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Comment: Re:Can someone explain this? (Score 3, Informative) 47

by hey! (#49156569) Attached to: Oracle Sues 5 Oregon Officials For 'Improper Influence'

What they're alleging is that political staffers interfered with the project to help the governor's election chances.

As much as I believe Oracle is the spawn of Satan, if the governor's aides and staffers did that Oracle would have a reasonable complaint. When you sign a system development contract you agree to deliver a system and the client agrees to pay you. If you someone induces your client not to accept a system that meets the criteria, that's what lawyers call a "tort". It's something you can justifiably sue over.

Likewise there are many ways political operatives could potentially sabotage a project, and that'd be actionable too. Any non-trivial development project is dependent upon the client acting in good faith. They have to act as if they want the system. It's extremely easy for a client to cause a project to fail, by raising an endless stream of trivial complaints or by dragging its feet in its responsibilities like acceptance testing or giving feedback. It'd be all to easy for well-placed political operatives to undermine the bureaucracy's willingness to cooperate.

That said, in *this* particular instance the suit sounds like business as usual for Oracle, in other words acting like bastards.

Comment: Re:Where the economic system breaks down (Score 1) 254

by hey! (#49155959) Attached to: 5 White Collar Jobs Robots Already Have Taken

Here's the thing about technology prognostication. Timing is everything. Take predicting tablets being a big market success. People were making tablets back in the early 90s and people were predicting that it would take off. But the timing was wrong. It's clear to anyone who saw 2001 that tablets would someday be a big deal, but it took more knowledge than most people have to understand the prerequisites that could make that vision come true (display technology, battery weight and volume, processor performance and consumption, memory density).

This caution applies to dystopian predictions as well. People have been predicting that automation would destroy the economy for hundreds of years by now. Instead automation has increased productivity and raised wages. So it seems sensible to dismiss future predictions of an automation apocalypse. Except we can't.

Reasoning from historical experience is for most people reasoning by vague analogy. But each moment in history has to be looked at on its own terms, because sometimes things have to be just right for a certain scenario to unfold. The devil is in the details. So the idea that automation is going to produce mass unemployment is not certain either way. We have to look at conditions in *this* moment of history and reason specifically. That's hard to do.

Comment: Re:just FYI (Score 1) 76

by hey! (#49155893) Attached to: Banned Weight-loss Drug Could Combat Liver Disease, Diabetes

Well, like Paracelsus said, the dose makes the poison. Or in this case the release mechanism.

Blood concentrations of drugs usually peak an hour or two after ingestion and then taper off depending on the mechanisms the body uses to either break the drug down or excrete it directly (when you're an old Geek, you begin to pick up a lot of this stuff). So it's entirely plausible that the same amount of drug which would be dangerous in an ordinary pill would be acceptably safe in a timed release formulation, particularly if it is quickly eliminated from the body. The concentration in the patients' tissues would never reach dangerous levels. You can think of it as a lower "instantaneous" dose.

Comment: Re:Corporation != People (Score 1) 358

by hey! (#49155827) Attached to: Verizon Posts Message In Morse Code To Mock FCC's Net Neutrality Ruling

Corporations are a peaceable assembly of board members and/or shareholders.

This is an interesting, but not quite valid argument. The reason is that corporations are *not* an assemblage of individuals. Associations are. The laws and privileges entailed in being a corporation are different. If associations, partnerships and corporations were the same thing, the rules would be the same. But thery're not. Stockholders aren't financially responsible for the debts of a corporation, nor are they legally responsible for the deeds of the corporation.

I hold stock in a number of companies. Were I a *partner* in the corporations I could walk onto any of the company's properties, because it's *my* property. If I own stock in Target I can't just have a shufti around the back room of the store; it's not my store. It belongs to the corporation.

Also as a stockholder in a number of corporations, when those corporations engage in political activity they are not exercising *my* rights. They don't represent me in any way, nor do I have veto power when I disagree with them. When the Sierra Club speaks out on environmental issues, you can presume they speak for me as a member, because they exist for that purpose, and I joined on that basis. When JP Morgan Chase buys a congressman, they are not speaking for me, even though I hold stock. I'd rather they don't. I bought JP Morgan stock many years ago as an investment. Insofar as they participate in politics they're usually working against my interests.

Comment: Re:White balance and contrast in camera. (Score 1) 329

by hey! (#49155729) Attached to: Is That Dress White and Gold Or Blue and Black?

I've sat right next to people who see the dress differently than me. It's *the same image* on *the same monitor* at *the same time*. So it's not a case of the monitor calibration or the camera white balance that creates the discrepancy, although obviously manipulating those things will change our individual perceptions of the dress. What's interesting here is the differences between people presented with an identical image.

Color doesn't exist in the external world. "Purple" isn't a wavelength of light, it's a kind of "additional data" tag which our brains add to parts of an image that allows us to extract more information from it. Consider the famous "Rubik's Cube" optical illusion where the same square looks either orange or brown based on whether contextual cues make us think it is in shadow or not. There's an illustration here.

The only difference between the Rubik's Cube illusion and The Dress That Broke The Internet is that practically *everyone* experiences the paradoxical sensations of the Rubik's Cube Illusion; in the case of the dress the paradox is in how sensations *differ between people*. The dress image is a kind of borderline case where our brains can "tag" the "pixels" of the image in one of two possible ways depending on what it thinks the context is. Different brains are trained by different experiences to expect different contexts. If we saw the dress being worn and in person, chances are with all that context there'd be less disagreement.

Comment: Re:Yet another reason to abandon physical media. (Score 1) 64

by jedidiah (#49155579) Attached to: Blu-Ray Players Hackable Via Malicious Discs

> If you watch your movies via streaming, this is not an issue. 2015 people, 2015.

Yes. In 2015 there's still plenty of stuff that's not available via streaming or is only available at a price that most people aren't interested in paying.

Some us actually use this stuff and don't merely talk about it.

Comment: Genius. (Score 3, Funny) 200

by hey! (#49149869) Attached to: Lenovo Saying Goodbye To Bloatware

CEO: This Superfish incident has put our credibility in the toilet. Even corporate customers are looking askance at us now, and we didn't put it on their computers. Suggestions?

Executive 1: Lay low until it blows over.

Executive 2: Hire a new PR firm.

Executive 3: Start a social media campaign.

Genius executive: Maybe we should promise not to do stuff like that anymore.

Comment: I heard the news in the car today. (Score 5, Interesting) 394

by hey! (#49148919) Attached to: Leonard Nimoy Dies At 83

It'll be one of those moments I'll remember, like coming into work and being told about the Challenger disaster, or turning on the car radio and hearing the hushed voices of the announcers on 9/11. Like so many people I feel a connection to this wonderful man.

Of course he did more than play Spock; and in the early post-TOS years he was famously ambivalent about his association with the role. But he did something special with that role. It's easy in the fog of nostalgia to forget that man TOS scripts weren't all that great (although some of them were). The character of Spock might have become just an obscure bit of pop culture trivia; instead Nimoy turned Spock into a character that I feel sure actors in our grandchildren's generation will want to play and make their mark upon.

What Nimoy brought to that role is a dignity and authenticity, possibly rooted in his "alien" experience as the child of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. In less sensitive hands the part might have been a joke, but I think what many of us took away from Nimoy's performance was something that became deeply influential in our world views. Nimoy's Spock taught us that there was something admirable in being different even when that is hard for others to understand; that winning the respect of others is just as rewarding as popularity. The world needs its oddballs and misfits, not to conform, but to be the very best version of themselves they can be. Authenticity is integrity.

It's customary to say things in remembrances like "you will be missed", but that falls short. Leonard Nimoy, you will live on in the lives of all us you have touched.

Comment: Re:... Driverless cars? (Score 2) 290

I wonder how much direct or even second-hand knowledge of unions you have.

In my family we've been on both sides of this issue. My sister, who is an RN, just recently led a successful but bitterly contested unionization drive of her hospital. The impetus for bringing in the union was that after privatization the hospital cut staff so much the nurses feared for patient safety. Nurses don't just administer medicine and make beds; one of the most important things they do is catch mistakes. When a surgeon starts prepping the wrong limb for amputation or an internist accidentally prescribes a medication that will kill the patient. It's nurse's job to catch that. It was unequivocally fear of making mistakes that drove the nurses at that hospital to unionize.

Did she piss off the hospital's new owners? You bet she did. But would you rather go to a hospital where the nurses *lost* that fight? How would you feel about the nurse checking your medications had worked back-to-back weeks of double shifts caring for more patients than she (or he) can keep track of?

On the other hand my brother is a senior executive at a large food service company. He told me about a meeting he had with a local African-American union representative where she played the race card with the first words out of her mouth. This was pointlessly antagonistic, in part because while my brother is a conservative he's open-minded and has a good track record of working with the unions. But mostly pointless because we're not white. We can pass, but as the genealogist in the family recently figured out we have only about 1/3 European ancestry. Fortunately he could laugh that off but if he'd been white and thinner-skinned that might have driven the negotiations into a ditch.

Comment: Re:Sick (Score 5, Insightful) 290

Well, this "richest country in the world" business is somewhat misleading. It means the country with the greatest aggregate economic power, not the country where people tend to be the best off. You need to look at several measures before you can begin to understand the thing that's mystifying you.

By total GDP the US is by far the wealthiest nation in the world. It has almost twice the total GDP of the second country on the list, China. By *per capita* GDP, the US is about 10th on the list, just below Switzerland; so by global standards the typical American is wealthy, but not the wealthiest. On the other hand the US ranks about 20th in cost of living, so the typical American has it pretty good.

Where things get interesting is if you look at GINI -- a measure of economic disparity. The most equal countries are of course the Scandinavians, with Denmark, Sweden and Norway topping the list. The US is far from the *least* equal (Seychelles, South Africa, and Comoros), but it is kind of surprising when you look at countries near the US on the list. Normally in most economic measures you see the US ranked near advanced industrialized countries in Europe, but it's neighbors on the GINI list are places like Turkmenistan, Qatar, and El Salvador.

What this means is that we have significant classes on either end of the scale: the *very* wealthy and an economic underclass. Now because of the total wealth sloshing around in the US, the US underclass has it pretty well compared to the underclass in, say, India. But what this doesn't buy is clout or respect. "Poor" households in the US usually have TVs and refrigerators -- a fact that seems to anger some people, who see the poor in the US as ungrateful people who are too lazy to improve themselves. But a study by the OECD suggests that they don't have the *time* to improve themselves. In a ranking of countries by time spend on leisure and self-care the US ranks 33rd, at 14.3 hours lagging almost two hours per day behind world leader Denmark (big surprise). But remember this is an average; it doesn't represent the time available for the poor.

Most Americans seem to think that poor people spend all their time sitting around waiting for handouts. This willfully ignores the phenomenon of the working poor. After selling my company, I volunteered on a lark at a charity which refurbishes old furniture and household stuff and furnishes the homes of poor people, and I found poor people to be neither lazy nor ungrateful. Let me tell you I have never met so many people who work two or sometimes more jobs. Particularly shocking were the number of women who took their children out of abusive relationships, and then have to work a full time job, raise three or four kids, without a car and in a neighborhood that doesn't have a grocery store. You don't know what gratitude is until you've given a poor, overtaxed mother beds when her children have been sleeping on the floor for months.

When some smug, ignorant and conspicuously well-fed media head starts whining about the poor having refrigerators, it makes me want to punch them in the mouth.

Comment: Wasn't this the main point of "Agile"? (Score 1) 341

by hey! (#49142597) Attached to: The Programmers Who Want To Get Rid of Software Estimates

Find a compromise between predicting too much of the future and just managing a project by the seat of your pants; get into a rhythm where you check how good your estimations and learn to get better at them.

Of course you can't develop every project this way; I've used Agile and it's worked for me. I've used waterfall and it's worked for me too. You have to try to be sensible; you can't completely wall of other people's need to know when you'll accomplish certain things, nor can you build a solid plan based on pure speculation. You have to have an intelligent responsible way of dealing with future uncertainty, a plan to cut it down to size.

I've even had the good fortune at one point of winning a $750,000 grant to build a system for which no firm requirements had been established. It was kind of an uphill-flowing waterfall: we knew how long it would take us and how much it would cost but we had no firm idea of what we were supposed to build. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was; but my team was *successful* and built a product which was still be used and supported over a decade after the grant finished.

What's missing from many programming estimates is honesty. It's a matter of ethics; you can't take people's money and say maybe someday you'll deliver something useful to them. People don't have unlimited time and money to accomplish all the things that need to be done in the world. It's an honor being entrusted with people's aspirations, and a serious responsibility. It's hard, even nerve-wracking, but you've got to care enough about the impact of your planning on other people to make the effort to do the very best job you can.

And what I've found is that if you do make the effort you can do a surprisingly good job of estimating a project if it's in an area and with technologies you're reasonably familiar with. If you look closely your specific predictions will often be way off, but if you care enough to be brutally honest the pleasant surprises tend to balance out the unpleasant ones.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. -- John Muir

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