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Comment G-force limits, too (Score 5, Interesting) 441

This is probably old data, but few pilots in special, elasticated suits can get beyond 10g without blacking out. As we approach our limit, our peripheral vision goes, so even if we don't black out, we are not working well if we keep this up for long. It is possible to make conventional airframes that can take 25g if you don't have to cut big holes in the airframe for the cockpit. So, a computer in a plane built for a computer ought to rule.

Comment ..then the Brexit campaigners have already won. (Score 1) 68

This is the sort of thing that Europe does right. The IWF's reaction is interesting. There is the first, knee-jerk "Nonsense! Britain has the finest tradition of free speech in the world!" speech. This is followed by a gradual retraction, and policy change. Nothing dramatic, but enough to do the job.

Some say the UK should get out of Europe for the sake of the economy. There are people who could make savings if we did not have Europe's about laws, anti-pollution regulations, employment law, human rights regulation, or green policies. Their businesses and investors would be better for it, locally and in the short term; and the rest of the population can go hang. These people already have too much influence over our lives though their money, and they always want more. It's not about immigrants filling up our A&E departments, taking our jobs, and/or living on the dole. They like migrant labour. But they see a chance to cut costs.

If you are in the UK, please don't vote more power to these people.

Comment Re:The summary answers the question (Score 1) 287

Yup, it's what you don't know that will get you. Plus they still find active virus samples in old graveyards and things like that. It is also a stupid virus. It was unpleasant in its day but it had one form, stuck to one species, and was not particularly infectious. It was the first eradicated disease because it was simple. If you are an evil mad scientist, you won't reach for the smallpox tube. AIDS is a pretty class act. The common cold is awesome. I don't think smallpox matters much either way. A labelled tube in a lab is the safest form. I wouldn't destroy it just as I wouldn't destroy an old book if it might be the only copy. The gene mapping might not tell us everything: there might be a gene folding that we aren't replicating properly. But we could probably go to an old London graveyard or crypt and find some more if we really wanted.

Comment Hell is Still Other People (Score 2) 270

Don't know His Fryness? You miss out: a good man, even outside his more well-known TV comedy roles. Attracts a lot of the nastier sort of internet trolls who want to make him attempt suicide again.

Much of the internet is a nasty place, and I would not want to live in it full-time. A trolling of some innocent can make me incoherent. A nasty piece of porn can put me off humanity altogether; if they are having fun, why does no-one ever smile? Gaze into 4chan and beyond, and see Hell. But if you totally unplug, you kill the messenger; you remove your levening presence, and leave the mob to their excess. The excess is not the fault of the internet: a lot of humanity could do with improvement, and it is always been easier to destroy than to build. Unplugged you can still read the Daily Mail, but I think you (the public) have more sense. Plugged you can do the same. Keep it all at arm's length. Visit the internet. Re-visit the places you like. Have a look at something new, perhaps something edgy and dangerous, but don't let it bring you down to it's level.

Has El Fry aimed his essay beyond his target? He hasn't actually unplugged by his own admission. Maybe it is easier and more rousing to exhort us to some ideal of total abstinence, but those of us who fall short of this will probably be happier.

Comment Re:Why the jab at Sanders in the summary? (Score 1) 287

Reporter Daymond Steer told Cameron that "Bernie had no interest in the UFO question and gave me a flippant response." His 'flippant response' is not reported so we cannot judge for ourselves. I would have been tempted to say in his place something like "Oh, grow up. I can't release secret documents that don't exist. If I don't release them, you say I am hiding them. There are much more important issues, and I will not be distracted by this". I expect Bernie was a little smarter and a bit less knee-jerky than that; but he can't win and be sensible on this issue, and he opted for sensible. If that is being 'dismissive', we could do with a bit more.

Comment God in, Garbage out (Score 3, Interesting) 720

Drake's equation is the product of a lot of different probabilities - galactic evolution, stellar evolution, planetary evolution, planetary habitat evolution, the origins of life, the sustainability of life to survive to become something we can study. the evolution of species, the evolution of intelligence, the evolution of a stable society, and so on. Each of these factors has large error bars according to the experts in every field. The best average, which is probably meaningless, has it that there are probably hundreds of civilisations in the Milky way, though probably none with contactable distance in our lifetime. However, the only evidence we really have, from our own planet, suggests that life got going so early that the planet's surface was still part molten when it did it. This suggests that, given roughly the right conditions, life may come into being pretty quickly. It then took most of time to get to a state where complexity took off, which suggests (on a population of one, admittedly) that the initial evolution of life is less of a barrier than something like evolving a decent cell wall. It makes sense to look for life on Mars and Europa, though most people do not actually expect to find it.

Yet, we are told there is this one scientist who has a computer model that says the number of possible earths, modelling all these various disciplines, is exactly one, and with no mention of error bars (and therefore God, and hence Baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary, checkmate atheists). I suspect journalism rather than science is happening here. However, if it is the scientist, and he really claims one person can outsmart everyone else in all these fields, then he really needs to show his working. Science is not a democracy, and one person can beat the majority. But it is pretty damn rare. And most of us do not claim to know what most of the mass of the Universe is just yet, let alone how many lifeforms it has made.

I am not saying God does not exist. Proper science has the humility to recognise the limits of what it can measure and understand. But this is just someone standing on science and using it as their pulpit.

Comment Why were those cold fusion experiments done?. (Score 1) 344

Here's something that the original article did not really discuss...

Most of science proceeds by small steps. Someone notices an anomaly. Someone manages to repeat it. Someone manages to extend the current theory to fit it. Someone may come up with a radical theory that also fits. Someone finds another prediction from the radical theory, and looks for verification of that. And so it goes on.

We know that there is a large potential barrier to getting light nucleii close enough to fuse. We can whack a few particles into each other in colliders and explore quite how hard they are. This tells us about the particles and forces involved, but colliders use a lot of energy, and we get almost none back from any fusion. We can try things like stellerators or tokomaks, which are designed to provide lots more collisions of one particular type much more efficiently, and work towards break even. The two positive nucleii will repel each other, but we can replace the electrons with mesons, which are more massive and sit a lot closer to the nucleus, so that gets around some of the electrostatic repulsion; but mesions have a short half-life so we have to keep making the things. All this is not very successful, but it is logical.

The bit that is never explained is why Fleichmann & Pons expected to produce fusion using electrolysis. Or why Rossi expects whatever he does to produce fusion. What was the anticipated process that provides the squish that gets the nucleii together close enough to cause fusion in their experiment? We know a lot about how much energy or force this takes. We also know a lot about the decay particles that we would expect from fusing particular atoms. It could be that there is some entirely novel means of doing this, and some entirely novel decay modes. As scientists, we are required to hold this as possible in principle, but we do not generally do experiments without a credible positive outcome. If you are investigating a small anomaly, such as the 'extra' energy in the F&P experiment, you investigate an unknown: you do not attribute any energy difference in advance to fusion by an unknown process. William of Ockham had a thing or two to say about this sort of reasoning.

Compare and contrast this with the supraluminal neutrinos investigation. An experiment seemed to say that some particles were travelling faster than light. The likely explanation was that there was an experimental error. The error corresponded to several meters in length at the speed of light (a surprising error, but possible) or a timing error (a few nanoseconds, much more plausible), or something else (including the stated remote possibility of a faster that light particle, which would upset a helluva lot of physics, and no-one really believed). They performed tests to verify their surveying and timing assumptions, and found a timing error in their electronics. A lot of science is dull like that.

Comment Re:Improvements to OCR? (Score 3, Interesting) 66

Suppose you had a bit of your handwriting that you could not read. How do you figure out what you wrote. One thing that I do, and you may do too, is to try and imagine writing the thing, and work out the rhythm of what you are writing. If you can get some sense of how your hand is writing, you may see that what was a 'u', or maybe an 'n' or half of am 'm' makes sense because of the way it joins up to other stuff. We seem to have some sort of kinematic two-and-a-half axis model for writing. We use different muscles if we are writing with a pen (fingers and wrist), a blackboard (wrist and upper arm), a spray-can (upper and lower arm), or a tiny engraving tool (just fingers) and yet our handwriting remains much the same. So some computer that can try and fit the same kinematic model should make better guesses for a word it has not met before than anything that just trained on the shape.

This does not directly transfer to OCR. If you have a page of fixed-width text, then every letter has its own little rectangle, and you can either recognize that using the traditional OCR model, or you can't. However, there is something we can do along the same lines. Suppose you have a document that you guess was rendered from PostScript. If you have a guess for a particular word, and the font it was rendered in; you could render that part of text. You can then degrade that rendered image to mimic the properties of the printing and scanning, and check the fit. The best solution will probably be the one that achieves the best fit with the shortest, and hence most probable bit of PostScript. When you have more text, you can pick up hints from the spacing, the justification, and other larger page layout structures.

I actually worked on OCR, and tried both of these once. It might have worked with a large software team, but I hadn't got one.

Comment Re:Where did it all go right? (Score 2) 290

You are talking about the first French attempt, where they shipped in people as they died from malaria. I was talking about the US one, where they cleared the banks of the canal and build mosquito-proof quarters and fever hospitals whoever they went. That one worked. At the time, there was enough forest to retain enough water. Now, the surrounding forests have been felled, and there is a lot more shipping, but that isn't the original designers' fault.

Comment Where did it all go right? (Score 5, Interesting) 290

There are a few examples of engineering projects where everything went right, or at least better than expected. The UK equivalent plane was the Vulcan bomber, which would have been a stealth bomber by accident: only the upright tail gives it away on radar. The AK-47 has it. The London Routemaster bus had it. The Soyuz lifter has it. The Panama canal has it too. Can you think of any others?

More importantly, can we make everything work like that?

Comment A vote for symbols... (Score 1) 304

I started off programming in Algol in the sixties. I have used symbols and abbreviations.

Abbreviations can give you clashes with variable names. You normally learn what to avoid, but it is easy to have integers i, j, k, and floats if, jf, and kf, and not notice what you have.

That being said, it is a shame we don't have the right symbols on your keyboards. I would like... - Separate single symbols for assignment (:=) equality (==) and perhaps identity, or deep equality - The set cup and cap symbols for logical operations and tests (how many people evaluate CATS and DOGS as CATS and/or DOGS when they write. - A separate decimal and period.

Instead we have all sorts of weird junk, such as the '' symbol on the top right, which only appears in the correct spelling of Lord Xenu's full name. Or something.

Heigh-ho, ain't gonna happen. But we can dream.

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