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Comment: interesting synchronicity (Score 2) 335 335

Just fifteen minutes ago I realized that my script to refactor the primary file server (newly converted to ZFS) into more sensible datasets had an irritating detail wrong (a path element was being duplicated in some paths).

I said to myself "oh, I'll just roll that whole thing back to the snapshot I made 30 minutes ago".

Then I go "zfs list -t snapshot" and discover that my snapshot was holding onto 0 GB because I forgot the -r switch to make the snapshot recursive.

Oh, well. By some impossible-to-separate mixture of good management and good fortune, it turns out I had a set of (different) snapshots from the last two days covering all datasets in questions. I lost very little work (only scripts were executed against these datasets and I still have all the scripts).

My real screw up?

Back in my second co-op workterm job, I managed not to notice that a system I was backing up changed the order of the listed drives between two very similar screen requests that I made almost immediately one after the other. Unfortunately, on the second pass I selected the active system drive as the recipient of the system backup, picking from the position in the menu where the desired destination drive had appeared moments before.

I had become accustomed to my home system being deterministic in the order it listed things. My bad.

This is back at the very beginnings of the 4.77 MHz era, so my PC was actually not yet what we now know as a "PC" (its father had an S-100, and its mother had a itty-bitty CRT).

Thirty years later I still can't type dd of=/dev/ada3 without making three trips to the metaphorical bathroom.

Whenever I type a disk-level dd command, I leave the sudo off, until after the third proof-read and several console consultations in which at least two different programs give me the same view of the drive name.

In dollar costs I couldn't say. In psychic cost, it's indelibly etched onto my permanent record.

I had a co-worker once (EEng) who claimed that as a junior intern during the late 1990s back when laser gear for fiber optics was all the rage, he routinely fried extremely delicate $2000 DUTs while the old hands just shrugged their shoulders. Dotcom dollars. Who really gave a fuck? It was considered barely worse than ruining a nice chair.

Comment: Re:"No idea how... the brain works" (Score 1) 227 227

Pretty much my reaction, too.

Humans have no idea how the human, or any other brain, works, so we can hardly teach a machine how brains work. At best, Google is programming (not teaching) a computer to mimic the conversation of humans under highly constrained circumstances. And the methods used have nothing to do with true cognition.

We don't even know enough to make the assertions quoted above with any confidence. Where's the precise boundary between programming and learning anyway?

The prudent AI researcher takes a rain check to get back to you on that one, and meanwhile doesn't denigrate even the smallest achievements, humbly possessing far too little insight into what sequence of small achievements will ultimately end up advancing the main cause.

Comment: Re:Countries don't have friends. They have interes (Score 1) 213 213

If you think France isn't spying on the US as well then you are naive and haven't read any of your history books. Countries don't have friends, they have interests.

Yeah, and sometimes those interests are best served by making agreements with your G8 next-of-kin and remaining true to your word.

Here's a question for you. How often does your wife bug-sweep your bedroom? People don't have marriages, they have interests within sexual alliances.

Comment: unit loss (Score 1) 31 31

The missing micron is quite a bit funnier if you've just skimmed another recent story submission:

[Philae's] seven months of lost data were completely unnecessary, and resulted solely from the world's nuclear fears.

We don't even need to bring up Tepco, which is just as well since plutonium is a different beast. We are talking plutonium, aren't we?

Mars Climate Orbiter

However, on September 23, 1999, communication with the spacecraft was lost as the spacecraft went into orbital insertion, due to ground-based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbfÃ--s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (NÃ--s) specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed. The spacecraft encountered Mars on a trajectory that brought it too close to the planet, causing it to pass through the upper atmosphere and disintegrate.

No worries. Better theirs than ours.

If News for Nerds still can't handle Unicode in 2015, I think the human race needs to pull in their horns, and stick to long baths and the companionship of bright-yellow rubber duckies.

Comment: new ruler: pivotal moments (Score 4, Interesting) 127 127

I dearly love my old Compaq keyboard, but he's a gap toothed beast ever since the "pivotal" moment where I hooked my fingernail under the exposed edge of my right-hand Windows keys and the key cap went catapulting through the air.

Another "pivotal moment" in my career was when I finally learned how to quickly hack together a user style to eliminate annoying bling on any web page I happen to visit.

I have close to 150 tiny user scripts in my inventory now, and no longer see any "social" buttons on any web site I frequent or any slider animations. As I don't actually use any social networks "share" decorations are just a visual plague so far as I'm concerned.

The worst web sites I've visited come up completely red with a giant profanity across the screen (those that pretend to offer something useful, but the hoops exceed any possible utility one might derive).

Just half an hour ago I coded up this user style:

body a {
      background: yellow;
      pointer-events: none !important;
      cursor: default !important;

This makes all links on all tabs non-clickable, for when I want to select link text using MakeLink to copy into my wiki. It's damn annoying trying to select clickable text. I pretty much always use double-click drag (whole words only) for the main selection gesture. This simply doesn't work on links. Correction. It simply didn't work on links. Of course, I have to turn it on and off manually. I'll work on a button later.

Oh, yes, another pivotal moment was when I took control over USB insertion events to prevent a certain device from auto-mounting every time I put it on the tit to juice up. That initiative required several freakish lines of syntax, but at the end of the day was entirely worth the effort.

Huh. That's funny. There seems to be a pattern here. All my pivotal events, pretty much, are when I finally suppress some irritating pimple-glint love child auto-bling from imposing itself on my happy cocoon.

Comment: BSD enthusiast (Score 1) 558 558

Server: Supermicro mainboard, Xeon 1230v2, 32 GB ECC, 3 * Constellation ES in three-way mirror, SSD system volume, 2 TB NAS drive for /slop pool.

Laptop: Recently purchased and refurbished Thinkpad T500 with PC-BSD, CoreDuo 9400, 8 GB DDR2, 256 GB SSD. Obviously this wasn't purchased for trim waistline, but rather for abuse tolerance.

Upcoming desktop replacement: Supermicro mainboard, Haswell Xeon E5-1620 v3 with quad-channel 16 GB DDR4 ECC (expandable to a boatload more), also planning to run PC-BSD if the laptop experiment pans out.

Existing desktop: Aging CoreDuo with 8 GB DDR2, Sapphire Radeon HD5670, with three heads (all circa 22" at 96 PPI, two in portrait, one in landscape). Presently running an older version of Mint that needed to be upgraded ages ago, but I decided to hold off for a usable PC-BSD instead.

All my PSUs are premium Seasonic, and most of my cases are Antec P280 series. My ZFS server presently has over 2 years of uptime. Almost all of my system boards were purchased behind the technology curve, but with superior inductors, capacitors, and trace thickness.

I really can't remember the last time something resembling an electrical glitch took any of my systems down.

Comment: Re:Why PHP Won (Score 1) 281 281

If there are no large open source PHP projects that have good security, it doesn't give me confidence that I can understand PHP well enough to avoid security vulnerabilities.

Last I checked, MediaWiki was still written in PHP, though Lua is gaining. Though perhaps in your world it's not a large project, just a large deployment.

Part of gaining confidence about your security practices is being good at conjuring up exemplars of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whatever list you file it on, MediaWiki should have been on your "what PHP can really do or not do" list.

Comment: non-notable chair of expelled air (Score 1) 348 348

I take a lot of notes in my own personal wiki. For general knowledge subjects, I often copy a few paragraphs from the Wikipedia lead, and then trim it down to just the bits I care to remember.

There's a few things that I almost always redact from articles concerning people: Day and month of birth. Nobility and rank. (Even FRS.) These blatantly elitist and self-promotional Seminal J. J. Tractatus or Timothy Erasamus Highbrow or Jagadish Q. Deepocket professorships. (I even trim mention of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics.) If I named my toenail clippings, it wouldn't pass notability in Wikipedia. Why then do the names of these blasted chairs pass notability? It's not obvious to me.

I would seriously propose making the display of these ridiculous named professorships a user preference, so that for those of us who choose to unclick the Ivy League Liberace flag, the article just says that Donald Merlin is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, or something plain-spoken and useful of that general nature.

Those who actually work at a university and don't wish to make a career-limiting faux pas by not knowing this vital data or who harbour strange dreams of becoming a named chair themselves can leave their Ivy League Liberace flags alone.

(My apologies to Liberace, who never once—so far as I know—actually named the piano bench he perched upon.)

Comment: Re:Link summary wrong (Score 1) 348 348

The insight Smith had that greedy assholes actually produce beneficial outcomes for society.

Not if they can help it. When they can get away with it, they produce terrible outcomes for society. Ironically, it was a lot harder for them to get away with it before everyone started parroting Adam Smith for Dummies as tautological.

Turns out Adam Smith's insight lacked an intriguing quality of meta-robustness. When you feed it back into the system as an assumption, as we started to do beginning with the Reagan–Thatcher–Greenspan–Rand cult, it ceases to remain valid.

I sure hope the lesson for future chairmen and -women of the Fed is "trust, but verify". When you allow greedy assholes to have the run of a giant black box, pretty soon you find yourself underwriting a trillion dollars.

Comment: the non-empirical research dollar (Score 4, Interesting) 364 364

I have a different version of the question.

Has the general public set aside empiricism as a standard against which to judge funding appropriations in the name of fundamental scientific progress?

I say no.

The public has not set aside empiricism as part of the social contract through which public money is directed at research institutions. Once the public understands how tenuous empiricism has become among research physicists, the tiny trickle we already provide will only get smaller.

So here's my message to all the modernist physicists out there ready to bury Karl Popper (there were one or two in this year's Edge question): speculate all you want about the non-falsifiable multiverse, but use the Templeton Foundation to fund your chalk supply, and whisper sweet nothings on bent knees so that they also fund your chalk boards, bean bag chairs, and baloney sandwich cafeteria.

It's not like public research funds have nowhere else to go. Proteomics, as difficult as it is, has not yet broken free of its empirical yoke (the complexity of this field begins with the water molecule, and ramps up from there).

We should start with the auto-immune diseases which ought to be simpler systems—if, in fact, they are indeed auto-immune diseases after all.

There really ought to be an entire chapter in Kahneman's next book devoted to the human psychology quirk through which an otherwise sensible person willingly exchanges ten of twenty free physical parameters for 10^500 fiendishly complex initial conditions and calls it a good deal.

After an instrument has been assembled, extra components will be found on the bench.