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Comment: Re:Severe, and yet not severe. (Score 2) 231

by rritterson (#46403443) Attached to: Bug In the GnuTLS Library Leaves Many OSs and Apps At Risk
Your reasoning is a bit circular. This bug allows governments to do MitM attacks. Governments have already been doing MitM attacks, perhaps by exploiting this bug. Therefore, this bug is no big deal?

SSL/TLS communications are just as secure as they always where, which is to say broken in a widely used library under an implementation/trust model is that is very widely used.

Comment: Re:Use Class Rank (Score 5, Insightful) 264

by rritterson (#46212111) Attached to: Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician's Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation

The essence of class rank is to compare the student to his/her peers instead of against a fixed measure whose bar can be raised/lowered.

Class rank is problematic though, for a couple of reasons:
-It doesn't make sense to compare GPAs across majors. The article points out that natural science professors already grade more stringently. Class rank across the entire university would only ensure natural science students looked poorly. (And vice versa for humanities students)
-If your GPA is going to be directly compared against others as a measure of your talent, you have an extra incentive to find a way to take the classes offered by the professors who grade most easily, boosting your GPA and thus your class rank.

We actually have a time-tested way of comparing students' performance to each other: grading on a curve. When I was in college (early 2000s, major American public university), all science and math courses were graded on curves, with 10-15% of the class getting As. Most professors had a minimum score that would guarantee a passing grade so that there wasn't a necessity to fail anyone, typically set to some percentage of the median Some students complained that they were doing well and learning the material, but are only getting Bs because of superstars in the course. To that, I say tough, because in the real world, no one is going to hire you to do anything just because you are good enough if another candidate is around who will do a better job than you will.

Fortunately, my university's grading policies were well known enough by employers in my field, so that the relatively lower GPA were taken into account when recruiting. The best students had A's in about 2/3s of courses. Hardly anyone had a 4.0 in even a single semester, just because it's extraordinarily difficult to be in the top 15% in every subject and have any kind of regular life.

Comment: biased sampling will cause problems. (Score 2) 73

by rritterson (#45579979) Attached to: Crowdsourcing the Discovery of New Antibiotics

This is an interesting proposal to combat the "death of antibiotic" problem. Even if it were wildly sucessful, though, I fear that big business may not take up the results that are found, though. For one, although discovering new sources does remove some of the capital hurdles to development, a substantial part of the cost of drug development is the large clinical studies that must be undertaken in order to garner FDA approval. This project would do nothing to solve that problem.

In addition, it raises some interesting IP issues that may make pharma balk--if I discover some natural substance has antibiotic properties, do I earn an inventor title on the patent and partial royalities for the development?

What is really needed, I think, is a diversion of part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget toward research that would otherwise be avoided due to the lack of profit at the end. Even as someone, who, myself is funded by NIH, I think we could make better use of some of the many billions a year by re-directing them.

That all said, if the project is not viewed with the end goal of developing new antibiotics, but instead viewed as a project designed to encourage particiaption in modern biology--an educational project that might cause a discovery, it's hard to think of it as anything but a fanstastic idea.

Comment: this is intolerable (Score 5, Insightful) 550

by rritterson (#41674793) Attached to: Teen Suicide Tormentor Outed By Anonymous

If Anonymous has material evidence that points to the guilt of a particular individual, they should turn that evidence over to the responsible law enforcement agency, not go public and taint both the investigation and public opinion. The detectives may have had the opportunity to seize evidence before the person knew he was under suspicion, or set up a sting operation. They'd also have the chance to clear the individual if he's innocent without the mess of threats of violence I presume this guy is now going to get.

Presuming this person is eventually charged and tried, Anonymous releasing this information can complicate the job of the prosecutor, having the opposite effect intended.

On the other hand, if this person is innocent, Anonymous just released a shitstorm on this poor guy that's going to be nearly impossible to get rid of until the police charge someone else.

I don't see any situations where Anonymous' action result in a more positive outcome than would have come about through other choices.

Comment: Re:Supply and Demand (Score 1) 454

by rritterson (#41674709) Attached to: Faculty To Grad Students: Go Work 80-Hour Weeks!

Markets are not fully efficient.

One potential negative outcome of the system as structured is that the most talented and brilliant astronomers choose not to enter the field because of the poor job prospects, leaving nothing but a bunch of mediocre astronomers who, admittedly, are committed, but still aren't going to have the same sorts of breakthroughs.

This can happen in reverse too, where one profession becomes so attractive (due to salary, e.g.) it sucks people away from fields they'd otherwise prefer and be great at. This happened in investment banking. We need some non-zero number of them, but certainly not as many as we did. I think we can agree that sending all of the best and brightest minds to investment banking is not the most productive or beneficial outcome for the rest of society.

We cannot bring about utopian outcomes by sheer force of law and regulation. But we can tilt the incentives away from unwanted metastable states and undesired positive feedback loops.

Comment: Re:The NYSE shouldn't reverse trades. (Score 5, Insightful) 223

by rritterson (#40991627) Attached to: Knight Trading Losses Attributed To Old, Dormant Software

The problem with that idea is that sometimes these high frequency traders also cause volatility spikes in the market, triggering other computer programs, and, sometimes, humans, to react as though the spurious trades were intentional.

While I also loathe HFT as a scourge on the market, I think the NYSE's overall response is a good one: when abnormal trades occur as a secondary effect of other's mistakes, abort them.

Note that the ca. $440 million loss Knight took was BECAUSE they couldn't unwind the bad positions they bought into. Goldman Sachs bought the entire block from them at a discount. Knight didn't get any kind of parachute.

Comment: Change schools. (Score 5, Interesting) 416

by rritterson (#40188465) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What To Do With a Math Degree?

I come from a family of teachers, so I know all about internal politics. Unless she no longer wants to teach under any circumstances, change schools first before giving up. Try private if you've only done public, etc. If it is truly her passion, she'll find the school for her.

Or, do what my college roommate did and specialize in Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. Make $120,000 a year and hate yourself.

Comment: or there is no free will (Score 2) 465

by rritterson (#39787715) Attached to: Quantum Experiment Shows Effect Before Cause

One explanation of the results, should they hold up is that Alice, Bob, and Victor's actions were predetermined before the photons were generated and thus had to correlate.

You could say that the actors then had no free will, or you could imagine a scenario where somehow the actions of all three were entangled via an earlier free will choice.

Comment: link to the source, please (Score 5, Informative) 248

by rritterson (#39132391) Attached to: Biologists Debunk the "Rotting Y Chromosome" Theory
Not like I love the Nature Publishing Group (NPG) very much, but let's link to the source to help give the original authors credit. (Which, as far as I can tell, the medical daily article doesn't even do!)

Here is a link to the original paper

For those who aren't molecular biologists or geneticists, here is a link to the Nature news article on the scientific paper

Comment: FBI = good or FBI = bad? (Score 1) 84

by rritterson (#36543844) Attached to: FBI Shuts Down Major Scareware Gang
Just yesterday, we had a story about the FBI seizing servers in virginia and most of the comments were negative. Of course, in this thread, most of the comments are positive.

One difference is we know the purpose of the seizures in this case, which makes it seem less fly-by-night, but I wonder how the hosting providers felt when the servers were first seized. Not that we should let the FBI seize whatever, whenever, but sometimes quick action to seize evidence is necessary, even if it inconveniences others.

Administration: An ingenious abstraction in politics, designed to receive the kicks and cuffs due to the premier or president. -- Ambrose Bierce