Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Comment On a submarine (Score 1) 320

We were all sitting around the wardroom (in port) waiting for lunch, and the TV was on (it was in a locker above the sideboard.) I was standing next to the table watching the smoke column, when the explosion happened. There was a moment of silence, then someone (maybe even me) said something like, "What the hell was that?" We were just starting to talk when the Captain came in for lunch and got the news. I don't remember a lot of emotion, it was more like shock.

On the flip side, within the week we had a (highly unofficial) Ship's Challenger Joke Coordinator, a former taxi driver who filled the same role for Princess Diana jokes (he hated the British.) In case you were wondering why I didn't identify anything better before ....

Comment Wishful thinking, doomed to fail (Score 2) 300

Learning programming is worthwhile for the logical thinking skills it involves: I'm all for making it available. The problem is that putting such an emphasis on it, at the expense of other useful subjects, is going to backfire for those who can't learn it.

It's not PC to say so, and there are lots of "experts" who insist it ain't so, but programming is a talent that not everyone has. Anyone who has been in the business knows that, unless they never interviewed new people and never worked with anyone who hadn't already proved themselves. Anyone who went to college for CS knows that: there are always good students who try but just can't be taught to do the work. Genetic, or some unknown environmental factor, or whatever, it's a fact beyond debate.

I have no idea what the percentage is in the general population, but there are going to be smart, productive people who can't do this particular thing, and they're not only going to be wasting their own and their teachers' time, but they're going to be labeled as failures because of something no one can change.

Comment Like an online course (Score 1) 89

I remember seeing an online MIT Masters in CS a few years ago that cost $60,000 (flat rate.) While I'm sure people learned something, it struck me as a flat out sale of a piece of paper with the MIT logo. Most online degrees nowadays advertise that they don't distinguish whether the degree was on online or not.

The sad thing is that, for the career minded, that $60,000 was probably a good investment, just like a $250,000 (or whatever it is now) Harvard MBA could pay for itself easily by opening jobs in Manhattan, despite not containing any significant content beyond State U's program.

Comment Google of all people is behind this? (Score 1) 89

Google has a notorious hiring bias for graduates of brand name schools. Do they think this will work because there will be more CMU graduates, regardless of quality?

"Applied CS" is a built-in talent that most don't have: many of these students won't succeed and never could, no matter who tries to "educate" them. One role of CS teachers is to spot the ones who can't do the work and redirect them. From CMU or Stanford's point of view, letting an untalented student struggle on for a few extra years at no cost beyond lights and air conditioning is a good financial move, given that they won't actually graduate and hurt the school's reputation. What does Google get out of it, though?

Comment The good old days... (Score 1) 461

I kind of regret letting my aol email go now. I was a very early adopter (I used to sell shareware out of their ftp site, which did not charge for bandwidth at the time. Not that I used much by modern standards.)

I also made a fair amount of money trading aol stock back in the day. It's one of the few I successfully ran from _before_ things went bad.

I used to have a lot of fun trolling an aol forum called "Why Anne Rice Sucks." She does, actually, as a writer, so posting was easy and truthful; boy, some of her fans have no sense of humor, though.

Hey, I prefer mechanical watches as well.

Comment What will it change? (Score 1) 421

I don't see much advantage to switching languages if the existing one works. .NET is by far the easiest of those listed to be productive in, but it requires buying into the MS server platform: the cost of that is pretty much the only advantage the others all have, other than religious feelings about free software. There are enough web developers and Linux sysadmins available that there is no real reason to pay for Windows licenses except to develop a little faster, not the sort of thing the business types notice.

An open source .NET has obvious advantages for everyone, especially Mono, and I'm very happy about it. I don't see it changing anything quickly, but their market share will undoubtedly rise.

Comment Thoughts on TFA (Score 2) 391

The most we can honestly say about artificial intelligence is that we have so utterly no idea what it is that it might be possible. Of course, we have no computing paradigm for it either, so that's on the TODO list as well, when and if the raw power becomes available.

I honestly hadn't considered that something could be considered intelligent without being conscious, given that we have no applicable definition of "consciousness" either. I understand that many researchers fear loss of all funding if the real state of their field becomes widely known, and I'm onboard with that since I think the research is worthwhile even if it's beyond the congresscritters. I won't pretend that it has accomplished much as yet, though: as I've said before, we're a heck of a lot closer to building a warp drive than than a conscious computer.

If we encountered a "superintelligence" that did not display consciousness, would we be justified in treating it as a machine to be used and turned off rather than a lifeform to be talked with? Even if it could talk, in a sense beyond a fancy shell or an Eliza bot? Could such a thing come into existence on its own? An organism descended from an alien race that uploaded itself doesn't really count, to my mind, but it seems by far the most likely case.

I could agree that such intelligences wouldn't be very interested in us. Earth has too much gravity and oxygen just causes rust; all asteroids lack are organics they probably don't need anyway, and heavy metals are much easier to reach on an asteroid. Given a reasonable power source other than a star, they'd be better off living in interstellar space where no one is likely bother them.

Comment BAD quote (Score 1) 417

"To say that AI will start doing what it wants for its own purposes is like saying a calculator will start making its own calculations." ... is not only a gross logical fallacy, but completely misses the point. AI is generally understood to mean sentience/self awareness/consciousness. Without that, an artificial intelligence is no more than a bigger and better calculator.

A calculator (or any other existing computer) is not AI in any sense whatsoever; it's internal workings are completely understood (or at least understandable.) There is no possibility of it ever doing anything unexpected, unless a human left a bug in its program.

TFA sounds like someone who spent 20 years in a field with no real advancement or progress, and is now nervous about being questioned. A working warp drive would need to be evaluated for safety as well, but no one is worrying about that yet, even though we are a LOT closer to building a warp drive than a sentient machine (for which we have no theoretical understanding and no credible roadmap towards one.)

Comment Re:"Teaching" programming (Score 1) 155

Can't comment on Big Bang, don't have a TV. This makes perfect sense, though. Most Gifts are a matter of degree: you'd have risen to the top of that group with or without the class, it would just have taken longer to acquire experience and pick up all the little facts a programmer needs from day to day, none of which has any relation to ability. There are no end of entry level programmers who rise past colleagues without going into management; there are lots of graduates of good schools (in many fields) who can't do the work. I've known several in the shareware biz (VB), as long as it could be done almost entirely with ActiveX.

Comment Re:"Teaching" programming (Score 1) 155

Unfortunately, I believe that current educational "thinking" is much closer to the "talent is a myth" theory than yours.

"Current educational theory" verges on flamebait.

My theory has tons of anecdotal evidence. Theirs is based mostly on what someone in charge wants to be right, and mostly fails everywhere it's tried. There's a reason my kid is home schooled.

Comment "Teaching" programming (Score 1) 155

is an oxymoron. CS degrees (don't have one myself) are useful: DaVinci and Hendrix were born with talent, but not developed ability. No amount of training by itself could create a DaVinci or Hendrix, though it might help one develop faster.

It is obvious anyone who interviews that programming is a born in ability, and if it's not there no amount of training makes the slightest difference. If it is there, school makes things faster, but the end result is the same. I started in high school in the '70's with a single BASIC book and a teletype/300 baud modem. College gave me experience and some handy facts, but nothing fundamental that I wouldn't have figured out when I needed it.

What we really need is a one semester or less high school class to determine who has the "gift." Those who do don't require much more if they choose to become programmers, and they can get that in AP classes or in college; the rest (and their colleges) would know not to waste time and resources on CS classes. Yeah, yeah, everyone has a "right" to be whatever they want, but if they're going to fail, get it over with early.

Comment "Not ready" goes without saying (Score 1) 453

I'm not too worried about aliens being hostile. If they have the technology to get here, they already know about us and we'd already know about them.

Interstellar travel is hard enough that anyone who can do it has had time to solve their problems, including how to get along with others. Our behavior towards our own people alone disqualifies us from going anywhere near equal or less advanced races, hopefully starfaring ethics would prevent them from meddling. Aliens who make open contact are probably up to something shady; aliens who deal secretly with the very worst of humanity (i.e., most governments) are a step worse than that.

And what would "shady" consist of? If they need materials of some kind, maybe because they don't have an asteroid belt, they could mine ours or scoop H3 from Jupiter or water from Saturn's rings without our ever noticing; we have nothing to offer them, so why put up with our gravity and behavior? It's hard to imagine how an interstellar colony would be better than a space habitat in one's own system, given the technology to do either. Taking a (sort of) habitable planet from an industrialized race is even worse: who wants the campsite where someone has (radioactively as well as organically) crapped on the picnic table and taken every scrap of firewood and edible berry?

Comment Old guy's view of things (Score 1) 266

I remember the 60's: I believe now that they were the peak of western (if not human) civilization this time around. We have fallen farther as a culture than you young folks can imagine since then, and it was our culture that landed on the moon. Given the will, money and technology can be managed; I see no sign now of the sustained will needed for a Mars trip. The only place to even look nowadays is maybe China, and while they don't have popular elections all the time they're still not stable over the time frame involved.

The one way paradigm lowers the cost and difficulty tremendously, but I doubt any government will go for it and I just don't see a commercial enterprise making the first trip; once their people land (assuming they could still return from Mars orbit), the company is locked into supporting a colony. Given the current legal climate, the astronauts would face more danger from bankruptcies and lawsuits back home than living on Mars.

The fundamental problem is energy. Our civilization may yet fail for lack of it and there is little prospect of that changing. Virtually all fusion research is going into tokamaks, a dead end at best; fossil fuel has unmanageable supply and pollution problems; renewables and fission have serious (at our level) scale problems. We've also have no way to use energy efficiently for space travel: getting people to the surface of Mars with chemical propellants amounts to admitting that we're making a one shot attempt to look at a few rocks and say we did it; putting (enough) nuclear power in orbit is politically impossible, especially for the US.

I fear it is already too late for a moon base; the cost and difficulty of the ISS makes a Lagrange point station look pretty unlikely. An asteroid mission, even a close one, relies on gear we haven't built yet and which changes every election. Unless a major breakthrough happens soon, I'm giving no thought to Mars.

Slashdot Top Deals

Writing software is more fun than working.