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Comment Re:Books thesis (Score 2, Interesting) 103

Well, having worked in both the non-profit sector and in public health, I think the criticisms of the Gates Foundation's public health efforts are malarkey. It's basically an opportunity cost argument and by that standard virtually every charitable foundation is wanting. Why are you spending money on the ballet when there are kids who can't read? Why are you spending money on literacy education when there are kids who don't have enough to eat etc. The problems of the world are endlessly varied and complex, and you can't ask much more of anyone than that they pick a spot and take a whack.

That said, the idea that spending money on infectious diseases is wasteful is particularly inane. Sure, in some places obesity may result in more premature deaths than malaria, but the fact is nobody really knows how to effectively fight an "obesity epidemic", whereas malaria is clearly eradicable -- and once it's gone, it's gone forever, because P. falciparum has no natural host other than humans. The same goes for communicable diseases for which we have vaccines; we know how to fight those cost effectively, even eradicate them in many cases. The missing piece of the puzzle is money.

Now criticism of the foundation's education efforts is a lot more warranted. Just like everybody thinks they're qualified to design a website because they have opinions about which sites they like and don't like, everyone thinks they're qualified to redesign the educational system because they went to school. The difference is that Gates has the money to make his bad ideas materialize. It may be hacker philanthropy, but most attempts at "hacks" result in kluges.

So overall it's a mixed bag. While you do have to give props to Gates for being "the man in the arena", sometimes, unlike in Teddy Roosevelt's famous speech, the man in the arena's failings don't fall exclusively on himself. So while philanthropy is admirable in itself, where the philanthropist's activities impinge on areas of public policy like education his actions should be held up to scrutiny like anyone else's.

Comment My perspective (Score 1) 106 a vacuum tube (mostly TWT) engineer since 1968:

I don't remember when they started working on cold cathode tubes, must be about the time they started working on fusion reactors. Both are now going to be ready in "another five years". Meanwhile, satellites in orbit run their tubes for 30,000 hours, limited by the amount of barium and unobtanium that boils out of their cathodes at 1000C. Or, the power supply shits the bed.

Nobody uses little tubes any more, except rock star guitar players (and wannabees) with strong roadies, and audio aficionados with golden ears, deep pockets, and low cranial capacity. A series of articles in Electronic Design magazine some years ago pointed out that the "tube sound" is mostly the loose impedance coupling and high frequency smothering of output transformers, not the tubes themselves.

Just about everybody uses an S band microwave power oscillator tube in their kitchen. They can be replaced with Gallium Nitride transistors, and I'm sure rich hipsters will buy them, but physics and economics is still backing the maggie.

And if you still want 10 KW of average power and 100 KW or a megawatt peak in a device a couple people can lift, a tube is hard to beat.

Comment Re:Where was the CIA, FBI and NSA... (Score 3, Insightful) 267

How do you know it was credible, besides through the benefit of hindsight? The CIA/FBI/police get 100 tip-offs per day that the stranger down the street must be a drug dealer/kiddie fiddler/international terrorist because he can't whistle 'Dixie'.

Strawman argument. The point is that there were several credible warnings of both an Al Qaeda attack and specific concerns with piloting students affiliated with them, some from foreign intelligence agencies; all these reports were not duly considered and discarded -- not because they were the moral equivalent of not being able to whistle "Dixie", but because of organizational and political dysfunction.

It was a failure -- specifically a failure to do something that was well within the government's power to do. I'm not saying that signals intelligence is not important, but it's an evasion of responsibility to claim our failure to take effective action was because we needed some technical capability that we lacked at the time. We had everything we needed to catch the 9/11 hijackers before they struck except for leadership.

Comment Re:Vacuum tubes handle EMP's better (Score 1) 106

No, that's not the reason.

'Government' is decades behind because it takes that long to make sure something does what you need it to do, and train people to run it and fix it. Then if you find something better, the clock starts again. Unfortunately, you will have to take money from the operations budget on your old stuff to buy the new stuff, and therefore you won't be able to do anything in the meantime. Plus, you need to get the money from Congress, which has a 2 year cycle of having to funnel money into particular districts to get re-elected. And the promotion cycle of O6 officers (Colonel, navy Captain) and they don't want to rock the boat inbetween promotions.

So, nothing gets upgraded.

Comment Re:Increase productivity?? (Score 2) 346

Here's my anecdote: Many interesting ideas I had back in the day came to me under the influence of pot. Some of those ideas brought me a great deal of money.

I never said this doesn't happen, but your reasoning is post hoc ergo propter hoc: your ideas came to you while you were stoned, therefore they must have come from the pot. In order to conclude that you'd have to have done all of your thinking about the problems while you were stoned.

As I said, I think it quite plausible that drugs can, at the right time, help you escape the limitations of self-censorship in your thinking. But in my experience people who are stoned all the time certainly have novel ideas, but those ideas aren't particularly useful. That's because creativity actually involves a kind of interplay of critical and imaginative thinking. Enough people have anecdotes like yours to think there's something to it, but the very nature of creativity -- at least as I'm defining it -- makes me doubt you can get it entirely out of a bottle.

For the record, I consider creativity the finding of novel approaches to a thing that are better in some way than pre-existing approaches. This almost certainly presupposes an intimate familiarity with pre-existing approaches, unless we count pure dumb luck as creativity. Picasso, for example, didn't draw the way he did because he couldn't to realistic work. He had very good drawing skills, and his early works were representational. That level of draftsmanship doesn't come without struggle; and from that he derived his interest in geometric figures, most easily seen in the development of his landscapes. Note if "House in the Field" seems a bit crude, it was painted when he was twelve years old.

Comment Re:Wow... (Score 1) 59

Unfortunately it's a symptom of having only enough money put into the system to house and punish those found guilty and not rehabilitate them. We keep them completely shut out of society with no preparation on how to re-integrate and then just shove them out the door with a few dollars in their pocket. Can you imagine trying to catch up on all of the changes in society if you have been away for a decade or two?

Actually, rehabilitation may well require isolating prisoners from some parts of the outside world.

The specific concern being addressed here is the operation of criminal networks in prison. This goes two ways: imprisoned leaders continuing to operate their criminal enterprises from behind bars, and gangs extending their operations into prison -- supplying drugs, weapons, and contraband, recruiting members, targeting rivals. Clearly not participating in criminal activities is a precondition to reformation.

All that said, recent research shows that the recidivism rate calculations may be misleading, because they overrepresent repeat offenders. Basically if you ask the question "What is the likelihood that someone exiting prison will return to prison," and "What is the likelihood that someone entering prison for the first time will be incarcerated again after he's released," you get very different answers. A solid majority (about 2/3) of people who go to prison will only go to prison once.

Can we conclude that prison then is better at reforming people than we thought? Not necessarily; it may be that most people who commit crimes only do so once in their lives, or naturally age out of the crime-prone demographic. But what is clear is that the recidivism problem is overwhelmingly people who go back to their old lives when they're released. So if you want to reduce the recidivism rate you have to focus on people whose social connections keep them involved in criminal activity throughout their lives. Disrupting at least some of those connections is a no-brainer.

Without life, Biology itself would be impossible.