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Comment Re:You mean Space Coffin (Score 1) 101

Those guys weren't sent for the joy of exploration. They were sent because somebody thought they could turn a profit. Magellan gave the Spanish a new route to Asia; Drake was looking for a way to circumvent Spanish (and Dutch) control of those routes. They were sent to bring back a load of stuff, as well as a route that would enable them to get more stuff cheaper. They had no plans to turn over the details to anybody except their employer.

They had very good reason to think that they had a profitable mission, and while they knew it was dangerous, they did plan to return. It was not a suicide mission.

Comment Re:Those pesky civil rights... (Score 2) 343

New Hampshire and Iowa are not really very representative of the US as a whole. The attention paid to them early on skews their perspectives on things. Sometimes that lets them pick out a dark horse, but more often it just means that they vote their local issues and then fade into obscurity. New Hampshire is right next door to Sanders' home state, and he's more popular there than in the rest of the country.

It's possible that a surprise win in either could help raise his visibility (as it did for Obama in 2008) but the national polling suggests that Sanders will be effectively over come Super Tuesday (March 1). We will, of course, just have to see. The Republican slate this year is so unusual that all of the conventional wisdom has to be treated skeptically.

Comment Re:US banks deserve a spoonful of their own medici (Score 1) 138

What I find odd is that they've issued the chips, but as far as I can tell aren't demanding PINs. I have a couple of chipped cards, and I see no feature allowing me to establish a PIN even if I want to.

I guess that makes it harder to counterfeit the cards, which is nice, but it's still easy for the cards themselves to be stolen, and the numbers alone are still cheerfully accepted by most online merchants (along with the ultra-weak 3-digit code).

Any idea why they're not rolling out PINs at the same time as the chips? Are they planning to?

Comment Re:Hair Restoration and "Snake Oil" Patents (Score 1) 344

In an analogy to the automatic dismissal of cold fusion experimentation that Price notes, for more than a century, the US Patent Office automatically rejected patent applications directed to restoring baldness, because it was "inherently unbelievable" and "involved implausible scientific principles".

Can you give any more details on that? Googling didn't turn up anything by way of confirmation.

Comment Re:So vague is has to be true? (Score 1) 241

You do get to play the CYA card, but only a finite number of times. Eventually, people get tired of it. The threats won't end before you run out of cards, so eventually you've got to figure out how to take a risk. Having demonstrated an abundance of caution will not save you from criticism should one of those attacks finally materialize. Nor, of course, will it save you from the attack.

Which is what counts in the end. I'm not sure that the CYA really saves his job, one way or the other. George W. Bush didn't lose his job despite a whole bunch of claims that he was warned. I, personally, don't consider those claims sufficiently specific to blame Bush for failing to prevent it (and I assure you, I am no fan of his). I think that a superintendent who handles things well in the aftermath (provides appropriate levels of counseling, makes sufficiently brave and consoling statements to the press, puts some kind of action plan into place but avoids accusations of security theater) would be lauded as a hero.

This is all a little vague since I don't know what the "credible" threat is. I am a bit hard pressed to imagine a threat that is specific and detailed enough to be credible but so broad that you have to shut down every school to counter it. I'm willing to extend some benefit of the doubt, at least for the moment, as part of my larger point that sooner or later one of these threats will be genuine and still not cost his job if he mis-reads it.

Comment Re: In Before (Score 1) 292

Climate believes in Americans less strongly than in other countries, I suspect. It's the really poor countries whose margin of error is thin, and who get wiped out entirely. The US suffers losses that aren't clearly distinguishable from ordinary disasters, except perhaps for a slight increase in frequency, and we have the money to cover it. We'll survive, literally. Other places literally won't.

Comment Re:Mother not wanting to admit that she failed (Score 1) 503

Not disagreeing about the quack, but you'd be stunned at just how dimwitted people can be and still make it through medical school. For that matter, the news right now features a prominent and apparently skilled neurosurgeon who is a creationist, and disputes evolution in the most absurd terms.

So I bet it's not too hard to find a quack with an MD who will affirm your self-diagnosis of wi-fi allergy. As they say, you know what they call the person who graduated at the bottom of med school class.

Comment Re:I.e. versus e.g. (Score 3, Insightful) 411

Man, when your journalists are worse at grammar even than scientists, it may be time to turn out the lights. It's not just that they picked the wrong Latin abbreviation. They should never have been trying to insert editorial marks into a quote that was already grammatically complicated.

The original sentence is a bit over-long, but not out of place in a scientific journal. It is much too long for a newspaper article, and adding multiple levels of parentheses to it makes it worse.

I've come to think of science journalists as generally worthless at the science, but I thought they were at least getting grammar lessons in j-school. Apparently the author's degree is in "applied mathematics and economics", according to his bio, but he doesn't seem to have worked as an academic. But his editor should have fixed that and given him some writing homework.

Comment Re:LOL ... (Score 1) 63

As I understand it, random bets should yield about the same outcome. You just get fewer, larger payouts. Either way, the house is taking its piece, and you share the rest with the other players.

Ideally, the stats that matter are matching your knowledge of the race against everybody else's. If you know that this horse does better than people expect, or you know that some horse is a sentimental favorite but isn't likely to perform well, you can beat the other players and walk away with more than your randomly-determined share of the money.

It would be interesting to see how well the bettors actually do. The outcome I described above only works if the odds are mostly equivalent to the true odds. If a lot of bettors are betting badly, it would be easy to beat the market. It's generally hard to beat the stock market, except under narrow circumstances where you really do have better information than most (without ticking over into inside trading). Are horse tracks mostly filled with knowledgeable people, or are they just a bunch of rubes waiting for smart people to take their money? (Besides the house, of course, which always wins.)

Comment Re:I'm not a runner, but... (Score 1) 169

Even without data to back it up, it does seem reasonable that a bike would be dangerous with headphones on. You're sharing the road with cars, and you've moving very fast. There's less room for error, and if you have to ditch, you hit the ground pretty hard.

It's tricky, since there's so much wind noise that it can be hard to hear cars coming anyway. Frankly, I just don't feel all that safe on a bike, and I prefer running. Worse, I find cycling duller than running, since I can't let my mind wander as much; I have to constantly pay attention for anything that might throw off my steering (glass in the road, cracks, objects, etc.). So I often put one headphone in as a compromise, though I'd like to try getting a mount that might let me listen through the external speaker.

Comment Re:Scientists (Score 2) 203

A proof is a proof, regardless how extraordinary, extravagant or hillarious the claim is.

Well... yes and no. Even a mathematical proof isn't just a proof, because humans are involved in creating and checking it. A complex proof requires considerable work, and occasionally even a fairly sturdy result has to be withdrawn and reconsidered. Some examples.

Real-word experiments are never "proofs" in the mathematical sense. Directly, the only thing you can say about an experiment is "this thing yielded this result on this occasion". Everything else is extrapolation, and there are many different ways to extrapolate. The more you want to extrapolate, the the more work you're going to have to do to rule out the alternatives. When you want to extrapolate to something as big as "a new law of physics", you're going to have to rule out a lot of alternatives.

That's what "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs" really means. There are, at this point, a lot of far less extraordinary alternatives to "brand new physics", especially since the effect is such a tiny fraction of the input energy. The clearer you can isolate the effect, the more likely your particular extrapolation is the correct one.

Comment Re:He's absolutely delusional (Score 1) 309

I've been finding this rather disconcerting. He wants to reform a system he doesn't even begin to understand.

That's not to say the system is great; it sucks, and it could use a lot of novel ideas. But I have a hard time believing that useful ideas are going to come from somebody who just plain misunderstands the present state of things. It just doesn't fill me with confidence that the new ideas are anything other than armchair ranting. He sounds little better than the Tea Party: his ideas are less repugnant, but he seems more incensed about the imagined flaws in the system than the real ones.

Comment Re:Here we go again (Score 1) 142

Definitely no argument from me there. While computers can do better than people in that regard, people are worse than they should be, by a lot. Paying attention, and a sense of urgency, would make traffic flow a lot more smoothly. Traffic intersections in particular are valuable commodities: get through it, and expand your following distance (if you have to) on the other side. Just getting a few more cars through on this cycle of the lights will greatly improve total throughput.

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