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VA Supreme Court: Michael Mann Needn't Turn Over All His Email 342

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-did-you-have-for-lunch-when-you-wrote-those-papers dept.
RoccamOccam sends news that the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Michael Mann, a climate scientist notable for his work on the "hockey stick" graph, does not have to turn over the entirety of his papers and emails under Freedom of Information laws. Roughly 1,000 documents were turned over in response to the request, but another 12,000 remain, which lawyers for the University of Virginia say are "of a proprietary nature," and thus entitled to an exemption. The VA Supreme Court ruled (PDF), "the higher education research exemption's desired effect is to avoid competitive harm not limited to financial matters," and said the application of "proprietary" was correct in this case. Mann said he hopes the ruling "can serve as a precedent in other states confronting this same assault on public universities and their faculty."

Comment: Re:Not Evolution (Score 3, Informative) 115

by Artifakt (#46785077) Attached to: NASA Proposes "Water World" Theory For Origin of Life

But how does Evolution prune the repication mechanism itself? If an early replicator was very sloppy and mutation prone, then any possible advantages occuring by random mutation would have little chance to be tested before other random mutations overwrote them or other mutations killed off the organisms carrying that mutation. Working backwards, let's start with modern DNA, in cases where there are many additional mechanisms to cut the mutation rate so the non-random part of Evolution has more time to work. Putting DNA inside a walled cell, and making that cell nucleated, both reduce the exposure of the DNA to chemicals that can mutate copies. Multicellularity further shields the DNA from some more mutagens, and lets Evolution prune cells with bad copies by apoptosis, which can't be used by single celled organisms. Right there, we have a trend in Evolution - Nature seems to be trying to reduce error rates to target, as you put it, the Goldilocks range. "Advanced" organisms, such as us, or mosquitos or oak trees, have many features that make the selection rate occur at an optimum, where Nature gets enough time for selection processes to occur. In fact, sexual selection is probably just another form of targeting that Goldilocks range, and I'm sure a professional biologist can think of may more examples than the four I've mentioned. Some more minor steps in this pattern might include the evolution of Alcohol Dehydrogenase enzymes and others, but that's getting beyond my depth.
        But if we extrapolate a historical trend from that, the mutation rate must have been higher for 'primative' DNA based life, but the selection pressure must have been lower. Mutation must have been still higher if RNA was once the core molecule of heredity, which seems pretty solidly established. And if there's several more primative replicators, selection pressure must have moved glacially compared to the modern era. So how did selection have time even in 3 billion years to evolve DNA itself? If the earliest replicators were something like crystaline clays that were subject to a very modest amount of selection by erosion, as some biologists have speculated, how do we get the time for these to evolve through many stages to RNA and then DNA and eventually all the extra trimmings of today? Given that we've been in a DNA based biosphere for close to 1.5 billion years, that's about half the time since Earth cooled enough to support organic compounds,, and we're trying to cram probably at least 5 or 6 earlier replicators into less than half the time, knowing that each one was subject to less selection pressure than it's successor probably by orders of magnetude.

Comment: Re:NASA Proposes "Water World" Theory For Origin o (Score 3, Interesting) 115

by Artifakt (#46784929) Attached to: NASA Proposes "Water World" Theory For Origin of Life

We can't "save a step and conclude that the universe always existed" because we think the universe had a beginning, the Big Bang. We could have saved that step if we thought the universe was Steady State. Dr. Sagan is asking this as a rhetorical question, yet he himself gave the answer not 20 pages earlier in the same book when he addressed the Steady State/Big Bang controversy in historical physics. That's showing a completely non-scientific bias and committing a logical error, and I really hoped for better from the good doctor. Fortunately, if there Is a real God, I suspect "he"s not going to be that hung up on whether his creations beleived without evidence or not.

Comment: Re:I guess they were wrong (Score 3, Interesting) 146

by Artifakt (#46777719) Attached to: Vintage 1960s Era Film Shows IRS Defending Its Use of Computers

I do taxes professionally for part of my income, and it's a mix of personal or estate returns and corps, up to a couple of companies with 500+ full time employees.
The tax code is pretty simple for many people, but I certainly would not say the vast majority of either individuals or small businesses. I can make quick, easy money by examining a few typical returns done on a free website or $ 39 software. About 6 out of 10 will have done something wrong or missed something entirely. That's higher than the industry average reported (which is about 33%), but I'm presorting by cases where the person has either a schedule D, E, or F, or got a K1. I could probably find significant mistakes on 45% or so of the self filed Schedule A's or EITC forms out there, but those are usually dealt with by people who have only been with the firm I work for for a few years before I ever see them.
            Three mistakes I see that can have extreme consequences are:
1. people filing schedule E for rental property and thinking amortizing the property is optional (yes, it is technically optional as the tax code is phrased, but if you don't do it, the law wiill treat it as if you did, and 'recover' some of the money you never got in the first place. when you sell the property - it's 'optional' in the same sense as a parachute is optional in skydiving). I also see the vast majority of people who have other things than rent to report on an E (authorial royalties, natural gas wells, and such), have absolutely no idea what to do.
2. people filing a schedule D for sale of stock. The minor mistake about 50% of the self filers make is to spend up to 30 hours or so filling in tons of individual lines for each transaction - almost nobody who isn't a pro knows how to report groups of transactions the way the IRS wants, and the personal software will gladly let you type in every single entry from a typical 15 page brokerage statement manually if you want. By they way, I have heard from IRS agents that going to all this extra trouble increases your chance of an audit - they figure that anybody giving them all those details just might be trying to hide something among them. The major mistake is not knowing the difference between long term and short term and/or covered and non-covered transactions, and all those things that are not sales of stocks but involve capital gains and so get reported with stocks. And I have never, ever, not once in my career, seen a case where someone got a K-1 that led to an entry on schedule D, and they got it right filing with Turbo-tax or similar.
3. Schedule C for self employed income. I see people getting a 1099-Misc with some other box than 7 filled in and thinking they have to do a C, all the time. I also see young people who get paid with a 1099 that does require Schedule C for the first time and think it's basically just like a W2 and report it that way. In both cases, this puts the person in a mess immediately, because if self employment taxes get done wrongly that means the IRS and the Social Security administration both have issues with the filer, and any corrections have to propagate to both agencies before it is really fixed. I've seen way too many cases where someone spends months or even years paying off their self employment taxes, gets straight with the IRS, and then 5 years later the person gets injured, needs to collect disability and, finds out they never got credit with the Social Security Administration for working some years, and so are considered not elligibile. But the biggest mistake I see on Sched C is people claiming meals when they don't travel outside their local area or entertain clients - that happens way more often with young people new to the construction industry, than most people think, and the IRS treats every case like the taxpayer is a con artist and couldn't possibly be really that stupid. (And there's no polite way to put it, but a lot of these people are). The IRS also tends to treat this error as though the taxpayer thinks the IRS agents are boneheaded enough to believe the deliberately false claim they didn't know, and the agent auditing usually seems to feel personally insulted.

People that have a single house or two they rent out, self employed contractors and people who have a sole proprieorship that makes, say, 50 K or less net, people who get a typically sized 1099-composite statement from Wells Fargo or Merrill or T Rowe or many others - that's probably close to 40% of all filers right there. K-1s are becoming pretty common now that they're used for Family Trusts. Everybody who rents out a tiny plot of land for a Cell tower gets an E for something they don't really supervise personally, and most of them didn't study up on rental tax law even as much as the people renting a spare house.. So again, "vast majority' is an overstatement at best.
  .

Comment: Texas Has Fewer Homeless, California More (Score 3, Interesting) 320

Compared to when The Great Recession Started.

"California, with just under 12% of the nation's population, has 22.43% of the nation's homeless population, giving it a homelessness quotient of 0.88. Quite high, in other words. Almost double the number of homeless people one would predict, given its population."

"Texas, which has roughly 8.2% of the nation's population, only has 4.85% of the nation's homeless population (meaning: Texas has a quite low homelessness quotient of -0.41)."

Growing economy = less homeless, contracting economy = more homeless.

Go look at the statistics if you doubt it.

Comment: Re:Procedural Rules? (Score 1) 128

by Artifakt (#46770565) Attached to: Lavabit Loses Contempt Appeal

Just look at what happens when you have a law based on even slightly flaky or questionable cases, and how serious it can be.
            Take Roe v Wade. It's a case where the winner used a legal pseudonym to protect her privacy, only to give statements years later publicly identifying herself and saying she has regrets about how the case was decided. Don't you just bet the anti-abortion factions have gotten renewed support from the resulting publicity? What would have happened with abortion rights if someone as unsympathetic as Larry Flynt had had the same courage Flynt did for his famous case, proceeded openly and still won, or alternately if a very sympathetic woman with more recognition of how political groups on both sides might try to twist her image had done the same? Would either situation have made any difference in the current public perception?
         

Comment: Re:Superior pilots (Score 1) 102

by RogueyWon (#46765069) Attached to: Your <em>StarCraft II</em> Potential Peaked At Age 24

Jumping genres for a moment...

A decade ago, in my early/mid 20s (while I was a post-grad student), I was a fairly high level Counter-Strike player. Not one of the greats, but certainly good enough to pull my weight in a team which managed to take home the occasional bit of prize money in tournaments. However, three things happened which meant that I moved on from that phase.

First, I finished studying and got a job. While the hours I was working were probably only slightly longer than the hours I'd been studying (postgrad can be harsh), I now had much less flexibility over which specific hours I worked. I also had a commute that ate up another couple of hours every day.

Second, I started to really dislike the online gaming scene. I got tired of the foul-mouthed kiddies on the public servers and the up-their-own-backside sponsor-obsessed "pro" players. As well as being a player, I was also a league admin and organiser, so I spent a lot of time dealing with this and the bigger "pro" gaming got, the more toxic the high end community got.

But most importantly for the subject at hand, I realised that I'd hit a plateau in terms of how well I was able to play the game. My aim and reactions were probably good enough to allow me to progress further. Not to the very top tiers, but certainly to a higher level than I was playing at. But my judgement and temperament weren't suited for it and resulted in a lot of mistakes of the kind that you can't afford at that level of play. So while I never went cold turkey, over the 6 months after starting a new job, I basically scaled down from being a hardcore competitive player to being an occasional dabbler in public servers. And then over the next few years, I basically gave up on competitive multiplayer entirely (continuing to play a lot of singleplayer and co-op games).

And then, last summer, for a brief window, I got into the Counter-Strike re-release.

Somewhat to my surprise, I was still very good at the game. However, when I recorded some replays and then went back and watched them, it was clear that in my mid-30s, I was good at it in a very different way to how I'd been a decade earlier. My aim was still ok, but my reactions were lethargic compared to how they'd been in the past. I had, however, gotten a lot more patient and a lot sneakier. The kiddies hopping around the levels at full speed could not doubt have picked me apart in a face to face fight, but I was making sure they never got the chance.

So yeah... I suspect that as one set of skills fades with age, some players will develop other traits and skills that offset that. A decline in clicks-per-minute with no corresponding decline in match results in Starctaft 2 would seem to fit that pattern.

Comment: San Francisco is just an extreme example... (Score 0, Flamebait) 359

by Nova Express (#46762691) Attached to: San Francisco's Housing Crisis Explained

...of California's high tax, high cost, high regulation, anti-growth, and radical environmental environment. It's a great place to live if you're rich, and virtually impossible to live if you're middle class or poor.

Critics have been noting these problems for at least two decades, and California becoming a single-party Democratic state with outsized input from public employee unions has only accelerated the trend...

Comment: Re:so many sources (Score 1) 108

by Artifakt (#46762649) Attached to: 52 Million Photos In FBI's Face Recognition Database By Next Year

If writng style is really an identifiable characteristic, I would actually be doing you a favor by going Grammar Nazi on your last sentence. Those people who really learn enough of the manifold rules of proper English will form a group which will appear indivisible in attempts to isolate an actual individual, To stand out at all, such people will have to use words such as "eldritch", that are very, very rare, create complex compound sentences such as this one, or otherwise write unusually. People who write a run on sentence with a lack of singular/plural agreement and an ambiguous clause that undermines their actually conveying meaning, all at once, will be much easier to single out. Good luck.

Comment: No great revelation (Score 5, Interesting) 109

by RogueyWon (#46749669) Attached to: Inside the Stolen Smartphone Black Market In London
Don't get me wrong, it's a good and valuable piece of journalism. But I doubt the findings will be a surprise to anybody who's lived in the more central areas of London (or any other major UK city), outside of a few sheltered enclaves.

I lived for a few years living around the New Cross/Bermondsey area (south of the river, but similar in demographic to the areas in TFA) and there were always a few electronics shops whose existence seemed fundamentally implausible if their business was founded on anything other than handling stolen goods. I avoided them like the plague, but they were generally pretty resilient businesses - and if one closed down, another would spring up a few streets away. I'm not saying that any business which looks a bit grungy is dishonest. I've made some good purchases at backstreet computer stores which get good prices on the back of low overheads and connections with legitimate suppliers (though such places are rare these days since the online boom). But there's a certain type of business which is offering games consoles or other commodity goods at the kind of prices that just make you go "hmm".

Hell, even going back well before that, I can remember independent video games stores "Ooop North" (from the tail end of the period before the big chains drove most of them to the wall, around the early PS1/N64 era) who were well known among my teenaged peers for staying in business on the basis of a combination of modchipping and fencing stolen goods. In fact, I remember one very close to my school being raided by police and shut down (presumably after crossing some nebulous line into their visible spectrum). Provided a fascinating distraction during the middle of an otherwise dull day at school.

As the whole modchipping thing implies, these have never been businesses run by people without a degree of tech-savvy. It's no surprise that they've moved onto circumventing mobile phone protections. And I bet you'd find similar businesses in, at the very least, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow.

There have even been suggestions - though I offer no comment as to their veracity - that a well-known red-logoed chain of second hand electronics stores with a presence in almost every town in the UK might sometimes be less than choosy about checking the provenance of the goods it accepts.
Encryption

Obama Says He May Or May Not Let the NSA Exploit the Next Heartbleed 134

Posted by Soulskill
from the thanks-for-providing-zero-clarity dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The White House has joined the public debate about Heartbleed. The administration denied any prior knowledge of Heartbleed, and said the NSA should reveal such flaws once discovered. Unfortunately, this statement was hedged. The NSA should reveal these flaws unless 'a clear national security or law enforcement need' exists. Since that can be construed to apply to virtually any situation, we're left with the same dilemma as before: do we take them at their word or not? The use of such an exploit is certainly not without precedent: 'The NSA made use of four "zero day" vulnerabilities in its attack on Iran's nuclear enrichment sites. That operation, code-named "Olympic Games," managed to damage roughly 1,000 Iranian centrifuges, and by some accounts helped drive the country to the negotiating table.' A senior White House official is quoted saying, 'I can't imagine the president — any president — entirely giving up a technology that might enable him some day to take a covert action that could avoid a shooting war.'" Side note: CloudFlare has named several winners in its challenge to prove it was possible to steal private keys using the Heartbleed exploit.

Comment: Re:Specialization is for insects (Score 1) 733

by Artifakt (#46737691) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

1. Ginny might have a different opinion.
2. What about exposing the remarks by L. Ron Hubbard that prove Scientology is a scam? Surely a little credit for that is due?
3. He made it through the Naval Academy, graduating academic 5th in class. Yeah, he got sick later and was discharged after he caught tuberculosis. So your definition of failure there is what? Didn't make Admiral?
4. Despite being unable to re-enlist for WW2 because of his health record, he worked at the Naval Air Experimental Station near Philadelphia, as a civilian engineer. We have Isaac Asimov's word that he was successful as part of multiple classified projects there. (With Asimov working there as a chemist on some of the same projects). It's easy to take a cheap shot at this claim however, as some of these activities are buried deep in the records of the war department, and still aren't well documented publicly.
5. Being #1 in that field he was successful in, and at one point raking in at least 50 times the income his fellow practitioners predicted was the max. possible, is not just a modest success vrs a host of failures, it's rebuilding the whole field in your own image.Writing the first story in April of 39 and having the mortgage and his electioneering debts paid off by the middle of 1940 is not a "non-failure", it's a spectacular skyrocket of a success. He wrote what is often considered the first serious modern SF film (Destination Moon), which was nominated for three Oscars and won one), Most of us would not count screen play writer and print author as just one carreer. Tell me, do you criticise Beethoven for not having done anything really OK except the sonatas?
6. At least one of several houses he designed still stands. (Bonny Doon) The hidden saferoom mechanism still works, Heinlein personally moved multi-ton boulders with block and tackle to landscape and build the pool area. The house is modernist design that takes great advantage of technology to make maintenance affordable and is generally considered a polished, professional design. That sounds like a successful architect to me, if full time professional architects themselves consider him one..
7. Heinlein built a working model of a waterbed and didn't just describe one in print, all on record before the first attempts by others to patent such a device. Inventing something which has been sold in the hundreds of millions, only counts as a failure if your only standard of success is monitization. I'm afraid you're revealing more about yourself than you want there.

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