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Ask Slashdot: How To Start With Linux In the Workplace?

MavenW Also... (452 comments)

EVERYTHING that goes wrong will be blamed on Linux.

One of my users accidentally turned the brightness on the monitor all the way down. "Linux broke my monitor!"

I would be interested in reading about some of the idiotic things other guys have had blamed on Linux.

about 4 months ago

Financing College With a Tax On All Graduates

MavenW Mormon Perpetual Education Fund (597 comments)

The Mormons have something similar, and it has been very successful. They call it the Perpetual Education Fund. Patterned after the Perpetual Emigration Fund back in the 1800's, but they have learned some lessons from it. They have arranged to eliminate a lot of the possible ways to game the system, although not all of them. There is no way their system would work with the general public, or in the United States, but it has blessed a lot of lives.

The original fund came from donations. They announced the idea in General Conference back in 2001, and hundreds of thousands of people got excited about it and donated money. Twelve years later almost 60,000 people had gone through the program.

The loans are made from interest only. The capital of the fund is never touched. So it won't run out. It may decrease in value as inflation makes education more expensive, but the capital is protected. Even if the recipients slack and never repay. If they DO pay it back (which seems to be the norm), the payments go to the capital, increasing the fund.

Loans are made to people in very poor countries who otherwise would never have the opportunity to get advanced education. In those places the education doesn't cost very much. Relatively. The average loan is $800 and the average training program lasts about 2.5 years. To college students in the United States, that wouldn't even make a dent. But to them, it's huge.

about 5 months ago

NetWare 3.12 Server Taken Down After 16 Years of Continuous Duty

MavenW Re:Netware 3 (187 comments)

I got a call from an acquaintance who was a low level runner for a law firm. He asked if there was any way to resurrect files that had been deleted by a disgruntled employee who was laid off. She deleted a ton of important stuff. They didn't have any backups and were in a panic. I told him salvage might work, and explained how to get to it.

He was a hero that day.

about a year ago

Orson Scott Card's Superman Story Shelved After Homophobia Controversy

MavenW He never said that. (1174 comments)

Who wrote this garbage? OP should do a little bit of research before re-posting straw men.

"The controversy arose because Card has become an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, going so far as to say giving it legal recognition could mark 'the end of democracy in America,' and suggesting 'traditional' married people will eventually have to overthrow the government."

Card never really even came close to saying that giving gay marriage legal recognition could mark the end of democracy in America.

That quote came from an article he wrote back in 2008, shortly after the court in California disagreed with the law that the voters in California had passed. Gay marriage was a secondary issue. It was the fact that court was making new laws. Nobody believes that giving gay marriage recognition could mark the end of democracy in America. Least of all Card. However, letting the courts make new laws when the people have voted... that might.

Card also doesn't believe that traditional married people will eventually have to overthrow the government. Whoever wrote that press release was obviously trying to make him out as more of a nut case than he really is.

Frankly, it's obviously working. Nobody here even checked up on it. Slashdot, I'm disappointed.

about a year ago

Real-Time Fact Checking With "Truth Teller"

MavenW Facts can have any number of true answers (149 comments)

Even this list of "verifiable facts" can have multiple true answers. Politicians can pick and choose their assumptions to fit the propaganda they want to spread.

For example, the amount of money allocated or spent by the military depends an awful lot on what your definition of the military is. Does it include the Coast Guard? National Guard? American Legion? Local Police forces?

How many firearms are purchased in a year? What exactly is classified as a firearm? BB guns? Paintball guns? Airsoft guns? Tanks? Missiles? Do you exclude firearms purchased by the military?

Price of hamburger? Retail or wholesale? Bulk or in patties? Already cooked? Sold at fast food restaurants like McDonalds? Sold at higher-end restaurants like Outback?

And how do you really get a reliable independent source that tells you something as complicated as the number of intruders shot by firearms owners defending their property or person? Even judges and juries have problems determining if these incidents are actually self-defense or not. The probability that the viewer's criteria and the politician's criteria and the fact checker's criteria match for what should really be considered self-defense are pretty slim. Well... maybe not. If you are a Washington Post reader and the politician is a Democrat, the probabilities go up considerably.

Politicians can pick their assumptions so that their statements are TRUE for that particular set of assumptions.

The real problem with this entire scheme is that the Washington Post is going to want to use their own set of assumptions when they assess statements. They are going to want to pick the assumptions that show that their favorite politicians are flashing the TRUE indicator a lot, and their least favorite politicians are flashing the FALSE indicator. TRUE and FALSE have no provisions to explain that the politician is not including air rifles as a firearm and the fact checker is. This is useless from a standpoint of someone who wants to know what the issues really are. It is extremely useful if you are a political newspaper and want to create controversy.

about a year and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: Where Are the E-Ink Dashboards?

MavenW Re:Led (242 comments)

This was especially bad in server monitor screens. I remember when Novell added the moving snake screen saver. The longer the snake, the higher the server utilization. Prevented CRT burn AND gave useful information.

about a year and a half ago

Getting Better Transparency From Oil Refineries

MavenW Major spill? (217 comments)

7,700 gallons is a MAJOR spill? Isn't that about what one semi hauls?

about a year and a half ago

Learning Rocket Science With Video Games

MavenW Starcon II - Astronomy (64 comments)

Many years ago, I was playing an early RPG game, where I had named my characters after the moons of Saturn -- Titan, Mimas, Enceladus... A younger co-worker walked past and noticed. He got all excited and asked me, "So you played Starcon II?" I told him no, those were just the names of Saturn's actual moons. He thought someone had made up all those names just for the game. And all the constellations as well. Turns out he knew a lot more actual Astronomy than he realized. He just didn't know which things were real and which ones were made up. Pkunk? Shofixiti? Utwig? as opposed to Camelopardalis, Pyxis, or Vulpecula?

about a year and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: AT&T's Data Usage Definition Proprietary?

MavenW PLEASE DON'T DO THIS (562 comments)

If AT&T is dispensing a measured quantity of anything, and you feel you are being cheated, make a complaint to the state bureau that deals with this. Look on a gas station pump and you will be able to find them.

I expect they may not be doing this now, but a written complaint and their desire to build their empire may well cause the heavy hand of officialdom to descend on AT&T.

There are studies to do, standards to settle and matters to enforce and little stickers to put on all measuring points. AT&T will quake in their boots, run and hide?

Unless you want all of the ISPs to be regulated even more, and have state inspectors drop by every "gas station" monthly to check to see if the measurements are accurate. If they get enough complaints, they may make all sorts of new laws and regulations, and you may not like the results. Best case the cost of business will go up, and the costs will be passed on to you and me.

My ISP has pretty accurate metrics, by my reckoning. This has always been my experience. The industry is largely self-policing because of competition. If you think you're being ripped off, you can usually go elsewhere, and if you complain publicly enough (Like Slashdot, maybe?), they're aware of the possibility to lose other customers. I would appreciate it if you tried to work it out with AT&T yourself and don't get any regulators involved that might eventually impact MY bill.

about a year and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: AT&T's Data Usage Definition Proprietary?

MavenW Re:Headers (562 comments)

I doubt this. I would have to see the math to be convinced. The heat transfer rate to the surrounding ground is going to be the issue. Unless you have a lot of groundwater, I don't think there is enough heat transfer to make a difference when there are thousands of gallons of gasoline involved.

As I understand it, the heat transfer rate in dry ground is not high. This is what makes passive annual heating and cooling possible. It is also what limits the effectiveness of geothermal heat pumps.

about a year and a half ago

California Legalizes Self Driving Cars

MavenW Re:I wanna "Ask Slashdot" on this (508 comments)

As I understand it, this is exactly what Google's strategy is--rack up millions of miles in the car, under as many different situations as they can. Record EVERYTHING. If there is ever a situation where the car chooses a wrong strategy and the driver has to take over, flag it for review. Evaluate the situations and see if the engineers think the car did it right. If not, FIX THE ALGORITHM.

Over time, the car should be handling more and more obscure situations. The collective experience of all the cars in the fleet can be funneled into the master algorithm, and it shouldn't be long before each car will have the equivalent of millions of miles of driving experience. And mistakes where the car chooses badly in a new obscure situation should only happen once. After which the algorithm gets updated and the fleet software gets a revision.

The computer algorithm may not have a great ability to come up with the correct decision in a new experience, but it has superb rule-using abilities. They just need to add rules (human picked rules) every time they see a new obscure situation. Since there are an infinite number of possible new obscure situations, it will never reach absolute perfection. However, it will approach perfection relatively quickly. Especially after widespread adoption. They could get a lot more experience miles if commercial and civilian drivers submitted instrument recordings of all miles driven. More especially every time they thought the car made a mistake. Most especially if it resulted in an accident.

Besides, it doesn't need to be perfect--it only needs to be substantially better than human drivers. The bar is set quite low.

I expect all the situations you have brought up have been encountered by Google's cars more than once. If all of these situations have not been handled in the algorithm by now, I would be quite surprised.

about 2 years ago

Radio Shack's TRS-80 Turns 35

MavenW Re:TRS-80 - available in stores near you (231 comments)

But the big thing was I taught myself to program. First BASIC, then when it proved too slow Z-80 assembler.

This was also my experience. I saw the display model at the local Radio Shack and was fascinated. The owner let me take the programming manual home overnight. It was extremely well written. The next day when I brought it back, I could program in BASIC. I was breaking into the program and modifying it, and I was definitely hooked. I got a loan and bought one that day.

BASIC was limited. But there was T-Bug, the program that allowed you to jailbreak the computer and modify memory in hex. Ultimate control!

It was my introduction to the speed of machine language. Or maybe the slowness of interpreted BASIC. My first non-BASIC game was a version of Snake/Dominoes. After painstakingly writing the program in Hex on graph paper and typing it into the TBug hex editor, I hit the Run command and it flashed and was still. It took me a while to figure out that it worked perfectly, except that it was so blinkin' fast that the game was already over. I had to put wait loops inside of loops inside of loops to slow it down.

I once wrote a brute force program to solve crypto-rhythms (math problems using letters instead of digits where you had to figure out which letter stood for which digit). In BASIC it took hours. In machine code, it took seconds.

Ah, the speed of the 1 Mhz Z-80.

Also, introduction to discrete logic hardware. I bought the technical reference manual, which included schematics of the entire thing. I accidentally fried one of the 74xx chips, but there were a couple of unused gates and with a few wires I was able to re-route the logic and bring it back up. Invaluable experience.

about 2 years ago

Confidentiality Expires For 1940 Census Records

MavenW Indexing (311 comments)

The Mormons have plans to convert the entire pile of images into a searchable database -- in the next six months. I understand it will be available on-line for you and me to use free of charge.

This is no small task. They have thousands of volunteers that have been doing this for years, with other indexing projects, but they have been ramping up for this project, training new volunteers and getting ready to jump on it. The program they use downloads images a page at a time from their storage server, and highlights various parts of the image while the volunteer types the data into input forms. Each page gets sent to two different indexers, who transcribe the data independently. The program checks the data, and any discrepancies are sent to a third arbitrator volunteer who decides which data is correct.

So yeah, they're serious about this stuff. And although they try to maximize the accuracy, by the very nature of the amateur volunteers some mistakes are bound to slip through. If this project is anything like the 1930 census they already have indexed, you can still get to the original scans to check the data yourself. After you have found a record by searching the indexed database, if you have an account on, a click or two will bring up the scanned image of the page that name was on.

As far as Mormons being a huge part of the traffic, I expect the indexing server needs a copy, but other than that, most of them will be downloading the images from their server. I don't expect there are many Mormons requesting their own copies if the data.

As far as privacy goes, I've seen worse. I have a third cousin who is into genealogy. Somehow he got my family's personal information and stuck it on his web site--all about our mutual third great grandfather. One feature is a tree of all of his descendants. It has names, birthdates, family connections (mother's maiden name, for example) and such. After repeated requests to remove me from his list, we're still there. In contrast, the Mormon family search won't show you any information on people who are still alive. There's a good chance your data is in their database if you have a close family member who is Mormon. Just nobody can get to it until after you are dead. They seem to be making a reasonable effort to maximize genealogical research capabilities while trying to avoid privacy problems.

more than 2 years ago

Net Sees Earthquake Damage, Routes Around It

MavenW Re:Damage has been done, hello oil and coal... (177 comments)

I see what you mean, but it's not the large body of water, per se, that gives more pressure at the bottom of the dam. It's the head, or the vertical distance between the turbine and the water level at the top of the lake. I'm not talking about putting turbines in a fast moving stream, either. The small hydro plant I'm talking about achieved this head by pulling the water out of the river and into an enclosed pipe a few miles upstream. The river had quite a bit of drop (several hundred feet) between the diversion and the plant. The pressure at the plant, minus some friction, would be the same as if they had erected a huge dam several hundred feet tall. Of course in this case it was MORE efficient, because the topology simply wouldn't have worked for a dam that big at that place.

Maybe you could argue it is less efficient because it didn't use ALL the water in the river. I think dams like Hoover dam are designed to do that most of the time. I guess they could have done that in the pipeline plant as well, if they had used a bigger pipe, but then they would have had the migratory fish issue.

Come to think of it, I HAVE seen another hydroelectric power plant of this type, right where Provo Canyon opens up into Utah Valley. There's a pipeline that runs along the canyon wall, and then there at the base it runs straight down into a small plant.

more than 3 years ago

Net Sees Earthquake Damage, Routes Around It

MavenW Re:Damage has been done, hello oil and coal... (177 comments)

hydro is one of the most environmentally destructive forms of power, with burning forests being worse. It utterly devastates river ecology, floods vast tracts of otherwise useful and fertile land and is currently leading to the extinction of most of the planets major migratory fresh water fish.

Not necessarily. Only if there is a big dam with a reservoir behind it. Hydro can be done without the dam, and it's just as efficient. It doesn't have the bonus of evening out the annual flow fluctuations, but it solves the flooding and migratory fish issues.

Close to where I grew up there was a small hydroelectric power plant of this type. Some water was diverted into a pipeline a few miles upstream. The pipe roughly followed the bank of the river, and the water gushed back into the river after turning the turbines at the actual power plant. The ecological effect on the river was less flow for a few miles.

I don't know why there aren't more of this type of power plant around.

more than 3 years ago

Preserving Memories of a Loved One?

MavenW Re:Focus on recording her memories, not yours (527 comments)

In my experience this idea works very well. Get the siblings together and they can feed off each other and just cover lots of memories.

Or spouse, parents, best friends, old roommates, co-workers, or even classmates or cousins. Anyone who spent a lot of time with her or experienced things with her.

One of the things that is fun is they never remember the same experience the same. One of my brothers has a scar on his cheek. It happened in a car accident. But each of his older siblings had a story where they thought they were the one that caused his scar.

more than 3 years ago

What's In an Educational Game?

MavenW Re:Science (160 comments)

Another game that fits into the category of "Educational but you might not know it" was Starcon2. I was interacting with a young man once and I mentioned something about Enceladus. He stopped what he was doing, gave me a strange look, and asked "Do you play Starcon?" I was a bit confused and said, "No. That's one of the moons of Saturn." He was amazed. He thought someone had made up all the moons of the planets for a fictional game, where in reality they had used actual existing Astronomy facts for their game.

He had played the game quite a bit, and knew many of the moons of the planets in our solar system, as well as many stars and constellations, and he didn't even know they were real! He was learning real Science by accident.

The game doesn't concentrate on teaching you such things, but you need minerals on several of these moons to build up your spaceship. Then you need to travel to some constellations or named stars in order to make contact with different alien races.

I have thought about the huge amount of information that you learn playing games like World of Warcraft or Everquest. I played for several months, and learned vast amounts of information about History, Geography, Politics, even Science of a fictional place. That could have been more valuable if it had been even a little bit patterned after real places in the History of Earth. Imagine, instead of Crossing the continent of Antonica going through the pass of Highhold Keeep heading for Qeynos, if you could cross Europe going through the Alps heading for Shanghai. Or instead of raiding the Plane of Fear, if you could go visit Old Japan, or Medieval Europe, and actually talk to real historical figures and do actual historical quests. Do a quest for Hannibal that has to do with feeding his elephants. Do a quest for Maria Antoinette that has to do with eating cake in instead of bread. Instead of filling your brain with fictional people and events, you could be learning real History.

There are scenarios of Civ2 that have simulated real Earth maps with actual real cities on them. You can learn some real Geography very easily. And some History as well if they're set up that way. Something as simple as using Constantinople instead of Istanbul or Gaul instead of France teaches older versions of Geography.

There are some serious possibilities here.

more than 4 years ago

Obama Proposes High-Speed Rail System For the US

MavenW Re:In a word... (1385 comments)

Your energy calculations are WAY off.

>Trains still need energy to move and that means Diesel, which incidentally is pretty much similar to Kerosene.

Maybe. But in any case a LOT less. Do you have any idea how much jet fuel it takes to power a passenger plane on a single flight? A 747 uses 3378 gallons per hour! And that's cruising. It uses more during takeoff and climb. Of course it's traveling pretty fast, and carries a lot of people, but that can't make up for inherent issues of air travel. The wikipedia article on transportation fuel efficiencies puts average passenger air travel at 1.4 MJ/passenger-km. TGV gets .15 MJ/passenger-km. Combino light rail in Swizerland gets 0.085 MJ/passenger-km.

So we're talking an order of magnitude here. Maybe it will cost a lot to put the electric lines in, but the energy savings are substantial. And even if they don't choose to use electric power (an option not available to airlines, by the way) diesel is lower energy density and cheaper than jet fuel. Or they could use any of a bunch of options. Natural gas, hydrogen, even coal or nuclear.

>It's true the US expends the most energy per capita worldwide. But constructing rail infrastructure will raise, not lower that for at least two decades.

Or, we could use less energy. Every person that uses the rail saves the energy they would have used had they taken a plane or a car. And the maintenance energy that would have gone into those planes and cars. Every person that doesn't buy a car because they can use the rail saves the manufacturing energy. Frankly, I think laying train track and stretching power cable is easier and less energy intensive than manufacturing cars and gasoline.

And there are other savings. Pollution. Carbon footprint. Funding enemy regimes.

more than 5 years ago

Obama Proposes High-Speed Rail System For the US

MavenW Exactly what I was thinking (1385 comments)

Rails are perfect targets for terrorists. You just muck up one little line of steel, and you can injure and kill lots of people. And you can do it out in the middle of nowhere, minutes or hours before the wreck is to take place, and have plenty of time to make your escape.

How long do you think this would go before a major incident would cause knee-jerk legislation? They would impose such ridiculous requirements as to make it totally impossible to make any money.

Which is really too bad, because trains are inherently way more efficient than any other mode of land transportation/shipping we have. If it were done right, it could bring the price of transportation and shipping way down, and the speed way up. And reduce the carbon footprint considerably at the same time. And reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And reduce air pollution in a big way. I would love to see this happen. But it won't.

The problems with rail in the United States are not technical issues. They are political issues. Railways have been HIGHLY regulated ever since they were recognized as possible sources of serious profit back in the 1800's. The laws they have to deal with and the rules from the unions and taxes and fines and such make it pretty much impossible to make any progress.

If Obama is able to create a new system that doesn't have all that political baggage, it just might work... until some disgruntled rail worker (or anarchist, or terrorist, or mercenary contracted by some big oil tycoon) decides to rip up a track. Then you'll have to arrive 3 hours early and take off your shoes...

more than 5 years ago

The Age of Speed

MavenW Re:Guilty as charged (114 comments)

Are you really interested in tying your shoes faster? A couple of years ago, I came across and was surprised that there could be so much analysis to what I thought was a simple concept.

Now I use Ian's knot most of the time when I tie my own shoes. If I REALLY want them to stay tied, or when I tie my son's shoes, I use Ian's secure knot. It takes a little longer to tie, but I've never had it come undone prematurely.

more than 5 years ago


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