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Comment: Re:Is there a point to this story? (Score 3, Insightful) 304

by radtea (#47955473) Attached to: Why You Can't Manufacture Like Apple

It's cute to see how much money they blow on their designs, but really, is this news, or stuff that matters?

You would be amazed how unselfaware many startups are. In the late 90's, early 2000's time period I frequently had to remind people in companies with 2 - 200 employees selling niche products that "But Microsoft does it that way!" was an argument against doing it that way for us, because we were anything like Microsoft in terms of resources, product or market.

You'd think that no one would ever have to be told that, but the reality is that most people look at something as incredibly difficult to build as Windows (in software) or an iPhone (in hardware) and think, "Yeah, I could knock that out over a weekend and ship a few million units a year, no problem!"

Comment: Re:Reporting bias? (Score 1) 437

by radtea (#47948199) Attached to: Science Has a Sexual Assault Problem

I've never been able to find any reliable under-reporting data for men, so this would be extremely interesting to see.

A priori I find it fairly implausible that men failing to report sexual assault is a lot more common than women, but would love to see the data. One informal observation is that in the multi-thousand-comment threads that are spawned after every accusation leveled at a public figure like Michael Shermer, there seem to be a lot of women self-identifying as victims of sexual assault but no men. Given that rates of sexual assault on adult men are reported at 10% of women's rate, and that male children are at least as vulnerable as female children (as the data here suggest) it is more than a little odd that no man seems willing to self-identify as a survivor.

At the very least this speaks to the way in which we silence men's voices in these debates, which in my view should be understood not in terms of women vs men but citizens vs predators (most predators are men, but most men are not predators.)

Comment: Re:No surprise (Score 4, Interesting) 215

by radtea (#47943001) Attached to: Study: Chimpanzees Have Evolved To Kill Each Other

War as practised by humans and chimps is fundementally different, it is a coordinated social activity most animals simply don't comprehend let alone practice.

Two words: "kin selection".

Humans and chimps are social primates. We live in groups that are relatively close to us, genetically, although humans practice exogamy (mating outside their immediate kin group) a lot more aggressively than any of our cousins.

So to say "fighting for mates is always one vs one" is to say "kin selection does not exist", which it manifestly does.

War is mate competition carried out by other means. There is no other rational for it (war is always economically irrational, although this is not generally understood because it "just makes sense" to so many people that war is somehow a good idea.)

No individual of any species ever under any circumstances kills another member of the same species for any reason other than mate competition, either for themselves or for close kin (this is not quite true, but it should be the starting point of any analysis of deadly interpersonal violence.) Killing has zero to do with hunting behaviour--both male and female bonobos hunt, and don't kill each other. Elk are vegetarian, and do kill each other. Only when reproduction is on the line does the risk of being killed in a potentially deadly fight make evolutionary sense, in humans as well as in other species.

In humans, war creates all kinds of mating opportunities beyond the simple-minded "conquer the enemy and rape their women" scenario. In particular, it creates opportunities on the home front of all kinds, and that is a very fundamental part of its completely irrational appeal.

Comment: Re:Huh? (Score 1) 55

by radtea (#47941309) Attached to: Mystery Signal Could Be Dark Matter Hint In ISS Detector

Sooooo when did dark matter become anti-matter? Or am I missing something?

Probably pretty much everything.

Matter and anti-matter are--up to a flip in charge and parity--the same thing. That is, if you take an electron (a matter particle), flip its charge and look at in a mirror you'll see a positron (an anti-matter particle).

So it is actually perfectly consistent, logically if not linguistically, for dark matter to be entirely anti-matter.

Exotic dark matter can also produce anti-matter when its particles collide with each other, which is what this report seems to be about. The significant thing is that the energy spectrum of the positrons that the AMS detector sees appear to have about the right energy spectrum for one particular type of exotic dark matter (which I personally have a pretty low prior for).

There are a whole bunch of follow-on papers from other people doing what scientists do, which is check for consistency between the exotic dark matter interpretation of this result and reality, in the sense that if this signal really is due to exotic dark matter there should be a number of different consequences (including the anti-proton signal the article mentions): http://arxiv.org/find/all/1/al...

Comment: Re:Similar to "Runaround" in I, Robot... (Score 2) 164

by radtea (#47920583) Attached to: Developing the First Law of Robotics

Yup, and the solution available to any rational being is the same: since by hypothesis the two choices are indistinguishable, flip a coin to create a new situation in which one of them has a trivial weight on its side.

Starving to death (or letting everyone die) is obviously inferior to this to any rational being (which the donkey and the robot are both presumed to be) and adding randomness is a perfectly general solution to the problem.

Buridan's donkey is not in fact an example of a rational being, but rather a passive, uncreative being, who must for some unspecified reason decide without acting on the situation, as if it was living in some bizarrely unrealistic world like Plato's Cave, where it could only know the world via shadows on the wall which it cannot act on in any way.

Why anyone thinks thought-experiments about such limited beings, which are completely unlike humans in their inability to act on the world to change their situation, is beyond me.

Comment: Re:It's getting hotter still! (Score 3, Insightful) 617

by radtea (#47911031) Attached to: Extent of Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches Record Levels

It stands to reason...

...that the Earth is flat.

"It stands to reason", "it just makes sense", "it's common sense"... these are not just not arguments, they are anti-arguments: anyone using them is saying loudly and clearly "I have nothing to contribute to this discussion but here's some noise to dilute the signal."

Any time you find yourself offering an opinion based only on your imagination, please don't. Get some data, learn some modelling, do some statistics before you speak.

Philosophers attempted to understand the world for thousands of years based on what "just makes sense" and failed completely and utterly. After three hundred years of scientists showing us a better way--and showing that what "stands to reason" has absolutely nothing at all to do with the way the world actually is--there is really very little excuse for continuing to promulgate this erroneous and basically useless way of knowing.

Comment: Re:Great idea! Let's alienate Science even more! (Score 1) 905

by radtea (#47899413) Attached to: Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk

Science is agnostic. It makes no statements about God, gods or Non-gods. Science doesn't need to place value on anything.

All true, in some strict sense. But...

Science lacks something that gives religion a ridiculous amount of power: narrative. (shameless plug) I wrote a book exploring this subject: http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-...

The gist of my argument is--in the terms of TFA--is that "Spockism" lacks narrative hooks, while "Kirkism" is full of them. "Science fiction" is an attempt to give science narrative power, and sometimes it really works, but it needs to be continually renewed because unlike religion science moves and changes and grows, so each generation needs its new Asimov or Heinlein or Clarke.

Comment: Re:real problem is patent and copyright length (Score 4, Insightful) 118

by radtea (#47893023) Attached to: Software Patents Are Crumbling, Thanks To the Supreme Court

The weakening of patent protections mean some small guys will be killed.

Particularly small patent holders that present ideas to big companies, hoping to be bought out, but instead get the shaft.

Nope. A patent is a license to sue. Small players rarely have the resources to do so. A very small number take the risk, fewer still manage it successfully. Pointing to one or two cases where small players were successful is not an argument. You have to look at all patents held by small players, find out how many get violated and what fraction of those use the courts or plausible threat of legal action to defend themselves.

I don't have the numbers, but from an insiders perspective (I am a small patent holder and have worked for a number of small players with patents) I can tell you that the average small player is very unlikely take court action, and that the average large player is unlikely to be much bothered by a threat of patent litigation from a small player, because they know they can simply exhaust the small player's resources.

Comment: Re:Is the expense of electrolysis the main inhibit (Score 4, Informative) 113

by radtea (#47892255) Attached to: Liquid Sponges Extract Hydrogen From Water

The next generation of attempts stores the hydrogen chemically.

I'm not sure if it qualifies as "the next generation" when it has been studied since well before my now-adult children were born.

Skepticism with respect to hydrogen exists in part because some of us have heard this tune before. Storage of hydrogen in metal sponges is nothing new, and they have some very nice theoretical properties, including reasonable volumetric energy density, which is a big problem for hydrogen.

Getting up to 1/5 the volumetric density of fossil fuels--which is the likely upper limit--would make hydrogen cars more than competitive with electric vehicles. But so far no one has managed that, despite continuous work on the problem.

For some reason TFA doesn't say anything about the long history of storing hydrogen in metal sponges, or make clear what makes this one different, although one can guess that as a liquid there are likely metal particles in suspension and that gives a huge surface area advantage.

It's almost as if the articles were written by junior staff members with no actual knowledge of hydrogen storage technology, but since we live in a "knowledge based economy" where STEM skills are in incredibly high demand there is no way reputable news organizations like the BBC would do anything like that, right?

Comment: Re:This article makes no sense whatsoever (Score 5, Interesting) 129

by radtea (#47885657) Attached to: Researchers Working On Crystallizing Light

So I take it no one else understands what this article is about either.

In fairness to the writer of the simply hideous article, which is an amazing compendium of misleading nonsense, irrelevancy and outright falsehood, the research team seem to be speaking in a private language. Even their "popular summary" is difficult for a physicist who has done some work in quantum fundamentals to understand.

It appears they have created a fairly standard state in which microwave photons are strongly interacting with each other via a superconductor. Their is for some reason they do not explain and seem to take for granted, a phase transition in the system's behaviour as the number of photons drops.

This may (or may not) be related to the "phase/photon-number uncertainty principle", which is analogous to the usual position/momentum uncertainty principle: you can know the precise classical phase of a many-photon beam or you can know the number of photons in it, but not both at the same time. As the total number of photons goes down the uncertainty in the the number of photons goes down, increasing the uncertainty in the phase (that's one fairly hand-waving way to think about it, at least.)

After the phase transition the system is in some weird quantum state that they liken to Schrodinger's cat, but since Schrodinger's cat is in a perfectly ordinary quantum superposition that knowledge adds exactly nothing to our understanding of what the state actually is. Presumably they are referring to some particular state that is currently well-known within quantum information theory, but by presenting the idea to a lay audience without elaboration they simply add to the overall sense of confusion and, uh, incoherence.

Comment: Re:Seems reasonable (Score 1) 462

by radtea (#47885557) Attached to: CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

and sooner or later, it morphs into something you didn't expect.

Which hasn't (yet) happened in this case, as the current situation was expected and predicted back in the '80's. There was a long article in The Atlantic Monthly in maybe '83 or '84 on precisely the perverse incentives that asset forfeiture laws created for law enforcement.

The reason why things have got so bad is not because no one expected them, but because no one was able to control them given the internal incentives (as others here have pointed out, judges' salaries can be paid in part by seizures, which further corrupts the process.)

Comment: Re:In other words....Don't look like a drug traffi (Score 4, Insightful) 462

by radtea (#47884939) Attached to: CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

Please send me a list of approved attire, standards of car cleanliness, and any other requirements for not appearing like a drug dealer.

I believe the primary rules for "not looking like a drug dealer" are:

1) be white
2) be middle-class
3) be middle-age
4) be male
5) be conventional in dress, behaviour and language

And really, if you aren't a white, middle-class, middle-age, conventional male, do you really have anyone but yourself to blame?

Comment: Re:I am shocked, SHOCKED, to find gambling here... (Score 4, Informative) 462

by radtea (#47884841) Attached to: CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

Why are the Canadians surprised by this fact?

Two answers:

1) We aren't.

2) We need to be reminded now and then just how corrupt and borken the republic to our south actually is, as we tend to forget it and have trouble believing it.

Canadians, for all of our manifest imperfections, live in a relatively lawful country and take for granted that people in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand do as well. Despite being bombarded by news stories out of the US and UK in the past ten or fifteen years about how lawless things are getting there with their out-of-control security states we simply have trouble processing the practical implications.

Although... I renewed my passport recently and realized I haven't actually traveled to the US in over five years, whereas in the previous five years I had worked, lived and vacationed in the US. So we do kind of appreciate what a dangerous, arbitrary and lawless place the US has become, we just react by avoiding it rather than thinking much about it.

Comment: Re:I thought this was solved by Korn et al. (Score 1) 170

by radtea (#47883045) Attached to: Universal Big Bang Lithium Deficit Confirmed

"Solved" isn't a term properly used in the sciences, and your quite legitimate confusion here is a nice example of why.

Science is the discipline of publicly testing ideas by systematic observation, controlled experiment, and Bayesian inference. It does not produce certainty, but rather knowledge. Unfortunately, because science is still a very young discipline (only three hundred years old) we have yet to really update our language to accommodate it, so we still talk in terms of "solution" and "proof" and the like, as if we were philosophers seeking after some chimeral goal like "certainty" or the ability to turn base metals into gold.

The questions scientists are interested in here are:

1) "Which is more plausible given the evidence we have: that we are computing something wrong in our Big Bang nucleo-synthesis calculations using existing physics; that our measurements of lithium abundance are wrong; that there is new physics that affects lithium production in the Big Bang; that our chemical evolution calculations are wrong for some reason; or that something else entirely is going on that we are missing?"

and:

2) "What new evidence might we gather to clarify the situation given we currently don't have a stand-out idea that is sufficiently more plausible than the rest that no one can be bothered to do further investigations?"

Science is a human discipline, and as such is never "settled" except insofar as no on can be arsed to look at some question more deeply because the plausibility of the currently-best answer is so high (for example, while I think it very likely the Earth is heating up, I support further research like better satellite measurements of albedo: http://www.washington.edu/alum...)

With regard to lithium, we have a pretty good handle on Big Bang production assuming there is no new physics, but lithium has a number of characteristics that make it more strongly subject to the forces of what cosmologists call "chemical evolution"--the way the chemical composition of the universe changes through time due to stellar and other processes. The Korn et al work points to one particular way primoridal lithium could be hidden away. In the '90's there was similar work being done to show that various other processes could actually break lithium nuclei up over the course of the history of the universe.

Then there is also the problem that the whole "missing lithium" thing could be a result of a local anomaly in lithium abundance: after all, we have only sampled a small part of the universe. The work this /. post is about focuses on extending the reach of measurements to other galaxies, which is a start, although one could also imagine large-scale enrichment processes in the early universe that put us in a lithium-poor bubble, so no-doubt "additional work is required" to reach a sufficiently strong consensus that the missing lithium has been explained well enough to be not worth bothering with any more.

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