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Comment Re:Spellink chekers. Duh! (Score 3, Insightful) 285

Is it part of the arrogance of those electing themselves to write and editing articles on wiki that they refuse to use a spell checker, or is it that the words are simply unknown to the normal spell-check dictionaries?

You might know the answer to this if you had read the linked article instead of immediately jumping in to editorialize (and no, I'm not new here).

While there are a number of serious methodological concerns I've discussed in another post, the author's Table 4 ought to raise a screaming red flag. The algorithm the author used flagged about 5% of articles as having more than 25% of their words misspelled--and the author didn't discuss any sort of manual follow-up on those articles to determine where the problem lay. I'm sorry, but misspelling one word in four just isn't a plausible result.

I suspect that the parser is failing to properly handle tables of data, scientific terminology, some unusual formatting and template markup, and foreign words. All of these categories will have been expanded greatly since Wikipedia's early days, and their presence is a sign that the encyclopedia is increasing in quality and coverage, not being degraded.

Comment Badly flawed methodology (Score 2) 285

Just looking at the raw result presented, I see a claim that more than 6% of Wikipedia is supposedly "misspelled content". This doesn't make sense--even though Wikipedia articles aren't perfect, it's not plausible that 1 in 16 words are misspelled. That's pretty much one spelling error in every sentence.

Part of the problem is the article selection methodology. By pulling random articles, the study author is going to be getting mostly articles that have received little attention, and mostly short articles. (Table 2 and Graph 2 show this very clearly--of the 2400 articles examined, only 14 existed in 2001. Half of them didn't exist until 2007. A quarter were created between 2009 and the present.) It's possible that what has been demonstrated is simply that relatively new articles on relatively unimportant topics tend to be less-well maintained.

The major issue is the corpus used for the study. While a half-million-word dictionary sounds impressive, it's still going to fall down in a couple of key areas. For one, foreign-language terms are likely to be nearly completely unrepresented. For another, a lot of proper nouns are going to be missing. If I write an article about Japanese manga or a Norwegian village, I'm going to be including all kinds of things that an English-language dictionary just isn't going to contain. (Worse, I'll get two misspellings for each Japanese term, since I'll have it in the article with both the original Japanese word plus the romanized transliteration). Another problem area will almost certainly be articles on highly technical topics (molecular biology is full of new and unusual abbreviations).

While certain classes of 'obvious' non-words aren't counted, many will be missed. For example, the article preprocessor filters out percentages, but will pass through numbers followed by the degree symbol (which will show up in scientific and geographic articles).

What is noticeably lacking from the report is any mention of manual checking performed by the author to evaluate the accuracy of the results generated by the spell checker. Table 4 reports that about five percent of articles contain more than 25% misspelled words(!); honestly, even people on Twitter don't (generally) show that level of illiteracy. Are there certain types of articles which are responsible for these grossly inflated counts?

In summary -- sloppy methods give useless results. No news.

Comment Re:Documentary on Netflix (Score 5, Informative) 515

But here's my problem: Fully aside from this guy being a genuine quack, why not just test his therapy fully and completely? Follow his specs and advice to the proverbial "T". Prove him wrong beyond a reasonable doubt and put an end to it.

I can see at least four reasons.

First, it's painfully unethical. Since these novel therapies are unlikely to work, encouraging patients to try them in lieu of real, evidence-based medicine is going to kill a lot of people. You cannot get institutional approval to do a trial unless you can demonstrate that your trial therapy is likely to perform as well or better than the existing gold-standard approach. Randomized trials these days don't divide patients into experimental therapy versus placebo; they're divided into experimental therapy versus current therapy.

Second, there isn't enough of anything to do trials of all the ridiculous therapies; we have enough trouble organizing trials of real, evidence-based therapies that are likely to work. The dollar cost would be exorbitant, but that's actually not the steepest cost or most irreplaceable resource. There are only so many clinicians available - doctors and nurses and radiation therapists and pharmacists - with training relevant to oncology, and they can only do so many hours of work in a day. Wasting their time on futile clinical trials means treating fewer patients with real therapies. Similarly, there are limited numbers of skilled laboratory workers, statisticians, and other scientists. Last, but by no means least, there's a limited number of patients with cancer. Recruiting large numbers of patients into useless trials means a shortage of patients for worthwhile trials.

Third, the quacks won't be satisfied anyway. One of the important parameters used in modern clinical trials is the establishment of 'futility' criteria. Essentially, they're intermediate checkpoints in the trial where it might be halted early if the therapy's results aren't looking promising. This is done in an effort to reduce wasting time and money on ineffective interventions; for serious illnesses the futility criteria help to limit the number of dead bodies. If one cuts off a futile trial of a quack therapy early in order to save lives, the quack is going to say that The Man shut down his trial.

Finally, if our response to quackery is to throw funding at it, we encourage more quackery. The persuasive charlatan will always be able to recruit more followers. If this iteration of the therapy is demonstrated useless in a full-blown clinical trial, after this round's money runs out he can just come up with a new variant on the theme, and demand fresh funding for another few years. Lather, rinse, repeat--we create an entire pathological, publicly-funded quack welfare program.

Comment Re:The idea is good, but email still has its place (Score 3, Insightful) 601

Right. Nothing wrong with a crowd of people hanging around outside his office waiting to speak with him directly, rather than just send an email that he can read when he wants. And at the same time there's a few dozen people trying to call him on the phone. Sounds like a wonderful idea. I'm sure this will work out great.

Spot on, though I wonder if the problem is a little more subtle. Breton is the CEO, so if he wants to have an instant messaging chat, telephone conversation, or video conference with anyone in the company, then of course that person is going to be available and giving whatever the CEO wants to talk about a top priority. Of course it's faster and more effective for him than email, because when the CEO calls, the employees drop everything else.

For everyone else in the company, calls will get screened to voicemail, IM clients will display "AFK", and coworkers whose desks are more than twenty feet apart will spend days trying to find mutually agreeable times in which to schedule their video chats. People who didn't know how to manage their email before won't be any more effective at managing their work or their time after; they'll just spend all day on the phone instead.

Comment Re:I've noticed this too (Score 1) 601


To have a productive and efficient conversation, I'll have to prepare and edit a list of points I'd like to raise, read it out to the other person, and have them copy down each item. To avoid errors and omissions, they'll have to read back everything they copied down. If we omit either step, then both parties will get tied up in repeated callbacks to clarify and add omitted agenda items.

Better yet, I can hold my list up to the webcam, and they can capture a screenshot of my list!

Yes, that is so much better than email.

Comment Re:"that actually look good" (Score 1) 569

it's the sifting through the photos that is the learning experience. Even with film (which I exclusively shoot still after having bought and abandoned a 400D a few years back) I still throw away at least 90% of my pictures. Learn to keep only the best.

Not only that, but learn from the photos that you didn't keep. Do you have problems with camera shake? Are you not using your autofocus correctly? Are you composing your shots carefully, or do you often have trees and flagpoles growing out of people's heads? Do you think about where shadows, highlights, and reflections appear?

Learn which shots failed because of the photographer's limits, and which shots were beyond the reach of your equipment. Learn how to improve the former and work around the latter. Learn when you're inside or outside your camera's envelope--and learn that when you're on the edge, you should keep shooting because sometimes you get lucky. Learn about acceptable compromises between image noise, depth of focus, and exposure time. Learn that when you're shooting at an eighth of a second, you need to brace yourself--and probably take two or three attempts--and that exposure lengths you can get away with using a wide-angle lens won't wash with a telephoto.

Failure is always more educational than success!

Comment Re:How could he have been stopped? (Score 1) 358

All knowledge required to build nuclear weapons is already freely available, e.g. in physics textbooks. If they can't use it then no scientist would be able to help them. It's strictly an engineering challenge nowadays.

Ah, well, pfft--engineering. At least it's nothing difficult.

Going from the physics textbook to the final application is...non-trivial. If you have a person who has never set foot in a kitchen before, you wouldn't expect them to be able to turn out a twelve-course tasting menu just because "all knowledge required to make a gourmet dinner is already freely available, e.g. in cookbooks". At least, you wouldn't expect them to be able to do the job right the first time, and without weeks or months of trial and error.

Any major project (particularly, but by no means exclusively, in the field of engineering) will benefit greatly from having expert individuals on tap who have done similar work before. I know what a uranium hexafluoride gas centrifuge does, but the nitty-gritty details of actually building one are going to take some experimentation. Having scientists and engineers with previous nuclear (weapons) experience means avoiding blind alleys and not reinventing a whole bunch of wheels.

Is it possible to complete a nuclear weapons project without any outside, pre-existing expertise? Sure. (The Americans certainly did it in WWII.) Will it be faster and much cheaper to complete the project given the assistance of experienced experts? Hell yes. With the lone exception of the United States, who didn't have anyone to crib from, no present-day nuclear power has created their arsenal without information given to them by allies, stolen from enemies, or bought from middlemen.

Comment Re:These people can go to hell (Score 1) 224

No, it's the "war on sin". Because some people think they are morally superior because they endorse the putting in cages of other people who like to relax with the help of pharmacology.

A potentially valid point, but the witty tagline has less impact because it doesn't respond to the grandparent's point. I don't care if you "relax with the help of pharmacology" in your own living room. I care very much if you "relax with the help of pharmacology" while driving. Using technology to interfere with the former is a questionable use of resources driven by questionable motives within a questionable moral framework. Using technology to interfere with the latter is a legitimate public interest.

As Zechariah Chefee famously said, "Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins."

Comment Re:How about for paramedics? (Score 1) 224

What kind of dystopian hell-hole do you live in where you can be jailed for having traces of drug metabolites in your system?

Nine U.S. states actually explicitly ban 'internal possession' of alcohol - alcohol detectable by blood, breath, or urine test - by individuals under 21.

Several of those states, oddly enough, make it legal for under-21s to consume alcohol in specific settings (often in their home, or under the supervision of adults or guardians.) Missouri has no restrictions on consumption by under-21s, but does bar internal possession.

Comment Re:Obligatory XKCD (Score 1) 205

If we're talking about schemes that generate easier-to-remember passwords that regular users will use, then non-printable and escaped characters are definitely right out. Unusual characters are also more likely to cause trouble when using keyboards or software that aren't your own (or aren't made for your own language/country).

And if we're talking about randomly-assigned passwords that can be automatically generated by the IT department for a new user...yikes. It's possible to communicate to a non-hacker how to type four common English words. It's possible to communicate to a non-hacker how to type an alphanumeric gobbledygook. It's sometimes possible to communicate punctuation, though I fear that different types of quotation marks might start to cause trouble, as would the pipe, or the backslash. There's no way that most users are going to know how to key in a linefeed character, however.

Comment Re:1960's technology (Score 5, Insightful) 119

Bring forward through time those same engineers with all of today's advancements and they'll stomp all over today's talent.

Bullshit. Give any group of talented engineers a sense of motivation, a nearly unlimited budget, and clear, specific goals, and they can do wonders.

The Manhattan project reached approximately 1% of all federal spending in its peak year. It had one aim: build an atom bomb. It had one main motivation: keep the bad guys (who had launched a sneak attack on us already) from taking over the world.

The Apollo program touched a massive 2.2% of all federal outlays in its peak year. It had three specifications: Man, Moon, Decade. It had one main motivation: keep the bad guys (who had put a satellite in orbit, and a man in space, first) from taking over the world. (Figuratively or literally, depending on your personal level of paranoia.)

NASA today sees about 0.6% of the federal budget: a proportion which has been shrinking steadily since the early 1990s. That funding is divided across a large number of programs and priorities. Not only do they not have clearly stated goals to guide them, they lack the funding to even maintain continuity in the programs (both scientific and engineering) which already exist.

Today's NASA has some superb engineers that I would readily stack up against those from any era in the agency's history. What NASA lacks is funding and leadership. The problem is political, not technical.

Comment Re:Funding stunt? (Score 2) 98

What bothers me about this, is that there is a certain likelihood, that the reason why the story was released so early, was not so much that the researchers hoped to get more people to review their findings, as that they might have hoped to get the necessary funding and/or intstrument time for this experiment faster (or even get it at all).

What bothers me about your comment, is that there is a certain likelihood, that the reason why you would post such a ridiculous statement, with so many unnecessary and misplaced commas, is that you really don't understand how projects like this operate (and couldn't be bothered to do any research before mouthing off).

Instrument time is scheduled months and years in advance for these projects. They're modifying their experiment and using instrument time that was already allocated. I suspect that there's substantial press coverage of this change not because the research group is being cynically self-promoting, but because there's a genuine, broad public interest in the outcome of this story. They've told us that they had an interesting result, and they've explained how they're doing the follow-up experiment to try to get a better handle on what's happening.

It would be unfortunate, if this became a precedent to releasing sensationalist findings in order to get the wherewithal necessary to do experiments properly.

The original experiment was designed to study neutrino transmutation (that is, the spontaneous changing of neutrinos from one type to another) between the source and the detector. Their apparently superluminal travel was an unexpected result that the original experiment hadn't anticipated and wasn't designed to detect. This shouldn't be surprising; most physicists don't say, "How can I make my expensive, delicate, experiment that I've been waiting years to conduct more complicated, so that I'll be able to quantify any unexpected violations of the general theory of relativity that could improbably arise?" Implying that their original experiment was somehow not done "properly" or not fully thought through is extraordinarily insulting.

Comment Re:NYC Subway (Score 2) 276

In Barcelona they did this 20 years ago already. A female voice said: "Proxima estacion", and a male one said: "Catalunya". I found it very entertaining then.

This is actually an excellent feature--I noticed it when I was in Barcelona a few years ago, and I would be thrilled to see more cities adopt it. Making the name of the station audibly distinct is an excellent cue for listeners in the often-loud subway with its muffled, broken, or distorted public address systems. As an added bonus, subway riders who don't speak Catalan or Spanish get the important information - the station name - clearly set off from the surrounding announcement.

Comment Re:Let's have both. (Score 1) 202

The B-2 is no longer produced, so nothing but sunk cost and amortised operating costs there, and the F-22s production is finishing very soon.

I think you're - deliberately? - missing the point. The grandparent poster wasn't suggesting the cancellation of those specific programs (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here); but rather that the scale and cost of military procurement and R&D tends to be orders of magnitude beyond what is permitted to the space program, and that proportionately small cuts to DOD programs would permit proportionately enormous relative increases in NASA funding.

If you prefer, you can substitute "F-35" for "F-22". Latest estimates push the F-35 unit cost over $200 million (not including the amortized share of R&D costs, which would tack on another $100 million per aircraft in the forecast 2400-jet production run). And Boeing has already started designing the sixth-generation fighter replacement for the F-35--do you think it is likely to be cheaper?

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