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Comment: Why are they hiding information? (Score 1) 72

by sjbe (#47784217) Attached to: Microsoft Releases Replacement Patch With Two Known Bugs

3 secs should be just enough to click the "more information" link.

You apparently have never bothered to click the "more information" link. It is a pretty good approximation of useless unless you click several layers deep and shouldn't be necessary in the first place. A short description of what the patch actually is intended to do would not kill Microsoft. I shouldn't have to go hunting for that information if I want it. Yes I know how to find out what the patch is for but Microsoft has made it needlessly hard.

Put bluntly, I shouldn't have to click ANY links to see a summary of what a patch is supposed to do.

Comment: Most developers only know trial and error (Score 1) 106

by sjbe (#47783429) Attached to: Software Error Caused Soyuz/Galileo Failure

Most programmers and software engineers have the limitations you mention because consumers don't want to pay for the high quality software we want to build for them.

I would lend more credence to this statement if most software engineers actually had any actual experience designing and implementing high reliability software. Most unfortunately have very little clue what that actually means or how to do it for real. They like the idea (it's a good idea!) but have zero experience or training in the implementation techniques required. You are correct that there is an economic component to the problem but that doesn't appear to be the core problem. Even when we take money out of the equation altogether with open source software, we STILL don't see software developers using the formal engineering techniques that would result in the most reliable software. I think this is in large part because most of them have no idea whatsoever how actually develop like this. Most software is designed by trial and error because that is the only way most developers know how to do it. They still code like they did when they were a teenager in mom's basement because no one showed them a better way.

For what it's worth, this problem isn't unique to software engineers. I'm not a programmer and I see similar problems with electrical and mechanical engineers on a daily basis. Trial and error is easy to understand and quick and generally works whereas formal engineering is much harder.

When software is used in places where it has to work the first time, we'll be more than happy to adapt to the new set of circumstances.

Maybe but I doubt it. I really don't see developers genuinely pushing for more reliable development techniques in the real world. They talk about them in a "wouldn't that be nice" sort of way but they don't really try to make them happen.

Comment: Hours of testing doesn't equal automatic quality (Score 1) 106

by sjbe (#47783365) Attached to: Software Error Caused Soyuz/Galileo Failure

Your fears are not rational. Self driving cars and robotic surgeons are tested for thousands of hours, under live conditions.

Among the other parts of my job I run a Quality Assurance department for my company and I've worked in QA for several years. It doesn't matter how much you test something if the process for designing and building the product was inadequate. QA testing is like the goalie on a hockey team - necessary but even the best goalie is going to fail if the team in front of him can't play defense. Good quality comes from good designs which are rationally and systematically well executed. Testing is a part of the equation but the correlation between hours of testing and the ultimate quality of a product is a weak one.

I had LASIK eye surgery done by a robot. I trusted it far more than I would a human surgeon.

And you looked up the hard evidence to back up this assumption for that specific procedure? (you may have - not trying to be rude) I've had LASIK as well and while I agree that it is absolutely possible for a robot to help a surgeon do a better job, I wouldn't trust it more simply because it was a robot. Furthermore there is a difference between an autonomous robot and a robotic assistive device. Most "robotic surgery" is with devices that assist and (hopefully) improve the capability of the surgeon doing the work but it is still a surgeon operating on you at the end of the day. He's just using a fancy tool to help him be a bit steadier.

Getting rocket software right is difficult precisely because there is no way to do a live test.

Umm, yes there is. It's called "doing a live test". They're often expensive but they very often are possible. We did lots of them in the early days of the space program. Companies still do them to this day. They might choose not to for economic reasons but that doesn't mean they cannot be done.

Comment: Women fight differently and are not more mature (Score 3, Interesting) 344

by sjbe (#47783203) Attached to: Why Women Have No Time For Wikipedia

Absolute truth. Women as a group tend to be more emotionally mature, and apt to avoid senseless conflict.

I've been on the board of a non-profit which whose members are predominately women, usually middle aged women. I also run a company where about 3/4 of the employees are women. Furthermore I grew up in a household where I was the only male most of the time. I can assure you that women are as a group absolutely not more (or less) emotionally mature than men and if anything women are more likely to engage in senseless conflict. HOW they fight is very different. More passive-aggressive, backbiting, alliance building, etc. It's like watching some crappy reality vote-the-other-guy-off-the-island show. In some ways women's conflict tactics are even nastier than the ones men typically employ. Guys might actually try to beat the crap out of each other (physically or verbally) but women will try to exile each other from social groups.

Anyone who thinks women's average level of maturity is higher than men's has either been watching too many sitcoms or never been around actual women for any meaningful period of time. Women tend to react to conflict differently but that doesn't mean they are any more mature about it. Men are no better but they aren't any worse either.

Comment: Re:By-products are not loss leaders (Score 1) 272

by sjbe (#47764599) Attached to: Dropbox Caught Between Warring Giants Amazon and Google

A by-product is something that you produce while making something else. What do Amazon and Google make that produces storage?

A by-product is formally defined as "'output from a joint production process that is minor in quantity and/or net realizable value when compared to the main products". The search and retail services that Google and Amazon respectively provide require a lot of computers and these computers invariably have an excess of hard drive capacity even if they are using storage area networks or similar. (storage is purchased as a step function so there always is some amount of excess capacity even if very small) This means that their primary product (search and retail) generates storage as a by-product. Offering storage related services is a way to recapture some of the value of this excess storage which would otherwise merely be a cost.

Do you mean to say that they need massive amounts of storage in the first place? That doesn't mean it's free.

Nobody said it was free and by-products aren't free either though they can be very very cheap sometimes. They simply aren't as valuable in the marketplace as the primary product. From an accounting standpoint it is a sunk cost - the money has already been spent for a separate purpose and any (rational) decision making about what to do with the asset going forward should not factor into the equation.

Excess capacity for any company on any product can be normally be sold very cheaply. This is how foreign companies can sometimes sell products for what seems like ludicrously low prices even without government subsidies and why accusations of dumping are hard to prove. Once the fixed costs of the product have been recovered, anything the company can sell it for after that is pure profit. They basically can sell it for as low as their variable cost without losing money. Google's variable cost on a unit of data storage is extremely low - probably no more than a few cents per megabyte if not less. It's not free but it's pretty close. A great example of excess capacity with a low cost is text messaging for cell phones. The cost to AT&T to send you a text message is very very very low because the mechanism to send the message simply rides on some gear that has to be there anyway for a separate purpose. Once the decision to put the cell tower in is made, text messages are almost pure profit even though technically they could be considered a by-product. (now their market value is high enough that by-product might not be an accurate description anymore though...)

It may well be that Google and Amazon can maintain storage cheaper than most people, because they do have a lot of it. Google, for example, has put a great deal of research into how to have tremendous amounts of mass storage as inexpensively as possible.

I'm a cost accountant and what you said here is 100% correct. They are able to achieve economies of scale that few others can match.

That takes advantage of economies of scale, and has nothing to do with by-products.

You are conflating two accounting issues that are properly separate. Google gets storage very cheaply on a per-megabyte basis because they buy huge amounts of it and have cost effective infrastructure to make use of it. They end up with large excess amounts of it because of the nature of their primary business (not data storage) which effectively makes it a by-product to Google. From an accounting standpoint this is no different than how oil refineries generate natural gas as a by-product when refining oil into gasoline. They would have to have the storage whether or not they went into the data storage business. By going into the data storage business they are attempting to get market value for that by-product rather than simply writing it down as waste. Either way that excess capacity is a by-product. Calling Google's excess data storage capacity a by-product is logically correct.

Comment: Everyone is a taxpayer (Score 1, Informative) 194

by sjbe (#47757377) Attached to: $75K Prosthetic Arm Is Bricked When Paired iPod Is Stolen

Then they aren't taxpayers, are they?

Sure they are. I assure you that the priest who is fully supported by his congregation is taxed on his "earnings". A housewife still has to file and is responsible for the taxes on the spouses income even if they had no role in actually earning it. All those people still pay sales, use, gasoline, excise, etc taxes. It's essentially impossible to not be a taxpayer on some level.

Comment: Incompetent engineers (Score 2) 194

by sjbe (#47757321) Attached to: $75K Prosthetic Arm Is Bricked When Paired iPod Is Stolen

I'm not familiar with the device, but the engineer in me want's to believe that no one would design a system with such an obvious weakness.

I run a company that makes wiring harnesses and I am an engineer (as well as an accountant) myself. I assure you that there are a LOT of idiots who would would design such a stupid system. I get to deal with some of them on a semi-regular basis.

We like to pretend here on slashdot that engineers are universally good at their job and always do quality work but I have several file cabinets full of evidence 10 feet from where I sit that proves that too many engineers are monumentally incompetent idiots. On a daily basis I see drawings that are incomplete, incorrect, badly designed, occasionally dangerous, specify incompatible or needlessly expensive parts, difficult or impossible to read, sloppy, cannot be manufactured and even just plain incoherent. I have seen precisely 7 product drawings (out of hundreds) in the last 5 years where I could build the product detailed on the print without asking even a single question or correcting some error. This is quite simply bad engineering by people who aren't very good at their jobs.

The fun part of engineering is figuring out a clever solution to a problem. The harder and less fun part of engineering (but probably the more important part) is documenting the solution in such a way that others can understand and replicate your solution and adjust/debug it if necessary. People who can write good quality work instructions are a shocking rarity even among very smart people. A lot of engineers will take easy shortcuts even when it results in a worse and more expensive product in the long run.

Comment: Government can and do earn money (Score 1) 194

by sjbe (#47756151) Attached to: $75K Prosthetic Arm Is Bricked When Paired iPod Is Stolen

Last time I checked, the government doesn't earn money.

Not even remotely true. Governments are perfectly capable of earning money when they choose to. Governments can and do own things and can behave very much like private businesses if they want to. In China and Egypt and Russia (and many more) have huge swaths of the private economy are outright owned by the government. The fact that the US government generally refrains from trying to make a profit and behaving like a private enterprise doesn't mean they cannot or do not. For a time in the very recent past the US government literally owned GM and Chrysler which means the US government was for a time in the automobile manufacturing business.

Not to mention that a government can literally "print" money if they want to. The Federal Reserve technically makes a profit every year though that doesn't really mean much in reality.

Taxpayers do.

Some do and some do not. People who stay home to raise children often do not earn any money. Religious leaders are often supported by tithes or donations earned by others. Elected officials and judges are typically supported by taxpayers.

Comment: Re:Dangers of extrapolation (Score 1) 145

by sjbe (#47750355) Attached to: Airbnb To Hand Over Data On 124 Hosts To New York Attorney General

Wouldn't the Air BnB customer feedback system take care of hosts who were "bad actors"?

Not necessarily and only after the fact. A hotel chain has a reputation to maintain and generally they are operating as ongoing concerns. AirBnB users (both guests and renters) are under no such long term pressures.

It seems the government is only concerned about the bad actors from the standpoint of violation of their tax and monopoly preservation regulations.

I think that is overly cynical. The government and its elected officials generally do care that the people under their care are safe and happy, even if their ultimate motivation is just to get re-elected rather than some deep level of humanity. And a government being concerned about attempts to circumvent their powers of taxation shouldn't be terribly surprising. Taxing travelers is a great way to bring money into the area from outside without having to tax the people that elect them. Shouldn't shock anyone that such an easy taxation target would be valued highly by government officials who want to get re-elected.

If a housing unit is safe for rental for the long term, it should be safe for short term guests so I doubt that there are any genuine safety concerns.

That is true but not really relevant. If someone is considering a long term stay, chances are they are going to look the place over in person before any money changes hands. Not so with a short term hotel-style stay where you will be in and out in a short amount of time. I'm not saying AirBnB is a bad thing but what you are saying is a false equivalency in most cases. There are some serious issues to think about here is all I'm saying.

Comment: Dangers of extrapolation (Score 1) 145

by sjbe (#47748575) Attached to: Airbnb To Hand Over Data On 124 Hosts To New York Attorney General

I've used Airbnb and never had a shady experience.

So clearly we can extrapolate from your experience that no one ever has had or will have a problem... [/sarcasm]

Look, most people probably will never have a problem because most people are decent law abiding sorts. Those aren't who we are worried about. It's the few really bad ones that hurt, steal from or defraud or otherwise harm someone. If your experiences have been great, that is wonderful but that doesn't mean it isn't worth worrying about both for the visitor and the host. If you want to take the risks involved in using a service like AirBnB I have no problem with that but that doesn't mean there aren't some very important public health and safety considerations to address.

Comment: Pick your battles (Score 2) 147

by sjbe (#47747805) Attached to: Princeton Nuclear Fusion Reactor Will Run Again

Proper use of terminology is important in science and engineering.

When we get to any actual science or engineering then I will pretend to care. Until then it really is not important in a forum like slashdot to anyone but a few overly pedantic people who don't know when to pick their battles. Just because people here generally care about science and engineering doesn't mean we can't deal with a little obvious imprecision in a description of a shape. No one will be negatively affected by the fact that it isn't truly a torus and most of us are well aware that it isn't actually a torus by the proper defintion. It's like pointing out that the Saint Louis Arch is actually a catenary instead of a parabola as is commonly assumed. Interesting but ultimately not genuinely important 99.999999999% of the time.

Comment: Sometimes yes (Score 1) 145

by sjbe (#47746845) Attached to: Airbnb To Hand Over Data On 124 Hosts To New York Attorney General

Do you think that a private arrangement between two individuals to allow someone to stay in a room or apartment or whatever belonging to another in exchange for some cash means that the room/apartment or whatever needs to abide by the same heavy regulations as a hotel?

In some cases the answer will be yes. If I found my out my neighbor had turned his house into a de-facto hotel, I would likely be pretty upset and rightly so. That potentially affects me and my property so you better believe I'm going to want a say in the matter. Furthermore there are various important liability, safety and taxation concerns that need to be addressed before any sane person should give a blanket go-ahead.

Comment: Addressing potential problems (Score 4, Informative) 145

by sjbe (#47746807) Attached to: Airbnb To Hand Over Data On 124 Hosts To New York Attorney General

It has EVERYTHING to do with killing innovation. Think about it for a second, who benefits?

The (probably few) customers who don't get scammed by shady "hosts". The neighbors who don't have to put up with living next to a de-facto hotel which the property is almost certainly not zoned for. The taxing authorities and by extension the local citizens who are probably not receiving the benefits of tax revenue they would otherwise receive. The normal hotels and their employees who lose revenue they likely otherwise would have received.

Just because something is new doesn't mean it is necessarily good. I don't have a problem with Air Bnb and I actually do wish them the best of luck but just because they think their product is "innovative" doesn't automatically mean it is a good idea. I can see potential problems with the service that are serious and need to be addressed in a more adult way than screaming "KILLING INNOVATION" to anyone who will listen.

Comment: Re:By-products are not unfair (Score 1) 272

by sjbe (#47746749) Attached to: Dropbox Caught Between Warring Giants Amazon and Google

Microsoft have definitely built themselves a reputation in the 90's to spend money to kill competition.

Their well deserved reputation isn't relevant for once I think. Microsoft doesn't need to sell at a loss here to gain market share at Dropbox's expense because they almost certainly have a huge cost advantage. Like for Google, storage space for Microsoft is a by-product of their other product offerings such as search or Office in the cloud. I'm certainly no fan of Microsoft's (and have 20 years of postings to prove it) but I really don't think there is a credible case for predatory pricing to be made here. Dropbox has a flawed business model and as you point out they should have sold the company when they had the chance. Now they will get crushed by any large firm that has storage space to spare (specifically Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, etc) and a desire to slap a friendly interface on it because by-products are by definition cheap.

Comment: By-products are not loss leaders (Score 1) 272

by sjbe (#47746703) Attached to: Dropbox Caught Between Warring Giants Amazon and Google

I think most people will agree this kind of competition is bad from the consumer's point of view. The problem is, it is very hard to prove intention. That very same marketing tactic, i.e. selling products at or below their cost price, is also a popular marketing tactic known as loss leading.

Probably not applicable here because storage space to Google is a by-product, not a loss leader. By-products by definition are generally very very cheap which means that Google's cost for the service is pretty close to zero - at least far closer to zero than it is for Dropbox. Otherwise the unused storage space would be a cost (waste) rather than a revenue stream. Google doesn't have to sell it for a loss because they have a huge cost advantage over Dropbox. They can sell it far below Dropbox's cost and still make money doing so because storage is not their primary business. Storage to Google is a by-product.

This is very similar to the problem Microsoft has in trying to compete with Linux. Companies that develop for linux have their primary line of business elsewhere -services, hardware, etc. For example IBM sells services so they don't actually have to make money on linux. Microsoft on the other hand currently has to make money selling the software so they can't just give it away. This puts certain constraints on Microsoft's business model.

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