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Comment A few interesting ones (Score 1) 377

*I had an off-by-one error in a TopCoder problem (I used > instead of >= in a loop) that I didn't catch that cost me $3000 in prize money and a trip to the finals.

*I was working at an observatory on campus and left the huge, Peltier-cooled CCD for the telescope on a table but still plugged into a computer and left for the day. When I came back, I found that someone had tripped over the cable, smashing the CCD on the floor. They then sat the broken CCD next to the computer without a note or anything. $7000 CCD destroyed.

*Another time I was working with an AFM in a basement of the university, and left for the day. It stormed really hard that night, and when I came back the next day the basement had 6 inches of water in it. It turns out that the water had come from a leak directly above the AFM. I guess the AFM didn't like getting a shower in filthy storm water and it cost $20-$30K to replace.

*However, my biggest save was probably more important than all of that combined. Without divulging too many details, I was writing some tests and caught a serious data-loss bug in production before any customers were affected by it. The bug actually made the news:

Comment Simply not true (Score 1) 108

This is not the only known case of mimicry by bioluminescence of a land animal, unless fireflies don't count (being that all of the insects in question can fly, they'd better count!). Pennsylvania's state insect is a tricky one, indeed:

It will duplicate the mating blinks of other species of firefly, and consume the attracted "suitors"!

Comment My dream party (Score 1) 503

I would like an economically moderate but socially liberal party, kind of like if Greens and Libertarians debated for a while and came up with a consensus agreeable to both, as there are niches where I feel that a Libertarian model can work best and niches where a more liberal economic model can minimize the worst aspects of human nature. Can we have that?

Comment And there's the ticket. (Score 1) 992

From TFA: "The state contract with the toll operator allows the state to collect a $67 million up-front cash payment or a percentage of the toll profits in the future if the speed limit is 80 mph or lower. At 85 mph, the cash payment balloons to $100 million or a higher percentage of toll revenues."

Emphasis mine.

So... was there some "death panel" that placed the value of the additional lives lost on this highway due to the excessive speed at $32 millon?

Comment No, I didn't read TFA (Score 1) 222

I haven't read TFA, but it sounds like they rediscovered the Jarzynski (in)equality.

Basically, if you slam a system with a high free energy into a state with a lower free energy, you actually have a chance to get out more work than you should in equilibrium, offset by a chance of getting less. On average, however, the expected work from the system should agree.

This would appear pathologically in such a small-scale system that is changing states so quickly.

Comment Re:Netflix (Score 1) 336

That's an interesting article. I don't entirely agree that the platform is dying, but I do agree that Linux is not ready for the average user right now. Most of all, users just want things to work out of the box, including their favorite apps. No Netflix (Silverlight) and no iTunes is showstopping for some people.

Also--shh! Don't anger the hive mind! ;)

Comment Re:Netflix (Score 1) 336

Hah. It's actually not quite like that.

The company was selling a bunch of basically new but wiped laptops that belonged to employees that left on the cheap, so I bought one for myself and installed Ubuntu 12.04 to decide whether I wanted it on my other systems. She saw it and got jealous of the sweet deal I got on the laptop, so I told her she could keep it if she kept it as a Ubuntu machine. I was actually just using her as a guinea pig so that I could blog about the things that are keeping a typical user from switching to Linux on the desktop, and assumed that a free laptop would be enough of a carrot to get her to play along.

Comment Re:Netflix (Score 1) 336

That's probably what has to happen, because my friends report that Netflix works fine with newer versions of Windows under VirtualBox.

Ugh, I won two copies of Windows 7 in programming competitions, then gave them away because "why on Earth would I want this?"... now I'm kicking myself.

Comment Re:Netflix (Score 1) 336

I actually don't use Netflix myself, but installed a Windows XP VM under VirtualBox on my girlfriend's Ubuntu 12.04 laptop for the sole purpose her using Netflix. The install is fully updated, with no software except for Windows updates and Silverlight installed on the VM.

The odd part is that its behavior is random. Sometimes you'll reboot the VM and it will work just great for a few shows, and sometimes you'll reboot it and get an unhelpful error message that I don't recall exactly right now. "An unexpected error occurred" would be pretty close.

So, it's usable, but just unreliable and annoying. I told her she could keep the laptop if she agreed to switch over to Linux, but I guess it's sufficiently bad (No native iTunes support, PlayOnLinux only works well with iTunes 7, and unreliable Netflix) that she's planning on turning down a free Core i7 laptop at the end of our month-long "convert to Linux" experiment.

Comment Re:What percentage of cancers leverage that? (Score 5, Interesting) 94

Remarkably, not only is adaptation for low-oxygen conditions visible in the majority of malignancies (the Warburg Effect), but it's so prevalent it's actually considered one of the hallmarks of cancer. The reason this happens is easy to imagine: since the tumor has an extreme growth rate and abnormal vasculature, it may have trouble getting the amount of oxygen tha cells normally need in order to survive. It's likely that if they can actually safely target this pathway, they may have the next blockbuster cancer drug on their hands.

Comment Re:NOT a positive feedback loop! (Score 1) 264

You only have to look at the balanced chemical equation to see (which I got wrong, also not a chemist, and you're right about the bicarbonate being soluble!)

CaCO3 + H2O + CO2 = Ca(HCO3)2

This will certainly reduce the acidity of the water, increasing the pH, because carbon dioxide is being removed from the water and is in equilibrium with the carbonic acid ions.

CO2 + H2O = HCO3- + H+

There is a reason, however, that I know just from a thought experiment that this cannot be a positive feedback loop. If it were a positive feed back loop and calcium carbonate reacted with carbon dioxide in the water to increase the acidity of the water, then I could take some limestone, throw it into some water, and over time the limestone would totally dissolve and leave me with a cup of very strong acid. In other words, if this were the case, calcium carbonate in normal water would be unstable. You only have to look at some old quarries to see that this is not the case!

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