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Comment: Re:Brainteasers and Interviews (Score 1) 477

by pz (#49745617) Attached to: The Brainteaser Elon Musk Asks New SpaceX Engineers

This is exactly what is wrong with software hiring, popularized in recent years by Google and thus spread throughout tech startups everywhere.

Really? Seems to have been a pretty winning strategy for Google. My anecdotal experience involves hiring only a small handful of people, so I wouldn't expect to draw any serious conclusions, but Google's experience surely can be used as a guide.

Ultimately, when I'm hiring a new person, I want them to be someone who likes working on solving hard problems that may or may not have solutions, and that most certainly includes thinking of new and original ways of looking at long-held beliefs. Having been exposed to brain teasers as a child is a good way of developing those skills.

Comment: Brainteasers and Interviews (Score 1) 477

by pz (#49740809) Attached to: The Brainteaser Elon Musk Asks New SpaceX Engineers

The point of brain teasers is not to prove you're clever enough to know the answer, but to ask a question that you might not have heard before and observe your reasoning and explanations. While the North Pole question is cute, and most interviewees would know the question (at least I hope so), being able to answer it indicates not that you are smart, but that you have a certain kind of background that leads you to have been exposed to such things. Now if we continue with that assumption, then there are other questions that are worth asking.

My personal favorite question is: Explain the answer to the Monte Hall problem in such a way that a high school student could understand it.

A lot of people know the answer to the Monte Hall problem. Most people are confused by it, or get the answer wrong, but let's concentrate on those who know the answer or can figure it out on the fly. A few of them can cogently explain the reasoning behind the correct answer. Even fewer can explain it in such simple terms that a teenager could understand it. Those are the people I want to hire.

Comment: Re:So basically (Score 1) 817

by pz (#49738011) Attached to: Oregon Testing Pay-Per-Mile Driving Fee To Replace Gas Tax

Trucks and buses.

There's a stretch of separated two-way road near me in an urban center. Because of the particulars of the roadways around it, one direction is used almost exclusively for buses. The other direction almost exclusively for cars. The road surface until recently was made of brick, a not-very-good choice for road surfaces as it is particularly fragile and needs near constant maintenance. But Holy Surface Deterioration, Batman! The side of the road with the bus traffic was easily ten times worse than the side with the car traffic. And that's despite there being far fewer vehicles passing on the bus side than on the car side.

Heavy vehicles do most of the road surface damage, and that includes buses, at least in urban areas. I'd wager that the ultra-light vehicles like the Cooper Mini and Smart cars do almost nothing. Taxation should be proportional to induced damage, in a pay for what you use scheme, with a baseline offset because even a bicycle rider benefits from the road existing even though bikes likely do not contribute to its deterioration. And, yes, we should tax bicyclists for road use.

Comment: Re:It not very hard (Score 1) 167

by pz (#49671543) Attached to: How Spotify Can Become Profitable

Copyright laws that extend beyond the death of the artist are an abomination.

Generally, I would agree if you were to amend your statement to include "beyond the death of the artist and the age of majority for their children." If you had, for example, an artist in their 20s or 30s with young kids who died accidentally, it would make sense to use the artist's posthumous earnings to complete the financial obligation he had to his children.

I have a friend under exactly that circumstance. Her spouse died accidentally shortly after their twin daughters were born. His royalties continue to pay for his daughters' upbringing, as is right and just.

Comment: Re:Peanuts compared to their value (Score 1) 202

by pz (#49665425) Attached to: Study Reveals Wikimedia Foundation Is 'Awash In Money'

Also, paying 230 ppl an avg of 50,000$ a year is already 11 million ...

And don't forget that the total cost to the employer for each employee (or FTE) is approximately double the employee's salary when you roll in the costs of benefits and the infrastructure to support that employee. (Meaning $50K to the employee, $50K for everything else.) Add that to your estimate of $11M for salary, and you're sucking up nearly two thirds of the published revenue.

Comment: Re:Yeah, you can say it from jail (Score 2) 509

by pz (#49641341) Attached to: What To Say When the Police Tell You To Stop Filming Them

You go be the hero then. I've got a wife and kids who aren't going to accept "Daddy did something heroic" as an excuse when I lose my job and we're living in a van down by the river. Is the ACLU going to pay my mortgage when I have to call into work and explain to them that I can't come in because I'm in jail?

I have heroes in my family. More than one. Big, international-scale heroes. Heroes who lived apart from their families, risked arrest, or even lost their lives, to do great things. My wife would slap me in anger and disgust if I were to cower in front of an abuse of power, and it would be well-deserved. "Daddy did something heroic," isn't an excuse, it is an expectation.

Comment: Scales with input power? (Score 2) 416

by pz (#49616631) Attached to: No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive

The Forbes article lists five criteria that would make it a more plausible claim. One stands out in particular: the thrust scales with power. The drive reportedly creates on order of 30-50 microNewtons (uN) at 100 W input power. 1 KW power at microwave frequencies really isn't that hard (most kitchen microwave ovens operate near or at this scale), and 10 KW shouldn't be beyond the skills of a decent microwave engineer. Beyond that and it gets into Serious Engineering.

This idea came to me in a matter of seconds, so I must assume that the people currently testing it at NASA should also have thought of it as well and are working at testing the device at a range of power levels to plot out the power-vs-thrust relationship. Should be a piece of cake for at least one order of magnitude.

Comment: Kindness of strangers? (Score 5, Interesting) 101

by pz (#49567515) Attached to: A Cheap, Ubiquitous Earthquake Warning System

(Caution: I read the article.)

Sounds like a pretty good idea, all-told. An engineer does good with his PhD thesis, starting a non-profit company to create inexpensive MEMS-based earthquake sensors that use the cellular network for communication. Makes them cheap enough that he can deploy them all over the place. But who pays for upkeep? Who pays for electricity?

Here, we get to the problem: he depends on the kindness of strangers to bolt these small devices to their wall and plug them in -- permanently -- to an available outlet. Why would sufficiently many people do that? And since the dwelling turnover in California is so high (at least compared to the other cities I've lived in, CA residents seem to switch apartments at a furious pace), what's the plan for transferring ownership / upkeep agreements? WIth tens of thousands of sensors, that sounds like an ongoing, permanent customer service management nightmare.

Don't get me wrong, the idea's a good one. It might be easier to convince people to download an app that looks for tell tale acceleration signatures of a quake. Cell phones already have location information and the owners are already motivated for other reasons to keep them charged and maintained. The potential downside is that the data quality is likely much lower since cell phones aren't rigidly attached to terra firma.

But that, then, suggests perhaps a dual layer system that includes some company-maintained (he's running a business, after-all) sensors, say installed in a less dense mesh on telephone poles or street lights where they have ready access to (a) rigid fixation, and (b) electrical power, and, importantly, (c) won't be screwed with by the dog / kid / furniture mover. Moreover, upright structures with high aspect ratios, like streetlights, likely amplify ground movement, making detection that much easier. Use that streetlight network for coarse sampling, and the voluntarily downloaded apps as lower-grade, spatially denser sampling. And then, as Randall Munroe suggests in XKCD, monitor the twitterverse for earthquake terms. The apps have next to zero running costs, perhaps only sporadic development and a download server somewhere, the mesh network installation costs can be split between local municipalities, the state, and the NSF, with a maintenance contract to the company from the state. Heck, I'm starting to talk myself into a good business plan!

But depending on the kindness of strangers to install and maintain a thing in their house? Not such a good idea.

Comment: Ring of Fire? Not Sphere of Fire? (Score 2) 37

by pz (#49541819) Attached to: Virtual Telescope Readied To Image Black Hole's 'Ring of Fire'

I'm not an astrophysicist. I'm not even a physicist. I never took quantum mechanics. I don't understand GR, and many of the often-discussed effects completely baffle me. But given that accretion disks are, you know, BIG, why do all of the standard depictions I see of black holes make them look black? Shouldn't the accretion disk, spewing tons of energy as it heats up on the death spiral, obscure the black hole? Black holes -- at least ones like at Saggitarius A -- have huge accretion disks, much, much bigger than the event horizon. So won't it just look like a fuzzy bright area?

Comment: Re:Instead... (Score 1) 356

by pz (#49524193) Attached to: 'Mobilegeddon': Google To Punish Mobile-Hostile Sites Starting Today

I have a feature phone. I spend 40 minutes a day, over two stretches, where I'm away from a full-sized keyboard and large, readable screen. For my lifestyle, I fail to see the need to fill those additional minutes with connectivity when I might otherwise, you know, enjoy my immediate physical environment!

And feature phones still have the attractions for me that are mentioned --- relatively rugged, reliable, instantly resettable by popping out the battery, inexpensive to replace if lost or inadvertently damaged, etc --- even though I'm not out hiking.

What do I miss not having a smart phone? I don't have games at my fingertips. No big deal, I've never been too keen on computer games. I don't have a super-small screen that I can read an e-book on. No big deal, I carry a normal-sized book when I want to read something, and it's much easier to read printed text on a page. I can't keep in touch with my email. I'm not so important that being away from email for 20 minutes is a death-knell. I can't update my social media pages. Why would I want to do that on a small keyboard and screen? I can't have easy text conversations -- this is the only downside, and only because it seems most people these days spent lots of time doing that. But, instead, I can actually TALK to people (because my phone is, you know, a *phone*) that has a much higher communication bandwidth, and eliminates all of the tonal ambiguity of texting / emailing. Manufacturers can't market to me based on my instantaneous location. That's a plus. The authorities can't trace my precise travels over every waking moment. Also a plus. I need to be able to read, digest, and understand directions when driving rather than having a crutch tell me when to turn. All-told a plus, since it hones my ability to navigate by dead reckoning.

Did I forget something?

Oh, yes, I can't take decent quality photos. That's a downside. So when I know I want to take photos, I carry a camera that beats the pants off any cell phone (especially in low light), and deal with the low-quality snapshots that my feature phone takes when I forget.

Comment: Re:Circumstantial much (Score 1) 342

by pz (#49472101) Attached to: Allegation: Lottery Official Hacked RNG To Score Winning Ticket

Yes, now that I, too, read TFA, I see that. It appears that the fellow's biggest mistakes are (a) talking to other people about rootkits, and (b) buying the lottery ticket himself (or at least not wearing a disguise). Perhaps he should also have waited more than just a month to buy the ticket after rooting the machine. If he was really smart, then he might have started buying smaller wins, and became overconfident and greedy, but that's pure speculation.

Comment: Re:Circumstantial much (Score 1) 342

by pz (#49470967) Attached to: Allegation: Lottery Official Hacked RNG To Score Winning Ticket

The parent poster (with three good ideas for less detectable malfeasance) is apparently smarter than the so-called security expert that is the subject of the article.

Perhaps we catch only the stupid criminals, and the parent poster speaks with the voice of experience (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)?

The Universe is populated by stable things. -- Richard Dawkins