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Comment Re:Not about speeding tickets. (Score 1) 351

If it's done properly, it's not a threat to liberty - require a warrant, etc. It's well-established, whether we like it or not, that our use of the roads by default gives up a bunch of rights - so it's not like this is anything new.

The issue here is that it's not going to be done properly. The British government is *very* willing to give police powers without warrants. For instance, their police can already get CCTV footage or hack into personal computers without a warrant.

Frankly, if they're already allowing that, it would be downright bizarre to deny police warantless access to licence plate tracking information. This is only, relatively speaking, a small incursion into citizen's liberties, but the British government seems to be engaged in a systematic plan of small incursions into the people's liberties, and it makes me glad I don't live there.

Comment Re:Horribly misleading (Score 1) 351

The position and distance between the two camera checkpoints on Earth is known. And the time when you're at both checkpoints is known. Seems like a simple calculation to me. Why is there a satellite needed for this?

I'm just guessing here, but satellite communication is one of the easier ways to do relatively low power long distance communication between far away places where it's uneconomical to run cable (do newscasters still report by satellite when they do on site reporting?). Assuming running cable isn't cost effective, really, the options are satellite, or cell tower communication (straight radio transmission over long distances requires a lot of power).

Not positive why they're not taking advantage of the cell towers, but maybe they didn't want to deal with private companies, or maybe they want to have cameras in places too remote to have cell coverage.

Comment Not about speeding tickets. (Score 5, Insightful) 351

This isn't about speeding tickets. This is about creating a nationwide tracking system for Britain's highways. If they have cameras that can recognize license plates along Britain's highways, with all the information from all the cameras aggregated in one database, do you think they won't give the police access to this information to help track criminals?

Given the recent history in Britain, it's a safe bet that the police will have immediate warantless access to this information, and thus the ability to track all the cars in Britain. I'm not sure this is completely a bad thing, but there are certainly some significant privacy concerns at play here. What if police officers decide to abuse this information? What sort of checks are in place to make sure it's only used for legitimate purposes? I could be wrong, and they might not be giving police access to the camera data, but, given the recent history, I would be shocked if they weren't.

Comment I expect better from slashdot. (Score 1) 494

Amazon reports that Kindle owners buy, on average, 3.1 times as many books on the site as other customers."

Which is completely unsurprising since the Kindle is expensive, meaning that the only people who would buy it are those who just have to have the newest coolest gadget, and those who read enough books to make the amortized cost of the Kindle worthwhile. Since the Kindle is relatively expensive, and since it makes it a hassle to use books that aren't bought, I'd expect that most people who buy it are well enough off that it's worth their while to buy books out of convenience rather than pirating. In other words, Kindle owners are a self selected sample of people who read lots of books, and are well enough off to pay for books rather than pirate them.

So, the fact that Kindle owners buy more books is more or less meaningless, and stating it here is the sort of scientifically careless reporting that is endemic to journalism. Most sources, I figure they just don't know any better, but I expect better from Slashdot than this.

Comment Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (Score 2, Interesting) 197

Well, conditions on the earth vary dramatically with location, even ignoring biological and biogenic variation. It seems to me that a vessel capable of performing tests over a wider area can't help but provide better data. One of the big downsides of the Mars rovers is that they're restricted to such a small portion of the planet's surface, especially since for the Titan mission this can apparently be achieved on a low budget. I mean, what reason do we have to think that the chemical composition of the ocean and atmosphere don't vary with location? What about things like currents, and winds? Maybe we'll find something that's entirely unexpected!

Maybe Star Wars was right and planets other than earth are all 'desert' planets or 'ice' planets with uniform conditions all around, but if not, this seems worthwhile!

Comment Tragedy of the Commons (Score 1) 419

Google's argument seems pretty sketchy. The idea that all advertisers will learn to make less obtrusive and obnoxious ads completely ignores the basic incentives at work in advertising. Flashy, annoying ads *do* work better - that's why they do them, and while it may be in the industry's overall interest to tone down the ads so that people don't use ad-blockers, each individual advertiser is likely to benefit from being as flashy and annoying as possible. This is a classic tragedy of the commons situation.

Now, it's true that there's also a market for more restrained ads - there are people who won't click the flashy ad, but can be tricked by the simple text ad that seems relevant to the page. The real reason Google has no problem with ad-blockers in Chrome is that the more popular ones don't block text ads, so Google is happy with anything that hurts their competition while leaving them untouched.

Comment Re:Anonymous Coward (Score 1) 368

What ever kit or instruments you procure them for Christmas, accompany it with a good notebook and some durable pens. The experiment is the cool stuff, but the recording of the story of how you explain the consequences it the real value you can bring to early explorations of science. A real lab notebook with numbered and permanently bound pages for your young scientist to record their adventures, possibly from a university bookstore with a university logo on it may do something to increase its appeal. Comparisons to a Captain's log might help your sell, but saying its like a diary might hurt your case.

I'm going to disagree here. While careful documentation of your work is essential for a scientist, I think it's the wrong thing to emphasize. If you stress the boring side of science, you're likely to discourage interest in the subject matter, and in any case, having a kid just imitate scientists without an understanding of why they do things is no way to teach the scientific mindset.

Scientists record their work because it makes practical sense given their goals. If the result of an experiment depends on careful measurement and analysis of data, the scientists will diligently record the data he needs, and explicitly write out his analysis so as to avoid error. However, most science kits for kids focus on exciting immediately visible results of the sort which a scientist would have no reason to document except for the purpose of publication. When my fake volcano explodes, what exactly am I supposed to record anyway? Making a child mimic the 'scientific method' in this case sends a very confusing message about what science is and how it works. Most children will miss the point, and the more clever children will be confused wondering why they're doing it.

If you really want to teach scientific thought you should start by focusing on exciting experiments that capture the imagination. You should emphasize understanding why things happen instead of cataloguing what happens. If the experiment is supposed to demonstrate some principle, don't have the kid write down what he saw, talk it through with him. Ask him why he thinks it works the way it does, and use questions to help him guess the right answer. Ask him how he'd confirm his guesses with more experiments. Documentation should fall out as a natural necessity rather than as a ritual followed dogmatically.

Comment Is Windows any better? What's wrong with Google? (Score 2, Interesting) 769

Ok, so I'll be the first to agree that Linux documentation is on the whole terrible. You can get some documentation with man, but unless you're pretty comfortable with a command line, the documentation is likely to be completely useless to the average user (I remember when I first started using Linux that figuring out how to make sense of man pages was often more challenging than just guessing how to do things). The contextual help in Ubuntu is slightly more readable, but usually useless when there's any available at all.

That said, is Windows documentation any better? I haven't really used Windows in a couple years now, but from what I recall, opening up one of the help files to figure out how to get something done was completely useless. I have generally found that I'm much more able to figure out how the program works by fiddling than by reading help pages. Less technical users (like my parents) generally can't figure out how to do things, it's true, but they also are completely incapable of finding the relevant help page - I suspect that the skills are related. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that for most end user applications documentation is pretty well irrelevant, and the real question is how intuitive the interface is. On this front I think that Windows and Linux are pretty well tied at this point, both lagging a ways behind the top to bottom uniformity you get from Mac OS.

Finally, is there really any problem with using Google as your documentation? I think that Google is the best sort available documentation on all the major OSes, and I'm not really sure I see the problem the summary is claiming exists. So, in summary, poor documentation isn't a linux problem, and I'm not even really sure it's a problem at all. This seems like a lot of fuss over nothing to me.

Comment Re:Does this pass the "Evil" smell test? (Score 1) 82

I think it's strategic protection. Patents work two ways - it's not just protecting against copyists, it's protecting yourself from others as well. If others see an innovation you are using, they could turn around and patent it themselves, then stifle your use of the innovation.

Actually, if you're using an innovation already that would constitute prior art and would prevent someone else from getting the patent, or at the least would serve as an effective defence against a patent infringement claim. Which isn't to say that patents can't be used defensively - having a patent could help defend against an infringement claim on a very similar patent. Also, having the relevant patent might let you avoid suit altogether, and avoiding a lawsuit is generally better than winning a suit.

In any case though, if you're doing something already, and can document it, someone who comes up with the same idea later isn't going to be able to stop you. If Google's interests were purely defensive, it could just as easily protect itself by widely disseminating the details of its cooling system to thoroughly establish their prior art.

Comment Re:ESR said it very well - Open Source Science (Score 4, Insightful) 822

While I do think there is climate change, I think that many of the "disaster scenarios" are over hyped..

What possible motivation would the climate scientists have to do so? What do they gain from over hyping the possible scenarios? To promote renewable energy? Again, what do they gain from this?

I hope you were being sarcastic and aiming for funny (I laughed!) but since you've been modded to insightful, I fear this needs an answer.

Scientists are under immense pressure to publish, and, as long as an article can pass peer review, the more sensational the claims you make, the better the odds of being published. Once you have published, more sensational claims make it more likely you'll be cited, and generally lead to your article getting more attention, which is purely to the scientist's benefit so long as his claims aren't so outrageous that the scientific community responds with ridicule. Scientists have every incentive to make the most dramatic claims they can get away with, and the peer review process seems to let them get away with an awful lot. Publication in major journals is one of the primary determining factors in employment and promotion in academics, yet hiring is usually done by people with expertise in a different subfield (schools like a range of researchers) who won't necessarily look too carefully at the articles themselves relying instead on number of publications, the reputation of the journals, and number of citations.

So, short answer: scientists have every reason to exaggerate and overstate.

Comment Re:Testability (Score 2, Funny) 822

So, in what way is Anthropomorphic Climate Change testable Not to pick nits(a lie), but I believe the word you were looking for was anthropogenic.

I assumed he was talking about the theory that it's getting hotter because the climate's all mad at us for being such assholes with the air pollution. I'll grant that it's a more or less untestable theory unless someone knows the climate's address so we can send flowers or chocolates or something.

Comment Re:Great... (Score 5, Insightful) 822

I wish I had mod points - this needs modding up!

I don't doubt the anthropogenic basis for climate change - you can take a look at the IPCC Synthesis Report for a persuasive outline of the case. However, once you get past the most basic assertions, the scientific community is doing an absolutely terrible job. Most of the time when I read a paper on climate change I can immediately spot lots of methodological and deductive errors, and, conveniently, they always come out in favour of anthropogenic climate change. Some argue that science is just another religion. This isn't true. However, the sort of 'science' most climate scientists are doing nowadays may as well be a religion, basing conclusions on manifestly insufficient data, and inferring causation based on correlation alone. Right now the climate sceptics don't need to make straw men to argue against - the scientific community is making the straw men for them.

Scientists shouldn't be arguing against sceptics - scientists should be the sceptics. Even ignoring faulty reasoning, many published scientific results are wrong (see this article). Scientists should be constantly questioning results to try to arrive at a refined, unbiased analysis of the facts - instead we have become defensive, treating every sceptical inquiry as an attack, and as a result, the research doesn't get the sort of scrutiny necessary to advance our understanding. Something needs to change.

Comment Re:He got it coming (Score 4, Insightful) 643

It is also worth noting that the school didn't fire him, but that he quit on the spot... or so says the story, but that's irrelevant anyways. The guy had it coming.

Ok, we're all agreed the guy was an idiot idiot for posting at all. But he 'had it coming?' Really? Suppose instead he'd made two posts to slashdot in that time - a clear misuse of school property - would he deserve to lose his job then? What if he'd posted and reposted a critique on some sort of scientology blog - would he deserve to lose his job then? It seems to me that the reason this guy lost his job is because he violated the ridiculous community morals of a small town, not because of anything to do with misuse of school resources.

At one point in my life I seriously considered becoming a teacher, but I realized that doing so would likely place me at the mercy of the sorts of unthinking bigoted responses we're seeing here. This attitude is at least part of the reason our public education system is failing - the work environment is so unpleasant that (with the exception of a few saints) no one with another option for a career would do it. Would you really want to work beside people who are so shocked by a couple one word internet posts that you can't work with them anymore?

Comment Switch to Linux! (keep the family on windows) (Score 1) 932

I switched to Linux a few years ago, since then, I claim that I windows has changed too much, I don't know how to use it anymore, and that I've forgotten what I did know. It's actually more or less true, and since they think that computer problem solving is a matter of knowledge rather than method, I've been much less likely to be asked for help since then. When asked for help I just tell them how I'd go about learning how to solve the problem and they find someone else usually.

Though, the recommendation I saw above of moving the family to Mac is actually a really good idea. Mac users have way, way less tech support issues.

Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.