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Comment: The wrong conclusion (Score 1) 613

by srijon (#47506525) Attached to: Experiment Shows People Exposed To East German Socialism Cheat More

when it comes to ethics, a capitalist upbringing appears to trump a socialist one.

All this study shows is is a difference in attitude towards a game with low stakes while queuing at a passport bureaucracy. Generalizing beyond that demonstrates the limits of the author's ethics, not the participants.

Comment: What about transparency? (Score 2) 204

by srijon (#45406275) Attached to: Microsoft Kills Stack Ranking
While I was at Microsoft, at one point my manager instructed me to stop having ideas that were outside my assigned area, because it was making another team member look bad, and this would impact the stack ranking of both the team member and my manager. So I saw up close how stack ranking sucks. Still, if I was still at MSFT today, I would be very concerned that the new system drives even more of the compensation process into closed-door management sessions, along with the horse trading and cronyism that invites.

Comment: Be a self-starter (Score 2) 237

by srijon (#44307165) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Scientific Research Positions For Programmers?

I worked as a research assistant for a professor for six years. It was a great job. The most rewarding part is that I worked on lots of different projects and most of them were cool and intellectually stimulating and fun. It was also fantastic going to conferences and presenting work. You can really push and challenge yourself. It feels a bit like working in a startup. Each professor has their own team and budget and grants and publications, so its like being part of a small company, except that there is a big institution providing backing and benefits. Will your work change the world to be a better place? That's often not so clear cut in academia, but it is certainly a tremendous opportunity for growth and development, and there is demand for computer programming in research.

Professors tend to be incredibly busy so they are looking for self-starters, people who can just get on and contribute without lots of supervision. If you want to get into this area of work, more than academic qualifications, what you need is to demonstrate your own ability to make things. Demo or die. For fields like bio research there's lots of use of small sensors and data capture devices, so one suggestion is to make your own Arduino or Rasberry project, to show that you can come up with a cool idea and have the passion to see it through from start to completion.

Academia is a two tier system, professors and then everyone else. Professors have full control over their research efforts. Researchers don't. After a while as a researcher you will start having your own ideas about where you think the research direction should go, and then you will encounter a glass ceiling about how far you can take this. There's no real career advancement path, so at that point you are stuck.

To address this, make it part of your plan from the outset to enroll in a part time degree program while you are working as a researcher. Most universities offer tuition remission for employees, so as you work you can also get a degree for a heavily discounted fee. Its an entitlement in many full time research assistant posts, but make sure to check this before you start. Any professor you would want to work for will immediately agree to help you figure this out, especially if the degree you want to do is in an area that is relevant to the research. That degree represents your exit strategy, either into full academia, or into a job beyond it, don't procrastinate.

Wow, makes me wish I was starting all over again!

Comment: Bet the Whitehouse will reject the petition? (Score 4, Interesting) 330

by srijon (#44084079) Attached to: US Hacked Chinese University Network

From "In a few rare cases (such as specific procurement, law enforcement, or adjudicatory matters), the White House response might not address the facts of a particular matter to avoid exercising improper influence."

This allows Obama to simply say "We cannot comment on the Snowden petition, since he is subject to an ongoing legal enquiry, and we must avoid exercising improper influence."

Meanwhile, several members of government have already declared Snowden guilty of treason without trial - no improper exercise of influence there, right?

Anyone with thoughts about how the petition might have been worded to avoid this loophole?

Comment: Demo or die (Score 1) 205

by srijon (#43636919) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Do You Sell an Algorithm To Venture Capitalists?

The BBC's Dragon's Den has some eye-opening examples of a broad range of pitches, and is actually quite revealing of the difference in mindset between investor and investor.

Avoid powerpoint altogether. Turn up with a cheap video camera, let the investors shoot video themselves, process it on the spot and show an A/B comparison. Then be extremely prepared to answer questions, pulling up slides and more demos on demand as necessary. It's about business model, not tech. Given YouTube (as just one example) is adding more impressive post-processing options for free - their Calibration-Free Rolling Shutter Removal is pretty cool - what does your stuff do that is so different? How is your product positioned in the market, who are the other major competitors, how do they make money, what is the overall market size for this segment of tools, what is your marketing plan, how will you fend off competitors, who are the business partners, etc etc.

Far better to delay the VC route if you can. Find a strategic, patient, trustworthy and experienced angel partner. VC, from what I've seen, attempt to steer companies to where they perceive the market to be, and this is likely very different from own ideas.

Comment: Calling the kettle black. (Score 1) 692

by srijon (#43473907) Attached to: Steve Forbes: Bitcoin Not Money

In the article Forbes regurgitates two neoclassical myths - first, that money evolved naturally out of barter systems, and second that money is an expression of fixed material values grounded in processes of production.

On the first point, there is no evidence in history that money evolved out of barter systems, and a great deal of evidence that it did not. As the anthropologist Caroline Humphrey says:

No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money; all available ethnography suggests that there never has been such a thing. (Quoted in David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years).

David Graeber adds to this:

We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around. What we now call virtual money came first. Coins came much later, and their use spread only unevenly, never completely replacing credit systems. Barter, in turn, appears to be largely a kind of accidental byproduct of the use of coinage or paper money: historically, it has mainly been what people who are used to cash transactions do when for one reason or another they have no access to currency. (David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years)

On the second point, Forbes' asserts that money is "optimal when fixed in value", that "money has only one purpose ... buying and selling products", and that it is a fixed unit on the same order as material units (ala "hamburgers"). Here he is recanting the whole neoclassical bible, which states that economics and politics are separable, that government should stay out of economics or (our future standard of living will suffer), and that money is a natural expression of processes of production grounded in material value. The castle of neoclassical theory is, however, far from complete, as the 2008 crash so clearly demonstrated. Worse, Forbes ignores this and continues to repeat neoclassical tenets as though they are fact.

Take Forbes statement that money is "optimal when fixed in value." At the limit case, this is clearly false. Assuming for a moment that money could be fixed in value, like a kind of physical unit or a determined expression of material value. Of course, this raises two issues: First, there is the problem of which material value to anchor to. Then there is conversion problem: how do we convert all other values into this fixed material unit? Assuming these could be solved, this would suggest that prices remain constant, much the same way the speed of light remains constant. How then do you explain profit, or any market at all for that matter? Clearly, Forbes must allow for at least some level of price setting, which then in turn suggests variability or "floating" of pecuniary value. Unsurprisingly, in empirically terms, no modern democratic currency is based on fixed values. The opposite is the case: currency itself is treated as a commodity that can be bought and sold on markets, and this is only possible because money does not have a fixed value.

But if monetary value is variable and not linked to material goods, what are the units of money? The answer, in neoclassical terms, is to base definitions of money on a fictitious unit, the util. Since the util is abstract and not observable directly, there remains the problem of how to measure it. Current definitions are claimed to be "reasonable" and "generally accepted" but economists. But utils remain an idealization, and hardly the known unfloating physical quantity Forbes suggests. Forbes simply glosses over or ignores the of the uncertainties and shortcomings of marginal utility theory. Nitzan and Bichler make this case convincingly in their excellent if controversial Capital as Power. They summarize:

Neoclassical theory remains an edifice built on foundations of sand. The most questionable of these foundations is the notion that capital is a material entity, measurable in physical units and possessing its own intrinsic productivity. In fact, capital fulfils none of these requirements. The result is that the theory is unable to convincingly explain not only the structure of prices and production, but also the distribution of income which supposedly results from such structure. (Nitzan & Bichler, Capital as Power)

Following B&N's argument leads to two conclusions. First, a better title for Forbes's article is "Bitcoin: Whatever It Is, It's Not Money, Whatever That Is!" Second, Bitcoin is actually (and more uncomfortably) precisely what money is: nothing but capitalization, which in turn is an expression of power. The volatility of Bitcoin is then purely a reflection of its limited access to power, and not, as Forbes claims, because it is without a material unit or a fixed value.

Comment: Investors prefer Google's current model (Score 1) 238

by srijon (#43022617) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Should We Have the Option of Treating Google Like a Utility?

A utility service model has a fixed revenue - the number of heads. To add revenue you either have to increase the number of heads, or sell new services to the existing heads one at a time.

Trafficking information has a perceived revenue based on the number of heads times the number of ways you can sell that data. Add a new way to sell data and the revenue leaps. No need to consult each customer. (In practice this takes finesse, as Facebook keeps finding out.)

From an investor standpoint, the potential revenue growth from the second model is more appealing. Google is therefore unlikely to offer pay-based services.

One small step for man, one giant stumble for mankind.