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Comment: Re:Beyond what humans can do (Score 1) 490

by swillden (#47770815) Attached to: Climate Damage 'Irreversible' According Leaked Climate Report

Global warming exists. Anyone who denies that is also a moron. But it's certainly not manmade.

I don't get the focus on whether or not the warming is anthropogenic. Should we ignore all problems that we didn't make?

Supposing that the warming isn't primarily anthropogenic, there's still plenty of reason to believe that the greenhouse gases we're adding are making it worse, and in fact we can even make some reasonable estimates of how much worse they're making it.

At the end of the day, you'd really better hope that you're wrong about our ability to modify the climate. Because the current climate of Earth is not typical. In fact, there isn't really a "typical" climate for the planet. Ice core histories show us that it swings between much hotter than it is, and much, much colder (by "colder", think "equatorial oceans frozen 30 feet deep for millenia"). Both extremes will be unpleasant for us, and I say "will", not "would", because it's gonna happen. When? We have no idea. We know that climate changes can happen very rapidly (couple of decades), even without an obvious precipitating event (big meteor, supervolcano eruption, etc.), and that they come at apparently-random intervals.

So if we want this planet to be nice for us long-term, we'd better learn to engineer our climate. Or get even better at adapting our local environment. Or both.

Comment: Re:Damage or Change? (Score 1) 490

by swillden (#47770731) Attached to: Climate Damage 'Irreversible' According Leaked Climate Report

Climate has always changed, the concept of "Damage" is only relevant to those affected by it.

You mean, the same way as asteroids of various sizes have impacted into the Earth throughout the history of the planet, and "Damage" is only relevant to those affected by it?

Yes, I agree.

Yep. In the long run, the climate will change no matter what we do... unless we learn to actively manage it. Similarly, we will get hit by a catastrophically-destructive meteor, unless we develop the technology need to identify and deflect dangerous asteroids. It's worth noting that while without our intervention the climate may stay as it is for thousands of years, it may also change in decades. The ice core records tell us that the planet is capable of warming or cooling as much as 7C in as little as 20-30 years, even without any obvious catastrophic event, and even faster given a supervolcano eruption, or a big meteor. It WILL happen.

IMO, while it certainly makes sense to take reasonable steps to limit greenhouse gas production, we really need to focus on investing heavily in climate research, with an eventual goal of learning not only to understand but to manage our planet's climate. Actually, we should also invest a little in more strategies to cope with unpleasant climate. I say "more" strategies, because we already have a lot of them. The regions of Earth in which humans can survive comfortably without technological assistance are really small. The "natural" human carrying capacity of most of the places people live is basically zero, but we're very good at modifying our environment to adapt it to our needs. When the planet warms substantially, no doubt we'll have to apply more of those skills, so we should be thinking about which ones and how to improve our capabilities.

Comment: Re:And this is how we get to the more concrete har (Score 1) 518

by swillden (#47770487) Attached to: Limiting the Teaching of the Scientific Process In Ohio

I really appreciate the scientific method and I agree it's a major milestone but it's not our most important discovery, that would be rule of law. Without rule of law there can be no civilization and without civilization there wouldn't be much science going on.

I'd argue that the rule of law is a result of applying the scientific method to social structure and governance.

The scientific method really consists of making conjectures and analyzing them critically. Some of the criticism comes from experimentation and analysis, but most conjectures never reach that point because simple thought can identify reasons they should be discarded. This process is closely related to (but vastly more powerful than) the mutation and selection process of evolution. At bottom, both are about creating and testing ideas, and selecting the ones that are objectively better (for the relevant definition of "better"). The scientific method does the selection through a tradition of criticism, natural evolution does it via replication (favoring the gene that replicates itself better).

How does this apply to the rule of law? Three ways. First of all, applying the same principle of progress to social structure, trying new methods and keeping those which work well while discarding those which don't, will lead to rule of law because it clearly is a superior social structure "technology". Second, without the rule of law, you really can't apply the scientific method to social structures, because there is no defined structure beyond the whim of the ruler(s). You have to fix the rules firmly so you can see what the outcomes are, and you can observe how to vary them. So any attempt to apply scientific reasoning to governance demands rule of law.

Third, and most important, the tradition of criticism inherent in and necessary to scientific progress inevitably leads people to criticize their government and to demand, among other things, the ability to understand the rules by which they're governed. I don't believe it's possible for any society with a significant number of scientific thinkers with any sort of influence to remain governed by fiat.

I think history bolsters my argument, too, simply based on the sequence of events. The Enlightenment was all about scientific reasoning and learning how to apply it to nearly all areas of human endeavor, not just science, and the Enlightenment came before the spread of the rule of law, not after.

Oh, actually I think there's a fourth reason scientific thinking creates the rule of law. It's even deeper, and is probably the truly fundamental reason, though it's a harder argument to make. That is that moral values are scientifically determined (even if we don't realize it), and the rule of law is morally right. It would take me a few pages to detail how and why I think that moral rightness is a real, determinable thing, derivable from the laws of nature, and not merely an artifact of culture, so I won't bother. Note that I'm not arguing that correct morality is easy to derive. It's not, any more than it was easy to derive General Relativity by conjecturing about observations of reality. But it can be derived, and in the same method: by conjecturing moral positions and then criticizing them, both logically and experimentally, discarding positions that lead to undesirable outcomes.

Comment: Re:The death of leniency (Score 1) 601

by swillden (#47769257) Attached to: U.S. Senator: All Cops Should Wear Cameras

That's a problem. But it's a smaller problem than the one we live with now, which is that there are so many obscure laws that if anyone in a position of authority has it in for you they can find something to nail you for. The rule of law matters.

And just-world-hypothesis believing assholes just go on without thinking they must've deserved it.

What an idiot. You kan't reed.

Comment: Re:Federal vs. local decision (Re:I like...) (Score 4, Insightful) 601

by swillden (#47768263) Attached to: U.S. Senator: All Cops Should Wear Cameras

The federal government has acted as a check on the tyranny of state governments

Utter red herring.

The tyrannies to which you refer were fought by amending the federal constitution and enacting appropriate federal laws to curb the abuses. That's a Good Thing, both the process and the outcome. But it has nothing to do with mi's point. The things the federal government manipulates through funding are things that it has no authority to control, and for which there is no national political will sufficient to give the government that control. Hence this back door method.

If cop cameras are sufficiently important that the federal government should mandate them, then Congress should pass a law mandating them. If the courts knock the law down as unconstitutional (as they would), then we should amend the constitution to give the federal government the authority required. This sneaky backdoor manipulation of state policy via federal funding, though... it's a tool that has no essential limits and no constitutional controls. It's a bad idea, and we should stop it.

Comment: Re:Urgh (Score 2) 522

Marxism is probably preferable to the feudal society these guys are promoting.

That's an interesting comparison. Ignoring the question of whether "these guys" are promoting feudalism, I find it interesting to think about which actually is better, Marxism or feudalism, as an economic system.

From an ideological perspective, Marxism is better, in theory at least, because placing all ownership of property in the hands of a few lords is blatantly unfair. From a practical perspective, though, I'm not sure there's a difference, because every attempt to implement Marxism on any scale larger than a small commune ends up putting control of all property in the hands of a few committee members. I don't think there is any real difference between ownership and control that looks just like ownership but isn't.

In both cases, what you have is central planning, normally organized on multiple tiers to address the fact that no one person or committee can understand and manage it all. However, feudal systems tend to create stronger demarcations between the tiers, and very strong separation of control between the fiefs. This allows for the development of a market economy between fiefs, plus whatever internal markets the feudal lords choose to allow. And those who allow greater economic freedom will find their fiefs generating greater wealth, and feudalism is, er, not much constrained by ideological considerations.

I suppose a Marxist nation that organized itself as a collection of small communes who engaged in market transactions between one another could do that as well, but I think the ideology tends to squash that idea, because if communal ownership works at the small scale, why not expand it?

All in all, though neither is a very effective economic structure, I suspect that feudalism would be better than Marxism given comparable levels of technology and education. Marx obviously thought his system would be an improvement, since his whole focus was transitioning from feudalism to the "improved" world of communal ownership. But I think history has proved that he was simply wrong.

Comment: Re:I forced myself to watch it (Score 1) 300

by swillden (#47753859) Attached to: Put A Red Cross PSA In Front Of the ISIS Beheading Video

I know that someone was beheaded. It is clear that this is an horrible and cruel act, that nobody and nobody's family should experience. What information does it add to watch the video? You can convey the relevant information in text.

No, you can't. The fact you think so is the entire problem.

I think so, too, and I don't think it's a problem. Rather than just telling people they're talking out of their ass, why don't you explain what value is gained by watching it? Obviously there's no factual information in the video that can't be expressed in a few sentences of text, so the only think I can suppose is that you're of the opinion that the greater emotional impact of seeing it has value.

What, precisely, is that value? For me, personally, I can't imagine what it would be. I don't think anything could make me more strongly opposed to the act of beheading an innocent journalist. Seeing it would make that opposition more visceral -- perhaps in an almost literal sense -- but it wouldn't increase my opposition. It wouldn't lower my opinion of the terrorists, either, since it's not possible to hold a lower opinion of them than I do.

So what is the value of seeing it?

Comment: Re:Simulations are limited by imagination (Score 1) 172

by swillden (#47742055) Attached to: Google Wants To Test Driverless Cars In a Simulation

While it would be entertaining, I don't think that's a very useful method for evaluating the performance of self-driving cars, unless you're trying to design a car for demolition derby competitions. I understand that your'e trying to design an extreme environment on the theory that if the car can perform well there, it'll definitely do fine on real roads, but I don't think that theory is valid. In real life, the vehicles on the road try not to hit one another, and the method they use (in most countries, at least) isn't hyper-alertness and evasion skills, but rather cooperative rule-following.

We avoid accidents by collaborating on a set of rules, some written and enforced by police officers, most not, that tell us all how the other drivers are going to behave in a given situation. That is the context in which self-driving vehicles need to operate, at least until we eliminate the human drivers from the road -- at that point self-driving vehicles can use their high-speed wireless communication channels to collaborate more directly. Of course, while human drivers are on the road, we (human and machines alike) have to be wary of drivers who don't behave in the expected way, so there is some value in being able to avoid bad or aggressive behavior. But I don't think optimizing for that is likely to be the most effective solution.

The Google team recognizes this and is optimizing for proper cooperative behavior, and even behavior that optimizes for the comfort of passengers, as in the example in the summary.

Comment: Re:Simulations are limited by imagination (Score 4, Interesting) 172

by swillden (#47734021) Attached to: Google Wants To Test Driverless Cars In a Simulation

The problem with simulator testing is that you can't test scenarios that you didn't think of. This is particularly important to find problems arising from multiple simultaneous situations. For example, you might test the scenarios "front camera obscured by rain", "car ahead of you performs emergency stop", and "dog runs into street", but that doesn't necessarily tell you how the car will respond to a combination of the three.

Real life is far more creative than any scenario designer.

Which is why you should do both. A simulation can test millions of permutations -- including arbitrary combinations of events, and in far more variety than could be tested in a reasonable amount of time on real roads -- and can verify that software changes don't introduce regressions. Real-world testing introduces an element of randomness which provides additional insights for the simulation test cases.

Ultimately, governments should probably develop their own simulators which run the autonomous car through a large battery of scenarios, including scenarios which include disabling some of the car's sensors. Then autonomous vehicles from different manufacturers could be validated on a standard test suite before being allowed on the roads, and when real-world incidents occur in which an automated car makes a bad decision, those incidents can and should be replicated in the simulator and all certified vehicles tested. They should also do real-world testing, but I suspect that in the long run simulations will provide much greater confidence.

Comment: Re:Pick a different job. (Score 1) 548

Embrace mediocrity and find another outlet for your creativity.

This is among the worst advice for programmers I've ever read. And it's pointless advice because it's where the majority of programmers already are.

Oh, I certainly agree that clever code is a bad idea, but you should never stop thinking creatively about how to make your code better. Focus it on finding ways to structure your code that are elegantly simple and obvious, on finding the perfect name for that variable, function or class, one that precisely captures the meaning and intent -- and if there is no such perfect name, focus it on finding ways to refactor your code so that there is a perfect name. Programming -- done right -- is an inherently creative task, and the scope for beneficial creativity is vast.

This even applies at the micro level. It's almost always the case that any handful of lines of code that contains branching logic can be structured in several different ways. Take the time and try each of them! See which is most concise, which is most readable, which highlights one aspect of the logic flow or another... and then spend some time deciding which aspect will be most important for the next programmer to read it. Think about how you can write code a little bit differently to eliminate -- and visibly eliminate -- important classes of functional or security bugs.

One of the more important insights I received, after nearly 20 years as a professional programmer, was that comments are evil. Comments are a hack to work around the failure to write code which is sufficiently clear and expressive (note that I'm talking about inline comments, not comments used to generate documentation). When I find myself typing a comment, I step back and look for ways to improve naming, or refactor, until the comment is no longer necessary.

Those are just a few examples, there are many more. Programming, like any art, is a never-ending opportunity for learning and improvement, because perfection is unachievable. Doesn't mean you shouldn't try, though. I can already hear the complaints "But I don't have time for that crap, I have deadlines, and..." that's just another set of constraints to be optimized. When time is tight, I focus on simplifying and making absolutely sure that my code is bug-free and has thorough automated tests, because there isn't any time for extended debugging.

Never, ever settle for mediocrity. One of my proudest days was when another programmer whose skills and code I highly respect called my code the cleanest and clearest he's ever read. I strive to impress my colleagues (and I work with some of the best) with clarity, simplicity and elegance. Sometimes I succeed, mostly I fail... but I always learn in the process. After 25 years, I think I'm learning more every day now than I did when I started. The lessons are more subtle and far less obvious, but I think they're more valuable.

Comment: Re:The Real question then is... (Score 2) 233

Detroit got fat and lazy, and as a result foreign automakers ate their lunch. Japan in particular had cheaper, harder-working workers, coupled with more focus on efficiency and -- eventually, after they built enough capital and experience building cheap crap cars -- design and build quality. Detroit didn't believe they could lose, either the management, or the unions. In order to stay competitive, both would have had to make serious changes... almost certainly including some reductions in labor costs and some labor re-training.

Blinding speed can compensate for a lot of deficiencies. -- David Nichols