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iOS 8 Review

Graymalkin Re:Keyboard (216 comments)

My anecdotal data is the opposite of yours. The Surface/Windows 8 onscreen keyboard is absolutely awful compared to the iOS keyboard, even on the iPad.

I hate that the keyboard layout changes when I hit the number/symbol key. Being left handed the number pad being on the right side of the screen is ridiculous and I have to readjust my grip to type numbers. The Shift key also does not reset when returning from the symbol/number mode. So if you need to type XX-xx you need a lot of extra keystrokes and grip readjustment (or at least I do). I've never minded the key labels being capitalized on iOS since they're also capitalized on physical keyboards. It's plain to see when and where capital characters will be typed.

The Windows keyboard is also really uncomfortable to use in portrait orientation (Windows 8 is generally uncomfortable in portrait orientation). On the iPad the keyboard is much more usable in landscape orientation than the Windows keyboard is in portrait.

Issues of meta keys being available is simply a difference between Windows 8 and iOS. There's no need for meta keys to access functionality in iOS because everything is designed for touch. Windows 8 is keeping around DOS keyboard shortcuts on a touchscreen.

about a month ago

iPhone 6 Sales Crush Means Late-Night Waits For Some Early Adopters

Graymalkin Re: I just want the new Nexus. (222 comments)

Don't include "if you knew anything about X" in your reply if you're going to spout nonsense. The whole idea behind "Retina" displays is they're an increase in pixel density rather than a simple increase in screen geometry.

The iPhone 4 had a screen with roughly twice the pixel density of the iPhone 3GS and earlier. This is where the "@2x" naming scheme for images originated. The geometry of the iPhone 4's screen was the same as earlier phones but with a higher pixel density. The iPads had the same sort of density increase.

The geometric difference between the iPhone 5 and 6 over the 3GS is immaterial. They maintain the high pixel density. The only place where a developer will care is if they have static images that fill the display. They'd need larger ones for the iPhone 6 and 6+.

For a majority however the increased screen geometry will simple mean more content space. Apps tend to have fixed elements in portions of the screen with flexible space in between. The new iPhones will just see a bit more flexible space.

An icon for a button won't need to change unless you want to make it bigger in proportion to the screen. In fact iOS 8 (the OS on the new phones) has several new view classes that allow them to adapt easily to different screen sizes. This is a feature OSX has had for a long time, the UI can be laid out in relative values so it will be correct no matter the window size or aspect.

about a month ago

Microsoft Surface Drowning?

Graymalkin Re:Pull the plug on RT (337 comments)

Windows 8 does support right clicks via long clicks on the Desktop. There's a number of problems with the UI however. On most devices I have used (including and especially Surfaces) the right click menus and menu items are too small to hit accurately with a fingertip. You need to use a stylus to effectively use the traditional Desktop with a touch screen. Besides the targets being too small your finger occults the very target you're trying to hit. Your fingertip is larger than the Windows mouse cursor and it's attached to your hand which is vastly larger than the Windows mouse cursor. Without at the very least a stylus the Windows desktop is almost impossible to use effectively on a touch device.

just because it is capable enough to run a parallel full desktop interface doesn't mean the whole thing is stupid, it means it is trying to be 2 things at once. And that can be a brilliant thing, if you manage to pull it off.

Unfortunately for everyone involved Windows 8 does not implement its different UI paradigms well. The Metro interface is absurd when using a keyboard and mouse and the traditional Desktop interface is absurd when using a touch screen.

about 2 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About the Sorry State of FOSS Documentation?

Graymalkin Re:Bring back man pages as the primary documentati (430 comments)

Now you might say that much of today's software is too complex to describe in a man page --- but IMHO - that's the bigger problem. If people write complex monolithic bloat, writing pretty documentation for it is the least of our problems.

I wouldn't say that today's software is too complex for man pages but instead man pages have never really been ideal for the tasks for which they're used. Software has always been complex. Man pages might have been appropriate for some short window of time but technology quickly left them behind.

Man pages do not have an effective system of hyperlinking, indexing, or even searching. They were meant to be read on a teletype or printed on paper. For documentation any more complex than instructions on how to use console commands they are completely inadequate. Even for looking up instructions on console commands they're less than adequate because there's no sort of authoritative hierarchy, if you don't look up the exact right term man won't point you to the correct documentation (or best guesses).

Besides man being inadequate it is difficult to write proper man pages. This is just adding insult to injury as it makes it less likely that developers will write even bad documentation.

Of existing documentation systems I'd most like to see GNU Info become the primary documentation mechanism for FOSS. It solves most of man's problems without introducing its own new ones. Even GNU Info isn't perfect and could use some improvements.

I don't disagree with the idea that FOSS desperately needs some reliable offline documentation. This idea might require that FOSS distributions themselves maintain their own documentation. The Arch wiki for instance is fantastic, it's some of the best Linux/Unix documentation around. While the Wiki is great it would be really nice to see this information turned into texinfo/manpage/whatever files so everyone could have good references and not need access to the internet.

about 3 months ago

Samsung Delays Tizen Phone Launch

Graymalkin Re:Tizen was just a strategic threat (112 comments)

Google got the message and Samsung killed most of their Tizen team and went back to focusing on Android.

They killed their engineers? Can't Google just call their bluff now?

about 3 months ago

Chromebooks Are Outselling iPads In Schools

Graymalkin Re:Good (225 comments)

If only tablets had on-screen keyboards or supported Bluetooth keyboards or keyboard docks! Those poor students with tablets! They're unable to do anything but watch Netflix!

This sort of commentary just sounds stupid. Even if you want to make a point that tablets don't have good native input solutions don't go full hyperbole. All you're doing is reducing the impact of the point you're trying to make.

In the real non-hyperbolic world tablets are perfectly capable of being typed upon. I would even suggest tablets (especially higher end ones like iPads, Nexuses, and Galaxy Notes) can be more capable than laptops in some situations when given to students.

It's entirely possible for a kid and with iPad to produce their own podcast or video presentation for a class. They've got an audio recorder, video camera, and still camera in their hands. There's also plenty of apps that let them splice all of that together into something coherent and interesting. They can also use that same device to type up a more traditional report.

The idea of kids putting together multimedia presentations has been around for a long time but the technology to do so has really sucked. It's either been overly complicated or vastly underpowered. There's room for both traditional written reports as well as multimedia projects. Having devices that can handle all of them is a good investment.

about 3 months ago

Hunt Intensifies For Aliens On Kepler's Planets

Graymalkin Re:Since there seems to be some confusion, (93 comments)

For starters the Drake Equation is not something to really be "believed". It's just a way to form a guess. It doesn't tell anyone anything useful.

As for nuclear wars on extrasolar planets, we're just at the edge of being able to detect terrestrial extrasolar planets. We do not currently have the ability to gather the sort of data that might suggest an extrasolar planet had been the site of a nuclear war.

about 5 months ago

Microsoft Finally Selling Xbox One Without Kinect

Graymalkin Re:Too little, too late (227 comments)

Microsoft has more or less annoyed. confused and alienated their potential user base.

Microsoft's big problem with their policies and backpedaling is that people like me simply cannot trust anything they say. Rational buyers aren't now going to run out and buy XBones because there's no guarantee Microsoft won't go back to their original policies once sales improve.

If anything they need to abandon disliked policies and declare publicly with some manner of legal obligation that they will never go back to them. Until then I won't even consider buying an XBone or any subsequent Microsoft console.

about 5 months ago

Astronomers Calculate How To Spot Life On an Alien Earth

Graymalkin Re: Chlorrophyll makes a big assumption (46 comments)

Hence the line about "light gathering chemicals like it". There's a few different chemicals that can be used by organisms in photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is simply the most popular on the surface of the Earth. Other pigments are optimum for regions that receive different light spectra than the surface. On worlds whose stars had different spectral maxima than Sol these pigments would likely be more abundant in photosynthetic life.

about 6 months ago

The Amazon Fire TV Is Kind of a Mess

Graymalkin Re:Bullshit review - facts help (96 comments)

Is there a astroturfing version of Poe's Law?

Once you have seen a Fire in action, you will be blown away.

Once you see the astroturfing for the Fire in action, you will be blown farther away.

about 7 months ago

An SSD for Your Current Computer May Save the Cost of a New One (Video)

Graymalkin Re:Automatic SSD caching of spinning disks in Linu (353 comments)

There's a few methods to do this. The first is bcache which allows an SSD/Flash memory to be combined to form a hybrid volume. Another is Flashcache which is a little more transparent (as I understand it) with respect to the file system.

about 7 months ago

Graphene Conducts Electricity Ten Times Better Than Expected

Graymalkin Re:We don't know that. (161 comments)

To start: fuck the beta. Everyone involved in it should be ashamed of themselves.

The comparison to dinosaurs is a bit ridiculous. Slashdot fucking itself over is not the fault of the users, especially disgruntled long time users. It's the fault of myopic management with delusions of grandeur.

Slashdot is not a destination because it aggregates somewhat nerdy stories hosted on other websites. It is also not a destination because of the impressive grammar and spelling skills of the "editors".

It's a destination because nerds with an interest in the stories published will come and opine on them. Not only will they opine but they'll provide additional details or corrections. That's not something readily found on other news aggregation sites. The user comments section of most websites is something to be avoided at all costs.

The beta not only discourages the sort of commentary that has made Slashdot a worthwhile destination but the policies around it are driving away users. Without the users as a value-add Slashdot is really little different from any other news aggregator.

about 8 months ago

Slashdot Tries Something New; Audience Responds!

Graymalkin It could'a been a contender (2219 comments)

Timothy et al, please just stop and look at what you're doing. The beta is awful. The beta is awful because it seriously fucks up the one feature that has made Slashdot a site worth using since its inception: the user contributions.

The stories themselves are rarely why I bother to check Slashdot, I've always been more interested in the discussion. The discussion on Slashdot has been more interesting than the stories for several reasons. One major reason is the discussions would almost always add information about a story that wasn't linked to by the story itself or the editors. A Slashdot post would bring up a topic and then allow a bunch of nerds with an interest in that subject to chime in and share what they knew. Many times the people being written about in the Slashdot stories were Slashdot users themselves and could give first hand information.

Besides the contributions themselves the moderation system is actually pretty damned good. Positive discussion more often than not gets highly promoted. Because of the way mod points work there's little incentive to do anything but promote interesting commentary or demote outright trolling. Because of this system it's pretty easy to find worthwhile discussion no matter the topic.

It's because of these things that Slashdot's value comes almost entirely from its user contributions rather than news aggregation. In 1997 news aggregation like Slashdot was new and interesting. Today every site does it. What every site does not have is an intelligent and interested user base that will add value to the stories themselves.

The user comments section of almost every large website is a cesspool. Not only do they not have meaningful moderation but there's no community interested in promoting discussion. The design of the sites themselves also discourage long form commentary and encourage useless drive-by commentary.

The beta is it seems to be promoting Slashdot's weaknesses and hiding or abandoning its strengths. Promote user commentary and support the users in commenting on and moderating stories. Fix the character encoding problems and support Markdown for markup. Give the comments a lot of room with readable fonts and don't add whitespace just to add whitespace. Lose the fucking JavaScript popups and animations, I should be able to park my cursor anywhere on the screen and not have to worry about some attention grabbing animation happening.

In short remember that Slashdot users are not an audience, they are a community of contributors. Without the users there is no Slashdot.

about 9 months ago

Ask Slashdot: How To Reimagine a Library?

Graymalkin Make a library a place to go (231 comments)

What ideas do you have to turn an elementary school library into an environment that fosters innovation and technology?

I'm really worried about this whole endeavor if you're asking that question. A library shouldn't need to foster âoeinnovation and technologyâ. If you want to foster innovation and technology build a technology lab. Libraries should be a place students can borrow books and other media to enjoy. It sounds like you've got an earmarked budget for one thing (libraries) and you're trying to shoehorn it into another area (technology).

Now if technology is your buzzword that draws funding then add media besides books to the catalog. Pick up some cheap (and/or durable) televisions and DVD players with DVDs of educational shows like Reading Rainbow. Put a few donated computers loaded with educational software in the back. LTSP terminals instead of full desktops might even be more survivable.

If you want to get really innovative and technological you could add hobby projects to the list of things students could check out. Hobby project kits like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. You could even lend out eletronic science lab kits. Besides stocking science and electronic books for kids sync up with a local Maker group and have them come in for special electronics lectures and demonstrations.

about 9 months ago

1.21 PetaFLOPS (RPeak) Supercomputer Created With EC2

Graymalkin Re:1.21 PetaFLOPS (RPeak) (54 comments)

There's several potential problems with renting out time on another university's cluster. For one there may simply be a lot of bureaucratic steps involved in renting out resources from another university. The second is that some cluster you don't own might not support your particular software/platform/project.

One attractive aspect of cloud services is the customer gets to load on whatever wonky configuration they want into a virtualized instance. Using someone else's cluster may not provide that sort of flexibility. Being able to load an EC2 instance with the same (or similar enough) configuration as your work laptop is a feature. Researchers aren't necessarily developers so the code/configuration they need to run may be very messy. A "cloud compute" service is more attractive in that case than a highly optimized HPC cluster.

A very real use case for this sort of set up is "man my laptop doesn't have the power to churn through all this data, let me upload my project as-is to Amazon and throw a few petaflops at it". I've seen a few people use AWS for things like rendering 3D scenes (Blender et al). It's a nice option to have a few teraflops at your disposal when you need them for a relatively low price.

about a year ago

1.21 PetaFLOPS (RPeak) Supercomputer Created With EC2

Graymalkin Re:1.21 PetaFLOPS (RPeak) (54 comments)

Basically this article translates to "Amazon has a lot of computers and this guy rented out a bunch of them at once".

No the article translates to "if you've got embarrassingly parallel workloads you can use EC2 to churn through it without a massive infrastructure outlay of your own". Amazon isn't just renting out the actual CPUs but the power, HVAC, storage, and networking to go along with it. Infrastructure and maintenance is a huge cost of HPC and puts it out of reach for many smaller projects.

You're entirely correct that a massive Rpeak value isn't impressive in terms of actual purpose-built super computers but reporting of the Rpeak is only half of the story. The lede buried in the reporting is that for $33,000 a professor was able to take off the shelf software and run it on a 1.21 petaflop parallel cluster. That's high teraflop to petaflop computing at relatively small research grant prices. I think that's the interesting fact out of this story.

about a year ago

Can Nintendo Survive Gaming's Brave New World?

Graymalkin Re:Nintendo's Biggest Weakness - ONLINE (277 comments)

Nintendo's biggest weakness is clearly their complete distain and disregard for supporting online play. From tedious friend codes, to a lack of headset/mic support, to their stubborn insistence in going their own way with an online marketplace, their online/connectivity factor is woefully neglected and abused.

It's not so much disdain as it is compliance with the law. I wouldn't agree Nintendo's first party games are chilidish as many people exclaim but they do tend to be child friendly. This means that Nintendo has a large population of players under the age of 13. This is an important point because there's a lot of regulation around online services and children. Specifically the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The Wikipedia entry covers the major provisions of the law but it boils down to collecting just about any information from children under 13 is a really tricky situation.

Because of COPPA and other laws in the same vein more traditional online identities are not really practical if you intend the services to be used by children. With Friend Codes two players have to provide each with their personal code for each game. Ostensibly (and likely in the eyes of the law) these codes are not personally identifiable nor do they provide any sort of 1-to-1 correspondance to any particular person. It's just a code that corresponds to a particular game inserted into a particular console.

The lack of headphone support is likely largely informed by Nintendo's demographics as well. Instead of having to build all kinds of filtering or restrictions into a chat system they just don't bother including one. Since the multi-player focus of many Nintendo properties is for local split-screen play adding support for network voice chat is probably pretty low on the priority list.

I'll agree with you about their marketplace. It's not well thought out or at least the logic behind it is not obvious to anyone outside of the company. It's taken far too long to get any sort of parity between the Wii, Wii-U, and 3DS stores. The Virtual Console is the worst offender as there's no universal availability between devices for different titles. There's no reason an old NES game can't be played on a Wii and 3DS. If you've got a hacked console with an open source emulator you're in a better spot than going through the official channels.

about a year ago

Join the Efforts of a Manned Mission To Jovian Moon Europa

Graymalkin Re:Whyd do we need to send humans? (212 comments)

We've sent a number of automated missions to Mars and we should send quite a few more. To paraphrase myself from another reply; we lose a Mars probe due to a conversion error and no one cars, we lose a single astronaut and the whole program is shuttered.

For the money it would take to develop the infrastructure to send that one good field geologist to Mars we could send many probes designed by good field geologists with all their important tools built-in. If the probes last beyond their initial missions they can continue on with secondary missions. Look at the Mars Exploration Rovers, Deep Space 1, or the Voyager probes for great examples of this.

Once a human's food or water runs out their mission ends. Growing/recycling food and water sounds great but is extremely complicated and something we're barely able to do in LEO aboard the ISS. The ECLSS system on the ISS breaks down with alarming regularity. It's a learning experience to be sure but it's something that would need to be perfected and then re-perfected for any manned mission outside of LEO where resupply is unavailable.

about a year ago

Join the Efforts of a Manned Mission To Jovian Moon Europa

Graymalkin Re:Whyd do we need to send humans? (212 comments)

There's currently about a dozen active deep space missions including three Martian orbiters and two rovers. Robots can send back pretty pictures that make good magazine covers and desktop backgrounds (in addition to doing science) and they continue to get funding. There's also no sense of hurt national pride if one of them unceremoniously litho-brakes during a mission. Lose a Mars probe due to Imperial-Metric conversion error and no one bats an eye, lose some astronauts and everyone freaks out.

about a year ago

Join the Efforts of a Manned Mission To Jovian Moon Europa

Graymalkin Re:Whyd do we need to send humans? (212 comments)

The principal investigator for the Mars rovers said that if he were on Mars he could do in 45 seconds what the rovers do in a day.

I think you're talking about Steve Squyers, the principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover missions. He's a really smart guy and he's not wrong in his statement you're quoting. To wit, Apollo 17 astronauts collected about 110kg of lunar rocks during 22 total hours of EVA and drove a grand total of 36km while the Spirit rover only drove about 3.6km and examined (but did not collect) about 25 rocks over the course of 8 months.

However you simply cannot use this data to imply that humans sent into space are magically more productive than robotic probes. A field geologist would need to do a day's worth of work in 45 seconds on Mars because they would die of asphyxiation in about three minutes. To prevent that they would need to carry around their own oxygen. To keep it from floating free it would need to be contained in some sort of mask. The freezing temperatures would then kill that geologist within a few hours so instead of a mask they would need a whole insulated airtight suit. To keep from dying of dehydration within three days they would need water. Now that they would survive the night they would need food or else they would be ineffectual in their explorations after a few days and dead of starvation within a few weeks.

From there it only gets worse. In order to do really interesting work the field geologist would need some tools, not the least of which is a camera and a transceiver to talk back with Earth about their findings. To do anything more complicated would likely require more complicated tools. To keep these out of the elements (dust storms, intense UV radiation, Martian attack, etc) the field geologist would likely need some sort of habitat.

So really the field geologist needs literally tons of logistics behind them to do the work of an automated probe. That's a lot of non-mission specific mass to send to Mars just to support the single capable field geologist. With the extra mass comes expense and added complexity of the whole system.

Why not skip the extra bullshit and send more automated probes to Mars that were designed by an army of field geologists? You could send a dozen such missions for the same cost as a single manned mission and end up covering every major geologic region of the planet. You could also fill up its orbit with a squadron of multispectral imaging satellites that could relay data as well as collect their own.

I understand the desire to plant a human being on Mars but at the same time the pragmatic part of me interested in the actual science would rather see a dozen automated missions sent first. Putting inanimate objects in space is Hard, putting living things in space and getting them home still alive in Very Hard, putting people on the surface of other bodies is Extremely Hard, and putting people on the surface of other bodies having them do useful work while there is a damn moonshot (pun intended). Getting them home from said body is a "nice to have" and a minor miracle when it occurs.

Humans can be more effective in some places than robots but they're not necessarily more efficient than robots. If you've got limited will/funds the robot is usually the better option.

about a year ago


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