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Comment Re:Of course (Score 1) 397

$quote = ' In every case that we know of there is more than one way to usefully carve up the universe into conceptual chunks. Stupid people think that one of these must be the One True Way, which is, well, stupid. The universe is what it is, but how we carve it up is as much about what we are as about what it is. ';

$quote ~= s/carve up/model/g; # makes above quote truthier

Point being that the underlying fault is not in the way some peep believe so strongly in the particular way they chunk the Universe into categories. The really basic fault is the rock-bottom premise that the human mind can perform any manipulation on the Universe at all. Our intellect can only work on the models that we build within our heads; how things are really chunked together is forever beyond our ken (literally, outside what one can see by the light of one's torch). It is uncomfortable to work with the constant recognition that not a single one of the models you might conceive of is going to accurately reflect reality. But it is absurd to pursue knowledge without recognizing that all we have to work with are simplified models in our heads that can never be more than "good enough" for some small subset of what is Out There.

To wit: "centrifugal force" is part of a physics model that is good enough for analysing a traffic accident. Of course it is not good enough for modeling celestial mechanics— we need inertia and Newton's laws for that. But within its appropriate realm, centrifugal force is as true a model as classical physics or quantum mechanics.

The Sugar Beets described this insight in song, and I don't think anyone has put it more elegantly than they have:

I can't believe I used to think that what I thought was happening was really going on.

Comment Re:I call them.. (Score 1) 586

Rude names. :)

Unfortunately, this is the first answer that begins to make any kind of sense in my experience.

For more than 10 years my primary responsibility through several different jobs and titles has been developing web sites (NOT visual design crap) and repurposing technical word processing documents to web pages (like policy books and procedural manuals). I routinely have used skills in handcoding HTML, CSS, and Javascript, and more recently adding skills on the server side with PHP and MySQL. Typically I'm working with a lot legacy content that cannot be shoe-horned into a CMS in a cost-effective way. I spend most of my time working in text editors. I sometimes go on month-long Perl binges where I build specialized regex parser/lexer structures to rewrite specific libraries from .rtf or .odt files into .html (or more commonly, into an intermediate form I call stf-- simple text format-- that is somewhat easier to debug than nests of <ol>s). I do a lot of development of custom PHP and Javascript to take technical input from users and cast it into bog standard formating. I do quite a bit of web page template construction. So that kind of stuff.

I don't have a good name for what I do. "Web Developer" comes closest, but that implies activities with CMS, Apache, IIS, and so on, which isn't my thing. I like "Web Scribe", with the implication that what I'm doing is similar to the work the scribes did in holding together the world of the Pharoahs' Egypt. But Web Scribe is not widely used. Yet.

Comment Re:And you expected something different? (Score 1, Flamebait) 208

Yes, I've had the unpleasant experience of providing this kind of training through a state agency (not Washington state). The training material will be from existing companies that are Microsoft-approved to do the teaching; the dollars Microsoft pays out will stay within the Microsoft ecosystem. The training will cover basic Windows operations and portions of MS Office (typically Access training is weak or non-existent, while PowerPoint is unduly emphasized). Graduates will have skills in such things as creating form letters and mailing lists, and doing arithmetic operations in a spreadsheet. The result is similar to training someone who has never driven a vehicle in how to "drive" a truck-- turn the wheel, work the pedals-- without actually teaching them how to back up to a loading dock, what adding 10 ton of gravel will do to their stopping distance, or what common road hazards they need to know about. (I'm so sorry, my fellow slashdotters, but I couldn't think of a car analogy.)

It should be noted that these training materials are tightly integrated into the version of MS software they were developed for. That is, the materials for MS Office 2003 cannot be used effectively with MS Office 2007, because they identify tasks by keystroke and menu selections that change with each version, leaving students hopelessly confused. So undoubtedly all these training vouchers will need to be used on Win7 computers loaded with Office 2007. Graduates will need some retraining if they are hired by employers using WinXP and Office 2003.

Graduates of these courses are definitely better off than they were beforehand. But there are really serious questions about whether this level of "pull the blue knob A until the yellow dial C shows 950 rpm" is the most effective way to prepare someone for the work force. There are probably less costly and more effective ways of making someone employable. Most of the good the students I've worked with have received has been in secondary benefits (improved self-confidence; how to actually follow instructions, learning to get along in a classroom / office setting, etc), and these would be part of any other training program. It takes about 6 months to bring someone through all the MS courses, and even if the courses are free, that's 6 months State paid benefits and support invested in the student. Which far outweighs the costs of the training itself. If that much is going to be invested, maybe there needs to be some serious evaluation of whether the training is actually going to make student more job-capable than putting him or her through other training.

In under 6 months, I could train someone who had never sat at a computer to maintain and develop effective web pages using commonly available tools like Firefox and a text editor. By the end of that time, these students would be competent at repurposing word processor documents into web pages, constructing simpler web sites, applying CSS, and working with Javascript to achieve common DHTML effects. They would have skills in breaking down jobs into constituent tasks, tracking their progress toward completion, and finding resources and assistance as needed. If they could not find a full time employer (can be difficult for a single mother with tots at home), they would be capable of free lance work from a low cost computer on their kitchen table.

Comment Re:i just bought a vista pc, with loathing (Score 1) 508

Linux isn't for just everyone, you know. You sound like one of those for whom Linux isn't intended.

Go back to your virtual reality of 1999 and be happy in your matrix life, for as long as you can afford it. Don't bother with those of us who are trying to drag the world into the twenty-first century. You won't understand the issues, and you'll just cause yourself, and anyone who listens to you, unnecessary frustration and aggravation.

Don't try to lead me, for I won't follow. Don't try to follow me, for I won't lead you. Don't try to walk beside me, either. In fact, why don't you just go away. Reduce, re-use, recycle... and go away. Griefer.

Comment Re:Styrofoam is possibly the most green (Score 2, Informative) 571

Since glass is pretty much inert in a desert environment, storing it for future recycling in this manner seems reasonable. It will eventually see use in place of sand in concrete and mortar, or in some similar fashion (I've a decade of bicycling on streets resurfaced with ground glass / asphalt slurry, and it has been a nice experience-- my understanding is that the County will use this when it has accumulated enough glass to make the processing worthwhile). At some point the cost of re-using it will become lower than the cost of processing and transporting natural sand.

Recycling doesn't necessarily mean that what you throw out today should pop back up on the supermarket shelf tomorrow. If done in a green way, a few decades of accumulation until there is enough material to run an efficient batch process can be part of the over-all scheme of things.

Comment Re:Styrofoam is possibly the most green (Score 1) 571

Like all traditional methods of product cost accounting, parent ignores the post-consumption costs. This is not thinking green.

The energy cost involved with environmentally safe disposal of styrofoam far outweigh all other costs of the product's life cycle, which puts it in the same category as current nuclear power generation. Styrofoam that has escaped the recycle stream tends to break down into beads very rapidly, but then linger as beads or fluff for dozens of decades. These long-lived breakdown products are impossible to remove from the environment, and alter the natural processes at critical interfaces between soil and air and water, soil, and air. They are serious pollutants of the most active edge-based ecosystems..

My understanding is that styrofoam within the recycle stream is still very expensive to deal with: its physical and chemical properties make it difficult to handle, and there are few products that can be made from recycled styrofoam.

Something we have needed for several decades is a reformation of accounting practices, that will fold anticipated future costs into current valuations of products and processes in a way that reflects verifiable reality rather than corporate fantasies. Until we have that, we cannot quantify the full cycle costs of anything... and being able to quantify those is extremely important with regard to managing things like styrofoam and nuclear power usage, where the major costs are incurred after the product is used.

Comment Re:Bad Science (Score 1) 485

This is a step in the right direction. However Walter Mooney (NPR interview) never specifies who he means when he says "we": he might be attempting to represent all geologists everywhere, but it is more likely that he is representing only the experts with the US Geological Survey, and much more likely that he is representing only his colleagues at Menlo Park. There is also the possibility he is representing only his own household (himself, his dog, his cat, and his goldfish), but that is as absurd as thinking that he is speaking for all of Science.

Best guess: Mooney is saying that his group at Menlo Park has not found a way to predict earthquakes by monitoring radon levels. If he had been asked to do so, he would most likely would have been able to easily count off the methods his group explored, and he would most likely have been able to imagine several other possible methods that were not explored for one reason or another.

Main points: Mooney appears to have the background to assess Giuliani's work, and is familiar with similar approaches that have not led anywhere. But he does not offer a critique of Giuliani's work, nor does he say he knows anything about Giuliani's methods. His statement condenses down to "We tried some things that are probably similar to what Giuliani did, and we couldn't make any of them work."

The LA Times story is similar to other rehashes of the story. Basically, it is saying that authorities on earthquake prediction have found that none of the other work to date has shown radon emissions to be good predictors of earthquakes. Again notable for its absence is any statement by any scientist that he has looked at Giuliana's specific methodology and data.

Basically, Giuliani's work is being dismissed in the media based on statements of authority, not on scientific principles. We don't know what Giuliani based his predictions upon (perhaps he was seeing radon spikes a hundred times greater than anyone else had ever seen; perhaps he was seeing a perfect correlation between radon spikes and pre-shocks... who knows?)

Undoubtedly Mooney's group at Menlo Park will review Giuliani's data, methods, and conclusions when these become available. It would be imprudent to do otherwise. So at some point we can expect a judgment based on scientific principles. But that hasn't happened yet.


Yeah, above is a rant. As I get older, I get increasingly intolerant of the failure of intelligent people to use critical reading skills. Especially with regard to confusing the current beliefs of "scientific authorities" with the actual practice of the scientific method. Yeah, reporters are not making the distinction and it would be good if they would do so, but they are simply reporters, fercryinoutloud, not rocket surgeons. Besides, the responsibility for assessing the value of the written word always belongs to the reader, and cannot be reassigned.

Comment Re:Bad Science (Score 2, Insightful) 485

The call to evacuate was stupid, I agree.

However it is regrettable that the authorities decided to dismiss the warning out of hand. They could have dusted off their emergency plans, checked the inventories of bottled water and blankets, done some drills, done some public education on how to save yourself in an earthquake, etc. That could all be done without starting a public panic, and would have been an appropriate, and responsible, way of addressing the warning.

Perhaps no public official was actually negligent in their duties, but there was certainly a lot of room for a more prudent response than attempting to discredit the warning.

Comment Re:Bad Science (Score 1) 485

Citation, please.

Seriously. I'm interested in knowing what research approaches involving radon emissions have been done in the past, which particular method Giuliani duplicated, and why he duplicated it rather than modifying it.

What we seem to have here is either a case of bad science, or just another case of a slashdotter jumping to an unwarranted conclusion. A citation should clear that up.

Comment Re:Yeah, but... (Score 1) 278

Thanks for your reply.

So unless there is some mechanism that would cause the formation of new ice to replace the melt, the situation is self-limiting and will not have a long term impact on climate. That makes sense.

It is also reassuring. The increased reflective surface that is so obvious in comparing satellite photos before and after the making of one of these megabergs was a disturbing sight.

Yet it does seem like the remaining ice shelves are large enough to keep creating megabergs (and lots and lots of lesser bergs) for ten decades or more. So while each instance is self-limiting, there might be a long row of icy dominoes that will fall one after the other. That is a worrisome thought.

Also the melt from all this broken ice will form a fresh water layer on top of the salt water in all those wave sheltered crevices between the remaining bergs. Some of these will freeze in the coming winter, and collect high albedo covers of snow.

My momentary warm feeling of reassurance has just refrozen into chilled worries about greater disturbances in Gaia's heat engine....

Comment Re:Yeah, but... (Score 1) 278

they [ice shelves] are normally a couple of meters thick

Since they are so thin, then clearly my concern has no basis.

OTOH, NASA states the maximum thickness of the Wilkins Ice Shelf is 200 - 250 meters. Without knowing more about the topology of these sheets and they way they fracture, whether the area of reflective surface increases significantly seems to remain an open question.

From the satellite photos, it does appear that the shards from the break up has increased the amount of reflective surface by quite a bit from what it used to be.

Comment Re:Yeah, but... (Score 1) 278

Your calculations assume all the ice on the berg is above the water and thus able to reflect more light because of a greater suface area.

No, that is not my assumption. Try visualizing this:

On the top of the ice shelf, mark off a rectangle 100 meters long by 10 meters wide. It is a reflective surface of 1,000 sq meters. The ice is 250 meters thick. Now calve off that chunk of ice. It is not stable, it will topple so its surface is 100 meters by 250 meters by 10 meters thick. Its reflective surface area is now 25,000 sq meters. The surface area has increased 25 times, because the berg's orientation changes as it calves from the mother ice.

This is a very simple model to illustrate the nature of the problem. But an increase in reflective surface of ice, and a corresponding decrease in absorptive surface of open water, may be a significant factor in climatology as the ice shelves continue to break up.

So is anyone modeling this yet?

Comment Re:Yeah, but... (Score 2, Interesting) 278

Parent post is the first complete and succinct answer to "why sea level is not going to change" that I've seen. It looks like a good place to hang my question.

Background: As these 1,000+ year old ice shelves break away, the amount of icebergs calving from them is increasing as well. With the increase in icebergs comes an increase in high albedo reflective surface on the ocean. On first look, it would seem that this increase in surface area is quite a bit: break off a 10 meter wide by 100 meter long berg from an ice shelf that is 250 meter thick, and the berg that floats away is 100 meter wide by 250 meter long by 10 meter thick. The white surface area has increased 25 times. So a significant increase in reflective area. It seems possible that a free floating ice shelf the size of Connecticut could become a reflective surface the size of Pennsylvania before it melts away completely.

Has anyone done any modeling of the increasing density of Antarctic ice bergs, and whether the increase in albedo is sufficient to affect climate?

Comment Re:ROFL; but stupid, but could be smartened up (Score 1) 290

Kudos to Texas legislators for attempting to prevent an expensive "upgrade" to an OS with a clearly limited service life and a reputation for high hidden costs. It needs to be noted that this situation would be very different if Microsoft committed to fully supporting Vista for the next five years. But instead MS has been mumbling about offering some kind of low cost "upgrade" from Vista to Win7, which is a strong indicator that future Vista support is going to be marginal at best. There is no business logic that can justify Texas spending money on Vista in this situation.

The rider should have a sunset provision: "no upgrading to Vista during this budget year", or "no upgrading to Vista until Service Pack 1 is released". Or something like that. That would make the bill more palatable and probably make its intent more clear (which could be useful when this is challenged in court).

I don't really see any better way to write this kind of legislation.

First, banning all software upgrades is clearly inappropriate: in the last year I've upgraded Ubuntu twice at no expense and benefited with lower TCO afterward; I am looking forward to another upgrade within 30 to 90 days, and Texas institutions that are using Ubuntu have likely done the same. Ubuntu is not unusual in this way: most OSs and distros are now using 6 to 12 month upgrade cycles where the total costs of upgrading are generally offset by immediate cost reductions from improved functionality.

Second, interfering with any current migrations from proprietary software to FOSS is also inappropriate. Or migrations from one proprietary OS to another, when there is sound business logic for doing that. That would constitute meddling in technical matters, and should not be done by any legislature. But specifically delaying upgrades to Vista is a matter of business logic, not technical logic, and setting business logic policy for a government is definitely within the scope of its legislature.

So in this situation, I think it is fully appropriate to identify Vista by name. That is merely a recognition that Microsoft has created a very unique business situation where the product it is now selling offers no compelling reason to upgrade from the earlier version, while MS is also saying that there is a new product that will do it all even better coming Real Soon Now.

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