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Comment More than five centuries (Score 4, Insightful) 235

Without reading TFA, I have to point out that if Tyson tweeted that the rapper was "five centuries regressed in your reasoning" in order to indicate that five centuries ago people all thought that the earth was flat, then Tyson's statement is ironically also uninformed. There's a common myth that Columbus "discovered" that the earth was round. In fact people had believed that the earth was round for centuries before Columbus, but nobody had ever demonstrated this fact to mainland Europe by means of sailing. I'm not talking about the ancient Greeks, either. Even Dante (13th c.) believed that the earth was round, but he thought that the other side was just filled with empty water--apart from Purgatory, which was on an island there. I believe I've even seen references to the earth being round in Christian writings from the first millennium AD. The past is not so simple as people often paint it. It's not as though people were all stupid before until the glorious age of Enlightenment. Hence the kind of fallacy that causes someone to deny the roundness of the earth today is of an entirely different character and magnitude compared to the innocent ignorance of those who imagined the earth as flat in the past.

Comment Re:Well... (Score 1) 232

Good point--when I spoke about bad movies, I assumed (from my own viewpoint) that what makes a good movie is something more than its commercial viability. But the truth is that many movies that many of us will call "bad" are good from the only viewpoint that typically matters: economics.

Even the typical argument that a good movie is one that will be remembered years later is open to question, even though some common sense correlation can be seen that at face value would corroborate this argument. I'm sure that 100 years from now some movies that I call "bad" will still be remembered for this or that reason. Or, what may even be worse, these "bad" movies will have a lasting influence on the way in which other movies are designed for years to come, precisely because the criterion of judgment is usually not some higher art but simply the box office impact.

While I still maintain that there has to be some better way to judge a movie, I have to admit that a universal criterion of judgment is elusive. This is especially the case because, once we shove all idealism aside, it becomes impossible to yearn nostalgically for some past golden era where films were "good" and filled with rich plots and deep meaning rather than over-the-top effects. Nostalgia in this sense always yearns for a past that never was present. In fact, I believe that even in the day of Greek dramas there were popular dramas that substituted the special effects of the day in lieu of good writing.

Comment Re:Well... (Score 3, Interesting) 232

Good link. He makes a lot of good arguments, especially at the end where he points out that good movies are forgiven for bad effects, which means that what makes a movie good or bad is not really so much the effects but the storytelling. However, there is one important link between the effects and the storytelling today that can be overlooked in this argument. The problem today with effects is not the failure of the artists but often the failure of directors, writers, producers, etc., who specifically insert superfluous effects in order to rely on them in lieu of a decent story. Hence bad or superfluous effects can be an indicator of a bad film, but they themselves do not of themselves make a movie bad. They are mere symptoms of a deeper problem.

(If the reader lost attention during this comment, I guess it was because no superfluous 3D CG objects flew at the camera or exploded in an over-the-top way that adds nothing to the meaning of what I'm saying...)

Comment Re:Well that's cleverer (Score 1) 66

The viability of the "-er" comparative ending in English varies from place to place; in Canada, for example, more "-er" words are acceptable than here in the United States (e.g. "funnier" I believe works in Canada). This is never merely a matter of what is technically correct, however, because our aesthetic aversion to this or that form is already determined beforehand by common practice, such that I feel that "cleverer" is awkward simply because it is not proper in the USA. If I had grown up in Canada, my very aesthetic sense would likely be different.

Comment Re:Claim it isn't the whole story but quotes true? (Score 2) 336

... the primary backlash was not so directed at the town as much as that one had many different people in the town saying really stupid things.

"Many" different people? It's not altogether clear, but from the article it looks like something in the range of 2-3 different people saying stupid things. Now I know that that seems like a lot for a town with only 800 people, but I think we still have little right to judge the entire town based on a handful of morons. The problem is that when people read stories like this, they do not simply conclude that 2-3 people in that town are stupid. Rather, we jump to conclusions about the town and make sweeping statements about rural hicks and ignorant, backwards-minded people (whom we likely will assume belong to the opposite side of the political spectrum as ourselves: if I am a Democrat, these idiots must be Republicans). This is a problem with both the way in which stories are written and the way in which we tend to read them, as we only care about figuring out whom we can look down upon. Getting the full story tends to stand in the way of our self-righteous judgments.

One thing that I found particularly interesting about this, however, is found in this line from the current article:

Lane, the Woodland councilman, said the town has received profanity-laced voice mails and enraged emails from people around the country.

So when we read an article about people saying or doing something that we consider stupid, what is our response? Hopefully most of us just make fun of the place on Slashdot, but it seems that far too many of us turn to making phone calls and emails and filling them with profanities. "They don't like solar power? Those mother#$%^# sons of #%#%#$!" I am not sure how we seem to think that these kinds of messages actually help to educate any of those ignorant solar-power hating villagers, but I wonder whether more than 2-3 people resorted to this kind of political "free speech."

Interestingly, such profanity-laden responses seem to transcend political boundaries and be the one true unifier of Americans on both left and right. Whether the issue appeals to Republicans or Democrats, and whether the people involved accept one ideology or the other, they will still be generously and profusely cursed by their fellow Americans. "One nation, under God, with liberty, and profanity for all..."

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).

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The fancy is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of space and time. -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge