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Comment Re:Heh (Score 4, Insightful) 203

One thing I've noticed is someone who is very good at a tech job isn't just twice as productive as someone who is lousy at it; the discrepancy could easily be 10x; or it could be that he produces positive progress and the lousy guy produces anti-progress. This is clearly true for software developers, but I've seen it happen with network administrators too: small cadres of happy, super-productive admins outperforming armies of miserable tech drones.

But the thing is if you don't understand anything about (a) the technology or (b) human beings, how do you get a worker to be more productive? You make him work longer.

I'm not talking about striking while the iron is hot. When opportunity produces the occasional 80 hour work week, that's a totally different matter than having no better idea of what to do than setting unrealistic goals and leaving it to workers to make it up through sheer, unsustainable effort. Too often in the latter case you end up producing the semblance of progress. Yeah, I finished the module but someone's going to have to throw it out and rewrite when it blows up in the customer's face.

Comment Re:Wait for the results. (Score 1) 94

Well he *is* going to test the hypothesis. But he has to test the *procedure* as well on a smaller scale before he uses it on his research subjects.

People underestimate how much of science is like this. Advancing science isn't just a matter of creating more theoretical knowledge; a lot of the time it's about advancing know-how.

Comment Re:duh? (Score 1) 82

You can use different kinds of evidence different ways. Credible anecdotal evidence can disprove some things, or it can suggest other things, but for the most part can't prove that one thing causes another.

Example: Suppose my friend Larry gets lung cancer a few years after he quit smoking. This disproves the notion that if you quit smoking you are guaranteed not to get lung cancer. It suggests that smoking causes long-term damage to the cells of the lung. It doesn't prove that quitting smoking causes cancer.

Randomized controlled studies are generally the most useful evidence points when it comes to trying to prove causation, but individual studies still can't do that. What you need is a pattern of evidence that includes RCTs and other, independent lines of inquiry.

Comment Re:duh? (Score 1) 82

The point is that the relationship between sleep and the strength of the immune system has been well know and tested for years...

For a certain value of "well-known" and "tested". You could actually read the paper abstract and see what was novel about this particular study.

Comment Re:duh? (Score 4, Interesting) 82

Knowing it in principle and knowing when to put that knowledge to work are two different things.

I used to catch *everything* that was going around, including some things most other people didn't. I got sick three, maybe four times a year. I always put it down to having a lousy immune system, until in one checkup I mentioned to my doctor that I'm a pretty loud snorer. "Better have you checked for sleep apnea," he said, and sure enough I had it, although only a relatively mild case. He prescribed sleeping on a CPAP machine, and since I've been doing that I almost never get sick. Maybe once in four years.

Anecdotal evidence, I know, but my point is this. Now that there's research demonstrating the impact of sleep on immune system performance it makes sense to make questions about sleep quantity and quality a routine part of health surveillance. I just happened to mention snoring to my doctor on one visit; if I'd been asked twenty years earlier it would have saved my employers a lot of sick time and me a lot of misery.

Comment Re:Here's the thing about disasters. (Score 1) 234

A win-win game is not the only kind of non-zero-sum game there is. Suppose I set up a game in which the amount I win is 1/10 of what everyone else loses. I win $100; everyone else loses $1000. If I add up the net gains in the whole game, what we have as a net loss of $900 for all players. It's not fair; it's not reasonable for the community of players to favor such rules, but nonetheless I'm still up $100.

Broken windows may not be a net good thing for the community as a whole, but it certainly is a good thing for the glaziers.

Comment Re:Free speech hundreds of miles out in the desert (Score 3, Insightful) 182

I'll bet a lot of people love the fact that all this "free speech" will be taking place hundreds of miles out in the desert...

You don't know people very well then. As Lord Macaulay observed in his The History of England from the Accession of James the Second,

“The Puritans hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”

You see it is not enough for prigs and busybodies that they're not involved in any way in the things you do that give you pleasure; their problem is with you enjoying something they don't enjoy, or perhaps understand.

Comment Here's the thing about disasters. (Score 1) 234

There's no such thing as a disaster that's a disaster for everyone. War is a disaster for people in general, but it's great for munitions makers. Hurricanes are no good for the people who live through them, but very good for companies that sell them building materials.

Every catastrophe is a windfall for someone. If the public saves tens of trillions of dollars by slowing down climate change then that's tens of billions of dollars of revenue somebody won't be making.

Comment I'd like to take a moment to express appreciation (Score 4, Interesting) 132

for the maintainers. The bootloader is a not particularly glamorous problem to work on, but it's critical to everyone and because it involves differing interpretations of standards by manufacturers and various OS developers it had to have been a headache.

Of course later projects had the luxury of a clean sheet, hindsight, and more hardware resources, but without a solid bootloader in the early says of Linux, history would have been very different.

Comment Or ... (Score 4, Insightful) 50

they could just give their environmental regulators the authority to enforce their existing environmental laws.

In the film Under the Dome, Chinese journalist Chai Jing astonishes a Chinese audience with a film clip from California where Cal DoT stops a truck and actually checks that it has all the mandatory safety and emissions equipment. That never happens in China. China has tough emissions standards on paper, but the law is written so that the regulators don't have any enforcement powers. So Chinese manufacturers simply slap stickers on vehicles claiming they have all the mandatory emissions equipment without installing any of it. Technically this is a crime, but the law's written so there's literally nothing anyone can do about it.

And if you don't think environmental regulations make a difference, this is what New York looked like in 1970. Note that that isn't a sepia tinted black and white photo, it's true color. Granted it shows an exceptionally bad day, but before the Clean Air Act got strengthened in the mid 70s bad smog was pretty common. If you look at pictures of American cities from the 70s you'd think that photo technology of the day put a blue or yellow haze on stuff in the distance (like this). It wasn't the film, cities actually looked that way a lot of the time.

Predicting bad pollution days isn't "fighting" pollution, it's living with it. If you want to fight pollution you've got to stop people from polluting. You've got to catch them at it, fine them, and in some cases throw them in jail. Pollution like they have in China is nothing short of manslaughter on a national scale. 1.6 million people die every year from it.

Comment Re:No Teaching Experience? (Score 1) 63

Some people are great at teaching, others are not.

I believe this is a self-perpetuating myth. What the data shows is that new teachers in America improve rapidly over the course of about three years, after which they are about as good as they'll ever be. So it's certainly not the case that some people are just naturally teachers; great teachers have to learn the craft through practice, and that learning comes after they finish their official training.

But maybe what we're seeing is that it takes teachers three years to reach their inborn teaching potential, after which they no longer are able to learn anything more that might help them. My question is, how do we know that? How do we know that American teachers are actually completely incapable of becoming better teachers after three years of in-classroom experience?

We don't know. The remarkable thing is that until very, very recently, very few American school systems have actually attempted to systematically improve the performance of their teachers through observation of what they're doing in the classroom. They may have "professional development" where they get more of the same kind of theoretical training they got in education school, but they usually don't follow up to see how the teacher actually puts that to use, or even to identify bad habits the teacher may have developed over the years, or good habits he hasn't. In my kids' school system kids are sent home early on "professional development days" so that working with actual students won't get in the way of a teacher's skill development. It's like trying to make someone a better baseball hitter by banning bats and balls from training and simply talking to players about the theory of biomechanics.

Imagine you own a factory and your assembly line is turning out too many defective widgets. How would you address that problem? Would you send your engineers to a seminar every year on manufacturing theory and ask them to make design changes when they came back from that seminar? Or would you go over the assembly line with a fine tooth comb? While the seminar idea has it's merits, it's too slow and it'd take sheer luck for the seminar to hit on the particular problem that's affecting the line.

In America we have a simple model for improving the teaching at a bad school: fire the bad teachers and hire better ones. But imagine, just for a moment, it is possible to use empirical methodologies to improve the performance of any teacher. Imagine for a moment some bad teachers could be transformed into mediocre ones; some mediocre teachers into good ones; and some good teachers into great ones. In a world where that was possible there'd still be a place for the hire and fire strategy, but relying on that strategy exclusively leads to two unfortunate and unnecessary results: (1) Poor districts have to make do mostly with inadequate teaching and (2) teaching in rich districts tends to be adequate, but great teaching remains uncommon.

Sound familiar?

Many people are unenthusiastic about their work.

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