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Comment Music and Math (Score 1) 229

As a general rule, people do not listen to music because it is useful. They listen to it because they can appreciate it on many levels, from the poetry of the words, the emotional tenor of the melodies and harmonics, the driving urge of the rhythms, and the overarching story told by the composer. Nobody (or almost nobody) argues that listening to music is a waste of time because it did not help them on their job. Music is the reward not the labor, though for musicians and composers it can be both.

I think what the story about Christopher is trying to say is that mathematics can have a similar appeal for those who can learn to appreciate it. But looking at music also shows something else. People's tastes in music vary greatly. One person's greatest and most moving musical performance can be on another person's "hate list" (I am thinking of Disco when I say this). Similar things can be said about art, dance, movies, architecture, games, and sports (and probably much more can be added to this list). In my view, one of the points of a good education is to learn how to see at least a few of these things as rewards instead of as labors. For a mathematician, math is its own reward and there is an argument to be made that a large part of the world truly cannot understand that fact, especially if they have never had an intimate understanding (full on with the proofs using limits) of a theorem like the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.

But to say that anybody can or should appreciate math is nonsense, just as saying that all persons should love Disco or Abba.

Comment Re:Customer USING, you're not COPYING (Score 1) 357

Huh. I have read the GPL 3 (which deserves its long term death compared to GPL 2) and its statement on derivative works. It is true that it does not directly address linkage.

Also, dlopen?? Personally, I believe modern virtual machine languages offer far better options.

But to say that if I use a GPL database that is built into my executable that is somehow identical to my using a GPL database that I call on the network is ridiculous, so I still see linkage as being highly relevant. One of the frustrating things I have with the new GPL is that there are no good sets of examples of what would be considered derivative and not derivative. As a particular case which I know is on the edge, in what scenarios can I invoke conversions of HTML documents to PDF using Ghostscript from a proprietary program? I do this as convenience for an end user as part of much larger program. The idea is that for a particular HTML report page, the user can get a PDF rendering of the HTML page they are currently looking at. It is a grace note in the program, but it is not a "must have" feature.

Here are some options.

I use the Ghostscript library directly. I know that violates the GPL.
I write a library module, which has a method to convert HTML to PDF and use a poor version of the conversion if I cannot find a Ghostscript library on the local machine -- the Ghoscript library is not distributed with my program, but do have a tight integration with it when I successfully load it.
I call command line shell commands to do the conversion after instructing the admin of the install program how to install an executable that does the conversion.
I call a 3rd party service across the network that does the conversion.

Which of these violate the GPL for Ghostscript? If you don't take linkage into account, I suspect that there is no coherent answer to that question.

Comment Can you copyright a language (Score 2) 357

The general question is whether you can copyright an API specification. Some have argued that you can copyright an API specification because the layout of a coherent solution to a problem in the API might have some real value in of itself. However, there is a more sophisticated version of this question. Can a language, such as Adobe's Postscript, be covered by copyright? The line between languages and APIs is getting increasingly blurred. If you look at API specifications for some Scala libraries, the library is really just creating a "holistic" extension to the Scala language, not necessarily limiting itself to providing simple APIs. Here is a simple example, I can define an API to add two complex numbers or I can extend the language so that the plus symbol will add two complex numbers. Scala lets you go down that second path a long way, and it is one of Scala's selling points that it can do this.

Given this blurring of the line between API and language, I argue that any answer you might make about APIs should apply equally to programming languages and vice versa.

My understanding is that most believe the programming languages cannot be copyrighted, but this understanding have never truly been tested in the courts. I think Adobe's Postscript has come fairly close to being tested, but Adobe never really pulled the trigger on some of its threatened legal action. However, I am having trouble getting an accurate history of Postscript licensing, so if anybody else has more details, they can certainly add to this post.

Comment Re:Bullshit (Score 1) 357

I'll keep this comment short and cryptic. Oracle is really two companies. A proprietary database company (with shallow add ons, such as the cloud) and everything else. Many comments about quality and other issues many times do not apply equally to both parts. I believe that when asserting or refuting statements about Oracle, you should explain which part of Oracle you mean and limit the scope of your comment to that part.

Comment Re:Customer USING, you're not COPYING (Score 1) 357

This is both criticism and compliment to the previous post.

The phrase

"The executable won't run at all without the library being present, it pretty clearly uses it." is wrong. Any reasonably written executable that does dynamic linking can choose or not to choose to load a library. The JDBC (Java API to connect to databases) and Crypto Libs all work on this principle. They use discovery to find the implementations of well-defined APIs.

However, if for a particular executable, the phrase "The executable won't run at all without the library being present", is another test you can make to figure out whether the executable is a derivative work of the GPL library. So following a prior post, the levels of "derivatives" measure would now look like this. The following is listed from "most derived" to "least derived".

Source code co-mingled with source code of GPL library.
Statically linked and essentially only does what is in the GPL library.
Statically linked, but GPL library is only a component of entire solution.
Dynamically linked, but the executable won't function without it.
Dynamically linked, but the executable is still quite usable without it.
Dynamically linked against small simplistic rewrite based on APIs, but can adopt the GPL version if it is present.
Inter process calls to another executable that is distributed under GPL that returns the results (example: proprietary program to MYSQL database).
Inter machine calls to another executable that is distributed under GPL that returns the results.

If I were a judge, I would say that GPL covers "derivedness" down to "Dynamically linked, but the executable won't function without it". That is why I believe the prior comment has merit, because I think it points out the dividing line for GPL coverage. As an aside, note that LGPL only prevents the first item in the list (though in very simplistic abuse cases, it may reach down to the second as well).

Comment Shakespeare vs Algebra II (Score 1) 908

I want to follow up on the comment that referenced Shakespeare.

If you can argue that everybody should read some of Shakespeare before they exit high school, then there is at least some argument for them learning Algebra II. But let us assume for a moment that good knowledge of Shakespeare is not required to exit high school, is there any other case that can be made for Algebra II being a required subject for high school graduation or admittance to college? I have not seen one yet.

On the other hand, when I hear the phrase "high school statistics class", I hear in my mind -- non-challenging class designed to allow anybody to pass with only a minimum of anything in it that one would consider to be "math".

Comment How far does the taint go? (Score 2) 181

If you got a grant from the NSF for research to create new antibiotics, would that be wrong? The NSF works for the US government and so does the NSA. There is some evidence that the politicians give more money to NSF than they might otherwise get because it is good for fundamental research science & math and science & math is good for DARPA and DARPA is good for NSA.

Somebody already asked the question. Would you take money from the NSA to feed the poor? If the answer is no, how far do you have to get away from the NSA before you would take such money? I assume that the NSA, like most large organizations, has many sub organizations, some of which probably do radically different things. I suspect that the mathematicians who work for the NSA are not involved with the data collection and were probably ignorant of the data collection until Snowden came along. So I have some sympathy for their plight. But that sympathy only goes so far. NSA is an off-budget secret organization. When have such organizations ever been morally clean? I find it ironic (and hypocritical) that normally severely left of center political types appear to be willing to work for such an organization.

I personally don't think of NSA as evil -- generally those who are given a particular job to do (such as data collection) will do that job with a zeal that pushes them beyond sensible moral limits. Many Law & Order episodes deal with the problems caused by police pushing the bounds of legality in pursuit of a criminal. I don't see those police as evil either -- even if they have broken both moral codes and laws.

Comment Wicked Cool (Score 1) 248

I personally find this is about as cool as anything I have seen in the last decade. What they are doing requires the very best engineering that mankind currently offers -- I'll take this over building 2000 feet tall buildings, or 50 mile long bridges any day.

Comment Re:Advance to Go (Score 4, Insightful) 155

I feel I have to object to the comment that Monopoly is a terrible game. I know somebody who wrote their economics undergraduate thesis on the discount model for evaluating property values in Monopoly.

But what I really object to is the claim that the game takes hours. Yes, for unskilled players it takes hours. However, top skilled players usually take about 15 minutes to 30 minutes to play a game (and many time even less than that). You buy stuff, you trade, and mortgage everything to build as much as you can, and then somebody is bankrupt in just a few round trips of a game after the house building phase starts. Skilled players roll, move, buy, pay rents, in less than five seconds usually -- so the game is very fast, until you get to the point where you have to think. You can play the game with a 10 minute clock for each player for the whole game without compromising much in the way of skill. Also, you usually agree to a draw if monopolies cannot be formed in a reasonable number of turns.

From what I have seen, the critical phase of the game occurs at the time trading occurs to form monopolies -- and this requires a great deal of skill, some of it involves being artfully persuasive. It is one of the reasons why monopoly is a cool game. Strategy and tactics sometimes are less important than being a great salesperson.

However, never bring such skilled people into a regular monopoly game. Their style of play can leave all the other players bankrupt in less than an hour and leave them wondering what just happened to their casual fun game.

Comment Science makes predictions (Score 1) 795

One of the problems I have with most definitions of Science is the emphasis on making hypothesis and then testing them. The real power of science is when you make predictions that are natural products of your theory. In fact, not all science is made equal in this respect. When you look at some phenomenon, come up with a theory that matches the phenomenon, test it by observing further phenomenon of the same type, and then publish your result you are doing "weak" science. When you look at some phenomenon, come up with a theory for it and with the theory make predictions about something you never thought about before and those predictions turn out to be true, that is "strong" science. This is especially true if the predictions cross into other areas of science specialization. If you read up on the history of evolutionary theory, you will see that there are multiple "strong" science moments in its history involving crossovers into geology, physics, DNA, chemistry, medicine, physiology, and anatomy (and probably many more). That is what makes evolution not just a science, but a strong science.

Comment Re:danger will robinson (Score 1) 688

Every few years I see yet another "correct way to teach basic mathematics" come through with the promise that this new way will win where the old ways have failed. Common core is in some ways yet another one of these.

My problem is that arithmetic is both a concept and a skill. Most of the teaching methods emphasize teaching the concept. This would be like focusing on teaching you how to ride a bike by trying to come up with constructive suggestions to improve your intuition about how it works, but minimizing the amount of time you actually get to be on the bike.

What is being lost is that basic math is a skill and like all skills, it needs repeated and constant practice sustained over multiple years. I see way too many students that can't do basic arithmetic after going through these "concept" oriented classes. Or to put it more strongly, if learning basic math isn't a boring repetitive chore, than you aren't doing it right.

In the worst of all possible worlds, straightforward skill practice is replaced by repetitive practice of the "concept" building exercises -- so its still boring giving you not even that win. I see this often enough that I rather ditch any "concept" building and just do the arithmetic if the outcome is to train mathematical illiterates. It would be much like doing repetitive practice sessions of "envisioning yourself on a bike" without ever being on a bike. Imagine we treated reading like math. You weren't allowed just to read the books, you had to "read" the books in the correct way showing that you had built up your mastery of parsing words from letters, to syllables, to words.

A kid shouldn't be allowed out of sixth grade if they cannot quickly answer the following questions:

40 - 16
8 * 9
1/2 - 1/3

Comment Re:I just can't get excited about SpaceX (Score 5, Insightful) 87

Hmm... The gist of this is essentially correct, except for one detail. Cost. The only number that is really going to matter in the end is how much money does it take to put 1 ton of stuff into orbit (or beyond) from the ground. Right now it appears to be $10,000,000 USD or even much higher (based on the numbers I see being thrown around on Slashdot). Government subsidies (such as in Russia), can hide some of this, but this seems to be the essential economic truth. As long as that remains the case, mankind is not going to be a space faring race and venturing into space will mostly be for kicks and bragging rights (and maybe a bit of good science, such as Hubble). What SpaceX offers for the very first time, is a path where we may reduce these costs by a factor of ten or more. If we can start putting a ton of stuff into space for less than $500,000 it will radically change what is possible -- a cost of doing something real goes from $200 trillion to maybe $10 trillion -- something we could spend over a 100 years. Things like real space stations, and large space ships with landing vessels.

Comment Depends on the situation (Score 2) 272

I have used Oracle, MySQL, and Mongo in prod situations. I have looked at Cassandra for evaluating it for potential usage in prod.

I can imagine situations where I could recommend any of the above. For example, if you are large financial company with billions of rows, I would go with Oracle. If you have smarts but not money and didn't need somebody to sue if something went wrong, then maybe Postgres would do . If I were a simple web based app with simple form submits, I would go with MySQL. If I had complex unpredictable data blobs and unpredictable needs to do certain types of queries against the data, I might recommend Mongo. If I have large amounts of data on which I want to do analytics I would use Cassandra.

Cassandra wins when you have a lot of data and not a lot of complex real time queries against it. It is especially good at scaling up on cheap data storage (think 100s of terabytes). It also has an unreal "write" throughput (important for certain types of analytics which write out complex intermediate results) though that is not relevant for the case described.

The problem generally with noSql solutions is that they increase the amount of storage to store the equivalent amount of information. You are essentially redundantly storing schema design with each "record" that you store. This really matters more than some might suspect, because when you can put an entire collection into memory, the read performance is much higher. You usually need 1/5th to 1/10th as much RAM to do the job with a traditional relational database (especially since MySQL and their brethren handle getting in and out memory better than mongo). This isn't so much the case for Cassandra because of its distributed storage nature, but it really isn't usable for real time transactions.

My recommendation, use a traditional database -- if in a Microsoft shop use SQL Server, otherwise I like postgres or mysql. If however, you have complex data storage needs that a noSql solution is perfect for, then I would go with that. If you are into back end analytics, copy the data as it comes in and put into a Cassandra (or one of its similar brethren) as well.

Comment Failure in obviousness testing (Score 2) 192

If I were to write in a paper in medicine and try to get it published in one of the various medical journals that are out there that have a reasonably good reputation, I would be rejected so quickly if I were to try a "Algorithm for using instruments in surgery, nurse hands over knives handle first" journal article. But the equivalent of this level of obviousness make it through the patent office all the time. Software I have worked on has gotten patents more than once. In all cases, I thought the patents obvious to the point of silliness.

When I was younger, I naively believed that patents demonstrated that the inventor was truly clever and original -- the lightbulb, invention of jet engine, silicon chip, and so on. Now, what I see is a world filled with patents that are a waste of everybody's time and those few who actually truly invent something new are no longer getting the positive rep that used to come with filing a patent.

The solution is simple. You make the patent filer pay a few thousand dollars, you use that money to pay "world class experts in the field" and then you ask the experts, is the invention truly original and of significant value -- so much so that keeping the details of the invention secret would actively harm mankind?

If the patent isn't worth paying a few thousand dollars to file, then why should we even be considering it.

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