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Comment Re:Not random: Faces Aligned and Similarly Sized (Score 2) 103

In fact, in TFA it sounds like the photos were not necessarily aligned by the photographers, but the person who did the averaging also aligned them beforehand. So yeah, nothing too astounding here. However, it does perhaps give us a blurry but explicit idea of a basic imprint of "faceness" that we implicitly look for when determining whether an object seems to us to have a face. This could be interesting. Maybe. Not really.

Comment Re:"Never" is a very long time (Score 3, Interesting) 378

Including self-destruction

Yep. In fact, self-destruction is more likely than us spreading out beyond Mars. Of course we might travel beyond Mars, but at this point I think that we have enough scientific reason to think that colonizing beyond Mars is so unlikely as to be functionally impossible. There are a host of reasons, but to name a few: (1) faster-than-light travel is theoretically impossible (and only possible in mere speculations), (2) near-FTL travel is a mere dream, (3) the human body can hardly take long-term space travel as it is, (4) we allow ourselves to be guided more by politics and profit than by any "higher" goals, so we will never unite our resources on such a project unless it promises major returns in these areas, etc.

We can (and probably should) always fantasize about new technologies, etc., but there are real limits to our abilities and we do run up against them. Of course through genetic engineering, etc., we could fashion a new kind of human that might be better equipped for the challenges of interstellar colonization, but given the potential limitations of life (we can only dream and watch Star Trek to imagine a biological being that is really adapted for the conditions of space), it is at least unlikely enough that we will colonize farther than Mars that I think the word "never" is not far-fetched.

Comment Re:National level? (Score 2) 171

It's true; in fact, the real beneficiaries of the U.S. frontier gold rushes were the merchants who sold supplies for mining rather than the miners themselves. With this in mind, however, it seems that any intrusions from other powers will be in accord with a principle of commercial viability. Whether or not someone steals another's asteroid claim will depend upon the potential costs and profits of benefiting in another way. Thus what might contribute to some likelihood of respecting other's rights is not some innate goodness of human activity, but rather the potential to profit off of such a respect. Other countries might indeed benefit from asteroid mining much like the merchants of the past did. They might even be able to develop technologies for their own mining more easily because they will benefit from the mistakes of the first pioneers. But this principle of commercial viability could just as well lead to a non-recognition of supposed rights and outright violation of claims.

Comment Re:Bad practice. (Score 1) 242

So in effect, the real weakness of fingerprints is not their non-hashability, but the fact that they are inherently linked with the user/owner. In the same way if you found a key in a hotel parking lot it would do you no good, but if that key had "Room 143" written on it, then its security is broken. Your fingerprint is harder to disassociate with yourself than a key or password. Someone pointed out above that you cannot tell someone that you forgot your fingerprint. Likewise, someone could always steal your fingerprint from objects you touch and have a reasonable certainty that that indeed is your fingerprint.

But this means that fingerprints suffer intrinsically from the same defect that incidentally affects guessable passwords. Most people create passwords that are in some way symbolically associated with their own identity (birthdates, names, etc.). Thus, in a sense, fingerprints are beneficial in certain low-security situations not only because they are more convenient, but also because the kinds of passwords or PINs that they generally replace suffer from the same weakness as fingerprints anyway.

Comment Re:It's all squiggles (Score 2) 304

It's all squiggles on the screen that I have to learn to interpret in the correct context.

This is true. All letters are symbols, and all symbols require a context in order to interpret. Somebody above pointed out that > is universally understood in mathematics, and thus its universality seems to make it preferable to GT, which is based on English. But this can be misleading. In the long run, > is just as arbitrary as GT, and although the symbol is widely used in mathematics, that is no guarantee that it will retain a clear meaning forever. A context will always be necessary, and although mathematics provides a kind of easily-accessible and widely-dispersed context, the specific system of mathematics that we utilize today is still a culturally-developed system of symbolization, and hence it is neither truly universal nor immortal.

At the same time, even the mathematical context may not adequately guarantee that the meaning of > is understood. In fact, it is questionable whether the strictly mathematical meaning of > is strictly at play in computer programming. The Perl gt operator already shows that the sphere of the meaning of "greater than" within programming can be wider than that which belongs to ordinary mathematics. In other words, the symbol > is borrowed from the context of mathematics, but this originary context is not the only context that determines the usage of this symbol within programming. It is always possible for this symbol to carry additional meanings not strictly intended by mathematical logic.

The strength of C++, for example, is that you can define your own operators and how they operate upon particular data structures, such that > can mean anything you want it to mean. Of course it would be silly to use > to mean "less than," but one might use it to mean "greater than" in a way that is only analogous to the scalar numerical calculation; hence for example one could conceive of a "greater than" with regard to GPS coordinates that does not measure which coordinates are greater in sheer magnitude, but rather determines which are farther north.

In short, no symbol is guaranteed in its meaning by an external relationship to another, distinct usage of the same symbol. It does not matter whether the symbol comes from written or spoken language, academic usage or common dialect, science or superstition; all symbols are determined in their meaning by context.

Comment Re:Not even correct. (Score 4, Informative) 304

I can understand why one might dislike this distinction between string and numeric operators in Perl, but I personally like it a lot.

Perl is an odd hybrid. On the one hand, it for the most part does not distinguish between different scalar data types syntactically (no strict declarations as in C++). This makes it a more casual language that is good for quick scripting within a limited environment (similar to JavaScript), but of course it could lead to confusion later on if a programmer reassigns variables to different data types on the fly. On the other hand, Perl solves potential confusions by using distinct operators for string and numeric operations. This means that (A) it is clear what is being done at any given point, and (B) it simplifies converting between numeric and string data types for on-the-fly operations. This is why Perl is amazing: you can do so much in a single, miniscule line of code, and yet everything you do is very clear and straight-forward in the syntax, however brief it is. Perl is thus capable to some extent of emulating one's flow of consciousness rather than requiring a strict, logical process according to clearly-defined data types. After all, my brain only seems to distinguish between string and numeric data types when I operate upon them (e.g. when I think about the number 2, I can freely flow between adding 3 to it and writing the number out as a word).

Comment Re:Well, that's embarrassing (Score 4, Interesting) 622

Your points about the shroud of Turin and the alleged tomb are spot-on.

As for the Qur'an, it would indeed be a major problem for Islam intellectually if it were found to preexist Mohammed. However, even though I don't have any desire to defend Islam, from a critical standpoint I think that these findings are really too weak to even imply such a claim.

In the first place, the fact that the dating belongs to the parchment and not necessarily the ink is huge. Since parchment was relatively rare and expensive, it was a common practice (even among Christians) to re-use old parchment, e.g. blank pages in other manuscripts or even at times writing over other texts. In fact, the manuscript in question seems to be a copy of the Qur'an, and no claim seems to have been made that it was the original copy penned by Mohammed himself, and so this opens up seemingly endless possible scenarios where somebody found an older piece of parchment and copied the Qur'an onto it.

Secondly, the real and obvious character of the Qur'an is not so much that it plagiarizes other written texts but that it borrows explicit elements from Judaism, Christianity, and local religious thought, and reshapes all of this material through a particular lens that services Mohammed's political and social agenda. This is clear even without any specific manuscript dating, as it is a process that is more internal and subtle than merely taking a page from one book and inserting it into a another. Understanding this, it actually makes even more sense to suppose that a copyist reused an older parchment, because it fits with the spirit of Islam, a spirit that is evident in ISIS's systematic destruction of antiquities, even if a substantial portion of Muslims may be horrified by this action as well. Islam is in many ways a white-washing and concealment of history; Allah's transcendence breaks into history as an external and alien power and provides the Qur'an as a kind of divine text without history. Hence the Qur'an cannot be translated or critically examined because to do so would be to submit the text to historical forces. (If anyone reading this sees a resemblance between this kind of thinking and Christian fundamentalism, this is not at all surprising.)

Christianity in contrast, despite significant variations and particular groups that lean more in the direction of Islam, is like Judaism a deeply historical religion. By breaking into history in the Incarnation, God takes on our history as his very own, in such a way that the history of human beings becomes transcendently meaningful. Hence the Bible is written by human authors in human language (not a divine dialect of Arabic), but mysteriously transmits the Word of God. Hence it really would be no problem for Christianity (except for a few particular groups) if it were found that certain of Jesus' famous sayings had already been said verbatim by someone else. The divine authority of the Qur'an is premised upon a denial of any human element, but the divine authority of the Bible is premised upon a divine acceptance of human language.

Comment Re:What are... (Score 4, Interesting) 273

It's good to hear your perspective and see that our perceptions about the intuitiveness of our measurement systems is relative. I've always thought that the larger scale of Fahrenheit was convenient because units of 10 distinguished temperatures well (70's are distinct from 80's), but it's clear that you use units of 5 in Celsius for the same purpose.

Of course I admit that my reluctance to change to metric has more to do with American nationalism than with any sure superiority of our units (although I despise using centimeters for small around-the-house measurements when inches and 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16 inches feel better to me). But at the same time, I think that it is as necessary to have multiple measurement systems as it is to have multiple languages. In the 20th c. especially many people believed that the era of different tongues was coming to an end, but I think that despite the prevalence of English and Chinese around the world, there will always be multiple languages because culture can never be simplified into a single thing. Even in the USA it's possible to go to another region where they use some different words, different phrasings, different ways of thinking, and this is simply a natural occurrence akin to genetic diversity. The more distinct a culture, the more distinct its use of a language, so native English speakers in India do not speak exactly the same English as in the USA or UK. An absolute universal language can never be anything but an artificial construct disconnected from real culture, hence the problem with Esperanto. (And I do recognize that there are some native Esperanto speakers, but that does not remove its failure as a universal, a-cultural language.)

In the end, the U.S. uses the metric system when it's helpful (e.g. in science), and there is no pressing need to switch to it completely. Just because we use the US system doesn't mean that we don't understand the metric system and aren't taught it in schools.

Comment Just look at Doom... (Score 5, Interesting) 102

The new Doom really shows this nostalgic trend all by itself. The gameplay footage shows that they were definitely looking to approximate the feel of the original even to the point of abandoning more contemporary elements (regenerating health, weapon inventory limit). It will be interesting to see how the retro gameplay is received by younger gamers who haven't played the original, and whether this kind of nostalgia will affect the way that future, new franchises are designed.

On a side note, the game looks pretty awesome and brings me back to my childhood, but I will personally miss the survival horror style of Doom 3.

We all agree on the necessity of compromise. We just can't agree on when it's necessary to compromise. -- Larry Wall