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Comment Re:I'm ready to replace Make (Score 1) 179

Installing Python is no big deal. no big deal on things that look and act much like an X86 workstation. On big machines you frequently need to cross compile; the compiler/assembler/linker suite is not GCC or closely compatible; the system libraries are intended to be compatible these days but are separate implementations with their own quirks; and the environment is geared toward specific use so you lack many libs that are taken for granted in all-round systems.

I have installed Python on such a machine. It was a big deal and nothing I would ever attempt just to get a make-like utility working. It would be far less work to replace that utility with Make than to get Python onto the machine.

You may have heard it told, but I've tried it, and I disagree. What do you mean by "leave their original use-case"?

Sorry; I get a bit abridged at times. What I meant is that Make alternatives normally are born from a specific need. A group wants to build Java programs (for example) and come up with a tool that works better than Make for that.

But then it almost invariably (so far) turns out that the tool that works great for the original use case is lacking features, or lack flexibility, or has dependencies that make it unsuitable for very different kind of projects. Make-replacements that really are general enough to fully replace it are no easier to learn and use than Make itself. It seems for all its cruft and oddities, Make does seem to represent a floor in the complexity needed to support all the different situations you may encounter.

I have tried a number of alternatives over the years because I was frustrated with Autotools (which, rather than Make itself, is what people often really complain about). Finally, for one project I bit the bullet, got myself a book and really learned Autotools properly. And found out it's not bad at all, just unintuitive until you get a good explanation. There is some cruft there of course; but many oddities are due to the portable nature of the tools, and others are simply conventions that modern languages don't follow - they're not wrong, just different.

If you really want to replace make I suspect the best replacement would be - Make. That is, define an optional "new Make" mode that is not backwards compatible, with cleaned up syntax and parsing rules; the surface stuff that people get annoyed by.

Comment Re:I'm ready to replace Make (Score 1) 179

..which is nice until you sit on a system without Python (go to big compute clusters and things like Python are suddenly scarce). Make is completely standalone; and the Autotoools look the way they do because, again, you can run them with minimal external dependencies.

As I heard it told, the reason Make (and Autotools) is the default despite all the suck is because all proposed alternatives suck more once you leave their original use-case.

Comment Re:Students are Hard on Hardware (Score 2) 177

It's not just kids. I used to work on mobile software for guys doing various kinds of outdoor field work. I told clients to figure on replacing their PDAs at least every two years. I'd reckon about 20% broke outright each year, and at the end of two years even the ones that weren't actually broken were falling apart from heavy use. These were well-made PDAs in rugged cases that guys could carry in their pockets. I shudder to think what they're doing these days with iPads.

When you're thinking about adopting any kind of gizmo that's supposed to be used all day long, you have to look at that gizmo as disposable. Stuff happens to things you carry around all the time. I have a light touch with equipment, so my stuff tends to last longer than most people's; but even I once broke a Newton screen, back in the early days. There was a guy in my office who destroyed one laptop per year, like clockwork.

I used to tell my clients that equipment was made to be used and thrown away. The important thing is preserving data. If a device is so expensive you've got to count on people mollycoddling it, it's not ready for field use.

Comment The problem with history... (Score 1) 754

is that when you're looking for precedent there are always those two little words: "it depends". You can't count on history to repeat itself.

I don't think there's a fundamental economic principle that says, "productivity increases actually increases employment." Yes, it *tends* to do so. If the next dollar of labor produces fifty cents of income, a firm won't lay out that next dollar; but if it produces *two* dollars of income it will.

However that scenario assumes that demand for the product is "elastic"; that if you drop the price a little you'll sell more, and make more profit. Suppose demand for a product is *inelastic*, that dropping the price won't get you much more in units sold. If the market won't buy more widgets at a lower price, then it makes sense for a firm to lay off workers as productivity goes up.

In the past the fear that greater productivity would result in job loss tended not to come true. At the outset of the industrial revolution nearly everybody would be considered materially poor by modern standards. Even in my granfather's generation it was common to by new clothing just once a year, and nearly everybody mended their own clothing. When computers were introduced to do things like payroll, yes the people who manually processed paychecks lost their jobs, but businesses responded by demanding far more complex and timely financial information products.

Now we live in a different world now. Almost nobody darns socks or turns collars; they throw worn or even stained garments away. Clothes shopping has become a pastime, not an annual ritual; many people shop every week. Financial products turn on split-millisecond timing, and are so complex you need an advanced degree in math to understand them. It makes me wonder whether we might be approaching a kind of productivity/demand singularity.

The biggest problem with predicting the future isn't *what*, it's *when*. People were attempting computer tablets decades before the iPad, but until the processor, battery, software and user interface technology were all available it was an exercise in futility. Much of Steve Jobs' genius was a matter of timing, of sensing when there was an opportunity to be created. I think there may be a productivity singularity in our future, a point where our established wisdom based on past experience fails. But I can't say when that will occur. I'm certain the market has surprises in store for us, but in the short term at least they'll probably tend to confirm established wisdom.

disclaimer: I am not an economist. But I *do* write science fiction.

Comment A more interesting application (Score 2) 62

Creating feedback points in space is cool of course, and will have a lot of uses. But I suspect the highest impact will be when applying a simpler version to ordinary 2D touch screens, and only at the screen surface.

We could finally have screen keyboards and games where you can find the buttons with your fingers, and where they actually give tactile feedback as you press them. Might be able to define surface textures for elements on screen, again making it much easier to use your phone or tablet without having to look at the screen at all times.


Bennett Haselton's Response To That "Don't Talk to Cops" Video 871

In response to both of my previous articles raising questions about the Fifth Amendment, people sent me a link to a famous video titled "Don't Talk To Cops" delivered by Regents University law professor James Duane. Whether his conclusion is correct or not, I think the argument is flawed in several ways. Please continue reading below to see what I think is wrong with his position.

Comment Re:What exactly is the point of the furlough anymo (Score 1) 1144

Well, then the AVERAGE person should cut back so they can live within their means, or get a better job.

First of all, we should be thinking median income rather than average. On average, you and I and Bill Gates never have to work another day in our lives.

The median household income in the US is about $29,000. Suppose you're a family of four with that median income, and you live in a relatively cheap urban neighborhood. You're probably paying $1400/month (average in Mattapan, Boston's cheapest neighborhood) in rent and $1000/mo (average for US family of four). That leaves you a grand total of $16/month for things like clothing and transportation. So you economize. You live in the worst slum in the worst neighborhood and save $200/mo there. You cut down on your food purchases and save maybe another $200. You deduct utilities, clothing, transport, and the conclusion is that the "average" American is living pretty close to paycheck to paycheck.

Of course the average federal employee is doing considerably better, with a median salary of $74,000. But going with out pay for a month would be a major hardship for a lot of those workers who fall beneath the median line -- the janitors, groundskeepers and maintenance guys at the bottom of the pay scale. A lot of these guys are "non-essential", and if the shutdown goes for more than a few weeks they'll be hurting.

Comment Re:Speaking as a non-American... (Score 1) 1144

The Democrat-controlled Senate and White House are voting down and threatening to veto these budgets, and thus the partial government "shutdown".

The next step to re-open government is for the Republican Speaker to bring a continuing resolution bill to the floor of the Republican House, so the ball is in the Republican court.

Your post conflates a continuing resolution with budgeting. A continuing resolution authorizes the government to continue under the old budget (that's why it's called "continuing") while a new budget is worked out. Using a continuing resolution to enact budget changes defeats the purpose. The Senate is not constitutionally required to rubber stamp the House's budget; the House and Senate have to negotiate a compromise. While they're working out their differences it is customary to pass a continuing resolution.

What's going on here is that the House is attempting to coerce the Senate into rubber stamping its budget priorities -- priorities the Republicans don't have the votes to carry in the Senate.

In my business experience, there's never been a lawyer who could write a contract that will make a business deal entirely safe. The first and most important thing in any business deal is to have trustworthy partners. Most of that lawyer-ese stuff in contracts is a safety net, provisions against a future day when the deal goes sour and fingers are pointed. That stuff is important, but no contract can completely protect you from a business partner who's acting in bad faith. It so happens that the House is technically within its rights to withhold a continuing resolution but they're abusing a technical feature of how the government keeps running during budget negotiations to do an end run around those negotiations. They're acting in bad faith.

Comment Re:Not gonna happen (Score 1) 472

"What happens when some crap falls off a truck and the sensors don't quite pick it up? What happens when someone runs out in the road in front of it?"

The video and sensor recordings stored for such eventualities will clearly show who was to blame for the accident (the negligent truck driver; the idiot running out in the road). It will also most likely show the time frames involved were too short for any system (human or computer) to stop or avert in time, and that the self-driving car probably did a better job, with faster reaction times, than a human would have.

Self-driving cars _will_ mean short-loop recording of everything. Which _will_ mean plenty of data to determine causes and assign blame. Which _will_ be human - not computer - error in the vast majority of cases.

Which, over time, will mean driving yourself will be a lot more expensive and will force you to drive much more carefully and defensively than in the past. Any speeding, overtaking, weaving across lanes and you are recorded and will be to blame. More money, no fun and the drivers around you can sit and surf the web or read a book while you stare out into traffic. I'd expect the "freedom" of driving yourself will lose its luster pretty quickly once self-driving cars are viable in the market.

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