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Comment Re: hmmm... (Score 1) 39

You refer to "agnosticism" (as per the Wikipedia article), a very specific philosophical school that derives from, but is not the same as the word "agnostic".

gnostic: I know for a fact
agnostic: I don't know

Example: I am gnostic about my own weight because I just stepped on a scale, but I'm agnostic about the weight of my neighbour, unless he tells me.

As for beliefs...
theist: I believe gods exist (specifically: my god) -- active belief
atheist: I don't believe gods exist -- lack of a belief
antitheist: I believe gods don't exist -- active belief

Here's a breakdown in "table" form (sorry for the crappy \w\w -> \w\. formatting):

  . . . . . . . . . . gnostic . . . . . . . . . . . agnostic

theist . . . I know as an absolute truth . . . . . . I believe in my god(s), but
  . . . . . . . that my god(s) exists . . . . . . . . . . . I don't have proof (knowledge)

atheist . . I don't believe in any god, and . . . . I don't hold belief in any god, and
  . . . . . . . nobody has, or will in future . . . . . . I can't prove either way
  . . . . . . . have, evidence to make me believe

antitheist . I know for a fact that . . . . . . . . I believe that no god exists,
  . . . . . . . . no god can exist . . . . . . . . . . . but I don't have proof (knowledge)

Agnosticism is somewhat similar to gnostic atheism, but makes a much stronger statement (non-subjective). Anyway, I've never met a serious agnosticist.
I've met plenty of what this new expression "apatheist" describes fittingly, but this is a completely different dimension as it describes intent rather than facts or faith.

Comment Re:Step away from the pudding! (Score 1) 208

Right now in the USA, corporations are so powerful that the government often caves to them, but this can not change for the better if you reduce the government.

You can't remove big corporations. They are here to stay, as we will not be moving away from capitalism.
You could maybe remove big government. The result is that big corporations get even more powerful, imposing their agenda as de-facto law. Not by adding things to the lawbooks, but everybody small and big does exactly what they want. Check Samsung in Korea for a textbook example.

You don't want to remove big government (since that's not really helping) and you can't remove big corporations. But you can build strong walls between government and corporations (for example disallow the current outright bribery), reinforce democracy (e.g. the Swiss direct voting), increase transparency (that's rather difficult as it requires the corrupt to cooperate... so you need rather disruptive changes) and everything will get _much_ better.

Again, the idea that big government is a problem is an ideological blind alley. Remove big corporate influence on the big government and you get Sweden/Finland/Switzerland, which are countries that libertarian-minded people find awesome to live in.

Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 1) 307

But then again many of us would like to see better services than Netflix and Hulu. By making their specific business model virtually mandatory, I'm deprived of "voting against DRM with my wallet" by exclusively using services without DRM.
For me, missing out on Netflix&Hulu is much less important than having a non-crippled web.

Apart from personal preferences, I actually think we can agree that DRM objectively has no business being in the foundation of the open information sharing mechanism the web is meant to be. Let them have a go at coercing users into jumping into jails, but don't make it a default requirement.

Comment Reasoning (Score 1) 1

I'm confused... she certainly must have heard of public key encryption. GPG is easy to set up and she can put her public key right on the website. She can authenticate keys privately with those friends of hers. Use 2048 bit keys, and Tor for obfuscating metadata. If she distrusts her operating system, start by not using Windows and OSX. If she distrusts the hardware, use a Yeeloong for email.There is no forced exposure if she doesn't want it to be.

I get the feeling that the true reason for stopping is not really what is written there. Maybe a burnout, maybe something completely different.
Anyhow, thanks to Pamela for her great service to the community and best wishes for whatever she does next.

Submission + - No more Groklaw ( 1

scsirob writes: Word is out that PJ has pulled the plug on Groklaw. A source of education on US law, patents, SCO versus IBM and much more stops. PJ simply cannot justify to herself to stay connected in a world that is under constant surveillance. The Internet as it stands today is a threat to humanity, she explains.
Goodby PJ, you will be missed.

Comment Re:money = future -- I think I read this somewhere (Score 1) 327

It would be nice if a private health care system were better, but I fear this is just wishful thinking. Can you show me any case of such a system coming into being? Will any one of the countries without health care coverage today be able to develop it on a private basis soon-ish? Do you think the private sector could acomplish anything close to the US interstate highway system or the German Autobahn in terms of quality and accessibility? Same for the postal systems emphasising coverage of every remote location a citizen lives at? Or the worldwide internet infrastructure, backbones at payable customer rates. Not to mention the LHC, ITER or the ISS...
Realistically we have to answer all these with: no.

Private funding[0] simply does not lend itself to huge infrastructure investments with (often many) decades of ROI, most of which is not even going back to its pocket. Public investment does however, because it states a goal (= need to be satisfied) and realises it at a monetary loss, while netting other important gains.
The free market is an awesome concept and the best known reliable optimiser-for-profit, but some things, like infrastructure (to which I include education and health care), are not meant for profit, no matter how much your local 1%er claims will trickle down to you ;)

As for your question: Lasik is a luxury service with a clear monetisation mechanism, not the constant and long-term expeditures in geriatrics or the fiscally thankless basic coverage for low-income families.
It's very well suited to profit optimisation and should be in a free market environment, but most of medicine isn't.

[0] The profit oriented sort because of the lengthiness, and the second kind, charity, because the number of private individuals who have that much money to burn is negligibly small (or often zero).

Comment Re:money = future -- I think I read this somewhere (Score 5, Insightful) 327

While Carnegie and Standford are admirable individuals, I think you're somewhat in denial here. The vast majority of long term projects happening in the world these days are funded by governments (whether they matter to the actual survival of the human species is another question, as humanity would survive just fine without any privately funded and without most government sponsored endeavours).
But take health care for example: all charities in the whole world combined only achieve a fraction of the medical support solely the US health care system provides for, let alone the European ones.
Private charity makes for very good PR, but simply lacks the mass to come anywhere close to the amount public services require.

As for vision, both individuals in interaction with government (= active involvement with their own society) and those know-it-better separatist privates can have visions equally. Personally I would take Neil deGrasse Tyson's campaigning over Bill Gates' profit oriented private funding, but luckily we can have both!

Comment Re:Ah, the scratch... (Score 1) 231

You're describing arithmetic coding, a fairly standard entropy based compression method e.g. used in DMC or PPM.
The problem is, as you point out, that the accuracy required for large amounts of data becomes quite tricky. Measuring would be nontrivial, as direct measurement (whole block compared to some length, or photographing and counting pixels, or anything that gives you the number of atom layers in the block) requires crazy high resolutions, while time based measurement (laser traversal) needs very precise alignment of a slab of rock to atom level accuracy.
And I imagine natural erosion, material stretching/contraction etc. will become non-negligible factors.

Comment Re:Bad choice of target (Score 1) 311

It only works because .Net is "comparatively" niché (with regards to C/C++, but then again everything is). Bananas to bananas would be more like: does decompiling across many different .Net versions yield the same results (since you don't know which framework versions and exact libraries were originally used)? Does running the whole roundtrip except for the untrusted binary compilation on Mono yield the same results (aka different vendor implementations)?

But i'll give you that, it'll always be easier with byte code compared to machine code, as Java and .Net demonstrate. Likewise it'll always be easier with interpreted code[0] compared to byte code (what an insight... just read the code).

So hardware distance respectively level of abstraction gives us advantages in verifying specific executables from one untrusted source. With regards to the big picture .Net is as "bad" as everything else, because in any case you have to trust the runtime (libc, virtual machine, ...) which at some point must be machine code, nowadays usually generated from C/C++. And let's not get started about trusting the hardware.

[0] When only distrusting that specific program, otherwise see third paragraph.

Comment Re:Already not in use (Score 1) 134

So why not breed humans in cages for experimental research? Then they'd just be "material with a specific function" as well. Same argument. If we discovered tomorrow that humanity was actually a breeding colony created by alien researchers would that somehow reduce the value of your life to you?

Because we agree that this would be cruel, "do unto others what you wish done unto you", "we can do better than that", etc. We think it abhorrent to regard other people as material.
But to be perfectly honest, I don't see the life of a bird anywhere near equivalent to the life of a human, i.e. even though birds have intelligence >0 and show feelings in form of caring towards their young, the classical "you can only save one" scenario would be no real contest IMO. Is it "speciesism"? Where does it stop? Can it justify racism? (the last question is an easy "no", but not on topic here)

Or can we say that our species is a priority, but the life of a dog is worth X hours of a homo sapiens suffering at a specified intensity... and then "trade" in this norm.
Now that would be an interesting though unnatural concept. We only "recently" started with the novelty of caring at all for other species, where it benefits us (cattle, guard dogs, pretty view in a zoo), so the main problem would be finding the sweet spot.
With regards to other species, we usually practise right of strength, with constraints (like the eschewal of unnecessary cruelty) that are actually much more about ourselves.

As for us being bred by aliens: the question is more like "Why should they keep enabling our ability to reproduce / the sun burning / ... and does this give them the right to do certain things with our offspring, within limits only they decide upon and we can't influence?" ... full of helpless, doomed, cold irony, that one.

As for your second paragraph you leave a gaping ethical hole: what of the intelligent beings created illegally? We're probably not far from the point of being able to manipulate organisms to develop human-class sapience - if the only protection such creatures have is that it's illegal to create them in the first place then what happens to them when they are discovered? By any ethical yardstick they would be people, but people with no claim to human rights. Do we just say "Hey, a slave race, cool. We created you so we can do whatever we like. But don't worry, we threw your creators in prison so it's all good."?

A big part of this question is technical. If they were created illegally, the perpetrators should be punished and prevented from doing so again, and measures should be taken so this doesn't happen. What to do with them after the fact is an open question. Assuming that they are somewhat equivalent to humans, why not give them full membership of humanity and be done with it? This would be roughly in line with female suffrage, non-white-male-land-owner rights and similar achievements. If they are illegal to create, immediately set free upon discovery and their creators punished, there would be not much of a motive to create them. What their creators do with them in secret is a moot point, just as with those guys who hold their daughters or other women captive for years and rape them (Fritzl et al).

Now if a democratic majority actually said "Yay, cheap slave species!" ... well, we've had that many times already, so there's hope we'll overcome it with regards to highly intelligent artificial beings just like we did with other races/tribes.

The more tricky part is what to do with beings that are not equivalent to humans, or of highly debatable equivalence. Like chimps. And if that is resolved favourably for chimps, then orang utans, dolphins, dogs, and so on.

I do not contest that the gains of animal experimentation may well be worth the sacrifice, my objection is only that the ones making the sacrifice are given no choice in the matter, and the people performing the experiments tend to deny that the moral dilemma exists at all. Perfectly understandable from a perspective of their own psychological well-being, but intellectually dishonest. And it means it has to fall on the rest of us what sort of moral price we're willing to pay

The devils advocate says that there is no moral dillemma if we're talking about "material with a specific function", even "material" with cognitive capabilities.
And in practice, this is precisely what we're creating. I've already asked whether this should be allowed in my previous comment... IMO within limits that are important for us and our ethics, not those of the animals, since we can't ask our creations about such things (yet).

Comment Re:Already not in use (Score 0) 134

These chimps were bred specifically for this purpose and wouldn't exist otherwise. Being alive solely to undergo a procedure you never got the chance to even realise, let alone agree/disagree with, makes you just "material with a specific function" and is about as dehumanising as it gets.
IMO likening it to human prisoners is off the mark.

The question is whether we should be allowed to create living, feeling, intelligent beings for experimental purposes.
That this helps and saves members of our own species is well established. Few would object to holding delphins in captivity for therapeutic rehabilitation purposes, and most people don't really mind if someone is chopping up mice in order to try to cure paraplegia, hereditary diseases, HIV...
But it's a big question of ethics about what kind of "life" is deserving of what kind of "treatment", aka to draw the line (it also hurts some of our species members feelings, usually not those whose life has been saved by the results of animal research, and only if the animals in question are cute).

Comment Re:Total bullshit (Score 4, Informative) 185

I don't think it was a fiasco at all. Keep in mind that having 9 planets is out of question.
For starters, you'd have a hard time arguing that Pluto is a planet while Ceres isn't.

Either we designate Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, Eris (notably bigger and more massive than Pluto) and possibly Orcus, Quaoar, OR and Sedna as planets... or we stay with Mercury up to Neptune.
There's a clear orbital distinction between the first 8 and the other 9+, so it really makes sense to group them in two categories, especially since we aren't sure at all that we have found all dwarf planets yet.

Comment Re:Open Source License (Score 1) 630

Not to mention if that were true why would Apple have given so much back to BSD like CUPS or Webkit?

You do realise that Apple hasn't given CUPS and WebKit "to BSD"? And you do realise that both CUPS and WebKit (KHTML) are GPL licensed projects? Would Apple give anything back to the community if these two were BSD licensed? Maybe, you can't tell... they've done so with some (I'd like to point out gcd as an "offer back to" FreeBSD, which is very neat) but not others.

The rest of your comment is, sadly, just ranting, and mostly not worth addressing. But please at least get your facts right.

Comment Re:Remember the good old days? (Score 1) 124

Hmm, you're placing me inside "them" because I stated it's progress for "them". If we're talking about service providers in general (i.e. my local apache server), there are two points I'd like to highlight:

1. This enables "all of them", not just "the part of them that is me". When it comes to my security, I prefer the exclusive approach.

2. The typical situation is that you're not really a part of "them". "Them" is for example G+/Facebook, and you can try to play along and run a Diaspora node, but... well, we're witnessing how well that's going. "Them" is Dropbox, and you can try to play along and share stuff over your http home server, or (what I'm doing) make accounts for people and ask them to install sftp (or SparkleShare etc.), but sadly some people don't accept that in Dropbox' stead, which in turn requires me to use it.

Good point about Encarta, but this (GGPs comment) is about the technicalities of running random binaries fully within the browser, not where we store the data... which would be perfectly fine with a Wikipedia App that runs natively and obeys the OS... let's call it Firefox.

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