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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

dpbsmith McGuffey's 4th New Eclectic Reader:"The Colonists" (718 comments)

A nineteenth-century schoolbook addresses this question. Post-apocalyptic society might not be too different from that of a "colony." Farmers, millers, carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, shoemakers, doctors, school-masters make the cut; barbers, just barely; silversmiths, soldiers, dancing-masters, lawyers, politicians, and "gentlemen" do not.

[note.â"Mr. Barlow one day invented a play for his children, on purpose to show them what kind of persons and professions are the most useful in society, and particularly in a new settlement. The following is the conversation which took place between himself and his children.]
Mr. Barlow. Come, my boys, I have a new play for you. I will be the founder of a colony; and you shall be people of +different trades and professions, coming to offer yourselves to go with me. What are you, Arthur?
Arthur. I am a farmer, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Very well. Farming is the chief thing we have to depend upon. The farmer puts the seed into the earth, and takes care of it when it is grown to ripe corn. Without the farmer, we should have no bread. But you must work very +diligently; there will be trees to cut down, and roots to dig out, and a great deal of hard labor.
Arthur. I shall be ready to do my part.
Mr. Barlow. Well, then I shall take you +willingly, and as many more such good fellows as I can find. We shall have land enough, and you may go to work as soon as you please. Now for the next.
James. I am a miller, sir.
Mr. Barlow. A very useful trade! Our corn must be ground, or it will do us but little good. But what must we do for a mill, my friend?
James. I suppose we must make one, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Then we must take a mill-wright with us, and carry mill-stones. Who is next?
Charles. I am a carpenter, sir.
Mr. Barlow. The most +necessary man that could offer. We shall find you work enough, never fear. There will be houses to build, fences to make, and chairs and tables beside. But all our timber is growing; we shall have hard work to fell it, to saw boards and planks, and to frame and raise buildings. Can you help in this?
Charles. I will do my best, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Then I engage you, but I advise you to bring two or three able +assistants along with you. William. I am a blacksmith.
Mr. Barlow. An +excellent companion for the carpenter. We can not do without cither of you. You must bring your great bellows, +anvil, and +vise, and we will set up a forge for you, as soon as we arrive. By the by, we shall want a mason for that.
Edward. I am one, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Though we may live in log-houses at first, we shall want brick-work, or stone-work, for +chimneys, +hearths, and ovens, so there will be employment for a mason. Can you make bricks, and burn lime?
Edward. I will try what I can do, sir.
Mr. Barlow. No man can do more. I engage you, Who comes next?
Francis. I am a +shoe-maker, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Shoes we can not well do without, but I fear we shall get no +leather.
Francis. But I can dress skins, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Can you? Then you are a useful fellow. I will have you, though I give you double wages.
George. I am a tailor, sir.
Mr. Barlow. We must not go naked; so there will be work for a tailor. But you are not above mending, I hope, for we must not mind wearing +patched clothes, while we work in the woods.
George. I am not, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Then I engage you, too.
Henry. I am a silversmith, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Then, my friend, you can not go to a worse place than a new colony to set up your trade in.
Henry. But I understand clock and watch making, too.
Mr. Barlow. We shall want to know how the time goes, but we can not afford to employ you. At present, I advise you to stay where you are.
Jasper. I am a barber and hair-dresser.
Mr. Barlow. What can we do with you? If you will shave our men's rough beards once a week, and crop their hairs once a quarter, and be content to help the carpenter the rest of the time, we will take you. But you will have no ladies' hair to curl, or gentlemen to powder, I assure you. Louis. I am a doctor, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Then, sir, you are very welcome; we shall some of us be sick, and we are likely to get cuts, and +bruises, and broken bones. You will be very useful. We shall take you with pleasure.
Stephen. I am a lawyer, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Sir, your most obedient servant. When we are rich enough to go to law, we will let you know.
Oliver. I am a +school-master.
Mr. Barlow. That is a very respectable and useful profession; as soon as our children are old enough, we shall be glad of your services. Though we are hardworking men, we do not mean to be ignorant; every one among us must be taught reading and writing. Until we have employment for you in teaching, if you will keep our accounts, and, at present, read sermons to us on Sundays, we shall be glad to have you among us. Will you go?
Oliver. With all my heart, sir.
Mr. Barlow. Who comes here?
Philip. I am a soldier, sir; will you have me?
Mr. Barlow. We are +peaceable people, and I hope we shall not be obliged to fight. We shall have no occasion for you, unless you can be a +mechanic or farmer, as well as a soldier.
Richard. I am a dancing-master, sir.
Mr. Barlow. A dancing-master? Ha, ha! And pray, of what use do you expect to be in the "backwoods?"
Richard. Why, sir, I can teach you how to appear in a drawing-room. I shall take care that your children know """precisely how low they must bow when saluting company. In short, I teach you the science, -which will +distinguish you from the savages.
Mr. Barlow. This may be all very well, and quite to your fancy, but / would suggest that we, in a new colony, shall need to pay more attention to the raising of corn and +potatoes, the feeding of cattle, and the preparing of houses to live in, than to the +cultivatioa of this elegant "science" as you term it.
John. I, sir, am a +politician, and would be willing to edit any newspaper you may wish to have published in your colony.
Mr. Barlow. Very much obliged to you, Mr. Editor; but for the present, I think you may wisely remain where you are. We shall have to labor so much for the first two or three years, that we shall care but little about other matters than those which concern our farms. We certainly must spend some time in reading, but I think we can obtain +suitable books for our +perusal, with much less money than it would require to support you and your newspaper.
Robert. I am a gentleman, sir.
Mr. Barlow. A gsntlemanl And what good can you do us?
Robert. I intend to spend most of my time in walking about, and +overseeing the men at work. I shall be very willing to assist you with my advice, whenever I think it necessary. As for my support, that need not trouble you much. I expect to shoot game enough for my own eating; you can give me a little bread, and a few """vegetables; and the barber shall be my servant.
Mr. Barlow. Pray, sir, why should we do all this for you?
Robert. Why, sir, that you may have the credit of saying that you have one gentleman, at least, in your colony.
Mr. Barlow. Ha, ha, ha! A fine gentleman, truly! When we desire the honor of your company, sir, we will send for you.

3 days ago

Why Are There More Old Songs On iTunes Than Old eBooks?

dpbsmith The late Michael Hart of Project Gutenberg (77 comments)

...had a lot of acerbic observations on the topic.

"I said this in 1971, in the very first week of PG, that by the end of my lifetime you would be able to carry every word in the Library of Congress in one hand - but they will pass a law against it. I realized they would never let us have that much access to so much information." http://samvak.tripod.com/busiw...

He was scathing on the topic of the attempts (which are largely succeeding) to convert us from an ownership society to a rentier society:


"I worry that 100 years from now that 99% of foods will be GMO's [Genetically
Manipulated/Manufactured Organisms] and hence under copyright. . .and this
will enforce a copyright-powered hunger/starvation/malnutrition of the body
just as current copyright extensions are powering such for the mind.

The goal of WIPO is that EVERYTHING should HAVE to be paid for, plus a
royalty for the intellectual property. . .at a time when everyone COULD
have everything pretty much free of charge from replicator technology.

100 years ago the atom-powered Nautilus and atomic bomb were fiction,
only 50 years later the Nautilus was being built, and it sailed into
my own home town and their crew came to my school. . . .

Do you REALLY think it won't be even more different in the future?

But WIPO still wants to charge hugely for replicated food, just as
it does for replicated books."

about 1 month ago

So what do I really own?

dpbsmith Right; insincerity/hypocrisy of content providers (5 comments)

One of the reasons I no longer respect content providers at all is that they do not take any concrete actions to support anyone who WISHES to comply with their restrictions. This shows that they are insincere.

When the RIAA expressed the view that you do not own the right to play a ripped file unless you retain physical possession of the media, I wrote to them saying that was impractical for me, and couldn't I ship them my physical CDs and receive a list of them with an RIAA certification that I owned them. They could store them or destroy them or whatever they liked. They never answered me.

If they were sincere, CDs would come with a prepaid mailer that you could use to mail the physical CD to RIAA and receive some kind of easily stored license that demonstrated that you had the right to listen to the content.

RIAA believes in their hearts that all electronic copies are infringing. They do not provide any practical way to prove that your electronic copies are not infringing.

about a month ago

Stanford Bioengineer Develops a 50-cent Paper Microscope

dpbsmith A tip of the hat to Leeuwenhoek. (83 comments)

This is EXTREMELY cool. But it seems to me they might have given a tip of the hat to Antony van Leeuwenhoek, who developed spherical glass microscope lenses in the late 1600s. Well, I see their paper does: "Although the use of high-curvature miniature lenses traces back to Antony van Leeuwenhoek's seminal discovery of microbial life forms (8), manufacturing micro-lenses in bulk was not possible until recently."

about a month ago

Mass. Legislature Strikes Back: Upskirt Photos Now Officially a Misdemeanor

dpbsmith The existing law had a bug. (256 comments)

It all seems reasonable to me. The existing law had a bug. Nobody ever intended for upskirt pictures to be legal. The judge did the right thing: reported the bug. The developers of laws did the right thing: they fixed the bug. Now the legal situation is better than it was.

about a month ago

Kepler's Alien World Count Skyrockets

dpbsmith Nerd show-off feat: recite names of the planets. (77 comments)

Great! Now there's new way for nerds to show off: by reciting the names of the planets. Easy when there were only nine, easier then there were eight, now it's a real challenge. Way more interesting than the digits of pi. Although that's setting the bar pretty low.

about 1 month ago

Windows 8 Metro: The Good Kind of Market Segmentation?

dpbsmith But it isn't good for casual users, either. (389 comments)

Metro might be OK if you don't actually care what your computer does and don't want the machine to accomplish any particular task, just do the computer equivalent of channel surfing. If you just want to poke here and there and experience pleasant little surprises at what comes up, it's OK. As soon as you try to accomplish any specific task you have decided on yourself, it is bad.

My wife is a neither a computerphobic or a techie. She just wants to get "simple" stuff done. She bought Windows 8 with careful consideration, spending time in a Microsoft store having a rep show it to her and saying to me "I know it's different, but I'll just learn it."

And she hates it.

One of the few things she really LIKED in Windows 8 was having the Bing picture of the day on her desktop. And it just quit working in 8.1. And she hasn't been able to figure out why or how to get it back. That's pure Microsoft for you

about 2 months ago

Good Engineering Managers Just "Don't Exist"

dpbsmith (Shrug) I've worked for at least two. (312 comments)

Medium-sized company, small groups, but nevertheless excellent managers. And, incidentally, willing and able to pitch in and do some of the work occasionally. One of the interesting things is that both of the excellent managers always chose to use the slowest, oldest, hand-me-down PCs.

I've also... ONCE in my career... gone to engineering planning meetings led by the VP of R&D, who insisted on doing everything in detail with Microsoft Project, and... you'll never believe this, never... actually used the tool to get a picture of the overall project and the critical paths. Someone would say something like "So, according to the chart, we're going to be three weeks late here," and he might say "Well, that's when marketing says they want it, but they don't really need it and I'm pretty sure I can push that back."

Or he would stare at another part and say, "Well, this looks like the critical path, and why is it going to take eight weeks to get this lens made?" And the optical engineer would say "That's what XYZ in Rochester is quoting us." And the VP would say "Hmmm... is there any way to get that faster?" "Well, we could get it in five weeks if we placed an expedited order but that's very expensive." "How expensive?" "It will cost $22,000 instead of $8,000." Pause. VP says "Well, it looks to me like we'd better do that, then."

about 2 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Why Are We Still Writing Text-Based Code?

dpbsmith It's just majority taste, nothing more. (876 comments)

There's no good reason for it, it simply reflects the tastes and preferences of people who are attracted to programming who are the market. The people who like visual aspects of programming are a minority. The mainstream does not "get" it, doesn't want it, and doesn't care about it.

To prove this, take a case that is much simpler than visual programming: Donald Knuth's "literate programming." This simply means an environment in which the source code can be commented with comments having the full capability of TeX, with rich text and illustrations.

Why is it that IDEs, programmers' editors and compilers are restricted to plain text? Why not rich text and compound documents (embedded graphics?) It not a difficult technical problem, as shown by the fact that Knuth already solved it. It is not a standards issue, as there is at least one perfectly good open and ubiquitous standard that could be used--HTML. It is not a cost or difficulty of migration issue, as shown by the fact that everyone was able to migrate from ASCII to Unicode. Yes, HTML would be harder, but perfectly feasible. Unlike visual programming, it is still just text.

The reason we do not have mainstream "literate programming" environments is because the vast majority of programmers, who form the market, don't care. They just don't want code with word-processor-like comments in it. They are perfectly happy to represent emphasis with leading and trailing underbars--after all, the semantics is the same.

Closest I ever came to literate programming was the original version of Nisus, a Mac word processor which stored all the formatting information in the resource fork. It was a fully formatted WP document, but if you ignored the resource fork it was an ASCII document. No, it didn't need to be converted, it just was. And you could use Nisus to write literate-programming-like documents, and provided the comments were delimited by /* and */ you absolutely could use a Nisus document as input to any standard Mac compiler with no change. However, there was no good way to integrate it into an IDE...

about 2 months ago

Watch Steve Jobs Demo the Mac, In 1984

dpbsmith The Mac demoed had 4X the RAM of one sold (129 comments)

I've heard Apple people describe this with the too-kind phrase "tradition of demonstrating a wolf in sheep's clothing." That is to say, the Mac he was demonstrating was different from the Mac Apple was selling: it had 512K of RAM. The only Mac available for purchase at launch had 128K and was not capable of running the MacInTalk speech synthesis software.

This was indeed a Steve Jobs tradition; I recall him demonstrating a NeXT in Boston--brilliant demo, brilliant showmanship--and the NeXT he was demonstrating had an internal hard drive, which delivered much better performance than the product available for sale which ran entirely off a read/write optical drive.

about 3 months ago

Office Space: TV Documentary Looks At the Dreadful Open Office

dpbsmith Taylor's "Scientific Management" (314 comments)

Very reminiscent of the sad story of Frederick Taylor and "Scientific Management." Taylor meant to be a good guy, and believed he researches on the best ways to organize industrial work would be a good-for-everything win-win. He advocated good pay, good treatment, frequent breaks, etc.

He actually believed that scientific management would put an end to labor-management conflict: "The great revolution that takes place in the mental attitude of the two parties under scientific management is that both sides take their eyes off the division of the surplus as the all-important matter, and together turn their attention toward increasing the size of the surplus until this surplus becomes so large that it is unnecessary to quarrel over how it shall be divided."

Labor unions opposed "scientific management" as just a kind of speed-up, a way of squeezing workers, and that essentially is how it was applied. In his later years Taylor regretted what he said was the misapplication of his methodology, but the damage was done.

And so it is with the open office. What might originally have become a well-intentioned effort at innovating on office architecture quickly became just a way of squeezing workers--almost literally, into smaller and smaller spaces, with facile "proof by repeated assertion" that it was an actual improvement on what had gone before.

The best that can be said about it is that cubicles are at least better than the arrangements of some office in the 1960s and 1970s, which looked just like classrooms but with bigger desks.

about 3 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What's the Most Often-Run Piece of Code -- Ever?

dpbsmith How could this ever be determined or verified? (533 comments)

How could this ever be more than a guess? How could it ever be determined, documented, or verified?

And for that matter, what is the definition of whether something is "the same" piece of code? For example, if the same source code compiles to different instructions on two platforms, are they running the same code?

How about if one of them actually compiles code that gets executed, and the other optimizes it out?

about 3 months ago

Algorithm Aims To Predict Fiction Bestsellers

dpbsmith Predicting the past? (146 comments)

"[they believe they have found an algorithm that might] predict which fiction books will be successful. Their algorithm had as much as an 84 percent accuracy rate when applied to already published manuscripts in Project Gutenberg and other sources."

I can predict the success rate of already published books with 100% accuracy.

Backtesting is usually bogus because it means nothing unless the experimenter can precisely enumerate the total number of rules that were formulated and discarded--including those formulated and discarded intuitively--before arriving at the one that tested well. If you consider 100 possible systems, the chances that at least one of them will test with results significant at the 1% level is 63%.

Also, "A Tale of Two Cities" IS in the Project Gutenberg database, right here, which doesn't give me much confidence in anything else they say...

about 3 months ago

Levitating and Manipulating Objects With Sound

dpbsmith It's not antigravity--neither is a helium balloon (59 comments)

We "countervail" the effect of gravity whenever we lift something. It might be said that we "countervail" the effect of gravity whenever we are not falling.

Words DO have meanings, and according to the American Heritage Dictionary, antigravity means "The hypothetical effect of reducing or canceling a gravitational field." H. G. Well's fictional "Cavorite" in "The First Men in the Moon" meets that definition precisely.

Ways of lifting and pushing things around without anything solid touching them are cool, especially if the levitation is more or less stable and under control, but hardly miraculous. The old trick of levitating a lightweight ball in the jet of air from a vacuum cleaner's exhaust falls in that category, and so for that matter does an air-bearing motor.

about 3 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What Are the Books Everyone Should Read?

dpbsmith "The Way of All Flesh," by Samuel Butler (796 comments)

This book is more irreverent and more subversive than Mark Twain. And it is very funny and an entertaining read. It's especially good if you happen to be feeling annoyed at your parents.

He said: "Oh, don't talk about rewards. Look at Milton, who only got â5 for 'Paradise Lost.'
"And a great deal too much," I rejoined promptly. "I would have given him twice as much myself not to have written it at all."

Surely nature might find some less irritating way of carrying on business if she would give her mind to it. Why should the generations overlap one another at all? Why cannot we be buried as eggs in neat little cells with ten or twenty thousand pounds each wrapped round us in Bank of England notes, and wake up, as the sphex wasp does, to find that its papa and mamma have not only left ample provision at its elbow, but have been eaten by sparrows some weeks before it began to live consciously on its own account?

All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it- and they do enjoy it as much as man and other circumstances will allow. He has spent his life best who has enjoyed it most; God will take care that we do not enjoy it any more than is good for us.

Never learn anything until you find you have been made uncomfortable for a good long while by not knowing it; when you find that you have occasion for this or that knowledge, or foresee that you will have occasion for it shortly, the sooner you learn it the better, but till then spend your time in growing bone and muscle; these will be much more useful to you than Latin and Greek, nor will you ever be able to make them if you do not do so now, whereas Latin and Greek can be acquired at any time by those who want them.

Nothing is well done nor worth doing unless, take it all round, it has come pretty easily.

Tennyson has said that more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of, but he has wisely refrained from saying whether they are good things or bad things. It might perhaps be as well if the world were to dream of, or even become wide awake to, some of the things that are being wrought by prayer.

And, best of all:

[Mendelssohn] wrote "I then went to the Tribune [a room in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence]. This room is so delightfully small you can traverse it in fifteen paces, yet it contains a world of art. I again sought out my favourite arm chair which stands under the statue of the 'Slave whetting his knife' (L'Arrotino), and taking possession of it I enjoyed myself for a couple of hours..." I wonder how many chalks Mendelssohn gave himself for having sat two hours on that chair. I wonder how often he looked at his watch to see if his two hours were up. I wonder how often he told himself that he was quite as big a gun, if the truth were known, as any of the men whose works he saw before him, how often he wondered whether any of the visitors were recognizing him and admiring him for sitting such a long time in the same chair, and how often he was vexed at seeing them pass him by and take no notice of him. But perhaps if the truth were known his two hours was not quite two hours.

about 3 months ago

90 Percent of Businesses Say IP Is "Not Important"

dpbsmith Matches my limited mid-sized-company experience (185 comments)

I worked for over a decade at a midsized company, founded in the late sixties, whose business was the manufacture of $30,000-$100,000 high-tech products. The development process included internal firmware, quite a lot of interesting and non-obvious mechanical and optical engineering, and driver software.

To say they were casual about intellectual property was putting it mildly. The mindset seemed to be, basically, that they copied good ideas from the competition and expected the competition to copy ideas from them. (I do mean IDEAS though, nothing more). They felt their business success depended on getting needed products to market in a timely way, and that it was all about good execution of ideas, not exclusive possession of ideas.

All of us software people put copyright notices on our code because we just thought it was good practice, but nobody told us to do so or send out memos on how to do it or monitored us to make sure we were doing it right.

I created a mini dust-up once when the head of marketing told me to send the complete source code to one of our software drivers to another company--a 200-age listing--and I said sure, but that I wouldn't do it without written directions from an officer of the company. He was furious that I would even question his directions and insisting that it was inappropriate for me to demur because it was no big deal, and I replied, sincerely, that I didn't think it was a big deal, either--in context it really wasn't--but that nevertheless I thought I needed to have that level of authorization, and that since it wasn't a big deal it shouldn't be hard to get it. It's not that he was being a PHB, either--the point is that nobody in the company quite got it that maybe you didn't just send out half a pound of listing on a casual say-so.

For a while, there was one mid-level manager who liked patents and embarked on a semi-systematic effort to get things patented, and recognize engineers by posting framed notices about the patents that they had gotten--there were maybe about ten such frames on the wall by the time he left. But it was not part of the corporate culture.

I don't remember ever hearing about the company suing or being sued over a patent except for one case, where it was embroiled as a party in a lawsuit involving some software components they had purchased and licensed from another firm.

about 4 months ago

Datawind Not Blowing Smoke: $38 Tablet Coming To the US

dpbsmith Sounds like a possible "disruptive technology" (210 comments)

...the kind that starts out regarded by the established players as almost a joke, who ignore it because its not what the important customers are asking for, just some bargain-hunting fools... then the low-end, joke product develops its own specialized market, gradually improves, starts eating the lunch of the big guys, and somehow they fade away.

The Ford Model Twas regarded as such a piece of junk the "Ford joke" became a genre in itself, and people published entire BOOKS of nothing but Ford jokes. "Does your Ford make a racket?" "Oh, no, only when it's running" etc.

about 4 months ago

Wikipedia's Lamest Edit Wars

dpbsmith It's all good. (1 comments)

This sort of dispute ends up in many cases with very judiciously-phrased final, stable wordings. And it's no sillier than academic disputes, which often involve the deployment of ego and reputation to decide things like whether Pluto is a planet.

"Odium ignorantum
Est odium infantum;
Sed odium doctorum
Est odium ferorum."

(The ignorant fight like children, Ph.Ds like wild animals).

about 4 months ago

UK Retailer Mistakenly Sends PS Vitas, Threatens Legal Action To Get Them Back

dpbsmith How did they want it returned? What did they say? (617 comments)

The story stays Zavvi says "We have tried to contact you on numerous occasions to give you the opportunity to return this item to us (at our cost and no inconvenience to yourself)."

So let's use some common sense here. Assuming they were telling the truth... if a company called me and explained the error, apologized, issued no threats, but ASKED me to send it back, offered to send me a prepaid return sticker, and offered to schedule a pickup if I didn't want to take it to a dropbox, I wouldn't fuss. To me, it would all be about the amount of work I'd have to do to return it. Make it easy for me to do, sure I'd do it.

The legal threats are stupid. Their percentage of returns acting nice will be as large or larger as the results of acting nasty. And if they take legal action they'll not only occur expenses, they'll turn every one of those customers into enthusiastic broadcasters of ill-will.

about 4 months ago

Which Programming Language Should You Learn First?

dpbsmith You should learn MORE THAN ONE. (3 comments)

I think it is very important to get exposed to several different computer languages, fairly early in the game. And I don't mean different like C and C++ and C#. I mean really different, languages that drive in the richness of ways you can express algorithms.

Few things are as tedious as the language snob who thinks that whatever language his comp sci course used is best, or the one that has the largest number of job openings is best.

I don't know what would be a good set to suggest, and I am most familiar with antiques; but if we assume that one of them is going to have C-like syntax, then I would suggest, as mind-stretchers: assembly language--of course; some language in which "loops" are not central to the language, examples being APL or FORTH or PostScript; some language in which symbols rather than numbers are paramount, such as LISP or SNOBOL; some language in which indentation is significant, such as MUMPS or Python.

about 5 months ago



Male hunter-gatherers: deep voice pitch = success

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 6 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes ""Deeper voice pitch predicts reproductive success in male hunter-gatherers, according to a new study from researchers with Harvard University, McMaster University, and Florida State University," according to the Harvard Gazette.

Anthropologists studied "the Hadza, a Tanzanian hunter-gatherer tribe that lives much the same way that most human beings did 200,000 years ago." The tribe does not use birth control, a factor which interferes with studies of reproductive success in modern populations. They found that males with lower voice pitch had more surviving children.

According to the article abstract they found that "men with low voice pitch have higher reproductive success and more children born to them" and hence "there is currently selection pressure for low-pitch voices in men," but that "voice pitch in men does not predict child mortality. These findings suggest that the association between voice pitch and reproductive success in men is mediated by differential access to fecund women," i.e. the chicks just prefer deeper-voiced guys.

The researchers found that "Voice pitch is not related to reproductive outcomes in women.""

Has audio gone about as fur as it can go?

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 6 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "I was listening to a CD remastered from a 1972 recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and I was thinking to my self "1972? Really? That sounds pretty damn good." Then I was listening on my iPod to a 1957 recording of the Boston Symphony that I had recorded off the air in analog FM with my RadioShark, and I was thinking to myself "1957? Really? That sounds pretty damn good."

I'd summarize the history of audio over the last fifty years by saying that from the forties to the mid-fifties, what happened was magnetic tape recording, and "hi-fi," i.e. high fidelity becoming available to any well-heeled, knowledgeable audiophile. What happened in the sixties was two-channel stereophonic sound. What happened in the seventies was the elimination of tape hiss, through direct-to-disk, Dolby, and digital recording.

What happened in the eighties, nineties, and this decade was... nothing much, as far as actual sound quality. The big advance was that integrated circuits, digital audio, rare earth magnets for speakers, offshore manufacture changed changed the population that got to hear mid-fi sound. Today anyone who wanders into Best Buy and spends $500-$1000 dollars will just automatically get a quality of sound that only serious audiophiles in the 1970s got to hear. (The people who bought expensive prepackaged "hi-fis" and "stereos" during the 1960s and 70s got crap in a pretty cabinet).

I know I'm going to get flamed by the high-end fans, but I still say that except for the advances represented by stereophonic sound and the elimination of analog tape hiss, everything else has been subtleties appreciated only by cognoscenti. The acceptance of compressed digital audio and the apparent market failure of SACD and DVA would seem to support this.

So, is that all there is?

Can anyone imagine a future advance in audio, impossible now due to cost or technical factors, that would produce an improvement in sound so dramatic that it would make the ordinary lay listener say "wow?" What would it be? Wavefront reconstruction? Headphones that sense head movement and rotate the stereo sound image in the opposite direction (so as to keep it stable?)Cheap cochlear implants for people without hearing deficiencies that would extend hearing up to 30 kHz?"

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 6 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "When the company you work for "reconditions" or "refurbishes" gear, what, exactly, do they actually do?

Actual stories, please, from people who actually know the process."

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "Today most code editing tools now offer syntax coloring...

...so why don't they also offer syntax-aware searching, such as the ability to exclude comments from searching (or to search comments only)?"

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "On second thought, it occurs to me that submitting a Slashdot story about a site whose servers are overwhelmed is... just plain stupid. If you wouldn't mind, please just ignore that submission. Thank you kindly."

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "Conservapedia appears to be undergoing an interesting evolution. Or meltdown. The site was started last fall, initially as a project for about sixty homeschooled students to learn their assigned subject matter by writing encyclopedia articles about it.

However, its rather grandiose home page makes claims for the site that are extravagant compared to the reality. It bills itself as a "a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia." In reality, it has about three thousand "articles" that are amateurish dictionary definitions, extracted from the students' textbooks in an effort to rough out a topic list for the encyclopedia; a score of high-school-term-paper quality articles; and a score of personal essays by Andrew Schlafly on topics in which he has an interest, an expertise, and a fairly right-wing point of view.

After some admiring mentions in conservative blogs by writers who apparently did not really look at the site, it was discovered by non-conservative circles. It has been quite interesting to perform successive Google searchs on "Conservapedia" over the course of the last twenty-four hours, as the conservative mentions get overwhelmed by non-conservatives making mocking fun of the site.

At the moment there appears to be a vicious circle taking place. Vandals are being attracted to the site. The typical vandalism consists of adding over-the-top satiric parody of what the contributors imagine to be Conservapedia's point of view. Non-conservative readers are apparently failing to judge what is real (Conservapedia's bee in its bonnet about Wikipedia's occasional use of British spellings, and CE/BCE for dates instead of AD/BC) and what is vandalism ("However, God has recently revealed on His blog that Jesus is actually His nephew, not His son.")

Their server is currently quite slow. When it is possible to get in and access Recent Changes, there is some evidence that the administrators are not managing to block vandal accounts or delete joke pages as fast as they are being created.

At the moment it almost appears as if the founders of the site have provided free Wiki space to non-conservatives, who are using it to build a satiric website that mocks the founders' opinions.

On December 22nd, an article on Conservapedia was deleted from Wikipedia, either because it did not have a high enough Alexa rank to be considered notable, or because of Wikipedia's liberal bias. Unfortunately, the vandals apparently are not using the Alexa Toolbar, as Conservapedia's Alexa rank still stands at 1,985,594."

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "The Detroit Free Press reports that some kind of "Windows Automotive" software suite named "Sync" will be featured in some cars available Spring 2007, all 2008 Ford models, and Lincoln and Mercury later.

The software does not, apparently, run the engine or do anything directly connected with transportation.

It will, rather, allow the user to "use their vehicle as a computer in key ways, such as hands-free cell phone calls or downloading music or receiving e-mail."

Bill Ford and Bill Gates were reported as saying Ford and Gates said that having high-definition screens in vehicles, speech recognition, cameras, digital calendars and navigation equipment with directions and road conditions will set car companies apart from their competitors in the future. "There are going to be those who have it and those who don't. And even those who get it later are going to be a generation behind," Ford said.

(The higher the screen definition, the better you'll be able to concentrate on driving? Mental note: re-read Marshall McLuhan on "hot" and "cold" media...)"

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "A Boston Globe story The Vision of an MIT Physicist: Getting rid of pesky rechargers says that Marin Soljacic "has a plan that would mean the end of rechargers."

  "In a paper awaiting publication... he has shown that it is possible to use a carefully designed magnetic field to deliver power to anything within about 10 or 15 feet. To recharge a device, the person would just have to leave it within the field — say, in a home office — where it would pick up power using a built-in antenna without harming anything else in the room."

The device "makes use of a concept in physics called resonance... Soljacic realized that he could build a simple antenna that would resonate with a particular kind of magnetic field, allowing the antenna to draw power while the other objects in the room would not. The field is about as powerful as the earth's natural magnetic field, he said."

What's the opposite of turning over in one's grave? Tesla must be smiling down from heaven..."

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "So I bought a nice little digital voice recorder to replace my old cassette. It came in one of those ultrasonically-welded blister packs that's not designed to store anything, and cannot be opened without destroying it utterly.

Inside the package was the recorder, a leather case, a belt clip, a lanyard, a pair of earbuds, two AAA batteries, a USB cable with a unique connector on the recorder end (unlike the device-end USB connectors on any other device I own), a USB docking station, an instruction manual (a funny little perfect-bound book that's too small to shelve with other books and a different size from the funny little perfect-bound books that came with my other devices), a quick-start guide (a laminated plastic trifold card that's a different size etc.), a software CD, a warranty card, and a partridge in a pear tree.

At least there's no wall transformer, thank goodness.

I'm rarely going to connect it to my computer but I don't want to lose all this stuff (much of which is probably hard to replace).

The situation is similar for almost little electronic gadget I buy lately. They come with perhaps an average of a dozen pieces of paraphernalia. All of them (except perhaps the warranty card!) are fairly important to keep. Even when a device comes in a cardboard box rather than a blister package, the box is usually poorly designed for storage, about ten times as bulky as it needs to be, and is unique in size so it won't shelve or stack neatly with other boxes.

What solutions have Slashdotters found for efficiently storing and organizing the paraphernalia associated with the little electronic devices in their lives?"

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "After a few years... probably as a result of the blue and UV content of fluorescent light... the popular "beige" plastic that houses so many computer components, originally a dignified if boring R=231, G=224, B=210 has become a slightly-mottled yellowy-grey, somewhere around R=241, G=220, B=171. No amount of cleaning will restore the original color.

Clean-looking surfaces acquire subtle fingerprints, then obvious fingerprints, then thin and surprisingly-hard-to-dislodge little dark films or crusts of finger oil. If you virtuously soak a paper cloth in Windex or Mr. Clean or 3M Desk and Office Cleaner or isopropyl alcohol, you discover previously-unnoticed little bezels and grooves and things that are suddenly revealed as telltale dark-brown lines of uneven weight.

That plastic cling-wrap stuff protects the little LCD screen and control panel of that little portable device during shipping, and then the moment you peel it off the surface underneath start to accumulate scratches. (Or if you leave it on, little bubbles form underneath).

I'm tempted to single out Apple as a particularly bad offender, but it's not really true. It just seems worse because a) Apple gear looks better to begin with, and b) it feels like more of a betrayal because Apple gear gives the impression that they did not "cheap out" on the enclosure.

Now, spare me the obvious "planned-obsolescence" explanation. Sure, that's part of it. But they can't really expect you to buy a new computer every six months. If it were planned obsolescence, they'd design the computer that looks brand spankin'-new for exactly three years and then suddenly and swiftly deteriorate into crud... like Dorian Gray.

Seriously... If They Can Put A Man On The Moon... and increase the speed and storage capacity of everything to the point where we need to learn a new SI prefix every few years, why can't they design enclosures that look good for more than a few months? That resist finger-soil and scratching? That don't accumulate cat hairs and lint between the keyboard keys?"

dpbsmith dpbsmith writes  |  more than 7 years ago

dpbsmith (263124) writes "One thing I've noticed is that the people who are told by the TSA that they have been "randomly" selected for baggage inspection have a tendency not to believe it.

I know one couple whose wife has been "randomly" selected four times, while the husband never has been. The wife believes that it is because each of those times, she was travelling by herself, without checked baggage, (whereas she has never been inspected when travelling with her husband with checked baggage).

In "Uncommon Carriers" John McPhee accompanied a truck driver to write about the experience, and buying a trucker's cap to blend in. He says "I would pay for my freedom at the Seattle-Tacoma airport when, with a one-way ticket bought the previous day, I would arrive to check in my baggage." His baggage was "randomly" selected for inspection, and later he was "once again 'randomly selected' for a shoes-off, belt-rolled, head-to-toe frisk."

So, what about it? Is the TSA simply flat-out lying when they tell you that you have been "randomly selected?""


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