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Comment: Back-end image file manipulation? (Score 4, Interesting) 287

by swb (#49153203) Attached to: Is That Dress White and Gold Or Blue and Black?

I'd swear I saw completely different images of these dresses posted, at extremes of the color controversy and neither was at all ambigous as to what color it was.

I wonder what the likelihood is that two or more images were served to clients, either at random or by some algorithm, to further the controversy? I can see one single ambiguous image that could go either way, but most of the examples I saw looked to be tweaked for maximum color association.

If you served tweaked images to clients so that "everyone" saw a different image, including people who saw different images at different times muddying their memory of what they saw over time, you could really amplify the controversy since people would actually be seeing a different image.

Comment: Re:FIrst step toward feasible long term space trav (Score 1) 207

by swb (#49151183) Attached to: Surgeon: First Human Head Transplant May Be Just Two Years Away

I'm not sure that a bodyless brain solves many problems that either long-term hibernation or virtual reality would solve better.

I value human space exploration for reasons orthagonal to the hard science, but I think advancements in virtual reality are going to make it an even harder sell. I know that communications lag is something of a stumbling block for serious interactivity.

But maybe with enough sensors and data streamed back some of the interactivity could be generated locally but with remotely gathered information. Maybe using some of this you could "act out' what you wanted the rover to do in VR with preliminary and interpolated data. The rover could then actually execute this autonomously and then if you went back and re-do what you acted out, enough specific data would have been generated that it would give you an extremely lifelike VR experience.

I think of it sort of like the way Google Street View works now. You can drive up and down the street looking at houses, and you can zoom in and out and turn your head but nothing else. What if you could walk up to an item of interest in a yard in VR. With just the street view data, it would look bad (warped perspective, excessive zoom, etc). But if the system knew exactly what you were interested in, sent in a camera setup after to mirror your examantion of the yard item but in complete detail you could go back to that same street view scene and actually walk up to the item.

Comment: Re:ignorant hypocrites (Score 1) 337

by swb (#49145833) Attached to: The Programmers Who Want To Get Rid of Software Estimates

I think you've hit the nail on the head, and it's true for more than just writing software.

IT projects usually have two basic parts to them:

1) The part we know how to do and have done before. Usually it revolves around a set of tasks we've done before and that have a consistent outcome and usually exist sort of in a vacuum -- install an operating system, configure a switch, install an application.

2) The part we know how to do, but doesn't always have a consistent outcome because the specific thing hasn't been done before even though similar things have been done before. Similar tasks have been done before, maybe even identical tasks, but they haven't been done in this specific environment. Often involves integration with other systems or involves a lot of dependecies that are too hard/complex/time consuming to have a complete a priori understanding or produces an outcome which has a predicted but not completely predictable outcome.

Problems in (1) are usually easy to overcome because the solutions tend to be more easily known. Problems resulting from part (2) tend to have open-ended timelines because you often don't know what the problems are and have to create solutions.

I think people who haven't done IT work long enough or only get close enough to "supervise" it confuse the two, and assume that because even though (2) works often enough it seems to be reliably predictable.

I started borrowing Donald Rumsfeld's Iraq war quote about "known unknowns and unknown unknowns" when dealing with customers and managers about phase 2 type tasks. He may have been widely criticized for making excuses about the war, but I think there's some insight to the quote because it seems to somehow capture something about the unpredictability of outcomes with depdendencies.

Comment: Re:It's a self-correcting problem. (Score 1) 243

by hawkfish (#49137883) Attached to: The Peculiar Economics of Developing New Antibiotics

Feel free to rant about this. Or to try and change it. Individually you are pretty powerless, though. But if indulgence in a false sense of self importance is what keeps you going to your job every day, they sure won't go out of their way to shut you down.

Ranting is the first step to changing anything. As you point out, we are all pretty powerless as individuals, but collectively we can change a lot, if history is any judge. After all, Democracy itself didn't just happen. It wasn't a gift from the powers that be, but taken from them, very much against their will.

Right now, the largest threat to democracy in the US (where I live) is the atomisation (thank you Hannah Arendt) of society. We have all been broken down - not into the disconnected individuals of early 20th century totalitarian systems (of both the left and the right BTW) but into slightly larger groups of ideologically uniform members that can be manipulated in large chunks. This little subthread has already seen several different chunks bumping into each other and having to deal with each other, so in that sense I think my "rant" was very constructive. Not to mention my sig quote.

Comment: Isn't constant GUI changing bad design? (Score 3, Interesting) 488

by swb (#49135767) Attached to: Users Decry New Icon Look In Windows 10

It seems to me that the constant "overhaul" of a GUI to change icons, menu structures, etc is bad design. Not because the final product is necessarily bad, but because whatever improvements the new design brings are dwarfed by the cost of throwing away of user knowledge about the old interface and the cost of re-learning a new interface and its symbols and structure.

There's probably even unconsidered effects. A lot of clients I've worked with have resisted upgrades (they own and have paid for) to Office because of the radical changes in look and feel. By running older versions with weaker security, they're now exposed to greater risk of compromise by malware. There may even be meaningful losses in productivity from missing new features or improved implementations of existing functionality. This can even be made even worse by resisting operating system updates.

I've always been puzzled that some of the best minds in user interface design get together and say "obviously, the best solution is to throw out everything the users have learned and give them something totally different."

Comment: Re:Where the economic system breaks down (Score 1) 252

by swb (#49135687) Attached to: 5 White Collar Jobs Robots Already Have Taken

Automation can't replace all jobs, but from what I've read there are a couple of concerns.

A lot of the jobs that seem to be most easily automatable are "good" white collar jobs that previously had required some skill. There's a lot less manufacturing left (partly due to automation, but partly due to offshoring of manufacturing), so there's a lot less fallback jobs outside of very low wage service jobs.

Even if the job loss ends up being only 20%, 20% unemployment is a big deal. It can have higher-order economic impacts on significant markets, like real estate, it can have potentially destabilizing political effects which can feed back into the economic system through bad policy,

There is also an amplification of inequality from automation, as technology allows greater amounts of capital to be controlled by fewer people, usually with a feedback loop that allows them access to superior technology, enabling advantages in capital control.

Comment: Re:It's a self-correcting problem. (Score 4, Interesting) 243

by hawkfish (#49132273) Attached to: The Peculiar Economics of Developing New Antibiotics

If antibiotic development wanes long enough, eventually some rich people will be threatened by new infections for which there are no cures.

Once that happens, antibiotic development will instantly become a top priority for governance and major industry players.

And how many of us proles have to die before our lords and masters decide to piss some new antibiotics into our water supplies for us to use?

Comment: Market-distorting incentives (Score 0) 356

by swb (#49131193) Attached to: The Groups Behind Making Distributed Solar Power Harder To Adopt

Get rid of the incentives. All they do is complicate the situation and distort the market economics.

Solar should stand or fall on its own merits. Incentives and net metering just creates a a hocus-pocus accounting situation where the people who have the panels installed don't pay the true cost of owning them, they shift it to the taxpayer in the form of tax credits and rebates and to other utility customers in the form of overpriced electricity.

I'm sure there are many who will argue that solar is a social good and should be subsidized by the government and utilities, but you can't take altruism to the bank. I'd like to know how many residential solar installs would exist if people weren't shown spreadsheets showing their solar install paid for itself with net metering and rebates. I'll bet a significant number of people wouldn't have bothered if it only meant offsetting the power they actually used during the day AND they didn't get rebates.

I actually think eliminating the net metering requirement would actually be a better incentive for power storage technologies, as the excess generation capacity would be something valuable that panel owners would want to keep. Realistically, the panels themselves aren't where we need incentives for new technologies, its the storage.

Comment: Re:What would a Nurse Do (Score 1) 162

by hawkfish (#49129545) Attached to: Should a Service Robot Bring an Alcoholic a Drink?

The summary did call the person in question the robot's owner.

I think the robot should obey the owner's wishes and get them the drink. But it should sigh audibly when asked to and mumble under its breath while giving it to them. Maybe occasionally snipe at them in a passive-aggressive manner. "Should I cancel all productive activities that you had scheduled on your calendar for today?" "Would you like vodka in a glass or should I set it up as an IV drip into your arm?" "Would you like me to make a bunch of regrettable drunken Facebook posts for you, or would you rather do it yourself?"

"Here I am, brain the size of a planet..."

Innovation is hard to schedule. -- Dan Fylstra

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