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Comment: Analogy (Score 5, Insightful) 188

by TMB (#49156721) Attached to: One Astronomer's Quest To Reinstate Pluto As a Planet

Here's an analogy I gave my students last week...

Imagine you're an alien and you land on Earth in front of a pet store. You go inside and you start meeting dogs. Some are big with a loud deep "WOOF", some are small with a quieter higher "ruff" and there's one little one that goes "meow". Some of them have big floppy ears, some of them have little floppy ears, and that little one has sharp pointed ears with tufts on the end. You think "That little meowing dog with the pointed tufted ears is an unusual dog!"

Then you go onto the rest of the pet store and find a whole bunch more small meowing things with pointed tufted ears, and you say "Oh... I see. That wasn't a funny dog, that was just the first cat I met!"

Pluto was the first Trans-Neptunian Object we met, and so we originally called it by our existing language ("planet"). But once we had a much better lay of the land, it became clear that it was just the first example of a quite different type of object.

[TMB]

Comment: Re:TV = video (Score 1) 244

by TMB (#48985897) Attached to: Over the past 10 years, my TV-watching has..

There's a huge range of ambiguity these days.

How often do I watch a TV set that has a signal coming from an antenna, cable, or satellite receiver? Absolutely never.

How about if I stream an old TV show on Amazon instant video on my computer? How about if it's the latest (but not live) episode from the current season of a show? How about if I stream a live Canucks game on my computer? How about if I stream any of those onto a TV set via a Chromecast? I can't see a reasonable argument that sitting in front of a TV set watching a live sports event isn't "watching TV" --- but you can come up with plenty of industry definitions where it doesn't qualify.

Comment: Re:PR works well? Where? (Score 1) 413

by TMB (#48482981) Attached to: Mathematicians Study Effects of Gerrymandering On 2012 Election

Canada has FPTP and has had at least 3 major parties every election for decades (at times up to 5). It's more the case that when you have 2-party FPTP, it is very hard to break out of it... but if you start off with more viable parties, it can remain that way.

Which is not to say that I endorse FPTP in any way, shape or form. We all know that Arrow's Theorem says that no voting system satisfies all the axioms you would like a voting system to adhere to, but some violate the axioms more often and in more egregious ways than others. FPTP is more egregious at the individual level than almost any alternative.

The problem with Arrow's Theorem is that it is really about what happens for a choice amongst a few individuals (like a presidential election), while the majority of countries have parliamentary systems in which it is the aggregate of all of the individual choices that determines the government. If you ask what government you get as a result of all of those individual FPTP elections, its faults vis-a-vis Arrow's Theorem are usually not too bad. Which is probably why FPTP persists despite the fact that it does badly at the individual level -- people tend to agree that the government it produces at the national level usually reflects the will of the people.

+ - New Jersey e-vote experiment after Sandy declared a disaster

Submitted by TMB
TMB (70166) writes "Al Jazeera reports on a Rutgers study about e-voting in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy, and it is damning. It concludes that the middle of a natural disaster is the last time to try switching to a new voting method, especially one rife with such problems as e-voting. The table of contents includes such section headings as "Internet voting is not safe, should not be made legal, and should never be incorporated into emergency measures"."

Comment: Re:Storage is not same as GUI Design (Score 2) 370

by TMB (#48180313) Attached to: Apple Doesn't Design For Yesterday

The one that drives me crazy is removing the ethernet port on MacBooks. Which wouldn't be too bad if Apple's USB or Thunderbird ethernet adapters lasted more than 6 months before breaking, but I'm on my 5th in slightly over 2 years now... finally bought a third party one in the hopes that it will be less frail.

Comment: Re:Assuming ... (Score 1) 150

by TMB (#45913947) Attached to: New Class of "Hypervelocity Stars" Discovered Escaping the Galaxy

Except that if the star was captured by the Milky Way, that already tells you that it was moving at less than the escape velocity, while these are moving faster than the escape velocity.

Still, it would be interesting to see if they share orbital elements with known satellites or streams...

[TMB]

Comment: Re:Can We Compete Against Them? (Score 2) 308

by TMB (#45632523) Attached to: Physicist Peter Higgs: No University Would Employ Me Today

I disagree - being an academic takes all your time, and being an administrator also takes all your time. I'd like my administrators to have enough time to be good administrators!

Now, I think that all administrators ought to have once been academics, otherwise they don't actually understand the problems that they need to deal with, but not that they still are active researchers.

Comment: Re:NSF not writing checks (Score 2) 1144

by TMB (#45058677) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: How Does the US Gov't Budget Crunch Affect You?

Yes, indeed. Impacts on me:
    - My wife works for an organization that operates a federal facility on behalf of the NSF. She is on furlough. (actually, even worse - she has to work on a project that's deemed essential, but she's not going to get paid this month if the money from the NSF doesn't flow before payday. Yes, she will probably get back-pay, but that doesn't help when this month's bills are due!).
    - ...and lives in housing that is owned and operated by the agency. So there is no trash collection, and if anything goes wrong she's SOL.
    - Oh, and our daughter's daycare is also on-site. It is being run privately out of someone's house during the shutdown.
    - Processing of my green card application is on pause until after the department of labor is up and running again.
    - I am hiring a researcher with funds that are partly coming from NASA. Some of the money is in my account, but the next payment is expected in a week. Fortunately, some of the money for that position is coming from another source, so I can pay him for about 6 months before I need the NASA money, but if that weren't true it would be about 1 month.
    - I have grant proposals under review from both the NSF and NASA. The review process is on pause and no one knows how long it'll take before we know whether we can do research next year...
    - When I teach, I regularly make use of things on NASA websites, which are not running so my students have to listen to me instead of seeing examples.

So, yes, this is hitting my very directly in a lot of ways.

[TMB]

"Truth never comes into the world but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her birth." -- Milton

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