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Comment: Re:Simple set of pipelined utilties! (Score 1) 348

by hey! (#47930309) Attached to: Torvalds: No Opinion On Systemd

I don't think people understand the Unix philosophy. They think it's about limiting yourself to pipelines, but it's not. It's about writing simple robust programs that interact through a common, relatively high level interface, such as a pipeline. But that interface doesn't have to be a pipeline. It could be HTTP Requests and Responses.

The idea of increasing concurrency in a web application through small, asynchronous event handlers has a distinctly Unix flavor. After all the event handlers tend to run top to bottom and typically produce an output stream from an input stream (although it may simply modify one or the other or do something orthogonal to either like logging). The use of a standardized, high level interface allows you to keep the modules weakly coupled, and that's the real point of the Unix philosophy.

Comment: Re:So, a design failure then. (Score 1) 162

by hey! (#47921919) Attached to: Developing the First Law of Robotics

It depends on your design goals.

In Asimov's story universe, the Three Laws are so deeply embedded in robotics technology they can't be circumvented by subsequent designers -- not without throwing out all subsequent robotics technology developments and starting over again from scratch. That's one heck of a tall order. Complaining about a corner case in which the system doesn't work as you'd like after they achieved that seems like nitpicking.

We do know that *more* sophisticated robots can designed make more subtle ethical systems -- which is another sign of a robust fundamental design. The simplistic ethics is what subsequent designers get when they get "for free" when they use an off-the-shelf positronic brain to control a welding robot or bread-slicing machine.

Think of the basic positronic brain design as a design framework. One of the hallmarks of a robust framework is that easy things are easy and hard things are possible. By simply using the positronic framework the designers of the bread slicing machine don't have to figure out all the ways the machine might slice a person's fingers off. The framework takes care of that for them.

Comment: Re:The protruding lens was a mistake (Score 2) 419

by hey! (#47921441) Attached to: Apple Edits iPhone 6's Protruding Camera Out of Official Photos

I don't think you've really grasped Apple's design sensibility. Job one for the designers is to deliver a product that consumers want but can't get anywhere else.

The "camera bulge" may be a huge blunder, or it may be just a tempest in a teapot. The real test will be the user's reactions when they hold the device in their hand, or see it in another user's hand. If the reaction is "I want it", the designers have done their job. If it's "Holy cow, look at that camera bulge," then it's a screw-up.

The thinness thing hasn't been about practicality for a long, long time; certainly not since smartphones got thinner than 12mm or so. They always been practical things the could have given us other than thinness, but what they want you to do is pick up the phone and say, "Look how thin the made this!" The marketing value of that is that it signals that you've got the latest and greatest device. There's a limit of course, and maybe we're at it now. Otherwise we'll be carrying devices in ten years that look like big razor blades.

At some point in your life you'll probably have seen so many latest and greatest things that having the latest and greatest isn't important to you any longer. That's when know you've aged out of the demographic designers care about.

Comment: Re:Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 4, Insightful) 190

by hey! (#47915329) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

I'd argue that we do try to write about the future, but the thing is: it's pretty damn hard to predict the future. ...
The problem is that if we look at history, we see it littered with disruptive technologies and events which veered us way off course from that mere extrapolation into something new.

I think you are entirely correct about the difficulty in predicting disruptive technologies. But there's an angle here I think you may not have considered: the possibility that just the cultural values and norms of the distant future might be so alien to us that readers wouldn't identify with future people or want to read about them and their problems.

Imagine a reader in 1940 reading a science fiction story which accurately predicted 2014. The idea that there would be women working who aren't just trolling for husbands would strike him as bizarre and not very credible. An openly transgendered character who wasn't immediately arrested or put into a mental hospital would be beyond belief.

Now send that story back another 100 years, to 1840. The idea that blacks should be treated equally and even supervise whites would be shocking. Go back to 1740. The irrelevance of the hereditary aristocracy would be difficult to accept. In 1640, the secularism of 2014 society and would be distasteful, and the relative lack of censorship would be seen as radical (Milton wouldn't publish his landmark essay Aereopagitica for another four years). Hop back to 1340. A society in which the majority of the population is not tied to the land would be viewed as chaos, positively diseased. But in seven years the BLack Death will arrive in Western Europe. Displaced serfs will wander the land, taking wage work for the first time in places where the find labor shortages. This is a shocking change that will resist all attempts at reversal.

This is all quite apart from the changes in values that have been forced upon us by scientific and technological advancement. The ethical issues discussed in a modern text on medical ethics would probably have frozen Edgar Allen Poe's blood.

I think it's just as hard to predict how the values and norms of society will change in five hundred years as it is to accurately predict future technology. My guess is that while we'd find things to admire in that future society, overall we would find it disturbing, possibly even evil according to our values. I say this not out of pessimism, but out my observation that we're historically parochial. We think implicitly like Karl Marx -- that there's a point where history comes to an end. Only we happen to think that point is *now*. Yes, we understand that our technology will change radically, but we assume our culture will not.

Comment: Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 5, Insightful) 190

by hey! (#47914675) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

The pessimism and dystopia in sci-fi doesn't come from a lack of research resources on engineering and science. It mainly comes from literary fashion.

If the fashion with editors is bleak, pessimistic, dystopian stories, then that's what readers will see on the bookshelves and in the magazines, and authors who want to see their work in print will color their stories accordingly. If you want to see more stories with a can-do, optimistic spirit, then you need to start a magazine or publisher with a policy of favoring such manuscripts. If there's an audience for such stories it's bound to be feasible. There a thousand serious sci-fi writers for every published one; most of them dreadful it is true, but there are sure to be a handful who write the good old stuff, and write it reasonably well.

A secondary problem is that misery provides many things that a writer needs in a story. Tolstoy once famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I actually Tolstoy had it backwards; there are many kinds of happy families. Dysfunctions on the other hand tends to fall into a small number of depressingly recognizable patterns. The problem with functional families from an author's standpoint is that they don't automatically provide something that he needs for his stories: conflict. Similarly a dystopian society is a rich source of conflicts, obstacles and color, as the author of Snow Crash must surely realize. Miserable people in a miserable setting are simply easier to write about.

I recently went on a reading jag of sci-fi from the 30s and 40s, and when I happened to watch a screwball comedy movie ("His Girl Friday") from the same era, I had an epiphany: the worlds of the sci-fi story and the 1940s comedy were more like each other than they were like our present world. The role of women and men; the prevalence of religious belief, the kinds of jobs people did, what they did in their spare time, the future of 1940 looked an awful lot like 1940.

When we write about the future, we don't write about a *plausible* future. We write about a future world which is like the present or some familiar historical epoch (e.g. Roman Empire), with conscious additions and deletions. I think a third reason may be our pessimism about our present and cynicism about the past. Which brings us right back to literary fashion.

Comment: Re:When the cat's absent, the mice rejoice (Score 5, Insightful) 286

Well, I'd be with you if the government was poking around on the users' computers, but they weren't. The users were hosting the files on a public peer-to-peer network where you essentially advertise to the world you've downloaded the file and are making it available to the world. Since both those acts are illegal, you don't really have an expectation of privacy once you've told *everyone* you've done it. While the broadcasting of the file's availability doesn't prove you have criminal intent, it's certainly probable cause for further investigation.

These guys got off on a narrow technicality. Of course technicalities do matter; a government that isn't restrained by laws is inherently despotic. The agents simply misunderstood the law; they weren't violating anyone's privacy.

Comment: Re:Crude? (Score 2) 97

by hey! (#47904781) Attached to: Original 11' <em>Star Trek Enterprise</em> Model Being Restored Again

Compare that to some of the ST:TNG props that I've seen that look fine on screen, but when examined closely look like someone gave a 5-year old a couple of shots of vodka and turned them loose with a paintbrush.

There's a certain wonder to that too.

I had the same reaction when I saw the ST:TNG props in person. You wouldn't buy a toy that looked that cheesy. The wonder of it is that the prop makers knew this piece of crap would look great onscreen. That's professional skill at work. Amateurs lavish loving care on stuff and overbuild them. Pros make them good enough, and put the extra effort into stuff that matters more.

Comment: Re: Great one more fail (Score 1) 587

by hey! (#47904749) Attached to: High School Student Builds Gun That Unlocks With Your Fingerprint

These kinds of responses are conditioned on certain assumptions that may not hold for all users.

For example, let's assume that you have no need whatsoever to prevent other users from using your gun. Then any complication you add to the firearm will necessarily make it less suitable, no matter how reliable that addition is. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a big game hunter who carries a backup handgun.

On the other hand suppose you have need of a firearm, but there is so much concern that someone else might use it without authorization that you reasonably decide to do without. In that opposite situation you might well tolerate quite a high failure rate in such a device because it makes it possible to carry a gun. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a prison guard -- prison guards do not carry handguns because of precisely this concern.

This isn't rocket science. It's all subject to a straightforward probabilistic analysis *of a particular scenario*. People who say that guns *always* must have a such a device are only considering one set of scenarios. People who say that guns must *never* have such a device are only considering a different set of scenarios. It's entirely possible that for such a device there are some where it is useful and others where it is not.

Comment: Re:I wish we didn't need something like this (Score 3, Insightful) 595

by hey! (#47749109) Attached to: New Nail Polish Alerts Wearers To Date Rape Drugs

No need to paint the male gender as a whole as being filled with sociopaths. It's just the law of large numbers at work. There's maybe 30 million American men in the age rage that are likely to pick up srange women; if just 1/10 % of them are sociopathic predators that's 30,000 predators; and since they *are* predators they'll be overrepresented in young women's encounters with men in pick-up scenarios. Small numbers can produce disproportionate problems. In this case it represents numbers the actions of such a small proportion of men that our ideas about how normal people act aren't a reliable guide.

Drink spiking is a very rare crime. Most studies that look for evidence of it find very little. The highest I found was a government study which found date rape drugs in 4.5% of the cases from four sexual assault clinics. Note this is 4.5% of the cases where the assault occurred, so we're not talking about 4.5% of encounters, we're talking 4.5% of rapes. 4.5% is certainly high enough to be a concern in certain situations, like residential parties at a college. In such a situation a date rape drug detector might actually have some utility, even though it addresses relatively rare actions by a tiny proportion of men.

A bigger concern than what we think of as a "date rape drug" is alcohol itself. The same study that found date rape drugs in 4.5% of sexual assault samples found alcohol in 55%. This result is consistently found across studies: alcohol is very frequently associated with sexual assault -- around half of the time. This is especially concerning because some people (men and women both) don't believe that surreptitiously incapacitating someone with alcohol in order to have sex is rape. They don't distinguish ethically between two people getting drunk and having sex and one of them slipping extra alcohol into a drink.

But the fact remains most men wouldn't do something like that. But that doesn't preclude the possibility that a woman might often encounter the few remaining men who would. A typical man has sex with a small number of women many times; a man who has sex with a large number of women only once is bound to be encountered by women disproportionately often.

Comment: Re:A stupid consideration (Score 2) 511

by hey! (#47744757) Attached to: If Java Wasn't Cool 10 Years Ago, What About Now?

Exactly. If you want to regard yourself as an engineer, you have to start by accepting you are working to serve the interests of the client, not your career. I've seen so many problems occur because programmers want to have a certain technology on their resume. And the sad thing is that it works to get them through the HR filter. If HR is told to look for experience with a particular technology, it doesn't seem to matter whether the candidate's experience with that technology is failure.

Comment: Re:This actually makes perfect sense. (Score 3, Informative) 117

by hey! (#47708377) Attached to: Scientists Find Traces of Sea Plankton On ISS Surface

Except water vapor is the gaseous form of water; the plankton would have to be transported on individual molecules of water to reach the ionosphere.

If plankton were transportable in microscopic *droplets* in the troposphere as you suggest, a more plausible explanation is that the equipment was contaminated -- both the station itself and the gear used to test it.

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