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Comment Re: no harm was done (Score 1) 555

While I agree that the product was not defective, and that banning was out of proportion to the scale of the problem, there was a potential for harm if they were given to children (not that they were marketed in that way). There have been a number of incidents in the past with other magnetic toys.

Comment Re:Sqlite will be awesome (Score 1) 190

I doubt that he is using "grep -F -f ...", because fgrep can search for a hundred thousand patterns in a megabyte of data in under a second even on a modest machine (and most of the time is building up the regex state machine). I suspect he is using "egrep -f", and lots of patterns with wildcards. Worse, he will be running it once on each email, which means rebuilding the regex state machine each time.

Comment Re:Why aren't more women in science fields? (Score 1) 608

I studied computer science in the mid 1980s (in Australia), and around 50% of the undergrads were female (unlike in engineering at the time). The ratio now is quite skewed, so something has clearly changed. There is probably a combination of factors, but I reckon we are missing out on a lot of good programmers simply because the field has become less attractive to women.

Comment Re:Parallel is not necessarily better (Score 2) 98

But indeed, it is the learning experience that is required, because cores are not getting particularly faster, and we are going to have to come to grips with how to parallelize much of our computing. The individual cores in this project may not be particularly powerful, but they aren't really weak either; the total compute power of this board is more than you are going to get out of your latest Intel processor, and uses a whole lot less power. Yes, it isn't ideal given our current algorithms and ways of writing programs, but massive parallelism is at the centre of performance computing, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Comment Re:Obligatory (Score 1) 294

Someone must have caught Gattaca on Encore a few weeks ago

No, they lost their daughter in a school shooting (according to the summary). Probably not a good motivator for unbiased science, but an understandable reason why they have taken on this project. One would expect that such a study may indeed find some genetic markers, but as you point out, these would only be indirect and partial origins for an individual's behaviour.

Comment Re:Cobol is self-documenting (Score 2) 345

I'm no fan of COBOL (and enjoyed Dijkstra's criticism), but its main flaws are not to do with being verbose. "Hello World" is longer than it would be in most languages, though a lot of that is just overhead; in general the line count in COBOL is not massively bigger than in other languages. Of course, the syntax in each line can be a mouthful, with an excessive use of keywords obscuring the structure, but in coding business logic this is not always a disadvantage (business logic is often convoluted anyway, and at least the code fragments are a little more readable to a layperson).

My point is, although you are probably correct that there is very likely a better choice of a modern language to replace this code, it is going to be a lot more than 70 lines worth. The real saving in code is most likely to come through the refactoring process, whatever language is chosen.

Comment Re:Entering the hospital may be first mistake (Score 1) 36

While I don't dispute that there can be improvement in hospital processes, many of these people who died were already at risk. If I have a heart attack, a 0.3% risk of dying through medical error at the hospital is nothing compared to my risk if I don't go to the hospital. What was the average risk of death had a patient not undergone a hospital procedure? Maybe there are classes of patients who should not undergo procedures! It isn't terribly informative to quote such a statistic without any context, and without giving details about the original illnesses and the common errors involved.

It's a bit like saying that many people die in their bed. A true fact, but not on its own enough to warrant an inquiry into bed safety.

Comment Re:in other news (Score 2) 75

It's somewhat more difficult than just 'seeing through things'; walls are not totally transparent to the wavelengths of interest, and reflections from them dominate the signal. Moreover, this technique makes use of equipment that can't do the precise timing of radar measurements (though this means they can only track the angles of moving targets, not their position). It is a neat sort of hack, and interesting for that reason.

Comment Re:Old Panoramic Paintings (Score 1) 48

Unfortunately it can't; the method they are talking about relies on the taking of multiple shots that overlap. Because the camera is mounted on a swing arm, the overlapping shots are also taken at different locations, which enables depth to be reconstructed from what are effectively stereo pairs. The only tricky part is that the stereo pairs have been taken facing in different directions, so the algorithm has to compensate for this.

While it is true that the panaromic painting may have been observed from different points at a tower, each spot in the scene only corresponds to a single point in the painting, so the stereo information has been lost.

Comment Re:Stories like this... (Score 1) 248

Understanding primes is fundamental to an understanding of number theory.

Number theory itself is pure mathematics, which concerns itself with abstract concepts, so the immediate motivation is one of exercising our intelligence and playing with the puzzles that we discover. "Intellectual masturbation", to use your classy phrase, is fun. You should try it sometime.

But of course, in turn number theory underpins many other areas of mathematics, including for example the discrete mathematics used in the development of computer algorithms, not to mention the numerical analysis we use in engineering.

You seem to be making the mistake of thinking that research is best directed according to practical goals. Actually, it is more time effective to solve hard and fundamental problems that have general usefulness in the field than it is to pick off application specific tasks that won't have any relevance beyond next year.

Of course, there has to be a balance here between general and specific. But since the number of people doing pure research is such a small fraction of the population, it is really up to you to justify why we don't have more people studying these matters.

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