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Comment Good, kinda. (Score 4, Insightful) 394

It is a good thing when high profile and medium profile people get caught in these stupid things.

When celebrities, including political celebrities, get caught by government aggression it draws a spotlight on the programs that are harassing millions. With the spotlight on them, they tend to withdraw or become legally curtailed.

Sadly many of the abuses committed by government are against the dregs of society, the people already in trouble with the law, the despicable criminals, drug dealers, child abusers, rapists, murderers, and more. Most of society doesn't care when government abuses these people, which is why so many lawsuits are filed against agencies and officers that people dismiss as just another attempt to get out of being caught. If those same abuses were publicly made against people of celebrity status the programs would be quickly curtailed, or pushed further into the darkness of secrecy.

Good job DHS, keep targeting popular people. Best thing you can do for the country.

Comment Re:Unionize (Score 1) 348

It depends on the union contract.Unionization doesn't automagically mean lazy employees abound.

What you describe is my observation as well. Unions can cause problems, but they can also solve problems. Unions can solve very broad problems that individuals cannot.

Some unions are more powerful and effective than others. Some are very good at helping union members, others not so much.

I see two big difficulties in a programmer union.

1. Skills are different and hard to quantify. One person is highly skilled in one tool, another is highly skilled in another tool. Both are very productive, but they are not directly interchangeable. Alice is an expert in MySQL, Bob is an expert in PostgreSQL, Charlie is an expert in Oracle. While any of them can likely write up a solution for generic SQL problems, for other problems one of them is going to be the best choice for your specific workplace. Similarly, Dan knows DirectX and Emma knows OpenGL, both are great graphics programmers, but they are not directly interchangeable.

In other fields, unions have less degree of specialization. You can roughly exchange teachers by domain: elementary school teachers are roughly interchangeable. Secondary education teachers are roughly interchangeable by field, a HS math teacher can be replaced by another HS math teacher. Among plumbers, two journeyman plumbers are roughly interchangeable, two master plumbers are roughly interchangeable. Classes of workers are roughly interchangeable. This is harder to isolate in software development. You can start by dividing people by programming languages and experience levels, but it quickly falls apart. I daily use four different programming languages, routinely use 8 over the course of my job, and have worked with around 20, mostly custom languages and scripting languages on our wider project. So it isn't like "HS math teacher", but "Java/C#/SQL/Python programmer who also knows Lua, ActionScript, HTML, PHP, JavaScript, etc." In general terms programmers bundle together neatly, but specifics really muddle any equivalency test.

2. Too many programmers have giant egos, thinking they are a special snowflake that is irreplaceable. Often they imagine there might be a bell curve or other distribution, but whatever the distribution is, they are skewed at the highest top 1% of them all. A little dose of reality, it is a bell curve and the vast majority of people are average. This is largely fed by the first problem, where they look around the workplace and notice that they are a domain expert. The thought "I am the domain expert on my team", wrongly translates to "I am the domain expert globally". Whatever your specific domain, you are easily replaced by others who are expert in that domain.

It is easy to get caught up in that. I am the only person with my exact skill set, so feel I'm highly valuable and difficult to replace. While it is true that my EXACT skill set is difficult to replace, others with SIMILAR skill sets can more or less overlap my job duties and replace me, with others in the team filling in the gaps.

Other tasks done by unions, such as group negotiation of salaries, become a little more difficult because of the individual variability. As a programmer I can potentially leverage my own specialty for higher pay, but in practice that rarely happens, in most workplaces the programmer is just a cog in the machine paid in the same bucket range as others.

Comment Re:Market Forces (Score 2) 231

There is an economic fix for this: remove the parts of the H1B that tie the person to a specific employer. That is, allow them to take any job. This would devalue it because the companies would have to pay them as much as an American would make or they'd simply jump ship after getting the visa. By making them more expensive, they could no longer be used as cheap replacements for an American.

But what will actually happen is that they will make the rules stricter and pretend that's a solution... even though it simply reinforces the status-quo, ensuring that H1Bs are good as cheap replacements for Americans.

It shouldn't be hard to understand--this is all about money. If you want employers to buy less, then H1Bs need to be more expensive.

Comment Re:I don't care for Elsevier, but ... (Score 2) 125

... Which isn't all of what you need, but it is a better start than nothing at all. I'd rather see a link to a journal I can't read than no link at all.

Tend to agree.

I would prefer to have links to stuff I can actually use. But if I cannot view the actual citation, I would like the citation to be verified in a reputable source, perhaps a book (which I also generally cannot click to read), or a journal I cannot freely access on the subject.

Wikipedia's guidelines ask that editors should use independent resource, but the policy notes that it isn't always the case. While the ideal is to cite references that are publicly available, sometimes those don't exist. In their guidelines, "For example, many books are not available online at all, and subscriptions to academic databases such as JSTOR can be fairly expensive." Editors should use free resources if they can find them, but sometimes out-of-print books and pay-to-view journals are the only sources.

That is also part of the reason Wikipedia prefers secondary sources. The primary sources tend to be journal articles, research notes, reports, and complex research-related books. Secondary sources tend to be online writeups that are much more accessible.

Comment "it stopped using..." (Score 4, Insightful) 88

Taking them at their word, let's assume the police department stopped using license plate scanners. They no longer own them, they sold them off, whatever.

That doesn't mean that a third party doesn't run the licence plate scanners and the police have a very cozy relationship for getting all the data whenever they need it.

It's much like the recent changes to the NSA's spying playbook. They say they will no longer collect and store that metadata themselves .... but they will use a third party to do it. In particular, that third party is not subject to the government's data retention policy limiting position of the metadata.

In both cases, it means the agency itself is no longer doing it. That doesn't mean it still isn't happening, just that the agency is not the one actively doing it.

Comment Re:Obvious Hashtag Alert... (Score 4, Insightful) 50

#whatcouldpossiblygowrong ...

Anthrax is found everywhere in nature. All over the globe. And it has been around for all of recorded history.

It has been a staple of anyone who works with wool or sheep, and even back in the earliest recorded medical history the effects of the bacteria have been present. It's been documented since the ancient greeks and egyptians.

Anthrax was even one of the first biological weapons, ancient Romans around bombarded cities with anthrax-diseased sheep corpses.Google brings up the name Manius Aquillius (150BC) as a commander who frequently used infected corpses in warfare.

This isn't like they sent out a nuclear bomb core. Some people didn't irradiate samples of a naturally occurring bacteria than can be easily collected on every continent already, it is even found on Antarctica.

Comment Re:Better myself (Score 3, Interesting) 842

Your title started out nice enough. But "stop reading slashdot" is not what I would do, it is what I wouldn't do.

Assuming I were no longer constrained by money, the "suddenly wealthy" mentioned in the headline, bettering myself and others would probably be the next set of goals as I checked off items from my bucket list.

The daily money earned off $2.5 billion is going to be about $50K-$100K, which would be pretty fun. Every day you can spend what most american families earn as annual income. Personally I wouldn't be throwing out multi-million-dollar grants to organizations, but I would enjoy traveling while trying to spend $50K per day.

Spending the big money quickly on things would only be fun for a short term. Owning things would help a bit with the comforts of home, being suddenly wealthy means no longer being constrained by financial resources. There would be a few places I'd want to visit -- maybe tour castles and visit a bunch of countries -- but having virtually unlimited funds spread over time could be enjoyed with others who are less fortunate.

So I think if I was suddenly a multi-billionaire, of course an accountant would be one person I'd hire, and I'd put together a small account for daily spending, say $50K, added daily to an account for everyday spending. Then I would look to spend that much and no more, especially not dropping off millions for an endowment to some organization. At least until I reached old age and was ready to donate large bundles to other groups doing good in the world.

I would look to my own hobbies and activities that bring joy to myself and others. For me, that would mean turning my artistic hobbies of watercolor and photography into bigger parts of my life, not so much as moving on to my next career as it is developing my self. (Of course, I'd similarly pick up some of my wife's hobbies, but we share many of them.) We could enjoy life as a global tourist being generous with funds, buy new clothes and leave old ones to the local donation centers. I'd spend time doing other hobbies that are purely for fun, like kite flying, and with all that money that means visiting assorted beaches and kite festivals around the globe, enjoying the benefits of money while trying to appear as a normal but generous tourist. As I developed myself, I'd look to develop others as well. Why pay a professional to tutor just me when I can help develop the talents of others as well? Pay for classes in the subject and invite a few lucky winners with a similar skill level, and participate as just another person in the class. (I might make it known that I was the one paying for the class, depending on how much one-on-one time I wanted, or maybe just remain an anonymous member.)

Maybe go spend a few months on the endless beaches of Chile, along with my wife. Hire some people to help learn the language from our current skills into full fluency. Hire some art teachers to teach both myself and a lucky group of a dozen other similarly-skilled natives (where I pay their regular wages so they can attend the class) as we paint on site for a few days at each location, perhaps providing art supplies they could take home at the end of the week paid for by my accumulation fund. For my kite flying hobby, when I wasn't out practicing art, I'd probably have a bunch of various sport kites delivered to that week's hotel (which of course would be directly on the beach), and bring a crate each of solidly-built deltas, some thick-sparred revolutions that will survive the inevitable beginner crashes, and a some single-string kites for the unskilled. The lucky strangers who happened to be at the beach that day could pick one up, enjoy it for the day, and take it home. Maybe enjoy time doing whatever skill building my wife also enjoys, or maybe letting her enjoy her classes without me, both so we can enjoy our own individual interests and also so we have things to talk about. Then maybe move on to mountains and beaches of Peru and Colombia, again spending around $50K/day on groups of strangers to learn new talents along with us. Maybe distribute nice cameras to those hiking the mountain in my group. Along the way, if my daily allowance started to accumulate unspent funds, occasionally make a donation to whatever hospital or children's centers I happen to be near that day to zero out my accumulated values.

Comment Re:The cars can detect gestures. (Score 2) 236

I won't pull over for ANYONE in a dark alley or in the middle of the boonies.

Absolutely correct. Officers are (normally) trained that they need to allow the person to travel to a location they feel safe, which can mean a lit area or a populated area. Similarly if you are are on a bridge or somewhere with no shoulder, you can turn on your hazard lights, slow down, and continue to a safe area. If someone in the vehicle has a cell phone, they can call 911, describe the situation, and tell dispatch they will stop in a location with light and other people. You can also call 911 to verify the person is a real officer.

If you decide to do that you should slow down, pull to the outer lane, and turn on your hazard lights so the officer can see your intent.

Once stopped you can also keep your doors locked, roll down the window only enough for the discussion, and ask them to show you their department issued ID card, which has a photo and contact details, which you can verify with 911 if you want.


Having a self-driving car that obediently directed itself into a dark parking garage based on a masked stranger in uniform, that faithfully recorded the screaming of the passenger as the car stopped and opened for a group of masked people in uniform, recorded the passenger getting beaten, bound, and gagged by those same people, then faithfully returned home... well, that would be a problem.

Comment Re:The cars can detect gestures. (Score 1) 236

as Google causing a dozen accidents can attest to.

Citation needed.

Last I've seen, there were 14 crashes since they started open-road tests in 2009. Only one has had injuries, the rear-ending in July. They state that all of them were caused by the other vehicles (and their human drivers), and that they have evidence to prove it.

Of the 14, 11 were rear endings from when a car behind them failed to stop, 1 was a t-bone where someone ran the intersection and hit them. The other two were unspecified, but assuming we take their assurances that the crashes were not the self-driving car's fault, that really only leaves sideswipe crashes (someone entering their lane).

Comment Be a manager, not a programmer (Score 1) 87

The accountant has been placed in a role of management. You can be a manager without knowing the details of the tasks for the people being managed.

Unfortunately for your friend, he is being thrown into the project management with no experience in project management. That by itself is a near-certain guarantee that the project will fail. So his first action should be to hire or contract someone who knows how to manage a project

That said, assuming he's going to foolishly wing it...

There is a pretty good book on the subject, "How to cheat at IT project management". I'm sure there are many others, too. He needs to hit the books. Still not as good as having someone who knows what they are doing, but sometimes it takes a baptism by fire and reading will help.

There are many keys and guides to being a good manager. Middle managers buffer the roles between those above and those below. They don't need to know how to do the tasks above them in the org chart, they don't need to know how to do the tasks below them in the org chart. And that's okay, because their position is in between the two. The person -- in this case your "accountant friend" -- needs to know enough technical details to communicate with the people he is managing, and needs to know enough business details to manage upward, or to communicate with his bosses who expect progress and accountability.

The roles that your accountant friend will have in managing others is many faceted. They must remove roadblocks and enable the team to do their best. They must manage expectations and communicate clearly to those up the chain what they can expect, the progress that is being made, and present positive, realistic overviews of status. They must also communicate expectations downward, negotiate what success looks like, and understand the difference between tasks that can be completed and tasks that have no hope of being done on time no mater how many experts are thrown at them.

Without experience that will be extremely difficult, as experience shows what to look for to recognize when a project is in the earliest signs of drowning. If you spot the signs and symptoms a struggling project can be corrected if spotted early enough and the right actions are taken. Spotted too late, though, and the project is doomed no matter what heroic efforts you apply.

Wish your friend good luck. He'll need it. ;-)

Comment Re:Making promises for backdoor deals (Score 2) 253

The odds of this happening in 2-3 years are 0%. They have no real competition, why would they?

They DO have competition... in some cities. They are pushing to make it a headline as an attempt to keep people from moving to the competition.

Right now in my area Comcast has an ad campaign going. They take a sound bite of a competitor's ad offering 60Mbps with geographic restrictions, then say "With Comcast we don't have geographic restrictions, we guarantee 25Mbps everywhere in our network"... They make a big point of saying the speed is available to everyone on the network, never pointing out the speed is less than half of what is available elsewhere. Then I've got billboards for another service that is pushing out full gigabit to some residential areas and 100 gigabit for businesses in the city. They're growing slowly, but they seem to have faster adoption rates after every neighborhood they hit.

Lately there have been huge armies of comcast workers going door to door offering a slightly higher speed than their previous standard offering -- bumping from 20Mbps to 25Mbps -- that comes with a two year contract.

They keep coming by: "It is just a two year contract.", "If someone else comes along, you can sign up with them after two short years." "We're not asking you to stick around forever, we want to earn your business, this is just two short years."

Every time I ask them if they can meet my current vDSL speed of 80Mbps, and they say no, but they do have a great deal on 25Mbps cable. Then I ask about some of the fiber options going in, and again "we're installing fiber some neighborhoods, when it comes to your neighboord you can be the first to upgrade!"

Comcast has competition in some markets, and customers are leaving in droves. This type of marketing is an attempt to stop hemorrhaging customers in these regions.

"Oh my! An `inflammatory attitude' in alt.flame? Never heard of such a thing..." -- Allen Gwinn, allen@sulaco.Sigma.COM