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Comment: Re:Not worth it .. (Score 2) 130

by gb (#46400333) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Automatically Logging Non-Computerized Equipment Use?

This is all true, and in particular, most Universities in my experience (based on a representative sample of directors of research, research support IT types and tame academics like myself at research intensive UK Universities) are incredibly bad at managing the inter-departmental billing. In my institution even for the big-ticket items like electron microscope, the technical support people spend more time chasing down bills than actually supporting users on the kit. Any cost-benefit analysis conducted by people who actually known how a lab works quickly shows the whole thing to be a complete waste of time and money.

Even for catching the idiot users who've broken something it can be difficult to make it pay. So you catch gormless post-doc whose just crashed a microscope stage into a sensitve detector, shorted out the HT and blown several boards in the back of the instrument. What happens - the HR people won't let you recover the costs from the salary (on the grounds that the post-doc would be destitute), the PI whose post-doc it was will refuse to pay because they've not been allowed to factor a charge for gormless post-docs into their grant application. Neither the host department nor the user's department will pay and will dispute liability (on the grounds that your system should have been interlocked against gormless users). You can ban said gormless post-doc from using the instrument again, but that's rather academic as right now nobody can use it all.

In more industrial/manufacturing evironments one can lock down the processes which reduces this sort of mayhem, but in academic research environments that's much harder. If you can keep the userbase small (10 users on any bit of kit) you can jsut about manage to sport the gormless ones before they do damafe, but when you go to larger userbases it just gets to be a hard problem.

Comment: Re:And avoid NSA spying (Score 2) 273

by gb (#46105301) Attached to: UK Government May Switch from MS Office to Open Source

I think you'll find that the UK Government (or GCHQ at least) are responsible for more than their fair share of the spying. There's been pretty much a free flow of traffic between GCHQ and the NSA by all accounts.

I'll stick with the rattling MS's cage to see if some discounts shake loose theory. I very much doubt the cost of retraining and stripping out customised solutions built on top of MS Office will be less than the savings moving to Open Source.

What is more interesting is the Cabinet Office banning (excpet under 'expcetional' circumstances) all IT projects billing more than £100M - in order to stop them being locked into a few big integrators. You never know, perhaps they'll start delivering IT projects that are semi-functional and only a factor two over budget - that would be a real improvement.

Comment: Re:Asimov's three laws do not run out of steam (Score 1) 153

by gb (#45756377) Attached to: How Asimov's Three Laws Ran Out of Steam

\pedantry{In Asimov's fictional universe the three laws were a fundamental consequence of the underlying mathematics of the design of the robot 'brains' rather than simply a result of legislation.} but that doesn't change the fundamental point.

I think it's easy to be too hard on Asimov - one has to remember that in the era in which he concieved the three laws, computer science was still very much in its infancy and the prospect of minaturising computer processing power to the point that a freely mobile device could make autonomour decisions about anything was, well, science fiction. The fact that the laws don't actually work is not surprising at all. The fact that Government agencies (such as EPSRC) and serious academics feels the need to point this out is perhaps more so.

Comment: Re:Layoffs have legal notice requirements (Score 1) 892

by gb (#44579009) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: When Is It OK To Not Give Notice?

And in most juristictions you could sue them for wrongful dismissal - but most places you'd only be able to claim the 2 weeks worth of wages in compensation which is probably not worth the hassle. You might be able to get something for the damage of having been 'fired' on your future prospects, but I suspect that would require relevant case law to get anywhere. Still it's a cheapskate and mean spirited employer who tries it on just to save a couple of weeks of pay bill.

Comment: Re:Movies are real! (Score 4, Insightful) 750

by gb (#43786787) Attached to: House Bill Would Mandate Smart Gun Tech By U.S. Manufacturers

It's the non gun owning liberals who propose this legislation. By definition they know nothing about guns. They never owned one and don't know how they work. This is not flame bait but it truth.

This is trivially not true.

Not owning a gun now does not imply never having owned a gun and neither statements imply not knowing how they work let alone the even more general statement about knowing nothering about guns.

I suspect the number of people who know nothing about guns (at least counting those people who would qualify to vote in most democracies if they were citizens) is very small. If you want to make an argument that those proposing such legislation lack sufficient knwledge of the subject to do so competantly then that's just fine but making wild statements that are trivial to disprove doesn't exactly lend credibility.

Comment: Re:I call BS (Score 1) 168

by gb (#42744023) Attached to: Microsoft Wants Computer Science Taught In UK Primary Schools

100,000 unfilled IT jobs but only 30,500 computer science graduates

Am I to believe the UK has 69,500 unfilled IT positions right now? If that were true, why wouldn't they start importing all the hundreds of thousands of unemployed IT folks in the US?

Am I to also believe that they graduate over 30,000 computer science students each year?

I suspect that's 30500 people who have done a CS degree ever, not just the ones who graduated last year. CS is a small and relatively low status degree in the UK compared to the US, Canada, Germany... Most of the folk working in IT will have non-CS degrees, primarily science, technology, engineering and maths degrees. But the UK doesn't actually graduate enough of them either to fill the demand for science and tech jons one would expect to have when the economy wasn't being trashed. Importing workers is a little tricky right now given the Government has made a big thing about cutting immigration below 100,000 (and yes, that is crazy when you have unfilled high-tech jobs).

Comment: Re:German elections (Score 2) 500

by gb (#41280741) Attached to: Election Tech: In Canada, They Actually Count the Votes

One has to be careful about exit polls. In the 1992 UK general election, an exit poll of 10% of the voters turned out to predict the wrong result by more than could be explained by pure statistical chance. It turned out that a significant proportion of the electorate had "forgotten" which way they voted and said that they'd voted for the other party. It was an interesting evening watching the BBC's swingometer swing past the margin of error as the actualy results came in (being a country with a high population density and a simple voting system means we get the first fully counted official result within about 45 minutes and it's only if there are tight recounts that there are any results going much past breakfast the next day). Needless to say the exit polls now include a weighting factor for "too embarassed to admit who you voted for..."

Comment: But how do you read and write the data ? (Score 1) 109

by gb (#26700359) Attached to: "Magnetic Tornadoes" Could Offer New Data Storage Tech

Ok, so I know that a magnetic disc around 100-200nm in diameter will have a vortex domain structure (actually - I don't magnetic nano-rings tend to form onion states, but we'll leave that one for now). I know I can set the vortex state by hitting it with a high intensity laser circularly polarised laser pulse and apply a small +-z magnetic field to set the in/out state. But reading it needs some fancy focussed magneto-optical kerr effect kit and a lot of patience and re-writing the data is tricky - you have to de-magnetise the nano-disc and start over.

Seems a lot of effort for only a factor two increase and a technology that still requires moving parts to move the data element and read head into alignment.

One of the most overlooked advantages to computers is... If they do foul up, there's no law against whacking them around a little. -- Joe Martin