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Full Review of the Color TI-84 Plus

bfields Re:Why are calculators still relevant? (233 comments)

First-semester physics and you can't quickly produce the basic equations for acceleration, momentum, kinetic energy? Learning to do symbolic differentiation and don't know the product rule? I think you likely have a problem.

Point taken that you don't necessarily have to sit down and memorize them (I never did), though I think there's no harm in doing that and it might help. I'd agree that not knowing them is more a symptom than a cause. But it's a potentially serious symptom: if you're approaching the exam and don't know the product rule, I'd rather the message be "you've got a problem and need a lot more practice", not "don't worry, you can look it up someplace".

But again the real problem with internet-connected devices in exams isn't their use as a reference but as a person-to-person communication device. The exam *does* need to test the student, not somebody else....

about a year ago
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Full Review of the Color TI-84 Plus

bfields Re:Why are calculators still relevant? (233 comments)

I've taught introductory calculus and we definitely didn't reuse exams.

There are some things you need to be able to have at your fingertips without having to google for them each time.

But even that aside, my big worry wouldn't be that they didn't memorize the quadratic formula or something, it'd be that they paid somebody to go sit on the other side of a chat session and coach them through the test. At that point we're really not testing the student any more.

about a year and a half ago
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Full Review of the Color TI-84 Plus

bfields Re:Why are calculators still relevant? (233 comments)

Memorizing formulas is the easy part of learning anything, I don't know why that's the thing some students obsess about, and as a teacher I'd be concerned about students not memorizing things they probably should, but it's not the end of the world.

It's when they start trying to message someone to get help that I'd get really worried.... It's not likely to work as well as they think it will, but I still wouldn't want to have to deal with it.

about a year and a half ago
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Full Review of the Color TI-84 Plus

bfields Re:Why are calculators still relevant? (233 comments)

We used them when I was teaching introductory calculus as a grad student in the 90's.

A smartphone's certainly capable enough, but I can still think of a number of advantages to a special-purpose calculator:

  • If you're using it an hour at a time in class, something with dedicated calculator buttons is probably going to be more comfortable than the touchscreen interface.
  • There's less to go wrong. In a class with 30 students, I'd be afraid one of them would always have a dead phone battery or a crash or.... (Or worse, I would while I'm trying to demonstrate something.)
  • They're generally No wireless networking, so you can give test problems that might require calculators without having to deal with the whole "how do I know you aren't texting with someone during the test" problem.

But sure maybe some day it will make sense to require everyone to have a phone and standardize on some single calculator app.

about a year and a half ago
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16GB Nexus 7 Sold Out On Google Play Store

bfields Re:Now we get to see (262 comments)

Even among early adopters who look online they see $600 for a phone and can't justify paying that + contract price (and on contract is really the only way to keep a decent data plan today).

Note T-Mobile does offer a $30 "unlimited" month-at-a-time plan (data up to 5 gigs, then throttled, unlimited texts, 100 minutes, if I remember right), and there are people who do the math and end up buying an unlocked GSM phone to go with that. I don't know how many, but it has an attraction beyond hard-core android geeks.

(I don't know whether that meets your requirements for a "decent data plan". It works OK for my purposes.)

more than 2 years ago
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Torvalds Slams NVIDIA's Linux Support

bfields Re:Problems? Really? (663 comments)

... even one of the big Red hat developers says the current way of doing things simply isn't sustainable, that a single group can't control 20,000 packages and drivers and keep it working, and recommends an ABI

Ingo is talking about application ABI, not driver ABI. He's objected to proprietary drivers before, and I don't recall seeing any evidence of a change of heart.

Thanks to virtual memory and so on, applications have much more of an arms-length relationship to the rest of the system than drivers. That makes maintaining a fixed driver ABI more work.

After all how do you expect the smaller hardware guys to support you if the big guys have to pay entire teams to constantly fix the damned things just to make the drivers work?

In the judgement of most kernel developers, the most efficient use of limited resources is to write an open source driver that can be included in the upstream kernel. That makes it easier for other kernel developers to collaborate with your your developers on future maintenance.

more than 2 years ago
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Torvalds Slams NVIDIA's Linux Support

bfields Re:Which is why I find it doubly funny (663 comments)

If you needed help, you picked up the phone and called the guy who'd done that part of the silicon. Two days later, the two of you had finally agreed on how a particular hardware feature was supposed to be used.

No matter how enthusiastic you are about OSS, you can't open-source that.

In that situation the open source driver writer may work for the hardware company, or sign an NDA with them, and then they can call the same guy.

Never done it, don't know the details (what do they do to ensure nothing's unintentionally disclosed in the source code?). But it seems to be a common arrangement.

more than 2 years ago
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Physicists Discover Evolutionary Laws of Language

bfields Re:Scrabble (287 comments)

"The Scrabble word that bothers me is "aa". I mean seriously."

Why is this bothering you? Are you getting a little tense? Maybe it's time for a vacation somewhere? Hawaii is nice....

English-speaking people live in enough different places and have sufficiently diverse cultures and interests that there will *always* be words that seem obviously common words to group X and obviously made up to group Y. If you need a hard-and-fast decision for something like a board game, then you have to choose some authority to make the word-by-word judgement call.

more than 2 years ago
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Physicists Discover Evolutionary Laws of Language

bfields Re:Scrabble (287 comments)

I've heard English speakers use "qi" in English sentences, but can't ever recall hearing anyone use "quoi" on its own in an English sentence, so until we get an ascii-32 tile I think Scrabble is safe from "je ne sais quoi".

Words are imported from other languages all the time, and it's a judgement call when to start calling them English words. For a game like Scrabble where you need a black-and-white decision in each case, that means the only way to have a complete set of rules is to agree on a dictionary. There will be inevitably be cases where someone could dispute a dictionary's choices.

What rule do you think would disallow "pi"? I have a hard time with that, especially on Slashdot, especially around this time of year. And people really do write it "pi", at least as often as the actual Greek character, and not just because they have trouble finding the latter on the their keyboards.

more than 2 years ago
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TSA Makes $400K Annually In Loose Change

bfields Re:I suspect there is an additional handling charg (289 comments)

at the end of each shift they take it, count it, divide most of it up amongst themselves, and put it in their pockets

FTFY.

A few ways of looking at that $400k figure:

- Assuming 50k TSA employees (from wikipedia), that's $8 a year each. So in a good week they find two dimes.
- The TSA budget is about 8 billion. This is one two-thousandth of a percent of their budget.
- The 2012 budget is a few trillion. If congress passed a bill like Jeff Miller's every hour of every day that would cover... um, I think I have this right... one tenth of one percent of the budget. Looking to cut government waste? How about electing people who won't waste everyone's time on trivia.

In short: look, I'm not particularly fond of airport security either, but this is stupid.

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:thats simply wrong (240 comments)

In addition to those they give (VCR's used for time-shifting, image thumbnailing), I'd also add copying a program into RAM for the purposes of executing it (assuming ownership of the copy on disk). (Distressingly, my memory is that the status of this isn't clear in the US, but elsewhere in the world I think it is).

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:If I were an author ... (240 comments)

The inability to accomplish a dream is no reason to abrogate the rights of people.

Again, that's circular reasoning, when the question we're trying to ask is exactly the question of whether people should have this particular right.

Some rights don't have to be granted: we take them to be, as they say, "self evident". I don't consider the right to have a government-granted monopoly on certain texts or ideas as among those inherent moral rights.

Note, that's not the same as saying that I don't think such rights should be granted--I think they *should* be--I'm only saying that we do it mainly for practical reasons (as an incentive to creation and dissemination, etc.) rather than a priori "moral" reasons.

But even if you do consider copyright a "moral" to some degree, I don't think that continues to a good guide once you get down to questions like "does the owner of a book need the author's permission to allow a 3rd party to scan the book for the sole purpose of searching it and presenting snippets giving context for the search results".

So it really does come down to the question of weighing the practical advantages and disadvantages to the world of granting that specific right.

And considered that way, the ability to "accomplish a dream" in one or the other case really is one of the factors to be weighed.

And full-text search of 10's of millions of books--that's a hell of a dream.

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:If I were an author ... (240 comments)

I believe people should have to pay for copyrighted work.

Fine. That's not the question, though--the question is *which uses* of copyrighted works should people have to pay for?

The Lord of the Rings movies required payment to whoever inherited Tolkien's rights.

The warehouses worth of epic fantasy written since then required none.

That's a lot of money people who got paid for stuff that wouldn't have existed without Tolkien having set pen to paper.

Most of us would argue that's a reasonable trade off: Tolkien didn't get everything he could be said to have deserved, but there was also a lot of interesting and creative work done that wouldn't have been if it all had to go through the bottleneck of his heirs.

they would be making money (or increasing value) by using my work and not paying me for it.

That happens all the time. For-profit institutions have libraries too. The price I paid for one measly copy of K&R doesn't begin to approach the value of the income I've received from what I've learned from it.

Again, for me it comes down to weighing practical consequences: how much income are authors going to give up, versus what kinds of services are no longer going to be possible?

Yes, tracking down the owner of "orphaned" works... will be problematic. And there's the problem of reaching an older generation of copyright holders.... But this is Google we are talking about.... I'm sure they can figure it out.

How?

A big university library has around 10 million books. Google claims a goal of scanning 130 million. There are something like a million more published a year.

Forget orphaned work or hard-to-reach authors; just consider authors that still individually hold rights to their books. How do you get legal permission from millions of them, at a per-book cost (I'm not even talking about the licensing; just the labor cost to contact them and verify that they agreed) that makes the whole project feasible?

And once you do, what do you actually expect to actually wring out of them for your 10 millionth (or whatever it works out to be) of the advertising income due to google books?

Hey, I'm just hand-waving here myself, but my intuition here is that if we require opt-in, we're just not going to get anything like Google books in our lifetimes, if ever.

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:Defense? (240 comments)

"libraries have to buy copies of their books like everyone else, and they can still only lend one copy out to one person at a time. No extra copying or duplicated access is going on here"

So, the question is which uses of the copyrighted work require the rights-holders permissions, and which don't. It would be convenient to be able to draw a simple bright line at "copying", but that's never how it's worked:

- photocopying a small part of a book for your personal use in research is generally fine (but: go see reams of fair use guidelines for details).
- renting is complicated even though there's no copying involved (if I remember right: generally "first sale" permits it, but there are specific prohibitions in the US in the case of music).
- Using a character from a novel in a movie may involve no literal copying, but may require permission even when the plot and dialog is new.

Computers fuzz the lines too: you normally have to copy a program into RAM to run it, though most people would consider that ordinary use of a copy that they owned.

And personally I don't see a strong "moral" argument from one side or the other in these cases--I think the best way to decide where to draw these lines, however messy it may be, is weighing the likely practical consequences.

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:Defense? (240 comments)

"First sale rights means that I am allowed to sell the copy of a book that I bought."

Apologies, I thought I remembered first sale include more general rights to make personal use of a copy, but I think you're right. (The same rights may still exist but more likely fall under fair use.)

"First sale rights does not allow me to let you scan my copy of the book."

If we permit a library to scan its own books, and then provide a google-books like search in them, then I wonder where we'd draw the line?:

- Universities A, B, and C each provide full-text search of their own collections.
- Google provides Google book searches by collating results from searches sent to A, B, and C.
- Google in addition rents and/or sells hardware and services necessary for A, B, and C to scan and provide full-text search to their collections. At this point it's just Google book search except that the data stored in Google's data servers is nominally still the university's.
- Google book search.

To me the differences all seem unimportant as long as the only use of the scans is to provide search results.

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:If I were an author ... (240 comments)

"You have no right to full-text searches of books."

That's exactly the question posed by the case. I suspect you can make a good case that current last *does* grant you that right.

And, then whether it does or not, you can ask: *should* the law grant that right? Deciding that is a matter of trying to decide in which world we'd all be better off: a world where authors got a little more incentive to write (thanks to the additional revenue stream from licensing to search engines) versus a world in which a project like Google books is possible. Personally, I'm pulling for the latter.

"People pay good money for access to databases to search published journals."

And they get access to some little walled garden of works controlled by one publisher or consortium of publishers.

Compare that to full-text search of multiple major university libraries.

And ask if there's any chance we'll ever get the latter, if the only way to do it is to track down ever single copyright holder.

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:Defense? (240 comments)

"What is Google's defense?"

They're not distributing copies of books--they're doing searches and returning small snippets. The books are scanned, with the permission of their owners, only in order to allow those searches.

I would have thought first-sale rights would permit the owners of books to have their own copies scanned, and that fair use would permit Google to search them and return snippets.

None of this cuts into the publisher's traditional source of profits at all, as the publisher is still who a member of the public goes to to get a copy of the book.

If we really think copyright holders should have complete control over how every copy of their work is *used*, not only distributed, then they should have cut off the problem at the source and forbidden libraries....

more than 2 years ago
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Google To Seek Dismissal of Suit Against Google Books

bfields Re:If I were an author ... (240 comments)

"Rule of law"?

Look, google isn't distributing copies of these books. They're searching for terms in them and returning snippets. That doesn't compete in the least with the business of people that are selling the entire book.

"there is nothing good about what Google is doing, except to the very short sighted."

They're providing an unprecedented and extremely useful service: the ability to perform full-text searches of entire multiple libraries' worth of books in fractions of a second from anywhere in the world.

If we require opt-in, then the immense number of rights owners involved is likely to make building such a service impractical.

We could be having the same argument about libraries: why shouldn't copyright owners be consulted about whether they want their books loaned out?

Fortunately the drafters of the copright law produced something flexible enough to provide incentives to authors while still allowing for services such as libraries. Flexible enough, even, to accommodate services like Google's that didn't exist at the time--fair use and first-sale rights provide all the basis the courts would need to find Google well within the rule of law, and I very much hope that's what happens.

more than 2 years ago
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Intel Launches Sandy Bridge-E Series Processors

bfields Re:Wait for Ivy Bridge. (204 comments)

I've heard this claim repeatedly, but I've used three different intel graphics chipsets and three different nvidia ones under linux, and all the nvidia ones worked better (no random corruption, working S3 suspend) than all the intel ones.

Is that using open-source drivers or nvidia's proprietary drivers? (Again, for my case I'm only interested in the free drivers.)

more than 2 years ago
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Intel Launches Sandy Bridge-E Series Processors

bfields Re:Wait for Ivy Bridge. (204 comments)

"I bet you'll have a hard time finding anyone running integrated graphics in a home built machine, certainly not one running a top-tier CPU in it."

As a kernel developer I have scripts running all day that compile new kernels, boot VM's to them, and run some tests. The faster the better. I wouldn't say no to lower utility bills either even if it's not the first thing I look at.

But in any case, for graphics, the integrated stuff is fine. And Intel's involvement in Linux graphics development has meant their stuff has been among the best supported for a while. (Maybe that's changed lately, I haven't kept up). I usually build my own machines (partly exactly because I seem to recall it being hard to find pre-built desktops with higher performance that could get usable graphics without the need for proprietary drivers. Which may not be a factor for others but I want to be able to debug problems on the latest upstream kernel without worrying about what some binary driver might be doing.)

So there's one small counterexample, to your first statement if not the second. (I usually get a better CPU but nothing "extreme".)

more than 2 years ago

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