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Comment Re:One more reason that such systems make no sense (Score 1) 308

Here in the UK Oxford and Cambridge have entrance exams, and some courses at other universities will require applicants to sit an entrance exam or submit an assignment to gain entrance. These are in addition to the exams sat at the end of secondary education and, certainly in the case of Oxford and Cambridge, owe more to tradition than to any serious requirement for additional assessment.

Comment Re:One more reason that such systems make no sense (Score 1) 308

Here in the UK there are national exams at the end of secondary school (A-Levels in England and Wales, Highers (IIRC) in Scotland) that are set and assessed by national bodies independently of the schools. Papers are graded by independent examiners, usually in a double-blind assessment. In some subjects these do include course work assessment by the teachers but each year work from a random sample of students are audited to check that the grading by the teacher is in line with national standards. Teachers who tend to grade too high or too low are given feedback (usually copied to their head of department and head teacher) and the work regraded. The size of the sample will depend on the length of experience and how good the teacher has been in past years so experienced teachers who are usually very close will have only a small sample audited but new teachers or teachers who have a record of being off the mark may find every assignment they graded being audited. Similarly a sample of the independently assessed papers are audited.

Comment Re:CEOs are overrated (Score 2) 692

It should also be noted that the 'iconic' white ear buds soon made the iPod users an identifiable target for muggers, pick pockets and other thieves who figured why mug someone for what may be a £20 MP3 player with zero trade in value when you can mug someone advertising that they have a £399 iPod that can be traded in for £120 at many high street and backstreet vendors of second hand electronics. As a result many iPod users switched from the 'iconic' white ear buds to more ubiquitous headphones.

Comment Re:Despite all of the complaining about it... (Score 1) 627

I've seen it happen. On the payroll server. The morning of the day the monthly payroll for about 20,000 staff was to be run (he was supposed to be clearing out the /tmp filesystem so the server wouldn't run out of space for the tempfiles the payroll system would create as it ran but not clear up after itself).

Comment Re:The law is a ass. (Score 3, Insightful) 287

That's nothing more than cultural bias.

Plus there's always context. This wasn't just some teenager worried about not being asked to the prom. This was a kid that was facing having is entire life destroyed apart by the government.

That kind of situation is quite often NOT portrayed as a sign of mental illness when the result is suicide. (even in the West)

The plea deal offered by the government was six months in jail and a felony conviction. Yes, the punishment is out of all proportion to the crime. It's wrong. It's a bullshit deal. It's six months more than anyone on Wall Street served after they blew up the banking system and destroyed the world's economy. But most people, faced with the choice of being unjustly convicted and losing six months of your life, and losing the entire rest of your life, will take six months. It wasn't the end of everything. After six months for trying to liberate the entire contents of JSTOR, he would have come out of prison a martyr and a hero. Serving time for an idealistic, altruistic act like that would have given him a credibility that no other activist had. He would have had the rest of his life to use his notoriety to push for internet freedom.

But that's the kind of optimistic, lemons-into-lemonade kind of thinking you just can't manage when you're severely depressed.

Comment Re:The law is a ass. (Score 1) 287

Theodp is the one being an ass here. Ortiz said:

My understanding is that some issues about a year and a half ago came up regarding his mental illness and they were addressed at the arraignment.

Theodp wrote:

On Thursday, Ortiz insisted Swartz — who she now characterizes as 'mentally ill' — received fair and reasonable treatment from the DOJ.

While similar, the phrases "mental illness" and "mentally ill" have different implications. A 'mental illness' is something you have. It is something that you possess, it doesn't define or negate what you are. 'Mentally ill' is something you are, it defines who and what you are. Theodp is misquoting Ortiz, and putting words in her mouth. He is the one using the phrase 'mentally ill' to label Swartz, not Ortiz, making it sound like she's being callous and dismissing him when she's not. I'm not sure if he's just a really sloppy writer, or deliberately trolling Slashdot, but the post should be corrected, because this quote is inaccurate.

Whatever you may think of her other behavior as a prosecutor, in this case Ortiz is being professional. Swartz did suffer from mental illness. He himself vividly and honestly described his struggles with depression. Not a few bad days. Not struggles with grief, or stresses from major life setbacks. He wrote about severe depression of the sort where even when everything is going right, everything still feels wrong, and you just can't feel any joy. I think Swartz would have been the first to admit that this was mental illness.

Comment Re:This is truly a difficult situation (Score 3, Insightful) 369

It's called the Office of Special Counsel [osc.gov]. The Office of Special Counsel provides "a safe conduit for the receipt and evaluation of whistleblower disclosures from federal employees, former employees, and applicants for federal employment."

The law protects whistleblowers, the question is whether Manning is a whistleblower. A whistleblower is someone who tells the public or the authorities about corrupt or illegal behavior. Little if any of what Manning exposed qualifies as corrupt or criminal, so he's not protected as a whistleblower. Even the most famous release, the "collateral murder" video of an Apache attack helicopter slaughtering journalists in Iraq, wouldn't qualify because it was an accidental killing; it doesn't even qualify as negligence, since the pilots and the military can argue that when journalists are embedded with heavily armed insurgents carrying AK-47s and RPGs, they can hardly be expected to recognize them as press. I do think Manning did a real service in releasing this video- it shows the real costs of war in the most horrifying possible way, something we should remember before we decide to plan another invasion. But unless humanity gets together and decides to outlaw war and make civilian casualties illegal, exposing the brutality and tragedy of warfare does not qualify as whistleblowing.

Even if that incident or other incidents did qualify as whistleblowing, it wouldn't get him off the hook however. Snarky comments made by U.S. diplomats don't qualify as corrupt or illegal, so there is no chance that his lawyer can argue that releasing those cables was justified under a whistleblower law. I sympathize with his aims and his treatment may be excessive, but it doesn't change the fact that he broke the law.

Comment Re:I find this denial very truthful... (Score 2) 52

The location of the computers targeted by Flame tells you a lot about the people behind it. When initial reports came out about Flame, it was revealed that it primarily targeted Iran (189 infections), with additional infections in Israel/Palestine (89), Sudan (32), Syria (30) and Lebanon (18). The focus on Iran suggests the U.S. and/or Israel as being behind Flame. However, the remainder of the list focuses on countries that pose a threat to Israel, as opposed to countries that would be of more interest to U.S. security (Pakistan, Afghanistan). That always made me suspect Israel, but one thing never made sense. Why the interest in Sudan, of all places?

Recent events shed some light on this. The missiles used by Hamas to attack Israel are manufactured by Iran, and then smuggled via Egypt into Gaza. But how do they get from Iran into Egypt? Through Sudan. And Israel appears to have been working actively to stop this. On October 28, eight Israeli Air Force F-15s flew 1200 miles into Sudanese airspace, supported by a tanker and a jamming plane, and dropped four 1,000 pound bombs on a weapons factory. That's the kind of operation where you need good intelligence to find your targets and assess their defenses.

So up to now, the evidence points squarely at Israel as being the people behind Flame. The possibility exists that the U.S. had a hand in developing it, but the targets have been people of interest to Israel. I can't figure out why on earth they would target Sarkozy, but it seems far more likely to me that the Israelis would target him for some devious scheme of theirs, than that Obama would risk alienating a fellow NATO member and an ally.

Comment Re:no (Score 4, Informative) 637

What's really really obvious is that if you take a human and raise them in isolation or in a primitive tribe, they might have a much lower IQ than if the exact same human was raised by the finest minds and educators in the modern world.

NPR ran a story on this on their "Planet Money" economics show. They talked about research looking at the effects of preschool education on child development, and the discoveries were really shocking. They took a group of poor children, then randomly selected half of them to recieve a top-notch, free, pre-school education, then followed both groups. The kids who got pre-school tested higher on child IQ tests, but what's more, the differences stuck with them all the way into young adulthood. There were also major differences in terms of better earning potential, lower teen pregnancy rates, higher rates of attending college, with the pre-school group doing better than the control group on all of these fronts.

So yes, smart parents tend to raise smart kids. But a big part of that is that if your parents raised you well and taught you well, you raise your kids well and teach your kids well.

It's worth a listen- it's one of the best shows on NPR, and this is one of their best episodes in my opinion: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/10/19/163256866/episode-411-why-preschool-can-save-the-world

Comment Re:It ain't expensive to build a stealth plane... (Score 2) 161

Also how could they? Do they have direct access to the planes?

They don't need direct access. The People's Liberation Army hacked into the networks of American defense contractors and stole blueprints and data http://cnsnews.com/news/article/chinese-hackers-stole-plans-americas-new-joint-strike-fighter-plane-says-investigations. If anyone had any questions who was behind these attacks, the fact that features of the F-22 and F-35 are now showing up in Chinese planes pretty much eliminates all doubt.

Comment Re:Exactly. 78k is luxury territory (Score 1) 303

I agree, except I'd go a little further to say that $78k is ridiculous.

Wake me up when an electric car is $20k new - it's a motor, controller and a chassis, for crying out loud.

When new technologies are being introduced, they are inevitably going to be expensive. When PCs were first introduced, they were out of the reach of most consumers. The original Apple II cost $1300 dollars in 1977. Inflation adjusted, that is $5000 in 2012 dollars. And that's without a monitor. Now, manufacturing capabilities have improved and benefit from economies of scale, and you can get a far more capable computer for a few hundred dollars. TVs show the same pattern. The first color TV cost $1295 in 1954, over $10,000 in 2012 dollars.

Electric cars will follow the same trajectory as computers and color TVs- initially they will be luxury goods, and only a handful of people will be able to afford them. Eventually, the price will come down, and they will be within the reach of the average consumer. Tesla's goal is to make those cars, but since the technology is still so expensive, it makes more economic sense to develop and market a car aimed at the sports car market, rather than a conventional automobile. As the technology matures and manufacturing processes improve, the hope is ultimately to develop and sell affordable, mass-market electric cars.

Comment Re:Disgousting behaviour (Score 3, Interesting) 560

You should also understand that they represent a very very small minority of the people with Islamic beliefs.

It is much, much higher than you think. An organization like Al Qaeda can't exist on its own. It needs support from a significant percentage of the population in order to provide them with new recruits, financial support, logistical support and so on. And bin Laden didn't manage to elude capture for a decade without support in Pakistan, including from high levels within the military or intelligence agencies. That doesn't mean that everybody or even a majority of the people have to approve of and support Al Qaeda and bin Laden, but if it was just a "very, very small minority" then they simply could not exist.

So let's look at the numbers. I decided to Google this, and the results I came across were pretty shocking. According to a 2011 poll by Pew Research, a think tank that monitors this kind of thing, when asked about whether terror attacks on civilians were justified, 81% of Palestinian Muslims responded with "Often", "Sometimes," "Rarely," or "Don't know". Just 19% said that violence against civilians was never justified. 38% of Egyptians said terror attacks are never justified. The "never justified" number is 39% for Lebanese, 55% for Jordanians, 60% for Turks, 77% for Indonesians, and 85% for Pakistanis. And for U.S. muslims? 81%. 6% of U.S. Muslims said "don't know", 5% said "rarely", 7% said "sometimes", and 1% said "Often". So even in the U.S., we have a full 13% of the population that is OK with murdering civilians under certain circumstances. That's roughly one in every seven American Muslims. And another 6% who feel there is some moral ambiguity here.

It's obviously not accurate, fair, or helpful to assume that all Muslims support violence. And since the countries with the most Muslims (Pakistan and Indonesia) are against violence by a wide margin, it's fair to say that supporting violence against civilians is a minority view in the Muslim world as a whole. But it's definitely not accurate to say that this is a small, fringe minority with little influence. In some countries a large majority of the population actually supports violence.

Comment Re:Why worry (Score 1) 153

We know that an asteroid of sufficient size is going to hit again. It's only a matter of time. Maybe that time is a million years from now, maybe it's a week from now.

Asteroids are a lot like sharks. They're scary and exciting, they're good antagonists for movies, and so we tend to overestimate the danger they pose. Yes, a shark can tear your arm off, and if you happen to run into one while swimming, you should probably head the other way. But the reality is that far more people are killed by dogs, bees, car accidents, choking on food, drug reactions, and soforth.

In terms of natural disasters, the big killers are earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and floods. Wikipedia has a list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_natural_disasters_by_death_toll

. Since 1900, the most deadly natural disasters have included the 1931 China floods (150,000-4 million deaths), the 1971 earthquake in China (240,00-800,000 deaths), the 1970 cyclone in Bangladesh (500,000 deaths), and the 2004 tsunami (280,000 deaths). There are no well-documented instances of meteorites causing mass casualties, but even taking an ancient Chinese report of 10,000 deaths at face value, the worst impact event in the past 1000 years wouldn't even score as the worst natural disaster in the past two years.

Or look at it in geological terms. The human species has been around for about 200,000 years. There is just a single well-documented case of an asteroid causing an extinction in the past 500 million years, the Cretaceous-Paleogene Chicxulub impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. The odds of such an event happening in the next ten thousand years or so are vanishingly remote. And other major extinctions coincide with ice ages (Eocene-Oligocene event, Ordivician-Silurian event) or volcanic eruptions (Permo-Triassic, Triassic-Jurassic, Cenomanian-Turonian events). So if we really want to worry about existential threats to the survival of the species, we should worry about ice ages and volcanoes, not asteroids.

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