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Comment Re:Makes sense (Score 3, Insightful) 566

I disagree. I'm an old enough programmer (in my 40s), I started my career working with proprietary binary formats, and I remember the good reasons why binary formats were abandoned. Where I work, the older someone is, the less likely they are to favor binary formats for structured data (this argument has come up a lot recently).

I'll repeat one or two of the arguments in favor of not using proprietary binary formats.

If you wish to save space, conserve bandwidth, etc, then binary formats are not a good way of accomplishing that. The best way of saving space and conserving bandwidth is to use compression, not a custom binary format! Binary formats are still very large compared to compressed xml, because binary formats still have uncompressed strings, ints with leading zeroes, repeating ints, and so on. If you wish to save space or conserve bandwidth, then you ought to use compression.

If you use compression, though, then using a binary format also, gains you nothing. Binary formats do not compress down any further than human-readable formats that encode the same information. You won't gain even a few extra bytes on average by using a binary format before compressing. It gains nothing to use a custom binary format if you compress, which you should do if you're concerned about space or bandwidth.

Of course, compressed formats are binary formats. However, the compression formats you will use, are extremely common, are easily identified from a text identifier at the beginning of the file, and have widespread decompressors available on almost all platforms. Gzip, Bzip2, and zip are installed by default on the macbook pro I got from work. They're almost everywhere. That is not the case for a custom binary format which you create. Also, compression can be turned on and off. If you wish to sniff packets for debugging, you can turn compression off for awhile.

Here's a different way of putting it. You can think of common compression algorithms (such as bzip2) as mechanisms for converting your files into the most compact binary representation available with no programming effort from you. It does not help those algorithms if you also try to do binary encoding yourself beforehand.

There are a few weird exceptions where it's best to use binary formats. There are small embedded devices which lack the hardware to perform compression. Also, http/2.0 might be an exception, because the data transmitted is less than 100 bytes usually, so adaptive compression wouldn't work well, and it wouldn't be possible to compress across http requests because Http is (in theory) a stateless protocol.

Now though, even private internal saved state never seen by a human is done in XML for bizarre reasons.

There are reasons other than human-readability to use XML. Using xml means you gain an ecosystem of tools: all kinds of parsers, generators, code generators, validators, editors, pretty-printers in your IDE, network packet sniffers that can parse and pretty-print it, etc, on a wide variety of platforms. You lose all that if you roll your own binary format, for a gain of nothing if you compress the data in production.

Also, private internal state is seen by a human on rare occasion. What happens if parsing the file fails? Someone will need to look at it.

Comment Microfiche or microfilm (Score 1) 329

I'd bet you could pick up some used microfilm or microfiche equipment from an old library, newspaper, or business. That equipment was standard during the 1970s, and I'd guess there's still a lot of it around.

You can store hundreds of pages on a single small roll of microfilm.

Canon still makes equipment to scan microfilm into digital formats.

Comment Re:Breaking news (Score 2) 298

Breaking news - you're a clueless git who no more understands the situation than my keyboard does. But that doesn't stop you from typing platitudes,

Speaking of clueless...

I like non fiction submarine books (for example), Amazon figures this out... and I'll never see a sale price on a submarine book again. I ordered the DVD of A Certain Scientific Railgun last week, and today the manga was a higher price than it was two weeks ago.

Nope. Amazon's prices fluctuate often, based upon supply and demand. You saw that, and then you wrongly inferred that they were discriminating against you, and charging you higher prices based upon your prior behavior.

you're a clueless git who no more understands the situation than my keyboard does

You may consider growing up before posting.

Comment Re:R&D Stealing (Score 1) 233

The fact is, the wealth of the world is being redistributed, and the US and EU are coming up losers. China is gaining.

The wealth of the world is not being redistributed. China is making more money because they are manufacturing more, not because the money is being redistributed from the US or EU.

the fact that China is ascending, while we descend.

We are not descending. The US and EU economies have continued growing (albeit slowly) during China's ascent. The reason is because the world economy is not a zero-sum game, and wealth is not being transferred from the US or EU to China.

China may be dependent on us today, but what happens in fifty years, or a hundred?

China, the US, and the EU will all have first-world living standards, most likely.

We're selling off our great grandchildren's future.

We are not selling any important assets to the Chinese. ...The only thing the Chinese are "taking" from us are exhaustible, expensive, internationally traded commodities. such as Oil. Our great grandchildren wouldn't have had too much of that anyway.

Comment Cherry-picking statistics (Score 5, Informative) 361

What always fascinates me about this debate is how much cherry-picking of statistics is involved. In all cases, someone in the media or on a blog, cherry-picks some statistic out of the PISA test, then writes a headline like "Oh no! The US is falling behind and we're DOOMED!"

I've actually read the results of the PISA test. The results are surprising. The US is approximately average among the OECD countries, virtually indistinguishable from France, Germany, or the UK. Even the vaunted German education in science, is only modestly better than US education in science: 539 vs 502. Even Japan, which has a reputation for non-stop studying and cram schools and so on, scores 539 on science, vs 502 in the US. I'm using science as an example because it's the middle case: the US performs slightly better relatively on reading, and slightly worse on math, but not to any significant degree.

Most industrialized first-world countries are not very different from each other on the PISA test. China is much better, however China is widely known to cheat on this test, and they cherry-pick students from an elite high school in Shanghai rather than randomly from the population, so the Chinese results were prefaced by an asterisk on the PISA results until recently. Aside from the Shanghai Chinese results, most industrialized countries are not very different from each other. Take the science test as an example. Spain performs very poorly, at 489; and Japan performs very well, at 539. Almost all large, industrialized countries are within this range. There are one or two outliers (Finland is an example) but not many.

The only way in which the US educational system is demonstrably inferior to any other large, industrialized country is the proportion of students who score a 6 (the top score) on the math test. In this regard, a few countries (like Japan, Switzerland, and Korea) have ~7% of their students which score in the very top category of the math test while the US (and most other countries) has about ~2%. This is the only worrying statistic. China (Shanghai) has a fantastic score in this regard, but again it is cherry-picked.

The lesson of the PISA test is this: most rich countries are quite close together in almost all regards. However a few of them (Japan, Korea, Switzerland, and Taiwan) have a small portion of their populations (less than 10%) who score very well in math.

Comment Re:Nah (Score 1) 550

Yep. Quality of code is pretty much a measurable thing. Looking at the things I identified in B above, if someone's code does not possess any of those violations, or if any such violation is rarely found, then that shows the person has done a best professional effort.

No. Code quality is definitely not a measurable thing, using any simple metric. Many people have tried to come up with some automated way of measuring code quality but nobody has even come close to succeeding. Measuring code quality is a hard problem.

Even if a programmer has done all the things you spoke of, it does not mean that he has done a "best professional effort". His code could be crap in all other ways. There are a million ways that code can be crappy, and new ones appear over time as languages evolve.

It would definitely be possible to prove negligence if a programmer committed certain obvious and well-known mistakes like not sanitizing input. This much could be detected using automated tools. Perhaps we could have negligence lawsuits for things like that. But that is not a measure of code quality.

Comment Re:Nah (Score 1) 550

Be careful about the source here. Actually track down the CBO report and verify that the quotation is not being taken out of context.

Where I live, physicians must pay $20,000-$90,000 per year for malpractice insurance, depending upon specialty ( Since there are 100,000 physicians in CA, we can guesstimate that $4-5 billion is spent on malpractice insurance just for CA, which is nearly as much as your source claims is spent for all medical malpractice for the entire country.

Here is another quotation from the dept. of Health and Human Services:

About 10 percent of the cost of medical services is linked to malpractice lawsuits and more intensive diagnostic testing due to defensive medicine, according to a January 2006 report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for the insurers’ group America’s Health Insurance Plans. The figures were taken from a March 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that estimated the direct cost of medical malpractice was 2 percent of the nation’s health-care spending and said defensive medical practices accounted for 5 percent to 9 percent of the overall expense.

...which I gathered by typing the issue into google and following the link to a wikipedia page (

Comment Re:yes (Score 1) 1010

I just don't find your argument convincing at all. You claim that critical thinking is a "waste of time," and the evidence you offer is that some people fail at doing it. Does that show that critical thinking is a waste of time? Is Algebra a waste of time because some people who think they're good at it actually suck? It would seem to be a stronger argument if the people who succeeded at critical thinking still didn't benefit from it.

One need remember the full probability course to understand what is a correlation and why it doesn't imply causation.

I don't think this is true. There are many things in a probability course that don't need to be remembered in order to understand why correlation doesn't imply causation.

Comment Re:Yes, but when does it do so efficiently? (Score 2) 1010

I think we are by far, less educated than our previous generations and it would be extremely detrimental to us to reduce the learning that students have to do today.

You're definitely wrong about this. The current generation is better educated than any previous one. Levels of education have continuously improved in this country, and everywhere in the western world, for the last 100 years. This improvement is apparent using almost any consistent and objective measure of educational achievement.

Not only that, but intelligence has also improved. IQ scales have been continuously revised upwards as people have grown smarter, at a rate of almost 1 point per year for a few years during the 1960s. The average adult in 1900 would score less than 85 on an IQ test today, which would make them borderline deficient.

Granted, the rate of improvement has slowed down considerably, during the last few decades. However your great-grandmother's generation was definitely not better educated on average than the current one.

Comment Re:Yes, but when does it do so efficiently? (Score 1) 1010

It's not a mistake we're ranked so poorly in the world math standings.

This claim is often repeated, but it's not true. The US actually ranks reasonably well in world math standings. There are a handful of countries which rank substantially better (South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Switzerland are a few examples), and many which rank far worse, but the US ranks fairly high.

In the PISA test almost all large industrialized countries rank between 483 (Italy) and 529 (Japan), out of 600. Even the vaunted Japanese educational system does not produce far higher results. China ranks at 600, however they are cheating and "cherry-picking" students.

It does not appear that there are large differences in average outcomes between industrialized countries. There are a few notable exceptions, like Finland and South Korea, but almost all industrialized countries are clustered fairly close together.

Comment Re:yes (Score 1) 1010

I'm a computer programmer for a living. Furthermore, what I do is complicated. I don't just make plain web apps, or enterprise software with business rules (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's easier than what I do). In my company I'm one of two programmers who does not have a PhD.

In my work I rarely use any kind of math above Algebra. Neither does anyone else here. When I do encounter math above algebra, it's usually some kind of bizarre, obscure math which I must learn about on my own, and my education was no preparation. I rarely use advanced math even though what I do is much more technical than 95% of the population.

I would guess that the author is correct that only 5% of the population routinely uses math above Algebra for their work.

Comment Re:Ask a better question (Score 3, Interesting) 288

I used to have great respect for Chomsky, but any respect I had for him died many years ago. In this case his arguments are just totally idiotic, and beside the point. Most of his article revolves around the capitalization of the word email, which is not the main point. Then he produces a quotation (" attempt is being made to emulate a full-scale, inter-organizational mail system") from a particular guy working on one exact mail program, and concludes that nobody in the world prior to 1978 was working on full-scale inter-organizational mail systems either. That argument is just a joke.

Chomsky says: "[These statements] suggest an effort to dismiss the fact that innovation can take place by anyone, in any place, at any time", but that is just a weak ad-hominem argument. Here Chomsky is speculating about what people who disagree with him are trying to do ("an effort to dismiss...") rather than dealing with evidence.

Chomsky just doesn't say anything relevant to the actual evidence in this case. Nor does he offer anything that approaches valid reasoning.

Then Chomsky says "the facts are indisputable", but in fact, Chomsky has not listed or touched upon any of the main facts about this issue. Before the guy invented anything, there were already widespread, inter-organizational, electronic mail systems which had address books, named recipients, mail boxes, mail programs, cc: and bcc: fields, and everything else essential. These systems were already integrated, inter-organization systems. These are the actual indisputable facts. This guy was not the inventor of email, and in fact, appears not to have invented anything significant related to it. The only invention that this guy deserves credit for is being the first person to spell email without a hyphen.

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