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Comment "a lie misquoting some spin" (Score 1) 343

Oh come on, of course failed and failing states breed instability and of course the US is actively destabilizing regions all over the world. Rubio knows that, we all know that unless we don't want to hear it, and the brainwash you quote is just sickening. "[N]o longer legal and has theoretically stopped"? You might not be a liar, but you are certainly naive.

Don't get me wrong, it would be nice if we could still see the world the way you do, but it takes an awful lot of ignoring facts to do so.

Comment My own Marvin Minsky story on neural networks (Score 2) 76

Posted here first this morning (couple of types fixed): https://ma.tt/2016/01/minsky/#...

Wow, sad to hear the news. Marvin Minsky and I were academic peers of a sort -- he was one of George A. Miller's first students, and I was one of George's last students. :-) George told my parents something like I was the student who most reminded him of Marvin Minsky, except whereas he spent George's Air Force money, I spent my father's money. :-) Which was not quite true (I paid for a chunk of Princeton with the proceeds of a video game I wrote and with some loans) but it sounded funny. :-) My dad was actually mostly a blue collar worker, and my mother only later in life worked for county social services, so George may also not have realized my family was not that well off financially.

I met Marvin Minsky once in his MIT office in 1985 as I was graduating from Princeton. I likely gave him a copy of my thesis -- "Why Intelligence: Object, Evolution, Stability, and Model". I also wrote to him once in the 1990s about getting computer time for space habitat simulations (he was responsive in a positive way, but then I met my wife and so just let stuff like that drop). And I saw him in passing about fifteen years ago when he gave a talk at IBM Research while I was a contractor there (he spoke about multiple simultaneous mental representations, and picking from the best one). A nephew of his even lived down the hall from me my senior year at Princeton in 1903 hall, too, but I never talked with him about his uncle. But we never really connected any of those times, sadly.

One of the biggest mistake I've made in my life careerwise (or so it seemed at the time) was when visiting Marvin Minsky in his office to talk to him about the triplestore and semantic network ideas in my thesis (stuff that indirectly helped inspire WordNet which George started as I graduated). I casually mentioned in passing to Marvin Minsky very early on in our meeting something about neural networks (MIT had a spinoff then of the Connection Machine), and I guess that may have put him in one of those mental states where some of the 400 different little computers activate. :-) I had not known then that he had essentially written a book (Perceptrons) to discredit neural networks (by only considering a limited version of them) to preserve funding for more formal semantic networks he worked on. He warned me sternly about how many careers had been destroyed by exploring neural networks. Another of George's students had found a copy of Marvin's original SNARC paper (what Marvin spent George's Air Force grant money on), and I can wish I had thought to take a copy to Marvin, as that might have set a different tone for our meeting, as it turned out Marvin had lost his original and wanted to reference it in his book "the Society of Mind" he was working on then.

So, instead of MIT, I spent a year hanging out in Hans Moravec's and also Red Whittaker's robot labs, and that was interesting in its own way. That experience also set me to thinking about the implications of most of the CMU robotics work being funded by the US military, which ultimately lead to my key insight about the irony of using robots to fight about material scarcity they could otherwise alleviate.

I sent Marvin Minsky an email in 2010, with a subject of "Vitamin D, computing, and abundance", warning about the health risks of vitamin D deficiency for heavy computer users. I also thanked him for his interactions with James P. Hogan, an author whose writings have been very inspiring to me (like Two Faces of Tomorrow and Voyage From Yesteryear), as James acknowledges Marvin in the first as a major source of ideas and inspirations, so some big ideas went from Marvin to James to me at least in that sense. :-) I also thanked him for being such an inspiration in years gone by. I had been reading through all the comments at a Wired article on "DARPA: U.S. Geek Shortage Is National Security Risk" and reflecting on my own career and inspirations, and thought I'd write to him. I told Marvin the biggest thing missed in that article is just that most computer jobs in the USA are not given much room for creative expression these days. And, sadly, much the same is true for academia for reason Dr. Goodstein outlines in his "The Big Crunch" essay (as do many other authors) which I also linked to. When you think about it, even as billions of dollars are being poured into proprietary software every year, and maybe a similar amount into academia, most programmers are kept on very short leashes focused on narrow project outcomes. There are very few projects like Mozilla or Chandler with a broad mandate (and when there are, they are often badly managed). When you think about it, for example, where is the broad support for creating better GUI libraries? Sure you can point to Angular or React as spinoffs of big corporations and they are getting most of the mindshare, but the very limited support for truly creative people like Leo Horie who made Mithril on the side in their spare time is more typical. Likewise, Notch and Minecraft got all the publicity and billions but Infiniminer and Zachary Barth, the source of key Minecraft ideas, get very little returns or support. Even Bill Gates learned by dumpster diving and reading the TOPS-10 OS listings and his MS-DOS was purchased as a ripoff of Kildall's CPM, which IBM may have known about and used Gates to stay at arms length from a suspicious transaction. Sigh.

I have since some to think that, short of improved subsistence via 3D printing and flexible home and agricultural personal robotics, or a radical change to a gift economy, or broad government grants totaling in the hundreds of billions of years to any programmer who asked, about the only thing I can think of that would really fix that situation of limited time for programmers to be creative, that would really give most programmers some financial freedom to innovate, not just a few (like Marvin) who manage (often by technical brilliance of a sort, and so seemingly "deservedly") to work their way up the social/funding hierarchy, would be a "basic income" for everyone. Then any programmer who wanted to could live life a graduate student their entire life (but without grad school restrictions like pleasing an adviser) and turn out free/libre and open source software. And others might choose to do other things with that freedom (have kids, teach, write books, paint, whatever). Most such creative programming projects would fail of course, but we might still see a lot of great innovative socially-useful stuff, where programmers would have the time to really support it.

I included in that email links to my Post-Scarcity Princeton writings. That email to Marvin Minsky was also when I first created my email sig, to, as I said to him, sum up the most important thing I've learned over the past 25 years by following the road less traveled (via CMU). :-) The version then was: "The biggest challenge of the 21st century is technologies of abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity." I changed "thinking" to "still thinking" later to be a bit more optimistic. :-)

It is a sad day for us and his family, but Marvin apparently had one of the most fun careers of anyone I can imagine, so I can't feel too sad for Marvin himself. I am sad though that I said the wrong thing incidentally in his office and so never got to be part of that fun. But a deep question to ask is, how can more people have a fun and creative life like Marvin Minsky had?

Comment Re:Windows isn't as bloated as it used to be. (Score 1) 115

I haven't used the Win10 install much, but just to nitpick:

bloated

...

  1. 2. Excessively or extremely large (...)
  2. 3. (computing, of software) Excessively overloaded with features (...)

  3. ...

In my book, both apply :-P

Without the rollback and backup stuff you mention, the frickin thing is still huge.

Don't get me wrong, but just the other day I was reminiscing with a friend about the times when our PCs ran at 4,77 MHz and how we dreamt of what those machines could do if they ran at 40 or even 400 MHz. Today, those things run at >2 GHz speeds on several cores (!), and most of the times we still wait and wait and wait ... which is the "bloat" I'm talking about. The waiting is in large parts due to -- but not exclusively and not only on Win machines -- modern OS architecture and feature bloat. Why MS is still pushing every last feature to every last machine instead of giving users a way of opting in and out of certain aspects of the OS only a small part of the user base will ever use is beyond me (as are most of their decisions lately). Yet, you have to click through several pages of privacy settings when installing Win10, unless you click "MS knows best, don't bother me with what it collects and phones home". What's wrong with a "Chose the components you wish to install now and add others later" option, so that for example desktop users can skip all the shiny new touch and tablet kinda stuff?!

End rant.

Comment Windows isn't as bloated as it used to be. (Score 4, Informative) 115

You almost got me up to that statement. I did a VM install of Win10 over the weekend; it failed the first time, because I thought that a fixed 16GB for the test partition would do. The dynamic container is at 24.738.004.992 bytes now after the Threshold 2 update. Nothing else was installed - just Win10 + updates.

Give it a try, grab the iso and fire up a VM. No need for a Windows key, you can skip entering it just like the activation.

Threshold 2, which like all updates is not optional, as we all know, took >1 hour on a 4 core system with a decent SSD and ~2,5GB RAM for the VM. I wonder what you'd call a "bloated" OS.

Comment funding policies in automotive intelligence & (Score 1) 276

The below is from me originally from 2001: http://www.pdfernhout.net/on-f...

Although see also this idea from a couple of weeks ago: http://www.pdfernhout.net/pled...
====
Consider again the self-driving cars mentioned earlier which now cruise some streets in small numbers. The software "intelligence" doing the driving was primarily developed by public money given to universities, which generally own the copyrights and patents as the contractors. Obviously there are related scientific publications, but in practice these fail to do justice to the complexity of such systems. The truest physical representation of the knowledge learned by such work is the codebase plus email discussions of it (plus what developers carry in their heads).

We are about to see the emergence of companies licensing that publicly funded software and selling modified versions of such software as proprietary products. There will eventually be hundreds or thousands of paid automotive software engineers working on such software no matter how it is funded, because there will be great value in having such self-driving vehicles given the result of America's horrendous urban planning policies leaving the car as generally the most efficient means of transport in the suburb. The question is, will the results of the work be open for inspection and contribution by the public? Essentially, will those engineers and their employers be "owners" of the software, or will they instead be "stewards" of a larger free and open community development process?

Open source software is typically eventually of much higher quality ( http://www.fsf.org/software/re... ) and reliability because more eyes look over the code for problems and more voices contribute to adding innovative solutions. About 35,000 Americans are killed every year in driving fatalities, and hundreds of thousands more are seriously injured. Should the software that keeps people safe on roads, and which has already been created primarily with public funds, not also be kept under continuous public scrutiny?

Without concerted action, such software will likely be kept proprietary because that will be more profitable sooner to the people who get in early, and will fit into conventional expectations of business as usual. It will likely end up being available for inspection and testing at best to a few government employees under non-disclosure agreements. We are talking about an entire publicly funded infrastructure about to disappear from the public radar screen. There is something deeply wrong here.

And while it is true many planes like the 757 can fly themselves already for most of their journey, and their software is probably mostly proprietary, the software involved in driving is potentially far more complex as it requires visual recognition of cues in a more complex environment full of many more unpredictable agents operating on much faster timescales. Also, automotive intelligence will touch all of our lives on a daily basis, where as aircraft intelligence can be generally avoided in daily life.

Decisions on how this public intellectual property related to automotive intelligence will be handled will affect the health and safety of every American and later everyone in any developed country. Either way, the automotive software engineers and their employers will do well financially (for example, one might still buy a Volvo because their software engineers are better and they do more thorough testing of configurations). But which way will the public be better off:
* totally dependent on proprietary intelligences under the hoods of their cars which they have no way of understanding, or instead
* with ways to verify what those intelligences do, understand how they operate, and make contributions when they can so such automotive intelligences serve humane purposes better?

If, for example, automotive intelligence was developed under some form of copyleft license like the GNU General Public License, then at least car owners or their "software mechanics" would be assured they could have access to the software in source form to ensure safe operation. What might be "street legal" in terms of software modifications might be a different story -- in the same way people can't legally drive with a cracked windshield or a broken headlight. For example, software changes might need to first be proven safe in simulation before being provisionally "street legal". But, the important thing is, foundations or government agencies funding code development could insist on some form of free licensing terms for automotive intelligence as a matter of public policy.

There are many other areas of human activities that the exponential growth of technology will effect. Automotive intelligence is just one of them that is here now and which I am familiar with from tangential interactions at universities with people developing it. In enough time similar issues will arise for the software behind household robotics or intelligent devices that assist the elderly or handicapped. The IBOT wheelchair by Dean Kamen using complex software to balance on two wheels is just the beginning of such devices.

Note the IBOT wheelchair was developed entirely with private funds it seems, so the reasoning in this essay does not apply directly to it. Also, in general Dean Kamen is a role model of a socially responsible for-profit inventor. Still, the issue arises of whether "Johnson & Johnson" should be funding such development, as was the case, as opposed to, say, the "Robert Wood Johnson Foundation", as was not, given the public policy issue of whether individuals should be continually dependent for personal needs on proprietary software. In either case it would be worth it to pay billions for such innovation, and the public will pay that in the end as a toll on for such devices.

There is a real question here of how our society will proceed -- mainly closed or mainly open. It is reflected in everything the non-profit world does -- including the myths it lives by. The choice of myth can be made in part by the funding policies set by foundations and government agencies. The myth that funders may be living by is the scarcity economics myth. How does that myth effect the digital public works funding cycle?

Comment That info is easy to get. (Score 1, Interesting) 76

You can get a great deal of information from the "service tag" on your Dell equipment. Every piece of Dell equipment has one, and you can get the entire service history through the Dell website. This is very useful for service types, both inside and outside Dell. But it sounds like some people are abusing that, and I fear that will cause Dell to shut down or limit access to that service. :-(

Comment Re:You described a Web Page or an App (Score 1) 148

It's so reasonable that the group that defines the EPUB format has updated the format to support HTML5 in EPUB 3.0

Exactly, and there's also the fixed layout ebook format Apple introduced on top of EPUB2 which EPUB3 standardizes. I've done PDF to fixed layout ebook conversions that work like a charm and look exactly like the print / PDF version -- given that your device supports fxl ebooks, of course. There are several pdf2fxl ebook / EPUB3 conversion services and tools. I like this one because it has a free (watermarked) demo so you can check if your project converts well.

Comment An democracy needs confident people & good too (Score 2) 161

On ageism, it's not just whether programmers work, it is the quality of the work and the independence of the workers. Where might that matter? Consider the democratic need for programmers to follow ethical standards about privacy and democracy and openness and user empowerment (in their designs) that much centralized proprietary behind-closed-doors big data CS just ignores.

As I found in academia (for example in the PU CE&OR department in the late 1980s), when half or more of the graduate students in an academic department are foreign nationals being paid by their governments to get degrees, where when going back home without a degree would be a huge disgrace and maybe loss of career, the atmosphere of the place changes. That might explain why dealing with systematic financial risk was not a big topic at the time then.

So, if most programmers are nervous about their jobs with tons of H1Bs and cheap young labor, what effect is that going to have on taking a stand for important issues? And these are not just ethical issues, they are even issues like pushing back on inefficient or brittle designs, or designs users won't like, or whatever. It takes a certain level of confidence to do that (a confidence that includes knowing you can always easily get a job elsewhere, which may be true for a fifty year old civil engineer but is less true for a fifty year old programmer). And I'm not talking the brash confidence of youth or even a willingness for self-sacrifice like Snowden or Manning -- which is a different thing. I'm talking about a well-earned confidence in the context of a supportive community which is the basis of day-to-day successes by a democracy accountable to the needs of citizens.

See also:
"Smile or Die" (which discusses the financial crisis in part resulting from no one being able to point out systemic risks without losing their jobs)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

And:
http://conceptualguerilla.com/...

And even my other post here mentioning John Taylor Gatto who talks about compulsory schools as being designed specifically to shape compliant workers.

My latest folly is based on remembering what computers and our democratic culture were like in the 1970s and 1980s, is to want to help create software that respects a citizen's needs for private data controlled locally and shared peer-to-peer (like via email) instead of a typical web business' needs (like Slack or gmail) to centralize and control other people's data: :-) Here is that project:
https://github.com/pdfernhout/...

I started that with the news that Mozilla, supposedly about internet freedom and privacy and user empowerment, is going to kiss off Thunderbird, meanwhile billions of dollars are poured into the web space to make the opposite of Thunderbird (and some of those dollars are going to Mozilla in a way as a conflict-of-interest). See also my post here:
http://it.slashdot.org/comment...

The USA should be funding thousands of people to work on such FOSS tools. Meanwhile, Thunderbird suffers for lack of a funding model. Volunteers and open source go together well -- but relying on volunteers is problematical when you have literally one gigabyte of legacy C++ and XUL source code that need to track every security issue in Firefox.

If this was really about increasing interest in computers, just give green cards instead of H1Bs, insist on overtime for programmers, require every employee have a window (like in parts of Europe) and do basic stuff like that. It might also help if we reduced the churn in "new" technologies that are often not as good as the old one (still waiting for something a lot better than 1980s Smalltalk, for example). Getting rid of software patents would also be a big help in the USA, as would reducing copyright scope and duration to make building materials more available.
http://www.it.slashdot.org/sto...

Comment Another John Taylor Gatto in the making? :-) (Score 1) 161

See: https://archive.org/details/Th...

And: http://www.newciv.org/whole/sc...

More links on how schooling is not about education, and how schooling is a form of (prison-like) adoption:
http://p2pfoundation.net/John_...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

Check out John Holt, too. That's all a big reason we homeschool/unschool.

More links: http://p2pfoundation.net/backu...

Enjoyed your informative post from the trenches, thanks! Especially your point about teacher incentives. You get what you measure -- so, as you imply, if you incentivize teachers to dumb down kids faster and better, that's what you'll get more of.

Long term, I feel a basic income may be part of the answer:
http://www.pdfernhout.net/towa...

As for what you can do in the short-term, it's tough. If you walk away, your (virtually adopted) kids will suffer. And you'll lose your income in a tough economy.. And one less voice for change in the system will be lost. But it's a painful situation if you care about what you do (although you run a high risk of burnout). Don't know what to advise, but at least you are not alone! :-)

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