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Comment: Wasn't this the main point of "Agile"? (Score 1) 264

by hey! (#49142597) Attached to: The Programmers Who Want To Get Rid of Software Estimates

Find a compromise between predicting too much of the future and just managing a project by the seat of your pants; get into a rhythm where you check how good your estimations and learn to get better at them.

Of course you can't develop every project this way; I've used Agile and it's worked for me. I've used waterfall and it's worked for me too. You have to try to be sensible; you can't completely wall of other people's need to know when you'll accomplish certain things, nor can you build a solid plan based on pure speculation. You have to have an intelligent responsible way of dealing with future uncertainty, a plan to cut it down to size.

I've even had the good fortune at one point of winning a $750,000 grant to build a system for which no firm requirements had been established. It was kind of an uphill-flowing waterfall: we knew how long it would take us and how much it would cost but we had no firm idea of what we were supposed to build. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was; but my team was *successful* and built a product which was still be used and supported over a decade after the grant finished.

What's missing from many programming estimates is honesty. It's a matter of ethics; you can't take people's money and say maybe someday you'll deliver something useful to them. People don't have unlimited time and money to accomplish all the things that need to be done in the world. It's an honor being entrusted with people's aspirations, and a serious responsibility. It's hard, even nerve-wracking, but you've got to care enough about the impact of your planning on other people to make the effort to do the very best job you can.

And what I've found is that if you do make the effort you can do a surprisingly good job of estimating a project if it's in an area and with technologies you're reasonably familiar with. If you look closely your specific predictions will often be way off, but if you care enough to be brutally honest the pleasant surprises tend to balance out the unpleasant ones.

Comment: Re:Lawyers rejoice!! (Score 3, Insightful) 114

by hey! (#49113889) Attached to: Lenovo Hit With Lawsuit Over Superfish Adware

The loss of time and effort to figure out whether this is going to cause a problem and then the time and effort to get rid of it.

That loss is obvious not much on a dollar per user basis, but if you add up all those users it's enough to incent Lenovo to do something so scurrilous. That's precisely the situation which class action lawsuits exist to redress, and according to the article that's the kind of lawsuit that has been filed.

Comment: Re:Read the EULA... the lawsuit has no merit. (Score 5, Interesting) 114

by hey! (#49113845) Attached to: Lenovo Hit With Lawsuit Over Superfish Adware

The issue isn't whether EULAs are *potentially* enforceable. The question is whether *this* EULA is enforceable.

In general there is no contract unless their is some kind of exchange of "considerations". Typically the consideration is the privilege of using the copyright holder's software. But, if you can show that users don't want to use this software, and that it is installed for the benefit of a third party, there is no exchange of considerations between the end-user and the copyright holder, and therefore no valid contract.

Comment: Re:Good grief... (Score 1) 669

by hey! (#49113465) Attached to: Bill Nye Disses "Regular" Software Writers' Science Knowledge

CS people are better educated than the average person, but many of them are still surprisingly ignorant about scientific topics.

Including computer science.

I once sat in on an introductory CS lecture in which the associate professor teaching the course was explaining the requirements for lab assignments. First explained that the students were required to write down and turn in specifications and objectives for each program they wrote. I was very pleased and impressed; I thought this was a good habit to encourage.

Next the professor went on to illustrate things that should or should not be in the specifications. "For example," he said, "you should not specify that the program must halt. That's because it's impossible to tell whether any program will halt."

I could have cried.

Comment: Re:disclosure (Score 2) 437

by hey! (#49108455) Attached to: How One Climate-Change Skeptic Has Profited From Corporate Interests

You're raising a red herring issue. It's not that all papers have to disclose their funding: it's that he was required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest, which in this case would have included his funding sources. In essense he committed a mild form of scientific fraud. That doesn't mean he was wrong, it does mean he was deceptive.

That's a pittance.

Which is pretty much what he's worth. He's not an astrophysicist. That doesn't mean he can't publish. Some scientists have illustrious careers without having a degree in their field. Hank Stommel comes to mind. But those guys publish important papers that draw funding from within the field. This guy's career is totally a product of having the "right" position.

That's not true of other climate change skeptical scientists, who manage to have a career without politically motivated patronage. But their work isn't so quotable, because they're tugging at the loose threads of the scientific consensus. Their research doesn't show that the scientific consensus is wrong, because they can't do that in scientific terms -- yet.

If you want to overthrow the scientific consensus it's an uphill battle. It's supposed to be. Otherwise you'd have to give advocates of perpetual motion and creationism equal status, which they haven't earned yet.

Comment: Re:Shallow and ignorant (Score 1) 187

by hey! (#49098817) Attached to: Why Sony Should Ditch Everything But the PlayStation

True, but to the degree Sony ties one product line to another it's clear that Sony itself is trying to yoke those divisions to each other for marketing purposes. And to the degree that's true, Sony would be better off spinning off those divisions.

Why? Because this kind of synergy is the kind of thing that seems to make compelling sense inside the company, but is obviously insane to anyone *outside* the company, especially consumers, who see the strategy for what it is: overly complicated and obviously restrictive.

It's different if you enjoy a monopoly in one area. If you could only buy a game console from Sony, then anyone who's a gamer would consider buying a Sony smartphone to play his games. But if you deduct all the gamers who don't have a Sony console, or who have more than one console, and compare what's left to the size of the smartphone market and Sony's share of *that*, it seems a bit farfetched to beleive that an exclusive yoking of Sony consoles to Sony phones is going to drive significant sales to Sony phones or to Sony consoles.

Comment: Re:My own rapid test... (Score 1) 27

by hey! (#49098691) Attached to: Rapid Test For Ebola Now Available

Here's what I'm guessing: in practical terms the test in question won't tell you any more than your bleeding eyeball test would, if we're talking about people with obvious hemorrhagic fever symptoms who have recently spent time in an Ebola hot zone.

The reason that something like this is needed is that *early* symptoms of Ebola are pretty much identical to influenza or any number of other viral illnesses. So you have someone coming from Liberia with the flu, you give them the quick finger stick test and send them on their way if it's negative. If it's positive you isolate them and perform an expensive, time-consuming "gold-standard" test like PCR or neutralization.

And in case anyone is wondering, using a test like this for screening asymptomatic people coming from Ebola areas would almost certainly be futile. If there's no symptoms yet there won't be enough antigens to trigger an antibody test like this. At present there's no test that will catch recently infected people who aren't showing symptoms. Anyone exposed to Ebola have to monitor themselves for fever for a few weeks.

Comment: Re:Texas is a Republican state (Score 1) 149

by hey! (#49095219) Attached to: Federal Court: Theft of Medical Records Not an 'Imminent Danger' To Victim

There ain't no such thing as a 99% anything state.

The actual breakdown in Texas is 47% Republican to 35% Democrat. This illustrates something I've observed around the country: political control comes from holding consistent marginal advantages over your opposition. While the *politics* of two states may differ dramatically, the *population* of those states aren't likely to be quite that different. There are plenty of liberals in Texas just as there are plenty of conservatives in Massachusetts.

The way this works is that if you have enough of a margin over your opposition to win a string of elections, you accrue the advantages of incumbency and name recognition. This gives you an advantage over your opposition much greater than your numerical advantage, because most people are low-information voters who just go along with what they're familiar with.

I believe that *any* state could potentially be flipped, if you piss off those low information voters enough. And there's nothing like complacency to breed arrogance in a political party.

Comment: To answer your question (Score 1) 576

by hey! (#49087899) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Could We Actually Detect an Alien Invasion From Outer Space?

We almost certainly wouldn't see the alien ships until they were in orbit, particularly if they approached from one of the solar polls rather than in the ecliptic plane (the geometric plane that contains the planets and asteroids).

We can get radar observations from objects as far away as Saturn, *but we have to already know they're there* to observe them with radar astronomy, and they have to be quite large -- 100s of km across. Even as far away as the moon an object would have to be a km across to be caught on radar. So we don't send radar signals willy-nilly into space unless we know the object is already there. The way we detect near-Earth objects like asteroids is optically, looking for "stars" that move across photos taken in succession. But this might not detect the approaching fleet at all, even if it were approaching along the ecliptic; and if it did it's likely that we wouldn't notice for days. The system isn't designed to detect fast spacecraft maneuvering toward Earth; it's designed to detect rocks more or less traveling along with us that wander into our gravity well.

Of course all this depends on your assumptions about the ships. If the ships were as big as the Moon, we'd notice them from a few AU away. If they emitted exhaust plumes that were bright as Jupiter, we might even see them with our naked eyes well before they reached orbit. But if they're only a few km across and not fantastically bright, chances are we wouldn't notice them until they showed up on our orbital debris tracking system. Even then we wouldn't necessarily notice right away. The system isn't a real-time early-warning system. We'd probably still be chasing down the "glitch" in our systems when the first aliens landed.

Now I wanted to answer your question, because it raises and almighty rant in me that I just have to get out: is it too much to ask that writers of "science fiction" have a *little* science knowledge and a more-than-room-temperature IQ? For Pete's sake the energy in life forms (at least Earth ones) is solar radiation converted into chemical bonds. The notion that a spacefaring species would have to transport those chemical bonds across insterstellar distances for its *energy* needs is preposterous. The notion that this would net them any usable energy is nearly as preposterous. Would you send a log into orbit to fire a boiler?

It's not just second string popular sci-fi that has this problem. Both the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies show a complete lack of thinking about the geometry of space. In the last movie the Enterprise is chased across interstellar space only to be stopped 240,000 km from Earth, and they're *right by the Moon*. Yes, 240,000 km is roughly the radius of the Moon's orbit, but the chance you approached from some random direction and happened to end up right by the moon is minuscule, even if you're at the right distance. And then when they lose power they *instantly* fall *straight down* into the Earth's atmosphere.

Yeah, I understand it's the storytelling that counts, but it matters if the scenario is just plain stupid.

You can not win the game, and you are not allowed to stop playing. -- The Third Law Of Thermodynamics