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Comment Re: or watch the movie? more documents than people (Score 1) 166

What is your source for this assertion?

Anthropoligical theses such as "Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism, 200 BCE - 400 CE" by Martin Joffee... who I am sure will not mind too much if I pull out a quote from one of his chapters:
"true literacy was rare among Jews in this period, and was confined to various professional scribal groups associated with the Temple and its governing agencies. Even among scribal groups who created literary works, writing and literary transmission was highly oral in character"
Granted, this period was 800-1000 years before the Christian Monasteries you are referring to, where scribes were probably broadly literate, but where also there would probably have been considerable internal political pressure to make the message conform to desired social constraints - conspiracy theories such as the de-emphasis in the Bible of the influence of Mary aside, rewriting of the Bible as a book is a common thing - my old family bible from the 1700's (handed down through the generations because of a tradition of using it to record the family geneaology) is incredibly blood-thirsty and violent in comparison to modern versions... that difference was what initially piqued my interest in the act and processes of recording of history.

Comment Re:Wrong reasons ... (Score 4, Interesting) 244

If you didn't fund schools based on attendance, then how else would you do it? (and this is a serious question)

Granted the system in the UK is so far pro perfect, that a person with good eyesight and excellent binoculars standing on top of the system in the UK could not even see "Perfect" over the horizon... but the funding system there is at least in part based on the academic results of the students.
Why is this not perfect?
1. The schools no longer teach the subject, they teach the way to pass the exam.
2. Schools offer more easy courses (and as a result, fewer math/science/technology options).
3. Students want an easier life, so they pick the easier courses.
4. Governments like to be able to say that their education approach is improving things, and they point to consistently higher grades, which are achieved through the subjects being dumbed-down, sometimes to the point where students going on to the next phase of education have not achieved a basic core competence level in fundamental subject that are the building blocks of education at the next phase.

Granted, as I left University in the mid-90's, this is no longer my problem so I can be the doddering old fart with a shotgun in one hand and my Zimmer frame in the other, shouting "Gerroffmylawn!!!", but the problem really came home to me when I came to try and help my daughter with her math homework, which was "how do you perform multiplication on a calculator?", and "Using your calculator, perform the following calculations...".

Comment Please, somebody think of the children! (Score 4, Insightful) 311

it is easier, cheaper, quicker and garners more positive publicity for the politicians involved to get the ISP to block something (anything, does not really matter what, as long as something is blocked) than it is to actually tackle the underlying problem and catch the child abusers.

However, as politicians we need censorship options to go alongside our surveillance capability... we use the surveillance ability to keep an eye on the people we are afraid of (in the UK, that apparently means the Government is afraid of about 65 million people... quite a way behind the US though, who have a list of 300 million or so people that scare the politicians). We then need the censorship mechanisms so that we can keep information about our surveillance system out of the public domain, and we then need the surveillance system again to watch the people who are trying to circumvent the censorship equipment (oh, good... we are already watching those people, because they are on our "people to be feared" list!).

On a more serious note, Claire Lilley at the NSPCC pointed out that "In every single child abuse image there is a victim, a child who has been abused". This is true, if you check the circumstances of the photograph. But I am 100% sure than a 5 minute search of Youtube would turn up a ton of clips from movies, from which you could grab stills that look like child abuse and that a third party viewer would categorize as child abuse, even though no children were abused in the production of said image.
I am all for stamping our Child Abuse, preferably in a process that involves stamping out the penis and testicles of any men involved in said abuse, but blocking sites that some unaccountable quango group deep in the bowels of the British government thinks should be blocked is not the way to go about it... unless of course, the porn blocking is simply a convenient excuse behind which the real purpose of the system is being hidden.

Damn, I am starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist. Somebody pass me my kool-aid, quick!

Comment Re: or watch the movie? more documents than people (Score 0) 166

So the writers of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, for example, were theorising and speculating, were they?

Possibly - what proof do we have that the authors of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles were actual witnesses of what they wrote, or even that what they wrote was truthful?
Bearing in mind that the language the Chronicles were written in has next to no relation to modern English, you would be reliant on the honesty/ethics/accuracy of a modern-day translator to convert the Chronicles into a form you could actually read.
A similar (or the same) problem exists with the Bible (one of the oldest known books, and just about the most widely distributed book with probably the most different versions of the book) - something happened, and someone who was there at the time told someone else their version of what happened, that person then told someone else, and so on. If you take the earliest known fragments of the Bible as an example, that gives you a 200-year long game of Chinese Whispers before someone actually writes something down... or 400+ years if you take the Greek Septuagint (oldest record of the complete text).
Once it is written down, because there is no printing press (developed in the 11th Century by the Han Chinese, or the first Guttenberg presses of the 15th Century), each new copy has to be scribed from an existing copy. While the vast majority of scribes probably could not read, and were therefore copying verbatim, any copy produced by a literate scribe is subject to editing (see the changes to the Bible over the course of history, as each group pushes their own "interpretation" of the "original" which matches their own beliefs and agenda).

Just because a document is damned old does not mean it is accurate. The older it is, the less likely it is that the general populace will be able to read it, meaning that you have a much smaller chance of getting someone's interpretation of what the document says, rather than the original meaning.

Comment Oh dear, I am in trouble... (Score 2) 88

As I used to work for an American company who have an office in Dubai (full of people with Arabic names, and lots of Muslims), a working team in India (very close to Pakistan, never mind the fact that the two countries hate each other almost as much as Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers fans), and a development/support team in the Phillippines (close to China, with a similar relationship to India and Pakistan, and with their own domestic terrorism issues), clients in sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and Texas, my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles are full of people in those areas.
Given that the NSA does not stop at analyzing your own contacts, I am apparently a person of interest if one of my contacts has any dubious friends, or if one of my contact's contacts has any dubious friends.
Kevin Bacon is indeed going to be screwed, we might as well just lock him up and start waterboarding him now, and save the NSA the trouble.

Comment Re:Good luck (Score 1) 139

That falls in line with my own thoughts. It's time that the people showed government that government works FOR THE PEOPLE, not the other way around.

This is a nice idea, except that the organisations receiving these requests, and who are now apparently writing this "very strongly worded" letter, are corporations. Those corporations exist to make money, not to look after the interests of people. If the two coincide in any meaningful way, then you can expect that company to find any and every way to trumpet their willingness to look after the people, but it is a very rare company indeed that will attach enough intrinsic value to their ethical stance and the interests of their current and potential customers to be willing to sacrifice a chance at profit.
If this "letter" was being written and signed by a large minority (a majority is too much to hope for, probably) of the 220+ million Americans who are eligible to vote, then it would be an example of the people demonstrating their will on this matter.

In this case, I suspect that if Edward Snowden had not leaked the information about PRISM, none of the corporate types involved in the letter would have had even one thought between them of doing any such thing, and any who did think of it and then mention it to anyone would have been regarded as insane.
This letter is purely a PR stunt.

Until the entire process for surveillance and eavesdropping, data harvesting and interception is put on a transparent basis and is subject to an open and unbiased judicial review process to ensure it complies with the current interpretation of the letter of the law, the chances of people regaining trust in the government and the corporations is one hell of a lot slimmer than the average American supermodel.

Comment A lot of/most(?) research is financially-driven (Score 1) 237

First comment from me, is that this is a laudable goal, and OP has my respect for wanting to help the world.
Second comment is that, from my limited (Electronics, Integrated Circuit Engineering, Machine Vision/AI) experience in academia, most of the research there is commercially driven, either because a large corp has come along with a wad of money and asked the institution to research something specific, or because the institution has an eye toward commercially applicable research, via patents on something or through a commercial enterprise linked to the research institution.

I definitely think there are options for OP to get into "pure" research, and the way I would go about it is to get into one of the Graduate Research programs (Masters/Ph.D) at an institution that is doing something interesting and where faculty staff make positive noises about retaining post-grads as research fellows, and then make it clear that I am interested in staying on as a research fellow after finishing the program. It might work, or it might not. Also, research fellowships are typically not a long-term option in my experience, being 2-3 years or until the money runs out, whichever is shorter.

Then, you get companies like Google (with their 75/20/5% time split for working on core, off-the-wall, and personal stuff) or Intel (who do a lot of research, but again, commercially-driven).
The days of Bell Labs and their almost pure "research for the fun of it" are pretty much gone... you can find a bit of that spirit in a lot of places, but it is typically one of the first things to be cut when the company and economy are doing well, and one of the last things to be started/supported when things are picking up. So now is probably not the best time to be looking for this kind of opportunity :)

Comment Depends on the work environment (Score 1) 194

A lot of employees at the banks I work in are mandated to "protect internal company information by all means reasonably possible, especially when not on company premises". For mobile devices that have access to corporate email, this means using polarising privacy filters on their phones, so that the viewable angle of the screen is cut down drastically.
As an aside, a lot of employees also request them for use on their desktop systems, at which point HR and Compliance/IT start taking a keen interest in what those people are doing that needs to be kept confidential from the person sitting next to them. There are a few instances where that degree of confidentiality is required, but in most of those cases, the person is sitting in the wrong part of the office, and simply needs to be moved to a more appropriate location.

Comment Re:What's this then? (Score 1) 296

The problem isn't as much voting either R or D, but that those are the only two choices. Both parties have a vested interest in making you believe that voting anything else is a wasted vote, since, by that logic, if you don't vote R, then D wins. This is only true if both R and D refuse to corporate with a hypothetical third party.

Multi-party politics can certainly work, and I would not want to limit the US to only 2 choices for the sake of it. However, multi-party setups where the number of separate parties get larger tend towards minority governments, coalitions with their own internal stresses, and generally less effective decision-making, with policy being driven by the need to keep a coalition together rather than "for the good of the people".
ok, I have probably just come fairly close to describing the current setup of the Republican party, which when viewed through the lens of long distance looks like several groups of escapees from the Insane Asylum, none of whom really like or trust each other, but who are driven by a greater dislike and distrust of "the enemy" (The Democrats). I suspect that there are equally deep divisions within the Democrat ranks, and these would be exposed during the campaigning process to choose a challenger to an incumbent President (by definition, the incumbent's lack of a need to compete against others within their party gives the appearance of unity).
Given things like the Tea Party agenda, their less-than-comfortable relationship with the GOP, and the underlying American/Republican frontier spirit which fuels a psyche of individual independence, governance and self-reliance, I suspect that a multi-party system would see 2 or 3 "Democrat" parties differentiated by non-core Democrat policies, and 3-8 "Republican" parties with variations of core Republican policies, plus perhaps independent parties organised along religious orientation lines.
That would have definite advantages - instead of an increasingly polarized argument between two behemoths, there might actually be genuine discussion of political and social matters less encumbered by rhetoric. Fundamentally though, you would probably find government being made up primarily of a Democrat coalition, with the Republican parties rendered largely ineffective by internal squabbling, leading to some of the more moderate Republican elements moving toward the center in an attempt to either differentiate and distance themselves from the playground name-calling or even trying to latch onto the Democrat machine.
In Europe certainly, multi-party politics tend to work fairly well, but generally with a relatively small number of discrete parties. I suspect that the US road to multi-partyism would explode into a larger number of small parties, which tends to be less effective, and in itself does not address concerns about competence or accountability of governments (Italy and Greece in recent history as examples).

Ultimately, I see the underlying problem being less that there are only 2 parties, but that those two parties fundamentally present as 2 ideologically opposed voices with no middle ground, but when looking at the detail behind the rhetoric, the two appear to be remarkably close together.

Comment Re:What's this then? (Score 2) 296

Why do we keep any of those (entirely incompetent) critters around?

Just borrowed the bracketed comment from your previous sentence, to add weight to the bit I was quoting...
The reason you keep those incompetent/self-serving/corrupt (delete as appropriate, or just leave alone if you think your congressman/woman is all 3) critters around is because you keep voting for the incumbent in the elections for your Congressional Representatives in both houses. Fundamentally, whether one party or the other engages in gerrymandering does not/should not matter - if enough of the voting members of the public say "enough, this person's actions in the House have shown them to be incompetent/self-serving/corrupt, I am going to vote for something, anything, else...", then the presently incumbent will become the previously incumbent Representative.
However, for that to happen... die-hard Republicans might need to vote for a pinko-liberal-commie-muslim-african-gay-transsexual Democrat. Die-hard Democrats might need to vote for a Nazi-nationalist-caveman-fundamentalist-greedy-extremist-Bible thumping Republican. Oh, and the sheeple who normally vote for the one with the best TV adverts might need to break the habit of a lifetime, and form their own opinion.
What would that achieve? Well in many cases, it might replace half way competent representatives who made one or two mistakes with inexperienced first-timers who will make more mistakes. It will probably also bring in a few who are just as, if not more, incompetent/self-serving/corrupt than the ones they are replacing. Such is life. You cannot mandate IQ tests, education on technology, economics, world politics and georgraphy specifically for politicians (it might be a good idea to try, though). But after 3 or 4 iterations (yes, I am saying this process will probably take 10+ years), your elected representatives might actually get the message that if they continue to suck up to the people selling tickets for the gravy train, rather than listening to and serving the will of the people, their political career will be short. By that time as well, there would be a saturation of former members of Congress on the after-dinner speaking circuit, we would not need another biography from a politician, and market forces would mean that they cannot earn the same as a failed one-term politician can do today, because the US government would no longer be as beholden to the big business interests that shell out the serious lobbying money and "campaign donations" that have been present in recent history.

In short, if you get rid of the ones who are not doing their jobs properly, over time the whole group will improve with the realization that failure leads to the exit door, and not to a yellow brick road lined by sacks of money.

Comment My greatest fear... (Score 1) 641

Heights, or being crushed by a collapsing bridge as I walk under it (I walk under bridges all the time, to try and work with that one. I know it is irrational, but there you go...). A while ago, I would have said Public Speaking/giving presentations (, but after working on it for a while, I have improved immensely in that area.

Most of the things that I actually might find scary do not generally happen to programmers. Odd things do come up, though - I worked my way through University working as a bouncer at various nightclubs. In that job, I was shot, shot at, knifed, involved in several other knife fights, fist fights, and numerous potentially hostile confrontations with drunk or high people looking for a fight. None of that violence was directed at me personally - I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The only time someone has actually aimed violence against me personally was while working as a programmer/on-site software implementation consultant. As the "new guy" I went on-site to install and troubleshoot a new version of our application - a back-office/inventory system - for a client, the manager of the office I was visiting picked me up and tried to punch me as soon as he heard which company I was from (the backstory - a sales guy long on promises and short on knowledge got the contract by lying about the capabilities and readiness of the product, and I was the 3rd consultant sent on-site 6 months after the agreed delivery date, still with a beta version of the product. Not appreciated by the body-building, steroid-pumping manager, who was already having a bad day).
We quickly got past that and started to make progress as soon as his nose stopped bleeding, and long before he stopped limping, and the installation became a case study and reference site for us, thanks to the efforts of the entire development team and the relationship manager. But to this date, that is the only time in all my years of working (30ish) that someones animosity has been directed at me personally. Working as a programmer can be a dangerous job!

Comment This argument needs a scientific approach! (Score 3, Insightful) 564

The problem with what Mr Horgan is advocating is that his argument is based on his view of the Humanities subjects that he teaches, and the way he teaches them.
His view of science subjects, as fields dominated by facts and accepted doctrine based on those facts is an accurate representation of the way science subjects are taught by many teachers, but it does not match the science teaching I received from the teachers and lecturers throughout my school and university life.
There, I was taught that scientific "facts" are opinions tested and supported by experimentation, and which have not yet been proven incorrect. I was taught to consider the experiences of others, but to keep my eyes open and brain engaged, observe the world around me and to form my own opinions, then conduct my own experiments to determine the validity of those opinions. I was given the freedom to decide on the nature of those experiments - did I want to form experiments with a goal of proving and supporting my opinions (the "bias for confirmation" approach, and one in which Mr Horgan is right - we do have an immense capacity for self-and collective delusion), or did I want to actually test the accuracy of those opinions by trying to disprove them?
In short, my science teachers taught me to see all sides of a question, consider as many variables as I could find, look at things as they are instead of how I would like them to be, and form opinions based on those observations. But also to continuously re-evaluate my opinions in the light of any new information that comes to light.
I cannot comment readily on the teaching of the Humanities subjects, as from the age of 14 I concentrated exclusively on the mathematics and science disciplines, plus the fact that some of my friends were starting to experience a pronounced swelling in the chest area. However, my anecdotal recollection is that a lot of my humanities lessons were dominated by "facts" based on what was written in the Bible, a history book, geological or archaeological "facts", and accepted grammar in foreign languages.

On that basis, I feel a more accurate target for his attention would be the teaching methods in schools across all disciplines, where the individual teachers discourage independent critical thinking in favour of memorizing lists of "facts" designed to (1) prepare students for an exam, and (2) give the teacher an easier lesson plan with less preparation.

Comment He steals your work, break his kneecaps... (Score 1) 480

ok, maybe not... but I must admit that in the past I have been tempted by the idea of introducing that developer's legs to a 10 kilo sledgehammer...
Contacting the old client ahead of time, asking them for a reference which specifically mentions your work on that project (and ideally which mentions you as the author, with the new guy as maintainer).
Explain to the new client that the developer claiming the code was taken on to perform maintenance of the project after you left.

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