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Comment: Re:More important: how is this happening? (Score 2) 66

by radtea (#48628139) Attached to: Terrestrial Gamma Ray Bursts Very Common

The distinction between X-Rays and gamma rays is not the way how they are produced but the energy level.

As others have pointed out, this is false. Here's a simple guide to the complex language of electromagnetic radiation:

1) If it was produced by an atomic process it's an x-ray, no matter what the energy.

2) If it was produced by a nuclear process, it's a gamma-ray, no matter what the energy

3) If the source is neither atomic nor nuclear, or unknown, it's field-dependent and circumstance dependent. I tend to think of bremstrahlung as gamma radiation unless I'm talking about x-ray sources for imaging or medical treatment. This is a purely cultural difference, with the terms "x-ray" and "gamma ray" being understood as interchangeable by practitioners, but with one or the other being preferred depending on context. Annihilation radiation is called gamma or x-ray depending on the field as well.

With regard to the EM radiation from storms, there are multiple possible origins. It's pretty easy to create neutrons from high-energy plasmas, as in the Farnsworth Fusor. Subsequent capture of those neutrons on nuclei will produce "true" gamma rays. On the other hand, various purely EM processes could be producing x-rays as well. So the EM radiation from storms could well be a mix of both nuclear and atomic processes. Call 'em gammas or x-rays, and don't make a big deal of it.

Comment: Re:Climate != single event (Score 3, Insightful) 192

by radtea (#48605469) Attached to: Linking Drought and Climate Change: Difficult To Do

This is only in the headlines because of how unfortunately politicized this topic has become.

It's news because Every. Single. Story. on weather ends up talking about climate change. Dunno if that's politicalization or just flavour-of-the-week reporting, but it needs to be pointed out as the nonsense it is.

Climate is a distribution.

Weather is an event.

Distributions are made of events, but they are not events and they have properties (their mean and higher moments) that are emergent properties of the distribution, not properties of the events that make them up.

So long as idiots talk about climate change every time there is a warm spell or a cold snap, there will be a need to point out the difference between events and distributions, and the very small amount you can say about discerning between different distributions that largely overlap based on a single event, or even a small handful of events.

Comment: Re:Wasn't there a book about this? (Score 1) 137

by radtea (#48602889) Attached to: How Birds Lost Their Teeth

The example I use is Butterflies, which change from a crawling creature to one that flies, mid life.

Except we have a pretty good idea of how it happens.

Do you believe in eggs? That is, do you believe in organisms--including insects--that reproduce by laying eggs? And do you believe that those eggs don't have shells?

If so, can you imagine a mutation that makes an egg very slightly motile? The outer layers of such eggs is typically some kind of protein. Suppose that there is a mutation such that after the egg has grown to a certain size there is a biochemical response that causes the protein coat to contract when exposed to light. Lots of biochemicals react to light, and some of them change shape or react with other molecules under the exposure to light in ways that cause them to change shape. It just has be a tiny bit.

Now you have an "egg" that in its later stages of development moves away from light. Such an egg might plausibly be more likely to survive than one that stays put. So over time, the eggs of such insects that are very slightly motile come to predominate. There is no way around that if the mutation is heritable, so unless you don't believe in DNA--and chemistry--you have to accept that that happens. You could also deny the laws of probability, in which case I have a lottery ticket to sell you.

Now iterate this process over a few million generations. Can you see how you might go from a flying insect that lays eggs to a flying insect that lays slightly motile eggs to a flying insect that has a motile larval stage?

What we can or cannot imagine is irrelevant to what does or does not exist, so I'm not arguing here that "evolution is imaginable and therefore true", but merely trying to extend your imagination to the point where you are motivated to look more deeply into the subject.

My own belief is that evolution by variation and natural selection is not just plausible, but mathematically necessary:

Comment: Re:Should Allah be translated to God? (Score 0) 872

by radtea (#48597713) Attached to: Apparent Islamic Terrorism Strikes Sydney

Since the meaning of the gibberish on the flag is, "I am stupid! I am really really stupid!" it doesn't seem like there's much point in arguing about the conventions of translation.

In English "God" is sometimes rendered Yaweh or Jehova, but could as equally well be given as "Silly Bugger" or "Twit", and it wouldn't change the meaning of Christian gibberish, so there is no reason to quibble about how Muslim gibberish is translated. You could swap God for Allah in the translation and it would still mean: "I am stupid! I am really really stupid!"

Since God/Allah/Twit/etc is a word for something that the vast preponderance of the evidence suggests does not exist--all kinds of things are true that an all-powerful, all-loving, all-vengeful Supreme Being would not permit, and all kinds of things don't exist that such a being would create--anyone who believes in such a Being is necessarily stupid. As stupid as someone who believes in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. And since the translation should capture the gist of a sentence's meaning, "I am stupid! I am really, really stupid!" appropriately captures the gist of this one.

Comment: Re:serious question (Score 4, Insightful) 113

by radtea (#48585869) Attached to: 2014 Geek Gift Guide

is bennett haselton a real person? and if so, any idea what abnormal psychological diagnoses he might fit?

Narcissistic Marketing Disorder: the belief that whatever you have to say, no matter now banal, stupid, confused, idiotic, boring, passe', imbecilic or wrong, it is interesting and important because it's you saying it.

Comment: Re:What people want to read (Score 1) 368

by radtea (#48545825) Attached to: Overly Familiar Sci-Fi

The biggest problem with what Stross is saying is that people, in general, want to read about situations that are familiar to them. It's damn hard to come up with a truly believable far-future culture in the first place, but it's much harder to do so in a way that makes it both alien to us and something that people can identify with enough to actually enjoy reading.

The same is true of historical fiction. Protagonists from as little as a century ago, if depicted realistically, would be both wildly implausible and utterly unpalatable to modern audiences. Even modern novels from other cultures have a lot of heavy lifting to do if they want to get an audience in the Anglosphere.

Two reasonably good historical authors are Patrick O'Brien and George MacDonald Fraser. The former manages by making his characters genuinely alien to us, and the latter by having a hero (Flashman) who is a complete reprobate, so when he--for example--sells his nominal wife into slavery we are shocked but not surprised.

On this basis, even near future SF is hard to do well. I've written a near future novel ( and even a decade or three in the future is hard to handle realistically while still keeping characters accessible to the modern reader.

I'd go further and say that when we read historical authors, from Shakespeare to Austen to Dickens, we often gloss over just how weird the worlds they are writing about actually are, and the pace of social change in the past generation or two accounts for most of that shift. If things keep up at this rate none of us will be able to communicate meaningfully with our grandchildren.

Comment: Pushes back discovery, not reality (Score 1) 59

by radtea (#48533631) Attached to: The Ancestor of Humans Was an "Artist" 500,000 Years Ago

Fossil finds are a very sparsely sampled distribution, which means that while the earliest evidence for art has been pushed back hundreds of thousands of years, the earliest making of art almost certainly predates it by a much longer span:

This is not a new idea, but it's one that continually evades reporters in this area. The data of first discovery of a sparsely sampled distribution is almost certainly much, much later than the first instance of the thing being sampled.

Comment: Re:I don't get it (Score 2) 167

by radtea (#48511417) Attached to: Is a "Wikipedia For News" Feasible?

I don't think even-handed coverage is possible, when journalism as a whole is essentially paid trolling for one agenda or another.

We can at least hope for news stories that convey a minimal amount of relevant background information:

The cost of supplying a few concrete facts relevant to the background of each story is apparently too much for various news outlets, but with the kind of crowd-sourcing Larry is suggesting this could be done. It'll be interesting to see how this effort evolves.

Ideology may always be with us, in the sense that that "there is no view from no where" but it is (precisely!) equally true that "there is no view of no where", and modern news organizations apparently forget that. They routinely distort the news to the point where it is almost unrecognizable (ask anyone who has been close to any matter reported in the news). Part of the value of sites like /. is that sometimes we get people here who can untangle the journalist's mix of ideology and ignorance from the subject of the story, which gives us all a better view of reality, which of course is possible (your smartphone wouldn't work if it wasn't.)

Comment: Re:Graphene: easy to use, hard to produce (Score 1) 129

by radtea (#48494525) Attached to: Graphene May Top Kevlar As a Bullet-Stopping Material

The situation was similar for transistors, if you recall: the first solid-state transistor was invented in 1947...

Actually, the situation was very different for the transistor. The 1947 invention was the point-contact transistor. The bipolar junction silicon transistor was invented in 1954 and the first commercial transistor radio was released the same year (both by TI):

So less than 7 years from "it's possible" to the first release of perhaps the most famous application.

Microchips, which you mention for some reason, are irrelevant: the impact of the transistor was huge long before microchips became relevant.

Graphene, by contrast, is a decade past discovery. Ten years ago we were told two things about graphene:

1) no one knows how to produce it in bulk

2) if we could produce it in bulk there would be awesome things that could be done with it.

Continuing to publish stories a decade later that amplify the awesome things that could be done with it, when there has apparently been little or no progress in its mass production, is some combination of boring/frustrating/stupid. We don't really need to be continually told, "The list of things you can't yet to do with graphene, and won't ever be able to do with graphene in the foreseeable future, continues to lengthen."

It just isn't interesting to tell these stories. Come back and talk about graphene when there is progress on mass production. That is interesting. Adding to the already long list of things that will never be made out of it because no one can figure out how to mass produce it is not.

Comment: Nuclear won't be acknowledged as a solution. (Score 4, Interesting) 652

by radtea (#48460457) Attached to: Two Google Engineers Say Renewables Can't Cure Climate Change

Nuclear won't be accepted as a solution until people who claim to believe that climate change has the potential to end civilization accept that the only proven technology capable of replacing base-load coal is nuclear, and that climate change is a technological problem, not a social problem.

This will take a long time.

The green activist movement is completely dominated by Naiomi Klein-style social engineers who don't care one whit about the environment, but who see it as a useful tool for defeating global capitalism. Thus their opposition to any technological solution to the problem of CO2 emissions whatsoever.

Now that climate change is increasingly widely acknowledged as a real issue--the Pentagon takes it seriously, can you get realer than that?--the green activist community will increasingly be seen as the major impediment to solving the problem. The question is: will we push these utopian socialists aside quickly enough to save the planet?

Comment: Re:In a Self-Driving Future--- (Score 1) 454

by radtea (#48447069) Attached to: In a Self-Driving Future, We May Not Even Want To Own Cars

Likewise! I'm a member of a car co-op that has a range of available vehicles from smart-cars to pickups, and I'm a block away from good mass transit and three blocks away from excellent mass transit.

When I moved here a few years ago I wondered "Will I miss having a car?"

After a year I thought, "Not having a car is OK"

Now I think, "Man am I ever glad I don't own a car!"

Comment: Re:We've been doing it for a long time (Score 1, Troll) 367

We've been doing unintentional geoengineering for hundreds of years now, why would some intentional geoengineering be so bad?

Because it might allow us to continue with global trade, industrial capitalism and rising prosperity.

Show me any practical, proven technology whose wide-spread deployment would significantly reduce GHG emissions and I will show you a green activist group vehemently opposed to it.

Wind: http://www.energyenvironmental...



And of course Nuclear:

Some people will claim that green activists aren't opposed to all these (and other) technologies per se but rather to these specific projects... and yet there is in fact opposition to every single specific project of sufficient scale or scope to make a difference, so that is clearly false. It is simply not plausible that every single project regardless of technology just happens to be so bad for the Earth it is worthy of vigorous opposition, unless you're against industrial capitalism, global trade and rising prosperity regardless, in which case you should just be honest and say so, and stop with all the irrelevant distractions about the climate.

Green activists are like anti-contraception activists: they believe their target activity (industrial capitalism/sex) is bad in and of itself, and cannot ever be made good, but they disingenuously and dishonestly claim that they are opposed to it because of its potential negative consequences... and then do everything they can to prevent anyone from ameliorating those consequences.

GA: "Global warming is bad! We must shut down industrial capitalism!"

Technologist: "Hey, I can fix things so industrial capitalism wouldn't cause global warming."

GA: "We must not do that!:

Tech: "Why not?"

GA: "Because industrial capitalism is bad!"

Tech: "How come?"

GA: "Because it causes global warming!"

Tech: "But I just showed you how we can avoid that."

GA: "We can't! You're lying! It's a trap! Industrial capitalism can't be made good because it's bad!"

Tech: "Fuck you. I'm going to go ahead anyway."

GA: goes away muttering, waving copy of Malthus...

Comment: Re:Quantum Mechanics and Determinism (Score 2) 335

My original post was simply pointing out that the human brain is NOT and can never be a Turing machine

This is true but it has exactly nothing to do with quantum mechanics or randomness. To see this, understand that we can't tell if QM is "truly" (metaphysically) random or just mocking it up really cleverly. Or rather, we can tell, but using inferences so indirect that they make no difference to the operation of the human brain, which is an extremely strongly coupled environment that is completely unlike the areas where "true" quantum randomness exhibits itself. No process in the brain depends in any way on metaphysical randomness: we could write a Monte Carlo simulation of the brain using entirely pseudo-random number generators and it would be accurate.

Brains and robots and computers have a number of properties that Turing Machines do not, however. In particular, I/O and realtime interrupts. Turing's model is strictly limited to what is on the tape. There is no way to hook up a sensor to a Turing machine and still have any of Turing's proofs still apply. The moment you allow even one bit to come in from the outside world, you no longer have a Turing machine.

So what Turing machines cannot do is not all that interesting to the design of robots. Turing's most important proof is that of universal computation: that any machine that can do at least what a Turing machine can do can compute anything that any Turing machine can compute. But this tells us nothing about what a machine that contains a Turing machine but is not itself a Turing machine can do. Robots (and humans) exhibit emergent properties from their interaction with the world, and that interaction is simply not part of Turing's model.

When you don't know what you are doing, do it neatly.