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Comment ...or the difference may be totally insignificant. (Score 1) 456

The marginal increase in the probability of an someone being a terrorist given that you know he's an engineer may be startling in relative terms, but in absolute terms it's insignificant.

Estimates of total active membership in terror groups worldwide is under 200,000, but let's assume there's even million active terrorists just for the sake of having round numbers and not having to quibble over where to put the decimal point. There are seven billion people in the world, so the rate of terrorist participation in the general population is 14 thousandths of a percent; let's call that p(T), and call the probability that someone is a terrorist given that they're an engineer p(T|E). Let's look at the absolute marginal difference being an engineer makes, i.e.:P(T|E) - P(T)

i. p(T) = 0.0001428
i. p(T|E) = 9 * P(T) = 0.001286
iii. P(T|E) - P(T) = 0.001143

So being an engineer increases your chance of being a terrorist by at most about 1/10 of 1% under wildly pessimistic assumptions. In fact the marginal difference is really more like 1/50 of 1%. Now it's interesting that the rates of terrorism are so much larger among engineers than other people, but it has little practical significance and being an engineer myself that's what I'm most concerned with. If you were designing a surveillance program and were picking out groups that need keeping tabs on, 1/10 % is a grasping-at-straws number

Comment Re:I'd be wary of Musk, too (Score 5, Insightful) 100

He seems really good at using government subsidies to make money for himself.

Well, that's the point isn't it? To jumpstart private industry? You can't do that without the profit motive.

Tesla paid it's 450 million 2009 loan back with interest in four years and went from the brink of bankruptcy to a market cap of 29 billion dollars. Sounds like a success story to me.

Comment Re:Wait, they shipped the private key? (Score 1) 65

But what possible use is publishing your private key?

Perhaps, it is to be able to deny responsibility for bad software later, but that's a little too far-fetched...

Well, we're not talking about publishing THE private key to anything Dell cares about. We're talking about publishing A private key that Dell can use to do things on the client's machine that undermine the security model. Why? Well there's lots of potential ways to create revenue or cut costs that way. For example Lenovo did it so they could inject ads into web pages that were supposedly cryptographically protected from tampering.

Comment Re:Wait, they shipped the private key? (Score 1) 65

So, the happy owners of the affected laptops can now issue certificates and/or sign drivers, which will be accepted as genuine by other owners of Dell hardware?

Seriously? If so, that's just too dumb to be malicious...

It's not too dumb to be willful negligence -- defined in legal dictionaries as "Intentional performance of an unreasonable act in disregard of a known risk..."

Having the know-how to do such a thing necessarily entails knowledge of why its a bad idea. So either an engineer acted in breech of professional ethics, or managers rode roughshod over the engineers' objections.

Comment Re:High level? (Score 5, Insightful) 91

Speaking as someone who learned C in 1980, C was originally thought of as a low-level language -- a suitable replacement in most cases for assembly language that, while abstracting underlying details like the CPU instruction set and registers, remained relatively small and "close to the hardware". Then later 80s I was asked to take over a course on C, and when I looked at the course description I was surprised to see it described as a "high level language". I asked the person who wrote the description what he meant by "high level language", and he really had no idea. He said he meant it was "powerful", which of course is just as vague when comparing any two Turing equivalent languages.

Of course "high level" vs. "low level" is relative. C is "high level" in comparison to assembly, or "B", in which the only datatype was a computer word. On the other hand C "low level" in comparison to most other languages that hide away the details of the hardware like instruction set and registers and such. So it depends on what you're comparing to; but in general I think people who describe C as "low level" know more about what they're talking about than those who call it a "high level" language.

The important thing isn't whether C is "high" or "low" level; it is what makes C work, which is largely about what was left out. It didn't have all the bells and whistles of something like PL/1, which made the language easy to implement, even on a tiny 8 bit microcomputer, and easy to learn, in the form of a slim, almost pamphlet-like book (The C Programming Language, 1st edition was 228 paperback-sized pages long).

Even so, C has become very slightly more "higher level" over the years. The original K&R C was more weakly typed than the later ANSI C. Particularly when you were dealing with pointers, the declared type of a pointer in K&R C was more of a mnemonic aid to the programmer than anything else.

Comment Re:I'm angry (Score 1) 150

Some of the Gov officials did test it, and I seem to recall that McCormick's excuse for any bad results was always along the lines of operator error, inadequate training and, get this, the operator had to believe the device would work, otherwise it would not work.

It was standard pseudo-science bullshit. If it doesn't work, it's not the fault of the pseudo-science, it's because of those involved giving off bad vibes.

Comment Re: I remember that bullshit dowsing rod. (Score 1) 150

So the detector could detect drugs if they were placed directly in its line of sight where they could be seen. This is not the usual place drugs are hidden.

Far better to detect the drugs' aura , which is an evil kind of muddy purple and extends through solid objects. This is done through some kind of magic that you wouldn't understand if you're not in touch with your inner spirit, wooo, woooo, wooo,

Comment Re:I was never a big Star Wars fan (Score 1) 423

I'm with you on this. Star Wars was always just cowboys in space, making it up as they went along. The fact that its creator felt compelled to keep going back to previous films to try and make it into something deeper and cohesive, and increasingly just made it more of a mess, demonstrated this.

The films are (mostly) fun, but nothing to get over excited about. I'm sure the new one will be fun too, but I'm not expecting it to turn the general train wreck of a plot around.

Take your work seriously but never take yourself seriously; and do not take what happens either to yourself or your work seriously. -- Booth Tarkington