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Comment: Re: Very subjective (Score 1) 378

by dgatwood (#47698807) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Would You Pay For Websites Without Trolls?

Your logic is flawed a bit. You can't use the existence of speech as evidence that speech is not being restrained, because you can't know what things people decided not to post because of the policy.

The reality is that not all people have shame, so some people will be blatantly mean even with a real name policy. These people are mostly trolls. The people whose comments are most likely to go against the grain in an insightful way, by contrast, are mostly the ones who would be afraid to do so under their real names, because they actually have a verbal filter, and by consequence, a personal reputation to uphold.

For example, people who work for companies would be wary of posting anything critical of their employers for fear of reprisal. However, they are also the ones who would have the most insight into what's going on.

Anonymity is the only antidote to tyranny. Anyone who says otherwise is probably a supporter of tyranny.

Comment: Re:No, school should not be year-round. (Score 1) 421

by dgatwood (#47656625) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

Literature and history are great things to study if you want to teach literature or history. And to an extent, they prove that you were smart enough and serious enough about learning to go to college, which might make a difference in getting certain jobs. But otherwise, yeah, they're equivalent to underwater basket weaving. College may not be a trade school, per se, but most people treat it like one. If you don't come out of college with a marketable skill that can net you a job that you otherwise couldn't get, then you spent tens of thousands of dollars solely for the love of learning. A few people might be rich enough to afford that, but not many.

Either way, my core point is that having a college degree doesn't make you a professional. Working in a field that requires a college degree or other formal education makes you a professional. As such, people working in low-end service jobs don't qualify, whether they are doing so by choice, because of the lack of better jobs, or because they lack any marketable skills.

Comment: Re:Not gonna happen (Score 1) 111

by dgatwood (#47653133) Attached to: Injecting Liquid Metal Into Blood Vessels Could Help Kill Tumors

Most metals are not ferromagnetic, and so are not held in place by magnets. I'm pretty sure neither indium nor gallium are ferromagnetic.

Most metals aren't, but the iron in your platelets is. Perhaps through carefully tuned EM fields, a natural clot could be formed in a novel way....

I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the bits of you in contact with the metal could get cooked.

I was reading an article a few years ago about doing precisely that—some kind of metal tending to bioaccumulate in tumors, and taking advantage of that in combination with semi-targeted EM fields to literally burn out the tumor.

Comment: Re:Laziness (Score 1) 150

Lots of times, you see something wrong, and you want to point it out, but by limiting commenting to people with rep, if you don't have rep on that particular board, you are prevented from correcting the error. That means that there's wrong information without any hint that it might be wrong. So the worst-case scenario there is pretty bad.

By contrast, if you remove those limits, the worst-case scenario is that people who don't know what they're doing might say that it is wrong, at which point you'll have to investigate to figure out who is right. And if they're wrong in saying that it is wrong, you (who also probably have no rep) can comment and explain why they're wrong about it being wrong. And if they're right, then you saved yourself a lot of swearing.

So the worst-case scenario is considerably better without those limits (ignoring spam, of course, but that can largely be taken care of by a combination of a proper reporting mechanism, disallowing links by posters without reputation, etc.).

As for whether you can trust people with more rep to know more, for the most part, people who get upmodded more are, in fact, people who do know more. Mind you, there's always the possibility of an echo chamber effect, but that's a possibility no matter what you do. By using a weighted voting scheme, people who have shown more knowledge (and thus are more likely to be correct) can overcome voting of people who haven't (and thus are more likely to be wrong). Statistically speaking, this approach makes sense, at least on the average.

For maximum effectiveness, though, such a scheme should be combined with automatic flagging of any post whose reputation changes too far or too often, for future review by other subject-matter experts.

Comment: Re:Laziness (Score 1) 150

A self-signed certificate is never more secure than a CA-signed cert. Period. The only benefit to self-signed certs is cost. Any other perceived benefits are merely side effects caused by forcing you to do extra security checks to make up for the lack of a CA—checks that you could do anyway, but probably won't.

For example, if you're paranoid about a CA issuing a cert for your organization to someone else, then you might add code in your app to do your own set of checks to decide whether a cert is valid (such as ensuring that a specific cert issued within your organization is part of the chain of trust). You can do such tests on a CA-signed cert just as easily as you can on a self-signed cert. Even if that your policy is to trust only a pre-distributed set of self-signed certs, you can do the same thing by pre-distributing CA-signed certs.

Thus, in the worst-case scenario, the CA-signed cert gives you no less protection than the self-signed cert, and in the best case, it gives you additional protection.

Comment: Re:(Poor) kids get dumber during holidays (Score 1) 421

by dgatwood (#47645369) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

So for some children there may certainly be a benefit to less vacation.

This really points to a need for a less formal summer education program, where parents can send their kids while they work, but where the kids aren't penalized for being gone when the parents decide to go on vacation. Each week be split between two classes for half a day every day with the subjects varying throughout the summer. One week might be "sculpting with clay" and "iambic pentameter unleashed". Another week might be "the science of butterflies" and "math in the real world". We actually had something like that at the university in my home town, though it only ran for a week or two, IIRC. It would be great if there were something like that throughout the entire summer, rather than the mostly non-educational summer programs that are fairly common.

Comment: Re:No, school should not be year-round. (Score 2) 421

by dgatwood (#47645313) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

That's the difference between learning and memorizing. To learn something, you incorporate it into your way of thinking. You might be able to pass the test by rote memorization, but that's not the same thing as truly understanding it.

Unfortunately, schools tend to overemphasize memorizing rather than understanding, which is a big part of the reason why kids forget so much over the summer. As you said, they never really learned it to begin with, at least not in any meaningful sense of the word.

Comment: Re:No, school should not be year-round. (Score 1) 421

by dgatwood (#47645301) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

The key word was "professionals". By definition, a profession is a job that requires specific training or skills. Flipping burgers at McDonald's is not really a profession, per se; it's just a job. That's a subtle, but critical distinction.

Also, there's a college education, and then there's a college education. Just because you can major in underwater basket weaving doesn't mean you have a degree that qualifies you for an actual career. :-)

Comment: Re:No, school should not be year-round. (Score 1) 421

by dgatwood (#47645297) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

Not really. College has a lot of filler, too, and kids have it drilled into their heads that they have to make good grades so they can get into college, and they have to go to college if they want a good job. As a result, about two-thirds of Americans go on to college, not just folks who truly want to learn. And although I've known plenty of high-school students that I consider to be basically adults, I've known orders of magnitude more college students who I don't. :-)

I'm similarly unconvinced of the need for education degrees, and that's coming from someone whose parents are both retired from teaching. It seems like a degree for the purpose of having a degree, rather than because it truly equips you to be a good teacher.

In my opinion, to teach well, you have to know a lot about a subject and be truly excited about sharing that knowledge. At its core, teaching is about finding ways to explain the material that the students can relate to, which means you have to really understand the subject so that when you notice a student who doesn't seem to grasp a concept, you figure out a different way to explain it. You have to constantly adjust your way of presenting material based on the composition of your class, because the explanation that worked well for one class may not work well for the next. One student may learn well through his ears, while another learns better through her eyes. And so on.

And to recognize when the students are struggling, a big part of teaching is finding ways to relate to the students, to get them to care about what you're teaching, and to get them to be open and honest with you when they're struggling, rather than a couple of weeks later when they fail the test. And IMO, the best way to get students to care enough to ask for help is to get them excited about learning the subject, which requires you to be excited about the subject. And the teachers who are most excited about a subject tend to be the ones who have immersed themselves in it.

In short, IMO, the best way to learn how teach is to first learn everything you possibly can about a subject, then actually teach other people about the subject. All else is meaningless.

Today, college teachers are subject-matter experts. High school teachers are often subject-matter experts. The farther you get below that level, the more it becomes a mixed bag. And that's a big part of what's wrong with our education system today. In our quest to retain the basic architecture of the one-room schoolhouse, where a single teacher teaches the kids every subject, we've created a system where the teachers are not subject-matter experts. They teach the things they're told to teach, and they do so by learning what they need to teach. This tends to result in a teaching style where teachers just regurgitate the textbook without adding anything above and beyond it. This style of teaching, of course, is not significantly better than just telling the students to read the textbook.

In an ideal schooling situation, you'd have a separate teacher for each subject, from the very beginning, each of whom was skilled in the subject area. You'd have a music teacher who was an actual musician. You'd have an art teacher who actually knew how to draw. You'd have a history teacher who loved history. And each of those teachers would make the subject exciting, because he or she would eat and breathe that subject. Those teachers would spend most of their college careers learning that subject, with remarkably little time spent on the mechanics of teaching.

After all, if you learn the most from the teachers who have the deepest understanding of a particular subject, then someone who spent most or all of his or her college career learning how to teach is likely to be uniquely qualified to teach pedagogy, and not much else. It's not that there isn't value in learning teaching techniques, but there are only so many hours in a college career, and every hour you spend learning about pedagogy is an hour that you could have spent learning the subject matter that you're actually going to teach, which in the long run, will likely be much more valuable, both to you and to your students.

Comment: Re:No, school should not be year-round. (Score 1) 421

by dgatwood (#47645163) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: Should Schooling Be Year-Round?

Second, I and many of the teachers that I have worked with *really* like the year round schedule. I can't speak for every teacher, and there are certainly a lot of teacher that prefer the traditional schedule, but I find the year round schedule to give me more useful freetime. On the one hand, I can more efficiently plan for shorter periods of time (I can make plans and have a chance of getting to them before I have completely forgotten what I was thinking---late September to mid December is a much easier period of time to plan for than mid August to mid December). On the other hand the year round schedule means that I am off when other people are still in school (and since year round schedules can vary quite a lot, even if everyone were year round, I would still be off at a different time from many people), which means that I can get into tourist attractions (Yosemite or Disneyland or whatever you prefer) without having to fight massive crowds. My experience with working in year round schools has been much better than my experience in traditional schools.

On the flip side of it, those advantages are also disadvantages. I recently left a company where I worked for just shy of 13 years. Despite my best efforts to block my vacations into long blocks, I still found that I could never take a long enough break from work to fully recover from work stress before I was thrown back into things. I find that most people need long breaks—or as you put it, to completely forget what they were thinking—to maintain sanity. Without that, they'll always be running at about 75%.

And the idea of arbitrary vacation schedules that are different from other schools might sound good in principle, but when you start to look at it more carefully, it doesn't work. First, at least in the U.S., pretty much everybody wants to visit family around Thanksgiving and Christmas. This results in a strong tendency to make one of the breaks between grading periods include the period from Christmas through New Year's Day. Once you nail down one vacation, assuming you make all of your grading periods the same length, you basically end up with everybody having roughly the same vacations in spite of your best efforts.

And if you do somehow manage to buck the trend and get a completely different vacation schedule, you now have the problem of your kids wanting to go spend time with other members of your family. "Sorry, kids, but they're not on vacation until next month, and you're back in school by then. You can always go visit after you finish college." Not to mention that families in which both parents teach at different schools might find themselves unable take a vacation at all. It's bad enough having spring break fall at different times. Been there, done that. But not having any common breaks all year? That would just be miserable.

In short, no, year-round education is a terrible idea. I understand the argument for it, but over the long term, the downside in terms of mental health far outweighs any possible benefit from the increased learning. If you really want kids to learn over the summer, IMO, you'll do a lot less harm by handing every student a camera and telling them to take pictures of things while on vacation, then try to figure out what those things are via the Internet, and do a show-and-tell in front of the class when they get back in the fall. This has the advantage of not feeling like homework, while encouraging them to look for opportunities to learn in their everyday lives outside of class. And that, right there, is quite possibly the single most important thing to teach the young people of today.

Comment: Re:I believe solar thermal does benefit from scale (Score 1) 409

And that means you can't bring them anywhere near consumers, since they're basically bombs waiting to go off at the slightest provocation.

So are batteries, gasoline tanks.... Use a lot of small flywheels instead of one big one, and make sure the casing can contain the pieces if the flywheel fails catastrophically.

Comment: Re:And yet (Score 1) 268

At its core, the purpose of government—and by this, I mean any legitimate government, as opposed to tyranny—is to protect the powerless from the powerful. Nation states with organized governments can out-compete other forms of organization precisely because they limit abuse by those with power, allowing those without power to flourish, thus creating a larger market for goods and services.

The reason we have labor laws is not merely that some companies will abuse workers, but rather that any labor contract is inherently not an agreement between equals. With the exception of people who have enough money to retire, the employee will always need the job more than the employer needs that particular person in the job. Therefore, the employee is relatively powerless in any negotiation, and the employer is powerful. Governments regulate those agreements to ensure that companies do not abuse their power to harm individuals who have little choice but to continue working (unless they want to starve).

Labor unions are another approach to balancing employers' power. These groups have many advantages and disadvantages. Their biggest advantage (IMO) is that by pitting the needs of the group as a whole against the employer, they have more leverage to negotiate better terms. Their biggest disadvantage (IMO) is that over time, they tend to become bloated organizations that have trouble representing their members adequately. Either way, to a large degree, labor unions' sole purpose for existing is as a workaround for governments not doing their job properly.

Similarly, the fundamental problem with the argument that free markets are the most moral form of dealing because of a lack of coercion, is that there isn't really a lack of coercion. When you're talking about a local-level free market, there isn't much coercion. You can always go to another store if you don't like the way one store behaves. But when you start looking at companies whose industries have high barriers to entry, such as high tech, infrastructure, and so on, that ceases to be true, because those industries tend to consolidate into monopolies or oligopolies that have much more power than consumers by their very nature. Governments can help restore the balance of power between consumers and those companies in many ways—regulation, socialization, trust busting, and so on. In the absence of action, in such markets, abuse runs rampant.

Comment: Re:Laziness (Score 1) 150

You don't have to understand everything, but you do need to at least understand the basics, like how networking works, how crypto works, etc. at a conceptual level. I feel like too many developers learn how to program by learning JavaScript and other scripting languages on their own, then jump into app programming thinking that it's only one step harder because you can sort of do it in Python/Ruby/other Obj-C bridged languages/other .NET languages, or because Swift looks like JavaScript, or whatever their logic might be. Unfortunately, it's not one step harder if you care about doing it right; it's a hundred steps harder, but the apparent accessibility of app programming tries to hide that fact, resulting in a lot of people getting in way over their heads.

Too many developers then balk when we tell them that they need to read conceptual books, insisting that they just want to learn how to solve their particular problem. The result is that they understand just enough of what they're doing to be dangerous. It's like deciding to build a house and telling someone, "I just want to know how to cut a board and hammer in a nail." You're likely to get a very strange looking house with no right angles. You really need to start with higher-level design and philosophy texts, then work your way down to the practical texts. That's equally true in programming, but the short-attention-span instant-gratification crowd just doesn't get that.

And I understand the desire to just learn how to solve the problem. I've been there, and I've done that, but only in areas where I was reasonably comfortable. Even then, I've often later discovered that snippets that looked right weren't quite right in certain edge cases, but at least this happens fairly infrequently, because I've taken the time to learn what I'm doing. Developers who don't do this aren't just hurting themselves; they're hurting their users. There's just no reason for that.

Comment: Re:Laziness (Score 5, Informative) 150

Code recycling is one thing, but not understanding what that code does when you put it into a production app or not following best practices is another. As Android gains popularity as a platform to develop for, we're going to lose quality as the new folks jumping onto the band wagon don't care how their apps work or look beyond the end goal. This mentality is already popping up with Android Wear developers who cram as much information as they can on the screen and claim that design guidelines are "just recommendations."

The exact same thing happens on every other platform, though perhaps to varying degrees. I refer to it as the Stack Overflow effect. One developer who doesn't know the right way to do something posts a question. Then, a developer who also doesn't know the right way to do it posts how he or she did it. Then ten thousand developers who don't know the right way to do it copy the code without understanding what it does or why it's the wrong way to do it. By the time somebody notices it, signs up for the site, builds up enough reputation points to point out the serious flaw in the code, and actually gets a correction, those developers have moved on, and the bad code is in shipping apps. Those developers, of course, think that they've found the answer, so there's no reason for them to ever revisit the page in question, thus ensuring that the flaw never gets fixed.

Case in point, there's a scary big number of posts from people telling developers how to turn off SSL chain validation so that they can use self-signed certs, and a scary small number of posts reminding developers that they'd better not even think about shipping it without removing that code, and bordering on zero posts explaining how to replace the SSL chain validation with a proper check so that their app will actually be moderately secure with that self-signed cert even if it does ship. The result is that those ten thousand developers end up (statistically) finding the wrong way far more often than the right way.

Of course, it's not entirely fair to blame this problem solely on sites like Stack Overflow for limiting people's ability to comment on other people's answers unless they have a certain amount of reputation (a policy that is, IMO, dangerous as h***), and for treating everybody's upvotes and downvotes equally regardless of the reputation of the voter. A fair amount of blame has to be placed on the companies that create the technology itself. As I told one of my former coworkers, "The advantage of making it easier to write software is that more people write software. The disadvantage of making it easier to write software is that... more people write software." Ease of programming is a two-edged sword, and particularly when you're forced to run other people's software without any sort of actual code review, you'd like it to have been as hard as possible for the developer to write that software, to ensure that only people with a certain level of competence will even make the attempt—sort of a "You must be this tall to ride the ride" bar.

To put it another way, complying with or not complying with design guidelines are the least of app developers' problems. I'd be happy if all the developers just learned not to point the gun at other people's feet and pull the trigger without at least making sure it's not loaded, but for some reason, everybody seems to be hell-bent on removing the safeties that would confuse them in their attempts to do so. Some degree of opaqueness and some lack of documentation have historically been safety checks against complete idiots writing software. Yes, I'm wearing my UNIX curmudgeon hat when I say that, but you have to admit that the easier programming has become, the lower the average quality of code has seemed to be. I know correlation is not causation, but the only plausible alternative is that everyone is trying to make programming easier because the average developer is getting dumber and can't handle the hard stuff, which while possible, is even more cynical than the original assertion and makes me weep for the future.

Either way, there's something really, really wrong at a fundamental level with the way we search for solutions to coding problems. There needs to be an easy way to annotate the fact that a code snippet was derived from a particular forum post, and to automatically receive email notifications (or bug reports) whenever someone flags the snippet on the original forum as being wrong or dangerous. And we as developers need to take the time to learn enough about the OS and the programming environment to ensure that we at least mostly understand what a piece of code does before we ship it in a product.

The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination -- but the combination is locked up in the safe. -- Peter DeVries