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Comment: Re:... I'd be highly insulted if i were religious (Score 1) 531

by jc42 (#49139023) Attached to: Machine Intelligence and Religion

Doesn't the entire premise assume that the religious have reduced their definition of the soul down to something a bit of code could produce?

how the hell would you save something with no persistence beyond death? it'd be like trying to baptize a dog, or a tree.

Nah; a better comparison would be like making a backup dump. Then, if the original hardware (body) dies, you can just configure a new one and restore all its data from the backup.

Maybe that's what a "soul" really is, a backup made continuously in some celestial data vault.

Comment: Re:One thing for sure (Score 5, Interesting) 531

by jc42 (#49138895) Attached to: Machine Intelligence and Religion

AI will believe in the creator. (Or will they?)

Of course they will, since they'll generally know their creator(s) personally, and they'll be in routine communication.

A very real problem for the religious folks is that their purported creator seems to refuse to communicate with his (her?) creations. True, religious people routinely claim to be talking directly to their god, but they can't demonstrate this communication to the rest of us. The result is that many of us just dismiss them as making it all up (probably for profit), and they're not really communicating with any such beings at all. If they are, why can't they show us the evidence?

Any real AIs wouldn't have this problem, since their creators would be out and about, showing off their creations for all the world to see (and also for profit).

Comment: Re:Exception... (Score 4, Informative) 81

by jc42 (#49113507) Attached to: Ancient and Modern People Followed Same Mathematical Rule To Build Cities

And then there's Boston.

Funny, but also maybe relevant. Boston is one of many cities that resulted from the slow expansion and merger of a group of small towns that were essentially separate communities before the days of modern transportation. It has lots of "centers" that used to be separated by forest and farmland, but are now a continuous urban area.

It's not hard to find other cities that developed this way. Other cities grew from a specific original center, usually a port area, and were never a "merger of equals". I wonder if the study distinguished these two major cases, and has anything to say about what (if any) structural differences we might find between them.

Comment: Re: googling on iPad (Score 2) 237

by jc42 (#49103093) Attached to: Ten Lies T-Mobile Told Me About My Data Plan

Be careful that the "better caching" you see isn't actually pre-fetching, where the app downloads several of the next few links in the background so that if you click one, it loads much faster. Problem is, that counts against your data even if you never do click those links.

I've done a number of demos of what a site can do to you with pre-fetching. I make a page that shows viewers a few pictures, but also has "hidden" links that you don't see to other images, videos, etc. There are several ways of including such links without the browser actually showing them, which I won't waste time with here. I also include at least one link that's visible as an ordinarily link pointing to a large file that takes a while to download. After talking a while about other parts of the page, I tell the person to click on that link -- and observe that the content shows instantly, although it's obvious large and should take a while to download. This gets across the concept of pre-loading, and why it's useful. But I can also explain that it means stuff you never looked at may have also been downloaded.

Then I tell them to take a look at the source (perhaps teaching them how to do that), and point out the hidden links. I invite them to imagine what the pre-loading could have "installed" in their browser's cached without their knowledge. For instance, they could now be on their local government's terrorist or drug dealer or religious heretic or kiddie-porn lists because of what was just pre-loaded, and the evidence is sitting in their cache. I invite them to discover just what those links actually pre-loaded. And no, I won't tell them how to do that, any more than an actual hostile web site will.

Sometimes I grin and tell them that if they haven't done anything wrong, they have nothing to hide, right? ;-)

Actually, the hidden links generally point to rather innocent stuff, like tourism photos or wikipedia pages or cute cat videos, but they don't know that unless they figure out how to see the hidden content. The most useful is probably a page that simply explains that I could have linked to anything on the Web, and I'll leave it to their imagination what could be in their cache as a result.

Comment: Re: heres another lie. (Score 2) 237

by jc42 (#49102981) Attached to: Ten Lies T-Mobile Told Me About My Data Plan

The cool devs still do, though, because hardly anyone is making money on the Android markets.

Heh. I have a number of friends (acquaintances, colleagues, etc.) who are giving up on IOS, after numerous cases of their apps rejected by Apple, and then in many cases duplicated a month or two later by an Apple app. This tends to lead to a certain amount of what we might call cynicism about the whole process.

I like to remind them (or tell them, if they haven't read their history) that this has always been the story in "cottage industry". You do the work on your own time, and the employer then decides whether what you did deserves pay (and often keeps the rejects rather than returning them to to the worker). Historically, people working in cottage industries have been rather poor, since the employers control the market and take most of the income for their own coffers. In the modern software industry, the employers also normally claim any "intellectual property" that you develop, which of course includes everything that you create if you're a software developer.

But it's nothing new; it's how "unregulated" industries have always worked. Maybe it'll be fun (in a historian sense) to stick around and see how it all plays out in the long run.

Comment: Re:It's because they don't work... (Score 3, Interesting) 83

by jc42 (#49025681) Attached to: The Uncanny Valley of Voice Recognition

I speak standard BBC English, and I have often been described by people as "the easiest person to understand in the company" in many different companies.

I my experience, the recognition rate appears to be about 2%.

Not surprising; your "BBC English" and our "media English" over here in North America are basically artificial dialects developed by the broadcast industries starting back in the 1940s. They even managed to do some fairly scientific testing, assembling listeners with different native dialects, and counting their mistakes when listening to different proposed pronunciations of various words and phrases. Their intent was to to develop dialects that were easily understood by most of their target audiences, and they did a reasonable job of it.

This doesn't help the computers' voice recognition software very much, though, because few customers speak these "standard" artificial dialects well. The software people aren't working on making the customers understand the computer's speech; they're trying to get the computers to understand untrained humans speaking their native dialects. This requires rather different processing than what the broadcasters were trying to do, and is a much more difficult task for us humans, too. It doesn't help that the computers are often listening to humans who aren't totally awake and sober ...

Comment: Re:I fail to see how it's any worse than other UIs (Score 4, Interesting) 83

by jc42 (#49025535) Attached to: The Uncanny Valley of Voice Recognition

but when I click a button the button is bloody well clicked

Looks like you don't have much experience with cheap touch screens.

Heh. You obviously haven't work with any of the more expensive ones. I have a small collection of different portable gadgets for web testing, and that statement about buttons definitely isn't true for the various Apple tablets or phones. Thus, there's a little "x" icon whose function is to close the tab/window. I've learned to just start tapping it about twice per second, and maybe by the 3rd or 4th or 6th or 10th tap, it'll close.

Of course, the little monster might know very well that I'm tapping it, but wants to see how serious I am about it.

Of course, Apple's gadgets aren't the only ones like this. They're just one of the worst of a bad lot. And often it's a good idea to not tap too fast, because when the window finally closes, it usually gets replaced with another that'll do something totally unexpected when you tap it in that newly-exposed spot.

Comment: "... its practices have changed." (Score 2) 129

by jc42 (#49025163) Attached to: HSBC Banking Leak Shows Tax Avoidance, Dealings With Criminals

Lessee, what might they mean by this? I'm guessing that they set up a committee to review their data-security methods, and have modified them to make it more difficult for the "authorities" to get at the information.

As with political campaigns, when a business uses the word "change" without being specific, you should generally assume that the change will not be to your advantage.

I wonder if any journalist has good information on just what the supposed changes have been. But I wouldn't bet on anything, since it's routine for the PR folks to just make up things that they'd like the journalists to publish.

Comment: Re:What do you expect? (Score 2) 252

by jc42 (#49014637) Attached to: AP Test's Recursion Examples: An Exercise In Awkwardness

Not really. Factorial practically begs for a recursive implementation and it's very simple.

Then there's fibonacci, qsort, etc.

Well, they can be done recursively, but their usual definitions imply the simpler iterative approach. Using them leads to the problem that you often see, not just with young students, but even with experienced "professional" programmers: They learn that recursion is just a complex, obscure way to do iteration.

If you actually want to get across why recursion is important, you really should use examples in which recursion gives a simpler solution than iteration. One of my favorites, partly because people are usually surprised to discover that it's actually best done recursively, is a task that software does a lot: Given a binary number, generate the decimal representation of the number. The natural (iterative) divide by 10 and output the remainder of each step gives the digits in reverse order. This is fine if you're putting the result in a fixed-width field that you know is wide enough, but it's not fine if you're generating ordinary text with just one space before and after the number or if you don't know how many digits the number will have. To generate the number iteratively in the order we usually say or write the digits requires two passes, one to count the digits, and the other to write them. Or you can generate the digits in little-endian order into a large buffer, then use a second iteration through that buffer to output the digits in big-endian order.

But a faster, more elegant way is to write it recursively, with a routine that saves its remainder digit while it passes the quotient to a recursive call of itself. The bottom-level call finds it has a 1-digit number so it doesn't make the recursive call, but simply outputs its digit, and returns to the caller, which writes the 2nd digit, and so on. Students that understand this now know that recursion can sometimes simplify some (but not all) problems.

There are number of other simple problems that are best solved recursively, but this page's margin is to small to hold the list. ;-)

Comment: Re:Yes (Score 4, Insightful) 136

by jc42 (#49011373) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Is There a Web Development Linux Distro?

Any fucking distro you want. Pretty much every distro does this.

Well, yeah, they mostly come with most of the pieces you want. But this doesn't help. I've found that trying to find where all the pieces are hidden/renamed in any given distro and then trying to figure out how they've tweaked the config stuff is far too time consuming. While someone else is beating their head against their keyboard over all the frustrations, I can beat them out by downloading the latest stable version of apache and each other package I want, and installing them from scratch. The packages in the repositories tend to not change their UI much, only when they have a good reason to do so. Also, they know that their users will be installing from scratch, so they concentrate in making this easy (which includes being mostly consistent with earlier releases, and providing forums that tend to have useful answers to questions).

So my advice is to just scrap the servers and associated packages that come with the distro. Uninstall them if you can discover how to do that in a reasonable time, or just disable them. Copy the config files from another machine that's close to what you want. You'll get it up in much less time than you'd waste trying to figure out how the distro has tweaked everything.

Comment: Re:Block Slashdot (Score 1) 176

by jc42 (#49010891) Attached to: Sites Featuring "Terrorism" Or "Child Pornography" To Be Blocked In France

One of my favorite cases was a brief panic at a financial hub when all email communication regarding canola prices and futures was blocked by the spam filter - canola is more often known as 'rapeseed oil' outside of the US and Canada. The name canola'was only introduced in the 1970s, because a number of Canadian executives found it too uncomfortable to describe themselves as 'in the rape industry.'

Yeah, and that's a good example of an English word that has several different origins, from several different old languages, and the pronunciations has evolved to the same string of phonemes over the centuries. One of the species by that name have the scientific name Brassica rapa, which came from Latin. The closely-related Brassica napus looks similar to non-farmers, and has similar seeds, so most of the population doesn't distinguish them.

You hear cognates of "rape" used in various other European languages for these plants, in languages where the term has no sexual connotations. I've spent some time over the years in Finland, where in the summer you see lots of bright yellow fields of "rapsi" and "rypsi", though for some reason it's the latter that's B. rapa. Finnish speakers know both words, but I get the impression that most of them can't reliably tell you which is which. The growers can, of course.

In English from before the 20th century, you'll also find the plural "rapes" used for clusters of grapes, and sometimes of other fruit that forms in clusters, but I don't think that term is used any more.

Anyway, it's common for language change to produce homonyms like that have problems like this. Eventually, new terms are adopted for one or more of the meanings. One of the funnier examples is the two Old English words usually spelled "queen" and "quean". The former had the same meaning as today; "quean" just meant "woman", with both vowels pronounced as a diphthong. Eventually the /ea/ dipthong and the long /ee/ were both reduced to just /i/, so they became homonyms, and one of them had to be dropped.

Comment: Re:Science,much? (Score 1) 33

by jc42 (#49009005) Attached to: Earth's Libration Visualized For the First Time Above the Moon's Far Side

we can only see 50% of it's surface on any given night

So which nights can we see the other side? Oh, never.

Actually, on any night other than the one precisely a lunar month from the given night, you can see some of that other side (the 50% you can't see tonight). That's what libration does -- expose some of that other 50% that you can't see tonight. Not all of it, sure, but some. You can only see 50% on any given night, but you can see 59% over time. Thus, 18% of tonight's "other side" will be "this side" on some other night.

We could get even pickier, and note that the question was about when we (i.e., all humans) can see (some part of) the other side. At any given instance, the moon is visible from close to 50% of the Earth, and from the moon's viewpoint, our planet is 2 degrees wide. So people along the great circle where the moon is on the horizon can all see about 1 degree to the side of someone standing in the middle of that great circle (perhaps on a boat at sea). If you do a bit of calculating, you'll find that, depending on just how far away the moon is at the time, those people on the Earth's limb (from the moon's viewpoint) can together see about 51% of the moon total. It probably helps if you do this at a new moon, of course, though the reflection off the Earth often helps illuminate the rest of the moon at times..

But the libration is the big part of the over-50% of the moon that we can see over time, since it raises the coverage to around 59%.

I'll leave to someone else the calculation of the effect the moon's not-quite-circular orbit has on these calculations. And I'm sure there are some astronomers lurking about that can give us the numbers to 3 or 4 decimal places. ;-)

(Hmmm ... I wonder if we can find that on wikipedia? ...)

Comment: Re:Block Slashdot (Score 1) 176

by jc42 (#49008619) Attached to: Sites Featuring "Terrorism" Or "Child Pornography" To Be Blocked In France

I have just witnessed Slashdot featuring right on the front page and article about *both* terrorism and child pornography!

Burn the witch!

We might also note that this isn't at all hypothetical. One of the routine problems for organizations for victim support is that their work is frequently blocked by keyword-based software. One of the best-documented histories is the online sites for support of breast-cancer victims. They are repeatedly classified as "porn" sites, and blocked by pretty much any software intended to block porn. Similar problems have appeared for sites that support victims of domestic abuse, because the blocking software classifies them as advocates of the abuse, or sado-masochism sites.

To see a (rather funny) extreme case of this problem, google "Scunthorpe problem". Wikipedia has a good page on the topic, including an impressive list of examples. E.g., has your job title ever included the word "specialist"? If so, your resume may get classified as spam (or porn) by many filters, because it contains the string "cialis".

This really is how many (perhaps most) computerized text-classification schemes work (or fail, if you prefer).

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (9) Dammit, little-endian systems *are* more consistent!