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Ask Slashdot: How Should a Liberal Arts Major Get Into STEM?

brian.stinar Do It On The Cheap (279 comments)

I would highly recommend you take as much as possible at community colleges, paying as you go. The universities in my state (New Mexico) accept community college credits very, very well. Slightly before you've exhausted the community college course load, apply to, and get accepted into, a bachelor's program in some sort of engineering (not all science degrees are equally marketable.) After you're accepted, and have completed a year or two's worth of marketable engineering courses at the community college, you should be able to get an engineering internship and continue to pay cash for classes. These student, engineering, jobs (in my state) pay more than English degree professional jobs do. I've seen this approach work with computer science students.

My state has extremely inexpensive, or free, tuition for residents and access to a huge amount of engineering resources (two national labs + tons of military bases + the initial stages of a tech start up scene) as well as dirt cheap cost of living. I realize this approach might not work well in other states, but that's the approach I talk with people about. I'm working with a guy that studied music, but is getting into web development. His goal is to get accepted into a master's program, and spend an extra 2-3 semesters in it taking undergrad courses. If he can get funding (as a research assistant, or teaching assistant) that will be a great approach too.

3 days ago

Material Possiblities: A Flying Drone Built From Fungus

brian.stinar Re:Cheap? (52 comments)

I agree - the plastic holding it together isn't going to be the expensive part...I think for this drone the expensive parts are probably going to be the research and development, rather than any manufacturing. This sounds super cool, and possibly have tons of interesting ramifications in materials science, manufacturing, and other fields, but I haven't ever really heard of any long term vision, government funded, R&D project described as "cheap."

about two weeks ago

NYC To Replace Most of Its Payphones With Free Gigabit WiFi In 2015

brian.stinar Re:Not Free... (106 comments)

Did you ever read Joseph Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness?" NYC is like that, except instead of darkness, it's taxes.

about a month ago

NYC To Replace Most of Its Payphones With Free Gigabit WiFi In 2015

brian.stinar Not Free... (106 comments)

NYC has a city income tax. They have property taxes. I think it is one of the most heavily taxed places in the United States.

This. Is. Not. Free.

about a month ago

Ask Slashdot: Programming Education Resources For a Year Offline?

brian.stinar Introduction to Algorithms (223 comments)

The one book that helped me out more than any with my programming was "Introduction to Algorithms." This book helped me understand how to program efficiently, how to look at problems objectively and speak about them using the language describing algorithmic efficiency, and determine if a polynomial solution is NOT known to exist for the class of problem I am trying to solve. If you study this book, you will no longer be able to be derisively called a "code monkey" after someone looks at the output of your programming efforts.

I used this book for my undergraduate degree in computer science for my algorithms class, and then at a different school for my masters degree in computer science algorithms class (we did the star'd problems in grad school, finished more of the book, and generally went into greater depth.) If you understand this book, you will understand a major portion of computer science. Plus, whenever someone has a very difficult problem, and you know the content of this book, you will look extremely cool solving the problem in an efficient and elegant way (this only happened to me once, but it was very fun.)

This book is worth the weight in paper. If you can get (power?) an electronic version, there are a few other books I would recommend, but if you only bring one book on computer science (programming?) please consider bringing this one. You will be able to solve problems efficiently in any language after deeply studying this book.

about a month ago

The Great IT Hiring He-Said / She-Said

brian.stinar "Progressive" Labor Laws (574 comments)

Hiring someone (as a regular, W2) employee in the United States is a tremendous risk. Just look at all the social problems illustrated in the following comments, and you can see how quickly an HR hiring manager's spider sense starts to tingle about a talented software specialist, with some obvious social "issues."

In every company, and government organization, I've worked in, they will sit with positions empty, forgoing business and running their shops so fast and hot that people burn out, rather than take the risk of hiring a talented weird-o that will result in a lawsuit, dealing with increases in unemployment insurance, or EEOP federal focus.

This principle is one reason that makes contractors so valuable. They are not "protected" employees, and do not act on the behalf of the company they are working for (legally) despite being much more expensive than employees. I also believe this is a huge draw to hiring non-US workers (and they are inexpensive.)

about a month and a half ago

We Need Distributed Social Networks More Than Ello

brian.stinar Re:Who "needs"? (269 comments)

Exactly. ... Unless the person talking about these "needs" build a product that satisfies these needs, and a supporting organization to market that product, support that product, sell it, and otherwise fulfill all the ancillary needs associated with fulfilling the primary need. Otherwise, it's just some pie-in-the-sky talking about other people's "needs" without actually doing anything to satisfy them in a constructive way.

about 2 months ago

Slashdot Asks: How Prepared Are You For an Earthquake?

brian.stinar Not Very Prepared (191 comments)

I live in New Mexico, and we don't have many earthquakes, or tall buildings, so I am not prepared at all.

about 4 months ago

Ask Slashdot: "Real" Computer Scientists vs. Modern Curriculum?

brian.stinar Three Divisions of Computer Science (637 comments)

The department I go my masters in computer science from divided the discipline into three chunks:

I think this is a good way to divide computer science.

It sounds like your Java / C question involves mostly languages, and a little bit about systems (since Java programmers do not need to have a fundamental understanding of memory works at a system's level.)

I don't think this question really addresses the underlying issue - what is computer science? To me, I tell people that my formal education is closer to applied mathematics than what I do on a day to day basis. I also like to humorously use the derogatory term "code monkey" to people that have learned everything through the "languages" chunk above. A lot of times when I've worked with these people, they haven't even really studied languages (Why did the language designers make the choice that they did? What does the formal language specification say the language should do in this case? How is this language related to earlier languages?)

Again, about 90% of what I do on a daily basis could be considered "code monkey" level. It's when a customer has a REALLY difficult math problem that my formal education comes into play, and for giving people confidence in me.

For your direct question, I'd study the book Computer Architecture, Fifth Edition: A Quantitative Approach (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Computer Architecture and Design)

That's what I used, and it helped me understand a ton of memory management. Then again, my undergrad curriculum was based on C....

about 4 months ago

Match.com, Mensa Create Dating Site For Geniuses

brian.stinar Re:Let's be fair (561 comments)

... you insensitive clod!

about 6 months ago

Meet Canada's Goosebuster Drone

brian.stinar Shoot Them? (74 comments)

Why not shoot the geese? The article didn't say that they were protected, endangered, or otherwise not-shootable. Is the section of Ottaway the geese are polluting not safe for discharging firearms?

In New Mexico, we have a number of animals that require culling (due to the elimination of top level predators) and the way New Mexico Game and Fish solves the problem is by issuing hunting licenses. This seems to work pretty well for us.

about 7 months ago

Ask Slashdot: How To Back Up Physical Data?

brian.stinar Re:Have you ever heard the phrase "off-site backup (245 comments)

My bank allows more than one person to open my safety deposit box, if I tell them who I want to be on the access list. It's a good idea to have people you trust be able to open your safety deposit box.

Honestly, I think this entire post makes me feel a bit sad for the poster. I drink beer with my personal bankers, and the tellers at the bank know my name. If I had no ID for a little while, I'd still be able to do ALL of my banking - online and in person. About all I'd lose would be ATM access if I lost my ATM card, and the bank would probably give me a new one without an ID after I told them my crazy story. I keep my passport at my house, and my driver's license on me usually. Which reminds me, I keep my *expired* passport at my house...

If no one knows who this poster is without his ID, I think that is the problem. The problem isn't that he (doubtful it's a she) needs an offsite backup plan. It's probably that they should be making human connections with people that could be close with them in their life, or at least that their priorities are skewed towards making offsite backup plans. My neighbors could identify me, my business associates could, all my family could, my ex-girlfriends could. If someone horrible happened and I needed help for a few weeks, all of them would help me out (even some of the ex-girlfriends!) Having a social support network is (should be?) way more important than having an offsite backup scheme. However, this is slashdot...

about 8 months ago

The $100,000 Device That Could Have Solved Missing Plane Mystery

brian.stinar It ONLY costs NNNNN, but could have saved Y lives. (461 comments)

I think an American is now only worth 6.9 million (according to Fox News...)

I couldn't find how much a Malasian life was worth. I think both of these numbers, the mix of people on the plane, and the probability of the crash, are what you'd need to compute if it's "worth" it.

If you think it's "worth" it, then install those devices in airplanes you own. Personally, I'd rather not have to pay more for tickets, or taxes, to have them installed in every plane, flying everywhere, in the world.

about 9 months ago

Do We Really Have a Shortage of STEM Workers?

brian.stinar Lack of Economic Knowledge Demonstrated By Questio (491 comments)

There are elastic, and inelastic, demand curves. Normally, things purchased (like STEM labor) are never truly inelastic. The only inelastic example I can come up with would be a lifesaving medicine. If a medicine were 100% guaranteed to save your life, you would probably pay (almost any) economic cost. Even then, I don't think most people would pay ANY cost. This is also true over different time periods - gasoline may appear inelastic over the short term, but over the long term people make substitutions (public transit, electric vehicles, flex fuel...) to deal with rising costs.

Any 'shortage' or 'surplus' is ONLY AT A SPECIFIC PRICE POINT (and more specifically, also for a specific time period.) There are not ever really any such things are shortages or surpluses - just buyers and sellers that will not change their perspective on what something "should" cost. If there is a shortage, the price will go up until people stop wanting to buy. If there is a surplus, the price will go down until everything is bought or production is no longer profitable. No one ever talks about the surplus of worthless college degrees - the price employers pay for them simply goes down until it is equal to unskilled labor. The only reason these terms even exist in economics is because of externalities (governments restricting the input of some good, or the output of another.)

I took about a year of college economics. The fact that I constantly hear about shortages of things is crazy to me, jack the price (increase profit) and less buyers will be interested in purchasing. There will be no shortage. If there is a surplus, drop the price until there is no profit, then stop production. That takes care of the surplus.

about 10 months ago

Your 60-Hour Work Week Is Not a Badge of Honor

brian.stinar Re:12-hour days (717 comments)

I did as a lumberjack. This required about 10,000+ dietary calories per day though... Chopping down trees, moving wood, and burning doesn't require anywhere near the same order of mental strength as programming. At first I could only do the work for 2-3 hours a day, but my body became stronger and by the end of the summer I was able to do 15 hour days, and I liked working long and hard. My dad received a grant from the forest service to put in fire breaks the summer before I went to college. This was an effort to encourage private landowners to create firebreaks so that the Gila National forest could be left to burn during a fire, without as much pressure on the Forest Service to stop it because private property was threatened. His land borders the Gila on three sides.

For programming (and other mental jobs), I 100% agree with you based on my experience. I try and do about 20 hours a week of actual coding, 10-20 hours of business development and sales, and then about 10-20 hours per week of construction. That helps me keep my balance. Thankfully, I am self employed as a software developer and have rental property. The most I was ever actually able to code at a "job" was about 30 hours a week - the other 10-15 were usually spent in meetings, design, talking with customers and helping other people work through their problems (also meetings, but super informal.)

I think people are different. With the right amount of physical training, my body could handle 12 hour days at lumberjacking at 19 years old. Maybe I could do that again at 30, but I'm not sure. Maybe someone else would be very happy programming at their job for 60 hours a week. One of my buddies programs 40 for his job, and then does at least another 20 on his personal projects. He might take a 60 hour per week deal if his work offered him 1.5-2.0x his current salary, and be totally happy. I'm not sure, people are different.

about 10 months ago

Your 60-Hour Work Week Is Not a Badge of Honor

brian.stinar Historical Perspective...? (717 comments)

Didn't this use to be standard?

I mean, this author is generalizing from his experiences at a graphic design company to the entire American workforce. Does anyone else see a problem with this? Historically, everyone used to work a ton on a farm or in manufacturing. Maybe it makes sense for people to work a ton on a farm, or in (industrializing, pre-robot) manufacturing. Maybe it doesn't make sense for people to work a ton at paper-leaf.com.

I don't think it's possible to generalize accurately. I'm totally happy, and productive, working 60 hour weeks split between programming and construction projects.

about 10 months ago


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