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Comment The Manifold Hinderings of Mind (Score 0, Offtopic) 97

At the risk of enraging automatic supporters of bloated government programs like the old Space Shuttle, it doesn't surprise me that lean, privately funded space-exploitation outfits do so well. Reliable execution of rocket science is difficult enough already without burdening the principals with all the artificial fears and running annoyances of a crusty bureaucracy. "Could I be fired for departing from the top-down plan if I do this instead of that? Does this possible change meet the 400-page outline set down by a large committee run by political appointees?" Every millisecond squandered on peripheral distractions is a millisecond lost to the subtle considerations of consistently productive and reliable thought.

Additionally, the people who work at the private firms tend more strongly to be there for the love of it than with any government agency. That counts for a lot when it comes to repeatedly avoiding those little errors of ennui and fatigue that can build up into a disaster. Enthusiastic workers are also more prone to realizing with a joyful start that a small change that could make a real difference will likely be actually used by a quick, responsive management team. Rocketry is often about very small changes marking the difference between a successful mission and a flaming ball of fuel and rocket parts.

Along these lines, I've always thought that China has consistently lagged behind the West in leading-edge technology for much the same reasons. The Chinese have no lack of smart people, but they're subtly and powerfully burdened with the habit of "self-censorship" to avoid offending the Communist Party and with the Confucian habit of observing "face-saving" deferment to the opinions of their alleged superiors. Sounds similar to and worse than just about any government agency in the West, eh?

These are my own thoughts, and only one puppy was temporarily scared into hiding under the couch during the production of this post. I also killed a small spider, but the dratted thing was trying to crawl into my coffee cup.

Comment Ridiculously Easy to Trip Up (Score 3, Insightful) 78

I checked out the website for the Mitsuku chatbot and took a rather pessimistic poke at it.

Chatbot: [boilerplate noises omitted] ... "What is your name?"
Myself: "I'm the fiddler."
Chatbot: "Who made you the fiddler?" [A reasonable, albeit somewhat peculiar, response.]
Myself: "I took too long once to feed my peckish cat."
Chatbot: "Where did you take it?" [Instant FAIL.]
Myself: "I took it to new heights of frustrated noises." (Bonus straight-man response.)
Chatbot: "Where did you take it?" [Parrot-like repetition raises the chat to new heights of FAIL.]

As always, two lines were enough to trip it up. The third line was a bonus that only amplified its shortcomings. I'll admit to cheating a little by using a couple of words ("peckish", "frustrated") that might have required contextual glossing by less educated individuals, but those words were still relatively common. All known chatbots seem to rely on fairly simple-minded word triggers, and even a minor requirement for context sensitivity is enough to make them fall flat on their nonexistent faces. Anyone possessing even remote familiarity with efforts at artificial intelligence knows this, of course, but hope springs eternal.

(Notes for the lazy: The word "peckish" is a common slang term for "hungry", and http://www.mitsuku.com/ is the website for the chatbot in question.)

Comment Back to the Future ... or Past ... or Something (Score 2) 265

That's pretty cool. Of course, I knew about this post yesterday, before you'd even thought about writing it up on Slashdot. I'm not exactly how that worked, but thinking too hard on it makes my head hurt. I think I'll go lie down for a while and hope the future catches up with the past or something weird like that.

Comment Extortionist Heaven (Score 2) 215

We all know perfectly well that malware makers will start including a module that purposefully bricks Samsung laptops so that extortionists can threaten to wipe out a batch of corporate-owned laptops in one blow if the company refuses to cough up a substantial amount. No matter how this affair plays out, I can't see it ending well for Samsung.

Comment Mass-Media Report (Score 5, Informative) 470

In retrospect, I guess it couldn't hurt to mention at least one mass-media report that doesn't seem too excitable:

Researchers in Shanghai identified a human bacteria linked with obesity, fed it to mice and compared their weight gain with rodents without the bacteria. The latter did not become obese despite being fed a high-fat diet and being prevented from exercising. The Shanghai team fed a morbidly obese man a special diet designed to inhibit the bacterium linked to obesity and found that he lost 29 per cent of his body weight in 23 weeks. The patient was prevented from doing any exercise during the trial. Prof Zhao said such a loss in an obese patient using this diet was unprecedented. The patient also recovered from diabetes, high blood pressure and fatty liver disease.

It will be fascinating to see what happens when other teams try to replicate these results with larger, more statistically significant groups than just one individual. ^^;

Comment Mass-Media Report (Score 1) 1

In retrospect, I guess it couldn't hurt to mention at least one mass-media report that doesn't seem too excitable:

Researchers in Shanghai identified a human bacteria linked with obesity, fed it to mice and compared their weight gain with rodents without the bacteria. The latter did not become obese despite being fed a high-fat diet and being prevented from exercising.

The Shanghai team fed a morbidly obese man a special diet designed to inhibit the bacterium linked to obesity and found that he lost 29 per cent of his body weight in 23 weeks. The patient was prevented from doing any exercise during the trial.

Prof Zhao said such a loss in an obese patient using this diet was unprecedented. The patient also recovered from diabetes, high blood pressure and fatty liver disease.

It will be fascinating to see what happens when other teams try to replicate these results with larger, more statistically significant groups than just one individual. ^^;

Submission + - Specific Gut Bacteria May Account for Much Obesity (nature.com) 1

resistant writes: "A limited study from China offers the tantalizing possibility that targeting specific gut bacteria in humans could significantly reduce the scope of an epidemic of obesity in Western countries:

"The endotoxin-producing Enterobacter decreased in relative abundance from 35% of the volunteer’s gut bacteria to non-detectable, during which time the volunteer lost 51.4kg of 174.8kg initial weight and recovered from hyperglycemia and hypertension after 23 weeks on a diet of whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods and prebiotics."

As usual, sensationalist reports have been exaggerating the import of this very early investigation, and one wonders about that "diet of whole grains." Still, there could be meat in the idea of addressing pathogenic bacteria for the control of excessive weight gain. After all, it wasn't too long ago that a brave scientist insisted in the face of widespread ridicule that peptic ulcers in humans usually are caused by bacterial infections, not by acidic foods."

Comment A Jingoistic Sentiment (Score 3, Funny) 210

Many of the the superstitious, ill-educated tribesmen that U.S. ground troops regularly encounter already think the Americans are witches. A headless donkey scampering along with supplies will really mess with the heads of the rag-heads. Maybe some of them will flee in terror instead of shooting at our soldiers. Really, what's not to like? You'll excuse me for a moment whilst I cackle in wicked laughter and stroke my black cat with the unnaturally intelligent glow in its eyes. ^_^

Comment Modern Shunning (Score 3, Informative) 354

One wonders what would happen if an ad-hoc, "name and shame" reputation network were to identify TSA agents everywhere they went. It's easy to imagine the near-universal environment of hate stares, extreme rudeness and occasional violence from victims of the TSA's Orwellian tactics putting direct pressure on TSA employees themselves to drastically reform their arrogant policies.

Comment Playing Games With Names (Score 2) 705

The marketing problem with insect consumption for Western audiences could probably be addressed by focusing a non-objectionable label on one particular kind of insect, much in the way that "beef", "pork", "chicken" and "fish" are labels for specific kinds of animal. The relatively innocuous term "cultured grasshopper meat" sounds a lot better than the generic term "squashed, processed bugs", for example. Once the idea of eating bugs ... pardon me, "cultured insect meat" gains traction, acceptance for this new food will naturally expand over time to other insects.

Admittedly, I expect the idea of eating yucky wormies will catch on very, very slowly indeed with Americans, no matter how enthusiasts try to make them sound appetizing by frying them up or making delicious-looking meat pies out of them. Personally, worms will always make me think of the squishy, nasty messes on the sidewalk after a hard rain, and I'll smack anyone who tries to get me to actually eat them.

Comment Blame Ain't the Real Game (Score 1) 1201

Many small companies with tight cash-flow situations and overworked owners simply do not have the resources to train new workers for the specifics of a job, and the human-resources departments of a fair number of bigger companies probably fear being blamed for new hires who take a long time to become genuinely productive. That's not to say some employers aren't being unreasonably picky, but as with most human affairs, closely examining the matter will inevitably reveal it to be more complex than the pictures drawn by simplistic answers. Frankly, I'd look at burdensome, complex regulations and a risky legal environment as major contributors to stubborn unemployment.

Comment Shipping Costs, Etc. (Score 4, Insightful) 377

I've always wondered why when irate brick and mortar retailers yell about an "unfair advantage" with no sales tax, they invariably fail to mention shipping costs, which don't exist for direct in-person brick and mortar store purchases. Admittedly, Amazon (for example) these days has free shipping for many orders of $25.00 or over, and intense competition over the past few years has put great pressure on all on-line retailers to not play games with charging excessive shipping fees to pad their profits, which used to be a huge problem.

Frankly, I gloat over not having to pay sales taxes (when possible). That's the free market. Amazon certainly has no moral obligation to levy sales taxes if there's no direct legal obligation to do it. It's up to the individual states to decide how badly they want to drive out business or attract it with varying tax treatment.

Comment Re:At least they are trying... (Score 1) 179

I also am a happy A&A customer.

I had a nightmare problem with my ADSL line (eventually traced to water in an underground junction box), the lengths A&A went to in supporting me to get this fixed were remarkable. For starters, their control panel allowed me to show the BT engineers who were round (often) when my line was dropping or throttling back. These engineers said I had online access to quality of service info even they didn't know about, and were amazed.

No comparison with the major ISPs - just none whatsoever.

Comment Re:sco still alive? (Score -1, Offtopic) 286

I would support the social causes if I thought government could fix them. Instead it often makes the problems worse and at best wastes a ton of money for little result. The American people are very generous and dont mind spending money to help people who are in need. At the state and community level they can do it more effectively. It just doesnt work having the federal government involved. In some cases it has the opposite affect and makes the problem worse.

Comment Windows users and BIOS updates... (Score 1) 558

I've encountered plenty of corporates which keep a box of floppies around, primarily to bootstrap windows (prior to 2008/vista you had to load storage drivers from floppy if they werent in the default install) and to perform bios updates...

Also at least one place includes floppies in their monthly stationary orders, even tho noone has used them in years. Someone who works there was telling me how he has to throw out all the unused floppies to stop them filling up the stores.

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