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

ninjagin I did it (279 comments)

English major, here. I wanted to get into Radio really bad when I was in college and after what I felt was a non-competitive B- in organic chemistry (I was a chem major, first). I learned later that B- was actually pretty good, and I regret not sticking with that program... why, I'd be making space-age polymers by now!

I always liked dinking around on computers. Had a CP/M machine back in the day, liked writing little utility programs and stupid zork-like text games. Always enjoyed spending time on the machine -- figuring things out, you know? IBM PCs were pretty much de rigeur in college, got pretty comfortable with them and my university UNIX account. Got pretty skilled at word processing tools, document formatting, etc.

So, after I graduated and had no luck getting radio jobs as automation was taking over that business, so I figured that I'd get a job at a law firm and see if I liked it. I did. Kept me busy. I was a document clerk -- handled a ton of documents, cataloging them, making exhibits, getting stuff for attys at the library, but the computer time just seemed to fly by. So, I started going to grad school, in the business school, to get an MS-IS, but to take the most technical track I could get. So, I took a bunch of coding classes, design classes, analysis classes, and after my first year I got an internship with a telecom company as a tech writer, documenting Operation Surveillance equipment for big big big fiber telecom installations. They gave me a whole lab full of routers and fiber muxes and alarm blocks, 5ESS switches and channel banks, DataKit and terminal servers and CSU/DSU boxes, and I got to play with them and break them and build them back again and write about how to do that. It was great!

With that internship (still taking classes -- grad school took me 7 years to finish) I was able to get a job documenting software interfaces for pre-press software... describing functions and methods, return codes and exceptions, how things worked together, that kind of thing. Then I went back to telecom and documented inventories of telecom equipment before getting picked up by an enterprise services group as an engineer. I worked on build process scripting and tools on a bunch of different system 5 UNIXes. Budget crunch eliminated my contract position so I went to an established VOIP company and wrote installation software in Perl and bourne shell and worked on build process stuff in my first job titled as an engineer. Got laid off of there and worked for an old work friend's startup company, for free, for about 4-5 months until he could pay me a little bit (had to keep my skills fresh)... I did tier 1 support, systems administration, build (SCM) stuff like repo management and the like, some testing and DBA stuff. Stayed with them for a couple years as an engineer. Finally got my MS done. Moved on to a HUGE company as an SCM engineer and went to management about 8-9 years ago.

It's been a long road, but I have done pretty well. I think I'm a good people manager. I'm not afraid of technology and have a pretty good background as a generalist -- networking stuff, systems, coding, tools, etc. I'm not real expert at any of it, but I know enough to understand problems and get the right people working on them.

I think the key part is to just do it. You don't need to have an engineering degree to be an engineer. Most of what I use on a day-to-day basis I learned myself. Working for free, as dumb as it sounds, was great for me. Startups need people who are willing to do just about anything to keep a project moving, and you get to wear a lot of different hats. Ultimately, what took me to STEM was tech writing, but I only got to tech writing after I had learned new languages and had some more formal tech instruction.

Hope it helps.

5 days ago
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CIA Lied Over Brutal Interrogations

ninjagin Re:Not even close (772 comments)

Sorry, you're confusing two techniques. The one you refer to was used as a punishment. Waterboarding has always been an interrogation technique.

about two weeks ago
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CIA Lied Over Brutal Interrogations

ninjagin Re: On the other hand, the Jihadists perform (772 comments)

Well, "shoot to kill" sounds good, but it doesn't set an enemy back more than a combatant that is wounded and unable to fight does. Beating a hasty retreat is a lot slower if you have to drag a half dozen screaming meatbags with you as you go. Battlefield resources such as food, fuel, medicine, transport and the time of other warriors are consumed by the needs of the wounded and are not completely available for warmaking. There are secondary resource consumptions after the wounded get to safe havens, too, as they have to consume time and resources while healing, such as food, medicine, time and attention and protection.

Prisoners are a potential source for information about what happened on the battlefield and intelligence relating to what might happen next or might be planned. Presented with hypothetical scenarios, they can help model the thought process of the enemy and inform on what positions or assets the enemy sees as vital, what they might see as superfluous, and what tools or tactics they might be most willing to use. Then, they can be a kind of chip for the return of your own prisoners when hostilities cease. If your prisoner is dead, you get none of that.

I'd rather have thousands and thousands of prisoners (hell, hundreds of thousands) to deal with (and the US/NATO coalition has the capacity to deal with that kind of load) than have to expend twice the amount of ammunition, blood and battlefield assets to ensure their demise while fighting when time and attention is most precious. Prisoners taken and removed far from the battlespace are not a threat, and they are out of a commander's way as he gains control over terrain and projects his force into new areas.

about two weeks ago
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Microsoft's New Windows Monetization Methods Could Mean 'Subscriptions'

ninjagin It's not so much a switch, really (415 comments)

I've been buying the same Windows operating system over and over again for more than a decade.

about two weeks ago
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How One Man Changed the Ecology of the Great Lakes With Salmon

ninjagin Salmon in the great lakes has been pretty good (118 comments)

I have sport-fished salmon in lake Michigan, and it was great. A lot of fun, and good eating. Caught a few really nice trout, too. I do worry, though, about the decline of commercial fishing in the great lakes (gosh, the whitefish that used to get pulled out of those lakes was incredible!), the zebra mussels and the asian carp.

about two weeks ago
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Programmer Father Asks: What Gets Little Girls Interested In Science?

ninjagin She can be an Engineer Princess, yunno (584 comments)

My niece is kind of in the same boat as the OP, and I don't take offense at his question. I would love to foster my niece's sense of discovery in science or math, and I have decided that music is a good middle place we can share together... there's loads of science and math in music. About a year after she was born I got a great deal on a star projector that has slides for various astronomical objects and features -- obviously, at a year old, I knew it would have no appeal. At some point, maybe once she's out of kindergarten or 1st grade, stuff like stars will be more meaningful and I can give her the projector and know that she can make a little sense out of what it can show, but I'm not going to force it. (I'm thinking about getting here a microscope, maybe, when she's in 4th grade or so.) I do, however, try to model for her those behaviors that are not gender normative, so that she can see that boys can do the dishes and clean up the kitchen and cook and set the table and iron and do laundry and all that. Her dad does a great job of all that stuff, too, so I think about it more like re-enforcement of where he's going.

Anyhow, even though my niece is fond of princess dress-up and singing and dancing, I don't really see it as an end, or her only preoccupation. I don't see any reason why she can't be an astronomer princess or a biologist princess or an auto mechanic princess or a doctor princess or a lawyer princess or an electrician princess or an HVAC technician princess or an engineer princess. There are scads of different kinds of princesses out there. I think girls pick up on the girly gender roles very early and we can't stop that. Same goes for boys. Yeah, there are going to be people in-between, too, but rather than see gender-normative roles as exclusive, I figure that for kids they are probably just backgrounds for imaginary play -- loaded with all kinds of baggage, maybe, but not real barriers as long as I can help show her (& her mom & dad, too) that I don't see them as barriers or make assumptions about her as a result of them.

about three weeks ago
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Marijuana Legalized In Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC

ninjagin Re:Well, let's criminalize Du Pont Nylon now. (588 comments)

It is probably non-obvious, but to produce enough hemp you need to plant a lot of it. Hemp seed is barred from import into the US from other places in the world where it is grown (it is treated the same as the schedule 1 drug form of the plant), and there are no large domestic hemp plantations of sufficient size to create a native seed stock. Only recently has there been any delivery of foreign hemp seed (to Colorado) but it hasn't been planted because there are some legal questions (liability, escaping plants to non-authorized growers, etc.) that needed to be answered.

about a month and a half ago
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"Car Talk" Co-Host Tom Magliozzi Dies At Age 77

ninjagin ... Bummer ... (82 comments)

At least he's finally driving the Sleek Black Beauty again. I'll miss that guy. Heck, I miss the show, but the reruns are okay.

about a month and a half ago
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The Hobbit: the Battle of Five Armies Trailer Released

ninjagin Re:Not looking good (156 comments)

With your comment, sir, I agree completely. Well-said.

about 5 months ago
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The Hobbit: the Battle of Five Armies Trailer Released

ninjagin Re:Such a Waste (156 comments)

Oh madn, noiw therrre's a missdt off cofFfee al ovcer m dissplaAy nd I haVe tooo sduimp ourt mny keqyboprd..

tThaznksd vwery mch fr thazt.

about 5 months ago
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Diablo 3 Expansion Reaper of Souls Launches

ninjagin Bigger Party Size is what I want! (166 comments)

It would be nice if they would support larger party sizes -- 6 people, maybe?
On our LAN gaming nights, we frequently have to divide up into 2 groups that can't play alongside each other.

about 9 months ago
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Research Suggests Pulling All-Nighters Can Cause Permanent Damage

ninjagin Huh. Really? (144 comments)

A couple of times a year, I stay up all through the night and go to work the next day. I find that it's not too disruptive, and that I get a bit more contemplative during the second day. It's not something I do on any kind of regular or planned basis -- it just sort of happens ... I can't sleep, so I read a book or futz around on the computer or mess with musical instruments and before I know it, dawn comes and it's time to go back to work. It's almost like one really long workday, with a really long lunch break (overnight) in the middle of it. I have to wonder what nurses and doctors (who sometimes have to work very long shifts) think about this.

about 9 months ago
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Men And Women Think Women Are Bad At Basic Math

ninjagin Re:Cultural bias biggest factor (384 comments)

You're already modded to 5, so it would not have any real effect if I were to mod another point to your score, but if I had such a point, I would give it to you.
My kingdom for mod points!

about 9 months ago
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Men And Women Think Women Are Bad At Basic Math

ninjagin Really? I must be an outlier, then. (384 comments)

I've always had the perception that women were better at math, in general. Maybe I've met a lot of brilliant women, though.

about 9 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Games Are You Playing?

ninjagin Re:games (669 comments)

Thank heavens I'm not the only one playing UT2K4. Love that game.

about 10 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Games Are You Playing?

ninjagin Re:Skyrim (669 comments)

I beg to differ. I have a sports car (an S2000) for real life driving, but I found that my proclivities for hooning were getting me in places where the law enforcement consequences would be very serious (see that speed limit? -- now double it -- that's where I used to push myself).

I picked up a copy of GTR-Evolution because of the various tracks and car selection, bought a good wheel, stick and pedals, picked up a couple extra 28in monitors for triple-headed goodness, and it's been pretty good. I found that I enjoy the 3rd person rally games -- Dirt3 is a real hoot. While I've not settled into it, I've been considering a move to iRacing, which is a lot more technically accurate when it comes to terrain and car adjustment.

So, I think that driving games can be very helpful in keeping me out of trouble and yet still very much into the technical driving mindset.

about 10 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Games Are You Playing?

ninjagin ... a mix ... (669 comments)

My LAN group is playing Borderlands2 (FPS) and StarCraft2 (RTS), occasionally Diablo3 (RPG).

At home, I tend to play Rise of Nations (Thrones & Patriots, an RTS) on the PC and augment that with Super Mario World 3D and Super Mario Brothers WiiU.

I still enjoy Wii Sports Resort, mainly for the bowling and archery and frisbee.

For mobile, it's Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Brothers on the 3DSXL.

Lots of games, but nothing especially unusual.

I'm kind of excited about Titanfall (almost out) and this kickstarter game called "Reset" (by Theory Interactive) that I think is due out late this year.

about 10 months ago
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Majority of Young American Adults Think Astrology Is a Science

ninjagin Re:More likely (625 comments)

Another point might be mutation.

about 10 months ago
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Majority of Young American Adults Think Astrology Is a Science

ninjagin Re:And in other news... (625 comments)

What you have identified as "political correctness riding a democratic ass" is a lot older than you assume, but it is, in fact democratic... old school. It's old name, back in the times of the Greeks and the Romans, was "decorum". It means "fit" in latin, having the meaning of "suitable". It's part of good rhetoric, as a device that brings an audience closer to you by not being rude or offensive. To flip that around the other way, you can include (or show that you welcome) a person or group of people in your reasoning or community by choosing your words carefully.

I think you may be conflating decorum with inappropriate recognition for achievement, but the two are separate things. The former is meant to show or develop alignment with shared goals or interests, and the other is meant (with good intent, perhaps, though with questionable results) to boost self-esteem.

I choose to observe rules of decorum (the people around you actually decide what they are) because I want to work more effectively with people around me and to perhaps have an easier time convincing those people to do things that I see as beneficial. By not declaring that the people around me are my hated opposition or labeling them in ways that might confine their ways of thinking to those that oppose my views, I keep them open to my persuasion.

Since I share your goal of not perpetuating inappropriate recognition of achievement, I'm happy to let you know that I was utterly unconvinced by your point of view and there is little chance that you will ever persuade me. I encourage you to keep floundering away in your rhetoric until everyone around us is as convinced as I am.

about 10 months ago
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Atlanta Gambled With Winter Storm and Lost

ninjagin Re:Pffft (723 comments)

To go a little further, You don't need a special truck to do plowing -- a sanitation truck with a blade mounted will suffice. Flatbed heavy trucks can be equipped with gravel/salt spreaders. The notion that one needs to keep a cityful of special equipment that's specialized for snow is a bit of a red herring. Most cities already have the trucks they might need -- they just need the ability to equip them for snow/ice remediation when the need crops up. Also, maintenance for snow/ice-fighting equipment is a little bit of occasional metalwork and a coat of paint -- not high-dollar, and already well-within what most cities already have to do for the equipment they use on a regular basis.

about a year ago

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