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Comment Re:Regret is a standard term in economics (Score 1) 145

I think there is some confusion here about the types of assumptions used in economics. It's not that I can fault you for it - the origin of this debate stretches back to a philosophical disagreement between Aristotle and Plato, and very few economists, much less others, are even aware of it.

One type of assumption - or rather, abstraction - is where you assume that everything not specified is explicitly absent. This is the position you seem to implicitly hold, and which is widespread among economists (if they ever examine the underlying philosophy of the field, that is). The other type of abstraction is one where nothing is assumed about things that are left out of the abstraction. Fundamentally, the first type assumes that everything not included is specified as absent, whereas in the second, everything not included is absent from specification, and can take on any (arbitrary) values. The medieval Scholastics had a name for this distinction: they called the first type precisive, and the second non-precisive abstractions.

Though this sounds like a small distinction, it has very interesting implications for the development of a field and, curiously enough, even programming languages.

As you raised the question of economics, I'll include that as an example. There is an excellent paper by Roderick Long on precisely this topic: "Realism and Abstraction in Economics: Aristotle and Mises versus Friedman". One interesting consequence of using only non-precisive abstraction when building economic theory, and assuming that that which is not specified by the abstractions used is not absent, merely unknown, and that the theory should work irrespective of whatever that unknown happens to be, is that the theory always applies to reality, no matter how abstract it may become. Theories built on precisive abstractions have the problem that they apply to reality only in an unspecified way, and only when reality condescends to confirm in some degree to their assumptions. These theories are, needless to say, of much less analytical value, but often much easier to come up with.

I think, however, that for the Slashdot audience, a much better example would be the differences between programming languages based on this view of abstraction. Let's take the idea of class definition in C++/Java and Python.

In C++/Java, if the specification of a class does not include some attribute, it is impossible - without changing the specification - to add or define it later to an object of that class. The assumption is that everything that is not specified in the class definition is explicitly not there. This is analogous to precisive abstraction, because it is assumed that not specifying the presence of something is equivalent to specifying its absence. Python, on the other hand, has no such restriction; an attribute can be added to an object when and where needed, even if the class definition doesn't include it. Python assumes that things not included in the definition of a class are just unknown, not explicitly absent, which fits in with the Aristotelean idea of abstraction as being non-precisive.

Though there are partisans for both types of object systems, it has to be conceded that Python's object system is strictly more powerful/expressive than that of C++/Java, nor does it force the programmer to decide beforehand what to include in his abstractions, enabling a far more 'experimental' approach to development which is closer to how models and programs are actually developed. Though most programmers are not aware of it, design choices in programming languages usually have deep philosophical implications, and thus significant practical consequences.

Comment Re:So people skills win again... (Score 1) 298

Doesn't the 'selection effect' of who Google's 'People Operations' group hires as employees almost completely negate the validity of this survey? Allow me to elaborate:

Even though the employees of Google may value traits 'A, B, and C' over technical skills, isn't that possible only because everyone Google admits into the company as an employee has excellent technical skills to begin with? This allows the employees to take great technical skills for granted, because everyone has them, so these skills aren't thought of a differentiating factor any more. When comparing managers, both of whom are highly technically competent, you would as an employee focus on what differs between them, not what is the same. If both these managers are also tech gurus, you'll say that it is their other skills the make the difference; this this is perfectly correct, insofar as your peculiar environment (Google) is concerned. And so when you are surveyed for what makes a good manager (or when such data are collected or mined from other tools), technical competence doesn't show up as a major factor, because it is, within your sample, practically universal.

Another reason could be that technical competence's effect on managerial ability may not be linear, but a threshold. So having less than that threshold is a great handicap, but the difference, in managerial efficacy, of people who are just above it, comfortably above it, and very highly above it, isn't all that much; after you've reached the threshold, the marginal gains are minimal and decreasing, and other factors are much more important. If everyone in Google meets this threshold, it will obviously not show up as a factor in their analysis.

Of the two hypotheses presented above, I do not know whether either is true, or whether some combination thereof. But unless they are taken into consideration and ruled out, I would be wary of using that data in any organisation that is not Google. My personal experience and intuition suggests that some combination of them explains the results obtained at Google. In fact, I would surmise that, were Google employees made to work in other environment - or were a survey conducted in organisations which are not Google - with large and highly consequential differences between the technical skills of managers, the metric of technical competence would rise significantly in the rankings, if not to the top.

Comment Re:just Turing? (Score 1) 653

This is quite interesting. I had heard of the concept in Muslim law - that the fact that a person is a Muslim gives him quasi-legal authority to act as police, courts, and executioner. I don't know the case-specific details (IIRC, they vary from law to law, and the individual authority granted therein), but I'm familiar with the attitude. Could you provide some reference for the idea in Hindu law?

Comment Re:I think this problem was solved years ago... (Score 1) 252

If the university is treating students as children it's probably because, on average, they are.

If this is the way they are treated, how will they ever grow up?

The correct way for them to treat these kids is first of all to make it clear that this point marks a discontinuity in their education - earlier, the system was responsible. Now, as a student, you are. Give them both freedom and responsibility. Let them face the consequences of their actions. Maybe they will crash and burn - in the first semester. After that, they're damn well going to start studying and start attending, because then they'll know what happens if they don't.

Comment Re:I don't know... (Score 1) 252

You obviously have no teaching experience yourself, especially if you are teaching something as dry as computer science or mathematics..When you have a large amount of work to get through, it is not easy to make it exciting.

I must say one thing about this - isn't it assumed that by the time you hit university, you actually want to be there? That the people who come to get the Computer Science or Mathematics degree are the ones who are interested in the subject matter, and excited by the subject, to begin with?

This view may sound rather naive in this day and age, when real education has been replaced with job training, but isn't the solution to this to make the system better, not to cave in further?


Submission + - Indian law to make Google accountable (

deelip writes: "The recommendation of an Indian parliamentary committee threatens to change the wording in proposed legislation that would hold Google and other service providers accountable for content traversing their system. This should be interesting because Google turns a blind eye to the rampant software piracy being carried out on Orkut Communities and Google hosted blogs, inspite of them being reported using its "Report Abuse" feature."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Submission + - Woman offers herself in exchange for WoW gold

aneeshm writes: A Spanish website writes about a woman who offered sexual services to any man who would give her 5,000 gold in World of Warcraft. The woman, a female Night Elf, Level 70 (the highest level), offered one night of sex to any guy who would give her the gold necessary to purchase the new Epic Flying Mount of the expansion The Burning Crusade. The woman finally accepted one guy's offer, and after the transaction was completed, he gave her the WoW money.

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