton" was marketing fiction) was one of the few software companies competitive with Microsoft, although they had a different initial focus (desktop databases). They finally went head to head when Ashton-Tate bought Forefront, which was developing an integrated office suite, before Microsoft had fully committed to the concept.

There had been office suites of a sort before, generally bundles of software that didn't actually interact (the Osborn computer included bundled software worth more than the actual computer, a big selling point), but Framework was fully integrated, including its own development environment and desktop. It was essentially Windows before Windows, built on much better technology (similar to the "Lisp environment machines", but on normal hardware).

Unfortunately Tate died of a heart attack shortly after its introduction (around 1984, the Macintosh year). He had a vision for the product and was basing the company's future on it, but unfortunately everyone else had the mindset of running a database application company, and had no idea what to do with this thing. Rather than treating and promoting it as the new platform for a whole ecosystem of new software (basically an OS), they treated it as just another application, and while it had the potential to be the dominant OS before Windows was even finished, it eventually became just another forgotten Windows application.

Comment Large Tesla battery quite useful (Score 1) 334

Having a large house battery has other uses, such as for power outages. But consider this: an electric car has a huge battery capacity, but can charge from mains at only a trickle. That's okay for a commuter where you charge overnight, but if you have heavy use (say, a moving weekend) you need to charge it faster. Having a battery that has a rapid charging connection to the car (like the stand-alone chargers) fixes that problem - park for half an hour, and you're ready to go with almost a full charge.

Comment Microkernel OS/2 and more (Score 1) 229

The early hype around microkernels was that they could emulate other OSes, and that's what led to IBM's attempt. It turns out what killed that and all the other attempts was primarily the fact that to emulate an OS, you essentially had to re-implement the target OS on top of the microkernel - that is, the microkernel did not end up replacing much if anything in your emulated OS. So it was just an added abstraction layer that you would need as part of the OS anyway, and you saved nothing.

That in itself wouldn't have been bad - a waste of time, but not otherwise bad. But microkernels do have inherent performance problems. Specifically any time you have tightly coupled components that have to share data, in a monolithic kernel you share the data and use locks to protect it, in a microkernel it's passed by messages. Even when optimized to just buffer copying, that can add up to a lot when the data is huge, like a video display.

The overhead normally is not really big, so in itself a microkernel can be competitive with a monolithic kernel. There are also technical advantages to compensate. I'm sure you know QNX (used in Blackberry 10, the more reliable automobile entertainment systems, etc.) is an example of that. The problem is the overhead just makes your emulated OS worse, any microkernel advantages are not part of your monolithic kernel code above it, and that makes it pointless. It's just as much work to implement, there's little to no saving, and it's measurably slower.

So in summary, the hype around the stupid idea of emulated OSes tainted the idea of microkernels, but there's nothing wrong with microkernels themselves.

Comment Fair trial wanted (Score 4, Insightful) 200

A fair trial is what he asked for since the beginning. But under current U.S law, almost all evidence would be hidden under the claim of "national security" - essentially a secret trial, apart from knowing that it took place. That is, if it was even a trial as opposed to a "tribunal" as happened to Manning - no discovery of evidence, no jury, no impartial judge, just a panel of officers, all hidden from view.

The government wouldn't even have to charge him with anything related to the issues involved. Chances are he hasn't filed a U.S income tax return as required by all U.S citizens, even outside the country. For that matter, an obscure and rarely enforced law requires government papers to emigrate legally. He could be charged with any number of laws which don't allow any "public interest" defence to bring up the issues he wants to raise.

"Lead us in a few words of silent prayer." -- Bill Peterson, former Houston Oiler football coach