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Comment: Re:file transfer (Score 1) 454

by Yaztromo (#49144939) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Old PC File Transfer Problem

The new machines lack LPT ports? WTF kind of machine did you buy without an LPT port? A laptop, sure, a desktop? You have to look hard, even today to find a machine that doesn't have a printer port.

It isn't that hard -- Macs haven't had any sort of specialty printer port on any model that I'm aware of for at least 15 years now.


Comment: Unfortunately... (Score 1) 148

by Yaztromo (#49133295) Attached to: Artificial Intelligence Bests Humans At Classic Arcade Games

Unfortunately, the experiment came to an abrupt end when they threw "ET: The Extra Terrestrial" at the AI, whereupon after an hour of trying different tactics the AI decided that the only way to win was to send a power surge through the system, frying the only working Atari 2600 the researchers could dig up.

This still classifies the AI as coming up with the best solution to the game ever implemented.


Comment: Re:The benefit of Science (Score 1) 397

I very much approve of reading the actual papers. However...

Scientific papers are usually dry and hard to read.

I agree -- however, I find most people with some background in at least one science can at least glean something from reading the abstract, and hopefully some bits and pieces of the statistical analysis (something I admittedly wish I had better background in. If I could afford the time and money to go back to University, I'd love to take stats and philosophy of science).

If papers come to conflicting conclusions, it's hard to figure out which is right. If you're in the field, you read the papers (or at least glance at the abstracts), and have a good sense of which studies have been confirmed and which disproved.

I think part of the problem for many peoples that the state of knowledge in science isn't a binary proposition. In much of science, the answer to 'Is X true?" boils down to five possibilities: 'yes', 'yes with caveats', 'no', 'no with caveats', and 'uncertain' ("more research in this area is required"). So if you're seeing only a few studies, and they seem to be contradictory, the conclusion you need to take is simply "this area requires more research".

And that is my problem with how most people approach science. They see one study, and say 'Science says X!", when in reality, it's really just one study that says X. Unless you have a massive body of scientific work behind a concept (such as evolution, or gravitation), one can't really make any claims as to what "science" says. Consequently, you also shouldn't be disappointed if future research on a new or lightly researched area of science later produces a paper with a contradictory view -- you can't feel that this means that "Science was wrong!". Science is seldom, if ever, "wrong" -- but how much importance people put into preliminary/early/initial results can certainly make them mistakenly feel that way.

I'm somewhat reminded of how people with multiple sclerosis reacted to Dr. Paolo Zamboni's "liberation therapy". Here was a medical doctor who produced a paper where he looked at the neck veins of a group of people with MS, found they had some narrowing of the veins and iron deposits in the brain, and came up with an angioplasty procedure to open these veins up, believing that MS was caused by "chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency" (basically, insufficient blood drainage from the brain). He tried it on his own wife, she subjectively said she felt a bit better, and suddenly MS sufferers around the world were flying to third-world countries to have this done to them (for a fee, of course), and in some countries (like Canada) were begging their national governments to bring the procedure on-shore and to make it part of the social healthcare system.

Unfortunately, Dr. Zamboni's research was deeply flawed. Firstly, his study wasn't "blinded". It also didn't have a comparison group -- he didn't even look for vein narrowing in non-MS populations. Thirdly, he didn't disclose that he had financial ties to a company that made equipment to treat the condition he had "discovered". These are all problematic, but IMO the worst was really the lack of a comparison group for control purposes. As two further studies have shown, the type of vein narrowing Dr. Zamboni detected are equally prevalent in both people with MS and people without MS.

Now MS is a terrible disease. People who suffer from MS live in a sort of quiet bravery, in constant struggle against their condition, and with a lot of hope for a cure. I hope one is found. Unfortunately, all too many of them jumped on this one, and got ill-advised procedures done, which in some cases has led to a worsening of their symptoms, and even death. Damage has been done, all because one paper made a lot of hopeful people jump up and say "Science says X!", when really all that "science" should be saying (and what most scientists in this area actually said) was "this is a potentially interesting result -- let's do more research in this area to see if it goes anywhere".

Truth be told, the vast bulk of science output tends to come down to "more research in this area is needed". That's what the "common man on the street" misses when they see a "result" in a single paper. Sure research needs to be taken only as a stating point for more research -- and not an end-point recommending what people need to do. As a process, science requires a lot of time to really get to the point where it can say 'X is true (with caveats)'.

(As an aside, one general scientific area that I'm interested in is negative results: science that doesn't work. The kind of science where the preliminary result says "we hypothesized this might be true, but we now know it isn't". Not enough of this sort of science seems to happen (or get good funding/publicity) anymore, unless you're disproving someone else original, positive result. The negative result is extremely scientifically honest, and sets up some useful boundaries for what we think might be true. Unfortunately, even scientists want to be the people who discover the next big thing, and many funding organizations want to fund science that leads directly to some result they can sell, making it harder to do science that discovers where the edges of knowledge are.)


(For the record, educated as a scientist, but not currently working in primary research)

Comment: Re:The benefit of Science (Score 1) 397

Do you not have children?

Yup -- we have a 4yo. The recommendation we received was to give her some small smears of peanut butter around the age of 1 now and then, and to simply watch for any negative reactions.

She had none, which of course doesn't prove anything in and of itself.

I should note that the results from the recent study aren't new. Here are a few papers worth checking out on the subject:

Interestingly, the above link does mention that the advice you received was common advice (at the time of publication in 2008) in the UK, Australia, and in the past in North America (so I don't disbelieve that you received this advice -- although "common" doesn't necessarily imply "supported by research").


Comment: Re:The benefit of Science (Score 1) 397

Yes, but I have kids and we've always been told not to feed them peanuts till they are a certain age. Now it looks like that was bad advice.

Yes, but who was the one telling you this? Did you read it in a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal? Or was it something your co-workers mother told you because she saw it on Oprah? Or did you just read it in the newspaper?

The problem with what most people "believe" about science is that they don't read the actual science. They read someone else's summary of what they think the science says, and then go by that, believing they "know what science has to say on a subject".

I'll note here FWIW that in my experience, most Medical Doctors are bad scientists. They don't do primary research, and don't necessarily read the primary research. And if they do, they don't necessarily understand the limitations of the primary research. Or they might make a recommendation based upon an overabundance of caution based on incomplete research (which is probably the case of what you thought you knew about peanuts).

Again, as I extolled in another recent post to you -- read the actual research if you want to get an idea of what "science" has to say about a subject. And don't take what you read as cannon until it's been backed up by a number of studies reproducing the first, along with a meta-analysis of all such papers published. Until the scientific community has labelled something as either a "law" or a "theory", it pretty much needs to be considered as not-necessarily-100%-reliable.


Comment: Re:The benefit of Science (Score 1) 397

The question is, when do you know the science is "finished"? I swear every year there is a new study saying something is good for you, followed by more studies saying it's bad for you, then more saying it's good for you.

My guess is you don't read the studies, but just go by what you read in the press.

Look, learning about new discoveries from the newspaper/radio/TV/Internet isn't a bad thing -- but it's only a first step. Unless you're reading specialized research magazines or journals, however, you're probably not getting more than a glimmer of useful information.

As an example (not to be confused with a real-life example; I'm too tired to start researching references for a /. post...), a researcher may do a study, and release a paper saying "X dose of compound Y, commonly found in alcoholic beverage B, lessens human cell type Z mortality by K% in a petrie dish". It will also include a whole pile of caveats, and probably the statement "more research is needed" somewhere towards the end, along with a section on some future research directions.

Mr. Science Desk Writer hears about it from somewhere, looks up the average human lifespan L, and publishes an article with the headline "New research shows drinking alcoholic beverage B will increase your lifespan by K%!". You read it, and decide to go and hit your alcohol cabinet for a drink.

Of course, the column doesn't properly represent the research. It takes data out of context: in this case a) by not properly correlating the dose X of compound Y with how much alcohol you would need to drink to get those dose, b) whether that chemical is converted by your liver to something else before it gets to where it needs to go, c) whether that chemical is even absorbed by the bloodstream to get to human cell type Z, d) whether what was found to be true in a petrie dish will also be true inside a human body, e) that what is found to be true of cell type Z may not hold true for other types of cells, f) whether any benefits attributable to cell type Z are negated by negative effects on any other types of human cells, or any other part of human physiology, and g) that you can't correlate a reduction of cell death to a whole body (i.e.: you can't just take two numbers you read in studies and multiply them together, in this case human lifespan and some cell death reduction percentage).

On top of this, as things turn out, a year later some other researcher (Researcher B) gets some research funding, and decides to replicate the experiments from the original paper. Maybe they do this because they find the statistical methods used by the original researcher don't make for a particularly strong case, or maybe they just want to verify the results. Researcher B sets up the experiment, but does it on a much larger scale (perhaps they have better funding) in order to get more data. After doing a detailed analysis of the data, they find that the effect either a) isn't anywhere as strong as the original paper described, or b) the effect doesn't exist at all, or c) that there was an error in the experimental setup that accounts for the effect (i.e: they found out that in order to help prevent compound Y from breaking down too easily for the experiment, that it had been refrigerated to 5C before being applied to the cells in the culture, and this had a sort of cryonic effect on the cells that extended their lifespan -- that the nature of the compound Y had nothing to do with the measured results). They publish their own paper, again with "more research needed" caveat, and a list of possible future directions.

Mr. Science Desk Writer, of course, may never see this paper, and so may continue to report on the original research. Or they may have moved on to some other area, like whatever the latest NASA probe photographed. Or perhaps they even wind up reporting on the latest research -- and you read it, and suddenly decide "those crazy scientists don't know what they're talking about! They keep changing their minds!".

The disconnect, however, is a) the bad science reporting in the first place, which over-emphasizes what the research actually says, and b) people who get their science reporting from mass media and take it "As What Science Says About The Subject", as if it were written in the Holy Bible of Science.

If you really want to know what science has to say, read the papers. I'll admit that can be difficult if you don't have access to a University library online database, and don't subscribe to journals in every area of science -- but that's the only way you'll actually know what the science says. Typically, you'll find the research so filled with caveats, especially with new discoveries that haven't been replicated, that you won't find the discovery quite as interesting anymore. That doesn't make it bad research -- they make for starting points. Many will lead down blind alleys. Some will lead to places we don't currently find useful. Some may lead to interesting discoveries. A precious few might give some other researcher a spark of an idea that leads down a completely different avenue of discovery. That is what makes such papers important to scientists.

So go to the source when you can. Don't trust the science reporting you read in the papers, especially if they're based on a single paper or a single researcher (or even research group). Read the papers when you can, even if just the executive summaries and the limitations sections (and I'll admit -- I'm not conversant in every research area of science; some of them have math and language hard to penetrate if you come from a completely different background. Still, you can usually get some idea of what was actually claimed by reading the abstract, and what the researcher feels is the limits of their research by reading the appropriate section of the paper(s)).

(Given all of the above, it amazes me how quick people are to believe that red wine extends your life, or that vaccines cause autism based on single papers being published, but doubt human-centric climate change which has thousands of papers backing it.)


Comment: Re:Spectre of Autism... (Score 3, Interesting) 580

by Yaztromo (#49044287) Attached to: Low Vaccination Rates At Silicon Valley Daycare Facilities

The referenced UK survey showed that families with engineers in them can have between 2.5 to 8.6 *times* the statistical occurrence of autism in their children.

Just in case anyone reading your message jumps to the wrong conclusion, I'll remind everyone that correlation != causation, even in this case.

There is, however, growing evidence that microexons -- tiny gene fragments that aren't well understood -- that are linked to altered brain development in individuals with autism (paper).

And (IIRC) there is a certain amount of correlation between problems with microexons and older fathers. Due to the cost and length of their education, engineers may not be having children until they are older (and perhaps more established in their careers), increasing the risk factor (it has been well established that older fathers are more likely to sire autistic children).

I'm not accusing you of having much such an assumption. The correlation is interesting and needs further investigation, however it may just stems from age of fathers, rather than any special mental makeup of engineers.


Comment: Re:HPV (Score 1) 740

by Yaztromo (#48973117) Attached to: New Jersey Gov. Christie: Parents Should Have Choice In Vaccinations

Ok... so if it's an STD and I am one of those monogamous types, could you explain the benefit to me or others for me getting it?

I'm not anti-vaccine, though I am anti-vaccine-if-the-risk-of-the-vaccine-is-greater-than-the-benefit. And no, I don't think autism comes from vaccines, etc.

What, and you can absolutely guarantee that your monogamous partner has never been with someone else and contracted the disease?

You can see into the future and (goodness forbid) know you'll never lose your partner in some unfortunate way, and won't ever be in a new relationship again?


Comment: Re:Rent a truck, rent a PC (Score 1) 307

by Yaztromo (#48937623) Attached to: The iPad Is 5 Years Old This Week, But You Still Don't Need One

A Windows laptop is less expensive than the cellular Internet subscription needed to connect a tablet to EC2 or Azure while away from home.

Maybe where you live, but the cost of my iPad 2 3G service is $15 a month. On top of that, if you I've in an urban centre, you're probably well covered by WiFi anyway. So that $15 goes quite a long way. I can pay for 2 years of 3G service at the cost of what a Windows laptop would cost me, with the benefit being (wait for it)...I don't have to carry a crappy sub-$300 Windows laptop with me everywhere I go. The EC2 Windows instance living in the cloud I use most frequently is a quad-core with 24GB of RAM and a few TB of hard disk space -- and you're not going to find a cheap sub-$300 Windows laptop with those sorts of specs.


Comment: Re:Rent a truck, rent a PC (Score 1) 307

by Yaztromo (#48937253) Attached to: The iPad Is 5 Years Old This Week, But You Still Don't Need One

To complete this analogy, someone who can use a car most of the time and only occasionally needs to do these "tons of things" can rent a truck, such as a moving truck from U-Haul or a pickup truck from The Home Depot. Is there a comparable PC rental ecosystem?

Of course there is. You install an RDP or VNC client on your phone or tablet, take a few minutes to setup a cloud OS instance on your favourite cloud service (EC2, Azure, whatever), and connect. You now have the full PC experience on your phone or tablet, running whatever you want, from wherever you want, for however long you want it.


Comment: Re:Best short programs (Score 1) 204

by Yaztromo (#48921551) Attached to: Computer Chess Created In 487 Bytes, Breaks 32-Year-Old Record

It would be cool to see which programming languages could have the best short chess programs.

I'd nominate Haskell, scheme and prolog to try it in.

To make things fair, I think you'd have to define the valid set of languages as general purpose languages. I could see coming up with a chess-specific language that would be super-efficient in that the language would already have known chess properties as built-in elements.


Comment: Re:Legions of crappy programmers (Score 2) 212

by Yaztromo (#48918493) Attached to: Why Coding Is Not the New Literacy

Sigh, forcing people to "learn to code" is just going to create legions of substandard programmers.

Alternately (and somewhat more likely), it will create a legion of future business people with software needs who know how to articulate those needs in a logical way when trying to write a specification.


The longer the title, the less important the job.