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Comment architecture drawn and quartered (Score 1) 226

There's no such thing as a universal all-efficient work flow. If the OS begins to dictate work flow (or encourage so strongly as to make departure a non-starter) then the creative world will balkanize into work flow camps. Within each camp the efficiency is great. But now you're not actually hiring the best freelancer for your project: you're merely hiring the best guy who has bought into your particular dictatorial OS. This is a loss of efficiency you can't directly measure.

A large pool of talented people offering services to an industry with many different work flow needs is necessarily going to have some friction where work styles clash. This is not an avoidable friction, without sacrificing as much or more than you gain in the larger efficiency of the skill marketplace.

Second, the very same system the creatives want to protect their own work (intellectual property law) has wreaked havoc on happy integration to no-one's great surprise. For portions of property law, we've figured out that the cure is far worse than the disease. But this is legal reform, not software design.

And even without that, the GPU vendors work hard to keep their secret sauce close to the vest, resulting in many of these GPU performance challenges because now the available drivers are determined by the ROI of the market served, and that almost always leads to favouring bland ubiquity.

So yeah, sell up the river everyone's compensation models but your own, and the world becomes a peachy place.

Comment the uncanny valley of 1.5 sigma weak-sauce science (Score 4, Interesting) 400

Exactly. This means that the data is bad and you can't change that. Period.

By the prudent norms of science, this is an excellent first approximation. For the first hundred years, the satellite data will support at most modest convictions. Our accumulated climate record will really hit its stride two centuries from now. And actually, from nearly every perspective of human progress, this represents a tremendous leap over what was known previously. Why should the earth's climate prove easier to decode than Mendel's peas? We finally found the actual genes and we're still pretty sketchy about how they really work. Complicated little buggers they are.

That said, the satellite data isn't actually bad, it just falls way short of historical norms of scientific prudence. We're stuck wandering around in the uncanny valley between one sigma and five sigma.

This doesn't mean society can't choose to draw a tentative, intermediate conclusion and act on that basis. However, the consequences of human political resolve are even murkier than the climate science itself, and the scientists can't help up sort this out, unless they have a giant boner for N=1. We have no control planet. Any choice we made can only be compared to counterfactual outcomes grounded in a proto-science itself still slowly gaining clearance from the null hypothesis on its major claim and with error bars a mile wide on the magnitude and immediacy and severity of the presumed effect.

I think we should be paying plenty of attention to the impacts of climate variability whether or not the cause is anthropogenic. Let's just not put the knee-jerk "all change is bad" types in charge who once decided that forests should never burn. Blockading change is change, too. One of the consequences of embarking upon a global economy is that you soon reach the situation where there's no such thing as somebody else's problem, whether the root cause is anthropogenic or not.

I have severe reservations about whether it's a good idea to instigate novel political initiatives on a global scale (e.g. abandonment of the hydrocarbon economy) against a back-drop of alarmist proto-facts. Much of the time our best, well-cured, time-proven facts barely suffice to move the political dial in any coordinated way. That's going to radically change over the twenty years? I highly doubt it. Of course, change has to begin somewhere, however bleak the early returns.

I was reading about some dude yesterday knowingly infected with HIV who had sex with 300 partners, none of whom he informed, and many he lied to. The ultimate self-gratifying scumbag. But what if he only worried he had HIV and never got himself tested? Would he still be a scumbag? Yes, I think so. Even if his worry is only 1.5 sigma? Yes, I think so.

But if Exxon has only 1.5 sigma belief that carbon emissions could prove disastrous, it's business as usual. "We didn't know!" Not with scientific certainty, anyway, which is unfortunately true. Any certainty worth having is late to the party. This is, however, entirely the wrong standard of prudence and concern. While 1.5 sigma is merely a proto-fact, not yet conclusively proven, it nevertheless demands proper consideration. Facthood in the moment is way too high a standard (and harlot to corporate convenience).

In retrospect, we will know the difference. Just as we do now about the impact of CFCs on the ozone layer. Whatever doubt remained about this in 1970 is now totally busted. We could confiscate their profits in retrospect. That would make them think twice about not knowing in the first place. I understand that it's bad form to suddenly shout "New rule!" so we could instead begin by suggesting that existing companies take out insurance against future confiscation of profit derived from embarking upon unproven, potentially destructive lines of business—as soberly judged by a future generation with a vastly superior knowledge base (subject to the same horrific political winds deflated by one percent, but as I said, however bleak the early returns, change must begin somewhere).

The corporations will complain about the difficulty of tying the incentives of their existing management to these adverse consequences far into the future (and so will the corporations refusing to insure them at sane rates while this problem remains).

That is a big problem. It's the big unsolved problem of the recent banking fiasco: the smart people who drove the economy over a cliff mostly walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars. I think that the people responsible for taking these risks should have their skin at stake until we know with high confidence, perhaps years later, they didn't actually sink the ship they were so well compensated to navigate safely.

I have a vaguely formed idea in my head that the amount of leverage a financial firm is permitted to take on should be tied to the length of time executive bonuses are held in public escrow against future financial calamities. If the firm subsequently mutters "too big to fail" while pointing at itself within that term, cancel all escrowed bonus payments for each and every bonehead recently in charge. The devil is in the details and there are myriads of problems with this, but it certainly rights the worst term in the equation as things presently stand, and that term proved to be on the order of a trillion dollars, so I fail to see how a serious implementation of this could lead us to being worse off (though no doubt we'll be told we ended up worse off with counterfactual vigour of owning the most expensive suit).

The governance of self-serving corporations in the public interest does seem to need a viable level of fact halfway between wild-ass-guess and scientifically proven against which to impeach their greed. The other solution, which seems to hold sway among climate scientists, is that we deflate historical norms of scientific certainty to serve this purpose in the delicate meanwhile. Proto-facts are the new king. Everyone line up to call the other side dunderheads for not bowing to your side's self-evident truths. Then complain when the public dials out with their hands over their ears.

I personally think that deflating historical norms of scientific certainty in exchange for a political outcome that won't transpire is badly judged. Do you need to discover the Higgs boson to believe in the standard model? Not really. Is turning every last stone decade after decade what makes science great? Absolutely. Science is like gravity: the weakest of all possible forces, until substance accumulates in due course.

Due course has no concern whatsoever about whether we need or wish to act promptly. Passing off proto-facts as real facts is weak-sauce science.

My preference is that we get busy strengthening our social institutions (rather than deflated them) so that we're better prepared to cope if/when climate change actually rocks the blue marble. This is the real work of the human species. Nearly every indicator of the best places to live are tied to the strength of a country's social institutions (e.g. adherence to and respect for the rule of law).

It's that old problem about awareness. The more you improve, the greater your perception of the problems as yet unsolved. For this reason, every generation runs around petrified that the whole process is about to switch gears and run backwards. But today's fear is bigger than ever before!

True enough. It's always possible that a black swan has photographed your generation's license plate. Just like the many Christians who believe in the second coming who expect it will happen in their own lifetime. It rather puts the long view out of mind.

Comment progress depends on the unreasonable man (Score 5, Interesting) 362

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

            — George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)

What would the NSA do confronted with an individual so high-minded and abrasive as to be relatively immune to the bullying tactics of the second-largest bullhead in the room? They would plant and nurture the meme that Theo sucks as a human being and that one's choice of OS and security software deployed rests on social morality rather than logic.

Who's looking like the reasonable man in the room now?

It's almost tautological than anyone abrasive enough to successfully push back against covert and well-funded NSA assholerly is not going to be a poster child for harmonious cooperation.

I've followed this little soap opera avidly (but with a relatively small corner of my mind) since Bamford's Puzzle Palace in 1982. I was then enrolled in an undergraduate mathematics program at a university famous for its cryptographers and I heard a few stories directly. I suspect I've read twenty books on the origins of these agencies before, during, and after WWII, ranging from espionage to black budgets to the ITAR fiasco.

I'm surprised by exactly none of this. I just didn't know the specifics of how it was done. The peculiar part was that the NSA seemed to have a very low appetite for taking this fight to the courts in the Clipper chip era. Now we know that they had a giant Plan B, much more to their taste than entering into a public process where things get written down.

Comment Re:Uh... okay (Score 3, Insightful) 607

It's kind of like the "eye of sauron" thing. They may not be omnipotent and able to target everyone at once, but once their eye turns your way there's little you can do about it short of jumping into a volcano.

Did you sleep through the end of the movie? You can't watch everybody all of the time. It ends up becoming a resources issue, and the NSA has finite resources after all (despite spending their secret funds at 100x typical levels of government efficiency).

A central prong in this campaign is to discourage the vast majority of people from even trying to make their communications secure so that they do have enough resources to watch everyone who poses any threat at any level pretty much all the time.

Comment Re:Oh noes! (Score 1) 736

Nevermind the increases in safety. Nevermind the new jobs that this will enable. Nevermind the greater standard of living this will bring to all people. We've got to be concerned about potentially lost jobs above all else.

Nevermind the strawman. Nevermind engaging the non-debate, when the real debate is difficult, even for serious minds. Nevermind that throughout the animal kingdom, the unemployed are soon tagged on the ankle or wrist to become unwilling organ donors. It's not like employment has any bearing on survival or mating opportunities. I suspect one testicle well employed outperforms two testicles unemployed. But don't scream too loud when your first nut is clipped.

The point here is not that the swelling ranks of the unemployed and the under-employed moan loudly, it's that they moan badly, as ignorant gits tend to do. Still, even a bad moan is appropriate when your left one is severed by a rusty plutocracy (stored in damp basement wrapped in seven layers of oil cloth for about three hundred years after everyone in arrived in America fleeing this very same thing). Johnny Appleseed didn't fall far from the tree.

Greenspan held this quaint notion that the superpower quants would self-regulate due to interlocking competition of interests. What actually happened is that the superpower quants looked around the poker table and spotted a trillion dollars in Uncle Sam's pocket while he as stupidly wearing an "aw shucks, too big to fail" quasi-libertarian grin on his face. If there's any business that Government should not be in, first and foremost, that business is libertarianism. Of course, once government takes the first fatal step toward libertarianism, they begin to resemble exactly the straw man that libertarians wish to portray it as being. Call it the straw man death trap, and a fine business this is if your agenda is to lead government into the noose swaying above the trap door.

If the hollowing out of the middle class isn't giving plutocrats everywhere a raging boner, I don't know what would. This observation alone ought to give people pause for thought about committing Greenspan's error with regard to Schumpeter's gale of naively presuming that if it ends well once (or any finite number of times), it ends well in all cases.

After the fiscal crisis, did any of the elites go "my bad" and volunteer to repay the public rescue purse for emergency rescue rendered? Have they clucked about government intervention in their affairs so loudly as to set up a private rescue fund with a twelve digit cushion to tide them over their next salivary mishap? Oh, nooooo. That would never happen.

I can't see far into the future on this one. The one thing I'm fairly certain about is that filthy rich old bastards will require small standing armies of man and woman servants to cater to their every whim. So there will be jobs after all, no matter how this tempest in a teacup finally shakes out.

Comment Re:the wisdom of youthful folly (Score 2) 329

That came off slightly more cynical than I intended. In truth, I have nothing but gratitude for much of what hippie Google chose to do. My point at this juncture, however, is that that was then, this is now.

In much the same way that the terrorists succeeded in reshaping America in their own image (two crushed fingers was all it took), Facebook has succeeded in reinventing Google in their own image. Zuck, like Bill, was way ahead of his time right from the get go.

As far as I'm concerned Google+ is hardly any different than America+. Any symbol that leaves you asking "plus what?" is not to be trusted. What of this unary additive? Those who know are not entitled to say. Happily, that's as much as we need to know to guess what shape that mark will take once it reaches adult height, wreathed in flames.

Comment the wisdom of youthful folly (Score 1) 329

Corporations grow up, just like children.

If you're not a liberal when you're 20, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 40, you have no brain.

This much-laundered sentiment originated with Francois Guisot (and not as widely believed the sock-prophet Winston Churchill). The genius of Bill Gates was being twenty years ahead of his time. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of a brainy conservative is twenty to thirty years (tops), before the grizzled Ebenezer-in-Chief is forcibly defenestrated.

Roughly twenty years from now, the legacy of Brin and Page will be facing its own mop reduce. Brilliant strategy on their part to postpone the day of reckoning with a youthful sojourn into saccharine Dr Evil.

Comment kudos to Vanity Fair (Score 2) 406

I read that article yesterday. It's an extremely well done article. Unfortunately, it doesn't actually say what the summary claims.

At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called âoestack ranking.â Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewedâ"every oneâ"cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees.

When the millionaire mint ran dry, the problems began:

And so, the bureaucratization of Microsoft began. Some executives traced the change to the ascension of Ballmer, but in truth Microsoftâ(TM)s era of fast cash was almost certainly the actual driving force.

Empowered by a dysfunctional incentive culture instigated by His Billness, though some defend it.

The Case for Stack Ranking of Employees

From the posts I read, the stack ranking at Microsoft is political and not based on valid accepted metrics that define performance. But Iâ(TM)m inclined to fault the measurement system more than stack ranking.

What a complete idiot. He presumes that such a metric must exist, and completely misses the boat on absolute rather than relative performance norms. As soon as the norms become relative, you're tying your sneakers to outrun your team mate. If that's not political, I don't know what is. There are people who might not be star performers by any specific metric, but who enhance the productivity of any team they join. Guess what other company adopted stack ranking? Enron.

I believe I once read an essay by Drucker where he said if the person who was worth hiring in the first place is underperforming, most likely that person's boss has failed to put that person into the right context.

And software is the worst of all industries to institute such metrics. Any crank an employee can turn at 1000 rpm is better off scripted. The surest route to efficiency is repetition (the athletic model from he cherry picks his favourite aspects). Human repetition is bad repetition, yet metrics never catch up to non-repetitive cultures.

Comment Re:Hugging and Stretching (Score 4, Interesting) 406

they never excelled at anything

Bullshit. They excelled in maintaining backwards compatibility with BINARY legacy applications coded with all kinds of brutal behaviours under the hood. Often almost beyond the bounds of reason. This was one of the big reasons Apple had so much trouble clawing itself back into the game. MS worked very hard never to give visionary CIOs a good pretext to clean house of horror show legacy applications.

Embrace, extend, and eternalise.

Comment Hanlon's razor (Score 1) 154

Wow, that was a tortured vortex. I was losing track of which puppet hand had grabbed the microphone, or if it was just one especially wishy-washy devil's advocate.

If the bar is bad faith, we've got a problem, commonly known as Hanlon's razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

The party being sued just needs to slit their own throat with Hanlon's razor (duh I'm stoopid) and your case melts away. Unless it takes confessing to a level of stupidity sufficient to get the other party's lawyer disbarred. Then things get interesting.

However, I don't think Hanlon's razor properly belongs in the court room in the first place, where it would more likely be the other way around: never attribute to stupidity, faulty memory, or the dog eating your homework what can adequately be explained by malice, tactical dithering, and premeditation. The line between culpability and incompetence in the courtroom is more gerrymandered than FLA. 5.

Imbalance of Power

By comparison, the dividing line between pornography and naked flesh seemed so obvious that some judge muttered to himself absent-mindedly "I know it when I see it". I suspect that same judge would give his right arm to be able to reliably discern when the defendant protests too much about his own imbecility.

It's an extremely tricky business to write laws which boil down to where having a clue self-incriminates. It's pretty easy to flush clue down the toilet for the duration.

In my opinion, a standard of abuse needs to be set such that ignorance of the law is no excuse, reducing the scope of honest error to where the nuance of the law itself is hark to grok as applied to the relevant circumstance.

Wikipedia informs me of N.C. 12 that `The Wall Street Journal called the district "political pornography."` Note that Democrats holding a huge majority in one seat benefits the Republicans in every other seat they win by a narrow margin.

But your honour, my hand slipped!

Do have medical records to show that you've sought treatment for this dangerous condition?

Uh, no. It only happened just that once.

Fascinating. I've heard that three times already this morning. What I have here (pulls out Hanlon's razor) is a very sharp and heavy blade which you shall hold above your own head for ten minutes. If it slips out of your fingers during that interval, you will receive my sincere apology and a favourable verdict to go along with your stitches.

Comment he who weilds the lickable hilt (Score 1) 357

could out-innovate knowing that was the one thing they could do that M$ couldn't

Did you buy that four-digit ID on eBay? You've combined Microsoft's favourite word into the same sentence with the most geriatric of all derisions.

Microsoft innovated a metric butt unit, but very little of this advantaged the end consumer. They innovated business methods more so than technologies, especially the business method of crossing the legal and ethical line and getting away with it long enough to sip fine Champagne with one foot on Netscape's corpse while confined to the corner of the room wearing a pearl-crusted dunce cap. Vlad the Impaler tips his hat.

Speaking of Vlad, are you man enough to tell Vlad he can't innovate? To his face? Do you wish to wear the outcome of that assertion? Just because he's never much bothered to tweak the recipe for making Damascene steel or grafted on a lickable hilt (one that actually looks attractively lickable)? No, he just sits there thinking "no matter the sword, they all bleed the same way". Admittedly that's not the hallmark of innovation as celebrated among the proletarian ranks, but it works the gutters and coffers just fine.

One would think given his methods that more of the population would elect to somehow slip between his masochistic fingers. And yet they didn't. That's not what happened. Tell me it doesn't take innovation to become that sadistic and not have your entire empire relocate itself to the next valley over. Are your heirlooms and golden geese locked away in a proprietary chest for which only Vlad possesses the master key? You might have suspected something sooner, but you really liked the gaily-painted wooden wheels and the decorative hollow horse head. Steve never managed to sell that, yet somehow Bill was manning triple shifts under the lash to slake demand.

Wolfram Alpha just made me this nice chart in under sixty seconds and a permanently shareable link. Innovation, or just trying harder to please because you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? [when lacking Vlad's henchman army]:

appl msft profit over time

Microsoft had Apple's number for pretty close to twenty years, and without ever suffering cardiac arrest. Apple is cool like Lance: it's amazing what one can achieve sans so many testicles when clad in relentlessly promoted, well-branded apparel. Apple burned through five heart-lung machines before they regrew their permanent hair, but what flowing fleece it was.

Tell me what company in their right mind would deliver innovation to the end-user riding on top of a such a long, gracefully ascending line? Yeah, it faded a bit over the past five years. But Microsoft had it coming. Boy did they have it coming. A hectare of discarded Champagne bottles began to cultivate a mirulent strain of black mold. And right in their own back yard, less than a stone's throw away. Dang, what a mess to have to clean up.

Apple's time is coming, too. The migrant consumer is already beginning to scout valleys even further afield. People only pay through the A$$ for so long before they wise up, unless they're fleeing from fresh horrors of ruthless innovation in the sprawling valley of the damned.

A kinder, gentler Microsoft won't do anything to help Apple sustain its insanely high profit margins. At the same time, a return to form of the old ruthless Microsoft could turn into an expensive tactical nightmare, with the Koreans nipping at their other flank.

Much depends on the new Khan. Personally, I hope their first agenda item is to take a giant bite out of Oracle's rapacious backside. Later they release M$inx in a master stroke of branding genius with all the tedious and uncool APIs of XP's cooling corpse completely open sourced and unencumbered. Just think, you can continue running your old copy of Turbo Tax 2005 all the way to the next Y-who-cares epoch meltdown.

Forget about games, though. Warm drool is greeted with open arms (not open source) by the primary stake holder. Thus it will always be, whether the cape's clasp is festive fashion or fossil forged.

"Innovation, my friend. What a quaint notion. [Giant oak door thuds shut.] Allow me to show you to your room. Do you prefer to sleep in a saggy bed or hanging from your ankles in a snug cocoon? Ah! You're a traditional man, after all. I knew it the very instant you arrived. The other method is so much better for the posture and ... circulation but people such as yourself rarely change."

Comment Re:Yes, and? (Score 1) 237

which amounts to exactly the same thing

For a glib value of "same thing". I understand the Americans and the British are pretty tight, but I bet there's friction at every other point of exchange, even if it's just the petty little-brother/big-brother dynamic between Canada and the US.

When you're in the thought-crime business, all boundaries are porous. The correct question to the NSA is this: Do you access information on American citizens who have not yet committed a crime? And the obvious answer is: "Of course we do! Isn't the whole point of anti-terrorism to catch terrorists before their crimes are committed?" There's your thoughtcrime mandate signed, sealed and delivered.

The net immediately widens to include anyone with a legitimate or perceived beef with any social institution, and access to a car, an internet connection, or a hardware store.

Comment eternal life equals infinite mortgage (Score 1) 625

If people can live for a thousand years, interstellar travel becomes easier.

Interstellar travel accelerates aging, and thus it must be regarded as a disease not a cure. Besides, you'll be among the five billion people employed in sequestering all radiological sources in the earth's mantle into some deep pit in Nevada. If you survive your 10,000 years term of service at this biologically hazardous occupation, with luck and good behaviour you'll be eligible to take out the one billion dollar mortgage on a 400 sq ft condominium of your very own somewhere in free-wheeling Singapore a full fifty floors above the prison levels exposed to god-knows-what in the lower atmosphere.

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