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Comment Don't be an idiot (like I was) - max-out on math! (Score 1) 656

Early 30s, undereducated, curmudgeonly, senior software developer here.

Not only is math my weakest area, but that weakness was probably partly due to my self-defeating and self-fulfilling belief that I didn't *need* much math, so I got my CS degree from a shitty university with just through Calc 2 and a couple non-calculus-based stats classes. No linear algebra, no dynamics, no quantum-anything, no Fourier analysis, no algebraic topology, no number theory, no discrete math, etc..

And so I've spent the last decade writing stupid CRUD-and-forms apps. It's boring shit that only pays high-5-figures (in my top-3-by-population U.S. city as I work in university research, though I am repeatedly sought by some of the biggest names among tech employers. But I choose my current employer for the work-life balance).

But to go anywhere more-interesting -- say, working on self-driving cars, or data-mining stocks or health data, or building robots -- I need more math. Shit.

I have taught myself some linear algebra from a LA book, at least, as well as learned some slightly less-basic stats (e.g. Markov models) and taken a couple graduate-level CS courses in AI and ML. But it's definitely not enough to break-free of my self-imposed intellectual chains.

So, get as much math as you can -- not because you'll definitely use it (maybe, maybe not), not because it's fun (but if it is for you, great; it is for me, when I understand it), and not because it's important for its own sake (by definition, anything that isn't eventually useful is useless), but because it gives you FLEXIBILITY later in life. And you have no way of knowing, a priori, whether you will need that flexibility.

I'm not original in this thinking. Learning more math is what Nassim Taleb would consider an example of "robustification" -- becoming robust against unknown undesirable future "bad" events or scenarios.

My strong advice: Don't be so damned efficient - or arrogant/overconfident - in your learning that you fail to robustify yourself against a future you that is smarter and wiser than the current you.

Comment Re:Developer rebellion? (Score 1) 491

This. I would shower you with mod points, if I could.

As a professional developer since the early 2000s, I've been saying the exact same things about agile processes ever since I was introduced to them. I've come to like TDD (if it's taken as a guideline rather than an ideology in which perfect code-coverage is achieved), if it's combined with heavy, Waterfall-like requirements analysis up-front, and a reasonable amount of documentation.

But on the whole, everything else seems to be a management trick to try to screw devs into longer hours for no extra pay, and into producing more-frequent status reports, more-fragile/less-error-handling software, with a shorter time-to-delivery.

After seeing dozens of projects numbering in the double-digits this way (a few of which I've participated in), across almost as many organizations, I'm convinced that most of agile methodology -- in practice, if not in ideal -- is bullshit snake-oil sold to senior management to try to make junior management look "proactive" and up-to-date on the latest tech and management trends. These junior managers are complicit with consulting firms selling their business process services to convert clients to using agile methodology (I was once such a consultant paid partly to spread the gospel). But frankly, this is the standard relationship seen between consulting firms and their clients: clients buy-into the idea that the unearned perception of competence propounded by the consultancy, and believe (wrongly, in a significant percentage of cases) that the consultancy's employees are more-competent than their own... "A fool and his money are soon parted".

The best I can say about Agile is that I believe at the time it was created (back around 2000), by Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, etc., it may have been a clever way to stanch the offshoring trend of the time, by claiming that close face-to-face interaction between project stakeholders (devs, managers, BAs, end-users, etc.) was critical to project success. I've found this is actually very, very true -- but this is frankly a very, very old management lesson. That, and I don't think Waterfall (which I've also spent lots of time doing) is the right methodology, either. The least-bad methodology really depends on the purpose and reliability requirements of the software project...

Comment Re:Slave owner ? (Score 2) 220

Indeed. Moreover, Jefferson himself fought in Congress to abolish slavery:

In the Virginia Assembly, in the 1780s Jefferson supported a bill to prohibit the state from importing slaves. In the 1784 Congress, Jefferson proposed federal legislation banning slavery in the New Territories of the Northwest, but it was not passed.[4] In 1804 as president, he refused to recognize Haiti, a new republic established by a slave rebellion, and in 1805 and 1806 enacted an arms and trade embargo against them. In 1807 he signed a bill prohibiting the US from participating in the international slave trade; it had been protected from federal regulation for 20 years under compromises of the United States Constitution.[5]

True, it was philosophically-hypocritical of him to own slaves and only free two of them. But, it also believed that Jefferson believed that if freed, his slaves would be re-captured and would be treated much-worse elsewhere (so I learned from a tour guide when I visited his Monticello home several years ago). His position, then, seems to have been one of pragmatic harm-minimization, rather than ideological purity. For his time, his anti-slave stance was quite progressive, even though by today's standards, he would be (rightly) demonized and considered a laughingstock.

Comment Re:About time (Score 1) 306

If they went all out enforcing every law on the books, A) serious crimes would be neglected, and B) lots (more) innocent people would be caught up in things that aren't their fault, or even worth wasting everyone's time over.

True enough insofar as the quantity of laws exist. But anything less than perfect enforcement of the law has the following consequences:

1) Selective enforcement, which tends to imply arbitrary enforcement, which tends to coincide with discriminatory (racist, sexist, etc.) enforcement.

2) The proliferation of laws you rightly note make enforcing the law in-full so difficult. (If a law is not fully-enforced, then when somebody breaks that law and nothing happens, what is the response of the victim? "There oughta be a law!")

I submit to you that if the law were enforced fully and to the letter, citizens would pay more attention to the laws on the books and -- because "ignorance is no defense", and because even lawyers and IRS agents do not understand all the laws that they specialize in (much less the ones *outside* their specialties) -- we would have far-fewer laws... laws, which, as Ayn Rand said, are created so that we may classify people as criminals who previously would not have been so-classified.

I want every speed limit in my city enforced as strictly as possible -- so that people will get pissed-off at the low limits and demand they be raised. (It happened in Illinois after the 1995 federal highway speed limit was repealed: the governor wanted to keep the speed limit at 55mi/h, but almost overnight, due to a torrent of angry phone calls and letters, he backed-away from that position.) Likewise with every other law, for the same reason.

Comment Re:Liberty Theater vs. Security Theater (Score 1) 1051

On the plus side, at least the privatized security theaters could compete against each other -- assuming an agglomeration of security services doesn't corner the market. (e.g., Blackwater/Xe/Academi providing screening for >= 90% of airports)

And, unlike with the Federal government, at least you can sue businesses, as well as file criminal charges against their employees (assuming Congresscritters don't insert immunity clauses - which seems likely).

Comment Re:It's about damn time (Score 1) 1051

The >3000 people who died on 9/11 might disagree.

Then millions of Americans who were not killed on 9/11 apparently (from various news reports) disagree with those 3,000. Your argument is classic post-hoc reasoning: the 3,000 did not experience the security-state Medusa that is the DHS and its subsidiary TSA. Those unfortunate individuals would have had only the same pre-9/11 experience those of us older than a teenager had.

Given that information, they *might* have come to your assumed conclusion -- but given our experiences of the TSA in response to 9/11, they might *not* have come to your conclusion.

One who thinks in probabilities does not think as you do. In assessing terror risk, you sound like somebody who failed Probability 101, or one who is a timid, whiny person, easily-frightened by bearded men speaking a foreign language while carrying box-cutters.

An aside: Also, it is morally-presumptious, arrogant, and intellectually-flatulent of you to claim to know what the victims (or anyone else, living or dead) would say.

Comment Re:Whats next? (Score 1) 1219

Given that "80% of Americans have no net worth" (a bombastic statement in "Wall Street" that actually is not far from the truth); given that more than that percentage are too stupid to manage their finances such that they don't carry a credit card debt; given that in April 2003, about 80% of Americans believed the war in Iraq was a good idea (justified by what solid, verifiable evidence and sound philosophical principles? Who cares, let's bomb brown people and people who don't "talk Americuhn!!"); given that fully 60% believe in creationism; given that around 95% are mentally-retarded enough to believe in the mysticism that is a belief in the existence of a god (yes, I absolutely consider a belief in the mystical (God, ghosts, etc.) a form of mental retardation).... ...yes, I think these demonstrates that, quite easily, 80% or more of Americans can be wrong. People -- not just Americans, but all around the world -- have all kinds of asinine, stupid, misinformed beliefs, and the greater the role of religion in the society, the worse it gets. America, though a statutorily-secular nation (much to the consternation of American conservatives who don't bother to look-up the works of the Founding Fathers they claim to strongly support), is socially a strongly-Christian nation.

Frankly, as an American myself, it is clear to me that most of my fellow countrymen are mouth-breathing morons.

Consider the wisdom in this old quote:

"That which is right, is not always popular; that which is popular, is not always right."

Similarly, P.T. Barnum said it well:

"You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of Americans."

"It has nothing to do with freedom of the press - these organisations violated federal law."

Since when does a federal statute trump the Bill of Rights, specifically, the First Amendment?

Oh wait, it doesn't. (Except when either a judge decides the Constitution is quaint and/or decides they feel like legislating from the bench, or Americans permit their congressmen to run wild and write unconstitutional laws, or when the enforcement officers of our law allow themselves to enforce laws they know to be unconstitutional -- as the vast majority of federal laws are.)

Return to high school, take Civics 101, and try reading the documents on which this nation was founded.

Comment Re:Perspective (Score 1) 696

The article misses one huge fact - Mr. Ellsberg is an American, Mr. Assange is not.

Why are you applying a nationalist distinction? What does one's "tribe", assigned merely by coincidence of birth and political boundary and time, have to do with *anything*?

Is Assange, by not being an American as Ellsberg is, somehow less-permitted to tell the truth than Ellsberg? If so, why the double-standard? If not, then what is the relevance of your tribalism - especially a borderless, open space like the Internet?

I suspect it has something to do with anti-foreign bias.

Assange's work has exposed the lies not only of the U.S., but other nations as well (Yemen, in covering-up attacks; China, in covering-up its position on N. Korea; the entire middle-east's position on Iran's nuclear program; etc.). It is predominantly an American-biased view, but that should be obvious given the source of the data he has published -- cables produced and collected by and for the U.S. government. The appearance of "anti-Americanism" is a first-order consequence of his release. But look beyond that, and you find it's rather fair -- to the extent that the U.S. is fair in its cable writings, that is.

And on that note, Assange's work has also demonstrated that U.S. diplomats -- their Hilary-demanded spying on the U.N. aside -- are largely doing serious, reasonable work, and producing sober, reasonable analyses -- exactly what I, as an American taxpayer, would demand of them for my money.

Comment Re:Bull (Score 2, Interesting) 738

This is where regulation meets the marketplace, and how proper regulations and policies can work together with market forces to drive sustainability. But, it does require forces outside the market (such as government regulation) to internalize those costs so that they get accounted for up front.

I agreed with you until you used the word "require". A free-market does not require a strictly-outside force to enforce internalization of externality costs, at least in theory.

Example: An externality of oil-discovery are accidents in the Gulf Coast, which result in billions of dollars in damages. If there is sufficient demand-side desire not to have such accidents occur, then suppliers will go to sufficient lengths to prevent them from happening, however desirable they may be for the purpose of profitability.

Now, of course, in practice you have vast information asymmetries (who outside of the supplier's management and engineering staff are aware of the firm's operational effectiveness & safety?), which such firms are happy to exploit (as BP did). And you have vast dry-gulches of long-term thinking; relatively-few people truly care enough about where their oil comes-from to care enough to check on firms' operational effectiveness, *even if* the transparency existed to do so. (I may be overly-pessimistic on this point though -- after all, how many people waste countless hours following each other's dinner plans on Twitter??)

In practice, you're right, and I fully agree with you; careful regulations can force externality internalization. The real trouble, then, is getting politicians to craft such legislation. The reality, unfortunately, is that their heads are up their asses and are corrupt beyond any possibility of usefulness. There are (many) days when I think we would be better-off with less regulation, and in its place, a vastly-expanded set of demand-side reporting/watchdog services (like Consumer Reports), as well as a cultural rejigger in which people return to voicing demand-side power, in the form of strikes, boycotts, and the like. (Of course, the problem with this libertarian idea is the cultural shift. That can't seriously happen until failures arise even more-catastrophic than the financial near-collapse of 2008, and even then, we're more-likely to go in the opposite direction anyway, towards more regulation...)

A fuel tax (Pigouvian tax) seems to me one of the most-sensible taxes, *assuming* (and with politicians, this is an enormous assumption) the taxed money is spent 100% on things that accelerates our adoption of renewable energy sources (wind, solar, tidal electricity, electric cars, etc.). Cap-and-trade never ought to have died in U.S. Congress. But, the trouble with real-world politics is that all of these sensible ideas that moderate economists create is that government cannot implement them unless:

1) voters become sensible (and regarding that likelihood, read Bryan Caplan's "The Myth of the Rational Voter")
2) you institute a non-democratic government, in which supposedly-wise technocrats make decisions without a care for what the rest of the public wants. For an historical example, see Soviet Russia, or for a less-extreme example, modern-day Singapore.

In the end, nobody and nothing works. Those of us under the age of 60 are pretty much all fucked -- by the threat of economic collapse, by global warming, by the threat of nuclear terrorism (or mere human error in the presence of nuclear weapons), by resource misuse and/or misallocation, and, so long as we are alive in the developed world, by the growth and modernization of the 1/3 of the world's populace that has heretofore lived in squalor (India and China) that feeds those population's acceptance of worsening work environments arising out of increased competition due to increased populations in the markets served -- regardless of whether we have a free-market or socialist or thoroughly-mixed economy, and regardless of whether we have a democratically-elected government.

Comment Re:Unionize. (Score 1) 608

As a libertarian (left-libertarian, formerly a right-libertarian) for several years, I disagree with you.

The vast majority of libertarians are right-libertarians -- the sort who hate unions precisely because they reduce the ability of a corporation to make a profit for its owners; unions act as their own inflationary pressure, after all, keeping wage increases higher than they would be (and these days, are) if people negotiated wages individually (as is true for 93% of all American workers), rather than collectively (the remaining 7%, who are unionized).

Even in my right-libertarian days, I was uncomfortable with that position. If as libertarians we claim to fear centralized power, "whether in the hands of government or anyone else" (Milton Friedman, "Free to Choose", last chapter), why not that of corporations? If we are so vehemently in favor of free market solutions, then why not the free-market solution to countering the negotiating power of the capitalists/management i.e. that of laborers/non-management bargaining collectively -- as has been done via a union?

Consider the force vectors in the marketplace, and the anti-union position becomes clearly unsustainable. Yet, it is the political-economic intellectual fashion of the last 30 years, thanks largely due to the right-libertarians (and unions' own corruption).

It's one reason why I am not a right-libertarian anymore. And it's why I think most of my counterparts in IT -- who tend to be blindly right-libertarians -- are morons, in this respect. Like the sheep we are, we slit our own throats at the alters of the corporations -- and sadly, governments too -- that we blindly declare, Rand-like, our gods.

Comment Re:Talk about censorship (Score 1) 306

And sometimes information leaks are not real national security issues.

And sometimes, human freedom trumps national security. In fact, it very-nearly always should. Unless the book contained precise, actionable instructions on how to take control of a Pentagon-controlled NBC weapon and launch it without anybody else in the military doing something about it, I don't see a reasonable justification for the book's destruction.

For that matter, even if it contained such information, the Pentagon ought not hide behind security-by-obscurity, but plug the goddamned hole cited in the book.

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