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Ask Slashdot: When Is the User Experience Too Good?

N3Roaster Ease of use isn't always good user experience (397 comments)

Ease of use and good user experience are not always synonymous. In most cases they are, but if you're making it easy to do something that can't be easily undone, someone will do that accidentally and then have the frustration of fixing that. For example, I was recently working on allowing some software to interface with a connected scale. One of the things you can do through that interface is tare the scale, but after implementing that I decided that it was too easy to accidentally hit the tare button instead of the weigh button with the consequence that the person using the software would then have to re-tare the scale and re-weigh to get the correct measurement. So I took the tare button out figuring that people would generally rather do that at the scale itself anyway. I'll probably put it back in at some point, but it will be a little harder to hit that accidentally when I do. Your example is too vague to say who is right in your particular case.

about a year ago
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Qt 5.0 Released

N3Roaster Re:C++ Standards (161 comments)

Yes and no. The signals and slots mechanism is still there and it's still using moc, but there's a new connection syntax available that's a lot more C++ like, allows C++11 lambdas in place of slots, and offers compile-time checking of connections that previously would just fail at run time. Won't please the purists, but it's a step in the right direction.

about a year and a half ago
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Regarding Identity Theft:

N3Roaster Re:Identity theft or scraped card number? (244 comments)

The fraud detection heuristics must be very strange. In my case I've never had a problem using a card traveling in foreign countries (and I never tell them I'm going aside from usually having purchased the plane ticket months in advance), no problem buying industrial equipment, but attempting to buy groceries at a place I frequently buy groceries? Yeah, that's suspicious and worth declining the transaction and shutting down the card until I call to have it reactivated. I've never had a true positive detection and wish they'd just give up trying with me and instead let me tell them if something is wrong.

about 2 years ago
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The Pacific Ocean Is Polluted With Coffee

N3Roaster Re:Amounts (294 comments)

Note that in a lot of cases the caffeine in pain killers come from coffee. Depending on how a coffee is decaffeinated, the caffeine can be removed from the binding agent, sold to pharmaceutical companies, and added to your pain killers. I wouldn't be surprised if that's a common source of caffeine for drinks with caffeine added. Tea, of course, produces its own caffeine as do several other plants.

I'd say keep telling your doctor you don't drink coffee (or take up coffee drinking) but mention the pain killers separately.

more than 2 years ago
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Amazon Pushes For National Internet Sales Tax

N3Roaster Re:If you live in a state with no sales tax... (392 comments)

What the sales tax pays for probably varies depending on where you are, but one of the things I keep seeing in these sorts of stories are the assumption that it pays for infrastructure used by businesses not paying the tax. Is that really the case? It didn't match with my recollection on the matter so I did a bit of research. Anybody interested in doing similar should be able to find the information in the comprehensive annual financial reports from their state department of revenue.

In Wisconsin, sales tax makes up about 30% of the general purpose revenue for the state (about 18% of total state government revenue). This is used to fund several programs, most notably school aids, shared revenue paid to municipalities, medical assistance programs, the University of Wisconsin system, prisons, property tax credits, community aids, tax relief to individuals, other public assistance, and WI technical college system aids.

Since a big chunk of that is money paid to local governments, I then went to the budget for my city to see where that was going. It's paying for public safety (fire and police department), public works (planning, surveying, mapping, city engineering, emergency management, building inspection, trash removal, snow removal, bridge and street maintenance, weed cutting, street lighting, traffic signs), parks, recreation, and cultural services (several area parks, community centers, a museum, the zoo), and general administration. That public works section is about 16% of the city budget and street maintenance is about 23% of that, or about 3% of the total city budget. Looking at revenue for the city, shared revenue from the state would fall under intergovernmental revenue, making up a portion of 42% of city revenues.

So, while it's certainly possible that some sales tax money ends up funding local roads, the vast majority of that is paid for from a different fund through, for example, fuel taxes. Don't misunderstand me. There's a lot of good stuff that sales tax money goes to, but the suggestion that it's largely going to infrastructure that out of state businesses rely on doesn't seem to be true, at least where I am. YMMV.

more than 2 years ago
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Ask Slashdot: Best Programs To Learn From?

N3Roaster Re:Literate Programs (329 comments)

I wouldn't hold it up as any kind of example of great code (so there are certainly opportunities to improve it and it is still under active development), but another open source (MIT licensed) literate C++ program you can add to the list is some software I've written for data logging/record keeping in commercial coffee roasting facilities. I've tried to keep the generated source documentation reasonably easy to read and understand and the program is used daily at several coffee firms throughout the world.

http://www.randomfield.com/programs/typica/index.html

about 3 years ago
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US Congress Tries To Cut Body Scanner Funding

N3Roaster Re:Excellent (241 comments)

It seems as though at least some airports are moving away from these things anyway. (warning, anecdotal evidence coming up) A few weeks ago I flew from Chicago to Houston. When going through security on the way out I didn't so much as see a porn scanner (there was one for the flight out of that airport I had taken before, but I went through a different security line this time). I also kept an eye out when leaving the secure area on the way back and again failed to notice one. Flying out of Houston, the security line split in two and I was free to choose either the long slow line with the porn scanner at the end of it (which was scanning everybody who chose that line) or the short fast line without it. I chose the short fast line, didn't get a groping, and was rather amazed at how many people chose the longer, slower line (I suspect most didn't notice the other line was available).

The sooner we stop wasting money on these things (and better yet, get them out of the airports so we can have room for more fast lines to get through security) the better.

more than 2 years ago
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Carriers Delay Paying Japan's Texting Donations

N3Roaster Re:Corporations (235 comments)

To be fair, it does make a lot of sense to do something like that if you're going to be getting a large number of small dollar amount donations. There are costs associated with processing a donation and it's a lot cheaper for the charity to process a single $2M donation than 1M $2 donations. A retailer collecting that along with a purchase will have most of those costs to make the sale anyway. Doing it this way also provides a way to do that charitable donation as something like an impulse purchase, probably resulting in a lot of people donating who might not have considered doing it otherwise.

Now, I'd also say no because I'm not a huge fan of * awareness charities and the dirty look is bad service, but I fail to see the problem with the rest of it.

more than 3 years ago
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Ex-NSA Analyst To Be Global Security Head At Apple

N3Roaster Re:Makes sense (145 comments)

I'm sure that's on the roadmap, right after proper Unicode support.

more than 3 years ago
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Stars Remain In Their Usual Places; People Panic

N3Roaster Re:a new personality! (468 comments)

What I've read on the matter is that the astrologers agree with your assessment. Nobody changed signs. Still sucks for the newborns who will be unable to record a high score in Gradius.

more than 3 years ago
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Facebook's Zuckerberg To Give Away Half His Cash

N3Roaster Re:I Take Issue with the Phrase "Give Away" (450 comments)

The economic realities of the global coffee market are not as simple as you are making them out to be. Some historical perspective:

There was once a time when coffee was trading at high prices. Demand was increasing, supplies were not increasing as much, and there were countries capable of producing coffees that weren't. Getting people to plant coffee in these non-traditional producing areas was seen as a way to develop economies. This idea was not without precedent. Brazil was largely built on coffee money, after all. Now, it takes a few years from the time coffee is planted until it produces its first crop. Coffee isn't a crop where you plant it, harvest it a few months later, and know what you've got. It takes about 10 years before you really know what you have with coffee. All of the sudden you have a huge increase in global coffee production. Making the problem worse, these new coffee producers were exporting coffees of such poor quality that more established producers never allowed on the global market. Now, coffee does not really fit the definition of a commodity, but it was usually sold with contracts that specify a differential above or below the NYBOT C price with those differentials based on several factors such as the quality of the coffee (coffee better than exchange grade selling for more, worse coffee selling for less) and the producing country (a comparative advantage model doesn't really work because a specialty grade coffee from Panama isn't going to taste anything like a specialty grade coffee from Tanzania).

Up until this point, the NYBOT C was cyclical. Sometimes it would go bust, but it would recover. This time it was different. There had been a fundamental change in the market which kept prices depressed for a long period of time and the differentials weren't keeping up. Simply letting quality producers go out of business wasn't going to be good for the producers and it wasn't going to be good for buyers either because someone who wanted to buy a nice coffee from Mexico wasn't going to be interested in some garbage from Vietnam. By setting a floor price for some coffees, Fair Trade did a lot of good in keeping those producers in business. You might find it interesting to look into the details of some Fair Trade producers and see what they're doing with those premiums. In many cases they're using them to improve the quality of the coffee and diversify the local economy, both things which reduce long term reliance on the Fair Trade premium, which seems to be exactly what you're advocating (though you suggest doing that before getting the capital needed to undertake such projects).

Now we're back into a period of higher prices for coffee (NYBOT C is over 200 as I write this and the differentials aren't dropping quickly which is a big part of why many coffee firms either have or soon will be announcing price increases) and this is due to many factors. Looking at the fundamentals, this is cyclical and prices will drop again, but probably not substantially within the next 18 months. We also have a lot more diversity in price discovery mechanisms for coffee which is a positive development, particularly for producers of high quality coffees. Any Fair Trade cooperative ought to be looking into getting out of Fair Trade in the long term exactly because that's not a long term sustainable model. Some cooperatives have already made that jump, others will follow, but to argue that Fair Trade was not beneficial in the long term simply is not supported by fact.

more than 3 years ago
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Mr. Pike, Tear Down This ASCII Wall!

N3Roaster Re:Examples? (728 comments)

I only need two keystrokes to get a division sign (option/) so I'm not really sure what you're going on about there. That said, I don't think it matters so much in terms of writing the code. As others have pointed out, we've been down that road with APL. Where this sort of idea really shines, however, is in reading the code. One of the comments on the article touched on this, so I'll quote the relevant bit:

Robert Melton | Mon, 01 Nov 2010 02:11:13 UTC
What an odd combination of criticisms... first and foremost, I think you already hit on the correct solution... custom syntax and creation mechanisms are best explored as layers on top of existing tools, not a fundamental part of a new tool. I believe to try to integrate your ideas would have crippled Go, and given it nearly no advantages, at the cost of a huge degree of developer mind share. Bootstrapping a language is hard enough without giving yourself new disadvantages. I have never seen Guido van Rossum claim anything other the "readability" and that it was the natural flow as foreseen by Knuth (1974)

The problem here, however, is a cultural one. I suspect that most of the people who write software have never read through a non-trivial program and come out of it with an understanding of the program (contrast this with novelists reading novels) and most software is written in such a way that reading the code for understanding is more like assembling a puzzle from diverse bits scattered all about.

We already have pretty much all of these presentation niceties with CWEB. I frequently write my programs in literate C++ and can use goofy characters with subscripts if I want. TeX markup in comments is very nice. Especially useful is having something a bit more visually distinctive separating assignment from equality testing, but the big gain here is that it makes it easier to write programs as code narratives which humans can read to gain an understanding of the program. Once you have someone reading the program, how the code is represented starts to matter. Granted, this is another example from the pile of ideas that never really caught on.

more than 3 years ago
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Some LA Coffee Shops Are Taking Wi-Fi Off the Menu

N3Roaster Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (312 comments)

My experience does not agree with your hunch. We've been running an open hot spot on a DSL connection for years. The phone company has known that we are doing that for a long time and their only concern is that they don't want to provide tech support our network (fair enough, I don't want them supporting my network either). The only thing that has happened with that connection over the years is that it has gotten faster and cheaper.

more than 4 years ago
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Some LA Coffee Shops Are Taking Wi-Fi Off the Menu

N3Roaster Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (312 comments)

Interestingly enough, that's why I make a point of buying furniture that's slightly uncomfortable rather than the cushy sofas, to get people to stand up now and then and maybe wander back to the counter for another drink or eye the bakery case. Some other shops do the same thing with music that's slightly too loud, bad lighting, or keeping the place too cold. Once upon a time there was a coffee shop not that far from where I live that I'd go to. It was definitely a local youth hangout, but the owner kept the heat off, bad lighting, uncomfortable furniture. He didn't buy coffee from me, but he got good stuff and his staff knew what it was doing behind the bar. The place was always packed and did good business, but one day the owner decided to move back to his home town and sold the place to his employees. They sat down and rather than leave a good thing alone, thought it would be cool if they made it like the coffee house on Friends. They put light bulbs in the fixtures, turned on the heat, brought in the cushy furniture. The place was still always packed, but nobody ever got up to buy another drink and they were out of business in less than a year. I still miss them. None of the other half dozen or so coffee shops that have gone into that location since have been anywhere near as good in terms of serving a delicious drink. That said, I love my customers who stick around all day. They bring their out of town guests, have their meetings at my shop, and are really some of my best word of mouth advertisers.

more than 4 years ago
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Some LA Coffee Shops Are Taking Wi-Fi Off the Menu

N3Roaster Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (312 comments)

You must work for a phone company as they have tried to tell me the same thing, but the typical high volume use here is a guy doing video conferencing with his girlfriend, a girl playing some game on Facebook, someone else on youtube, a real estate agent uploading photos, others doing light web browsing/email/IM, in addition to the business use traffic. DSL plans around here are more than enough to handle peak usage and most of the time it's much lower. I just don't see a dozen people all trying to torrent half of the Pirate Bay. A DSL connection is all my shop has and nobody has yet complained about that. It works just fine. Then again, for places with heavier users, going with lower bandwidth could be a gentle way of making the problem self-correcting as the people who are only there for the network will find it not very useful and move on while it doesn't really affect the people who use it as the nice convenience that it's intended as.

more than 4 years ago
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Some LA Coffee Shops Are Taking Wi-Fi Off the Menu

N3Roaster Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (312 comments)

Right. I provided a breakdown in the first paragraph of what they're paying and it's mainly a one time expense that's insignificant when split among purchases (the AP, though some ISPs are starting to include that with service now) and an ongoing expense that the business would be paying if they offered the service or not (Internet access). There's nothing magical about the accounting, it just really doesn't cost that much. Now, if you start adding fancy features like receipt access codes, registration before login, and the like, the costs get larger but a shop that's just using a COTS wireless router and throwing it out there, my breakdown is accurate. Here's the real test for you. Have prices gone down at the shops that are no longer offering the service? I doubt it, just as there was generally no price bump to go along with introducing the service in the first place.

more than 4 years ago
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Some LA Coffee Shops Are Taking Wi-Fi Off the Menu

N3Roaster Re:They just need to treat it like it's a privileg (312 comments)

I run a coffee roasting operation and do some consulting for other coffee firms so I can tell you that in a lot of cases it isn't. What are the costs here? There's the cost of Internet access, which the business would have been paying anyway because they're using it to order from some suppliers, check bank account balances, and so on. There's the cost of a wireless router, but that's a pretty cheap one time cost that amortizes to 0. There's the cost of the electricity needed to run the router, but if that's significant on a per-cup-of-coffee basis that shop has bigger problems than wifi moochers.

The trade journals have been covering this trend for a while, but wifi is really just a convenient scapegoat for the real problem of a lack of customer engagement on the part of staff. While wifi might bring in a different demographic of moocher, this isn't really a new problem. Some years back I went into another coffee shop, ordered my single espresso, a large coffee, and some food, then found no indoor seating available at all. The seating area had been completely taken over by students. You'd see even at the largest tables, one student with their stuff spread all over it. I was later in a meeting with the owner of that shop and I told him about this. I also told him about my customers who also like to take over a big table and spread things out, but when the place gets busy, they pack up and move to a smaller table. He was impressed as his customers never thought to do that. This was a place that didn't offer wifi at the time, but it was the same problem with the same solution. Get to know your customers and when seating starts getting scarce, get out from behind the bar and suggest to the person using the largest table that he could move to a smaller table so the family of 4 that just came in can sit together, introduce customers to each other and ask if they'd mind sharing a table, things like that.

My policy on wifi is the same as when I put it in (and customers know this policy). It's free, it's open, but if it starts causing problems I'll get rid of it. So far it's been beneficial. Customers who spend a lot of time in the shop (but keep buying things while they're there) are there longer (and buying more) because they no longer have to run home just to check email. It's brought in more customers. It's also made it easier for me to make certain workflows data-aware (for example, the computer in the roasting area communicating with a database keeps inventory figures current and makes the roasting log both more detailed and easier to use, see my homepage for more details) without running ugly cables all over the place. That said, the coffee market in many major American cities is such that some independent shops can afford to pick their customers and if your customers think you have the best coffee in town, they'll be willing to deal with the minor inconvenience of lacking access, or rather, instead of laptops, they'll be on their cell phones. Personally, I'd rather have the laptops, but then again, my customers talk to each other.

more than 4 years ago

Submissions

N3Roaster hasn't submitted any stories.

Journals

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Qt Ambassador Care Package

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 3 years ago

A while back I got an email from Nokia letting me know about the Qt Ambassador program. So, I sent them some information on a program that I wrote using Qt and someone there must have thought it was neat since they sent me a very nice gift.

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Typica 1.3 Released

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 4 years ago

Typica is the result of an internal data systems project at Wilson's Coffee & Tea which I started several years ago when paper roasting records and spreadsheets were no longer adequate. The first public release (Typica 1.0) came out in 2008 and further development continues. The program can record roasting data, track coffee inventory, save cupping data, and produce reports. Source code and a Windows XP (it might work on more recent versions of Windows, but I have no way to test that, we're a Mac/Linux shop) release of Typica 1.3 is now available. The Mac version and additional documentation will be available soon. Linux users are expected to be able to compile it themselves.

http://www.randomfield.com/programs/typica/

Now, why post about this on Slashdot? Typica is an especially nerdy data logging application. The program is freely available under the MIT license and runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. It uses PostgreSQL as its data store and a number of abstractions from Qt. The program is written in literate C++ and sets up the user interface and application data flow based on a combination of XML and Javascript. This allows for the rapid development of new features and the creation of custom configurations to meet the needs of other coffee firms.

The cupping session handling is especially unique. A sample can be associated with any annotated point on a roast profile. This makes the program particularly useful for developing new roast profiles as several samples can be pulled at various points in the roast and each of these samples can be added to the cupping session.

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I Made Money on Twitter

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 4 years ago

Late March I checked the balance of my accounts with TCF Bank and I noticed something a bit odd. There was a "Monthly Maintenance Fee" in the amount of $9.95 on one of these accounts. This is something that I had not seen before on an account which had not charged such a fee in the more than a decade I'd held the account. I thought this must be an error. After all, what could they possibly be maintaining at a rate of $119.40 per year? I had a couple paychecks that needed I needed to deposit, so I went to the bank and asked about it. The explanation was that they were trying to keep money going into the bank and produced some bizarre requirements to avoid this surprise fee, but what it really came down to was that it's a fee for nothing other than TCF Bank being greedy and thinking that they can get away with pulling a stunt like that. Having established that they were out to screw over a long time account holder, I closed all of my accounts and took my money to Educators Credit Union.

While all of this was going on, I posted the story on Twitter (you can follow me @N3Roaster if you want). Yesterday, I found in the mail a VISA gift card with a note from ECU thanking me for tweeting about firing TCF and going to ECU instead. The gift card was for $10, which puts me ahead on this by 5 cents. I guess it is possible to make money on this Internet thing after all.

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Photographs

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Lately I've been taking some of the non-work related photographs I've taken, sticking them online, and posting a link on Twitter. I've finally gotten around to putting together a page to properly link to those pictures with thumbnails and a little text. The link is here for the benefit of Google, but I won't be offended if humans follow it.

Random Photography

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Ad-free Slashdot and What to Charge for Free Software

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Today's been a pretty good day. Well, except that my neck aches. I must have slept on it strangely.

I wake up and there's an email from someone who wants to send me money for some free (MIT licensed) software that I've written (in an unholy combination of C++, Javascript, SQL, XML, Metapost, and TeX). I wonder, if I'm getting money for it, does that mean that I can't embed XKCD comics in the source code documentation (yeah, that's the real reason for doing literate programming. I mean, sure, my productivity tripled and I can look at old stuff and figure out how to make changes more quickly, but that pales in comparison to being able to include comics about stick figures), despite the fact that I haven't tried to sell it? I'm also left wondering what's a good price to charge for free software. Sure, I could look at what the commercial competition is charging, but my program doesn't really map to any direct competitor (if I could have purchased it, I wouldn't have had to write it in the first place).

Then, I look at Slashdot after lunch and see a little box saying that I can turn off the ads. Now, I don't use any ad blocking software. If the ads on a site are excessive, I just don't go to the site. I didn't really have a problem with the ads here, except for those square ones on the right that would sometimes stick out and cover the summary text. Those were annoying when they did that, and if I have the option to turn off the broken ads, well thanks. I'll do that.

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XeTeX OpenType Names on Mac

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 5 years ago

I decided that I'd try out XeTeX since it seemed like it would be the easiest way to use some of the fonts installed on my system with TeX (Plain TeX, I'll look into LaTeX later but I use that less). Following an example from the XeTeX site, I try to put together a quick little document to see if I understand font selection properly and... well, some of the names that I try work and some of them, not so much. After a little searching, I came across a partial solution which I'm posting here in hopes that future searchers might find a working solution faster. To get a list of usable font names for OpenType fonts, use this:

$ otfinfo -i /Library/Fonts/*.otf | grep :Full -

At least on my system, every name listed with that works in XeTeX with \font. That doesn't get you TrueType fonts. A list of installed fonts (which will include all of the fonts listed with the above command plus non-OpenType fonts) is available through the Font Book application, but the font name given there does not always work. Fortunately, so far I've only noticed this on Plain styles which means that just using the family name works.

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Combining CWEB and Doxygen

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Yesterday, an idea crossed my mind. I enjoy using CWEB when writing programs. I also like the documentation produced by Doxygen. Is it possible to write one set of source files and get the benefits of CWEB and a pretty source code narrative while also getting API reference documentation out of Doxygen? A quick search didn't get me anywhere, so I sat down and figured it out.

On the face of it, these two systems seem incompatible with each other. Doxygen won't read the source files used by CWEB. It will read the output of ctangle, but that program strips code comments which Doxygen needs. There is, however, a command available that forces text to be included in the generated source file verbatim. If the source file contains text such as:

@=//! Doxygen can see this@>

the comment will end up in the output from ctangle. Unfortunately, cweave also understands that command and will display the comment with an ugly box drawn around it. This is particularly bad with the multiple line comments common for use with Doxygen. Doxygen markup is usually not interesting to someone reading the output from cweave, so it would be better if this could just go away. If we restrict these comments to the form above, this is easy enough to do with sed:

sed 's/@=\/.*@>//g' input.w > output.w

With this, input.w can be run through ctangle to generate a source file for use with gcc and Doxygen while output.w can be run through cweave.

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Not so Free as in Beer

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 6 years ago

A barley shortage caused by government promotion of corn based ethanol production is currently causing the price of malt to rise. The price of hops has also exploded after years of oversupply. An email from Weyerbacher Brewing Co. provides the perspective of an industry insider.

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Random Field

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 6 years ago This isn't really news (which is why the story has not been submitted for front page consideration), but I've noticed that Google indexes my posts here nicely so I'm throwing up a link to a new site that's coming soon. Random Field. Don't bother following the link unless you're a bot. There's nothing there yet. If you're a human, sorry for wasting your time.

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Coffee Museum in Jimma

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 7 years ago

The Ethiopian Herald (link via allafrica) reports that a new coffee museum will be opened in Jimma with the goal of commemorating the region's history of being where Coffea arabica was first discovered and turning Jimma into a tourist hub by the millenium (is this a mis-reporting? Looking out to 2999-3000AD seems like an excessively long term project).

The museum is expected to cost 2.5 million Ethiopian birr. When I was in Ethiopia early in 2006, the exchange rate was about 8 birr to the U. S. dollar, so this comes to about $312,500, fairly cheap for a museum.

I visited Jimma briefly last year. I had hoped to visit a coffee research station while I was there, but my timing coincided with a holiday celebrating a battle in which the Ethiopians kicked out the Italians during World War 2.

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Apple Updates Security Update

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Today Apple released a new security update for Mac OS X. This is an update to the last security update previously discussed on Slashdot. Many users of older Macs with the original AirPort card discovered that the previous version of this update caused wireless networking to fail when waking from sleep, an issue specifically addressed in the new version of this update.

Isn't this the sort of problem that should not happen when one company handles both the hardware and the operating system?

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Yes, Pluto is a Planet

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  about 8 years ago

There's been a lot of talk about Pluto lately and how it's no longer a planet. It has been reclassified as something else. I've heard dwarf planet and irregular planet as the new category. So, no, not a planet.

But that's absurd. Now, I'm not going to trot out some argument that I learned that Pluto is a planet and I'm not going to unlearn that. Rather, it seems that Pluto is still classified as a planet.

Huh?

Yes, that's right. Pluto is still classified as a planet. It seems to me that dwarf and irregular are adjectives. In this case they modify the noun planet. I haven't consulted a dictionary, so I may be completely off on this, but it seems that neither of these adjectives mean "not" and under such an interpretation, Pluto would still be a planet. It would be a special sort of planet, but hasn't Pluto always been a little special?

Perhaps this argument is a little technical, so here's a more down to Earth example. Suppose I have a box. The box is red. Now I can call that a red box. Now suppose somebody were to say that my red box weren't really a box at all. It's something completely different. After all, it's a red box.

Absurd, right? And that's exactly what's going on with Pluto.

So, Pluto is still a planet. Nothing to see here. Please move along.

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With Trusted Computing, the Terrorists Win

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 9 years ago

Trusted Computing (TC) cannot be allowed to become a reality unless it can be easily bypassed with no loss of functionality (in other words, TC must fail due to infeasibility or poor design). I say this not because I want a choice in what I do with my computer. I say this not because I believe that I should be able to do anything I want with bits stored on my hard drive and in my RAM. I say this because if TC emerges in the way its backers envision, it will become a powerful and unstopable tool in the terrorist arsenal.

A major selling point for TC is its potential use in Digital Rights Management (DRM). The idea of DRM is that the distributor of digital content such as movies, music, and books, can provide rules for how that information can and (more importantly) cannot be used. It is a technological solution to the social problem of copyright infringement. That DRM can also trample on fair use provisions of copyright and is potentially inflexible to changes in legislation is beside the point. A TC DRM solution gives media distributors the ability to decide which programs are trusted to restrict what a user is able to do with that media.

Furthermore, TC can be used to enforce software that is used on a subscription model. It allows software to determine if its subscription is current and if it is not, the software no longer runs. Again, this can be used to prevent people from infringing on the copyright of software companies.

This is a potentially powerful and enabling tool for companies of all sizes and the potential for new markets it brings can only be imagined at this stage, but it comes at a prohibitively high cost.

A terrorist network would be able to distribute its plans and correspondence much more effectively and with no chance of interception by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Terrorists would be able to ensure that any material used in planning an attack could only be viewed with a registered copy of Terrorscape. Copies of Terrorscape that might fall into the hands of law enforcement could be remotely disabled within the terrorist network. Worse, this software could, rather than simply fail to work, provide vast quantities of detailed misinformation to strain the ability of nation states to provide security against these false threats, weakening their enemy without need for an attack at all.

Governments, including the government of the United States of America, are actively pursuing this technology because they see the potential benefits without being made aware of serious danger it poses to free and democratic societies. The advantages this technology provides to terrorist and organized criminal organizations cannot be overlooked.

If you value a free and democratic society, I urge you to write your representatives in government and make them aware of the extreme risk in allowing the development of trusted computing. TC must be banned and continued development halted because if TC becomes a reality, the terrorists win.

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Fan Club

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 9 years ago

Well, today I got my first fan who wasn't first my friend (on Slashdot, I have fans elsewhere or at least I'd like to think so. I've gotten fan mail). I suspect this has something to do with my anti-cell phone stance as that's the pager poll seems to be the only recent thing I've posted on in common with lildogie (54998).

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The Mod Files

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 9 years ago

It should come as no surprise to anybody who's been here a while that the moderation and metamoderation features of Slashdot can result in some peculiar scoring. Recorded here are some oddities from my own posts:

Shooting Yourself in the Foot: Insightful

This comment asserts that if a command line utility is going to try to keep me from shooting myself in the foot, there should be a switch for releasing the safety. Perhaps the moderators think that I would do well by shooting myself in the foot.

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Another Friend

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 9 years ago

Friended someone for thinking about CoreWars at the same time I was. Surprised there weren't more posts suggesting the same thing.

(Update June 10) Did same with someone who quoted the same bit of an article and ended up with the post being under mine (I replied to something else rather than starting a new topic). Finally, a friend with something in the journal.

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Slashdot Score

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 9 years ago

The FAQ says that Karma is not a score in a video game. Fair enough, but what if you do want to play Slashdot like a video game? Here I propose rules for calculating such a score, a slashdot score.

Okay, so how do you earn points? You earn points by logging in and posting and by having others reply to your posts. The rules should be such as to encourage reasonable Slashdot behavior. Posts moderated to -1 are worth 0 points. Posts with higher scores are 1 point for 0, 2 for 1, 4 for 2, 8 for 3, 16 for 4, and 32 for 5. So, you don't get any points for trying to be incendiary (unless the mods are crazy (and mustn't they be?)) and you get lots of points for those score 5 posts.

Replies act something like a bonus modifier. To calculate this bonus, take the post score as outlined above and multiply that by the number of replies you get. So, if you get 0 points for a -1 post and get any number of replies, the whole thing is still worth 0 points. On the other hand, if you get a +5 post worth 32 points, 1 reply makes the whole thing worth 64 points, 10 replies makes it worth 352 points.

So, to maximize your score, you'd want to get moderated up to +5 and say something that gets lots of replies.

I don't intend to post paying any attention to the above, but I might periodically check in on that. Scores, as with most video games, don't go down. As of today, that score is 52. Not bad for three days. Years of posting as AC does nothing for the score.

On a side note, somebody understood my sig today. I'd befriend that person, but it was an AC, so I couldn't.

(2 December, 2005 update)

478 through Re: V-chips (July 22), might not count things that have gotten bumped into oblivion.

Was thinking moderation should count in the score, but decided against it. No handy record to check against.

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The Fictional I (Part 1)

N3Roaster N3Roaster writes  |  more than 9 years ago

A long time ago, I sent messages to a Usenet group called alt.games.final-fantasy. To provide some perspective on the time, DejaNews and other Web based Usenet archives fail to record my first posts. Some of the earliest recorded posts have quotes from me in the sig (specifically, from a thread called 'Final Fantasy and Science' which over the course of a few years of collecting new material from other AGFFers and keeping it edited as a reasonable whole came to be known as 'The Laws of Final Fantasy'. If you haven't encountered this yet, I haven't touched it in years, but various versions can be found on the Web and Google Groups must have the most recent version. Go read it, it's funny.

Toward the end of my stay on AGFF, I remember that someone was writing a bit of fiction there that featured me as one of the characters. For some reason, I decided today that I was curious to know what the fictional I had been up to.

A quick search revealed that I was looking for the chapters of one of Eyeglazer's fics. Seems it hasn't been collected together and put on a Web site yet, but it's recent enough (Y2K) that it's not hard to find.

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