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Comment: Re:Americentred worldview (Score 2) 164

If Slashdot's editorial duty is to emphasize news items based on their humanitarian importance, it fails with every article that isn't about death, poverty, slavery, etc. Of course, then it wouldn't be a tech website and we probably wouldn't visit it, so that all is fairly moot. This is about Dan Fredinburg because he was relevant to tech and known in our community (and he's certainly worth remembering as a person as well, regardless of what else is in the news). It's not here because it was the most important thing to happen in the past week.

I think it's on us to give the events in Nepal their due emphasis. Personally, I have donated to Doctors Without Borders, which is sending medical aid. I invite anyone else to do the same, and maybe to bring up the topic with family, friends, and coworkers.

But I am very glad and thank you for remembering the other Nepali. Maybe if we let the editors know that we would like them to setup a donation button or organize something in that vein so we can help out as a community, they would oblige.

Comment: Alternatives to Mendeley (Score 1) 81

Personally I have found Mendeley frustrating to use anyway. Seemed more interested in shiny features than working well. Wasn't very good at maintaining its bibtex file (which could be a problem using it with other programs) and expected you to have digital references only.

JabRef is a great multiplatform reference manager which combines excellently with Docear for writing a paper/thesis/dissertation (Docear lets you organize your references and annotations as part of your outline). I have also found it worth it to run PDF-XChange Viewer under WINE. It is unfortunately not open source but it supports any feature you can think of for annotating PDFs and integrates nicely (with a bit of non-windows setup) with Docear.

Zotero is another great reference manager. I have also heard good things about BibDesk (OS X only).

Comment: Re:Personal morality and pandering (Score 1) 653

Last time I checked, Tim Cook was a US citizen so it hardly seems inappropriate to hold your own country to a higher standard than places where you don't actually get a vote. Furthermore it's a little hard to criticize a foreign country for something that your own country is doing. Fix your home first and then you can hold the moral high ground.

This is one of those things which would sound wholly reasonable if you weren't comparing the EXECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS for being homosexual to whether every smalltime shop is legally compelled to service their weddings. The former is so many orders of magnitude worse that I am amazed we are even making the comparison. Any influence a boycott can have in one of those countries is worth a thousand times what it can have here. In fact boycott or not I offer a decent person should avoid doing business in those countries just because of the sheer moral discomfort of being in any way remotely affiliated with them.

Comment: Re:Although unused, not useful (Score 2) 213

A five ton delivery truck can be quite lethal also. Taking your child to pick something up or leaving them unsupervised while you go to the store creates additional risk. Accidents involving multiple passengers and multiple vehicles compound the lethality of single points of failure. Even if the drone dies unexpectedly, it's going to have significant probability of having a non-lethal descent, being over a building or open terrain, compared to a vehicle which is specifically restricted to an area with other people moving at high velocities. And if these are battery powered or have a clean burning fuel, we can consider the general health effects of reduced pollution as well.

Safety is important, but the setup we have right now is pretty dangerous. I wouldn't suggest missing out on even a moderate improvement by demanding absolute perfection at the start.

Comment: Re:WWJD? (Score 5, Informative) 1168

Jesus, the guy who would always do what you would do.

Despite an oppressive Roman occupation, Jesus never had much to say about the Romans. He outmaneuvered questions designed to embroil him in the local politics. He refused efforts to crown him as king. He refused to defend himself when he stood accused before them.

If I may be so bold as to guess, I would say no, Jesus would not vocally oppose this bill. Nor would he endorse it. Jesus did not see government as a means to achieve his objectives. He taught in the synagogues. He clashed with religious leaders. He went to the oppressed and ministered to them directly. He would not be interested in your politics (or mine). But he would be strongly interested in affecting the compassion, selflessness, humility, and general godliness of the people involved.

Comment: Re:Welcome to the USA (Score 3, Insightful) 181

by physicsphairy (#49362273) Attached to: Commercial Flamethrower Successfully Crowdfunded

While you're linking to youtube, you might checkout the homemade flamethrowers. I can't claim to have made one but plenty of my friends have (including my school physics club). The mechanics of a flame thrower is just a squirt gun + a match. I can buy propane "flame throwers" as is at the local hardware store (used for burning weeds).

Why are people making all these flame throwers? Because something that shoots jets of flame is freaking cool. As far as I could discern on a quick google search, none of them have been used to commit murder.

What I personally find horrific is the idea that anyone would be so afraid of their fellow citizens that their first assumption on hearing they have access to a projectile shooter/flame maker/etc. is "OH GOODNESS HOW ARE THEY GOING TO USE THAT MURDER ME?" I realize unhinged people are out there, and will do bad things, but there are also bears in the woods which could find their way to my house and easily maul me to death. But the statistics are low enough that I don't worry about. I suppose my luck could run out some day, but trusting my fellow citizens not to murder me has worked so far, and I wouldn't care to live any other way. I like the idea of a society and a government that assumes I have good intentions until proven otherwise and I consider it worth some risk to have it even if I am not personally a person who is interested in owning a weapon.

Comment: Other technical options (Score 1) 385

by physicsphairy (#49355461) Attached to: Modern Cockpits: Harder To Invade But Easier To Lock Up

What about a limitation on the locking mechanism that causes the door to unlock during significant course corrections and descents at low altitude? (If you really want to cover contingencies there could also be a date-based override code for keeping the cabin locked which the pilots would have to radio for.) That leaves the pilots free to secure themselves in case of an internal upset during a normal flight, but the passengers would be able to mob the cabin in most of these scenarios. You could also add, e.g., buttons in the back of the plane which have to be pressed to unlock the cabin. Not terribly difficult to do if all the passengers see the point of getting in, but might make the logistics of a hijacking significantly more complicated (and impossible for a lone actor).

Comment: Re:Let them sell cake (Score 1) 886

Is me offering to give you something that I have in exchange for something that you have really an "artificial construct of society"? Certainly, we've come up with things like corporations which fit that description, but the mere act of making a living by running a shop is the most basic form of some person using their own resource and ingenuity to put food on their table (through consensual exchanges). I would be okay with saying, e.g., a corporation is a 'public entity' which must therefore, if it exists, serve the entirety of the public. But I find it difficult to believe a self-owned proprietorship should not be seen as an extension of the individual.

Comment: The solution to corrupt politics is to regulate us (Score 1) 1089

by physicsphairy (#49296425) Attached to: Obama: Maybe It's Time For Mandatory Voting In US

Note how this legislation continues to be directed at you and me. The solution to corrupt policians involves threatening *us* with fines and prison for not doing our proper bits. It's not as if our elected leaders can help it, they're practically victims! Just going on with the system they've been given by a degenerate populace. No point in cracking down on the way they behave. But eventually in spite of us they will obtain their utopian society, I suppose -- just have to keep restricting us until we get into our thick heads to behave the perfect way they have envisioned for us, and then everything will be swell.

To properly understand what Obama means by the undue influence of money, you have to unpack the political dialect a bit. Obama was ushered into his latest term on a >$1 billion campaign, and has turned his back on statements about lobbyists and public financing, so it's not that he abjures the influence of money in politics. But it is bad when money is wielded to effect by the other party. (The other party is in fact the only one capable of corruption, one's own party might have some rogue individuals who make regrettable decisions, but their political principles are, if anything, redemptive.) This statement comes on the tail of the 2014 election, in which Obama's party was routed, due largely to poor turnout. In general democrats fair better from greater voter turnout. So this would be a nice fix to that, and probably would decrease the influence of money in politics, at least in the sense that it would not longer be needed to mobilizing voters and could instead be spent in focus on telling them which way to vote.

Of course, any electoral change is going to benefit one party or the other, and they will decide their allegiance to it accordingly. But I think it's sound to say any idea that comes out of party leadership is not going to be about "reform" it is going to be about consolidating their own power. Changing election mechanics is not going to be the means of rebuffing them and kicking them out of power. It is going to be the thing to do once we've built up the spine to kick them out ourselves.

Comment: Re:Last straw? (Score 1) 533

Before we try to defeat them, maybe we should think about what will replace them. The reason we have ISIS is because we defeated Saddam Hussein without thinking much about what would come next. The rationale at the time was that whatever replaced him couldn't possibly be worse. Well, that was wrong.

Depends on your perspective. From a national security standpoint, if you really thought Saddam Hussein was going to be unleashing terrible modern weaponry, I would say job well-done. ISIS can probably keep that region from developing nuclear weapons any time in the next thousand years.

But from a humanitarian standpoint, what is worse than the prevalent rape, torture, murder, forced conversion, and the kind of oppression that outlaws any opposing thought? The oppressive leaders in the region such as Saddam Hussein have deserved credit for holding back the tide of lawless extremism, but what evil is it that ISIS could be credited with standing in the way of? Being as evil as possible is pretty much their objective. Saddam tried to conceal his atrocities. They literally publish theirs in their newsletters.

Comment: Color Illusion (Score 2) 420

by physicsphairy (#49153437) Attached to: Is That Dress White and Gold Or Blue and Black?

The XKCD plot just makes me see gold and white at different levels of brightness. But I did find this color illusion featuring yellow and blue. The dogs are actually the same color, which you see if you look at them individually through a small aperture
http://i.imgur.com/sh5NwCK.jpg

Make it pretty obvious that at some point your brain switches from wanting to see blue to wanting to see yellow based on the color context. It would appear some of us are slightly different in where transitions like that occur.

Comment: Re:I've got this (Score 1) 400

by physicsphairy (#49015773) Attached to: An Argument For Not Taking Down Horrific Videos

What does media exposure in America really do for them, though? Their base of power is over in the middle east. The only way they can possibly relish in our horrified reactions is if they open up access to American news media and the internet. That's the opposite of what they seem to want to do, however -- they are shutting down the internet and other outside sorces of information.

The way, I see it, these videos must be really for the benefit of their internal politics. They can't exactly brag that they've taken down an American aircraft carrier, but they can at least brag that they have done something horrific to an American hostage which paints them as having some kind of power.

An open media exchange would play to our advantage, not theirs. A world in which all the terrorists are posting their misdeeds on youtube and jeering us is a world where they are one or two clicks away from seeing how much more enjoyable our society is and hearing our counterpoints.

Comment: Re:Uh, don't post... (Score 1) 135

How do you to prevent your friends from posting the same information? Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind shouting from the rooftops that I am going to a party. I wouldn't even care if cops heard me. But if the cops are going to survey my friends' casual posts -- "Going to a party at Brent's!" -- and guarantee flashing lights out front once their algorithms pinpoint where it is, that a bit different. It's less like having a cop reading information you have put up on a flyer and more like the cops having wiretaps on all of your associates. Which would be fine, with a good reason and a court order. But I don't like the idea that by sharing our days in a normal way online we are all effectively spying on each other on law enforcement's behalf.

Comment: Re:Or you could try more Diplomacy? (Score 1) 517

by physicsphairy (#48996837) Attached to: The US Navy Wants More Railguns and Lasers, Less Gunpowder

I don't think you understand, they want to stop storing explosives on ships. The ships will be carrying the explosives whether they are to be used or not. Will better diplomacy change how chemistry works? Unless you think a few stunning diplomats could render maintaining a defensive force unnecessary. In which case, you may want to check up on whether there are any other big military and/or economic powers with extra-territorial ambitions right now.

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