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Comment Re:What could possibly go wrong? (Score 2) 73

The question is, can it use its laser to smelt metals and create spare parts, additions, and (one day) rockets? Will it join up with other Mars rovers we might send and recombine their onboard plans and manuals to build new little roverlets equally well equipped?

If so, one day I hope to greet our new Mars Rover overlords!

Comment Re:ok so if stars are born in pairs (Score 3, Interesting) 90

Jupiter. It simply lost mass as the coalesced to the larger of the pair, with some of it becoming the other planets and most falling into what became the sun. It left Jupiter itself too small to ignite.

Or, of course, their mathematical model could be completely wrong, because the statement that the "only" mathematical model that could explain the data is one where all stars have partners sounds like science-bullshit-fu of the first order. At least they could have the decency to add "of the ones we thought of" or "of the ones we tried". As it is, we're left with proving that the Sun's supposed partner DOESN'T exist, and since it is very difficult to prove that something doesn't exist when it could be "invisible" in any of the countless ways someting can be invisible in space -- too far away, too small, too dark, too much of it made of of dark matter, concealed by invisible fairies, fallen through to the evil companion Universe where everybody is left handed and drinks absinthe and cherry soda cocktails.

If it is Jupiter, of course, that makes it easy. It isn't lit, so we know its mass is less than 1/10 (less than 0.075 if you want to be picky) the mass of the sun (no overt fusion, the companion isn't a red dwarf or we couldn't possibly miss it). It has cooled enough to be invisible, which probably adds close to another zero -- if it had a mass 1/80th of the Sun or larger , it would probably have a surface temperature still hot enough to see as it would be a brown dwarf and might sustain some nuclear reactions capable of generating heat in addition to still giving off heat as it slowly collapses. So it pretty much has to be smaller than roughly 13 Jupiter masses, making it technically not a star no matter what. Well, what do we find when we look for very large non-brown-dwarf objects nearby? Jupiter! And heck, through Saturn in for good measure! Jupiter has 1/1000 the mass of the sun, large enough that it is probably still losing heat via its own gravitational collapse but not enough to ignite any serious sustained fusion process. If the proto-star split early enough into Jupiter and Saturn (and the rest of the planets) then the Sun simply won the war for material by having a lot more gravity and hence sweeping up most of the dust before it lit and fusion drove the rest of the material away.

Which leads us to the remaining problem with their model. They're basing their claim on stellar formation in a dense cloud that created an extended star cluster. Perhaps that isn't a completely general starforming environment, and stars that form from smaller clouds tend to win the race for material and blow the starforming dust away on their newborne light before their smaller companions reach "star" size, even brown dwarf size.

That would explain why a LOT of stars seem to have Jupiter-scale planets (not that our exoplanet search isn't naturally biased towards finding these planets BECAUSE of their size). I'll bet there is an "alternative" model for star formation that would embrace this possibility and still explain the data from their star cluster but no, I'm sure that they have considered EVERY possibility in order to conclude that it is impossible for the sun not to have a star-sized companion, when it simply doesn't, at least not anywhere anyone can see when looking pretty carefully and with good instruments that would be very, very likely to show it up if it was there.

Comment Re:Just one interesting fact... (Score 1) 1197

Climate Change, as everybody knows perfectly well, causes EVERYTHING. So yes, it must have caused it. The extra hot day made the shooter hot under the collar. The warmer air generated updrafts that affected how the bullets travelled to their targets. The Republican rejection of the reality of climate change and our collective guilt as being the cause was the source of the outrage expressed in the shooting. The lengthening of the growing season and the "fact" that climate change is affecting the coffee supply, somehow, caused a Serotonin imbalance in the shooter ditto.

In fact, I'm not typing this reply, Climate Change is. Because it is behind all of the evil in the world.

Comment Idiot... (Score 1) 263

... tubes. TUBES. No, we did not have the technology in the forties. And the US military had hand-set radios in WWII that they tried very hard to use in combat, and they sucked. We didn't have the technology to do them even in principle until the transistor radio came along in 1954, and it took decades to advance transistors into ICs into things that actually have the power requirements and ability to chop up signals and share bandwidth in a way that anybody could afford or that could be broadly deployed.

Portable phones happened when they happened because that is when the technology advanced to the point where they were BARELY feasible -- as devices almost as large as those 40's miltary walkie-talkies, that had to be run on your car battery most of the time.

Next we will hear that personal computers were possible using technology from the 40's. Right. Sure. All they had to do was invent VLSICs and a dozen other things, and we could have had computers in the 40s! Doh!

Comment Just one interesting fact... (Score 2) 1197

OK, so there was a shooting. Bad bad. One person was killed (the shooter) and several more injured (two of them pretty seriously. All bad. This has created the usual firestorm of people asserting that gun control would have prevented this and others asserting that if all of the victims were armed it would have prevented this.

Either way it is useful to remember that -- if nobody else dies -- this constitutes 1.2% of the deaths from shootings that will happen (on average) today. If you've actually read any substantial fraction of this (mostly silly) thread, more people died from being shot while you were reading than were killed in this incident (so far). It's also worth remembering that it is better than even odds that one of those two to three deaths wasn't murder, it wasn't self defense, it wasn't even accident, it was somebody using a gun to kill themselves (almost 2/3 of all gun deaths are suicide).

If you've wasted an hour on the article and thread, 1 person and a fraction on average was shot and killed by others as homicide, two killed themselves, and a tiny fraction accidentally shot a friend or their kid or something (or were shot by their child under age six, in one out of 12 cases). A similarly tiny fraction of ordinary citizens actually used a gun to kill somebody "legitimately", that is in self defense.

Don't get me wrong -- I love guns, shot myself accidentally at age 10, defend the right to own guns etc. But the numbers are the numbers. This case is utterly ignorable, except for the small possibility that it was politically motivated instead of motivated by any of the OTHER reasons people use guns to murder people. Politically motivated shootings are, paradoxically enough, more what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote in our right to bear arms (in a well-regulated militia, which I suppose MIGHT describe a typical drug gang or the Mafia or your local skinhead group). But probably not like this.

Comment Re:Right to bear arms (Score 2) 1197

You, sir, actually made my lips twitch, briefly, while wading through the morass of shit from the extreme sides of the aisle above (both of them). I momentarily regretted not having mod points. Then my customary level of doom, despair, and depression reasserted itself leaving me ready to close the browser window and return to normal life outside of the /. polirantfest, one where indeed it would be simply lovely to declare murder illegal and decriminalize suicide.

Comment Re:Good (Score 1) 438

Seems about on the level of, "Doctors claim vaccines don't cause autism, but Jenny McCarthy doesn't agree," which started from and is largely maintained by the left.

Started by "the left"? Say what? "Left" and "Right" have nothing to do with this. "Doctors" are at least as likely to be members of "the left" if by that you mean social liberals as opposed to conservatives. Oh, wait, they are more likely:

The last article is very thoughtful and analyzes trends in political contributions specifically, fractionated by gender, race, and subspeciality. It indicates that left/right even for physicians is more likely to be a question of income, gender, race, speciality, and age than it is of "intelligence" per se, but it is a simple matter of fact that on average liberals are smarter than conservatives.

Now, if you want to get into pseudoscience, we can talk about the "conservatives" in Texas and Kansas and Missouri who are passing legislation to make masturbation a misdemeanor crime (Texas), teach intelligent design on a par with evolution in the schools, rewrite history so that the founding fathers are Good Christians as opposed to deists or atheists and suppress evidence to the contrary to prevent it from being mentioned in school, let alone taught.

Personally, I tend to think of science as mostly being social value neutral, but the glaring exception to this is when science collides (as it so often does!) with religion. This is beautifully reflected in surveys like this:

although it is perhaps better summarized by this piece:

To quote:

The more religious a person is, the more conservative he is, and this relationship is strongly mediated by the value placed on tradition — respect for customs and institutions. But even though religiousness and spirituality are highly correlated, the more spiritual a person is, the more liberal he is. This relationship is mediated by the value placed on universalism — social tolerance and concern for everyone’s welfare.

As with previous studies, conservatives were more conscientious (organized and self-disciplined), while liberals were more agreeable and more open to new ideas and experiences. The trend of conservatives being more religious and liberals being more spiritual held even when controlling for these personality factors, and when controlling for age, gender and socioeconomic status.

As a scientist, I interpret this as the more orthodox religious a person is, the more likely they are to accept absolute nonsense as truth just because it is written down in a scriptural text somewhere and hence exempted somehow from the ordinary rules and methods of reason. The more spiritually religious they are, the more likely they are to accept absolute nonsense as truth just because they "feel" like it must be true and their feelings are again exempt from the ordinary rules and methods of reason. You can see the problem -- liberals and conservatives are almost equally likely to accept at least some nonsense as truth if they are religious, and liberals and conservatives who are intelligent enough not to do this are, almost by definition, less likely to accept nonsense as truth whether or not it is religious simply because they apply the rules and methods of critical thinking and evidence based reasoning to religious questions and reject at least the worst of it even if they hold on to some shreds.

Comment Re:Good (Score 1) 438

want to lie, shipwrecked and comatose, drinking fresh mango juice. Goldfish shoals nibbling at my toes. Fun, fun, fun.

Add a bit of pineapple and coconut and throw in a dash of rum and I'm there. I can take or leave the straw and little umbrella, although playing with the umbrella is fun when the goldfish get boring...

Comment Re:Good (Score 3, Insightful) 438

Which opens the door to infinite evil. Do we have evidence that behaving sinfully won't end up with us cast posthumously into a pit of eternal fire? Well, no, partly because we have no evidence of life after death, pits of eternal fire, and no objective definition of sin. So this means that ANY presentation can be interrupted simply by asserting that thus and such are sinful, etc. Can you prove that it is NOT? Of course not. There simply in no evidence that it is.

Your example of a zombie apocalypse is well taken. Do we have the slightest shred of evidence that zombies or anything zombie-like is really possible? Not just heavily drugged or brain-damaged individuals deliberately harmed by slavers or practicers of voudoin, but actual living dead brain-eating zombies? Well, no, although rabies as a disease does have related effects and might have been part of the origin of zombie legend. So what the heck! Sure, the zombie apocalypse could be unleashed by mutant rabies, GMO foods, stem cells, a disease transported to Earth by meteors or space aliens, biowarfare gone awry, the deliberate act of a vengeful deity, the deliberate act of an evil supernatural demon, prions (a mutant mad cow disease), a new "safe" designer recreational drug anybody can make at home out of clorox and pepto-bismol that has a zombie side effect one year after it is ingested, pods from outer space, slugs that attach to your spinal column from outer space, nanites intended to cure brain cancer, or a mutation of the common cold. Maybe half of these possibilities have formed the basis in whole or in part of science fiction novels over the decades (mutant rabies, alien diseases, pods, and slugs, biowarfare gone awry...)

So, should we allow scientific talks on how stem cells are being used to cure nerve deafness in humans and parkinson's disease to be interrupted at will by whack jobs that want to claim, without evidence, that the individuals cured MIGHT turn into zombies, so all research into stem cells must instantly cease? Seriously? Or, because stem cells are making an end run around the "intelligent design" of the human body by a supernatural deity they are therefore sinful (no need for evidence or a firm definition of sin, remember, it is whatever you want it to be or allege that it is and nobody can prove you wrong) and will cause not the zombie apocalypse but the biblical apocalypse unless we gather up all of the researchers and burn them alive at the stake as a manner of atonement and banish all of their works and threaten all human with torture and death if they ever use the words "stem cells" again? Can you prove that this won't happen (well, except by ignoring the idiots and curing nerve deafness and Parkinson's anyway with no breaking of the seals or unleashing of the four horsemen etc)?

Lack of evidence is not positive evidence of lack. It is, however, something that can legitimately be used to state that lack is more likely the longer evidence is looked for and not found. We cannot positively assert that there are no pink unicorns living somewhere on Earth simply because one has never been seen, captured, found (with or without color) in the fossil record), but we can say that -- given the existing observational evidence -- it is pretty unlikely that any exist and are just lurking somewhere in deepest darkest Africa or Tibet or in a special volcanic cave in the middle of Antarctica. If you assert invisible pink unicorns (whatever color "invisible pink" ends up being) you make it even harder to disprove, as now you can literally look everywhere on Earth and just because you can't see them doesn't mean that they aren't there, because they are invisible! Does this mean that we have to now allow La La Loopsie/My Little Pony followers to disrupt scientific presentations of evolutionary biology?

Note well that I'm not certain legislation is the answer to stuff like this, but providing the idiots with an escort off campus and leaving them there with instructions not to come back (students or not) seems pretty reasonable.

Comment Re: How the fuck (Score 1) 418

I mostly agree with your remarks, but I think there is a question of scale. I've done several startups, and in a startup, one person is often the CTO (that would have been me, twice), the primary developer of the core software (ditto), and the system manager for the entire network of computers owned by the company, which on occasion have been pretty much my cluster of computers plus eventually a "company owned" server or two when we had enough capital or cash flow to afford them.

From this level of "my basement plus your basement" startup, there are a set of scaling steps that lead through VC incubators to getting actual VC to hiring a skeleton staff (cheap, quite possibly fresh out of school and paid in part with options or the prospect of options) to making money but not as fast as you burn it to making money (one hopes) faster than one burns it and moving on to fame and fortune and early retirement.

At intermediate steps in this process, IT is not the polished gem that it might be for a fully developed and capitalized and profitable company. Backups might have been set up by the original founders (and done correctly) but all it takes is one hire that necessarily is given serious responsibility with little oversight in a tiny startup who doesn't completely understand backup to make a small change that fucks it up without even realizing it. I've been around a long time, and trust me, it happens, and if you are LUCKY you discover it when some tiny unimportant file is overwritten and you try to restore it and can't.

If this was a startup in the stage just past profitability -- small but important database of actual customers and/or their data, team of maybe three or four IT people still wearing many hats, so the database person was also the systems manager and the primary software developer was also the web manager and the original CTO/developer/general factotum was distracted by the demands of sales and corporate politics with a board made up partly of the VC people who want rapid growth to a liquidity event and so on, this scenario isn't that unlikely. DB person says I'm going nuts adding all these new workstations to sales desks, CTO says let's hire a DB person, CEO/COO says we can't afford a $150-200K position right now (duh!) so CTO says we'lll hire some kid straight from college with DB chops, kid comes in, they show kid the DB and sit him or her down, he/she tries a few tentative SQL commands but has no experience with whatever actual DB they are using and has credentials that are more talk than substance, tries to make a copy of DB to play with without breaking original and fucks it up. In the meantime, they have been backing up to a RAID, and the RAID started throwing errors but the same DB person who left the kid to play and orient themselves had JUST STARTED the rebuild or was trying to fix the problem and rerun the failed backup when...

Life is a comedy of errors like that more often than one might think. Most times they are non-fatal, but every now and then the ENT surgeon slashes the carotid the first day of his/hir first surgery and the patient dies on the table, or the kid working on steel 200 feet above the ground loses their balance on their fist day trying to emulate people who have been doing it for years and walk a narrow beam over nothingness. Sometimes people can get back up on the horse that threw them and sometimes they end up living under an overpass or dead at their own hand.

Humans are highly error prone information processing systems. We deliberately design systems that are critical -- as much as we can -- to have multiple levels of mutual auditing to catch and prevent errors before they occur, but it simply isn't possible to idiot-proof every process, and accidents can happen even to those who are not idiots. Few are the people who have root privileges who have NEVER EVER entered rm *.junk in some directory, but accidentally entered an extra space before the ".junk" (blush, been there, done that, done WORSE than that). If you are the only systems manager for a network, there IS no one to audit you for errors. If backup fails, and it does, it is YOUR ass on the line, but that doesn't mean backup never fails no matter how hard you work and there are always windows of vulnerability or chances of mistyping a character and not catching the bug right away. Root people learn to work as meticulously as the ENT surgeon -- never ever slash a patients primary vessels by accident, never ever enter a command as root without checking it twice or even three times, especially commands like rm or cp.

For a small startup, erasing the primary database whle backups were screwed up might well be enough to destroy the company on the spot. This might cost the VC people all of their $500K or $1M investment. It would cost all of the employees their options and their jobs. It might leave the founders holding a giant liability in LOC expenses unpaid now with no hope of income to pay them. It could cost a lot of people a LOT of money. So it is understandable that there would be a certain amount of anger and blamethrowing and ass covering and sure, even lawsuits. It isn't really the kid's fault, but then, it may not have reallly been ANYBODY's "fault", merely something that adds up to incredibly bad luck on a few calculated risks.

Will "the kid" get back up on the horse that threw him/her? Dunno. Probably. Sad tale either way.

Comment Re:Cause and effect... (Score 1) 325

Yeast extracts and hydrolyzed proteins are considered excitotoxins, and are added to create that feel-good effect, and also make you crave it again.

Hmmm, not mentioned in this article. Reference? Monosodium Glutamate, OTOH, is an almost pure excitotoxin -- Glutamate in the brain being the number one excitotoxin that causes cell death by overstimulation -- and yes, Mickey-D's food is often loaded with MSG (especially their "chicken nuggets"). Nothing in the article suggests that excitotoxins make you feel good, by the way, so this is a bit of a non-sequitor. Are you asserting that they add them to make you feel good and crave it again, and that incidentally they are excitotoxic? How toxic are they on a scale of water to MSG (which is close to ubiquitous and which directly triggers a reaction in a substantial fraction of the non-East Asian population).

Ahhh, but this whole topic reminds me of The Space Merchants, by Pohl and Kornbluth, where they added a harmless alkaloid to all of the foods in a three way loop so that smoking would make you crave something to krunch, which would make you crave something to drink, which would make you crave something to smoke. Or maybe it was a not-so-harmless alkaloid...

Still, sir, I must thank you for the excitotoxin reference. I'd never heard of this, but it explains chinese restaurant syndrome quite nicely, as well as why overstimulation in many contexts can lead to damage. A good motivation for a placid, contemplative life...

Comment Bonferroni... (Score 1) 66

...But, did he use a bonferroni correction to compute his p-values, since this is a classic data dredge? Sure, his method will turn up true positives (and did, for at least one known offender) but what remains to be seen is the false positive rate and the lawsuit rate, since skewed distributions could have many causes some of which are benign and this is pretty serious defamation of character if one casts aspersions without secondary supporting evidence of malpractice.

In other words, are his "positives" really malefactors or is he picking out acne-causing green jellybeans:

Worse, the study appeals to my own confirmation bias on the matter, as I'm sure that the rate of wrongdoing in the research is if anything higher than he finds it (he "detects" just under 2% possible/probable bad articles -- I would have guessed more like 5% to 10% just from sheer incompetence and inadequate power, but perhaps he corrected somehow for inadequate power although TFA doesn't really say). So I WANT to believe him, but sans bonferroni, I don't know what to to make of his p-threshold of 1/10000 applied to 5000 samples and testing multiple statistics per sample. He really needs bonferroni twice, as he dredges for out-of-bounds statistics PER article as well, for thousands of articles.

Comment Re:Who needs getopt (or getopt_long etc) (Score 4, Informative) 79

Well, yes, but for most coders older than the dawn the "custom code" starts with a template C application in a build-ready template directory with a pre-built makefile and perhaps a bit of structured shell, so that they are basically cloning fragments to parse this or that kind of data. At one point I had templates for using getopt but, as you say, you end up cloning lines either way and adding one level of indirection doesn't really save you much, even if you don't really have to remember all of the getopt stuff because IT is templated instead of simple CL parsing. Ditto parsing in bash -- I don't even try to remember it, I just copy my superlong bash script template (which also has useful fragments that illustrate loops, conditionals, sed-isms, awkeries, some regex stuff), delete what I don't need, and modify what I do.

This is the way "reusable code" really works a lot of the time. Once you've solved a particular problem, especially the second or third time, the trick goes into your code "library" and from then on you just copy them and hack them to fit, you don't rewrite them from scratch. And thus we spare reliance on memory at the level of detail and instead use our brains efficiently, as lookup engines and problem solving engines.


Comment Re:Tolkien was a devout Christian (Score 1) 94

Is that you, AC? Always good to know what "you" have said.

Atheism isn't a religion, and saying it infinity times won't make it be one. It is the absence of belief in a religion. A (without) -- theism (religion). It's what the word means.

It's also what atheists are. Most atheists require a mix of evidence and consistency with evidence supported belief in order to raise any old notion that somebody throws out there -- such as some incredibly detailed description of how the Universe was created by a mysterious infinite superbeing that is in almost complete contradiction with evidence-supported belief -- to the point where it can be taken seriously as a component of their worldview.

I can assert that on the dark side of the moon there is a rock that is a perfect replica of the head of Abraham Lincoln. I can probably even offer some sort of argument for why this should be so -- estimates of so and so many rocks, probabilities for any given rock to look like Abraham Lincoln -- and there is little doubt that the assertion could be true (and will continue to be at least possible until somebody examines each and every rock on the moon to falsify it) as it contradicts nothing in the Bayesian network of evidence-supported belief that we call "observational knowledge about the real world" -- stuff like the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, cosmology. But there simply isn't any good reason to think that it is true.

To believe that this assertion is true anyway, without consistent evidence to support it, to have faith that it is true in spite of substantial arguments against it, is the hallmark, the defining characteristic of religious belief. To hear the assertion, acknowledge that it is possibly true, and conclude that it is probably not true and that there is plenty of time to believe it -- if true -- once we have direct evidence, is the hallmark of the atheist.

As for "devout atheist" -- this is what we in the business of communicating call an "ironic self-description", not intended to suggest that he is religious, only that you won't convince him to become religious with any of the tired old arguments that carefully avoid confronting the simple fact that there is no even vaguely trustworthy evidence that any of the near-infinity of asserted religions are actually true.


Comment Re:Tolkien was a devout Christian (Score 3) 94

Non-mainstream or deeply religious people that don't simply follow doctrine are excellent fantasy writers, not just Tolkien but for example look at Lewis Carroll and the Chronicles of Narnia,...

Read about The Inklings:

Tolkein and C. S. Lewis where both members. G. K. Chesterton was an occasional guest. Charles Williams is probably less well-known at this point (possibly because his prose was more unabashedly Christian -- e.g. "War in Heaven": etc).

I've always found it interesting that both Lewis -- arguably one of the most famous of the Christian Apologists of his time, although Chesterton was no slouch -- and Williams wrote books that were either thinly disguised Christian fantasy or openly fantasies about biblical/apocryphal fantasy, while in the Hobbit and LOTR, the characters (with the exception of the Elves, maybe) HAVE no overt religion. Yes, there is a fantasy connection with the supernatural and magic, but there are no descriptions of worship or prayer -- it is more a matter of "invoking" the protection (or sometime receiving it gratis) of e.g. Elbereth. Elves are immortal (but not unkillable), they don't die they "return" to "the west" (a.k.a. "heaven") through some sort of dimensional barrier. And although there is magic in LOTR, for the most part in the BOOKS (as opposed to the overheated movie) it isn't "telekinetic" magic like battling with wand-based thunderbolts or using a ring to stop the heart of an enemy, it is more "perceptual" magic -- making somebody invisible, generating light, extending life, healing, harming. The closest you come to religion is probably the "resurrection" of Gandalf, "sent back" from death because his work "isn't finished".

This has the effect of making it remarkably uncomplicated and ecumenical. We don't really understand why Sauron is so horribly evil, or how he manages to get killed but come back from the dead to try to take over the world -- again -- or just what he wants to do with the world when he wins that he can't do already. We don't really understand why or how "rings" can be given power (or what power they actually grant, since nobody actually USES a ring to do ANYTHING overt anywhere in the story). We don't understand where Ents come from, we don't understand Bombadil, we don't see why or how barrow-wights could come to be. We don't even understand Saruman -- supposedly good guy turned bad.

We don't need to. It's just a damn good story about a war between cartoon good (so very very good, so very very uncomplicated) and cartoon evil (so horribly unredeemably bad, so very very uncomplicated). Not at all like real life, where evil doesn't come with such a clear label -- and neither does good.


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