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Comment Re:More and more data (Score 3, Insightful) 40

We ought to be careful when ascribing an attitude like xenophobia to all of humanity, because even though it exists and even if we assume it has always been commonj, it's beside the point when it comes to the plausiblity of "race". The question isn't what people say or even think about people who are oustide their group The question is whether they'll *do* individual memebers of outside groups. And when you use genetics to rip the covers off what people have been actrually *doing* (as opposed to saying or even thinking), what you discover is what should be an unsurprising fact: they've been having sex with people they aren't supposed to be doing it with. Lots of it. For a very long time. Everywhere you look.

So you may pick a small number of anatomical or genetic features and find a geographically coherent group where practically everyone has them. But that's *all* you've found: a geographic cluster of certain traits. You can choose a different set of traits that makes the group look very diverse. That means you have *not* found a large group of people who have descended more or less exclusively from some small primordial subgroup of humanity. Such a thing evidently doesn't exist.

Comment Re:Sexual selection by the opposite sex. (Score 1) 190

If you were slighted or insulted in front of people (especially the opposite sex) the urge to hit is very strong.

But *smart* hominids don't hit with their fist; they hit with a handy stick or rock. (1) It works far better, and your opponent isn't getting up for a second round, (2) hitting without a weapon is more likely to cause injury to the hitter, both from the punch and from the retaliation, (3) this identifies you as a hominid other monkey-men should respect, and monkey-ladies should consider surfing the gene pool with.

People tend to take things like punching as "natural", ignoring the *cultural* training that teaches us to go for the fist first. Punching is *not* a natural behavior. Grabbing, taking the ground and biting *are*, which comes as a surprise to a lot of martial artists in their first street fight. Hand-to-hand combat systems are just about *all* adjunct training methods fo military weapons use. That's why so much of the basics of empty-handed combat make so little sense. They make lots of sense when you graduate to the sword or the spear. A punch is perhaps a useful backup move when you've lost your weapon, or as a surprise trick, but not much more. The few martial arts that truly come from a brawling background emphasize grappling.

Comment Not the first time I've heard this kind of theory. (Score 3, Interesting) 190

The problem I have with these theories is that they don't explain why the hand is so poorly adapted to *deliver* punches. It wouldn't be complicated, you've got all you need to start with given normal variations in hand anatomy. Favor the guys with extra sturdy 5th metacarpals, and voila! Boxer's fractures are a thing of th evolutionary past.

It's just hard to buy that punching exerts such a dramatic evolutionary pressure on various anatomical features and leaves the fist something a person has to be *taught* to make properly, and which *still* tends to injure itself while punching without the benefit of gloves or taping.

It seems more plausible that the response of facial development to the presence of testosterone is a matter of *sexual* selection than survival based selection, that humans evolved to hit with clubs and rocks and that fists are a less critical corner case. People who come up with these theories evidently don't have much experience hitting things with their bare hands, which is not surprising given that they've got these handy opposable thumbs.

Comment Re:Seems correct (Score 3, Insightful) 53

Er... Why would Apple sue vendor using the Apple trademark to sell Apple products? That's what trademarks are *for*.

This is more like, imagine the iPhone was called instead the SpryntPhone. Sprint, the *carrier*, would object to Verizon and AT&T selling "SpyrntPhones" because it sounds like "Sprint Phones". They wouldn't object to those carriers selling "Samsung" phones because that doesn't affect their trademark.

Comment Re:How much have the seas risen? (Score 5, Insightful) 182

Well, it's a bit like stairs. It's really important to make sure each riser is exactly the same, because people going up and down those stairs adapt with remarkable precision to the height of the first few steps they climb. If you took a slow motion picture, you'd see their foot gliding onto each step with a scant millimeter or so to spare. A 2mm difference in all the stairs nobody will notice; a 2mm difference in one stair will trip people up, even though you can't even *see* it.

People build around flood levels the same way. They build right up to what the historical floodline is for the frequency they can tolerate. If they can tolerate one flood every ten years, they'll build right up to to the ten year floodline. But if the sea levels rise 15cm/5.5 inches, as they have since 1945 or so, that spot might be flooded every year. You can easily imagine a gravesite that was stable in its balance between sand deposition and erosion for many years "suddenly" getting washed away, although in truth the line between stable and unstable has been continually creeping up over the decades.

Understand this is not a simple situation; 5 inches of sea level rise doesn't mean suddenly lots of homes are under water everywhere around the world. But it can mean lots of homes are getting flooded in some parts of the world. It depends on local conditions and building practices. Here in Boston, for example, we have two meter tides, and massive variation between spring and neap tides, and with the direction of wind and air pressure, and we've historically built accordingly. 5 inches of sea level rise over half a century has made no noticeable difference *here*. Other places that have very low tidal amplitudes and don't experience large storms with persistent low pressure (e.g., Venice) might find a lot of stuff getting flooded after a 5 inch sea level rise.

Comment I skimmed the front page too fast. (Score 1) 65

I skimmed the front page, and misread the title to this story as "Updating the Integrated Space Pen". Intrigued at what those ambitious scamps at the Fisher Space Pen company might be up to, I skimmed the summary for links and misread the address of the linked website as "thefacepalm.com". I still have no idea what the story is actually about, but I thought I'd chip in my contribution anyway.

All in all, the start of a perfect Slashdot Sunday for me...

Comment When a service becomes an idependent institution. (Score 3, Insightful) 86

I often find people don't seem to understand when talking about countries like Pakistan or Egypt that the military, police and intelligence services aren't just bureaucracies within the government. They are institutions that have a life of their own, a life that is parallel to the civilian government. And when push comes to shove, the nominal subservience of the security services to civilian authority goes out the window.

And here in the US, people are already crossing the line from respecting and honoring the men and women who serve this country in uniform to revering the military as an institution, and that we should never do.

Comment Re:It's not really a myth anymore (Score 1) 222

The myth, by the way, was never just about killer machines per se. It was about unintended consequences, like the myth of King Midas or of Pandora's Box. The killer robot trope came down to us by way of legends of the Golem, which often come with a not-so-subtle warning about hubris.

It was only when the golem legend was translated into sci-fi that it became laughably implausible -- at least until recently. So many bad stories recycled this bit of mythological lumber for its scare value, and peopled the story with cardboard characters. In the old golem stories the creature is created by good and wise men, who can't always contain the consequences of their well-intentioned actions.

Comment Re:Doesn't surprise me. (Score 1) 148

This is not some new-fangled "gee I don't know how to design a 'computerized' user interface" thing. Poorly thought out and over-elaborate controls are embedded deep within GM design culture, and have been for at least fifty years if not longer.

As proof I present the heat controls which I remember totally ruining my Mom's otherwise awesome '68 Skylark Sport Coupe for her.

To call for heat or air conditioning, you frob the thumb wheel until you think the bar graph is indicating the temperature you might want. The problem, as you'll see if you look at the worm gear mechanism inside, is that in order to give enough mechanical advantage to work the cables with a thumbwheel, the wheel has to turn maybe five full revolutions to move through the entire range. On top of that, you manipulate the wheel through the exposed arc that sits above the panel, which means you can move it at most about 45 degrees with a swipe of your thumb, or 8 swipes to get a full 360 revolution, or forty swipes to go from max heat to max AC. All the while you were supposed to be watching the bar graph instead of the road. Many's the time I heard my sainted mother swearing under her breath as she tried to get a little heat or AC out of the damned thing.

If I recall, one "helpful" feature of the bar graph was that it turned blue when going from heat to AC and orange when going the other way. This is another very GM touch. When I was in college I had a friend who had an Oldsmobile from the same era with a bar graph speedo that turned red when it exceeded 100MPH. You can imagine how safe *that* feature was in the hands of a young male driver.

Comment Re:How will history judge the F-35? (Score 2) 417

Well, if you look at the initial failures if the M16 and F35 as black boxes, this seems like a reasonable analogy. On the other hand if you open up the black boxes to see what actually happened, the analogy falls apart.

The M16 rifle's initial failure was due to deploying it with different ammunition than it was designed for. The ammunition used powder that was incompatible. Also, soldiers were told (incorrectly) that the M16 was self-cleaning. If the F35 were failing for an analogous reasons, those reasons would be something like using the wrong jet fuel and telling crews to skip normal maintenance.

If you open up the the F35 failure box, you see something different. You see difficulties getting all the critical features working on the most complex weapons system ever devised. You also see a program that is by design too bit to fail or even scale back much. A program whose cancellation would be the single largest economic and technical failure in military procurement history. From an engineering standpoint this is all "here be dragons" territory. We're off the map, and that means estimates of when we will get where we intend to go are mere speculation.

So this isn't like the M16, in which the introduction of a demonstrably sound design was bungled. We're talking about committing the defense of a nation to a weapon that has never successfully demonstrated the capabilities it needs to have. We're even retiring critical, proven weapon systems in order to make way for this thing. When have we ever done anything like that before?

Comment Re:No one will ever buy a GM product again (Score 3, Insightful) 307

But I see little to indicate that other car manufacturers have more trustworthy cultures. In a world where an automotive engineer will sell his soul for a nickel on a car that retails for over twenty-thousand dollars (in the words of a close friend who is an automotive engineer), you can't trust a car company not to kick the can down the road so they can make their quarterly profit projections.

Nor should we have to trust them. There needs to be someone else, someone for whom the immediate effect on the company's bottom line is not paramount, keeping watch over the company's safety practices.

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