What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

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richP
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What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby richP » Tue Jan 21, 2014 4:48 pm UTC

http://what-if.xkcd.com/80/
What if every virus in the world were collected into one area? How much volume would they take up and what would they look like?


I'm sure someone will ninja me. Otherwise cue the sea references and a virii/viruses discussion.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Barstro » Tue Jan 21, 2014 4:56 pm UTC

"...across all the people in the world, there probably exists about a spoonful worth of HIV."

I am frightened by the thought that there are people out there who would consider HIV to not be a problem since there is such a small amount in the world.

If we could just get a worldwide fish HIV magnet, we could concentrate it in one spot and finally destroy it.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Klear » Tue Jan 21, 2014 4:59 pm UTC

Barstro wrote:If we could just get a worldwide fish HIV magnet, we could concentrate it in one spot and finally destroy it.


Hmm... suppose we have the 10 barrels of human virus, what would be the best way to dispose of that? And would it even be a good idea?

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby eran_rathan » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:06 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
Barstro wrote:If we could just get a worldwide fish HIV magnet, we could concentrate it in one spot and finally destroy it.


Hmm... suppose we have the 10 barrels of human virus, what would be the best way to dispose of that? And would it even be a good idea?



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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby hamjudo » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:28 pm UTC

If humans went 20 years without any viruses, the next virus to come along would wipe out about 95% of the population.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby cellocgw » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:30 pm UTC

"Blame Dave -- he's the one who asked." <-- best line in the piece.

Although, sadly, it rarely works out that way. I still recall a news story from the mid-aughts about a kid whose teacher (high school, USA) asked the class to write a really scary story. The kid wrote about a high-school student who kidnapped and dismembered his teacher. His (actual) teacher got scared [which you'd have thought would earn the kid an "A"] and went crying to the admins. Net result: kid's suspended from school. If only "Blame the teacher -- she assigned it." had carried the day.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby cellocgw » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:31 pm UTC

eran_rathan wrote:
Klear wrote:
Barstro wrote:If we could just get a worldwide fish HIV magnet, we could concentrate it in one spot and finally destroy it.


Hmm... suppose we have the 10 barrels of human virus, what would be the best way to dispose of that? And would it even be a good idea?



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No, the rule is Nuke It From Orbit
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby rhomboidal » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:40 pm UTC

Ewwww, this one is "sickenlightening."

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby scalziand » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:44 pm UTC

I'm disappointed that Randal didn't consider that fact that viruses crystallize at high densities. Imagine a mountain sized crystal of virii.

Here's an example of a cold virus crystal.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC393501/

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:53 pm UTC

cellocgw wrote:"Blame Dave -- he's the one who asked." <-- best line in the piece.

Although, sadly, it rarely works out that way. I still recall a news story from the mid-aughts about a kid whose teacher (high school, USA) asked the class to write a really scary story. The kid wrote about a high-school student who kidnapped and dismembered his teacher. His (actual) teacher got scared [which you'd have thought would earn the kid an "A"] and went crying to the admins. Net result: kid's suspended from school. If only "Blame the teacher -- she assigned it." had carried the day.
You're either a troll or a fucking moron.

The problem wasn't that it was successfully a scary story, the problem was that it was a story the teacher found personally threatening. And legitimately so, I think, seeing as there have been teachers killed by their students. Suspension may not have been the best response from the school, but the teacher was completely justified in her decision to bring it to the attention of the administration.

She asked for horror movie scary, and he gave her bullet-in-the-mailbox scary. The fact that we use the same word for both doesn't mean they're the same thing.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby grep_ » Tue Jan 21, 2014 6:17 pm UTC

[imath]{10}^{30}[/imath] is not that much. You can assign an IPv6 address to each virus and use up only a millionth of percent of all address space.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby cellocgw » Tue Jan 21, 2014 6:23 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
cellocgw wrote:"Blame Dave -- he's the one who asked." <-- best line in the piece.

Although, sadly, it rarely works out that way. I still recall a news story from the mid-aughts about a kid whose teacher (high school, USA) asked the class to write a really scary story. The kid wrote about a high-school student who kidnapped and dismembered his teacher. His (actual) teacher got scared [which you'd have thought would earn the kid an "A"] and went crying to the admins. Net result: kid's suspended from school. If only "Blame the teacher -- she assigned it." had carried the day.
You're either a troll or a fucking moron.

The problem wasn't that it was successfully a scary story, the problem was that it was a story the teacher found personally threatening. And legitimately so, I think, seeing as there have been teachers killed by their students. Suspension may not have been the best response from the school, but the teacher was completely justified in her decision to bring it to the attention of the administration.

She asked for horror movie scary, and he gave her bullet-in-the-mailbox scary. The fact that we use the same word for both doesn't mean they're the same thing.


I'm fully aware of the alleged difference in assignment title and respectfully disagree that (a) the student deviated significantly, (b) there's a statistically significant number of teachers attacked or killed by students , (c) there is any correlation whatsoever between students who express hostility or hatred or threats toward teachers and subsequent action on their part.

And FWIW, this is forums.xkcd, not forums.bchan, so clean up your language and lose the ad hominems, 'mkay?
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Antior » Tue Jan 21, 2014 7:05 pm UTC

Okay, I'm just gonna comment on some interesting parts of the What If:

The number of copies of the virus carried in someone's blood can vary dramatically

To my knowledge, the major 'thing' HIV does is put a copy of its DNA in human cells. There it can sit dormant for years. When it's activated, the cell starts making new viruses.

I am not sure about this, but it's quite possible that a HIV-infected person contains more copies of HIV DNA in their own cells than in actual viruses. Is this amount included? If not, I don't think the correct thing was measured.

Oddly, as you go further offshore and further down, the concentration of viruses doesn't decrease as much as the concentration of bacteria, so the virus-to-bacteria ratio is higher in the deep oceans than near the shore.

This doesn't sound that odd to me. In the deep ocean, life is more difficult, because of the huge pressures, lack of sunlight, and other reasons. Viruses aren't alive. They don't care, they just infect anything they run into. Bacteria have to adapt to those difficult conditions.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Adam H » Tue Jan 21, 2014 7:37 pm UTC

Dammit Dave go jump in a mountain of viruses, asshole.
-Adam

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby cellocgw » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:00 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:Dammit Dave go jump in a mountain of viruses, asshole.


Dave's not here, man.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby marquee » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:27 pm UTC

What happen to the 10th barrel?

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Olaf Klischat » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:48 pm UTC

It's hard to say exactly what the virus mountain would look like


The more interesting question is how lethal it would be, if at all.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Klear » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:55 pm UTC

hamjudo wrote:If humans went 20 years without any viruses, the next virus to come along would wipe out about 95% of the population.


Not to mention it would backfire horribly once we found an alien civilization and decided to invade.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jan 21, 2014 9:43 pm UTC

cellocgw wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
cellocgw wrote:"Blame Dave -- he's the one who asked." <-- best line in the piece.

Although, sadly, it rarely works out that way. I still recall a news story from the mid-aughts about a kid whose teacher (high school, USA) asked the class to write a really scary story. The kid wrote about a high-school student who kidnapped and dismembered his teacher. His (actual) teacher got scared [which you'd have thought would earn the kid an "A"] and went crying to the admins. Net result: kid's suspended from school. If only "Blame the teacher -- she assigned it." had carried the day.
You're either a troll or a fucking moron.

The problem wasn't that it was successfully a scary story, the problem was that it was a story the teacher found personally threatening. And legitimately so, I think, seeing as there have been teachers killed by their students. Suspension may not have been the best response from the school, but the teacher was completely justified in her decision to bring it to the attention of the administration.

She asked for horror movie scary, and he gave her bullet-in-the-mailbox scary. The fact that we use the same word for both doesn't mean they're the same thing.


I'm fully aware of the alleged difference in assignment title and respectfully disagree that (a) the student deviated significantly, (b) there's a statistically significant number of teachers attacked or killed by students , (c) there is any correlation whatsoever between students who express hostility or hatred or threats toward teachers and subsequent action on their part.
Threats don't have to be statistically likely to be carried out in order for people to feel threatened, and for example explicit death threats are illegal regardless of any other factors suggesting increased probability of homicide. This wasn't an explicit death threat, of course, but that doesn't change the underlying fact that people can feel threatened, and people can still intend to make someone feel threatened, regardless of statistics.

And FWIW, this is forums.xkcd, not forums.bchan, so clean up your language and lose the ad hominems, 'mkay?
Yes, this is xkcd. Where a number of the comics themselves include the word "fuck". You were offended by my calling you a fucking moron, and I was offended by your claim that the teacher "went crying to the admins" in a gross overreaction to what looked to her very much like an implicit death threat.

Your post wasn't magically nicer or more civil just because you didn't use naughty words.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jan 21, 2014 9:50 pm UTC

hamjudo wrote:If humans went 20 years without any viruses, the next virus to come along would wipe out about 95% of the population.
Der... wat?
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby keithl » Tue Jan 21, 2014 9:58 pm UTC

Studying viruses a lot lately - many diseases (including a nasty one I'm genetically susceptable to) are the side effects of immune processes that keep us from hosting and spreading viruses. Genetically, it is better to have a 1 in 2 chance of dying from a genetic disease than a 1 in 10 chance of being the index case that wipes out all your genetic kin.

In "Regenesis", George Church writes about an alternative being developed in his lab. All life shares the same genetic code; a particular 3 base codon always codes to the same amino acid. Church's radical project: redesigning the ribosome and recoding the DNA so that different codons produce the same amino acids. Sort of like ROT13 for genes. Viruses hijack the genetic machinery of their victims to make more copies of themselves; change the code, and the RNA they inject is interpreted as nonsense, producing garbage proteins instead of more virus. A virus cannot make the gigantic mutational leap of recoding its entire genome at once. Unless somebody intentionally translated a virus, Gen2 bacteria would be immune to all natural viruses.

This will first appear in genetically engineered bacteria, designed to (for example) clean up oil spills, or produce hydrogen fuel. These could greatly amplify the primary productivity of the oceans. Immune Gen2 plankton would still be edible by Gen1 fish, and far more of their biomass would be available for fish instead of viruses.

Later, it could be applied to genetically engineered human zygotes - a baby might share the same information as mom and dad, but it will be coded incompatably with them, and all the viruses that evolved to attack them. The entire genetic machinery of the viral immune system can be safely deleted, along with the associated genetic diseases. Of course, when the babies grow up, Gen2 adults can only produce children with other Gen2 adults.

I haven't seen any distopian science fiction starting with these ideas; sadly, most writers would rather write about dragons and swords. And I imagine such fiction would focus on "What If They Are Careless And Something Goes Horribly Wrong" as opposed to the more interesting "How Would Human Cussedness Turn This Miracle Into Another Excuse To Attack Each Other."

Added note: Even if some psychopath developed a Gen2 virus, Gen1 people would be immune to that. In a 50/50 population of Gen1 and Gen2 people, the "R0" (R naught) infection amplification rate would be halved, and viral epidemics would be much less likely. Gen1/Gen2 promiscuous sex would not lead to pregnancy, herpes, AIDS, ... Add a Gen3 and Gen4, and viral transmission between humans becomes very unlikely.
Last edited by keithl on Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:52 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Eutychus » Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:23 pm UTC

richP wrote:cue the sea references


Came in here for these, found none, decided to oblige.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:29 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
hamjudo wrote:If humans went 20 years without any viruses, the next virus to come along would wipe out about 95% of the population.
Der... wat?
I think hamjudo just forgot to mention the part where over the course of that 20 years, there was also a youth revolution and a violent purging of anyone old enough to drink.

And the part where the next virus to come along was a bioengineered one designed to be incurable and fatal but also not so virulent that it burns itself out before spreading to most of the population.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby moody7277 » Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:52 pm UTC

Image

Peyton will have a hard time shouting "Omaha" in the middle of that muck.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:22 pm UTC

cellocgw wrote:Although, sadly, it rarely works out that way. I still recall a news story from the mid-aughts about a kid whose teacher (high school, USA) asked the class to write a really scary story. The kid wrote about a high-school student who kidnapped and dismembered his teacher. His (actual) teacher got scared [which you'd have thought would earn the kid an "A"] and went crying to the admins. Net result: kid's suspended from school. If only "Blame the teacher -- she assigned it." had carried the day.

Your argument with gmalivuk aside, this story strikes a chord with me. When I was in high school, in a creative writing class, we were given an assignment about descriptive writing, like painting a picture in words, describing the colors, sounds, smells, etc, of the scene. I wrote a description of a particularly vivid dream I had had recently (nothing real-world scary, just weird and very sensory-intensive stuff... fields of bright yellow flowers, a museum where everything was green including the children there on a field trip, a tyrannosaur from said museum that came to life and that doesn't like the aforementioned yellow flowers but tries to follow me into the field of them anyway, a rusty red bridge to nowhere being built by radioactive [possibly zombie] monkeys in the middle of that field, etc), sprinkled with surreal poetic language inspired by the music being played in the classroom ("Turn Turn Turn" by the Byrds) and my own stream-of-consciousness while writing it.

At the end of the term students voted on their favorite works from other students, to be compiled into a book of student works that we'd each get a copy of. My surreal dream-story was by far the most popular work voted on for inclusion in the book. It was vetoed by the faculty for "obvious drug influences" and not included in the book at all. I am about the most straight-edge student that ever went to that school, and to this day almost two decades later have still never touched a [non-prescription/otc medicine] drug besides the rare alcoholic drink. "Obvious drug influences" my ass! The only drugs that influenced that are the ones my brain makes for itself in my sleep. Couldn't someone have at least asked me about it before making an executive decision like that?

I recall another student at that school getting into trouble more like the story you recount here, because he wrote "threatening poetry" in his notebook and a teacher saw it in class. It turned out to be lyrics to a popular song. Ugh...
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby BytEfLUSh » Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:28 pm UTC

Because the sea is so big,[5]


I really expected something else to pop up when I clicked on the reference.
Image

Image

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby lgw » Wed Jan 22, 2014 12:13 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote: You were offended by my calling you a fucking moron, and I was offended by your claim that the teacher "went crying to the admins" in a gross overreaction to what looked to her very much like an implicit death threat.

Your post wasn't magically nicer or more civil just because you didn't use naughty words.


It was a gross overreaction to something no sober, sane, rational person would take seriously as a death threat. You reaction to the post was also an amazing overreaction. We've gone totally fucking nuts with terror in this country. We seem to spend so much time these days being irrationally afraid of really unlikely threats. I'm really quite offended by how mind-bogglingly stupid my species can be when it comes to 1-in-a-million (or billion) threats.

There's far less violence in most schools these days than the high school I went to, to be sure, but even there (where shootings happened yearly and weren't newsworthy) no one would have confused a scary story with a genuine threat of violence. So very few people go off their meds and do movie-plot-violence, compared to normal human "poor impulse control" violence (in which any threats would be shouted moments before actual violence, not freaking written down!) that we should really, collectively, find something else to worry about.

How is it that at my high school, at which shootings really happened, none of us spent time being frightened by such things, but we've since gone so totally off the rails over imagined threats? It's like a social auto-immune disease where for lack of real threats we've turned on ourselves.

Gah! Sorry everyone for ranting but it's a real pet peeve.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby clockworkbookreader » Wed Jan 22, 2014 1:57 am UTC

Welcome to the modern information age where everything is more, worse, better, and less than anything else and if there isn't a crisis, the media will manufacture one to ensure good ratings and better advertising revenue.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Jan 22, 2014 2:13 am UTC

hamjudo wrote:If humans went 20 years without any viruses, the next virus to come along would wipe out about 95% of the population.


Nah, we'd still have bacterial infections to keep the immune system ticking over - the bigger problem would be auto-immune conditions from the antiviral pathways getting overzealous (unless the current theory has changed sufficiently from when I last picked up on such things)...

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jan 22, 2014 4:51 am UTC

clockworkbookreader wrote:Welcome to the modern information age where everything is more, worse, better, and less than anything else and if there isn't a crisis, the media will manufacture one to ensure good ratings and better advertising revenue.

Funny thing is, I feel like I have become less sensitive to such disasters than my parents' generation because I grew up around this constant media overreaction to everything everywhere.

On the morning of 9/11/01 my mom called to wake me (we're in California so that shit happened at an ungodly hour of the morning for me) in a panic screaming to turn on the TV because the sky was falling. I turned it on just in time to see the second plane hit, and work out where this all was happening. Thought to myself, "New York? That's the other side of the continent.", told my mom not to panic and that I had to get my sleep because I had a job interview.

Throughout the day I kept being the one to ask people (all older than me, at 19 then, if not quite my parents' age) if they had seen "that thing on the news this morning about some kind of airplanes crashing into a World Trade Something in New York" and watching them freak out about it (because they hadn't heard yet), when in my mind it was no different than every other big news story bombing (Oklahoma City, the Olympics, Unabomber) or celebrity murder (OJ Simpson) or war (Gulf War I, Kosovo) that had been blared with equal intensity every night on the evening news for my entire life.

tl;dr: WHEN YOU BROADCAST EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS PEOPLE STOP PAYING ATTENTION TO THE INTENSITY YOU MEAN TO CONVEY BECAUSE EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS ALL SHOUTED IN EXACTLY THE SAME MONOTONE AND THERE'S NO WAY TO TELL WHEN SOMETHING IS ACTUALLY IMPORTANT OR IT'S JUST THE SAME USUAL SHOUTING ABOUT "EHRMAGERD WILL EL NINO BLOW THE KILLER BEES INTO OUR BACK YARDS THIS FALL OR NOT".
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby DavesNotHere » Wed Jan 22, 2014 5:11 am UTC

cellocgw wrote:Dave's not here, man.


Hey, if the phone rings I'm not here.

Thanks.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby ViKing » Wed Jan 22, 2014 10:50 am UTC

The what-if wrote:If you gathered together all the viruses in all the humans in the world, they would fill about ten oil drums:
Image

Or nine oil drums and one person.


That is not a healthy person.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Pentacontaheptachoral Cave » Wed Jan 22, 2014 11:37 am UTC

scalziand wrote:I'm disappointed that Randal didn't consider that fact that viruses crystallize at high densities. Imagine a mountain sized crystal of virii.

There would be a great many disparate sizes and shapes of virus, though. You'd need a great deal of time for the melange to segregate into crystals.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby cellocgw » Wed Jan 22, 2014 12:34 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Your post wasn't magically nicer or more civil just because you didn't use naughty words.


Go look up "ad hominem" . Then pretty please go away.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby WibblyWobbly » Wed Jan 22, 2014 1:30 pm UTC

cellocgw wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
Your post wasn't magically nicer or more civil just because you didn't use naughty words.


Go look up "ad hominem" . Then pretty please go away.

Verbal abuse is not, in and of itself, ad hominem.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby cellocgw » Wed Jan 22, 2014 2:22 pm UTC

WibblyWobbly wrote:
cellocgw wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
Your post wasn't magically nicer or more civil just because you didn't use naughty words.


Go look up "ad hominem" . Then pretty please go away.

Verbal abuse is not, in and of itself, ad hominem.


Dunno -- the way I see it, his calling me a "moron" was a direct introduction to his reason that my position was invalid.
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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Adam H » Wed Jan 22, 2014 2:25 pm UTC

FYI: gmalivuk is both an english teacher and someone who is not to be trifled with around these parts. Tread lighter...
-Adam

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby WibblyWobbly » Wed Jan 22, 2014 2:40 pm UTC

cellocgw wrote:
WibblyWobbly wrote:
cellocgw wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
Your post wasn't magically nicer or more civil just because you didn't use naughty words.


Go look up "ad hominem" . Then pretty please go away.

Verbal abuse is not, in and of itself, ad hominem.


Dunno -- the way I see it, his calling me a "moron" was a direct introduction to his reason that my position was invalid.

The way I read it, calling you "either a troll or a fucking moron" was the conclusion; the next two points were the actual refutations of your argument. gmalivuk switched the order, I would think, to emphasize the conclusion, but the fact remains that he didn't use the idea of calling you a moron to actually argue why your logic was wrong. He did that in the next two statements. Now, if I'd said something like "Since almost half your posts are in the 'Time' thread, and we all know everyone there is wackadoodle, your logic must be similarly suspect," that would be more of a classical ad hominem.

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Klear » Wed Jan 22, 2014 3:02 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:FYI: gmalivuk is both an english teacher and someone who is not to be trifled with around these parts. Tread lighter...


Ah! That explains the strong reaction, and shows he's incapable of objective analysis of the subject at hand.

(is this ad hominem? Am I doing it right?)

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Re: What-If 0080: "Pile of Viruses"

Postby Spectrum » Wed Jan 22, 2014 3:37 pm UTC

grep_ wrote:[imath]{10}^{30}[/imath] is not that much. You can assign an IPv6 address to each virus and use up only a millionth of percent of all address space.


True... but installing the ethernet connectors would be difficult.


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