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Comment Re:It has its uses (Score 1) 264

At some point, the complexity of the task the program is executing requires complex code.

This is a more profound statement than it appears at first. I'd say that the minimal complexity of the code necessary to accomplish a task defines the complexity of the task itself.

As for GOTO the issue isn't GOTO per se, but implicitly building other control structures like loops using GOTO as a primitive -- a legacy of the very earliest machine languages in which you implemented algorithms using a very limited instruction set. The flexibility of GOTO makes it a good choice if you have only a few control structures to work with; but that same flexibility imposes the cognitive load of figuring out what the original programmer (possibly yourself) meant.

But even if more structured (i.e., limited) control structures available, there are problems where GOTO is the natural way to express them. State machines for example. I've seen them implemented with long if-then-elseif chains or case conditional constructs, but that's just thoughtless programming that obscures what is going on. A state machine is much more clearly implemented with GOTOs, although tail recursion can be a reasonable alternative.

Comment This reminds me of the nuclear boy scout story. (Score 2) 120

You know, the one where a kid figured out how to refine thorium by reading the Golden Book of Chemistry and turned his mother's garden shed into a Superfund site.

The moral of the story is that even a stupid human being can be pretty smart. Particularly a sufficiently motivated stupid person.

Of course it also helps that intelligence comes in different flavors. Some people are good at spatial reasoning, others are good at verbal reasoning. But we often overlook social reasoning because it's not part of the traditional IQ tests. I think another reason that Social IQ testing hasn't caught on is that there is good reason to believe that social reasoning ability isn't fixed. Changes in attitude can strongly impair or enhance an individual's ability to process social information.

Which leads to the flip side of the stupid people being able to be smart: even smart people can be stupid, particularly in making social judgments.

Comment Re:FSF = not practical (Score 1) 90

But it's still hard to take Stallman seriously because he doesn't provide practical solutions to these problems.

Actually he does: opt out. It won't kill you to only buy entertainment which is DRM-free. So you can't stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones; if you have access to a library you have more alternative ways to entertain your imagination than you'll ever have time to use.

The problem is not being able to buy what the people around them are buying is just too radical for most people.

This is not a practical or tolerable solution for 99% of the population.

This is not anticipated to be tolerable by 99% of the population. They don't actually know, because they'll never try it. Stallman seems to be happy enough without Netflix. But Stallman is a nut. Why is he a nut? Because he's happy enough without Netflix. It's circular reasoning; for all you know you're a nut too, you just don't know it.

This is how powerful corporations control people: by manipulating their unexamined assumptions of what they can tolerably live with. They don't need police power, because people will police themselves.

In a sense this is nothing new, they're just manipulating a longstanding fact about human nature: people are very bad at predicting how things will affect their future happiness. I've recently developed an interest in the old Greek and Roman philosophers called the Stoics. They reasoned more or less thus: if happiness is having all your wants satisfied, the surest path to happiness is to want less. But even they realized that nobody can really adequately regulate their own desires. The best you can achieve is a kind of skepticism about what would otherwise be unchallenged assumptions about what you need. But even though it falls short, it goes a long way toward freeing you from self-afflicted dissatisfaction.

Comment Re:What's changed? (Score 4, Interesting) 216

The problem is that social media reduces us to the way we present ourselves. While that certainly is part of who we are, it's not the whole story.

One of the most popular maxims of ancient Greek philosophers was "know thyself", and the reason they considered it important is that it turns out to be a lot harder than it sounds. You think you know yourself, but chances people who spend a lot of time in close physical proximity to you understand you in ways you don't.

But online your identity is mediated by how you present yourself. This is not only inevitably somewhat dishonest (in ways that may be more obvious to others than to yourself), even when you are trying to be honest you at best are presenting who you think you are.

Comment Re:"The science is settled" (Score 3, Insightful) 60

Some of the science is settled, certainly. Methane is a greenhouse gas; nobody expects that to change. Atmospheric methane decays primarily through a long, well-documented chain of reactions starting with oxidation by the hydroxyl radical; the carbon in the CH4 eventually ends up in a CO2 molecule. This is nothing new, and nobody expects it to change.

The precise dynamics by which CH4 interacts with hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere is far from settled science, and nobody should be particularly surprised that there are things about the process we don't know. Not knowing some things about a process doesn't mean we can't know other things about that process.

But some people obviously do believe it means that. They do not distinguish between not knowing everything and knowing nothing. Implicitly requiring scientists to know everything before you consider science credible makes everything a matter of opinion, and all opinions more or less equally valid, at least as far is evidence is concerned. And it's easy to see the attraction: if everything is a matter of opinion you can believe whatever you find comforting. Why not believe Adam and Eve rode around on dinosaurs? After all scientists don't know everything, which means science is never "settled".

But of course settling questions with evidence is what science is all about. True, there is no science so settled it cannot be attacked; but there *is* science sufficiently settled that claims to the contrary require extraordinary evidence.

Comment Re:I believe it (Score 1) 80

I've been saying this for years: the reason that the same stupid security holes keep popping up is that they keep showing up in the tutorials that people use to learn new systems and languages.

The cognitive burden of learning a new system is rough on most people, so it's tempting to make things easy on them. In fact you might have higher satisfaction from students if you do. It certainly makes them feel like they're learning more for less effort if they can make something happen that looks right. But you should never, ever model a bad practice for beginners, even if you have the intent of going back and explaining to them that they shouldn't do it that way. It's better to say, "OK, you don't understand this particular bit, but don't worry I'll come back to it later."

Comment Re:Baddly worded summary (Score 4, Insightful) 98

I suspect this may enable them to lower their prices or increase their margins.

Linux support on popular high-end hardware is close to flawless -- or becomes so after that hardware has been out for a year or so. But if you start looking at the plethora of low end laptops, especially, you are in for a world of minor headaches. I find it takes me about a week of research to get a cheap, relatively new laptop working flawlessly. Sometimes the fixes Google turns up for your model don't work because you have a different revision number. Most people, if they attempted to install Linux onto a recent, low-end laptop, would find a lot of things not working, like sound, or keyboard special keys. It's not rocket science to fix, but for them it might as well be.

This is not what 99% of the world signs on for when they buy a laptop, so it makes sense for someone to have a business that does this for people. But if you're in the business of doing that, you have to pay yourself for your labor. That means you can compete at rock bottom prices because that's where you're starting from in your costs; and in any case starting with a better quality device minimizes the work you have to do dealing with stuff like broken ACPI firmware.

Which means when you count the cost of your value added, it's really hard to sell a rebranded laptop at a competitive price. Selling high quality rebranded hardware at relatively high prices and small profits may be a way to bootstrap your business, but the only way to get serious volume sales at a profit is going to be to have a computer manufactured to your specifications.

Comment This might offset *warming* but not *change*. (Score 1) 253

Most of the greenhouse effect warming takes place in the summer, for the simple reason that's when the most solar radiation is received and trapped. This doesn't eliminate that effect, it offsets the increase in the *average* by adding an unnaturally cold winters -- which by the way would increase fossil fuel use dramatically.

Now this would -- if it is physically and economically feasible -- blunt *some* impacts of global warming, such as glacier retreat and sea level rise. But it would accelerate *other* effects, such as habitat loss and changes in rainfall. Other carbon driven changes like the emergence of carbon-loving weed populations would continue unabated.

Consequently assuming that it's practical, its effects would be at best mixed, and there would be some big-time winners and losers. People with a lot of money in waterfront property would be big winners; interior farmers who rely on historical rainfall and summer temperature patterns would lose. Trout fisherman would lose as warm-water species outcompete salmonid species in their historical range. Etc.

These kind of problems are inherent in any attempt to treat the *symptoms* of rapid, anthropogenic climate change. I you aren't going to use conservation and efficiency to attack the problem, then the most promising geoengineering solution is carbon sequestration -- if it can be achieved on the scale needed. In the ideal case you would set the CO2 levels back, say, to 1960s levels. Not necessarily pre-industrial, because people have already adapted to changes from pre-industrial levels, but low enough that the rate of climate change is closer to natural than what we have today.

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