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Comment read the claims (Score 1) 65

A patent can talk about previous ideas. The title of a patent can often look like it's about something already discovered. But it really is about what is in the claim section. This one is about comparing what is in someone's calendar and automatically sending a away message as a result to people who have not already gotten an away message. I've gotten lots of away messages but they are always because I tell my mail program to send them for a given time, not because I've marked on my calendar that I'm not available for those days.

One can argue, and I might well, that this is not a deep insight and that the patent system should set a higher bar. But people here who want to comment really need to decipher the claims on this or any other patent.

Comment The real article and Slashdot summaries (Score 1) 173

Here's an excerpt from the abstract of the original paper: "If realized in the fields, the effects of elevated CO2 could considerably mitigate global yield losses whilst reducing agricultural consumptive water use (4–17%)." The article is not saying that elevated CO2 is good, just that it might not be as bad, and in particular further study is needed. The slashdot blurb is an extrapolation of an Ars Technica summary of the actual paper. The real thing can be found here: The basic point is that fresh water in many regions will be harder to get but plants will use that water more efficiently so it won't be quite as bad as might be thought.

Reading the actual article has something for everyone -- particularly scientists. Those who want to claim that scientists all basically think we have a problem will see that these scientists who've actually studied things agree. Those who want to believe it's not going to be as much of a disaster as some think may be partially vindicated, though only very partially. Those who believe scientists are honestly struggling to figure out what the future will bring will feel good.

Comment Re:Dark matter -- not the explanation (Score 1) 184

There's a very nice full explanation of the issues here:

Basically in a system like our solar system, the inner planets, e.g. Mercury move faster than the outer ones and if they didn't they would either fall into the sun or escape the solar system. In galaxies we see that the outer stars go at pretty much the same speed that the inner ones do. If gravity is the reason orbital mechanics suggest that rather than a point source of mass like the sun or a big black hole, there must be a lot of mass spread out through the galaxy. The speed can be measured using red shifts etc..

So a big black hole in the center can't be the explanation. There are lots of other explanations that have been knocked down (e.g. a lot of dust, stars that are more massive but somehow don't emit enough light etc). Look on wikipedia for why those don't work. I'm just pointing out why this new observation isn't the answer

Comment Re:Dark matter -- not the explanation (Score 2) 184

Some of the evidence for dark matter is that parts of galaxies revolve at a different rate than would be expected if all the matter were of they type we understand. This black hole is much bigger than the black holes in some known galaxies. The rotational speed of those galaxies can't be explained by a super massive black hole in a different galaxy. One of the mysterious effects is the difference in rotational speed as you go out from the center of the galaxy. Again that can't be impacted by something that's only in the center. See From that same article you'll see other evidence based on gravitational lensing that again can't be explained away by even a large number of super massive black holes.

Comment It's illegal to fire for discussing work condition (Score 2) 1092

Most of the comments here are about whether the woman in question is a whiner. That isn't the important point. The National Labor act makes it illegal to fire employees for "discussing terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees". The NLRB has ruled that social media is a way to discuss conditions with other employees. Unless she was discussing company secrets not related to things like salary she can't be fired for that. More detail can be found here: If Yelp fired her because of this post, then they are going to owe her back wages and maybe a lot more.

Comment The article draws from BLS handbook -- confusing. (Score 1) 223

The article is based on projections from the Department of Labor which are in the Bureau of Labor Handbook. In that you'll find that Programmers, Software Developers and Electrical engineers are all different. Programmers will decline 8%, while Software Developers will grow 17%. In truth, the part of the industry that's building hardware is becoming a smaller part of the IT industry while Software becomes larger. From the BLS Handbook, SD is the creative part behind programming. I think this derives from the time when you'd have someone describe the code and someone translating that down to a lower level. Now a days, that distinction is of course confusing. I suspect SD now means a high quality programmer and a programmer is less creative. If that's true then it's not surprising programmers are going away because someone building code by composing things doesn't need that help. Our industry is going through a transition. Some parts will shrink and others grow. That some parts are shrinking doesn't mean labor demand overall is down. (Of course that some parts are growing doesn't mean demand is up either).

Comment Re:Yeah, well .... (Score 3, Informative) 308

You've buried a whole lot in the phrase:

Fossil fuel usage will decline as better alternatives become economically viable.

If you add to the cost of fossil fuel the damage they do that time will come much sooner. If my neighbor builds a house by piling all the dirt on my property it will be a lot cheaper for him. If someone burns fossil fuel and warms the planet they don't personally bear the costs. Proper treatment of what economists call "externalities" has to be the job of society in the form of the government. That's what a carbon tax is all about. We solved acid rain at much less costs than anticipated. The miracle of the market really can find the best solution if the costs of externalities are factored in properly. We'll probably never get to zero use of fossil fuels, but we can get to much much less. The pope has done a service by pointing out that it's our moral imperative for the future. Now if only one party would stop saying "we're not scientists" we could make a lot of progress.

Comment Re:Satellites (Score 4, Insightful) 403

The orbit decays and ceases to be geosynced. But it's got a long way to go before it hits the atmosphere and burns up. Remember how much energy was needed to get it up there from low earth orbit. The satellite has to give up all of that because of the tidal effects of the moon before it's close enough to be slowed by the atmosphere. There may also be a very minor effect from the sun's radiation. I think it's safe to assume that the solar cells will deteriorate before the decay of the orbit causes a problem.

Comment And how much do we spend on Software Research? (Score 2) 287

If you look at the budget for Research in Software Engineering, which is more important to the economy and has as many scientific challenges, you'll find it's not paltry it's infinitesimal.

After WWII the country believed Gov't worked and was good for people. We believed that the space program was a response to a Russian threat. We have somewhat the same motivations now, expect that a large number of people believe any money spent by the Gov't is bad. We muster much more money now for big machines because OMG it would be terrible if the Chinese had a machine faster than ours. In science we are more motivated to use money to fight competition, not because it will help our society. We are also of course motivated by things people understand, e.g. curing cancer, though strangely not fighting diseases like Ebola which we think is restricted to Africa and which congress did not fund at the levels requested.

There's a real distortion in what we spend and what people think we spend. Polls have been conducted about whether we spend too much or too little on various items in the discretionary budget. They often think for example that many believe we spend too much on foreign aid, and those same people believe we spend more than 10x what we really do on foreign aid.

Comment Re:I think not (Score 1) 304

I wish I could somehow magically find one of these (a colleague actually has one still) and connect it to a modern computer. At one point I thought I was fantasizing about how wonderful these were, went to my colleague's office and tried it again. It was everything I remembered and more.

Comment A yet better IBM keyboard (Score 1) 304

The IBM PC keyboard is a very nice keyboard, but it was an attempt to make a cheaper keyboard which was almost as good as the keyboard on a 3270 terminal. You can see a picture of it here: The feel was better than the buckling spring keys, though those were a close imitation. The keys on the 3270 were shaped a bit better. On "modern" aka "inferior" keyboards there's usually a bump on the "f" and "j" keys. On the 3270 keyboards the f and j keys actually had a deeper cup. Most people never knew it was there, because the deeper cup was not bothersome like the bumps are. But your hands "knew" when you were off the home keys so it solved the same problem as the bump. But, the 3270 keyboard was much more massive than the more modern ones as well as more expensive. It was much deeper so there could be more mechanisms below the keys and that enabled a better feel than the buckling spring. It also permitted the keys to be deeper and accommodate the cups for f and j. Typing on them felt better though. On the other hand the display on the 3270 and it's successor the 3279 (the color version) wasn't in the same league as what we have today.

Comment Re:Will the cameras work? (Score 1) 643

You may remember a famous 18 minute gap where the recording in the White House were inadvertently erased. That was perceived by pretty much the entire country as fairly good evidence that the president had done something impeachable. Erasing after the fact is going to be hard. Covering the lens beforehand will show as a pattern.

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Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken