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Comment Re:Bad media coverage (Score 1) 1330

Except that if you read the majority opinion they actually open up any provision of the law to challenge on the same grounds. They warn that the ruling should not be taken as covering anything covered by insurance, but presumably any such thing could in principle be challenged on the same basis, and depending on the circumstances might likewise be exempted. The majority has opened the door to challenging the application of any provision of this law to a closely held corporation -- indeed any provision of any law. They just don't know how the challenge will turn out.

It's interesting to note that the court broke down almost exactly on religious lines when dealing with contraception. Five of the six Roman Catholic justices voted with the majority, and all three Jews joined by one dissenting Catholic. I think this is significant because the majority opinion, written exclusively by Catholics, seems to treat concerns over contraception as sui generis; and the possibility of objections to the law based on issues important to other religious groups to be remote.

Another big deal in the majority opinion is that it takes another step towards raising for-profit corporations to the same status as natural persons. The quibbling involved is astonishing:

....no conceivable definition of 'person' includes natural persons and non-profit corporations, but not for-profit corporations.

Which may be true, but it's irrelevant. The question is whether compelling a for-profit corporation to do something impacts the religious liberties of natural persons in exactly the same way as compelling a church to do that same thing. If there is any difference whatsoever, then then the regulations imposed on the church *must* be less restrictive than the regulations imposed on a business. Logically, this is equivalent to saying the regulations imposed on a business *may* be more restrictive than the regulations imposed on a church.

Comment Re:Vegetables out of necessity, or out of preferen (Score 2) 151

Some of us are old enough to remember the Vietnam war, which in turn brought us in contact with the long running civil war in Laos. Anti-communist Hmong from Laos fought alongside Americans and after both Vietnam and Laos fell to the Communists many Hmong refugees were resettled here in the US along with their families.

I remember this story about S. nigrum from a newspaper account back in the 80s about foraging by local Hmong refugees. There were lots of stories about Hmong settling in, and because this was pre WWW you read them because you read pretty much everything in the paper that was even vaguely interesting.

Comment Re:Vegetables out of necessity, or out of preferen (Score 1) 151

In my experience you tend to crave what you habitually eat. The Hmong forage for Solanum nigrum -- black nightshade -- a plant that is not only inedibly bitter for most people, it's actually poisonous if you haven't spent years working up a tolerance to its toxic alkaloids. And here's the kicker: black nightshade grows wild here in the US and the old folks here go looking for it in the woods, even though they can buy meat and non-toxic vegetables in the supermarket. They grew up with the stuff, so they crave it.

The single most powerful feature our species has is behavioral flexibility. The same plant that is a side dish providing auxiliary nutrients today could be famine food tomorrow if the hunt doesn't go well. If a plant is nutritious and abundant in the environment, I'd expect local humans to eat it with enjoyment.

Comment What if I don't want to date women smart as me? (Score 1) 561

Maybe I'm looking for a woman who is better looking than me and who'll accept the IQ differential in exchange.


True story. I took a long bike ride last summer and ended up in a very affluent seaside community. I cross over the causeway to an island that's the most desirable neighborhood. I pass an attractive blonde woman jogging, but I think nothing of it. Then I pass another one. Then another. And another. I notice the women getting in and out of the Land Rovers in front of the Islands quaint shops. They're obviously blonde joggers too. It's like all the women came from the same Jogging Blonde Lady factory then were rigged out with different accessories. None of them look over 30.

So I start looking for men. They're obviously wealthy, but they appear on average 20 years older than the women. In fact, they're just regular, dumpy old shlumps with expensive cars and watches.

It was weird, like having a young, blonde, athletic wife was part of the homeowners' covenant or something. Sorry honey, but we just got a citation from the association and you'll have to move of the island. Heather here will be taking over your duties; be a dear and show her around the old place.

Comment I bought a Pebble for just one reason (Score 1) 427

Calendar reminders. That's it. I don't always keep my phone in my pocket and sometimes I have the thing on silent. It's worked out well for me. I tried the email and facebook notifications, but I really don't care about missing those things. For me the whole point of email over phone calls is that you don't have to drop what you're doing because somebody has something to tell you.

Now I've always worn watches; I like them. I like being able to glance to see the time. I also like the quick, crude analog timing function of a rotating bezel, although I can live with a digital stopwatch. And I like a good looking watch; for me this means simple, functional elegance. I think the best looking watch ever made was the Rolex Submariner, although I'd never spend that kind of money. Generally cheap watches are too cluttered for my taste, but you can find a reasonable Submariner knock-off around $80 (e.g., an Invicta 8926OB).

It's not a matter of impressing people with how much I spend. One of my favorite watches costs only $35 (Timex Expedition T45181). I like it because it is simple, functional, and aesthetically pleasing in a subdued way.

But with the Pebble any question of aesthetic elegance goes right out the window. It's an ugly hunk of plastic. It will not impress anyone. But then, missing an appointment because your phone is in your coat pocket on silent isn't going to impress anyone either. The Pebble does one critical thing (other than tell time) and does it really well. Most of the time that makes it my go-to watch. On weekends I go for my Submariner knock-off, or if I'm doing something that will beat up the watch I'll go for the Timex.

Comment Re:Administrators (Score 1) 538

I've been to college myself, and I bet MIT would be around 1:1 too. The thing is, a lot of the teaching isn't done by faculty, it's done by graduate students. This includes recitations, answering questions one-on-one, and grading papers.

And there are a ton of administrators too, and they aren't sitting around on their hands doing nothing. They're doing stuff like administering grants and supervising the IT and physical plant people necessary to keep the faculty's lab research running.

The biggest time waster for MIT faculty, as far as I can tell, are other faculty.

Comment Re:Administrators (Score 2) 538

In all aspects of education, from primary school to university, the growing swarms of administrators soak up the budget. In some school systems, they vastly outnumber the actual teachers, have better pay, and yet contribute nothing to the operation of the schools.

I keep hearing this, but perhaps it depends on your locality. Looking at the first hundred entries in our local school staff directory, I get:

71 teachers
8 secretaries *
5 special needs professionals (4 speech pathologists +1 occupational therapist)
5 nurses
4 principals*
2 guidance counselors
1 police officer
1 payroll clerk *
1 information technologist *
1 Librarian
1 assistant superintendent *

* administrative staff

So going by this sample, 15% of the school department employees are "administrators" of some sort, although most of these are secretaries who handle a lot of things that teachers and more highly paid administrators would otherwise have to. But I hear people in my town make claims like the one above, even though they could just look in the school department directory and see for themselves this isn't even close to true. They believe this, not because it's factual, but because it's "truthy".

It's like when my town passed a tax increase to pay to replace the crumbling middle school. There was an anti-tax group in town that claimed we shouldn't give the school department any more money because they kept the school budget "secret". It just wasn't true. You can go on the town website and see the budget. That's how I know that at the high school teachers account for 79% of the salaries, and that system-wide administration (including superintendent, office staff and system-wide IT support) accounts for about 6% of total salaries. When we voted on the tax increase referendum I actually saw a parent try to hand a printout of the budget to an anti-tax protester holding a "no secret budgets!" sign. The protester literally recoiled, like she'd been offered a ripe piece of roadkill.

Are there schools or school departments out there that literally have more administrators than teachers? I don't know; maybe there are. My point is we shouldn't believe this about some school or school system simply because it sounds true to us. We should check. And if the answer is "yes", then you should do something about it.

Comment This looks a lot like the early ACA positioning. (Score 1) 268

When Obama first proposed Obamacare, he didn't jump in with specifics; he just laid out some high level guidelines and let the Democratically controlled Congress hash out the details. This was politically costly, because in the absence of specifics all kinds of claims were made about what was allegedly in the program, like "death panels". The house ended up passing something that looked like the plan Heritage Foundation put together for Bob Dole in the 90s. This was essentially the least they could do that met Obama's specifications for health care reform, and the long period over which it was impossible to defend because it had no concrete form cost Democrats control of the House.

This plan looks an awful lot like that. Broad goals, but implementation details kicked down the road and downstairs (in this case to the states). The one specific detail that's being talked about is a 30% reduction in emissions from coal in 26 years -- and even that's not very specific. The total CO2 emissions associated with mining, transporting and burning coal is at present about twice that of natural gas. It's possible that coal will be mined at even a higher rate than today if the industry develops more efficient ways to use it. Twenty-six years is a long time in technology.

In any case it's kind of a no-brainer that you can't allow coal emissions to grow in proportion to how the country's economy will grow in 30 years; not if you want to reduce pollution. It's the dirtiest fuel we use across the board, not just in terms of CO2.

But however you slice it, this is a very abstract plan that won't be translated into any kind of concrete action until long after Obama is out of office, if ever. The only thing that's close to certain is that it'll create a lot of political turmoil.

Comment Hmm. A "fair" comparison isn't the right test. (Score 3, Informative) 119

What we need to know about is the existence or non-existence of unfair comparisons, i.e., problems that favor the putatively "quantum" computer.

Since I don't expect a quantum computer to be faster at everything, then finding a bunch of solutions to problems that aren't any faster on the "quantum computer" doesn't prove anything, even if the problems look like the kind of problems you'd hope would be quantum-computery. There's not much more you can do than point to the absence of evidence when the burden of proof isn't on you.

The burden of proof is on the vendor here, and standard of "proof" is conceptually simple at least: demonstrate that for some task this device offers any practical advantage whatsoever over the best available conventional technology. That could be in absolute performance against the best available tech(e.g. ASICs and supercomputers), in relative performance over similarly priced systems, or in some practical measure other than performance, such as power consumption. Any clearly identifiable and verifiable advantage counts as positive proof the vendor has something worth paying attention to.

Of course even comparable performance by a novel architecture on some class of problems is interesting, because of the huge advantages a mature technology enjoys. Performance of a new design even in the same ballpark as a mature design suggests future improvements might be in the works. But it's only a suggestion.

Comment Re:Before you start complaining... (Score 1) 548

If it doesn't we can conclude that they just are not interested because of genetics or whatever.

With particular emphasis on "whatever". If this doesn't work, you really can't conclude anything because of all the potentially confounding factors. The only thing you *can* conclude is that other fields are more attractive to young women than CS or coding.

Comment Re:Dead on arrival (Score 1) 345

In years of commercial software development, I learned a number of important principles for designing new products.

(1) "Everyone wants what I would want" is a bad assumption. Chances are there are lots of people out there like you, but a lot of the untapped market may be people who want something different.

(2) There is an adoption curve for anything new. At the head of the adoption curve are people who want things that are new because they are new. At the tail are the people who don't want anything new until it's become old. In the middle are people who can be persuaded for various reasons to try something new, but only if they see other people using it successfully. Therefore the first thing a new product must be is new. The second thing a new product must be is practical. The last thing a new product must be is relatable in terms of older technology. A product that achieves all three can eventually sell to all three adopter types.

Notice how the bike in question tries to fit this model. The gear whine sound it makes struck me as unnecessarily loud, and the Harley people went on and on about the distinctive sound it makes. That sound is different from the traditional sound of Harley, which gets the attention of the early adopters. That sound is unnecessarily loud, which makes the bike relatable to a long tradition of unnecessarily loud Harleys. In a way the early adopters will be having a very traditional Harley experience of riding by and everyone thinking, "There goes one of those damned Harleys!"

(3) Experience is not the same as understanding. The classic example is the client who knows which websites he likes and dislikes thinking that means he can design a website himself.

What you experience riding a powerful bike is real. It is also artificial -- in the sense that it was deliberately crafted by talented designers, working with a toolbox of ideas that are probably unfamiliar to you unless you're a designer yourself. That doesn't mean they're smarter than you (gosh that's a big mistake for designers to make), it means they're more expert in their field than you are in their field.

There may be other ways of producing the experience you value, or indeed entirely novel experiences that would be equally powerful. They can try to reproduce the traditional bike experience, or they can try to redefine it. Chances are they'll fail either way because both are going to be difficult. Still, nobody can really know for sure until they get you on their new bike.

(4) Care about what users have to say, and listen to them very carefully, but don't believe them. Presuming they haven't contradicted themselves (which they'll do sooner or later), and you build them exactly what they ask for, most of the time they won't like it. I call it the "I know what I don't like when I see it" response. Your job as a designer is to think about what users tell you until you understand at least some of their needs better than they do. Then provide them with something they want without having realized they wanted it.

All of which means when you design something, it has to be just the right mix of surprising and familiar. The only way to know whether you've achieved that with a product like a high performance electric motorcycle is to build a prototype and have lots of typical users ride it. The results are probably going to be a total dud, as you're expecting. Or they may be a revelation. Or they may work for other people, but not for you.

Comment Re:So how is that going to work (Score 2) 188

One example:
A movie theatre or restaurant should have the right to block all cell phone signals on their premise

Or... they could politely ask anyone using a cell phone to leave, pointing to the signs they have prominently posted.

Sure, some patrons will be upset, but not as upset as the parent who misses a call from the baby sitter telling them to get to the hospital right away.

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Everything that can be invented has been invented. -- Charles Duell, Director of U.S. Patent Office, 1899