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Calculus Textbook Author James Stewart Has Died

Dr. Spork What about that stupid book is worth US$244? (166 comments)

I really fucking hate this about academia. It's absolutely shameless to charge college students $244 for a single dumb textbook. It's not even that good. It's just that when a department chooses to standardize on a textbook, the move has inertia and is basically impossible to reverse. Then, the publisher can charge something absurd, and everybody pays it, because it is a required text. It's so dirty, because it's profiteering from people who are often barely making ends meet, and typically buying the book with debt.

What really bothers me is that nobody seems willing to do anything about it. If a big, publicly funded university system set aside some money to create and regularly update their core STEM curriculum textbooks - let's start with Calculus, Physics, GenChem, GenBio - it would certainly cost less than the almost $1000 per student that the textbook purchases cost. These universities have Nobel Prize winners among their faculty, surely they have the in-house resources to create excellent textbooks and distribute them on some sort of open license like CC. Arranging sabbaticals for the authors might cost at most a million dollars, or roughly 4000 Stewart Calculus books. That might be about the number of Calc 1, Phys 1, GenChem and GenBio books that are sold on a single campus in a single year.

But this move would help everybody, not just within the entire UC system that funded the effort, but across the globe. And the costs of updating and embellishing future editions would be far less. I'm so mad that a large university system doesn't just make this happen. And yes, raise fucking tuition by $200 to pay for it, if you absolutely have to. In exchange for textbooks you can have for free (or for printing cost if you don't like digital), everybody will recognize that's a great deal. The courses can explicitly invite students to devise problems for future editions, or to suggest changes and clarifications. And it will bring prestige to the colleges and to the authors, which is worth something too.

yesterday
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Small Bank In Kansas Creates the Bank Account of the Future

Dr. Spork Gee, how innovative! (156 comments)

Requests for ACH transfers are collected by banks and submitted in batches, once a day, and the banks receiving the transfers also process the payments once a day, leading to long waits. ACH technology was created in the 1970s and has not changed significantly since.

Jesus Christ. How much do we pay these people?

5 days ago
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Spanish Media Group Wants Gov't Help To Keep Google News In Spain

Dr. Spork Re:Imagine that! (191 comments)

Yeah, except the Spanish media is not at all in a good negotiating position. It's not like the only Spanish-language press is in Spain. Spaniards who like Google's service can just switch their link to news.google.ar, .mx, or whatever. Or Google can even keep news.google.es but focus on stories about Spain as they appear in the Spanish-speaking press outside of Spain.

If Spaniards come to see domestic newspapers as dispensable, those newspapers are the only party that loses. In fact, I would bet that before long, some of the minor Spanish news outlets will break and announce that they have arranged an fee exemption for Google news. Without domestic competition, these sources will suddenly have top billing and a surge in traffic. And suddenly, everyone else will announce their own fee exemption, and this whole thing will end how it started.

about a week ago
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MIT Removes Online Physics Lectures and Courses By Walter Lewin

Dr. Spork Re:Surely *someone* has kept 720p copies! (416 comments)

I hope that these videolectures.net versions are not the only ones that will be saved. They look like re-encodes of the already ugly 240p version. I know all the artifacts don't make it unintelligible, but they are very distracting, especially if you watch at full screen. At some point, MIT re-capped the videotape with much better capture hardware and in 720p. That's what you got to watch if you did the MIT-X course.

about two weeks ago
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MIT Removes Online Physics Lectures and Courses By Walter Lewin

Dr. Spork Re:Creating more victims (416 comments)

MIT's video was 720p - granted, their source material was VHS, but it looks far better than the re-encoded thing on videolectures.net. I found I have a local copy of the first seven lectures of 8.0.1 in 720p, and I'm sure that others have the rest. Especially because it's CC, I'd hate for these to just be lost.

about two weeks ago
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MIT Removes Online Physics Lectures and Courses By Walter Lewin

Dr. Spork Surely *someone* has kept 720p copies! (416 comments)

I have about the first half of the 801 course (Newtonian mechanics) in 720p. I downloaded the videos so I could watch them during my commute when I was offline. The other videos must be on someone's hard drive somewhere, right? I think it's time for some sneaky guerrilla distributed archiving!

about two weeks ago
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Complex Life May Be Possible In Only 10% of All Galaxies

Dr. Spork Um, can't life just evolve under water? (307 comments)

...the gamma rays would set off a chain of chemical reactions that would destroy the ozone layer in a planet's atmosphere. With that protective gas gone, deadly ultraviolet radiation from a planet’s sun would rain down for months or years

Yeah, because it's impossible that complex life could be protected by a different (better!) kind of UV shield like... water. From my understanding, it's not exactly rare in the universe.

about a month ago
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Firefox Signs Five-Year Deal With Yahoo, Drops Google as Default Search Engine

Dr. Spork Re:Yahoo! is cool again? (400 comments)

Yeah, it was my impression that Google wanted Mozilla to be healthy, but instead of just giving them money directly, they basically "bought" top billing in the searchbox for the money they just wanted to give them. Yahoo is not paying for the good of the Mozilla project - they just can't afford to splash the cash like that. They want to buy traffic. But you know, I think it's a good thing, because the fact that this happened means that top billing in the searchbox is actually worth real money, and that Firefox is more than a charity case being kept alive by the good will of Google. That bodes well for Firefox's long-term prospects. The only thing that scares me is that Google might now look at Firefox and see an enemy - a Chrome competitor who is keeping users off Google's search engine. If Google goes to war against Firefox, Firefox will lose. Yahoo is not a true ally to anyone.

about 1 month ago
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Blizzard Announces Overwatch, a First-Person Shooter

Dr. Spork Re:"Approacheable FPS" (183 comments)

What I don't get is why you think that as a casual player, you'll stand a better chance against 13 year old kids who take the time to master this game, as opposed to kids who take the time to master Counterstrike.

about a month and a half ago
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Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

Dr. Spork Re:Rearden Rocket (443 comments)

Wow, that's too perfect.

about 2 months ago
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Alienware's Triangular Area-51 Re-Design With Tri-SLI GeForce GTX 980, Tested

Dr. Spork $4649 as configured? (138 comments)

Granted, this $4649 is for a system with three graphics cards, but only one CPU socket! That one CPU is a hex core, but still, if you're making a fantasy computer for the stupid rich that want "the best there is", you should have at least dual Xeons.

about 2 months ago
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Will Fiber-To-the-Home Create a New Digital Divide?

Dr. Spork Waa! Without 4K video, I can't get an education! (291 comments)

Sorry, there are many legitimate worries about digital divide stuff, and there are even more about ISP business practices. But this red herring about your education being compromised because your video link is only 1080p, that's just stupid. Why not worry that rich people's cars accelerate faster than poor people's cars? Is that causing a "kinetic divide" that we now have to worry about? The difference between the "poor" 171/122 Mbit/s connection and the gigabit connections will basically turn out to be just as unimportant to society. Let's focus on solving the real social problems, which are still many.

about 2 months ago
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Apple Doesn't Design For Yesterday

Dr. Spork So on OSX you can't choose the system font? (370 comments)

I don't often use OSX, but I'm a little mortified that the system font is dictated by the whims of Apple, instead of being selectable by the user. When I install Windows, one of the first things I do is to change the system fonts. In KDE I used to, but now I'm happy with the defaults. But it never occurred to me that there might be a modern OS that doesn't give you this option!

about 2 months ago
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The Physics of Why Cold Fusion Isn't Real

Dr. Spork Re:Here are your odds (350 comments)

Make it 2050 and I'll offer you $10 instead of $1. Nothing gets commercialized in 10 years, not even the soundest of science. It took more than 50 years to commercialize the laser after Einstein figured out stimulated emission. Cold fusion isn't even theoretically sketched out. Of course it won't be commercial in 10 years, but neither will anything else that is not in the prototype stage today.

about 2 months ago
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Scanning Embryos For Super-Intelligent Kids Is On the Horizon

Dr. Spork Re:You're making a baby, not a D&D character! (366 comments)

Right, and since not one of those sheets is going to be maxed out across the board, you have to pick the one which best fits with what you think is best for your child.

about 2 months ago
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For Game Developers, It's About the Labor of Love

Dr. Spork I hate this strategy of justifying exploitation! (164 comments)

I think it's too easy to justify grueling jobs with bad work conditions and inadequate compensation by saying "Oh but the people who take them do the work out of loooove!" We do the same thing with teachers: Their jobs suck, their hours suck, their pay sucks, they deal with absurd bullshit, but all that is ok because allegedly, "they loooove kids and receive intrinsic rewards from their work."

We don't think this way about accountants or dentists. We don't expect them to loooove replacing fillings or mastering actuarial tables. We pay them so that their jobs are worthwhile even without the love. And I wish we would apply this standard to all jobs. A coding job where you produce games should be compensated like a coding jobs where you produce financial software, or anything else.

about 2 months ago
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Scanning Embryos For Super-Intelligent Kids Is On the Horizon

Dr. Spork Re:You're making a baby, not a D&D character! (366 comments)

I guess I'm saying that for personal flourishing in the real world, CHA, WIS and CON are the traits that matter most. And as parents, that's what we want - or should want - for our kids, right? INT has been shown to be negatively correlated with happiness. I would still hope that my kids get a high INT, STR and DEX, but I'd be happy to let the dice fall where they may. But if I could affect only a subset of their traits, as with this zygote selection method, I would focus on the traits that give them a happy temperament, CHA, WIS and CON.

about 2 months ago
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Scanning Embryos For Super-Intelligent Kids Is On the Horizon

Dr. Spork Re:You're making a baby, not a D&D character! (366 comments)

With genetic selection you can max them all out.

Not really. Remember, this is a process where you create lots of zygotes, test them all, and implant the ones with the most desired trait combinations. It's limited by how many eggs can be extracted from the mother - maybe a few dozen? This is not a process where you're splicing genes, or doing any other kind of trait engineering. This is just zygote trait prioritizing. You'll be choosing from a very finite set of "natural" (randomly generated) offspring.

about 2 months ago
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Scanning Embryos For Super-Intelligent Kids Is On the Horizon

Dr. Spork Re:What's the big deal with intelligence? (366 comments)

I think you underestimate how easy it will be to mechanize "intelligence" work. A hint: The cost of running code is falling at Moore's exponential, the cost of hardware is basically stable. Janitorial work requires hardware, intelligence work is just running code. Picking stocks, searching law precedents, designing bridges, and many other smart-person jobs, are already being done by computers. Yes, I wouldn't want my kids to end up in a profession from which humans will disappear, but if she ended up a chef or a real estate agent - just picking jobs that don't require a ton of raw brainpower - I would be a proud father. What matters is that she's happy, and that depends a lot on her genes, as it turns out.

Maybe it's because my wife and I are both academics, but when it comes to the intelligence of my kids, I'd be happy to let the dice fall where they may. But because we both have some serious melancholy in our families, the intervention that I would find most tempting is the one that will prevent these dispositions from manifesting themselves in our kids. I don't think that a high intelligence improves a life anywhere near as much as a sunny temperament, and I would never prioritize the genes that predispose for the former over the latter, if my kids couldn't have both.

about 2 months ago
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Scanning Embryos For Super-Intelligent Kids Is On the Horizon

Dr. Spork You're making a baby, not a D&D character! (366 comments)

I'm sure that Slashdot is full of munchkins who always try to max out the stats of their characters, but please, don't bring that attitude with you when you're designing a baby. If you want the best for your kids - and I hope you do - you should basically do the opposite of what you would do for D&D - prioritize charisma, wisdom and health (CON). Don't worry so much about STR, DEX and INT. All of these traits have genetic correlates.

about 2 months ago

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