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Comment Depends on your learning style (Score 1) 312

There are many ways to become a programmer, and you'll hear most of them here.

First off, what kind of programmer do you want to be? Nobody knows everything. Do you want to be the guy at the office who can make spreadsheets sing? Some have said that Excel is the world's most popular language. Do you want to write web games? Database stuff? Hardcore number crunching?

Do you think that you will learn better studying theory, listening to lectures (YouTube is your friend), or just going in live without a net and hacking things until something blows up?

If you want to learn theory, there are two obvious directions (and likely more). C and C++ make you think like the machine; they were built for writing operating systems in, so they are "close to the metal". The languages are the racing cars of programming: incredibly efficient, able to do amazing things, but no automatic transmission, power steering, or ABS breaks. One false move and you go head-on into a wall. Lisp makes you forget about all the silicon and concentrate on abstraction: the more you understand abstraction, the more that any given problem looks like something you've done before and therefore can do easily again.

If you want to learn by playing, Python is considered a good language for that. Java may also be a good language; it's very strict, which means that your compiler or even your editor can catch a lot of bugs before you even try to run the program. Grab some code from online, make yourself a little sandbox where you can't hurt anything (like trashing your employer's database), and tweak it. Run the program, decide to make a change, and look through the code to see how you might do that. If you want to write code, you're going to have to read it, after all. Use some sort of source control, even just tar or zip file backups if you don't know source control, so that if you go off into the weeds somewhere, you can come back to someplace safe.

Choose your first language based on the way you want to learn, not on the language you want to learn to program in. Learning new languages is easy; the basic problem in programming is taking what you want to accomplish and explaining it so well that even a chip made of sand can't get it wrong. Once you get the hang of your first language, the second one will be much easier, as you'll understand the higher level elements of what you're trying to do and just need to translate that into new words.

Comment Re:FDA approval? Why? (Score 1) 20

This comes under FDA jurisdiction because it is a medical device: something to help disabled people with their disability. Segways aren't medical devices, they're transports for able-bodied people. The precursor to the Segway is the iBot, a wheelchair which can balance on two wheels, climb stairs, and raise its occupant to standing height. That used to be an FDA Class III medical device, recently reclassified as an FDA Class II medical device. For that matter, all wheelchairs are FDA regulated medical devices.

As a medical device, the FDA is supposed to see how likely it is to harm you. If that device fails (batteries die, software crashes, wire shorts out...), your legs go limp and you fall. Especially in the elderly, falls can be fatal. Also in the case of a paraplegic, they want to make sure that it doesn't exceed your own range of motion and injure your legs, or pinch and draw blood (which you wouldn't feel because of the paraplegia), or who knows what else.

"FDA regulated medical device" and "available by prescription only" are not the same. Bandages are FDA regulated (they want to make sure that those things truly are sterile), and they're available at 7-eleven.

Comment Somewhere in the middle (Score 1) 490

On the one hand, there is a lot of argument that the population is too ignorant and/or easily swayed to be a proper voting block. On the other hand, we see the cronyism and corruption which the current system gives. I propose a middle way.

First, to eliminate the effect of votes cast by people who really don't care about an issue: give every registered voter a million "votes" per month. If you are hard-set on one issue, you can apply all million votes to that issue, but you don't get any say in any other elections that month. If you care about ten issues, you can apply 100K votes to each one. Now there is an incentive to shut up about issues you really don't care about and/or understand.

Regular people make lousy voters because they aren't experts in government. I'm sorry, I'm a software engineer, I don't know the right foreign policy to implement in Freedonia, or just how many tactical bombers we need to purchase. Having representatives can be useful because they can figure out the answers to these questions as their day jobs as we go about our lives.

So we allow for representatives. You don't elect a limited slate of them for two or six year terms. You "elect" as many as you want every month. Basically, you implement a way to hand your votes to somebody else. So you are a strong anti-terrorist who wants to send more funds to antiterrorism efforts. Larry the Antiterrorist feels the same way, and sets himself up as a representative. You decide to send him 50K votes a month. Every month, you can check the public record (which doesn't record how you spend your own votes, but does record how you spend votes given to you), and verify that Larry is in fact spending your votes on antiterrorism elections and not on, for instance, the Interstate System. Even if Larry is being paid by lobbyists, you can see exactly how he's voting, and can take your votes away from him next month if you no longer trust him.

There are clearly other problems, including the ability to make such a system crack-proof. I wouldn't try to foist this on the Federal Government to start with; there are too many ways that this could fail that we can already think of, and ways that this could fail that we have no clue about. Try this at a municipal level first: small towns, small cities, big cities. If it bombs out, go back to the previous constitution or by-laws. But test this thing out before putting an entire nation on the system.

Comment Re:America, land of the free... (Score 1) 720

My last two companies (a credit card processor and a medical R&D facility) both did criminal background checks and credit checks. Besides the basic recidivism issue, they also want to make sure that you don't have anybody trying to _get you_ to commit a crime. If, either of those companies see too much outstanding debt or a known gambling problem, they might worry that you are dealing with a loan shark, thus organized crime, thus there's a risk of your being coerced to steal some juicy paydata (credit card numbers for the former, new product plans for the latter). If, on the other hand, it's a marijuana charge, there are some areas where they can't hire enough techies if they screen people like you out.

Do whatever you can to convince your future employer that you have no reason to steal from them. If you got grand theft auto for a college joyride, let them know--don't make them guess that you're in organized crime working for a chop shop. If you did get involved with the Mob or something, you're probably out of luck. IT requires that employees have access to juicy data, so it's more uptight than most about things like this.

Comment Re:So What? (Score 1) 669

And that's the problem with a lot of churches today.

The concept is "Sola Scriptura", that the entirety of revelation is found between the covers of the Bible. But if you read that Bible, Jesus never promised us a book. He promised us a Church led by the Holy Spirit. That's why we have a Pope and a hierarchical Church--there is exactly one truth out there, so you need a unified voice to express it. And mind you, not everything that comes out of the Pope's mouth is absolute truth; he's a person just like you and I, and he gets things wrong from time to time (and there have been some downright evil popes in history, but I digress...). If he's declaring a dogma, the Holy Spirit prevents him from being wrong. With everything else, he's as fallible as everybody else, which is why popes can contradict each other.

Some churches base their beliefs on the Bible. The Catholic Church canonized a Bible to contain many of their beliefs. Reading a Bible will teach much, but it takes divine intervention to properly interpret it.

Comment Balance of Crime (Score 1) 435

On the one hand, the criminal acts will be more than counterbalanced by the reduction in DUI activity alone. On the other hand, poverty is good for creating crime--some small percentage of people that get laid off turn to crime for income. That would happen within the ranks of laid-off taxi drivers and truckers just as it does everyplace else.

Comment Re:Thank you (Score 1) 242

The NSAs actions were not so much inept as trusting of people that had been, or should have been, carefully screened and loyal. It turns out that both the contractor Snowden and the company contracted to do Snowden's background investigation were not completely trustworthy. The company is now being sued by the Federal government, and Snowden is facing charges after his theft and betrayal.

In other words, the NSA shouldn't hire people with a high degree of love and loyalty to the United States.

You can argue that Snowden's actions were misguided, but not that they were for personal gain. If he wanted that, he'd have sold secrets in some back room, rather than just publishing them and confessing to the deed publicly. He honestly believes that he is acting in the best interests of the American people, government be damned. And God help me, I agree with him.

That is precisely the sort of attitude that this nation was founded on - a rag tag group of soldiers telling the King of England that his services were no longer required. Ever see those bumper stickers, "I love my country - it's my government I fear"? Snowden is living it.

If you want to screen against people who wish to do the US harm (thus requiring that people show loyalty to the US) and still defend against the Snowdens of this nation, you would have to also separately screen for loyalty to the current power structure. You would have to screen for authoritarianism. Maybe you could limit your search to honorably discharged military veterans (the military is authoritarian, a useful trait in people trusted with killing machines and being asked to do their jobs while being shot at).

Comment Re:One Suspect Dead (Score 1) 1109

A taser on a subject a few feet in front of you is one thing. You're likely to get them in one shot. In that case, a taser is an almost perfect weapon.

But what if you miss? Now you have to retract the wires. In an actual gunfight, a taser is a one-shot, limited range weapon. Don't take a taser to a gunfight.

Besides, do you really want to tase a bomber? To me, a taser seems dangerously like a detonator. I don't know what happens if you tase a chunk of explosive (you know, like suicide bombers wear under their clothes), and I don't want to find out.

Believe it or not, most cops aren't gun-happy killers. Their handgun is a weapon of last resort, when nothing else can stop a suspect from doing grievous harm to somebody. Yes, there are sociopathic killers in uniform, but they are in the minority.

Finally, a handgun is a very useful police tool because of its use as a mind control device. Tasers aren't very threatening, and if somebody aims one at me, I may try a quick move--what's the worst that can happen? Point a handgun at me, and I'm much more likely to be very interested in what I can do to set your mind at ease. I suspect that at least 90-95% of the time a cop uses a handgun, they are using it as a mind control device and never have to discharge it. In that way, there are ways that handguns are more effective and less threatening than tasers.

Tasers have their place in law enforcement, and certainly personal defense, but their place is not that of the police handgun.

Comment Re:directly? (Score 1) 1105

> I didn't say "directly responsible for causing", I said "directly responsible for preventing". The FBI anti-terrorism unit is there specifically to prevent bombings. They have agents that can and have directly infiltrated and stopped bomb plots (e.g. this one [newsnet5.com]). That's their job description, and that this happens means they screwed up.

Do you seriously expect the FBI anti-terrorism unit to make the marathon unbombable? Do you sue your doctor every time you catch a cold?

Let's say, just for a minute, that we give the FBI above-the-law, license-to-kill getapo-like privileges (and let me be clear that this would be a tremendously bad idea). This isn't the Superbowl, taking place in an arena designed to limit where people can get in and out (just to force you to buy a ticket). This is a fifty-two mile security perimeter within a city that evolved out of cow paths. You need airtight security checkpoints around that entire perimeter--and that means that neither police tape nor Jersey barriers are enough, you're going to have to put six foot walls up around the route. And your bomb-sniffing dogs? Not only do you need them within the perimeter, but you're going to have to search every building within trebuchet range of the route (what, don't think they have trebuchets here? We've got MIT, where a freshman will build you the best one in the world for the cost of parts!). You're going to have to patrol the sewers, in case some lunatic wants to pass a bomb out of a manhole cover.

The FBI wants to make it impossible to bomb the marathon? Then CANCEL it. It's the only way to be sure.

Anti-terrorism units don't stop all terrorism. Cops don't stop all crimes. Doctors don't stop all disease. When a terrorist attack happens, a crime happens, or somebody gets sick, that doesn't mean that the good guys screwed up. Be glad they stop all the terrorism, crime and disease that they do. Don't expect them to bat a thousand.

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