Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?

Comment: Assumptions needed - and one projection (Score 1) 365

by TomRC (#49473443) Attached to: Can Civilization Reboot Without Fossil Fuels?

Need to clarify assumptions:
Assume humanity has to essentially start over, recapitulating previous stages - tribes, city states, kingdoms/empires, nations, global expansion (if possible).
Assume the biosphere recovers fast enough that it is not a barrier to civilization's redevelopment.
Assume nearly all technology is forgotten and much of science is lost except some basic concepts - needing to be redeveloped.
Assume religion again gains dominance over understanding of the world, but remembers being deeply challenged by science - and so suppresses science and technological change for centuries, while preserving some key bits (like germ theory, maybe surgery) that can be controlled to elevate the status of religion.
Assume easy availability of concentrated metals (ruins of cities) accelerates the process of recovering early civilization, but delays development of mining and refining technologies, preventing a return to hard to get fossil fuels and delaying metallurgy and other material science.

Based on this, civilization can at least recover to pre- enlightenment levels. And once more, reform within religion will be key to going beyond that. Possibly this time organized religion will try to retain control over science to suppress the potential harm to religion and control what technologies get released that might threaten a static hierarchical society. Long term, that will fail, but could work for centuries. Technologies might be limited to the powerful, with most people trapped on small farms that barely feed them with little surplus. Not so much a "dark" age of ignorance, as a "slow" age of tightly controlled progress, where stability is paramount, improvement of the lives of the masses a distant last.

Comment: Solar exaggeration reveals fear of solar weakness (Score 1) 356

by TomRC (#49243057) Attached to: New Solar Capacity Beats Coal and Wind, Again

What does it say about some solar advocates' faith in the viability of solar power that they feel a need to make solar appear better by reporting utility solar installations in terms of gigawatts (hugely misleading, as a few others have pointed out) rather than gigawatt-hours of energy production?

Comment: Ice-dust strata weathering (Score 1) 39

by TomRC (#49220571) Attached to: Martian Canyons May Have Been Carved By Wind

While it won't account for all canyons, I suspect there could be Mars-specific mechanisms, such as layers of dust/ice/dry ice that build up over the ages and metamorph under pressure into stratified rock. Then something like a meteor strike disrupts the surface, exposing the strata at an edge, allowing the ice to sublimate, weakening the rock structure and allowing accelerated crumbling of the rockface, exposing more icy strata to the same forces of decay - including wind that blows away some of the dust released. This process would release a lot of smaller rock and dust, that sometimes looks like material washed down by moving water.

Comment: Robot: Here are your instructions: (Score 1) 335

Set a timer for 24 hours. Until that timer expires, attempt to determine if the code is malicious, or not malicious.
If you determine the code is or is not malicious, cease testing the code.
If you determine the code is not malicious, or if the timer expires with no decision either way about the code, release the villainess.
If you determine the code is malicious and the villainess is still in custody, do not release her, and notify the proper authorities to try her for her crimes.
If you determine the code is malicious and the villainess is no longer in custody, notify the authorities to have her found, arrested, and tried.

Habeas Corpus and Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

The authors started with a conclusion they wished to reach, and found pretty much the most absurd possible argument that seemed to justify their desired outcome.

Comment: Media Coverage of Risk (Score 4, Insightful) 46

by TomRC (#48243799) Attached to: Book Review: Measuring and Managing Information Risk: a FAIR Approach

"The current panic around Ebola shows how people are ill-informed about risk. While stressing over Ebola, the media is oblivious to true public health threats like obesity, heart disease, drunk driving, diabetes, and the like."


The media are focusing on Ebola because it is a relatively *unknown* risk for most, which makes it novel, which makes it news. They have extensively covered all of the other risks, and the public are generally well informed of the risks - or as informed as they are individually capable of being informed without one-on-one tutoring or coaching.

Comment: Why not... (Score 2, Interesting) 644

by TomRC (#48029599) Attached to: Microsoft Announces Windows 10

Why not just merge the Start menu and the desktop once and for all, with all the best features of both?
Hold down the Windows key to instantly hide all but the desktop.

Basically like clicking in the lower right corner on Win7, but much faster, while bringing in some of the UI features from Win8.

Get rid of the various "hover/slide in from the edge" Win8 conventions - put those options on the desktop.

Make the task bar default visible only on the Desktop (optionally always visible, of course).
For touch, keep a transparent Start button hovering in the lower left - hold touch on it if you don't have a Windows key/button to show the desktop.
Apps could request true full screen to get rid of the button, of course.

Comment: Paranoia? (Score 1) 80

by TomRC (#47945949) Attached to: Home Depot Says Breach Affected 56 Million Cards

It sounds like this sort of thing takes a scale of resources to accomplish that wouldn't be used idly.

So why are we hearing about a lot of cracks lately that get huge amounts of payment information, but apparently don't lead to massive numbers and dollars of thefts from accounts?

Is someone testing experimental weapons for a future cyber war that would aim to create enough financial chaos to crash our economy?
Or conversely, is there a secret government project to deliberately crack corporate financial systems, to scare them into getting more secure?

Comment: NASA needs to get it's act together (Score 2) 109

by TomRC (#47769425) Attached to: Eye Problems From Space Affect At Least 21 NASA Astronauts

We've long known what will likely avoid these sorts of problems - create a rotating environment to simulate gravity.
While the physics principle is simple, engineering a safe rotating station is probably quite challenging.
The sort of thing NASA was created to investigate...

Comment: Police should have no more powers than the public (Score 2) 190

by TomRC (#46818315) Attached to: Eyes Over Compton: How Police Spied On a Whole City

If we decide not to allow the public to fly drones around peeping into back yards, the same should apply to the police (without a warrant). The limits on casual/easy police surveillance should be pretty much the same as the limits on the public. The police should be no more than citizens that we have authorized to act in our name.

That said, it may be time to be realistic, that technology is expanding our powers of easy observation beyond historical limits. Create new laws regulating personal and commercial drone camera use, including allowable flight altitudes, linger times, recording and viewing resolutions, etc under various circumstances - with the same standards governing police use without a warrant. Balance new benefits against the loss of a few old privacy benefits. Same goes for things like Google Glass.

The key is to avoid allowing politicians to carve out any special exceptions/powers exclusively for the police - insist that police powers be based on those of the general public.


Comment: Re:Duff's Device (Score 1) 373

by TomRC (#46587541) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Do You Consider Elegant Code?

Um - maybe my eyes are just skipping something - but isn't that (Wikipedia) implementation completely 'bugged'?
I.e. it seems that it only increments the source "from" pointer, not the destination "to" pointer?

Not to mention that the idea that "tricky" code is "elegant" is pretty much completely backwards. Coding in odd ways just to be tricky, or to minimize lines of source code for the sake of 'compactness', or pretty much any other 'clever coding' goal - tends to create buggy code that is hard to debug and hard for anyone else to understand if they need to modify it. As evidenced by the many good programmers here who looked at that "clever" code and didn't notice that it continuously overwrites the same location in memory...

It was such 'cleverness' that led to the bad reputation of 'goto' from people writing spaghetti code. At least in the early days of programming, programmers had the excuse of slow processors and limited memory and poor compilers, to justify coming to equate 'tricky' with "clever and elegant". Unless you're coding for some ultra-tiny system, such thinking is simply obsolete, and anyone engaging in it ought to be embarrassed at their misguided priorities.

Elegant code is functionally correct, will create a fast/efficient/compact run-time (assuming a decent compiler / interpreter and depending on settings appropriate to the project), and above all must be READABLE and MAINTAINABLE.

Where old-time programmers abused GOTO, modern C++ programmers tend to abuse inheritance and templates, creating code that is often nearly impossible to follow even with the aid of a good development/debugging environment - let alone follow by reading the static source code. And the sad thing is, they think they're engaging in "good programming" even as they create incomprehensible, unmaintainable monstrosities.

Comment: Cheap Robots Soon? (Score 1) 111

by TomRC (#46304675) Attached to: Fishing Line As Artificial "Muscle"

One of my personal long standing predictions has been that when we finally get really cheap "good enough" robot muscles, personal robots will take off much like PCs did, even if the muscles have significant problems to be worked around.

I presume that with use these muscles will stretch and lose strength. But that's OK - just pair them with control software that adapts automatically. If the muscles get too weak, replace them. The main question will be how fast they degrade. If they could last in an intermittently active robot for a month, that's probably enough to get started.

Another question is how fast they can cycle without over heating and ruining them. Given the sorts of applications they describe, I suspect there are issues with speed. But one good thing about this development is that anyone can experiment with it in their garage, and many will, and solutions for fast cycling muscles will be found.

"In the face of entropy and nothingness, you kind of have to pretend it's not there if you want to keep writing good code." -- Karl Lehenbauer