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Comment Re:Those who can, program. (Score 2) 86

I apply the scientific method to figuring out how to talk to undocumented "black boxes"

Don't we all :-) But I think that is not so much programming (ie writing program code) as it is intelligent planning before you make you next move.

In mathematics, you can spend a career mentally masturbating over your favorite "hard" problem, and retire after decades with nothing to show for it. In programming, if you work on a problem for five years, you'd damned well better get world-changing results, or find a new job.

Not really - universities do in fact require any scientist to be productive. Results don't have to be of the same order of magnitude as the achievements of Einstein, Gauss, Riemann etc. to be valuable. Lots of scientific research is farily humdrum, predictable stuff, that still has a very useful function. It is largely a myth that being a scientist is some sort of sinecure; and just because the general public can't see the point of it, doesn't mean that it isn't going to be important later.

Comment 'Black Friday' - what's that? (Score 1) 135

I stoppd paying attention to Christmas, Easter, etc - even birthdays - many years ago exactly because of the commercialisation of it. The thought of gorging myself on food and drinks that I don't actually like, in the company of people that I mostly don't care about and wouldn't see at any other time, just doesn't appeal for some reason. Plus, of course, the frenzy to buy gifts that are mostly misplaced and unwanted. (Sorry, did that sound cynical?)

I very pointedly do not buy gifts for birthdays or Christmas; instead I buy useful things for people I want to give something special - my wife and children, mostly - on days throughout the year. My form of protest - childish, you might say, but that's how I stay young ;-)

Comment Re:Look at the bean counters for your answer (Score 1) 166

Well said. Those who preach privatisation as the best way to bring down costs "because private companies are so much better at being efficient", should think about this. I think it's common sense - it certainly stands out clearly in the UK, IMO.

The NHS is the most current example, I suppose - costs are spiralling out of control, mostly for two reasons: having to hire agency staff (ie. outsourcing to the private sector) and not being able to send patients home after treatment, because the councils have no resources ready to take care of them - because they have also been outsourced to the private sector. Even the government - the all Conservative government, the darlings of big business and the priesthood of small government - are admitting that this is the way it is.

Outsourcing is mostly a bad idea, because you replace a workforce that you have yourself vetted, and who have spent years getting to know your products and your company culture intimately, with staff you don't know, who really don't care about your company and your product and who are somewhere far away from where you can reach them and hold them to account. Only idiots would consider doing this sort of thing; but therein lies the problem, of course.

Comment Re:Yeah, that's the problem (Score 1) 135

The problem with this idea though, which is also the same reason we have antibiotic resistance today, is that you have to identify the problem before you can use it.

Well, that is of course one of the many practical problems, but the real, undelying problem is that we, idiotically, allow short-sighted, economic interests take priority over anything else. We have known for decades that overuse of antibiotics will, by necessity, produce bacteria that are resistant. We have also discovered that bacteria exchange useful genes, seemingly across species barriers, much like we use social media. In spite of this, we have allowed, not only over-prescription of antibiotics to human patients, when they are not useful, but we have for decades allowed farmers to use these drugs a growth-enhancers. We act like idiots - we know what we shouldn't do, and we just do it any way. Idiots.

This is also, is I may say so, an example of how free-market ideology can be harmful: it encourages short-term greed and discourages us from thinking about long-term consequences. All in all, it is shameful.

Comment Life, the universe and everything (Score 1) 90

To do this, he begins with a mental leap: Life, he argues, should not be thought of as a chemical event. Instead, it should be thought of as information.

I'm sure we're lacking a 'quantum' or two in that sentence. Why is it that every scientific theory and discovery must be presented as a world-shaking sensation? I'm sure the good professor himself will find this article somewhat alien to his no doubt quite sober work. No scientist worth his salt would state categorically (and in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary) that 'life is not chemical, it's information' - what he probably says is 'Would it be useful to consider life from the point of view of information theory?'; which is something entirely different and much more intelligent. Every model of reality is an abstraction, and the benefit of introducing a new abstraction is that it enables us to apply our understanding in one area to another area. This is in fact what most of mathematics is all about.

And it goes both ways - if we can apply information theory to chemistry, we can also apply ideas from chemistry to information theory, or to anything else that information theory applies to, in principle. Perhaps this can be used to discover that the mechanisms of chemical life also operate in other spheres of reality; subatomic particles, stars and galaxies, who knows? We may be about to find out soon.

Comment Re:How Would That Help? (Score 1) 274

OK, so how about offering some good, constructive and effective ideas to deal with the problem? As far as I can see, with the problems we are facing: terrorism, unsustainable growth, climate change etc - we don't have the option of not making any sacrifices at all. All we have is a choice of which sacrifices, and the time may run out on that as well. ISIS, Boko Haram and other vermin will only multiply, unless we actively stop them, and if we don't find a better way, we will end up with WWIII in some form, no doubt about that. So let's hear your realistic suggestions.

Compaining, ranting and raving are all part of a good debate, I suppose, but at some point, if it doesn't turn into constructive plans, it becomes nothing but whining. I feel we have passed that point some time ago.

Comment Re:Typical Liberal Thinking (Score 1) 109

If tax dollars are limited,

Tax dollars are indeed very limited in UK. Sometimes I wonder if you guys read further than subject line; in UK, we use Pounds for legal tender, our government is formed by the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats are no longer in coalition government with them, and they would probably have been against these short-sighted plans to more or less abandon renewable energy and go for gas instead.

Just out of curiousity - is 'liberal' now the new 'communist' - ie. a word used as a derogatory epithet with no trace of understanding of what the word actually means?

Comment Re:That will go well (Score 1) 129

This is one of those situations where I would have liked to believe in a god - any god - so I could swear with conviction. I mean, will we ever actually learn from the mistakes of our ever more harmful mistakes? Mining on dry land is bad enough, but it is at least to some extent possible to contain the pollution locally, whereas whatever is released into the open ocean ends up being a global problem, and one that is very, very hard to clean up. We can just about contemplate cleaning the polluted soil around a disused mine, but the entire ocean?

And talking about 'diversification of risk' is just a fluffy sounding lie - what you mean is, you'd prefer to reduce the well known, well understood and therefore manageable risk in your backyard in your rich, industrialised country, and let others take the unknown and very likely unmanageable risk near some impoverished, developing nation. I think that is a disgusting attitude.

Comment Re:Need more mature languages (Score 1) 231

Python provides no ... Java is not ... C/C++ is not ...

Programming languages are tools, and all good tools tend to be suited for just a few tasks. If you are going to hang picture on a wall, you'll probably use a hammer and a nail (well, depending on the waill, of course), because that is the simple and efficient way of doing the job. I doubt anybody would ever seriously contemplate making a supertool, that could hammer nails, drill holes, mix cement, lift bricks up to third floor, place roofing tiles etc etc etc, as well as cook your dinner, do the accounting and perform brain surgery.

The sensible thing is to use the simplest tool that will do a given job easily, and then change to another tool for another kind of job. Why would you expect it to be different for computer programming? There is no universal super languange that can do everything you desire, because 1) your desires are yours, and may not align with those of others, 2) it isn't actually worth creating a tool like that, because the existing ones do the job well enough, and 3) the technology and the needs change too fast anyway, so a superlanguage would dated before the specs were finished.

Comment Not religion (Score 1) 518

Hmm, how about commenting on what the guy actually said? But no, it has immediately descended into a stupid dick-waving contest about why Muslims with their Jihad are evil and Christians with their Crusades aren't. This is nothing to do with religion - terrorism is simply a form of organised crime with a thin veneer of 'ideology', 'religion' or 'honour'. There are many parallels with how the Mafia arose and operates.

Now about mr Kimmel's comments - it is of course an amazingly clumsy way to put it, as well as being very uninformed, but he is actually trying to make us think a little bit deeper over the issues, instead of just screaming "Attack". After all, we haven't really had much success with that so far. So how about coming up with some intelligent ideas about what can be done?

We shouldn't naively think that people we regard as evil, see themselves as evil - on the contrary, I strongly suspect that all of them - Hitler, Pol Pot, al Qaeda, ISIS etc - are or were convinced that they are good and stand for a noble cause, and that if they are harsh, it is only because it is necessary. I'm also sure that many, if not all, are fundamentally bullies - and bullies are fundametally cowards; it's just that what they are afraid of is not necessarily what normal people are afraid of.

So how can we act against these bullies - what are they really afraid of, when they clearly aren't afraid of dying? They think they are going straight to Paradise if they go out and get themselves killed in a 'jihad' - so one way of might be to start teaching them that actually, it doesn't quitework that way. God is clever enough to understand that if you strive to get killed, it is no more than suicide with a bit of extra emphasis; dying for God may be right if you do so reluctantly, to protect what is holy, but being eager to die, hiding behind a feeble excuse and compounding it with crimes like murder is never going to be more than a perverse form of suicide. Probably the harshest punishment we can inflict on these people would be to force them to live, having to contemplate the vileness of their crimes - that and castration plus being force-fed pig blood.

There is no doubt that we will wipe ISIS out in terms of military, but we have to look deeper and understand better why there are so many, who turn against normal society. We have to be willing to recognise our own role in creating this situation, not just what the Western powers have done during past imperialism, but also what we allow large corporations to do and perhaps even more importantly, how we treat immigrants, who come to live in our neighborhoods - if we regards them with suspicion and treat them as second class, it is hardly any wonder that they and their children become resentful. And when you have nothing to live for, maybe you can find something to die for? Some thing that can hurt the smug society that didn't let you in? We have to break out of this vicious cycle.

Theory is gray, but the golden tree of life is green. -- Goethe