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Ask Slashdot: How Do I Engage 5th-8th Graders In Computing?

cowtamer I've done this (165 comments)

Taking apart a computer and programming are two orthogonal skills -- someone might be great at one and terrible at the other.

I've successfully used Basic4GL to teach basic programming, graphics, and algebra concepts to underperforming 6th graders. They really loved the exercise of drawing a spaceship first on graph paper and then on the computer using simple graphics commands. Basic4GL is great because it has built in sound, graphics, etc.

I will suggest 3 other things

1) Teach the Processing computer language. It's graphical, easy to start with, and mature.
2) Teach the Arduino. Build a simple circuit or a very simple robot with two servos. Any Arduino workshop devolves pleasantly into students tinkering with stuff.
3) Teach Python

I'll caution against Python because the text only interaction may bore them (even though I've taught this language before).


FBI Says It Will Hire No One Who Lies About Illegal Downloading

cowtamer Good luck finding cybersecurity people... (580 comments)

Not that I would ever promote illegal downloading...

But this is a little bit like looking for expert medical marijuana growers who have never smoked anything in their lives.

If they want to hire cybersecurity people who also happen to be millennials, they are basically restricting themselves to hiring "white hat" home-schooled Boy-scout types who've learned everything they know from some technical school. There's nothing _necessarily_ wrong with this -- but they are SERIOUSLY shrinking the size of their talent pool to about to maybe two to three thousand people who've never done this. Out of this small pool, they will have to find the applicants who are both ridiculously qualified and interested...

about 4 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Remote Support For Disconnected, Computer-Illiterate Relatives

cowtamer Linux and SSH (334 comments)

Look, just give them Linux (if they will tolerate this -- computer illiterate people still don't like their environment to be changed), and put something in /etc/init.d/rc.local to e-mail you their IP address every time they dial in.

Alternately, you can just give them a shortcut that displays the IP in a window for them to read to you.

This way, you can just get them to dial in and troubleshoot their problems via ssh. You may want to have a fresh OS image in a different partition that you can restore from the command line if needed.

I use a disposable gmail account and a Python based mail client to do the e-mail sending for this purpose.

Alternately, something like GotoMeeting might work -- albeit slowly.

about 4 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Why Are Online Job Applications So Badly Designed?

cowtamer Because they are ignored (278 comments)

Anecdotal evidence: I have probably gotten hundreds, if not thousands of phone calls from various companies and recruiters, some of which have hired me.

I have NEVER gotten a single phone call from ANY 'online form' I've filled out, including ones for large companies.

I imagine all input on these forms is ignored. Don't waste your time. Post on Dice, Monster, etc. If you can, have your friends enter you into an employee referral system at the company they work for. Referrals are the best filter for companies.

about 6 months ago

Amazon Is Testing a $10-Per-Month Ebook Service

cowtamer Subscription Everything (87 comments)

So for better or worse, everything is going to turn into a subscription service. You'll subscribe to read books, listen to music, stream movies, etc. Soon, we'll have grocery store subscriptions, subscriptions to hospitals (I think they're called HMOs), etc. I can imagine a furniture delivery & maintenance subscription too. At the end of the month, we'll probably see about $50 out of our paycheck -- which we won't even need to buy coffee, since we'll all have Starbucks subscriptions!!!

This will be great until, God forbid, the plug is pulled for some reason (unemployment, desire to take a couple of months off, etc.), at which point nobody will own anything...

about 6 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Communication With Locked-in Syndrome Patient?

cowtamer Intendix P300 and other Brain Computer Interfaces (552 comments)

I am currently in graduate school for Biomedical Engineering and have looked into this a bit. Electroencephalography (EEG), ElectroOculography (EOG) and Electromyography (EMG) are all methods that can be used.

tl;dr version: Check out the EEG Based P300 speller system by Intendix. I think this is something you can buy and use right now.


There is also a similar open source system based on OpenViBE (an open source Brain Computer Interface (BCI) platform) : http://openvibe.inria.fr/openv...

Here's a bit more detail:

There are several options, none of them extremely good. EEG or blink based systems are probably your best bet. The EEG based systems rely on something called the P300 Event Related Potential (ERP). Basically, the user pays attention to one object, waiting for an event (e.g., a letter on an on-screen keyboard). The brain's recognition of the event evokes an EEG signal that can be easily detected. These are kind of slow, but the tech has been around for more than a decade. This is the first kind of system to let a locked-in patient communicate with the outside world.

Blink based interfaces are very easy to build -- I've built one myself using a BIOPAC system, several electrodes, and an Arduino using a combination of EEG and EMG signals. You could probably do it using an instrument amplifier and an arduino alone. For a very similar system to what I built (currently unpublished), see "Virtual keyboard BCI using Eye blinks in EEG" by Chambayil et al at: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl...

There are also several invasive systems (i.e., those that require brain surgery) which have been tested. Most of these rely on Electrocorticography (ECoG), where an electrode array is implanted on the brain. Both computer cursor and wheelchair control have been achieved. This is probably not where you want to go.

Check out the Cortech Solutions EEG based spelling device: http://www.cortechsolutions.co...

Here are some scientific articles that are relevant:

“Bridging the Brain to the World: A Perspective on Neural Interface Systems” John P.Donoghue. Neuron 60, November 6, 2008 p511-521

(Chambayil, Brijil, Rajesh Singla, and Rameshwar Jha. "Virtual keyboard BCI using Eye blinks in EEG." Wireless and Mobile Computing, Networking and Communications (WiMob), 2010 IEEE 6th International Conference on. IEEE, 2010.)

Good luck, and feel free to message me privately if I can provide more information.

about 8 months ago

The Road To VR

cowtamer Exciting, but long way to go... (61 comments)

I think Rift is in the right direction -- I've played with a few HMDs and many VR systems, and although the resolution of the Rift is extremely poor, the comfort is better than almost any HMD that I've tried.

The State of the Art in VR is not HMDs but systems like the CAVE (check out the C6 at Iowa State) where the user is in a room with head tracking and a 3D input device, and each wall (including the floor, ceiling, and the wall you entered through in the case of the C6) is a 16 megapixel rear-projected 3D display updated in real-time. The experience is very much like being in the alpha version of the Holodeck (the walls disappear for the head-tracked user wearing the 3D glasses, and any object can be walked around).

The problem with these systems, of course, is that they take up real physical space and have been prohibitively expensive for the last 2 decades. To get something equivalent to the human eye, you need close to 100 Megapixels (updated at >60Hz) with a 180 degree field of view (to avoid feeling like you're seeing the world through welding goggles). The CAVE gives you this experience, at a great price. The real problem is that it is used almost exclusively for demonstrations to visiting dignitaries and funding agencies at the places fortunate enough to have them. The genius of the Rift is that it will have a huge developer and user base (at least compared to current VR systems). What is created by this developer and user base will feed into State of the Art VR research (which has, unfortunately, stagnated horribly for at least a decade) and lead to the creation of something cool. (I'm hoping for a 100 Megapixel equivalent eye tracked VR helmet with vergence and accommodation compensation -- or true real-time digital holography -- or light field displays).

[Incidentally, 3DTV could have been the basis of home based VR systems if the game console companies had had the vision to add head tracking and embrace it for what it is -- a very affordable VR display. For those of you who have never tried it -- the experience of head tracked 3D is VERY different than just 3D. But the 3D hate is too strong -- primarily driven by people who don't see 3D, are too sensitive to the effects of current display tech, or those who have had the misfortune of having experienced badly calibrated 3D]

about a year ago

House Committee Approves Bill Banning In-Flight Phone Calls

cowtamer If it's just "common sense and common courtesy" .. (366 comments)

Why must it be a law? Shouldn't airlines be free to implement their "please don't talk other passengers' heads off" policy ?

about a year ago

Ask Slashdot: What Are the Books Everyone Should Read?

cowtamer War and Peace, Anathem, The Black Book, etc. (796 comments)

Here are my favorites, if you're not stuck on a single Genre:

War and Peace: This one is a classic for a reason. Very clear and vivid descriptions, covers politics, philosophy, and even a bit of science and math if you read carefully enough :). Notable, of course, for its very well developed characters. NOT dull at all, despite the formidable length.

Anathem: Stephenson's best work so far. I like it for the same reasons I liked War and Peace (see above)

Snow Crash and The Diamond Age:
Two far-fetched futures from Neal Stephenson -- full of inspiring ideas and a bit of humor.

The Black Book (Orhan Pamuk)
I love this book for the atmosphere it creates as well as the exploration of the themes of identity (both individual and cultural), East vs West, etc. Orphan Pamuk won the Nobel prize in literature recently.

The Ringworld; Integral Trees; Building Harlequin's Moon (Larry Niven & collaborators)

These books are worth reading for the ideas and the world-building.

Glory Season (David Brin)

Brin is like a Larry Niven who can write beautiful prose. The book is indescribable -- also good for trolling your feminist friends (it takes place in a female dominated society and pokes fun of current stereotypes)

Brave New World (Huxley)

A past dystopia that will be eerily familiar.

East of Eden (John Steinbeck)

Read this if you enjoy epic cross generational tales and insights into human nature. I wish I had read this book 4 years earlier than I actually did.

Travels with Charlie (John Steinbeck)

Very insightful travel diary

1 year,30 days

Interview: Ask Forrest Mims About Rockets, Electronics, and Engineering

cowtamer Makerspaces (120 comments)

What do you feel about the Maker movement and Makerspaces in general?

It seems to me as the Maker/tinkerer is the new equivalent to the electronics hobbyist. Do you believe new project designs need to keep this in mind? (i.e, present the design of an entire gadget instead of just the electronics)?

about a year ago

To Boldly Go Nowhere, For Now

cowtamer Get your head out of your smart phone (308 comments)

...and look up!

If you want to go and live in space, develop the tech to do so right now, before you lose the last of the know-how on how to do this. If you want to lust after pics of distant worlds forever unreachable to you, then divert your resources to robotic missions. Or better yet, just create the worlds in Maya and release them to the public -- it's not like they'll ever be able to verify.

The truth is, we care about space because some of us want to go there. In our lifetimes. This is technologically within reach. Keep taking pictures of distant rocks (instead of sending some humans to tough it out and settle them) and you will find all your money diverted to social media and more wars.

about a year ago

Why Working Remotely Needs To Make a Comeback

cowtamer I'd love to believe you... (455 comments)

"CEOs, like Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Apple's Steve Jobs, think that a central office fosters more innovation and productivity. I think they're wrong." ...but how is your own multi-million company doing with your remote workers?

Less sarcastically, are there any LARGE companies out there which are mostly comprised of remote workers and have both innovation and productivity? (I know some small ones do exist)

about 2 years ago

Google Patents Staple of '70s Mainframe Computing

cowtamer Public Patent Challenge (333 comments)

I think it's time for a crowdsourced patent challenge web site run by the USPTO where there would be a period of public comment for each patent about to be awarded in order to help underpaid (and I imagine under-resourced) examiners find Prior Art.

A lot fewer patents might be awarded, but ones that are would be genuinely new -- this might also save the world billions of dollars.

about 2 years ago

Corporate Hackathons: the Fine Line Between Engaging and Exploiting

cowtamer Fun and networking (64 comments)

I've won several hundred dollars and some hardware in various hackathons. They are generally fun, let you meet like minded individuals, and force you to think about problems you might not have considered.

Even though they might not make sense from an hourly rate standpoint, you will pretty much get something just for showing up and make valuable contacts. I haven't had a corporation steal anything I've done yet (even when I won).

Hackathons are much more about proofs of concept and getting feedback from the group than anything else...if I were to follow through on anything I created for one, I am sure I'd re-do it with a different API. I don't quite see what the huge deal is....

about 2 years ago

Texas High School Student Loses Lawsuit Challenging RFID Tracking Requirement

cowtamer Re:Unique random ID *is* "useful information" (412 comments)

The other useful information would be from persistent, not-in-person monitoring, such as determining the typical time that student ID# 135159815 walks by a particular location on their way to or from home. Monday to Friday at 3:45pm+-10 minutes, except Wednesdays (picked up by parent for after-class event?). i.e. detailed scheduling. Set up a passive monitoring station and you'll soon know the optimal time for ... whatever the person had in mind.

The point is, that kind of tracking information would be difficult to obtain without somebody noticing were it not for the availability of RFID.

mod parent up

about 2 years ago

Has 3D Film-Making Had Its Day?

cowtamer Re:HR3D (436 comments)

It's actually better than that. There are quite a few technologies which will interpolate the "in between" views from several cameras (google "Novel View Synthesis"). Don't forget that lightfield capture technologies like the Lytro Camera also exist.

I've seen projection based glasses free 3D systems that are also quite impressive, such as Holografika.

I really do wish this 3D Hate would end...

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Tablets For Papers; Are We There Yet?

cowtamer Simple: iPad, Goodreader and Dropbox with stylus (180 comments)

I was not and am not an Apple Fanboy.

However, after an exhaustive search I've settled on:

iPad 2 WiFi 16 GB (cheapest available -- around $370 at Fry's)
Goodreader (Around $5 -- most definitely worth it)
Adonit Jot stylus (get the $30 version -- you don't need the pressure sensitive BlueTooth version for this). Do NOT get anything cheaper -- you can't write on the margins with your fingers or with cheaper styli.

I sync various folders of papers in dropbox, annotate them (usually with Dropbox and the stylus), and sync the back to my PC for printing and viewing with annotations.

I thought this would be a poor substitute, but it has the advantage over paper that you can zoom in on the figures.

The only thing I miss about paper is tearing a paper apart and looking at the references at the same time as the content as I read it. I usually have my laptop open for this purpose (opened to the end of the same paper) and to perform any fast googling necessary for comprehension of the paper.

more than 2 years ago

Parent Questions Mandatory High School Chemistry

cowtamer This is dangerous in a democracy (866 comments)

You need to have a base level of education in a society where people elect the decision makers. While I believe voting should be universal, I believe we have a DUTY to at least attempt to educate future voters in the basics of Science and the Humanities.

Not doing this in the most powerful country in the world could easily lead to the destruction of everything -- by raising a generation of ignorant people who put one of their own in charge who make destructive and uninformed policies which will affect us all. You can already see this in the glorification of willful ignorance that's so prevalent today.

Someone who has never taken chemistry or physics will do things like try to roll down windows on airplanes, be easily persuaded to deny scientific results inconvenient to a moneyed few, and support obviously destructive policies without having even a smidgen of understanding about their consequences until it's too late.

(I might be a science geek, but I think having a fundamental grasp of why Western Civilization is the way it is, what brought it here, what common failure of societies are, etc. are just as important. We have 12 years of mandatory education -- let's continue to put it to good use!)

more than 2 years ago



Red Bull Creation Live Streaming Right Now

cowtamer cowtamer writes  |  more than 2 years ago

cowtamer (311087) writes "The Red Bull sponsored 72 hour Build-A-Thon called Red Bull Creation is going on right now, with live streams of the 12 teams currently competing to build the coolest stuff within 72 hours. If you can get past the fact that the ENTIRE web page for the event is done in flash, it's worth checking out some of the live streams...

(Disclaimer: my only relationship to Red Bull is consumer/addict)"

Utah Passes Resolution Denying Climate Change

cowtamer cowtamer writes  |  more than 4 years ago

cowtamer (311087) writes "The Utah State Assembly has passed a resolution decrying climate change alarmists and urging " ... the United States Environmental Protection Agency to immediately halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its "Endangerment Finding" and related regulations until a full and independent investigation of climate data and global warming science can be substantiated." Full text of H.J.R 12."
Link to Original Source

Bill proposes ISPs, Wi-Fi keep logs for police

cowtamer cowtamer writes  |  more than 5 years ago

cowtamer (311087) writes "In an effort sure to win the hearts and minds of the Internet community, Sen. John Cornyn (R, TX) has introduced the "Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act," which, according to CNN would require any Wi-Fi provider (including coffee shops and access points run by individuals) to keep DHCP records for at least two years.

Section 5 of Senate Bill S.436 states:

"...A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.'


Chernobyl Mushrooms Feeding on Radiation

cowtamer cowtamer writes  |  more than 7 years ago

cowtamer (311087) writes "According to a National Geographic Article certain fungi can use ionizing radiation to perform "radiosynthesis" using the pigment melanin (the same one in our skin that protects us from UV radiation). It is speculated that this might be useful on long space voyages where energy from the Sun is not readily available."

cowtamer cowtamer writes  |  more than 8 years ago

cowtamer (311087) writes "CNN reports that while obesity may be bad for you, obesity combined with boozing may undo the effects of the condition (specifically due to a substance found in red wine). I don't believe any more explanation is necessary :)"



First Post

cowtamer cowtamer writes  |  more than 11 years ago

Decided to start a /. journal.

Seems like something every self-respecting nerd ought to have.

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