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Comment Poohbahs and PHBs didn't know a good thing... (Score 4, Insightful) 232

...when they saw it. Under the name "RRS Sir David Attenborough" it will drop out of the public eye, do some good work, and be forgotten in thirty years. Under the name "RRS Boaty McBoatface" it would have been the subject of children's books, stuffed toys, animated cartoons, been remembered for a century, and inspired a generation of kids to become polar researchers.

While not intentionally funny, the HMS Beagle and the DSV Alvin don't have the most dignified names in the world, and the scientific work they did is none the worse for it.

Comment Microsoft COULD have done the right thing... (Score 1) 250

...the update could have detected that it was running on a misconfigured motherboard. It could have issued a warning, containing directions on how to make the appropriate settings... with a PRINT option. It could have refused to install on a system that Microsoft knew it the update would damage.

Microsoft chose to do none of these things. Microsoft chose to hurt people who had paid money for their operating system.

Comment Systematically distortion of product demography (Score 4, Insightful) 165

Because it is beneficial to almost everyone in the industry to believe that "everybody" uses only the newest gear, there is a systematic distortion of the facts of what might be called "product demography." I've seen this everywhere I've worked, including several years at a (long-gone) Fortune 500 computer company.

It seems that almost everyone relies on 15 and 20-year old equipment. Everyone scratches their head in amazement at what's in the back of the server room and the unbelievable story of why it is still in service--but it is there.

I've had several conversations with people at the computer company that went about like this.
"We don't need to support that model, it's too old, nobody is using it."
"I think a lot of people are still using it."
"Why do you think that?"
"For one reason, because we still use it ourselves."
"Sure. Check with Lewis on the 4th floor of building III. They have three of them."
"What on earth for?"
"Because of [reasons X, Y, and Z]. And they can't get rid of them because the new models [have problems Q, R, and S].
"Oh, well, that's a completely unique situation. Nobody else in the world is using them."
"Trust me, if we're using them our customers are using them. Unless you believe that everyone else in the world is better managed and more up-to-date than we are."

Comment In many ways paper maps continue to be superior (Score 4, Insightful) 263

I continue to be amazed at how high the "bandwidth" of a traditional, printed, paper highway map--such as those still provided by AAA, and frequently by the states themselves--compared to anything you can get electronically. Scrolling a six-inch screen is no substitute for a square meter of paper surface printed in high resolution... and with judicious human preselection of points of interest.

For your typical 150-miles-to-a-specific-destination trips I continue to try to make do by printing out relevant Google maps, a small-scale one for the major highway routes to get there and a big one of the neighborhood. It never really works. The GPS and our car's NAV system will get you from point A to point B and show you in very good detail the local roads immediately surrounding your present position, but don't work very well for planning.

Nor are electronic maps very good for sketching, highlighting, or carrying with you. And paper maps don't need to be recharged.

Comment The movie was wrong about it breaking in half? (Score 1) 129

The movie suggested that the "Titanic" wasn't strong enough to support half its weight, levered and elevated, unsupported in the air. In the movie, the ship snapped in two (without the pieces fully separating).

This would have happened somewhere around 2:40 in the simulation video.

I guess this is just another illustration that Titanic buffs disagree with each other.

This professor's simulation indicates it did break--but not the way Cameron's movie showed!

Comment The societal consequences of slightly shoddy AI (Score 1) 214

All kinds of AI have teething pains, during which the problems are obvious and comical (the Apple Newton's handwriting recognition being a case in point). At the same time, the achievements of modern AI are amazing--but also troubling.

When I compare AI as envisioned in the 1950s--Isaac Asimov's Multivac, or his robots, perhaps--the assumption was that AI would be closely similar to human intelligence. For example, it was implicit that robots would answer questions by actually understanding them. What we are seeing today evokes an analogy with technologies like the sewing machine. Early efforts attempted to sew the same way humans did, and failed. Singer's brilliant idea was a method of using thread to fasten two pieces of cloth that did not resemble human sewing or even use the same stitch.

A Google search is within shooting distance of Multivac. You type in a question and you get a useful answer. The interesting thing is that most modern AI is shoddy. It goes halfway. It gives you something that's inaccurate, yet useful. But the key thing is that you are expected to use your human intelligence to get the rest of the way and correct mistakes. In the case of Google, you do this by looking at a ten or a hundred search results, for example--and reformulating the question if you don't get the right answer.

Perhaps one of the things that early AI pioneers missed is that modern AI relies more on having huge databases of information than would have even been imaginable in the 1950s and 1960s, and less on AI actually mimicking human intelligence.

This is not a problem when it is all open, the AI is offering you something to look at and not making decisions for you, and it is all in the nature of help or suggestions rather than direct action.

It becomes far more serious when it is happening behind the scenes--when AI is deciding whether you get a loan, or pass an essay test on an exam, or get onto a terrorist watchlist.

Comment Reader's Digest Condensed Books (Score 1) 207

"Wouldn't it be great if you could read a novel in an hour or two?"

You used to be able to. Reader's Digest used to publish Reader's Digest Condensed Books. In effect, they did the speed-reading for you. I have to say that they did a very skillful job of the editing, too. Very impressive. But not really that enjoyable to read.

They don't seem to be around any more.

Comment An emerging ideographic world language? (Score 1) 111

I've seriously wondered if the gradual adoption of more and more standardized icons and emoji is slowly creating an ideographic, common world written language.

I know that a few "fast forwards" and smileys here and there is a long way from verb tenses, and I don't think I've seen people use a string of several symbols to create a meaning that's different from the sum of its parts. But we're only a couple of decades into the process.

Comment "good news is ... 30 days to downgrade..." (Score 1) 370

"The good news is that you have 30 days to downgrade to the previous version of the OS."

Imagine the average retail user, not expecting an upgrade, not prepared for an upgrade, so perhaps no recent backups and (if it's a home user) perhaps no backups at all. No IT department scan to check application compatibility and peripheral compatibility.

(And does this unsolicited upgrade check to make sure the computer meets Windows 10 system requirements?)

An installation on top of an existing installation, jumping two versions in between (8 and 8.1). But at least going in the direction Microsoft wants, and therefore probably SQAed as well as Microsoft knows how to SQA.

Now suppose the user attempts a downgrade to Windows 7. Another system installation on top of an existing installation, and again jumping over two versions, but this time going in the direction Microsoft thinks is unwanted and unimportant and probably has not tested quite as thoroughly.

What do you think are the chances it works _well_ afterwards?

Comment "However, the turbine never came..." (Score 0) 318

Jokes aside, what kind of reporting is this? "The turbine never came..." What on earth was happening, then? If there was no turbine, what was moving the water? If there was a turbine, why didn't it pull the water into itself?

It's sort of like saying "He fell off the roof, sixty floors up, and thought he was going to be killed when he hit the ground, but the ground never came."

Comment But wasn't Cringely sorta-kinda wrong? (Score 1) 194

It's hard to parse the terminology, spin, etc. but Cringely's words were "IBMâ(TM)s reorg-from-Hell launches next week: IBMâ(TM)s big layoff-cum-reorganization called Project Chrome kicks-off next week when 26 percent of IBM employees will get calls from their managers followed by thick envelopes on their doorsteps. By the end of February all 26 percent will be gone." As I read it, he was talking worldwide. And as I read the current news, it doesn't sound as if that happened. Or did it?

Comment Patent USD11023, Design for a Statue (Score 4, Interesting) 127

This is what a design patent is like:

"Be it known that I, AUGUESTE BARTHOLDI, of Paris, in the Republic of France, have originated and produced a Design of a Monumental Statue, representing 'Liberty enlightening the world....'

The statue is that of a female figure standing erect upon a pedestal or block, the body being thrown slightly over to the left, so as to gravitate upon the left leg, the whole figure being thus in equilibrium, and symmetrically arranged with respect to a perpendicular line or axis passing through the ead and left foot... The right arm is thrown up and stretched out, with a flamboyant torch grasped in the hand.... The head, with its classical, yet severe and calm. features, is surmounted by a crown or diadem, from which radiate divergingly seven rays, tapering from'the crown, and representing a halo."

That protected Bartholdi against anyone making copies of the Statue of Liberty for fourteen years.

Comment Management politics... (Score 2) 568

Donald Knuth's great work is called "The Art of Computer Programming."

There's really no answer to this question, but it may help to consider the motivations and interests of the people who use the names. There is a cluster of meanings that hover around the word "engineering" and around the word "art." Programmers fall somewhere in between the two. The search for absolutes is meaningless.

If you consider a symphony orchestra, it performs an economic job. It has to deliver cost-effective music on schedule. Performances contain defects; people need to decide on the acceptable level of defects. The performer are highly skilled operators of machinery like cellos and celestes. There is a management hierarchy; individual contributors, middle management (the "first seats,") upper management (concertmaster, conductor) etc. etc.

Yet few would call musicians "music engineers."

At the other extreme, the person who decides what heating and cooling systems need to go in a new building, and how the pipes and ducts should be sized and routed, exercises a great degree of creativity, but few would call them "HVAC artists."

What can be said is that management wishes that programming were more predictable, more standardized, and less dependent on individual heroics by non-interchangeable, talented individuals. Management is apt to fall for any smooth talker who claims to be able to organize the work of programming to be less like art and more like engineering.

Wishing, however, will not make it so, and the CMM Level 5 firms will continue to produce both good and bad work--healthcare.gov was the product of a CMM Level 5 organization. And meanwhile, both bad and good work will continue to be done by "undocumented, chaotic, ad hoc, reactive" manner by small teams of good people who give a damn.

I always preferred to be called a "programmer" because I have always felt that "engineer" sent a signal that I was working for someone who didn't really understand the nature of my work. I think a violinist would prefer to be called a "violinist" than a "chordophonic engineer."

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