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Comment Interesting idea, would need to see the research (Score 1) 592

Having spent a large part of my life living in Devon (a very rural part of the United Kingdom, lots of farms, tiny villages, small roads/lanes - often not wide enough for 1 car in each direction, except at specific "passing places" - with high hedges to the side limiting both long range visibility of the road ahead and the run-off/avoidance options for traffic coming in the opposite direction), I can say that driving on a road with no central line marking, which is also narrow and with limited visibility, does tend to lead to either slower speeds (the careful drivers) or much higher speeds (the drivers who fantasize about being a rally driver, and who assume nothing will be coming the other way).
Take away the line down the middle of the road, and the road feels narrower, at least to me. But there may also be an assumption that the road is a (very wide) one-way street, so the result would be that drivers move to the middle of the road. That would make life interesting if you come around the corner on such a road, and see a car driving in the middle of the road. Maybe I am not giving my fellow drivers enough credit, but when my father taught me to drive, he always reminded me "assume every other driver on the road is an incompetent idiot with no control over their vehicle"... sadly I have seen a lot of evidence that backed up his statement.
Another element came when driving the E10 highway in northern Norway and Sweden with my girlfriend (very competent driver, in a landscape that was sometimes the typical alpine "wall of rock on one side, sheer drop down the other"). She was perfectly happy and capable of driving when there was a line in the middle of the road, even with large semi-artic trucks coming in the opposite direction at 80+km/h (50+mph), but as soon as the lines disappeared because the road narrowed a bit, or there was a stretch of newly resurfaced road with no markings, she was very uncomfortable and wanted me to drive, because the road then felt restrictively narrow, especially with the trucks driving on it (there was space for the truck plus our car, but not a huge margin for error in car positioning).

Comment Re:Here's something worth crowdfunding. (Score 2) 96

At least in theory, what he is supposed to do is go to his direct superior or a direct superior of the individuals who were involved in the conduct and say "This client of ours is involved in illegal/unethical/unconstitutional (delete as appropriate) conduct. This client happens to be the Department of Justice".
Except that he was working for the DoJ at the time, so painting the DoJ as the "client" in this case seems at first face to be a tenuous thread on which to hang the case against him, and if it really was that tenuous, his lawyer would have no trouble breaking the argument. So I am guessing that there is something in the DoJ employment contracts or in some recent legal precedent that allows the DC Bar to go after him, because if there is one thing that a lawyer hates more than an open-and-shut case requiring little billable work, it is an honest lawyer who makes the rest of them look as bad as they really are. So now that there is some basis on which to charge Tamm, the DC Bar are going to go for it. Unless of course there is some other political consideration at play, and the case itself is just a front - a vehicle for someone to run for political office, perhaps.
Anyway, the idea is that Tamm should have gone to his superiors or the superiors of the person(s) involved in the scheme and raised the issue. And after a verbal discussion, he should have put the issue in writing, both email and printed version, and kept a copy or 20 of each for himself. He could then be fired for any number of reasons, from the color of his tie or a supposed drinking habit, to transmission of confidential documents to outside sources (his own email addresses or physical storage *cough* that the DoJ could not touch without a warrant), thus tainting him as a "disgruntled former employee".
Then, if there is no action following his escalation, and if he miraculously still has any credibility left following a smear campaign about his (previously un-known) mental health issues - Psych reports from willing doctors attached - he would be justified in going to the press. Except that you would probably find no-one within the DoJ who remembers a meeting with him about this, no record of any email communication about it with anyone inside the DoJ, and so on. So then there is still no validation for his "claim" that he raised the issue with his superiors, and he is right back in the situation he is in now, except that he was fired because of the apparent mental health issues, illegal extraction of documents, and oh by the way we also found evidence on his computer than he is a pedophile with extreme Islamist sympathies.
Note, I am not saying that all areas of the US Government are hopelessly corrupt and will destroy anyone who tries to disturb their spot at the pig trough. I am sure the US Government has lots of people who genuinely believe they are doing the Right Thing. But given the various oaths that people in Government swear (like "protecting the constitution", etc., etc.), I am damned sure that there are a lot of people who are not fulfilling those oaths, even if they do believe they are doing the Right Thing.

Comment Sounds almost like a scientific approach... (Score 1) 510

One of the best things about science is that, while we accept things "as they appear to be" and formulate theories about why that is, and what the mechanisms are that govern what we see, those theories are continually up for examination and re-examination in light of new evidence that is not explained by the existing theory. If the new evidence can be independently verified, and the results replicated, then the theory can be adjusted.
So, by (at least as I read it based on the summary) allowing teachers and students the possibility to discuss evolution versus creationism, to look with a critical eye at the evidence and find (NOT make) new evidence, to draw conclusions and either reinforce existing theories (by concluding that the evidence supports them) or contradict existing theories and propose new ones (because the evidence does not support the existing theories), this approach appears at first glance to be a very scientific approach to the debate.
However, that will "obviously"* not be the case. The goal is almost certainly not to allow a free and open discussion, but to push an agenda by only acknowledging evidence that supports the agenda, with the rationale that the time allotted for the debate is insufficient to consider all the evidence, so we have to pick and choose.
* Why do I say "obviously"? Partly because my (limited) experience of Oklahoma is of a state dominated by the conservative religious Right, who would mostly rather give a blow-job to Satan than admit that evolution is right and they are descended from monkeys; and partly because the people of Oklahoma are more concerned with where their next pay check is coming from than they are concerned with where THEY came from (not unlike many other parts of the world, though).
The basic approach of most religions is to say "come to us, we have the answers to all your questions", and most religious authority figures really dislike the fact that science ("we are still looking for the answers to all our questions, but we have some interesting answers to some of your questions already") comes up with answers that disagree with their religious doctrine and proof to support those answers, instead of relying on peoples' faith in the "right" religious answer.

Comment All well and good in an ivory tower. (Score 1) 123

Yes, in a perfect world, you would have technologists (whose motivation is a close variation of "design stuff that will benefit all people, make society safer and allow us all to reap the benefits of technology") and politicians (whose motivation is a close variation of "partake in an informed debate which leads to the drafting of laws and statutes that provide protection for all individuals and allow the evolution of society into a more enlightened state") getting to better know how to communicate effectively with the other, so that technologists and politicians can better understand the technology of today, how it will be used by the people of today, and how the peoples' best interests can be served by drafting new laws or amending existing ones.
However, in the world we have, the technologists almost always haven't got the slightest clue how the technology of today will be used in the next 5 minutes, and most of them are more interested in making money for themselves than they are in "benefiting all people". Similarly, most politicians (and I refer mainly to the politicians in the US and Europe now, but I am sure that a depressingly high percentage of them world-wide would fit this description) are primarily interested in keeping themselves in office to safeguard their own place on the gravy train, and are only interested in "change" or "progress" until that message gets them into office, at which point they become a drop-in for the one they replaced.
So the goal for politicians, unfortunately, seems to be the maintenance of the existing status quo. If one of them gets voted out of office (being replaced by, as mentioned before, one with a vested interest in not rocking the boat), they typically get a job as a lobbyist or back-room power broker, with even more incentive to maintain the existing status quo - they are now earning more money, and probably have more personal influence than they had when serving as a politician, as well as less public oversight or need to campaign for re-election. To these people, technology is not something they need to understand (they have experts for that, earning quite a bit less than they do) - technology is something they need to control.
"Ah", you say "technology is not something that you can control, because many different people developing and driving technology in all sorts of different ways!", and this is true. But behind the politicians at their pig trough/gravy train, there are the lobbyists financed by wealthy business and industrial influences. If those individuals or small companies driving technology are being too much of a potentially disruptive nature, then one of the larger industrial players can either buy the company or hire a few strategic people from them to halt or slow the development, engage in litigation, or various other practices to control the smaller player.
Any individual, whether technologist or politician, who seems to be too much of a danger to the stability of the current setup can be sidelined - the technologist through acquisition or competition, the politician by not giving them any oxygen of publicity.
Time for me to go and make a new tinfoil hat... I sat on the old one while writing this and broke it :/

Comment Re:Trust the philosopher, my foot! (Score 1) 383

Otherwise I'd advise to ask the scientist, since their profession is (supposed to be) an implementation of the scientific method.

And it's a construction worker's profession to implement an architect's design, but I wouldn't ask a construction worker to design my skyscraper.

The scientific method is a philosophical construct more than a scientific one.

I am not sure I would, generally, agree with scientific method being a philosophical construct before a scientific one, based on the dictionary definition of "Scientific Method":

"a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested."

The philosopher will sit back and think about things, possibly describing a problem in a form that can be addressed by someone other than another philosopher. But the scientist will define the bounds of the problem as (generally) measurable features, gather data and formulate hypotheses, leading to the empirical testing of those hypotheses.
However, where String Theory is concerned, I do agree that what we call "Scientific Method" in relation to the theory is a philosophical exercise, due to the difficulty in actually doing any of the data gathering and empirical testing.
The edge case/boundary between the two would be a thought experiment, similar to many that Einstein engaged in when formulating his theories around Quantum Mechanics and Relativity. The difference between those and String Theory though, is that we have found other ways to validate those theories by applying them to situations that allow prediction, experiment and measurement for comparison to the models that arose from the thought experiments.
I would love to see a similar evolution with String Theory, but until we can measure, test and experiment I cannot see String Theory as anything more than a philosophical exercise.

Comment Re:Maturing service tends toward commoditization. (Score 1) 57

You have obviously never been to New Jersey or Oregon. Or at least not gone to a gas station in either of those two states.

I went to New Jersey once... it smelled funny. ok, I lied and spread terribly bad geographical stereotypes. Never been to NJ other than as a layover stop at Newark when flying between Europe and San Francisco.
If NJ and Oregon are still using Gas Station pump attendants, I suspect that is more about padding employment figures than service levels. Because if an attendant were adding value, they would be common in other states too.
Hmm, just heard a whooshing sound. Was that the point of the comment, flying over my head? :P

Comment Re:Maturing service tends toward commoditization. (Score 1) 57

You mean, like the fact that we now have to fill up our cars by ourselves nowadays at the gas station? Next, we will go to the data center by ourselves to turn the power back on...

To a large extent, yes. Although the example I initially had in mind was the airline industry - flying in the 1950's was a little bit dangerous, but also very glamorous. As it grew and became more of a mass-market thing through the 70's and 80's, competition on price became the norm, while it had previously been competition based on added value services and the prestige of travel. The current state, with low-cost carriers and "cattle class" in every sense of the phrase, is not where we are with data centers yet, but we will get there. In data center terms, that probably would be not much more than off-site hosting, and if you want extras like UPS, power/network/server failover, data backup or on-the-spot warm body technicians with the skill to do more than press a button, you will pay for it.
As the service itself becomes less valued, price becomes very important. Price is always important to PHBs and other MBA idiots, but at least with cloud services at the moment the more technically-minded can point to the hype and caché of the cloud as a justification of the cost.

Comment Maturing service tends toward commoditization. (Score 1) 57

As with a lot of other services (in fact, all other services that I can think of) that reach a certain level of maturity and ubiquity in the market place, one of two things seem to happen. Large-scale consolidation reducing the number of competitors until a small number of actors, or a single monolithic entity, remain; or reduced perceived value of aspects of the service leading to a bare-bones offering because customers decide they are less willing to pay for services they are not going to use very often (but when they need them and they are not there... oh boy, will they scream and harass the provider who told them they were sacrificing redundancy and potential uptime for lower costs).

Comment Politician's ignorance and special agenda ftl (Score 1) 556

I am going to be generous to Senator Feinstein, and assume that she has no technical/IT knowledge, so is reliant on staffers and advice from lobbyists about what the benefits and consequences of something like this would be. I could be wrong, and it could be that she is fully aware of the consequences, but a short-term benefit for the surveillance state and a long-term open door for cyber-crime does not seem like a politically shrewd move.
However, that in itself presents a problem - if we assume that this one politician has no first-hand working knowledge of the consequences of what she is proposing, then we would also have to assume that many other members of Congress and the Senate, plus many other political and legislation bodies around the world, similarly have little or no understanding of (a) the way computers and the Internet work, and (b) the consequences of weakening encryption in this way. If those assumptions are true, how can those individuals (or even those institutions, if the level of ignorance is at enough of a critical mass to hamper an intelligent debate on the subject) be trusted or expected to craft effective, meaningful and beneficial legislation on the topic?
Answer, they cannot. Hence the reason we have expert advisors and so on... who also need to be both independent and also be SEEN to be independent.

Ahh crap, we're screwed.

Comment Client Surveys and finding the decision-makers (Score 1) 192

Internally within most organisations in my experience, developers write the code their management team tells them to write, which comes from competitive analysis, feedback from sales or pre-sales demo teams, analysis of trends in support calls, and feedback from client relationship managers.
1. When we go out to show our products to prospective clients, what do they want that we cannot do or cannot do easily?
2. What feedback are our existing customers giving us (through any channel, but mainly their relationship manager or the support team) about what they are finding hard?
3. When we lose a deal to the competition on something other than price, what was the deciding factor? What features were we lacking, or is it just that the competition have better sales staff?
4. What bugs/features exist in our system that are causing problems for our clients, or are preventing us landing new deals? (This one is different from points 1 and 2 - this is a functional issue, 1 and 2 are design issues).

In most development companies where I have worked, the answers to those questions are constantly monitored by a focus group for future development, and they mandate what new features (or fixes for existing bugs) are included in the product roadmap.

It sounds as though that entire process is missing from OP's company, and getting management buy-in to get that setup would be my first suggestion. Once that is up and running, the organisation becomes more focused on profitably delivering what the customer wants, instead of what seems to be the case in OP's office - what the developers want to produce.

Asking clients specifically for feedback about what features they find good and bad about the system, and how the system can better support their workflow is a question for the relationship manager, if there is one. Similarly, if a client decides not to renew a contract or wants to break the contract part way through to move to a competitor's product, asking why the decision to migrate was made would be a good idea - often it will be purely price-driven and features will have no relevance. But sometimes, the lack of a specific feature or generally bad UI programming causing lost productivity for the client can be the cause, and really needs to be addressed.

Comment Re:New employer = not happy (Score 1) 92

As others have said, stopping the payment of severance is one avenue, although in my case as in some others there was a clause that if I find another job within the severance period, the remainder of the severance is paid as a lump sum (or I have seen in some cases that a proportion of the severance is paid), with the previous employer reserving the right to claw back/reclaim the money paid through the severance package if the deal is broken - that reclaim can go through civil courts in some cases, incurring additional expense for the job leaver.
The attendant loss of a reference from that employer, plus the negative impact on the ex-employee's reputation are more troubling issues though, especially when you work in a relatively specialized role with employers who have significant transference between them - a reputation for not honoring severance contracts as an ex-employee can be worse than a reputation for resigning by shitting on the boss' desk.
Not fair, I know - it gives the ex-employer a lot of leverage, and also would devalue their reputation somewhat, but you are the one looking for a new paycheck so you are the one who needs to look awesome.

Comment New employer = not happy (Score 5, Informative) 92

I had a similar clause in my severance contract at a previous employer (only 6 months, though), and started getting calls frequently because the guy to whom I handed over decided to quit after a row with my old boss.
I had covered myself by notifying the new employer of the clause during interviews, but suddenly getting 4 or 5 calls a day that took up 1-2 hours of the working day was a problem and as the new guy on the team, I did not have a huge amount of good-will with my team to be able to "slack off" from the team's projects.
The old employer also had a vested interest. Knowing the way my old manager's mind worked, he would have had no problem with making calls to the point where the new employer terminated my contract because of it, so that he could try to rehire me.
My new boss got his legal team talking to the old company, and when the possibility of either legal action or invoicing for my time came up, the call volume dropped to near zero - 2 calls in 3 months, if I recall correctly.
The project they were calling about was well documented, thanks to me and a detail-oriented intern who had been working with me for a couple of months, but these clauses still leave an ex-employee on the hook for a lot of potential problems if they are vaguely worded.

Comment Re:Too little, too late (Score 1) 262

Simple answer... you cannot. Useful answer, buy from a place that has a "full refund" policy which will not be invalidated by you doing enough with the phone to install the app that will tell you which chip you got.
Cannot get a suitable refund guarantee? Then either do not buy the phone or buy one and take pot luck.

Comment Ads: The new internet (Score 1) 318

Personally, I have no problem with visiting a web site that has ads on it, within reason. That mainly applies to my home internet connection, but my mobile is a work tool and I rarely browse the internet on it anyway.
However, pages that load within a second or two, but then sit with a blank window "waiting for Adserve/Adsense/some-other-bullshit-3rd-party-ad-site" for a minute or so; or pages that have a tiny amount of useful content but which have 30-40 trackers on them, meaning that my (admittedly crap) home internet connection slows from a crawl to a coma-inducing slither; or sites that try to fetch ads from a third party which has been infected with malware which then tries to install on my system; ads that lead my technologically illiterate family members to call me in a panic because there is a thing on the screen saying their computer is infected; or ads that are so visually intrusive that I can barely see the information I am interested in; these are the main things that drive me to install ad blockers, script blockers, and privacy tools.
They also drive me to restrict access for user accounts to system resources, so if any of those family members want stuff installed, I have to go and install it for them (a pain in the ass and a time sink, but from experience I can say that it is less of a pain in the ass and much less of a time sink than the alternatives I have found).

If I was on a connection where I was paying for every megabyte of data I download, such as the typical mobile contracts, I would be even harder.

Advertisers want to paint this as me "stealing" from them, as if I have taken from them anything more tangible than the POTENTIAL to try and sell me something I do not want. But for me, loading a web page is akin to inviting someone into my house (I generally offer coffee, tea and cake to people I invite in) - I am inviting that information, that company, to make a connection to me. Just because I have invited that ONE connection does not mean that I am going to extend that invitation to their friends, friends of friends, neighbours and some drug-addled homeless psycho that is tagging along with them to come in, drink my coffee, eat my cake, piss all over the dining room and steal the painting on the wall. With allowing ads on my system, sometimes it feels as though that is what I would be doing.

So, umm, no Mr. Advertiser, sorry. I might trust the person or party that I have invited enough to load their web page, but I do not know you or any of your friends, and you are not accepting any liability for bad stuff that happens, so if you happen to cause me problems I have no recourse against you. That means you get left at the front door, and while I will not come out brandishing a shotgun shouting "Get off my lawn!", it is an awfully tempting thing.

Comment Maybe, but not in the way VW are trying to say... (Score 1) 479

Software engineers generally (always, in my experience) do what management tells them to do, and nothing more - with the pressure of hitting a deadline, no engineer wants to miss a deadline and then tell their boss that the reason they missed it was because they were getting creative with the code and requirements.
However, I can see a scenario where this might be laid at the feet of a couple of software engineers.

Presumably, the ECM is capable of dynamically switching the engine mode depending on a range of factors - sensor measurements, controls in the cabin, driver actions, and so on. Presumably also, each engine mode is used in a variety of different scenarios.

So if a manager tasks one particular software engineer with, among other "minor changes", detecting when an emissions testing rig is attached and setting a flag in the system (or even when *anything* is attached to the port used by the testing rig), then that engineer is probably not going to see anything untoward in the request - the system might want to log that a test rig has been plugged in on a particular date and time for any number of reasons relating to the servicing, maintenance and operation of the vehicle.
Separately, and maybe at quite a significantly later date, a manager might ask another software engineer to tweak the controls on the ECM, so that if a particular flag is set, the engine is put into super-low-emission economy mode.

If the two engineers are feeling un-curious or if the instructions are phrased in a highly innocuous way, then it would just be one of a number of commits to the version control system by those engineers, probably with no record of managerial requests, and as there would also be no record of any management discussions about this - informal "chance" meetings over lunch in the management canteen rarely have detailed minutes of the meeting - it is laid at the door of a couple of hapless engineers.

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