Ask Slashdot: Best Book For 11-Year-Old Who Wants To Teach Himself To Program?
Snake Wrangling For Kids http://www.briggs.net.nz/snake-wrangling-for-kids.html
Free, python based, and downloadable. Worked for my kid.
Inside a Last-Ditch Effort To Save the Space Shuttle
This is tripping my BS detector. Googling for "Kevin Holleran" site:uk returns next to nothing about this "millionaire" other than that someone of that name was the director of a half dozen companies, not of which look particularly spacey. Can you really get to be a Shuttle-investing millionaire and leave no google trail at all?
Stephen Wolfram Joins The Life Boat Foundation and Bets On Singularity
His "new kind of science" is borderline kook, and sometimes just full-on kook. He is a very smart guy, but he spends way too much time in the company of people whose salary he pays.
http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/wolfram/?dupe=with_honor "A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity"
Ask Slashdot: Does Being 'Loyal' Pay As a Developer?
I have known lots of loyal employers -- especially when you are talking about a small shop, rather than a big firm. Not everyone is a jackass.
Moreover, loyalty cuts both ways - if (as a group) we don't give it, we cannot ask for it.
That said, loyalty is a finite quantity. This is a firm with several employees and "management" so an extra 10k for one person should be within their grasp (or perhaps some sort of equity stake / profit sharing if cash flow is short before the launch) -- and if it really would break them, now is probably a good time to bail.
Consequently, you should a) figure out what it would take to make you happy about staying and then b) be open with your current employer. Explain that you don't want to leave -- especially now -- but that you owe it to yourself (and your family, if that is an issue) to take this offer seriously, and that you are giving them a chance to respond. If they say no, or accuse you of holding them to ransom, or are otherwise obnoxious then you can leave in good conscience.
CERN Physicist Says Dark Matter May Be an Illusion
A couple of comments here.
Firstly, there is a common misconception that dark matter is a pure kludge, introduced to explain the apparently discrepancy between the observed stellar content of galaxies and their rotation curves. However, at this point there are several independent lines of evidence for dark matter.
-- Weak and strong lensing by galaxy clusters, which distorts the images of "background" galaxies, and is a function of the total mass of the lensing object.
-- The pattern of hot and cold spots in the microwave background (CMB) whose physics is dominated by the gravitational potential of the dark matter, some 380,000 years after the big bang, long before the first galaxies formed.
-- The velocities of galaxies in clusters, which would not be gravitationally bound in the absence of dark matter.
Any of these observations can be explained by "modifying' gravity. However, each of these observations apparently requires a different modification to standard gravity from the others (not that the article being discussed here only talks about galactic rotation curves), whereas all these observations are consistently explained by dark matter. Consequently, Occam's razor alone gives you a strong preference for dark matter over modified gravity. Moreover, the properties of the CMB in the presence of dark matter were computed before they were actually observed (look up "acoustic peaks" or "Doppler peaks"), so dark matter is indeed a theory that has made successful and non-trivial predictions.
My personal sniff test for any modified gravity theory for dark matter is whether it least acknowledges the above issues -- if it doesn't, it is not worth reading. And this one fails it, as do most others.
Also, this theory apparently "explains" the Pioneer anomaly -- but that "anomaly" now seems to be explained by not properly accounting for the anisotropic emission of heat from the spacecraft, which means that this theory actually makes predictions that are at odds with observations.
Finally, so far as I can see the author of this paper is only tenuously affiliated with CERN (likely as a visitor, rather than a staff member there) -- this doesn't alter the value of the content, but the original posting using this affiliation to establish the author's bona fides, so it is relevant to that extent.
Should Colleges Ban Classroom Laptop Use?
I ban laptops in the college classes I teach, in physics.
For me the turning point was sitting in the back row of a large lecture taught by a colleague and seeing dozens of laptops open, and students reading CNN, Facebook, Travelocity, Gmail but none actually taking notes. Even if it was not distracting for the students themselves, it has to be distracting those around and behind them.
I offer an exemption for anyone who uses a laptop for notetaking. And in this case the student was kind enough to give me a copy at the end of the semester. So far I guess I have had around 500 student-classes, and precisely one exemption has been requested (and granted) -- and that was in a small class with a dozen students where cyberloafing is typically much less of a problem.
The policy is in my syllabus, and announced on Day One.
Preventing Networked Gizmo Use During Exams?
I am a professor, and for large "entry level" classes, I let students bring their own notes and print-outs of model answers on the homework. But absolutely no electronica of any sort.
If asked, I would permit a hard-copy dictionary between English and a student's native language. So far, no-one has requested this (we have a good number of international students, but usually with superb English).
I set questions that can be answered without a calculator, and I will accept an unevaluated cosine or similar function, even if it is primarily a numerical question.
My original plan was to permit open book, until I realized that some students had only on-line PDF versions of the text, so that idea went out the window.
I am not really worried about students trying to learn the subject on wikipedia in the course of a three hour exam -- if you don't know it coming into the room, you are hard put to learn it while you take the exam. But since net capable devices can also facilitate messaging, I have no choice but to ban them, if I am to maintain the integrity of the exam.
Homework counts for a big chunk of the grade -- and there I encourage collaboration. The exams are there to make sure that the collaboration does not get out o hand :-) (And I warn the students of my policy early in the semester)
Biggest Detector To Look For Gravitational Waves
From memory, LISA is usually listed as being in the $1.5- $2 billion dollar range, which puts in the same category as Hubble or the forthcoming James Webb telescope.
Worth every penny, too, in my opinion.
Ars Technica Inveighs Against Ad Blocking
One way or another, Ars has to make its payroll or go out of business. I am sure they would love to get by with a couple of graceful text ads for worthy products at the bottom of each page, but it would seem that in the real world the people who work there can't make their mortgage and feed their kids that way.
But if it really bugs you, you can just not visit sites whose advertising content annoys you. And doesn't Ars sell subscriptions, which I assume are ad-free?
Part of the death-spiral of our local newspaper seems to have been a rise in hard-to-block pop-ups on its website. I could have beefed up my pop-up blocker, or I could just delete it from my list of bookmarks / feeds. I deleted it. (And I realized that almost all of the information it offers is actually available elsewhere, partly because our town has an experimental "hyperlocal" news site with original reporting)
This argument is as old as the net, but the answer to intrusive ads seems to be easier than a pop-up blocker. As they used to say in the days of TV, if you don't like it, just turn it off.
[Suspect I might burn some karma on this one]
Call For Scientific Research Code To Be Released
As it happens, my students and I are about to release a fairly specialized code - we discussed license terms, and eventually settled on the BSD (and explicitly avoided the GPL), which requires "citation" but otherwise leaves anyone free to use it.
That said, writing a scientific code can involve a good deal of work, but the "payoff" usually comes in the form of results and conclusions, rather than the code itself. In those circumstances, there is a sound argument for delaying any code release until you have published the results you hoped to obtain when you initiated the project, even if these form a sequence of papers (rather than insisting on code release with the first published results)
Thirdly, in many cases scientists will share code with colleagues when asked politely, even if they are not in the public domain.
Fourthly, I fairly regularly spot minor errors in numerical calculations performed by other groups (either because I do have access to the source, or because I can't reproduce their results) -- in almost all cases these do not have an impact on their conclusions, so while the "error count" can be fairly high, the number of "wrong" results coming from bad code is overestimated by this accounting.
Losing My Software Rights?
Are you a grad student? Even if you coded it, and even if you believe it to be "your" work, you probably can't claim complete ownership, since there was likely some input from your advisor and perhaps other people in the group.
My students regularly write code, but my input is almost certainly present in the choice of problem, and usually in algorithm choice, design, debugging and verification. But the student would write close to 100% of the code.
In practice, very few codes written for academic purposes can be commercially exploited -- is this a money issue, or a "moral" issue??
In my group (in physics/cosmology), we don't necessarily release our codes, since they can often be used for more than one project, and we want to harvest the full fruits of our labor (and they are likely only of use to other academic scientists in any case). However, I would not share or reuse a code a student or post-doc of mine had worked on without discussing it with the person concerned, and I would expect my students to pay me the same courtesy once they move on (and so far they have).
My advice is to talk to your advisor and don't be an ass. Unless there really is money involved it is likely that no-one is trying to screw you. If the issue is academic credit, you should simply make sure that the project itself is described in a paper which will be cited by other users. And, if you can, release the source, with a good README since the academic world ran on "reputation" long before eBay was invented, and writing a widely used tool will do you no end of good.