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Comment what's in a name (Score 1) 656

If you want a hard-core mathematical proof that your code fulfills certain post-conditions etc., there's a large body of knowledge about how to go about it when the problem is posed in a functional programming language. Doing it to an otherwise unconstrained piece of C code is much harder.

If you want a hard-core mathematical proof about how your code behaves in time and space (for a value of time and space that makes your software market competitive) often a procedural representation is better.

Look at what happened between ATM and IP networking: "Another key ATM concept involves the traffic contract." For TCP/IP over Ethernet, the "channel contract" was a reamed-out muzzle diameter.

Two viable business models:

* Usain Bolt with a water-resistant wristwatch
* Arnold Schwarzenegger with a waterproof wristwatch

One permits more formal math than the other. I'm guessing Bolt is cooling down before 'egger has finished filling in his entry form.

Comment Re:Sounds like a huge risk (Score 1) 94

I totally agree. Seven days is long enough for a vendor to formulate a sober verbal response and run it through channels when their customers are already being rooted due to eggregious failings in their software products.

At the very least the customers can increase vigilance around the disclosed vulnerability.

Sure wouldn't hurt if this policy leads to fewer eggregious and embarrassing software flaws in the first place.

Comment binary in 1972 (Score 1) 623

My father taught me binary in 1971 when I was eight years old. He showed up one evening with black marbles and the bottom half of an egg carton. He had learned this from one of the original APL greybeards who attended his church. My father having himself dropped out of engineering to switch to theology had an interest in these things. Binary itself was easy (easier than learning to read an analog clock face). What took another week or so was puzzling out that binary was just a representation of the abstract notion of the integers. I wanted to learn more about computers, but hardly any books existed. Two years later I had pestered my father enough to bring home four books from the University of Calgary library. He said he had brought most of the books that seemed even valuely accessible. Most of these were stupid books full of pictures of shiny IBM consoles. I pitched them only my bedroom floor in disgust.

One actually taught some programming, mainly from the flowchart perspective. I tried to write a flowchart of getting up in the morning to go to school and all the decisions involved. This quickly got out of hand (I was fated to never become good at getting up in the morning). I concluded a month later that flowcharts were intellectually damaged: too bushy for the paltry logic they managed to encapsulate.

In 1976 I got my hands on 8008/8080 datasheets. The dumb thing took three power supplies and was far to expensive for me to ever own. I also soon acquired a TTL data book and realized I could design my own micro-controller from discrete logic. I designed such a thing on paper in the back of English Literature class. I like literature, but she was very boring and she never told my parents when I didn't hand in my assignments, so as far as I was concerned this class was a spare.

My grade six math teacher had allowed four members of the class to work at our own speed, after testing us with arithmetic quizes on a sequence of recorded tapes. I very nearly finished the last and fastest tape (very fast) but got ahead of myself trying to multitask the current question with a question I had missed. I didn't want less than a perfect score and wasn't mature enough to let that one question go. Then I jumbled five questions in a row trying to remember all five at the same time. I had never experienced not keeping up in math class before.

It was nice to be left to my own devices, but he compensated for his largess by making us write out in full nearly every darn exercise at the end of every chapter. I could pretty much read a Heinlein book on the side while doing 100 metric conversions long-hand. My progress was rate limited mainly by my pencil. By the end of the year I had completed the grade nine algebra textbook.

If my grade seven teacher had let me stay on the same track, I would have completely high school algebra by xmas. But he insisted that I stay with the rest of my classmates doing fractions again, or some rot. This bugged the hell out of me because the jocks with talent got special attention, and math is even worse than athletics as something where you can go a lot further if you start young. Just watched Proof the other night. Hopkins: How many days did you lose? How many!!. Days? I lost fucking years.

In 1978 I finally got my hands on more than a TI-30. My school bought a TRS-80 with 4kB of system RAM and 7/8kB of video RAM (16 rows of 64 characters by seven bits). This was to save ONE whole 1kBx1 memory chip. (The font ROM actually had lower case characters, but the memory bit that drove this pin wasn't there.) If the msb was 0, you got 64 different printable characters (not including lower case). If the msb was 1, the lower six bits controlled a 3x2 pixel block in the font ROM (making 48x128 pixels total, if you chose to treat this as a bit-mapped display).

I was also given an SC/MP homebrew by a local electronics instructor. He taught me hex in five minutes (but neglected twos complement for negative numbers). This was nothing but toggle switches (ten, for the address) and eight buttons to set individual bits (one button to clear the location). I had an extremely frustrating night trying to puzzle out how the branch instruction worked (not immediately realizing that twos-complement was based on the address of the instruction that followed). The next year I had an APL account on the university computer system, having taken calculus early. By then I had disassembled much of the TRS-80 BASIC in ROM and found an undocumented cassette tape routine for loading programs coded in Z80 assembly language. I wrote a Galaga-style game in Z80 assembly language using a nasty assembler I whipped up in BASIC. Since I had memorized most of the opcodes by then, it only handled the label arithmetic. Putting in symbolic opcodes would only have made the program slower and less reliable to read off the horrible cassette tape drive, which usually took five passes for the simplest program.

At university they were forcing us to take COBOL and Fortran for the CO-OP job market. My roommate and I both had Z80-based systems of our own by then. His was a Heathkit. Mine was the Osborne. The IBM PC did not yet exist, and I had never fallen in love with Apple (that continues).

One day he hands me a zip-locked baggy with a floppy inside (actually floppy). It was a C compiler from the Software Toolworks. What a breath of fresh air compared to Pascal! I was hooked on C forever after, or at least until 1996 when I discovered the C++ STL and template metaprogramming. These days I mainly program in C/C++ and R (my APL heritage dies hard).

Two years later (still in the early 1980s) I actually programmed on a Xerox Dorado for an hour or so when a classmate had a workterm at Xerox Parc and I biked to Stanford down the west coast.

There weren't many major outside influences: Knuth, Dijkstra, Hoare, Wirth, Plauger, Iverson, Brooks, Bertrand Meyer, K&R, Walls, and one paper by Michael Jackson. One book I beat to death was an early book on writing portable C programs. Don't recall the author just now, but I had it around the time I purchased my first 386 based system from an unknown mail-order company named Gateway 2000. That was the book more than any other that taught me how to program professionally. The next large system I wrote was ported from MSDOS to QNX in a very short time (the glorious Watcom compiler presiding). Man that feels good after wading through so much shit code.

#define ISUCK 42-1

Good god man, get some sideview mirrors on that expression!

for (i = 0; i < ISUCK^2; ++i) never_get_there();

Amazingly, ISUCK is a fixed point under exponentiation.

On a side note, my last completed program was a Pebble watch face written in C. Good times.

Comment pixel pack rats (Score 1) 573

Boy will you be laughing at yourself in a couple of years when you look back on how you thought a few dozen TB of data a month was like, some big deal.

Boy will we all be laughing at you a decade from now for predicting that Windows would expand to fill any hard drive ever invented, unless you're the kind of person where no-one can see inside your house because your collection of yellowing newspapers has taken possession of every vertical surface.

There will come a day where rendering a ROTK tribute will be an afternoon school project. That decade is not this decade.

We're at the point where we should be measuring bandwidth in dBA where 10x energy is perceived as 2x loudness.

Comment nurture white in teeth and paw (Score 1) 201

What does this story have to offer?

The world is a competitive place, except when it isn't. And why is that, exactly? Why do social insects exist? Why, for that matter, do social mammals exist? We wouldn't even have social networking unless the roots of cooperation in our genetics and culture are nearly as deep (and indispensable) as nature red in tooth and claw.

Competition will never not be present, which provides an excellent enclosed gondola for all the slippery-slopers out there. How nice is that? You can never be entirely wrong arguing that competition will always exist. Safe! Secure! You'll never say anything insightful, either, about how competition self-regulates into ritualized displays of dominance/submission without goring every participant.

Comment bring back the hereditary git tax (Score 1) 311

Who gets to decide how much is too much?

Point me to any country where you can identity any small group with sole authority for this kind of decision, and I'll wager they mainly discuss among themselves the problem of too much being not enough. In societies where decisions are reached by a process (in which many people can participate and where chance also plays a significant role) there's at least some potential for antitrust legislation to pass which enacts a ceiling low enough to echo-locate.

Really, America had it right before they repealed the estate tax. It should have been called the hereditary git tax, to remind Americans of what their forefathers were so intent on escaping in the first place. Since when did it become an American value for the children of privilege to cruise through life on daddy's deep pockets without earning it themselves, generation upon generation? Just wondering.

Comment Elvish italic (Score 1) 248

If the set of primes is finite, form the product of all primes and add 1, creating a number not divisible by any prime (making the number formed prime by definition) yet not included in the set of all primes by construction. At this point you can smoke some weed or you can begin to suspect that the set of primes is not finite.

Let p = 10^-googolplex.

With enough patience, you can win this lottery 100 times in a row, and you can do that as many times as you like.

All this new result gives us is further evidence that in the unextinguished coincidence of short spacings, the distribution of primes resembles a random process. There's a structural reason why both N and N+1 are never prime at the same time. It appears, however, to be rather difficult to identify any other structure of the distribution of primes taking the form of permanently extinguished gap distances.

Our list of viable gaps grows thin. (I did wish momentarily to mark that up as <e>thin</e> for Elvish italic.)

Comment gold diggers (Score 1) 268

I just want a plug-in that reliably warns me:

This page contains DRM markup, would you like to [hang around] or [bugger off]?

If Google still cared about search, it would provide me an option to down-rank all DRM-containing search results. I'm not philosophically opposed to DRM. We all know that sex and money are deeply connected. But it shouldn't be the first question.

Are you rich?

Wanda should never be your top search result.

Comment Re:Sounds good. (Score 2, Insightful) 614

You're not trying to be precise, you're shit disturbing.

if you are born to a Muslim father, then Islam considers you to be a Muslim by birth

Since only people who accept their Muslim identity by choice give a shit about what "Islam considers" (and not even all of these, if Muslims are anything like Catholics), by this criteria Obama would only be Muslim in the eyes of a hard-line Muslim, despite not taking it on board himself (or his parents taking it on board, either).

You're operating from the "taint" school of categorization, where Tiger Woods is "black" despite being twice as Asian and just as white. Secularists such as myself consider Obama to be whatever the hell he professes himself to be, which isn't to say he's immune to what's bred in the bone.

But what is bred in the bone in his case, if we're being precise about anything that actually matters?

Comment Re:About time! (Score 1) 185

the cure isn't competing with the price of a dose of the treatment: it is competing with the entire cost of treating your disease until you die

Wrong, wronger, and wrongest. One imagines a "cure" is only given to people who have an actual medical problem (presumably to develop an actual cure, the mechanism of disease is fully exposed). Uncures are not so narrowly constrained.

Statins are consumed (or potentially consumed) by hundreds of millions of people with nothing more than a statistically elevated risk of possibly developing heart disease according to some rather arbitrary marker. Note that the marker and its risk levels are carefully engineered by the finest statistics money can buy to circumscribe the largest possible group of people while still achieving statistical validity without needing to conduct a trial of more than about 10,000 subjects, since that gets expensive, too (and negative results become that much harder to shuffle out of sight into a bottom desk drawer).

If pharma hits the pitch just right, they can treat 100 people to little or no benefit for every person they outright cure, and the drug will appear efficacious nevertheless through the dim lens of population studies.

In order for your analysis to hold water, you need to cure pharma of diluting immense benefits to the few into an ocean of revenues from the many.

Comment Re:a compromise for public unmasking (Score 1) 234


It occurs to me that this definition could be modified so that a password all in a single symbol set always displays with only the * character, in addition to the new unmasking only kicking in after the first eight characters, if we wish to keep our fancy logic out from under the dim perceptions and loud scrutiny of the fangle haters.

The symbol would display as - only if different than the preceding character's symbol set. The first character would always display as *.

Comment a compromise for public unmasking (Score 1) 234

Password masking becomes increasingly annoying with password length, since any finger fumble becomes nearly impossible to back out with the correct number of backspace presses.

I could live with a masking system that replaced the usual * with a - when the current symbol is from the same symbol set as the previous symbol.

The password in the first line would display with the following mask.


For myself anyway, that would put the backspace key "back on the menu" after a finger blap.

I'd be totally happy if the enhanced unmasking only kicked in after the first eight characters.

Comment Re:We Wish (Score 1) 663

Kunstler doesn't add much to the question posed. He burries the meat of his argument under this horrible diatribe:

You could call these two examples mendacious if it weren't so predictable that a desperate society would do everything possible to defend its sunk costs, including the making up of fairy tales to justify its wishes. Instead, they're merely tragic because the zeitgeist now requires once-honorable forums of a free press to indulge in self-esteem building rather than truth-telling. It also represents a culmination of the political correctness disease that has terminally disabled the professional thinking class for the last three decades, since this feel-good propaganda comes from the supposedly progressive organs of the media -- and, of course, the cornucopian view has been a staple of the idiot right wing media forever. We have become a nation incapable of thinking, or at least of constructing a consensus that jibes with reality. In not a very few years, the American public will be so disappointed and demoralized by broken promises like these that they will turn the nation upside down and inside out, probably with violence and bloodshed.

What did that accomplish, exactly? He sounds like a call-in radio host winding up his faithful windbags before opening the switchboard to a long queue of flashing lights. Did that actually help anyone think? I think not. It's just a long clatter of power words. If we had access to a time machine for a single trip, and we sent someone back to explain to Isaac Newton what the world looks like nearly four centuries later, there's about 49,850 words from a 50,000 word vocabulary that would serve far less well than "cornucopia" even before writing down e=mc^2 and explaining the energy content of a gram of matter and moreover, that we've already harnessed this, and we've very nearly harnessed this as well as the sun (which has, if he's curious, several billion years remaining of happy middle age). So then after drilling down into specifics for a week or three, he might ponderously observe "Now I understand. There was a temporary energy glitch circa 2030 which caused great consternation with ten billion mouths to feed and dime-store weapons of mass destruction ready to hand." He's underappreciated for his sharp ear and biting humour.

If we had an unlimited supply of oil (very nearly true if an efficient process is discovered to covert coal into oil) then we'd be game on for climate roulette. If we had any mostly unlimited supply of energy, then we'd have to start dealing with the fundamental problem that any good physicist would quickly identity as far more severe than an energy deficit: shedding waste heat from the hot blue marble. There's no future where we can continue to use energy as unwisely as we did during the global boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet the real game changer, if we get there in one piece, is the transition from global population growth to global population steady-state. Rapidly growing populations have fundamentally different priorities than equilibrium populations. Personally, the thought of six billion middle class adults racking up 10,000 airmiles annually for mild respite from the 40/40/40 makes me shudder with disgust, so I'm mostly hoping the oil supply remains tight until we're ready to ante up to some fundamental societal change.

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