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Comment Re:I teach a course somewhat similar (Score 3, Interesting) 234

We spend a lot of time on the trial of Galileo and how we know the Earth goes around the Sun. It's far harder to show than most people think.

I sometimes cite a similar example of Ptolemy. People too often thing the Ptolemaic model is stupid, but really it's very good at predicting the phenomena that people at the time would experience. Ptolemy wasn't stupid. IIRC, he seems to notice that the epicycles line up so that the centers seem to coincide. He even cites the example of being on a boat, watching the shore recede away when really the ship is moving, the way that motion seems relative to the observer, and relates this to the possibility that the earth is moving. He just doesn't have a firm reason to think that the earth is moving.

It's easy now, in hindsight, to see that Newton's model is much better. It especially makes sense once you've had the opportunity to get up onto the moon and some other planets, and you know for a fact that they're made of the same material that Earth is made of. But then, even Newton's model isn't quite right, and a lot of physics these days ultimately come down to, "We don't really understand why things work the way that they do, and some of our rules don't seem to apply the same way at all times and at all levels, but we know enough to do most of the things we're trying to do." On a deep level, we still don't understand how time and space work.

Comment Re:Very sad - but let's get legislation in place N (Score 1) 705

(and we tend not to prosecute when we do, a different problem)

But maybe that's actually the big problem. Like I said, I'm not a lawyer, certainly not one expert in this field, but the general perception that I have (and I think that the public has) is that if I were a CEO, I could order criminally negligent actions by my company, have a paper trail detailing my orders, and still nothing bad would happen to me. My company might get fined, but in my worst-case scenario as CEO, I'd probably walk away with a golden parachute.

From the things I've heard about, I almost feel like... If I dumped poison into someone's drinking well, and they die, I'll get charged with murder or at least manslaughter. If I'm a CEO and I knowingly order people in my company to dump poisons into the ground water, thereby poisoning a bunch of wells and 30 people die, then my company settles for several million dollars and I walk away scot-free.

Now, that might be a problem with enforcement rather than the law on the books. Or it might actually be a problem with perception, with how these kinds of disasters are reported, and that I'm not getting a clear picture. However, somehow, something's wrong here, and it seems like it's important to fix it.

I'd be willing to bet that nobody in the company did anything specifically illegal in handling personal information, but that top management demanded results with low costs, basically excluding security, and the workers did what they could with the resources allocated.

Well whether someone did something "specifically illegal" is very dependent on whether there's a law against it. If I leave a bomb in a school playground, whether that action is "specifically illegal" is a question as to whether there's a law against that, but that shouldn't stop us from asking whether it should be illegal. So part of what we're talking about here is not just whether the people at Ashley Madison have done something currently specifically illegal, but whether they did anything so reckless that it ought to be illegal.

I don't particularly know the answer to that. I don't know all the details about how this leak happened, what the laws are, or what the laws should be. However, I do have a feeling that when something like this happens, there should be a government investigation that determines whether there was some wrongdoing that lead to the leak. And further, if there was wrongdoing by an individual, I don't think they should have some kind of individual punishment.

Comment Re:"Correct" Is Subjective (Score 1) 154

I've had very similar experiences over the years. When you're just responsible for working on one sort of problem, you have a tendency to only recognize what's going on with those problems, and you want to fix those problems in "the best way". Like if you're a programmer, you might want to write very efficient code in the best language using the best tools or framework or whatever, and it makes perfect sense to you. Your manager is simply being stupid and stubborn when they force you to solve those problems in a way that's not "the best way".

But then you become a manager, and there's a big moment when you go, "Ohhhh.... right. That's why we do things that way." You're making decisions not based on whether it's in some absolute sense "the best way", but by balancing a lot of different considerations. The people who work for you may not even be aware of all of those considerations. You have to fit things into the budget. You have limited resources and can only tackle so many things at once, so you have to prioritize. You have to deal with the politics of interfacing with other departments. You have to keep the people on your team happy and productive. You have to sell your ideas to upper management. The work your team is producing may be used by other teams in other departments, and sometimes you have to produce things in a way that seems "sub-optimal" in order to keep it usable by those other teams. Some of the stupid decisions might actually be mandated by your clients/customers.

There may be a lot of other things going on that you won't know about or understand until you need to make those management decisions. I'm not saying there aren't stupid managers out there making stupid, petty decisions. There are plenty of those out there. But sometimes, for some managers, when you think they're being stupid, they're just making the choice that they have to make.

Comment Re:Very sad - but let's get legislation in place N (Score 1) 705

I'm not sure it makes sense to make complicated legislation regulating computer security specifically. It seems to me that this is part of a larger problem.

First let me say that I'm not a lawyer and I don't know the technical ins-and-outs of all of what I'm talking about here. I don't mean to be speaking on a technical level, but just speaking generally on a broad problem. The problem I'm speaking about is this: It seems that people running corporations and working within corporations are no responsible for their actions or negligence. We see this when there are environmental disasters, in financial disasters, and in these kinds of disastrous data leaks. You have some big company acting completely recklessly, causing massive destruction as a result, and nobody gets punished. The worst punishment for these problems is that the company is asked to pay a fine, or sued for some amount of money, but none of the individuals involved in the decision to act recklessly face any personal punishment. Even when the company is guilty of criminal behavior, there is no criminal prosecution of any individual, and the punishment to the company is to pay a relatively small fine.

These sorts of things seem like a serious instance of moral hazard. First, the damages to the offender are monetary and not criminal, i.e. if a company kills several people due to negligence, there's no way to lock the company up for manslaughter, so they fine the company. So already, that's somewhat inappropriate. If I kill several people with my negligence, I'm going to be sentenced to several years of prison for manslaughter. I shouldn't be able to buy my way out of that, no matter how much money I have (although admittedly, it seems that rich people can buy their way out of prison with expensive lawyers). But aside from the possible inappropriateness of punishing crime with financial penalties, there's also the problem that these penalties are inflicted on the company, and not individuals within the company. If I'm the CEO and I make decisions that cause my company to act recklessly, it's unlikely that I'll ever be held responsible for those decisions if they go bad, but I'll be rewarded if they improve the company's bottom line.

The end result is a system that encourages reckless sociopathic behavior from people running businesses. I don't know how you fix it, but I do think it's a problem that warrants legal reform. Maybe the answer is to strip away some of the protections granted to corporations, or maybe the answer is to create new laws holding officers of corporations legally individually responsible for certain kinds of decisions, and requiring that those decisions be documented to show who was responsible. I don't know what's feasible or practical, but it does seem like the current system is unsustainable.

Comment Re:Not ignored (Score 5, Insightful) 380

Yeah, but just look at the responses here. Suggesting that people have different metabolic rates is a weird 3rd rail on the Internet. If you say, "Two people of the same age, weight, height, and sex can have different metabolic rates," you're pretty much inviting a flame war where people accuse you of being fat, and just trying to defend your lazy, overeating habits.

I'm not always sure why people get so angry about it, but my guess is that some of those people must be clinging on really tightly to their superiority over fat people, and saying that their other factors threatens their self-esteem. Like they're thinking, "I'm a total piece of shit, but at least I'm not fat! I'm better than everyone who weighs more than me!" so if you suggest that their low weight might be at least partially due to genetics, it really freaks them out. That's my only guess.

Because otherwise, why get so angry about what's basically settled science? The statement "Some people have a harder time controlling their weight than others," shouldn't be so upsetting.

Comment We need standards, not startups (Score 2) 83

I think if you want encryption to work, what you need is not a clever little article that explains it, nor is it a startup company that stores public keys in a novel way. First, you need standards. Open, free, and universally supported.

For example, if you want to encrypt email, you need a standard way of encrypting email that's supported and endorsed by pretty much everyone-- Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and random IMAP/POP/Webmail providers. You need them all onboard so that you can trust that, if you want send an encrypted email to someone, the recipient will be able to read it in whatever webmail or mail client they're using. This implies that they already have all the necessary software installed, keys generated, and public keys stored in accessible places.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not just talking about encryption algorithms. Saying, "We have a standard, and it's PGP!" doesn't address the issue. Even if you get everyone to agree that PGP is the correct method for encrypting email, you still have a series of problems-- Do they have PGP installed on their computer? Do they have a way to read PGP-encrypted emails on their phone? Do they have a way to read PGP-encrypted emails on their webmail, when they want to check their email from a friend's house? And how are you anticipating that people will manage their keys so that they're secure, backed up, an pretty much impossible to lose?

Someone needs to work out a vision for how this is supposed to work, and then pretty much everyone needs to get onboard. Until this is just built into every email client (including webmail), it's not going to work.

Comment Re:4/5 in favor (Score 0) 751

This isn't health care that we're talking about.

I was using that as an easier example of how paying for a social safety net does not actually result in a net loss, but can instead create a net gain for the economy, potentially benefiting the very people paying for it. When you move from health care to paying for the basic living expenses of the unemployed and working poor, it gets harder for people to wrap their heads around, but it's the same basic principle.

Hell, health care is pretty hard for most people to wrap their heads around.

But what I'm talking about is not this specific program, but in general, how social safety nets work.

Why not? You throw this out there like it's an absolute. Part of living in a free society is that you're in control of your destiny. You either work to succeed, or you don't and fail.

See, this is the kind of dumbass horse shit I was expecting, which lead me to say this probably isn't worth discussing. It's not about "destiny". You say "either work to succeed, or your don't and fail," but you make no mention of those who work and still don't succeed, or those who try to work and can't find work. So here's the problem: what do you do with those people? It's easy enough to say, "Fuck'em. I got mine, and they're not my problem." Even if that's your attitude, it doesn't explain what to do with those people. Do you want them living on the street, dragging on our economy, making life less pleasant for everyone? Should we round them up and kill them? Because this is more or less a closed system. When you say, "fuck'em, I got mine," those people don't just disappear. They still are going to consume resources, but they just won't be productive. So for every person that you say, "It's not my problem" is an opportunity cost to our entire society. If you could instead give them just enough assistance to keep their lives from imploding, they might be productive members of society.

The people that continue to work are making less money because you're taking it from them and giving it to those that opt out of work.

The economy is not a zero sum game. This is what you're little pea brain might never understand unless you decide to think about it, but the economy can actually grow and shrink, and it's possible that taking money from multi-millionaires to keep poor children from starving could possibly, theoretically, eventually, lead to those multi-millionaires being even richer.

I bet that sounds like nonsense to you, but having a healthy, educated, productive workforce for that millionaire's company is important. Having healthy, prosperous customers who can buy his companies services is also important. A smart millionaire, thinking of the long-term instead of just "next quarter's profits" doesn't want to be operating in a society that's going down the tubes.

You're not seeing this from both points of view.

You're not even seeing your own point of view.

Comment Re:4/5 in favor (Score 0) 751

Excuse me, I had trouble reading your post because my eyes were rolling the entire time. It's the same old crap, which leads me to expect that it's probably not worth discussing. But here I go anyway, one last try to see if there's any bit of sense in you:

The issue isn't "whether we're going to lose/spend money on able bodied people." That's not a battle you can fight. What are you going to do, murder the unemployed? Round up all the children living in poor families and abandon them on an island? Anything short of that, and you're stuck with people who are poor and unemployed. Their medical care is going to cost you. Their lack of productivity is going to be a drag on our economy. The question to ask, assuming you're not corrupt, stupid, or dogmatically stuck on an ideology that doesn't work, is this: How do we arrange things to diminish the problems as much as possible.

We have a big complicated system, and it's a bit of a closed system. Everything you do has costs, and there's not a good way to expel the problems. So the issue is, holistically, how do you make this all work as much as possible.

For example, if you provide no medical care for uninsured people, then you still have a negative impact on the economy through loss of productivity due to illness. Plus, if you make people prove they have insurance before treating them, it makes emergency situations complicated-- e.g. some guy falls unconscious in public without ID. He could be rich, he could be poor. Who knows if he has insurance or not. Do you treat him?

So we provide emergency services no matter what, and charge people for them, but poor people go to the emergency room and don't pay. In fact, since they can't get regular medical care, they go to the emergency room for all of their problems, and then don't pay. They wait until their problems are serious, meaning that what might have been cured with a $5 pill several months ago might now require $10k surgery. Yay!

And those costs get passed around to you anyway. Hospitals incur costs on behalf of patients who don't pay, so they pass those costs along to public funding or increased costs for those who can pay. Some poor guy gets $5k in medical care for a serious sinus infection, and it comes out of your taxes and your insurance costs, while $5 worth of antibiotics a few months ago would have fixed the problem. Now his sinuses are all screwed up, and he can't do his job anymore. He's no longer a productive member of society, but his kids still need to eat. That's another drag on our economy.

So do you want to avoid all this mess? You want to lower medical costs? Well then, we need to find a way to allow that poor guy to see a doctor and get that $5 worth of antibiotics. Somehow, I don't know how, and unless it's free or extremely cheap, the guy won't go to see the doctor. He has to take off work, and he's not going to choose to spend $100 to see a doctor for a headache.

So it's not about being benevolent and selfless. It's not about "Oh no, poor rich people are going to spend all of their money supporting poor bums who won't work." It's about making our economy and society work smoothly, so we all make more money and lead safer, happier, more productive lives. Your way of looking at things is all about shooting yourself in the foot in order to be "fair".

Comment Re:4/5 in favor (Score 1) 751

(d) It may encourage more risk taking.

And the kind of risk-taking you're talking about will probably be a good thing. I'm not completely sure that was what you had in mind, but I think it probably would be. People wouldn't get locked in to jobs that they hate and that they're not good at. They could try to innovate, start new businesses, retrain for new careers. Some people would fail, some people would succeed.

It's somewhat similar to our relatively lenient bankruptcy laws: they allow for riskier behavior, but that allows for more innovation.

Comment Re:4/5 in favor (Score 1) 751

Yes, all of the things that contribute to a stable society should be voluntary, because it's evil to force people to do anything. Like the prohibition against murder, the laws against theft and fraud, or the way society makes it difficult to live well without performing any kind of work, taxes are a terrible impingement on our freedom.

Comment Re:4/5 in favor (Score 2) 751

I don't think I believe that. There are a whole lot of people out there who could sit in easy, lower-paying jobs, and still pay rent and put food on the table, who don't do that. People generally want better lives than, "I can manage to not starve to death," and so they get ambitious and try to find better jobs.

So no, I just don't believe that providing a low "minimum income" that allows families to feed their children will suddenly have everyone quitting their jobs to live off of welfare. There will be some, but those will be people who are basically working at jobs now that don't pay enough for anyone to live on, and the fact that people have to work those kinds of jobs is already a problem.

Comment Re:4/5 in favor (Score 5, Insightful) 751

That's a good snarky response, but I actually really hate when these discussions get boiled down to "selfishness". First, because it has a tendency to turn into the same old discussion where one side is moralizing and the other side is presenting some kind of counter-intuitive argument about how "selfishness" is actually a productive impulse. It's boring

But more than that, I think it throws the the discussion off track from the real reasons to do something like this. They are probably looking at a "minimum income" to replace other forms of welfare because they believe it's a better policy. It may be easier and cheaper to administer. It may be more economically efficient. There may be real, practical benefits to a policy like this.

To give a simple sort of example, I'm in favor of providing free vaccines to common illnesses to poor children, even if it means slightly higher taxes for me. There are selfless humanitarian reasons to support that kind of thing, but my motivations are not really all that selfless. I have three very selfish and practical reasons why I support it: (a) If I'm ever poor and have kids, I will want to get vaccines for them even if I can't afford it; (b) Paying for vaccines today is cheaper than paying for the illness tomorrow; and (c) Vaccinating everyone else in society cuts the chances of me or my loved ones becoming sick.

So going back to this plan, I'm in favor of whatever country I live in providing an effective social safety net for a few different reasons. First, I may find myself in a bad position sometime in the future, and I may need that safety net myself. I never have, and I hope I never will, but I possibly could. Beyond that, there are various reasons to think that having a good safety net can be good for society, as well as good for the economy. It removes some of the motivation for hopelessness and crime. If removes some of the hindrance on business to provide those needs for their workers. If it helps get workers back on their feet, enabling them to be productive, then that will help the economy.

I know there's a sort of "common wisdom" that says you need extreme, brutal poverty as a possible consequence in order to motivate people to work, but I just don't really believe that. I don't think that kind of suffering helps anyone. I don't think increasing income inequality and rampant poverty are good for the economy. I know a social safety net costs money, but I would support a good one, funded with my tax money, for some very selfish reasons.

Comment What does this actually mean? (Score 2) 414

But the data show that over the last decade, as businesses have requested more H-1Bs, they also expanded jobs for Americans.

So if this is the "refutation" that H-1B holders replace American workers, I would say this is insufficient proof. It could be that in businesses that are expanding, you see more of both H-1Bs and jobs for Americans, simply because there are more jobs in total.

Like if I'm running a business and I need to hire 2 new programmers for an American office, and I can hire one H-1B worker at a much cheaper price, maybe I hire the H-1B worker and 1 American workers rather than 2 new American workers. In that case, it's true that the H-1B worker is taking a job that would have gone to an American, and also true that as I'm requesting more H-1B, I'm hiring more Americans. Of course, this is a simplified example.

Now I'm not opposed to immigration. I do think there's value in welcoming the best and brightest, even understanding that on a small scale, they'll displace some workers. I'm just not sure what this thing actually proves.

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