Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Slashdot Deals: Deal of the Day - Pay What You Want for the Learn to Code Bundle, includes AngularJS, Python, HTML5, Ruby, and more. ×

Submission + - The Neuroscience of Computer Programming

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Chris Parnin has an interesting read about an international team of scientists lead by Dr. Janet Siegmund using brain imaging with fMRI to understand the programmer's mind and to compare and contrast different cognitive tasks used in programming by analyzing differences in brain locations that are activated by different tasks. One recent debate illuminated by their studies is recent legislation that considers offering foreign-language credits for students learning programming languages. There have been many strong reactions across the software-developer community. Some developers consider the effort laudable but misguided and proclaim programming is not at all like human language and is much closer to mathematics. Siegmund observed 17 participants inside an fMRI scanner while they were comprehending short source-code snippets and found a clear, distinct activation pattern of five brain regions, which are related to language processing, working memory, and attention. The programmers in the study recruited parts of the brain typically associated with language processing and verbal oriented processing (ventral lateral prefrontal cortex). At least for the simple code snippets presented, programmers could use existing language regions of the brain to understand code without requiring more complex mental models to be constructed and manipulated. "Interestingly, even though there was code that involve mathematical operations, conditionals, and loop iteration, for these particular tasks, programming had less in common with mathematics and more in common with language (PDF)," writes Parnin. "Mathematical calculations typically take place in the intraparietal sulcus, mathematical reasoning in the right frontal pole, and logical reasoning in the left frontal pole. These areas were not strongly activated in comprehending source code." The new research results are a much needed, but only a first step in revealing the neuroscience of programming. Other questions remain including: Can we finally provide a neurological basis for a programmer's flow? How relevant is the mastery of language skills for programming? Are there certain programming activities that should never be mixed, due to higher chance of cognitive failure (and resulting bugs)? Do code visualizations or live programming environments really reduce mental load? "Programming involves a rich set of cognitive processes," concludes Parnin. "Although the study found a particular pathway that was strongly associated with language processing, there may be other pathways associated with other common activities related to programming (debugging, editing, refactoring, etc)."

Comment Relief (Score 1) 208

This will be a relief for all those who will fall victim to the upcoming "crackdown" mentioned on slashdot in this article: From my point of view it's just a typical money grab move, first lower the "fines" to acceptable levels so no major backlash from public will be involved, then you just go big game hunting (as in big $$).

Submission + - IBM Reports Carbon Nanotube Chip Breakthrough (

yawaramin writes: IBM has apparently made a breakthrough in arranging carbon nanotubes into the logic gates necessary to make a chip. This should help miniaturise and speed up processors beyond what today's silicon-based technologies are capable of. The article notes though that perfecting the carbon nanotube technology could take up the rest of this decade.

Submission + - My Social Security Number, should I give it up? 2

An anonymous reader writes: I've recently gone through hell with my ISP and everytime I call them up they want the last 4 digits of my SSN. WHY? Do they think someone is impersonating me to falsely report that my modem is getting no signal from Comcast?

This drove me mad enough that I called Qwest to set up DSL service, I thought they were charging too much, but I was willing to give it a try just so I could tell Comcast to pound salt. But they wanted my SSN too. I said no and the customer rep said he could try to get it approved without a SSN. After waiting about 10 minutes he came back and said I couldn't get DSL from Qwest without a SSN. This is despite the fact that I offered to pre-pay with a credit card. He said I might be a deadbeat who had skipped out on Qwest in the past.

The point here is that denying your SSN to private enterprises will likely result in you being unable to obtain these services.

If I'm offering cash in hand, or credit which is backed up by Visa/MasterCard or whoever, but refuse to give up my SSN why would you turn down my money?

Submission + - Global Warming Skeptics Discover Global Warming ( 7

Black Parrot writes: A team of Berkely Scientists skeptical of global warming, led by prominent skeptic physicist Richard Muller (and funded by the Koch Brothers) unexpectedly testified to skeptical politicians in the US House of Representatives that theiir results — still preliminary — is finding the same thing mainstream climate scientists have been telling us. Other scientists are unsuprised; the article quotes Peter Thorne (not on the team) as saying "Even if the thermometer had never been invented, the evidence is there from deep ocean changes, from receding glaciers, from rising sea levels and receding sea ice and spring snow cover." However, Thorne criticizes the team for announcing the preliminary results before publishing an peer-reviewed papers on their work.

Comment if only... (Score 1) 311

Researchers on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, have seen hints of what may be the hot, dense state of matter thought to have filled the universe in its first nanoseconds."

if only i could get a penny every time i read this in a news article mentioning LHC


Cheap Cancer Drug Finally Tested In Humans 363

John Bayko writes "Mentioned on Slashdot a couple of years ago, the drug dichloroacetate (DCA) has finally finished its first clinical trial against brain tumors in humans. Drug companies weren't willing to test a drug they could not patent, so money was raised in the community through donations, auctions, and finally government support, but the study was still limited to five patients. It showed extremely positive results in four of them. This episode raises the question of what happens to all the money donated to Canadian and other cancer societies, and especially the billions spent buying merchandise with little pink ribbons on it, if not to actual cancer research like this."

Facebook Master Password Was "Chuck Norris" 319

I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "A Facebook employee has given a tell-all interview with some very interesting things about Facebook's internals. Especially interesting are all the things relating to Facebook privacy. Basically, you don't have any. Nearly everything you've ever done on the site is recorded into a database. While they fire employees for snooping, more than a few have done it. There's an internal system to let them log into anyone's profile, though they have to be able to defend their reason for doing so. And they used to have a master password that could log into any Facebook profile: 'Chuck Norris.' Bruce Schneier might be jealous of that one."

"Summit meetings tend to be like panda matings. The expectations are always high, and the results usually disappointing." -- Robert Orben