Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

Submission + - The Neuroscience of Screwing Up (

resistant writes: As the evocative title from Wired magazine implies, Kevin Dunbar of the University of Toronto has taken an in-depth and fascinating look at scientific error and the scientists who cope with it and sometimes transcend it to find new lines of inquiry. Three key passages follow:

"Dunbar came away from his in vivo studies with an unsettling insight: Science is a deeply frustrating pursuit. Although the researchers were mostly using established techniques, more than 50 percent of their data was unexpected. (In some labs, the figure exceeded 75 percent.) 'The scientists had these elaborate theories about what was supposed to happen,' Dunbar says. 'But the results kept contradicting their theories. It wasn't uncommon for someone to spend a month on a project and then just discard all their data because the data didn't make sense.'" [...]

[...] "The scientific process, after all, is supposed to be an orderly pursuit of the truth, full of elegant hypotheses and control variables. (Twentieth-century science philosopher Thomas Kuhn, for instance, defined normal science as the kind of research in which 'everything but the most esoteric detail of the result is known in advance.') However, when experiments were observed up close — and Dunbar interviewed the scientists about even the most trifling details — this idealized version of the lab fell apart, replaced by an endless supply of disappointing surprises. There were models that didn't work and data that couldn't be replicated and simple studies riddled with anomalies. 'These weren't sloppy people,' Dunbar says. 'They were working in some of the finest labs in the world. But experiments rarely tell us what we think they're going to tell us. That's the dirty secret of science.'"

"While the scientific process is typically seen as a lonely pursuit — researchers solve problems by themselves — Dunbar found that most new scientific ideas emerged from lab meetings, those weekly sessions in which people publicly present their data. Interestingly, the most important element of the lab meeting wasn't the presentation — it was the debate that followed. Dunbar observed that the skeptical (and sometimes heated) questions asked during a group session frequently triggered breakthroughs, as the scientists were forced to reconsider data they'd previously ignored. The new theory was a product of spontaneous conversation, not solitude; a single bracing query was enough to turn scientists into temporary outsiders, able to look anew at their own work."

Mentioned in the article itself is mysterious radio interference from the heavens, a huge error by Aristotle that is commonly repeated even today, and a quote from the late physicist Richard Feynman.


Submission + - Ginkgo Doesn't Improve Memory or Cognative Skills (

JumperCable writes: CNN reports

Ginkgo biloba has failed — again — to live up to its reputation for boosting memory and brain function. Just over a year after a study showed that the herb doesn't prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease, a new study from the same team of researchers has found no evidence that ginkgo reduces the normal cognitive decline that comes with aging.

In the new study, the largest of its kind to date, DeKosky and his colleagues followed more than 3,000 people between the ages of 72 and 96 for an average of six years. Half of the participants took two 120-milligram capsules of ginkgo a day during the study period, and the other half took a placebo. The people who took ginkgo showed no differences in attention, memory, and other cognitive measures compared to those who took the placebo, according to the study, which was published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

And of course, the link to the study.


Submission + - Photovoltaic Eye Implant Gives Sight to the Blind (

MikeChino writes: Researchers at Stanford University recently announced that they have developed a new artificial retina implant that uses photovoltaic power and could help the blind see. The problem with previous implants was that there was no way send power to the chip in order to process light and data inside the eye, so the new device uses miniature photovoltaic cells to provide power the chip as well as to transmit data through the eye to the brain. The new device has great promise to help people afflicted by the loss of photoreceptor cells by using the power of the sun.

Submission + - WTF? USPTO Awards LOL Patent to IBM

theodp writes: Among the last batch of patents granted in 2009 was one for IBM's Resolution of Abbreviated Text in an Electronic Communications System. The invention of four IBMers addresses the hitherto unsolvable problem of translating abbreviations to their full meaning — e.g., 'IMHO' means 'In My Humble Opinion' — and vice versa. From the patent: "One particularly useful application of the invention is to interpret the meaning of shorthand terms...For example, one database may define the shorthand term 'LOL' to mean 'laughing out loud.'" USPTO records indicate the patent filing was made more than a year after Big Blue called on the industry to stop what it called 'bad behavior' by companies who seek patents for unoriginal work. Yet another example of what USPTO Chief David Kappos called IBM's apparent schizophrenia on patent policy back when he managed Big Blue's IP portfolio.

Submission + - Bruce Schneier on Airport Security (

the4thdimension writes: Bruce Schneier has an opinion piece on CNN this morning that illustrates his view on airport security. Given that he has several books on security, his opinion carries some weight. In the article, Bruce discusses the rarity of terrorism, the pitfalls of security theater, and the actual difficulty surrounding improving security. What are your thoughts? Do you think that we can actually make air travel (and any other kind of travel, for that matter) truly secure?

Comment Re:It doesn't say "for Microsoft" (Score 4, Funny) 226

In fact it states that this new service is for all users with all operating systems. So while indeed 99% of all users run Microsoft, niche systems like Linux and Mac will be helped too.

I like the way you think.

It's very different from the support centers that I call with hardware problems - like when an update bricked my router - that suggested I:

a) re-install Linux to fix the problem,
alternately, b) don't use a Mac, because they don't do REAL networking,
c) if I were only using Windows, I wouldn't be having this problem,

and my favorite -

d) I must be lying because no one has three operating systems in their house - and if I do, then maybe that's what bricked my router.

But - as I said, I like the way you think, and I wish them many good lucks with this endeavor.

Comment Re:Good for apple (Score 1) 1078

Hard drives don't really get a lot of air circulation through them. They generally have a single hole in the case to allow for pressure equalization, and many have a spongy filter over them so the air exchange with the drive is very minor.

Fans are somewhat designed for it. Fans deal with everything in the air anyway, and have to keep dust out by design since they'll see the highest amount of it, so their design naturally reduces the amount of air that reaches the critical parts. With that said, fans around pets and smokers DO fail sooner on average in my experience.

Comment Re:Fortunately (Score 1, Interesting) 68

so what you're saying is that we can look forward to a huge wave of ignosticism to sweep the world? I think that would be wonderful, but I do see a small problem with that prediction. When times are tough, when the common person feels helpless in the face of forces and circumstances larger than they are, they tend to seek out explanations that are larger than they are. Religion *thrives* when things are toughest. "There are no athesists in a foxhole" is one common way of phrasing that. As I see it, every generation looks at it's kids, looks at the way society is evolving and finds that they don't really understand either one. They also tend to fear the worst. It is all too easy to take heed of those who prophesy a doom that we already suspect ourselves and at the same time promise that doom can be averted if we all just make a few changes in what we are doing.

To my mind; the fundamental problem with groups like NIMF isn't that they View With Alarm, that is a enshrined tradition of priests, politicians and the power-hungry since the dawn of human history. The real problem is human arrogance and an inability to keep from meddling. If can't we can't accurately imagine the future, how can we hope to shape it as we desire? The law of unintended consequences still reigns supreme

Comment Smoke residue (Score 1) 1078

I've worked on machines from smokers only to find the insides covered in fuzzy, sticky brown residue. It smells horrible as well. I can see how this sort of thing could cause warranty issues without question.
If I were Apple, I'd simply take in image of it and show the customer.

Comment I didn't RTFA (Score 4, Interesting) 278

I didn't RTFA, because I can proudly say that I was involved in the group that produced MHC mediated sexual selection studies that uses to claim their rationale. A few comments: First, if Scientific match has any wits about them, they'll also consider other information. I don't think anyone's stupid enough to think there's a single correlate to mate selection. But the worry about people who are too different is poorly founded - MHC diversity is strongly retained throughout most human lineages. We've had negative frequency dependant since we were swimming in the ocean, and as a result, if you sequenced any given allele, you'd find that it's just as related to Gorilla sequence as it is another randomly chosen allele. My ex-boss used to have students do this as an exercise to illustrate the point. Because of this, you're just as likely to find someone very MHC (or in humans, HLA) dissimilar next door in these modern, mobile times, than you are in, say, in a distant country.

Second: They're only (to my knowledge) matching at MHC for disassortative matings, not the rest of the Genome. How is this better than picking someone based on hobbies? Because research actually shows that mating patterns in humans follows this pattern. It is a bit of a crock, since the odds of you picking two people at random with similar MHC complements is low, but let's not get into that. ;)

Finally, let me just say, I'm proud that so much scientific blood, sweat and tears into understanding the maintenance of the immune system, and what drives host-parasite co-evolution, has been distilled into an online dating site. Forget having worked with a Nobel laureate, this the highest honour a scientist can know. ;)

Comment Re:White collar coders make better sheep (Score 1) 836

I've noticed this too, but I think it's a general rule of our society. If you go along and can stay employed and you work for a large company, you'll eventually be promoted to Vice-President of Pre-Disposal Paper Stacking at a six figure salary. If you have an MBA, and can stack the piles in a more complex way, you get a 7 figure salary. There are overwhelming rewards for pretending that you're just like everyone else and out to server the company rather than yourself.

Yes, most of the collegiate coders love to think inside hip new boxes like "Agile" and "Scrum." They swoon over "Patterns." Of course, these things yield zip more often than not, if you use any rational measure of ROI.

I've worked in QA for 15 years and watched a lot of coders. I regret to inform everybody that the coder who gets things done is often some hack in the back who looked up some code on the net, stared at it until he/she understood it, and started the thing from scratch, ignoring algorithm optimization, not using void virtual functions, pretty comments and otherwise ignoring the niceties.

That said, I hate that sort of thing. Not very sustainable. If I ruled the development department, I would put in place a strategy of "define, then refine" where the brilliant hack does his thing, making his or her pretty new algorithm work. Then that code would be delivered to the next guy who would take it, comment it, improve it and otherwise make it presentable.

Comment Personal Experience (Score 1) 836

I had computers as a hobby for many years, starting out with FreeBSD 2.2.8 when I was in 8th grade and teaching myself C and dabbling in a few other things as well. I'm 25 and have a legitimate 5-digit ID, not that it means much other than I got started with being a nerd at an early age for some reason signed up for Slashdot. I thought I was going to be a Comp Sci major, but then I quit and studied English and Classical History instead.

I still kept up with Unix-y things, and futzing around with Perl and stuff like that, and after an endless string of half-ass pseudo-success after college while trying to do the "english major" thing, I bit the bullet and got back into computers. I've been employed for the last year and change as a Linux admin at a web hosting company, and just got a new job that I start next month where I'll probably have to write the occasional C code again, too.

Now, I think I'm a reasonably competent programmer -- definitely more so than one would expect from a liberal arts major, but I'm definitely not a computer scientists. I'll read algorthims books and study stuff on my own, but I think I lack the degree of comprehension that someone who had it drilled and tested in a formal environment would. I'm not a great programmer, but I can hold my own in the certain realms in which I need to write code, but computers are also not my entire life.

Most tech school people I have met are really only interested in computers and doing computer stuff. They're the ones that throw the memes around and use terms like "lulz," and as long as they do their job, I don't really care. But those I know who studied computer science are more likely to be able to talk with me about non-computer things, and I really appreciate that. I make my living in technology, but my hobbies and interests are wide-ranging, and I don't always just want to talk about computers. I also find that the university-trained computer scientists are more likely to be able to explain WHY they are doing what they're doing, why they made the design choices they did, and in general have a better understanding of the whole system rather than just doing things "they way they were taught" whether its the best or not.

Of course, I realize this is all just anecdote and not just data, and I'm probably going to piss some people off by saying, however I will stand behind the notion that university-trained computer scientists are going to be easier and more fun to deal with than someone with a more myopic view of their "trade."

Also, if you really want to get at why those with a 4-year degree from a "real" school get offered more and are picked first, its probably because those are the degrees that management understands, whether they understand the subject matter or not. Management typically has a 4-year degree from a real school, and so they'd rather hire people with a piece of paper they "get" the value of. Perhaps its an economic or educational prejudice, but such is life.

Comment Re:Rednecks? (Score 1) 614

Really, it's appalling that teachers aren't some of our most highly-paid professionals.

While I wouldn't mind seeing teachers paid more, that hasn't been the main problem, IMHO, for some time. In this market (Atlanta) good teachers take a pay cut to go work in the better private schools. The attraction is clear... they have a more supportive environment, creativity is encouraged, parents tend to be more engaged/supportive, students tend to be more motivated (not to mention in many of these schools tested in at minimum levels), etc.

I agree that age-based instruction is a major flaw we have in today's system. But I've also increasingly come to believe that the biggest flaw in the U.S. K-12 system is the political basis. I'm just not sure anymore that locally elected school boards are the best way to run a district or bring about positive change. I've interacted with some pretty frightening school board members across the country who really have little to no related skills or education to qualify them for the role. They just won a local popularity contest.

The best / most successful districts I have encountered, the School Board hires a really good Superintendent and then mostly backs off. A great SI who is well educated, professionally minded, motivational with business sense makes a huge difference. That position, IMHO, should definitely be paid more.

Slashdot Top Deals

The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work. -- Herbert V. Prochnow