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Comment Re:US news media are a joke (Score 1) 194

I think the title could be broadened to say, "News Media Are--And Always Have Been--A Joke".

The news media have always existed to serve political ends either overtly or covertly. The slack of the American mainstream news has largely been picked up by independent news outlets, which have their own political agendas. If I were to guess from the title of your post, you get a lot of your news through BBC/Al Jazeera/RT. Are you really convinced any of those organizations is impartial? I grant their coverage of certain kinds of news you care about may be more objective than their mainstream American counterparts, but if your current events knowledge comes solely from them and Slashdot, I'd put forward that your impressions of some things are very one-sided.

I'm not saying you're wrong to look for non-American coverage of news--far from it. I've observed that my own perceptions of world events become problematic when I confine myself to learning about the world through one channel of information. This would certainly explain the state of American politics.

Comment Re:Tech industry hypocrisy (Score 1) 81

I have mod points but will not be modding you down, though I hope I can show that your case is misguided and unsound.

You're not wrong in saying that there are sociopaths--or at least very empathy deficient people--in Silicon Valley. Friends of mine work with business magnates in that area, I know for a fact that they're are. I'm not convinced, however, that there are a higher proportion of sociopaths in information technology or software engineering than in, say, law or petroleum engineering. The way you've tried to fit the information technology push into some broad, overarching conspiracy to convert America's young people into thoughtless worker drones makes no sense.

Consider the following: If an outsourced workforce, otherwise competitive with American labor, is prepared to work harder for less money, why hire expensive students trying to pay off student loans at all? For that matter, why encourage them to seek an expensive computer science education at Cornell or Rice or Carnegie Mellon, especially considering that such an education is likely to make them less effective drones if they have any exposure to political history in school? How does being saddled with debt for a technical education make you more likely to seek a disposable job (one you could be trained to do at a technical college in two years for a few thousand dollars) or less likely to start a competing company?

If this campaign is self-interested, and I have every reason to think that it is, I see two possible motives: one, they aren't able to find enough skilled people to fill the positions they have anywhere, and in certain pockets of their industry, this may well be the case; two, they recognize that a stagnant economy is unlikely to support growth in their own ventures and want more people starting innovative businesses to fuel a cycle of economic growth. In either case, I fail to see how, at least for the foreseeable future, this isn't in the interest of the young people being involved. I remember having corporate propaganda funneled into my head through public schooling on a biweekly basis (with which parents seemed perfectly fine, I might add), and I can honestly say that this would easily be the most welcome and constructive supplemental material for the year.

As a young person, I often hear thoughtful parents complaining about the influence of corporations skewing the public school system as a whole towards the creation of worker bees, but a minority of even them seem interested in doing anything about it that takes meaningful work or commitment. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you're a parent (and you may well be): what are you doing to ensure your children are being taught to think critically, recognize and self-protect against the sociopathic (to use your word) behavior of their employers and develop scarce skills that will make them good citizens and globally competitive workers/entrepreneurs? If you could easily and thoroughly answer this question, then congratulations, you'd have very little to worry about! Otherwise, I'd offer that you were blaming people you know to be self-interested for behaving predictably and doing little to prevent it.

Comment Re:Python, or ... (Score 1) 465

If you have extra free time and want to learn how to program well? I'd learn something like Smalltalk (for OOP concepts) and/or Haskell (functional programming). Scientists are often lousy programmers because they often do not learn programming properly, and/or the language allows them to get away with bad programming (I know, every language allows bad programmers to write bad code, but some make it easier than others).

This is extremely well-intentioned advice and very correct in big-picture terms but not at all appropriate for cold-starting the ability to read and write simple programs for numerical scientific work. If the OP intends to become a programmer specializing in scientific computing and must manage a substantial code-base, this will prove good advice to take as some tertiary measure; if his/her goal is to become proficient enough to write a few hundred lines of code for a cross-component patch in some specific scientific context, it's frankly a waste of time--and I say this as an apologist for learning both Smalltalk and Haskell (along with possibly Scheme) if you intend to call yourself a computer programmer and/or especially a computer scientist. I don't deny understanding several paradigms of programming is invaluable for any programmer; I'm just saying that if you treat your time as precious and programming as one small part of what you do, this isn't the best use of your time.

Comment Re:Misdirection (Score 5, Interesting) 610

I think it's easy to show that Julian Assange is a prima donna, but I hesitate to describe Edward Snowden as one. He isn't crying for more attention or more political power; he just wants to make sure he's safe from targeting of political adversaries. He hasn't offered a lot of commentary besides explaining his reasons. Whether he is or not, though, I don't think it matters all that much. What can be shown--and does matter--is that the media interested in maintaining the status quo wants to make the revelations about Edward Snowden. Turn it into identity politics and relatively few people will care about the underlying issues, then you can destroy Edward Snowden's credibility and cast the issue as irrelevant.

Comment Implement a Police State w/out Really Trying (Score 1) 610

All governments know that the best way to roll out an oppressive measure is to talk about it endlessly as "purely hypothetical", purchase support (not necessarily with money, mind you; soft political is more than sufficient in many cases) for it in popular media to condition people to accept it. Eventually, you slowly implement it, outright denying the most egregious parts of it and amorphously implying that this is how things will be from now on--or at least in the near future; times have changed and eventually this will be the new normal. Ostracize anyone complaining about it or pointing it out by attacking their character, ridiculing them, or really any kind of ad hominem that doesn't address the underlying points being made. The human tribal identity heuristics will eventually cause most normal people to associate dissent with lunacy. If the system of oppression in question, or revelation of its true nature, is embarrassing, you can use this to mark people opposed to it as destructive or unpatriotic. If you have an economic system and entertainment complex that pressures people away from putting in the time to organizing politically, through a combination of longer hours and the looming threat of unemployment, say, they're then unlikely to actually demand changes (the Occupy Wall Street model, whether you agree with its goals or not, does not represent a serious demand for changes. Rather, it embodies a sink on political frustration. You just tweak the direction the oppositional movement takes until they degrade themselves in the eyes of the public or tire themselves out--so much better than political attrition because they match their own energy reserves dithering rather than sapping yours). The news media can be another Occupy Wall Street: Joe H. Typical can get frustrated and scream at his TV and feel like he's doing something before drinking himself into docility and deciding that there isn't really anything sane he could do to show just how unacceptable whatever-it-is is. That's the press's job, after all. This is assuming Joe H. Typical still watches the news; I wouldn't put it past him to be reading several news sources not owned by the friendly neighborhood media oligopoly. Now the best thing about this entire political structure is it actually demands relatively little management; all you need to do is tip things far enough in your favor that the system becomes self-reinforcing. The intervention needed is minute compared with the leverage it provides.

I think the NSA revelations are were outrageous enough at just the right time that there's serious potential for change, but notice how effective the campaign of psychological warfare has been. The thing about institutions is they have a ton of political momentum; changing them quickly is hard and often dangerous. This is what today's NSA's powerful apologists understand. Americans distrust their government, of course, but I don't think they appreciate how carefully tuned the net political force is, both in the US and in other countries. If they did, they might be scared and not simply uneasy in some vague, inarticulate sense.

Submission + - Yasser Arafat's clothing confirmed to be contaminated with Polonium. (

An anonymous reader writes: Scientific analysis has now confirmed that former Fatah leader and PLO/PNA head Yasser Arafat's clothing was contaminated with Polonium. The radioactivity was measured in megabecquerels, suggesting a gigabecquerel dose prior to death. No autopsy was performed on Arafat's body prior to burial at the request of his widow, and this seems to be the next logical step in the investigation into what is perhaps now confirmed to be an assassination.

Polonium, an extremely rare radioactive element, was implicated in the poisoning death of former FSB agent and Russian dissident/exile Alexander Litvinenko( who was killed in the UK after alleged cooperation with MI6 intelligence.

Submission + - Finland's Algorithm-Driven Public Bus (

Daniel_Stuckey writes: Where's the Uber-like interactivity, the bus that comes to you after a tap on the iPhone?

In Finland, actually. The Kutsuplus is Helsinki's groundbreaking mass transit hybrid program that lets riders choose their own routes, pay for fares on their phones, and summon their own buses. It's a pretty interesting concept. With a ten minute lead time, you summon a Kutsuplus bus to a stop using the official app, just as you'd call a livery cab on Uber. Each minibus in the fleet seats at least nine people, and there's room for baby carriages and bikes.

You can call your own private Kutsuplus, but if you share the ride, you share the costs—it's about half the price of a cab fare, and a dollar or two more expensive than old school bus transit. You can then pick your own stop, also using the app.

Comment Re:hire foreigners is about low costs h1b (Score 1) 745

Probably. Hell, producing more homegrown STEM talent is, in significant part, about lowering wages/curtailing benefits/forcing longer hours out of STEM people by making them more replaceable. That ought to show 'em.

Foreign universities do cost considerably less, but notice how few of them appear in listings of top schools. There is a huge infrastructure of high-end post-high school education in the US. It just isn't accessible to most people.

Comment Re:Odd for the country of Intel, Apple and Google (Score 1) 745

I would attribute that to a combination of a relatively small elite in American society who have actually prepared their children extremely well (which is closely related to the fact that America has some of the best universities and liberal arts colleges in the world but such an education is inaccessible to many of its people), "self-starters" in the genuine sense who acquired the skills they needed by hacking the American educational system, and the fact that the US is coasting on momentum acquired when it had one of the best educational systems in the world. Many of the technologies you've described were created by people who either were exposed to the upper-echelon programs I mentioned or worked for people who were.

Disclosure: several of my friends were educated at old eastern seaboard college preparatory schools and would probably out-perform the mean scores for all the other countries, but as the US mean scores suggest, they aren't typical of American students. Interestingly, many of those schools now have to turn away tons of international applicants just to keep their classes balanced because foreign families recognize something these kids' parents also recognize: education really matters and is worth a large portion of a family's income.

Comment Re:Confirming What We All Already Knew (Score 2) 745

Don't be under the impression I am a xenophobe because I'd count it unfortunate that the US has to hire foreigners to fill technical roles; those allowed to immigrate to this country at the moment are counteracting many of the problems I've described. It's just worrying that we cannot prepare our own citizenry for the better possible future. For some reason, people who like to throw the word "national security" around don't often see the relevance of education to the national security of a country that cannot balance its budget or understand historical precedent to world affairs that when handled badly give fodder to people who want to kill us. I'll know that tides have turned when "strong educational system" has become part of the hawk vocabulary.

I realize I've been very negative so far, so let me tell you what I'd advocate:

First of all, paying teachers more, demanding more education from them (both in pedagogical technique and their area of specialty) and lowering student to teacher ratios, especially in poorer areas, seems like a good call. Hiring social workers whose job is to engage parents and help students manage their lives outside of the classroom would be wise. There's no particularly good reason students shouldn't be working longer hours or doing more homework as long as recess is available (it's oddly been cut out of most programs). Daily math and foreign language classes as part of a broader curriculum will cultivate vital skills. We also need funding for the arts and a way to tie it to community engagement. This will, naturally, take more money that we don't particularly have, so let me propose the sure-to-be-popular curtail future benefits/entitlements and raise taxes scheme. I realize many people won't be happy, but if made to bear the burden of being cared for by people with no professional and civic skills today, I think they'd choose the former in a heartbeat. I should also emphasize that whatever fixes we make must be long term and must involve changes in parenting culture. Parents should be told that if they're there to help with homework--yes, even in math--every day, monitoring Facebook will be less necessary. I realize this is time-consuming, but until it takes precedence over other, probably also valuable things, the situation is unlikely to change.

Comment Confirming What We All Already Knew (Score 1) 745

I am going to generalize, so please forgive the level of detail I am muting to make my points.

As much as Americans hold school/academic achievement itself in disdain (for what are often good reasons but increasingly have to do with the mindsets of parents and kids as opposed to legitimate problems), I think that pales in comparison to the depth of animus Americans hold towards math. Kids have always hated literature and biology, but the contempt piled upon math in the US extends across generational or class barriers. Those who don't hate math but aren't working with it on a daily basis certainly can't do it. If you don't believe me, compare the effect of quoting Milton against that of making calculus jokes at a party of non-STEM Americans. I don't just mean math at the college level, however: I have regular encounters with people who cannot do arithmetic they ostensibly learned in elementary school. As bad as I feel for them individually, I'm more frightened by the prospect of what they'd do if a massive economic boom in some new domain demanded Americans acquire technical skills. My guess is if that happened tomorrow, most of those jobs would have to be filled by foreigners.

This report--especially where the attainment of adults is concerned--is a good opportunity for the American populace to humble itself, but I count that unlikely to happen; one of the overarching social problems in America seems to be a disproportionate number of people incapable of recognizing the extent to which they contribute to problems that seriously hamper them or their progeny. I can find egotists anywhere in the world, but the American brand of egotism has some exceptional--and, in cases like this, dangerous--traits. For my own part, I don't know what to do about education, but an end to the educational apathy seems like a place to start. Eventually, the centers of power in this country may come to recognize that the American educational problem will eventually destroy their own power, but it would probably be better if the conversation began before that point--it remains to be seen what could be done by then and if the powerful want to produce adept citizens and innovators as opposed to effective workers.

Comment Bad, But Things Could Be Worse (Score 1) 85

The situation in Boulder is worrisome. As someone who goes to CU Boulder, I can tell you watching entire foundational linings in construction zones be swept away by the flooding is a surreal experience.

I often treat Boulder as a second hometown, and I can tell you I've often privately berated their "nuclear-free zone" policy: "oh yes, I'm sure the giant anti-nuclear forcefield channeling the powers of Mother Gaia will repel any maverick ICBMs that stray too close to Boulder county." Given the flooding and general trend to keep old plants open indefinitely, I can say that I'm genuinely relieved by it for the first time. I'm also relieved by the fact that government and administration seem closer to planet Earth than most leadership tends to be during even these (hopefully) small disasters.

Comment Public Interest in Crypto; Why Email is Broken (Score 3, Interesting) 362

Until recently, the public hasn't cared about cryptography's political/privacy ramifications, let alone about crypto itself. As a technical person, I concede that the learning curve is steep; to even make basic judgements on the safety of others' cryptosystems like, "well, does it use AES?" typically takes several months of training that don't always sink in. One of the better jinns to emerge from the NSA Spying Pandora's Box has been increased public interest in crypto/general information security. In my present personal opinion, a better project for the EFF et al. to engage in rather than continue to prop up the fairly vulnerable and incriminating Tor system (given the people intent on breaking it) is launch a policy to educate laymen on principles of encryption use (things like what a public-private cryptosystem is, what a digital signature is, general advice on what to use and what not to use--that sort of stuff).

Email was created around a time when it was used by a few thousand academicians and not expected to carry messages between business partners, political activists, and loved ones. Its lack of inherent security has driven the layering of security ameliorations on top of the basic protocol, most of which don't work terribly well (PGP is fractured, hard to use, doesn't support rich email, and is generally hard to use, for example). The same goes for HTTP. I agree that it's probably time for a new spec, but I don't know where or how to begin the creation of one, let alone how to get the public on board to transition, though again, the spying fiasco may generate the the impetus needed.

It's still interesting to me that mail, which I'd generally consider far less inherently secure than secured electronic communications and as having a far lower "reasonable expectation of privacy," receives all kinds of legal protections that, say, even email exchanged purely through Gmail (which has all kinds of security precautions like DMARC, SSL/TLS, and STARTTLS) doesn't. I think this reflects a long-term interest in western policy-making to incrementally convert "free societies" into police states, as others have observed. It looks like the governments of the US, UK and collaborators are simply waiting for mail to become completely obsolete so all communications are fair game for eavesdropping. It brings to mind what Ray Bradbury said in Farenheit 451: the government didn't have to outlaw books until most people were so fed up with them that no one noticed when the crackdown began.

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