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Comment: Comfort with not knowing (Score 1) 114

by dlenmn (#46413223) Attached to: Mathematicians Are Chronically Lost and Confused

I'm a physics graduate student, and while I'm not quite in the same boat as the mathematicians, I'm familiar with the problem. You spend a lot of time trying and failing to figure out what's going on. You have to be comfortable with not knowing things you want to know. I think that's a really useful ability because you don't demand easily digestible answers for everything. Such answers rarely exist, although many people seek them from short articles and soundbites.

It think it also has larger philosophical implications.. Forgive me for bringing up religion, but most (albeit not an overwhelming majority of) physicists do not believe in any higher power. If you're comfortable with not knowing things, then the answers provided by belief in a higher power doesn't provide additional comfort. You have no need for that hypothesis. (I'm not saying that people like religion simply because it provides easily digestible answers -- although religious groups *cough* young earth creationists *cough* certainly go for that. Many religious Jews spend their lives studying and debating the meaning of the bible; it's anything but easily digestible.)

Comment: Many profs only care about... (Score 1) 264

by dlenmn (#46212049) Attached to: Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician's Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation

research. This teaching stuff just gets in their way, so why not just give them an A?

Not all profs do that, of course. I've been a teaching assistant for good and bad profs. However, many bad profs really do operate that way. I think the real solution is to give profs the option not to teach and to hire reasonably-compensated adjuncts instead. They could be professional teachers, whereas professors are professional researchers and, normally, amatuer teachers.

Of course, that would cost money, so don't hold your breath; universities are too busty blowing their money on other things, like revenue-negative sports teams and facilities. (Only a few universities make money from their sports teams, but almost all universities want to make money that way and think that -- if they spend enough -- they will. Don't hold your breath for that either; at most 50% of teams have a winning record...)

Comment: Another problem: unpredictable deflation (Score 2) 332

by dlenmn (#46037023) Attached to: Marc Andreessen On Why Bitcoin Matters (And A Critique)

Even if no bitcoins are lost, there are still problems. Whenever you have a fixed quantity of something, there's a real danger of deflation; if more and more people start using bitcoin, the demand for bitcoins will go up and up, the price of bitcoins will go up and up, and this provides a strong incentive for current bitcoin holders to simply hoard their bitcoins rather than use them -- further reducing supply and jacking up the price. This is all econ 101 stuff.

Deflation isn't a problem per se, as long as the rate of deflation is (roughly) constant. However, there is no guarantee of a constant rate of deflation with bitcoins; I doubt it would happen.

Deflation may sound like a good thing (yay, my money is getting more valuable!), but try holding a debt with non-constant deflation; the value of that debt will unpredictably go up and up... Uncontrolled deflation has problems just like uncontrolled inflation.

Say what you will about the Federal Reserve, but at least in principle, it's nice having someone trying to keep inflation/deflation in check (or at least at a constant rate).

Comment: More than just intent (Score 1) 232

by dlenmn (#45879679) Attached to: "Clinical Trials" For Programming Languages?

Yes, some languages do things better than others, but there's more to languages than that. A good question is how well the language meets its goals.

http://xkcd.com/1306/

Some languages are simply more clean, have a more consistent syntax, etc. then others. For example, both Fortran 77 and 90 are aimed at numerical computation, but 77 has a weird syntax made for punch cards and other oddities; 90 is just better. (Flame on!)

Comment: Don't hold your breath (Score 1) 221

by dlenmn (#45858865) Attached to: NSA Trying To Build Quantum Computer

It's anything but a buzzword; it's a big research area with many academics working on it from all angles. However, you're right that it's nowhere near ready. As of a couple years ago, people had managed to factor 15 using a quantum computer; there are probably better records now, but it's tricky business.

The issue is that it's hard to make things both act quantum (being in controlled superpositions of more than one state) and be connected to other things. For example, atoms floating in a vacuum can act quantum for a long time, but they're hard to couple together. On the other end of the spectrum, superconducting qubits (made like microchips) are easy to couple together, but they don't act quantum for long.

Progress is being made, but it's a slow process. Short of some unforeseen breakthrough, it'll take a while to get a big quantum computer working, even though a lot of smart people are working on it.

Comment: Re:No shit, this has been going on for ages (Score 1) 221

by dlenmn (#45858735) Attached to: NSA Trying To Build Quantum Computer

Errrr...

This research was funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), through Army Research grant...

(I couldn't copy and paste from the pdf, and apparently I can't type either. FWIW, IARPA is the intelligence agencies' equivalent to DARPA, which is probably better known around here.)

Comment: No shit, this has been going on for ages (Score 1) 221

by dlenmn (#45858683) Attached to: NSA Trying To Build Quantum Computer

Government intelligence agencies have been involved in quantum computing research for ages. Just look at the funding agencies listed at the end of a typical research paper:

This research was funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Intelligence Advanced Research (ODNI), Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), through Army Research grant...

http://web.physics.ucsb.edu/~martinisgroup/papers/Wenner2013.pdf

Is it a surprise that they're doing work in house as well?

Hell even, Northrop Grumman (and possibly other big defense contractors) is trying to build quantum computers too, and it's not because they need quantum computers to design airplanes...

Comment: Just use a tower... (Score 1) 234

by dlenmn (#45832145) Attached to: Apple's New Mac Pro Gets High Repairability Score

Do the new Mac Pros have an impressive design? Yes.
Do power users need a tiny machine? No.
Do power users want external thunderbolt devices for everything not crammed into the case? I doubt it; I certainly wouldn't.

The old Mac Pro case (and the G5 case it's based on) are nice designs. The new Mac Pro design is cool, but unnecessary at best. I'd rather have a tower with space for internal drives, PCI Express slots, etc. All Apple had to do was upgrade the damn processor and motherboard in the old Mac Pro, and everything would be fine.

(Granted, I'm no longer an Apple user; I just roll my own desktops and put linux on them. Now, back to Newegg to look at high-end parts I can't really afford...)

Comment: strange effects of partisanship (Score 2) 1010

by dlenmn (#45824467) Attached to: New Study Shows One-Third of Americans Don't Believe In Evolution

It's odd that proponents of the free market (with its "invisible hand") can reject evolution -- suggesting that only intelligent design (or straight up creationism) can explain how life got this way. The market and evolution are both amazing examples of "survival of the fittest"; why not accept the same mechanism/explanation for both?

Comment: TFA's beef is with journal "prestige" (Score 4, Insightful) 106

by dlenmn (#45652115) Attached to: Nobel Winner Schekman Boycotts Journals For 'Branding Tyranny'

IAAPGS

FWIW, while Cell and Nature are both owned by private companies, Science is run by a non-profit (the American Association for the Advancement of Science), and articles in science are made freely available two years after publication.

Having read his manifesto, I don't think his issue with with corporate publishers per se. His issue is with the culture of judging the quality of work by the prestige of the journal it was published in. That allows journals to further exploit the process; they have a large incentive to publish flashy research rather than quality research, because flashy research gets more citations -- thus making the journal more prestigious.

While I agree this is a flawed system, I'm not convinced that open-access journals are the solution; there are already more prestigious open access journals -- like Physical Review X and the New Journal of Physics (both of which are run by non-profits with prestigious, closed-access journals).

To some extent, you need both flash and quality research. I'm sure someone could do quality research on the physics of navel lint trapping, but pretty much no one would care; the research isn't interesting, and it wouldn't be worth the effort to peer review. So, for better or worse, I don't think the flashy factor will or should totally go away, although I agree it should be reduced.

That said, I am a fan of open-access journals, but I need something to publish first. I guess I should get back to research and stop wasting time with Slashdot posts....

Comment: Anybody who doesn't *bother to* know ... (Score 2) 157

by dlenmn (#45643583) Attached to: Google Doodle Remembers Computing Pioneer Grace Hopper

There's nothing wrong with not knowing something important; the sin is not lifting a finger to find the fact out -- e.g. people seemingly incapable of typing a name into wikipedia and reading the first paragraph (and then whining about it in the comments instead in hopes someone will spoon-feed it to them). Those are the people who need to get lost.

Comment: Re:more credit (Score 2, Interesting) 115

by dlenmn (#45621447) Attached to: Supreme Court To Review Software Patents

I should add that this is definitely the best shot we have at dealing with software patents.

It's clear that, because of corporate interests, the legislative branch won't really fix things. (Although it sounds like a few congresscritters have their heads screwed on straight, they're definitely in the minority.)

The executive branch doesn't have the authority to fix things, and it probably wouldn't even if it could. (See the current FFC chair.)

The judicial branch is the least corruptible branch of the federal government; the important judges have life appointments, so they don't have to run for reelection, and they're not total morons either -- unlike many politicians. (Say what you will about lawyers and law school, but graduating from Harvard, Yale, or Columbia law school is a valid not-a-total-moron test.)

Here's to hoping...

Comment: more credit (Score 5, Insightful) 115

by dlenmn (#45621303) Attached to: Supreme Court To Review Software Patents

I'd give them somewhat more credit than that. They definitely made the right call in Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (ruling that genes couldn't be patented), even though they had no knowledge about biology.

The fact that they're willing to hear this case makes me somewhat optimistic; if they truly didn't understand or care about software patents, they wouldn't have gotten involved. The worst they can do is maintain the status quo, which is what would happen if they didn't intervene.

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent. -- Sagan

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