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Comment Interstate Commerce (Score 1) 658

I'm guessing this will fail legal tests at the federal level due to interstate commerce laws and privacy, but I could be wrong... from the article:

"...allowing them to install mileage meters connected their vehicles’ odometers or GPS systems that could better track non-taxable miles on private and out-of-state roads."

The state can't tax out-of-state anything, generally, but certainly not an activity (like driving) performed out of state (buying something online and shipping it in-state would be different). It's true that technology could allow them to determine the difference, as ShanghaiBill implied, but the court could rule that since there is no way to do this without infringing privacy (which itself is legally grey where driving is concerned), that the law loses based on the catch-22. At best, it could be forced to allow self-reporting of non-taxable miles (much like many states rely on self-reporting of out-of-state purchases for use-tax purposes).

It's an interesting conflict, however, that will certainly go to the judicial system to sort out, if the law ever passes.

Comment Analog vs. Digital? (Score 5, Insightful) 204

We've been historically terrible at deciphering ancient languages without something to help link it to a current language (such as the Rosetta Stone).

All this talk of data formats spanks of a very digital future, which I think we have a very hard time of predicting. The linked article is very binary... the grooves they explain can have "two or more" readable states, and their use of a QR code is interesting since it's an analog representation of an absurdly hard to decipher technology (without a key, as parent indicates should be the first thing). How would we encode data on these things? ASCII encoded English? Aliens would have to decode a language and then translate it. There's got to be something easier.

At least the QR code is ultimately a 2D picture, though. I'd imagine any thorough storage over that period of time will have to start with something extremely basic. Sculptures or 2D visual instructions that clearly lay things out. I think you could probably describe a mathematical encoding mechanism visually, but a language would take some work. The Arecibo message is somewhat famous for being a digital message that is notoriously difficult to interpret, and that's by people who would actually recognize some of the glyphs. The picture attached to the 1970s Pioneer vessels is higher resolution and easier to identify, and the audio/visual nature of the Voyager Golden Record is also interesting. But still the idea that these will be intelligently deciphered by themselves is tiny.

It's impressive that they're building something to last... they're just going to have to spend a lot of time figuring out what to put on it. Should lead to some interesting conversations.

Comment Re:simple (Score 5, Interesting) 497

Plenty of talented developers and teams get crushed by government red tape, bureaucracy, and the simple inability of most government agencies to manage their contracts. I can't figure out why but there is an enormous attraction for government program managers to micro-manage. Having worked on a handful of very expensive, very large government programs I can tell you that either side can make a project a disaster. But I've been on teams that can roll out a successful commercial project in 3 months that takes 3 years for nearly identical functionality in the public sector (DoD in my case). It's not incompetence at the individual level, either, in my experience; it's something institutional. Too many regulations that cause inflexibility and twisted risk/reward feedback for both costs and personal performance, and the antithesis of an evolution-as-improvement driven culture to match changing development standards.

Comment Re:Code Comments (and some core algorithms) (Score 1) 598

Ah, I'm glad someone already hit this. I'd have gone with a more generic "readability" and "documentation", but yeah.

I'd also include a few more mathematically interesting algorithms that push graphics as well as algorithm and iterative design. Breshnam's circle algorithm comes to mind, as well as fractal programming. For very precocious kids, pushing a 3d object from scratch is a great way to learn (i.e. rotate a cube using nothing but the ability to turn on and off a pixel).

On the other hand, while I would definitely avoid complex libraries as the "genuinely useful" curriculum, most coding these days kind of eschews these concepts, for better or worse. Learning how to wrangle a .NET, Ruby, or Java library set is just as important these days. I'm not sure how to handle that in a core curriculum.

Comment Stephen Few Loves his Bar charts (Score 2) 194

I completely Agree... I've actually had a few public disagreements with Stephen Few (on his blog - Hi Stephen) about his love of bar charts.

He's absolutely right, technically, on the visual perception -- that it's easier to compare lengths to basically anything else (like pie slices), particularly shapes that vary in more than one dimension (is a 5x5 rectangle bigger than a 6x4? If you know the dimensions you can do the math, but if you look at the boxes it's not as easy).

BUT, where I disagree (and I seem to agree with parent AC) is that people get tired of bar charts. Kids, in particular, have amazingly short attention spans, and as any teacher knows, engaging a child in a learning experience is very important, and different students will learn different ways. Your example of buying pizzas for a class is a classic example (although war is not the standard goal). Cutting a long subway sandwich or tootsie roll may not have the same effect. In fact, it's possible that the measurements Stephen Few relies on to measure visual perception could change if we took the time early on not to cater only to what our students are already good at, but to exercise spatial considerations that could improve.

Pie charts have their place, if only to break up the monotony. Certainly we should teach kids ratios based on bars, lines, squares, and other things as well -- for the most part we already do -- but we should not say that any one way is the best, even if there's one measurement that "proves" it, at the expense of variety.

Comment Re:They forgot INTERCAL! (Score 1) 254

Worse yet, they forgot INTERCAL! Any language with a "COME FROM" command (rather than "GO TO") should make the list by default.

Of course, noone uses it, so maybe it didn't meet the criteria. Whereas I agree that SQL is hugely used. SQL isn't really a programming language, though... extensions such as PL/SQL help make it so, but those are very non-standard and tweaky in their own right. As a set-focused (relational) data processing tool, SQL actually does OK.

---Chip

Comment The animation was less brilliant (Score 1) 374

I'm with you on 7th Guest... it was way more playable to me, and the games since then resemble it much more than Myst, IMO. I really just didn't enjoy Myst... it was eye candy at the time, but very static -- there were far more engrossing and compelling games even at the time. I wouldn't even call it very "open"... If you got stuck on a puzzle you'd eventually have to solve it to move on, just like in any game... it just let you wander around a lot looking for clues in the mean time. It owed a lot of that style of gameplay to Sierra's adventure games (and others) that came well before it.

But calling the graphics brilliant... they were pretty certainly, but the animation lacked significantly compared to 7th guest which came out almost exactly the same time and looked fantastic as well as animated.

As to why it didn't influence more games... the shortcuts they used on CD-Roms back then are no longer necessary. They'd pre-animate and pre-render everything then just call it up from disk. More Power has allowed us to animate and render on the fly which means that, no matter how open Myst seemed, it's almost trivial to make something more open and fluid now and in a much better way. Myst's and 7th Guests's technology was breakthrough at the time, but it was a stop gap while more real-time technologies could take over.

Comment Re:Relative (Score 4, Insightful) 356

Agree with parent (CrzyP)...

Specifically, though, if they are "difficult to work with", then they probably aren't the best programmers. In that case, "Rock Star" may actually be a good term... people that are extremely talented at doing something, but do so by their own rules, frequently high, often attention grabbing and lacking focus or team spirit. (Not that there aren't great real rock stars, but you get my point). Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but still...

What you do need are top tier developers, forget what you call them. You can get to the top tier by having raw talent, or by being well disciplined. Working well with others is a boon; building code that is reusable, well factored, documentable and maintainable. If you have five team members each with five different strengths but no one-developer-to-rule-them-all, you can still build a fantastic team and great software. You need programmers who can mentor so that the rest of the team can improve. Toss the people that don't work well on a team, and while you're at it toss the managers that prefer hard-to-work-with people, or that can't manage teams of normal people. This is particularly important if your software is going to grow... individual "rock stars" don't scale.

Comment Re:gists? (Score 1) 328

Basically it's a synonym for "summary", meaning that a conversation or communication is summarized by someone (in this case likely the intelligence agencies) and this summary is called the gist.

The term gets used occasionally in conversation, as in: "Did you get the gist of his long, rambling speech?", or "I'm in a hurry, just tell me the gist of the story."

Comment Read the MOA, it's about protecting U.S. Persons (Score 3, Interesting) 328

My reading of this MOA is very different... The MOA is repeatedly clarifying that U.S. Person information is not to be SENT by the NSA (The NSA's Responsibility to ensure it is not in the data is clearly spelled out in the MOA, if it wasn't already explicit elsewhere). It ALSO indicates that IF Israel's ISNU find's U.S. Person data they must report the finding to the NSA and destroy the information.

The MOA does not give any indication when or why raw SIGINT data would be sent to ISNU, and while it is clear that the NSA does share raw intel, it is also clear that there are cases where the raw data is "Minimized" by the NSA to remove U.S. Person information. The MOA does not guarantee ISNU any access to NSA data -- which data we share is obviously going to be controlled by other agreements and laws.

So a) we share intel with Israel ... I'm pretty sure everyone should have assumed this, and b) we have documented safeguards to restrict that data to intel on NON-U.S. Persons. Really, read the memorandum, that's all it does... every page is devoted to protecting data on U.S. Citizens.

How is this a bad thing? This document is obviously showing intent to avoid domestic spying. Good! If you want to argue that the NSA is not following its own guidelines, or failing to protect U.S. data, this is not good evidence of that.

Comment So many reasons it's silly to respond, ... but... (Score 1) 452

I can think of plenty of consistent reasons for this (not saying I necessarily agree or disagree with them)...

First, this should limit the risk of coercion. The main reason that people (the internet) seem to cite is that the self-incrimination clause was put in in response to an English history of torture (or other coercion) to elicit guilty pleas. Writing a law to restrict unwanted behavior is pretty straightforwardly reasonable. Also, it should be easy to accept that the risk of torturous coercion of a person suspected of being guilty of a crime is less than the risk to someone (or many someones) suspected of witnessing that same crime, if for no other reason than reviewing such instances in history.

Next, the risk of false testimony and the usefulness of self-incrimination due to personal incentives. The incentive for a guilty party on trial to lie is very high, but the incentive for the third party is very different. A witness, typically offered protection from prosecution for self-incrimination in these cases, has no supposed social or personal reason to lie (although obviously they could be biased for some reasons). They are, by not testifying, at worst facilitating a miscarriage of justice, and at best simply choosing not to assist in a process that is all but undeniably in the public interest. Note that this applies if the testimony leans towards innocence or guilt of the accused.

This social responsibility aspect is another justification for punishing witnesses who refuse to testify. It is in society's interests to find and punish criminals. Witnesses are a necessary component of that process. The more unbiased and uncoerced witnesses and evidence that can be supplied, the more confident we are that justice is being served accurately. It is therefore reasonable to establish an incentive to promote testimony. The threat of jail time is the incentive we currently have. Again, the value of witness testimony almost certainly is more valuable than testimony of the defendant, given the incentive to lie, so adding a disincentive to remain quiet can easily be seen as balancing the value and likelihood of receiving good testimony.

Beyond that: you're oversimplifying. Your example is merely a yes/no question of guilt, but, at least in the US, a defendant is in fact required to enter a plea. Guilty, Not Guilty, no contest, and variations (such as not guilty by justification) exist. The defendant must take some stand on that point, but other details they can keep to themselves. This isn't really a justification of an answer to your core query, but it is an important distinction, and related to...

Oversimplifying part two: your example pretends that if a defendant pleads the fifth nothing happens while a witness not testifying goes to jail. This is apples-to-oranges. Witnesses CAN take the fifth amendment, for one thing, which is different than not testifying when they are not self-incriminating. The sixth amendment is actually the one that causes witnesses to be held responsible for not testifying, not the fifth. That the two rules are based on different portions of the constitution is not justification itself, but it does lend some clues to understanding why we've balanced things this way. Remember that all a witness needs to do to avoid punishment is to answer questions, presumably with the truth. If the witness believes what they say will be self-incrimination they can plead the 5th, but this is a very different scenario than the one you're depicting.

Comment Re:Good (Score 1) 491

The article you cite says his disclosures did not lead to any deaths of any military sources. Many believe Manning's leaks precipitated the Arab Spring which could have a death toll over 30,000. And it certainly crippled foreign relations (with the revelations in the e-mails) and may have made the US military and diplomatic processes somewhat less effective in areas where lives were and are at stake.

Also, whistle-blower laws are not automatic, (and I don't know if they should be). The fallout of the Snowden and Manning handling of secrets emphasizes my point. You have to report the crimes up the proper chain -- merely publicizing things you think may be whistle-blower protected is the wrong way to go about it. There are explicit paths required to report something covered by the MILITARY whistle-blower protection act complaints. Releasing classified information directly to the press or anyone public is simply not protected whistle-blower activity, particularly in military circles.

Lastly, it's not clear there were any war crimes. The Apache attacks, the most-cited "war crime" of many in the Manning list, while terrible in retrospect, are difficult to prosecute, and wide latitude is given to military personnel who believe their actions are legitimate. There WERE armed combatants on the ground, and the cameramen were easily perceived from the air as carrying RPGs rather than cameras. There is extensive coverage of this all around the web, including Wikipedia of course. This certainly could have been a war crime, but Manning could not have been certain.

Manning should have known all of this. He could have followed proper whistle-blower protocol. He chose not to. I'd have much more sympathy if he had originally tried the proper channels and was rebuffed, but that's not what happened (unless I missed something -- I'd love to be corrected here). I've seen no useful analysis of the Whistle-blower mechanisms because people don't seem to actually try them -- they circumvent the laws designed explicitly to give them protection then complain or seem surprised when they don't get that protection.

Submission + - Conflicting Views on the Science of Pain

ZahrGnosis writes: Popular Science, a stalwart of the scientific literature community, posted a couple of articles about pain research recently that are causing a bit of controversy. First, they posted an article titled Fetal Pain Is A Lie: How Phony Science Took Over The Abortion Debate that argues fetuses don't feel pain at 20 weeks due to a scientific consensus that the nervous system is underdeveloped at that point. Ironically, this argument has been used for years in a different setting: to claim that crustaceans don't feel pain (justifying among other things the live boiling of lobster). But PopSci also posted an article titled Crabs And Lobsters Probably Do Feel Pain, According To New Experiments. And now there's mild internet flaming going on. I know Slashdot doesn't venture into the abortion arena much, and I'm not trying to wade into political territory so much as understand the competing scientific commentaries (in so much as fetuses and lobster can be compared). But mostly I'm just curious what the Slashdot crowd thought.

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