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Comment: Re:What difference now does it make? :) Sunk costs (Score 1) 207

by 93 Escort Wagon (#47420049) Attached to: The Pentagon's $399 Billion Plane To Nowhere

It shouldn't have been built, but for other reasons - the biggest one being the enemy for which they're designed to fight is not who the US military is likely to be dealing with in the future.

What role do these hyper-advanced aircraft have when you're fighting Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or whoever the stone-age-terrorist-du-jour is? We're not going to be fighting China, that's for sure; both they and we are way to inter-dependent.

So sure - the money already spent is sunk cost. But why throw good money after bad?

Comment: Mysterious "Aurora" attack not so mysterious. (Score 1) 47

by Animats (#47417787) Attached to: DHS Mistakenly Releases 840 Pages of Critical Infrastructure Documents

There's nothing mysterious about this. The problem is that if someone gets control of circuit breakers for large rotating equipment, they may be able to disconnect it, let it get out of sync, and reconnect it. This causes huge stresses on motor and generator windings and may damage larger equipment. This is a classic problem in AC electrical systems. A more technical analysis of the Aurora vulnerability is here.

The attack involves taking over control of a power breaker in the transmission system, one that isn't protected by a device that checks for an in-phase condition. Breakers that are intended to be used during synchronization (such as the ones nearest generators) have such protections, but not all breakers do.

Protective relaying in power systems is complicated, because big transient events occur now and then. A lightning strike is a normal event in transmission systems. The system can tolerate many disruptive events, and you don't want to shut everything down and go to full blackout because the fault detection is overly sensitive. A big inductive load joining the grid looks much like an Aurora attack for the first few cycle or two.

There's a problem with someone reprogramming the setpoints on protective relays. This is the classic "let's make it remotely updatable" problem. It's so much easier today to make things remotely updatable than to send someone to adjust a setting. The Aurora attack requires some of this. There's a lot to be said for hard-wired limits that can't be updated remotely, such as "reclosing beyond 20 degrees of phase error is not allowed, no matter what parameters are downloaded."

Comment: Web programming sucks. (Score 1) 495

by Animats (#47417227) Attached to: Normal Humans Effectively Excluded From Developing Software

Ignoring the racist whining, he has a point. Web programming really sucks. Even web design sucks.

HTML started as a straightforward declarative layout language. Remember Dreamweaver? Macromedia's WYSIWYG editor for web pages. It was like using a word processor. You laid out a page, and it generated the page in HTML. It understood HTML, and you could read the page back in and edit it. Very straightforward. You didn't even have to look at the HTML. Back then, Netscape Navigator came with an HTML editor, too.

Then came CSS. DIV with float and clear as a primary formatting tool (a 1D concept and a huge step backwards from 2D tables), Javascript to patch the formatting problems of CSS, absolute positioning, Javascript to manage absolute positioning... The reaction to this mess was to layer "content management systems" on top of HTML, introducing another level of complexity and security holes. (Wordpress template attacks...)

It's as bad, if not worse, on the back end. No need to go into the details.

All this is being dumped on programmers, with the demand for "full-stack developers" who understand all the layers. Cheap full-stack developers. Usually for rather banal web sites.

Not only is this stuff unreasonably hard, it's boring. It's a turn-off for anyone with a life.

Comment: Re:Law Enforcement has been doing this forever. (Score 4, Interesting) 195

If memory serves, the ostensible logic was that civil rights groups were pawns of International Communism(because clearly only sinister foreign influences could have given the negro the crazy idea that certain aspects of American life were less than ideal) and thus a terrifying internal threat. That, and Hoover just didn't feel alive if he wasn't wiretapping somebody.

Comment: Savings? (Score 2) 135

Even in areas where all the cabling is buried(which definitely isn't all of them) how much do you save by putting some fancy and expensive widget within a couple hundred meters of every customer's location? Aside from the joys of managing a zillion touchy network devices out on the poles in all winds and weathers, you'd better hope that there's no secondary market for such gear or people will be harvesting them faster than you can install them...

Comment: Re:I wrote about this in 1996 in BYTE (Score 1) 495

by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (#47415295) Attached to: Normal Humans Effectively Excluded From Developing Software
While I strongly suspect that anyone who thinks that good developers can be made without also being correctly born is either terminally optimistic or a biologist who should quit talking and get his work into wider availability, there is a case to be made for the issue of building tools that allow seriously mediocre not-really-developers to solve the (effectively endless) supply of theoretically uninteresting, but too large to be manually tractable, problems that come up in all kinds of business and other situations. Ideally without setting them loose to produce brutally unmaintainable and incomprehensible messes.

It arguably fails the 'brutally unmaintainable and incomprehensible messes' criterion; but that's basically the function that has allowed either a dubiously sensible pile of Excel hacks, or a shambling Access monstrosity(often several of both) to become a vital part of offices everywhere. They are pretty dreadful; but they allow people with very, very, limited programming knowledge (and essentially zero computer science skill) to bodge through the assorted business-process data schlepping tasks that are too small or mundane to get an actual developer involved with. Not glamorous; but extremely useful and widely used. Even the humble mail merge, commonly treated as an invaluable tool by secretarial workers who explicitly claim to 'not know computers' is valued because it allows somebody without programming knowledge to perform the oh-so-frequently-useful "Iterate through this file and do something sensible with each line" function.

Making more good programmers is hard; but building tools that allow bad programmers to get some of the benefits of programming, ideally with features to keep them from hurting themselves or puking up unmaintainable messes, is a more tractable problem, and a valuable one to solve.

To go with your music analogy, normal humans are effectively excluded from composing and performing music at anything resembling a serious level; but hobby/amateur level musical activity is extremely widespread(and contemporary societies with recorded music and mass media might actually be atypically low, by historical standards, in mass participation in musical culture). Doesn't mean that kiddo's high school rock band doesn't suck, or that kiddo would know 'music theory' if it bit him in the ear; but music-making for recreational and social purposes is very accessible without much specialist knowledge.

Comment: Re:Classic 100 years from now? (Score 3, Insightful) 128

by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (#47414547) Attached to: Dwarf Fortress Gets Biggest Update In Years
In terms of replay value and intricacy, 'computer games' are arguably several largely different things that all just happen to be amenable to running on computers and being sold in software boxes:

The trivial analog to simple games is (of course) those games implemented on a computer. Being the trivial case, this is mostly a wiseass cop-out; but it's worth mentioning because computer implementations have made a substantial difference in what games are considered 'solved' and how strongly. Some games are so simple that children can solve them by hand (tic-tac-toe, most notably, since people do actually play it; but it's simple enough that most players eventually solve it and lose interest); but solving checkers, or the partial solutions for chess and go, are exercises that require ingenuity and cunning; but a lot of brute force.

The slightly less trivial analog is extensions of classic games that would be impossible or impractical to fabricate as board games. Mostly 2d games adapted to 3 or more dimensions(or 3d puzzles, like Rubik's cubes adapted to 4 or more dimensions). These usually have some improvised implementation that doesn't need a computer (multiple chess/checkers boards with rules for pieces moving between them in the extra dimension, that sort of thing); but computers make them easier and less knock-over-and-abandon-in-frustration prone.

Then there are computer games that are really, in terms of playability and intricacy, basically team sports, rather than anything analogous to deterministic games of perfect information like chess, checkers, go, etc. Something like Counter-Strike is replayable much like soccer or football are (ignoring the fact that operating systems and Glide/OpenGL/DirectX tend to break backward compatibility more often than 'grass' does, so a single, specific, implementation may not remain playable in the long term without porting, though games with robust port support are in decent shape). There is strategy and teamwork; along with individual expertise in implementation, so most of the 'churn' in these games is either abandonment of older engines in favor of nicer ones, or iterative tweaking of weapons and balance. Specific 'games' in the sense of 'Program X sold under name Y' tend to come and go; but the overall dynamic is similar to regional variations, changes in equipment, occasional rule tweaks, and the like in traditional sports, except that traditional sports tend to treat variants as all being flavors of A Sport, while the trademark and SKU-focused game market tends to treat each variant as a separate game.

Then there are the 'games' that really shade into choose-your-own-adventure books with pictures, or movies with reflex tests: I enjoy these myself, and they are a perfectly valid form of entertainment; but they are about as dissimilar from classic 'games' as something called a 'game' can be. Single-player FPSes, relatively 'closed world' RPGs, that sort of thing. Hardly identical to a film(in all but the worst excesses of the early days of "Wow, we have a whole CD to fill with shitty, overcompressed FMV!" era), the tests of reflexes, RPG party management, or whatever are genuinely part of the experience; but they aren't terribly replayable because, sooner or later, you run up against the fact that there is only so much manually-generated, written, and voice-acted plot to uncover. Likely good for more than one playthrough, unless brutally linear; but each 'branch' costs so much dev and artist time that there aren't going to be too many of them.

There may also be a category for the games (the Civilization series being the most prominent example that comes to mind) that could have been implemented as board games; but would be near insanity if you had to keep track of teeny plastic wheat counters for every single square. If these are single player, they often wear out their welcome sooner or later because the AI opponents just aren't good enough (whether because there just wasn't anything in the budget for 'hire academic computer scientists to do deep analysis of the game and attempt to solve it', which there isn't, or because the game may not be solvable in any remotely computationally tractable way); but against humans these might qualify as both genuinely somewhat novel, and genuinely replayable and intricate, it will be interesting to see.

'Emergent' games (like DF), may or may not be sufficiently mature; but if they do end up standing the test of time and intricate replayability, that would be the most novel of all, since (unlike games that attempt, with varying levels of success, to make an AI do a human's job) these games tend to give the NPCs fairly limited intelligence; but enough room for the world as a whole to just go nuts in interesting ways. That has not historically been possible in games; but it is also not an imitation (however accurate or inaccurate) of a human opponent or opponents, as with 'Chess-but with someone who's always up for a game!' type computer games.

Comment: Re:Is it still braindeadly single-threaded? (Score 1) 128

by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (#47414121) Attached to: Dwarf Fortress Gets Biggest Update In Years
Why wouldn't it be an explanation? 'Excuse', is a slippery term because it tends to have moral connotations that can lead one into the rather subjective territory of arguing about what somebody does or doesn't have a duty to learn and why; but an 'explanation' is just an account of why something is as it is.

It might be that 'He's an autodidact' isn't the correct explanation in this case; but 'He picked it up on his own, because of his interest, which is why the result shows an idiosyncratic emphasis on what interests him to the exclusion of some accepted best practices.' certainly sounds like a reasonably well formed explanation, whether one finds it excusable or not.

Comment: Re:PeridexisErrant's DF Starter Pack - Get it! (Score 3, Funny) 128

by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (#47413791) Attached to: Dwarf Fortress Gets Biggest Update In Years

And you should spend a few hours reading the wiki. I love the game, but learning to use vi is probably easier.

If you can master vi, you are possibly ready to cope with DF's interface.

At that point you can begin working with the fact that the game mechanics tend fairly strongly toward 'emergent malevolence'.

Comment: Being a quant in the early years. (Score 4, Interesting) 87

by Animats (#47413241) Attached to: The Billionaire Mathematician

His fund has an impressive trading record. He had the big advantage of starting early, in 1982, when almost nobody was doing automated trading or using advanced statistical methods. Their best years were 1982-1999. Now everybody grinds on vast amounts of data, and it's much tougher to find an edge. Performance for the last few years has been very poor, below the S&P 500. That's before fees.

The fees on his funds are insane. 5% of capital each year, and 45% of profits. Most hedge funds charge 2% and 20%, and even that's starting to slip due to competitive pressure.

Simons retired in 2009. You have to know when to quit.

"But this one goes to eleven." -- Nigel Tufnel