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Comment Re:But what system does he suggest instead? (Score 2) 308

Which is a weird thing for someone to say about the UK university system. The RAE / REF count an average one paper per year. That is what counts towards the department's ranking (which determines its funding), and so that's what departments care about when hiring people for tenured positions. Will they have the four top-tier publications required for the top rank in the REF? (or fewer for universities that aren't aiming for the top rank). Someone who published 20 crappy papers will be far less attractive than someone who published four good papers, because they'll both have to nominate their four best papers for the assessment, and so the first person will look really bad in the next assessment.

Comment Re:kind of ruins the point....... (Score 3, Informative) 308

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the ranking of UK universities. The REF replaces the older Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which happened every four years. The last RAE was 4 years ago, and the current REF is just finishing. Established academics have to submit 4 research outputs since the last RAE / REF. These are usually papers, but can be other things (systems you've built and so on).

The REF is a really big deal in UK universities, because it directly impacts the availability of research grants. The CVs of individual researchers are taken into account, but the REF / RAE score of the department is the biggest factor. If you have 4 papers in top-tier publications (conferences or journals, depending on your field), then it's very easy to get hired in the run up to the REF, because a lot of second tier universities are looking to find people who will bump them up the rankings.

Conversely, if you don't have the 4 publications (or other impressive things), then it's very hard to get a tenured position, but if you're not averaging one good paper a year then there's probably something wrong with you as a researcher: part of the point of publicly funded research is that the results are communicated to the public, and if you're not doing this then you're not keeping up your end of the deal.

Comment Re:Are they really being hosed? (Score 1) 244

On the other hand, crowdfunding things like kickstarter make patronage a lot easier. You don't need to be able to afford to hire an orchestra to play, you just need to find enough other people who are willing to do so. There was an article a few months ago about an effort to do this and produce high-quality public domain recordings of a large set of classical pieces.

We're in a world now where a band can produce an okay recording of a few songs in their living room, distribute it for free, and ask for funding for doing a studio recording of the whole album. They can then distribute the album for free and ask for funding for the next one (and bookings for gigs and so on). They're free to set the threshold cost for the next album to whatever they want, and if they have enough fans that think it's worth chipping in for, then it gets made and they get paid.

Comment Re:Cross language - what .Net gets right (Score 4, Informative) 286

VMS managed to get the idea of the platform ABI specifying procedure call conventions right very early on. It had quite an easy job though. C, BASIC and Fortran are all structured programming languages with basically the same set of primitive types. None of them have (or, in the VMS days, had) classes, late binding, or real garbage collection. BASIC is kind-of GC'd, but it doesn't have pointers and so everything passed across the language barrier from BASIC was by value, so the GC didn't have to do anything clever.

It's worth remembering that when VMS was introduced, other platforms were still having problems getting C and Pascal to play nicely together (Pascal pushing arguments onto the stack in the opposite order to C), so that's not to belittle the achievement of VMS, but it's a very different world now that we have Simula and Smalltalk families of object orientation, various branches of functional languages, languages like Go and Erlang with (very different) first-class parallelism, and so on.

Comment Re:Cross language - what .Net gets right (Score 4, Insightful) 286

I talk a bit about .NET in TFA. It does some things right, but it still struggles with things like mutability. If you use F#, you get a language that is a lot like OCaml, and if you use it like OCaml, then it's fine. When you start trying to integrate with C#, then you find that they have different concepts of mutability. And you have to do it because the F# collection classes are much slower than their C# counterparts because the CLR lacks most of the optimisations that a typical OCaml implementation has to elide copies of immutable structures when your operation is implicitly destructive.

Comment Re:England (Score 2) 470

A lot of people do, and that's part of the problem. They're made from a kind of plastic that is designed to break down in exposure to ultraviolet. Store one in direct sunlight and it will turn to dust in a few months. Unfortunately, when they're stuck in the ground, they stay there for ages. The real solution would be developing a kind of plastic that doesn't break down in ultraviolet, but does in the presence of something in landfill. Presumably bin bags are made of something intended to be like that?

Comment Re:News for Nerds... (Score 1) 710

To be fair, science is effectively a belief system

Absolutely not. Belief systems say 'this is true'. Science says 'this is a story, and if we accept this story is true then we get these useful predictions out. If we find that the predictions are not true, then we need to reevaluate the story. In some cases (e.g. Newtonian motion), the predictions may still be useful, as they still work within a particular range and the story is simpler to understand than one that gives accurate predictions everywhere, but we still accept that it's wrong. If there is no story we can think of that correctly matches our observations, then it's fine to admit ignorance.'

Comment Re:Wife Selling (Score 1) 710

As an example of how this institution has varied, consider that in the mid nineteenth century in England it was considered legal for a man to try to sell his wife.

And from that link:

Although the custom had no basis in law and frequently resulted in prosecution, particularly from the mid-19th century onwards

Comment Re:Be a Gentleman Scientist (Score 1) 233

And the other big one: you don't need collaborators. One of the things that tempted me back into academia was that a lot of the problems that I'd encountered really needed expertise in fields complementary to my own. I could spend 5-10 years learning everything I needed to solve them (by which time they'd likely be irrelevant or solved by someone else), or I could work with other people, many of whom also have interesting problems that can benefit from my experience. There are increasingly few fields where you can make a significant contribution by yourself.

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As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. -- Albert Einstein