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Slashdot Asks: Cheap But Reasonable Telescopes for Kids?

petes_PoV Re:Binoculars (185 comments)

Get a tripod that can lift the binoculars high enough that you can stand upright while using them whether you are looking at the horizon or near the zenith

It doesn't work.

Not only would I need a tripod with a reach of over 7 feet (nearly 6 feet to my eyes, then the tripod head, then the height from the binoculars mounting screw to the tripod), but you'd be standing directly under the tripod to view upwards - and too close to the tripod's legs at lower angles. Tripods are also unstable, since if they do extend high enough, it's on a single, wind-out, pole which has no lateral support.

Finally, you get neck-ache from having your head tilted at such an angle. Which is why proper astronomical telescopes have right-angled viewing positions, so you can observe from a much lower pivot-point and with your head directed downwards which is much more comfortable.

If you absolutely *must* use binoculars for astronomical viewing, either get a sun-lounger and lie back, or get a parallelgram mount (which will cost many times the price of even a decent pair of binoculars). However, sun loungers only point you in one direction, so are inconvenient for long-term viewing, unless you have a sun-tracking model. In which case you can probably afford a decent telescope.

3 days ago

Slashdot Asks: Cheap But Reasonable Telescopes for Kids?

petes_PoV Mosr recommendations are misleading (185 comments)

I'd be pleased if some of these kids decide to take up astronomy as a hobby, but don't have any strong expectation that will happen

And most won't.

Most kids (adults, too) will be curious, rather than interested, However, once they take a look through a telescope they will be disappointed. The only objects that give any sense of awe, or wonder, are views of The Moon, Jupiter, Mars (when it's close: once every 2 years), and Saturn. Everything else is just a fuzzy, faint, grey blob.

Sure, you can point a telescope at M31 (Andromeda) and tell people that it's a galaxy and that it's 2 billion light-years away. But really: who care? and who can appreciate how far a light-year is, either? Try a telescope on M13 (The Hercules cluster: either the best or second-best cluster in the night sky) and it is just a collection of points of light - quite pretty for the average newbie to look at once, but that's about it - a bit like picking up an unusual shell on a beach.

I have lots of friends and neighbours who have asked for a look through my telescopes. But none have ever asked again. They see things through my 12-inch Dob or 4 inch refractor (on a GOTO) and make all the right, appreciative, noises but that's mainly for show. Afterwards the reaction is mainly that's nice - who wants a beer? And the whole experience is chalked up "I've seen the rings of Saturn" - but that's all it is: a tick on a "bucket" list.

So I would ignore all these recommendations for this telescope or those binoculars. - they merely reflect the biases and posessions of people who are already enthusiasts. I wouldn't go buying equipment in the hope of impressing, or converting children to astronomy. It won't. They are used to bright, colour images from space telescopes of things at the very edge of creation. They will settle for nothing less and are much more used to seeing things on screens than first-hand. Who can compete with that?

4 days ago

Slashdot Asks: Cheap But Reasonable Telescopes for Kids?

petes_PoV Re:Binoculars (185 comments)

This advice about binoculars had been obsoleted by cheap, good, chinese telescopes. (Ans pretty much every commercial telescope is chinese-made, these days)

The advice came about after WW2 when there was a good supply of army surplus gear at very attractive prices. At the same time any amateur telescope was both expensive (being essentially hand made) and with poor quality optics and even worse mechanicals. The eyepieces sucked and the mountings available were completely rubbish.

In those days, an "expensive" pair of binoculars would cost about £30 (UK currency - I don't know what that translates to in other currencies at the time). However that was roughly 2 - 3 weeks pay (before deductions) for a shop worker or junior office employee. Obviously at the the time, astronomy was a rich mans' game - and it was almost all men.

With binoculars you are paying twice for the optics (one for each eye). Unless you go for top-end gear, you have fixed eyepieces that will only give a wide field of view - and them, you have to buy additional eyepeices in pairs. You also don't get any sort of mount - and a standard photographic tripod is unsuitable as you need to have the binoculars at eye height, or higher, in order to look upwards - a configuration that tripods are not designed for since you'd be standing too close. Without a mount, small arms will soon get tired of holding them at raised heights and you can't easily "star hop" to targets when you are a complete newbie. So using them is both frustrating and tiring.

By all means buy a pair of binoculars (I have 3), but you'll also need a parallelogram mount - another 200 USD or more. You will also have to set their focus for each user, which means they will be nudged off target. Also you will only be able to see big things like The Moon. Planets will be too small to please with binoculars' low magnification and most dim astronomical targets will still be too dim to appreciate - just on the verge of vision: more "detecting" them than "observing" them - a turn off to kids used to seeing Hubble-like images.

So binoculars are a bad idea to start with. One that is handed down due to ignorance and repetition without any consideration for why the advice was once helpful. They are no longer any match for a small, cheap, telescope on a proper mount.

4 days ago

Ask Slashdot: Would You Pay For Websites Without Trolls?

petes_PoV Re:Trolls == Necessary Evil (381 comments)

In a company monitored socail media

I find it quite alarming that anyone would go anywhere near a company forum, excpet to sing the company song and add their vote to how GOOD everything was. One place I worked had one. It was shut down after 6 months as it was only HR who posted anything and the number of times that content was read was in the single figures.

about two weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: Would You Pay For Websites Without Trolls?

petes_PoV Re:Very subjective (381 comments) would know John Doe's real life info

Short of turning up at's premises with a government issued photo id, or swearing an affadavit, how exactly would know anything at all about anyone called John Doe? Let alone be able to differentiate one individual with that name from all the thousands of others.

Further, how could it know that John A. Doe was a different (or the same) individual as John B. Doe and that each actual, real, live person had only one identity filed with (and who would tell them when that person had died? - and what proof would be required to support that claim).

There are far too many pitfalls for anyone other than a government department to administer this level of control. There are also far too many different countries that would have to both agree standards and share this information in a secure manner.

about two weeks ago

Wiring Programmers To Prevent Buggy Code

petes_PoV Get rid of the distractions (116 comments)

Bugs come when people lose track of the big picture. When they lose concentration and focus - just like when jugglers drop the ball.

If you want to reduce the incidence of avoidable bugs, get rid of the distractions. Ones such as other people interrupting, phones ringing, asynchronous non job-related alerts going off (fire alarms excepted) and the administrivia associated with the programming environment. Maybe even unplug them from their "entertainment", too.

There will always be non-avoidable bugs: ones where the programmer is simply making a mistake, isn't up to the task in hand or has been given a bad brief or wrong information.

about two weeks ago

Cornering the Market On Zero-Day Exploits

petes_PoV Re:More money just increases the price (118 comments)

Exactly. You mine out the easy-to-find exploits until they are depleted

Which assumes there are a finite (and small) number of bugs - even zero-day exploits. I think we can safely say that's not the case.

As the "incentives" for finding new 0-day exploits grows, then more people will have a reason to start looking for them. If the government then buys up the "popular" ones, everyone who's running non-mainstream software will suddenly find they are being hacked. Whereas previously the 0-day exploiters would just have gone for the low-hanging fruit, now they'll be going higher up the (almost infinitely tall) tree.

about three weeks ago

Cornering the Market On Zero-Day Exploits

petes_PoV More money just increases the price (118 comments)

If a new buyer comes into the market - a buyer with lots of money, then all that happens is that the price goes up. It's simple economics and we see this happening in every market: from commodities to TV programmes.

If the price becomes high enough, new exploiters will enter the market and start discovering exploits, in competition with the original suppliers. Then the NSA would have to start dealing with those guys, too. And so the circle would keep going round: more money, new exploit finders, asking higher prices.

If the NSA wants to improve security, they would set up their own zero-day exploiters to not only find, but to fix security holes and then issue those fixes for free (or use the exploits to force fixes on the exploited software. They might also ask for new laws that would require software vendors to pay them for fixing these problems. However, it's by no means certain that this would be their intention. They may simply be collecting hacks for their own nefarious purposes.

After all, we haven't seen a government agency buying up all the drugs, in order to stop them being supplied to the population - so why would they use that tactic here?

about three weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About the Sorry State of FOSS Documentation?

petes_PoV Re:It's open source (430 comments)

... if someone donates his time to develop a program

But that isn't how it works.

The whole FOSS thing is a trade. On the one hand, the coder "donates" his/her/its time doing things that are funAnd when you multiply the time spent by maybe some thousands of users, all trying to work out the same problems - compared to the time taken to write, compile and toss-over-the-wall some of this stuff, "free" software is probably some of the worst deals on the planet.

And as for that old crock: You get what you pay for or "Hey, it's free: what do you expect?", most of this stuff is far from "free", it has a large negative value, as it takes many hours or days of your time just to get up to zero: the point at which you can start to do something useful with it.

about three weeks ago

Spain's Link Tax Taxes Journalist's Patience

petes_PoV A right to be remembered? (113 comments)

The simplest course of action would be for the major search engines, i.e. Google (there are some others, I'm told) to simply cut those spanish newspapers out of it's web-crawlers and search functions. If there are no links to the newspapers in question, there can be no tax to pay.

If that means that the online versions of these publications simply cease to exist? Well, that's not the search engines' problem. Would the E.U. then have to instigate a new internet law, to force these sites to be crawled and to force the search engines to do the opposite of forgetting about E.U. citizens and actively "remember" about them.

I have the impression that the newspapers that were pressing for this law don't realise that, despite what they may think, they really are not in a position of power, apropos the internet.

about three weeks ago

Psychology's Replication Battle

petes_PoV Re:Simple solution (172 comments)

Let's review:
"Pay authors" ... "Provide journal free ... "

The journal doesn't have to last long

Don't worry, it won't. I'd reckon on one edition.

Of course, what this whole field of study needs is a rich uncle (or sugar daddy) to provide funding for specific, basic, pieces of research. You'd think that for all the money they've made from social media, some of the FB/Twitter/others founders or major beneficiaries could put their hands in their pocket.

Or maybe they are the *last* people who want to make this subject rigourous and scientific?

about three weeks ago

Psychology's Replication Battle

petes_PoV Re:Define 'replicate' (172 comments)

To replicate an experiment, you take the description of the conditions, tasks, environment, fixed independent and dependent variables, analytical method and results provided by the original experimenter in the (peer-reviewed) paper they published.
If you can show the same results, with the same statistical significance, then it's reasonable to assume that the experiment shows a valid scientific phenomenon.

If you can't then one of the two experiments got it wrong and more work is needed.

The basic problem with social experiments, that are based on the judgement, feelings, or anything else that the studied group merely says it would / would-not do, thinks, feels, or otherwise emotes is completely subjective. Asking people how sad, happy, angry something makes them feel and rating that feeling - or the difference from previous values - has no scientific merit, as none of the terms used have any hard, scientific, definition and none of the participants have had their feelings "calibrated".

It's little different from a scientist (a proper one) measuring electric voltage by sticking their tongue across two electrodes, or measuring distance by eyeballing it. The level of accuracy and standardisation the social "sciences" have at present puts them on a par with chemical research: phlogiston, fixed air (CO2) in the 17th century.

As for being able to determine which variables are being measured - or even what all the variables are in their experiments, the social scientists have yet to discover their subject's version of fire.

about three weeks ago

UK Government Report Recommends Ending Online Anonymity

petes_PoV The british government runs on anonymity (282 comments)

One of the techniques the government has for allowing the discussion of sensitive issues, without starting a witch hunt is called The Chatham House Rule

Meeting held under this rule do not allow the the disclosure of who said what. The "what" can be reported, but no-one is permitted to say who said it. That permits people to express views, or ask "what if" questions (and get considered, informed answers) without having to always play to the (media) audience and make guarded, ambiguous and watered-down statements.

Since the government recognises the value of these sorts of meetings (as well as the established protocol of "off the record" briefings, which cannot be quoted) it's ludicrous that they would think that removing anonymity would be a good idea. This can only be one of those "silly season" media reports, usually made up by journalists who are bored as politicians are away during the summer months.

about a month ago

Raspberry Pi-Compatible Development Board Released

petes_PoV Re:Real time clock (47 comments)

Yup. Smaller, better, cheaper. This is exactly what the RPi people should have been developing for the past 2 years.

about a month ago

Raspberry Pi-Compatible Development Board Released

petes_PoV Re:Here's a novel idea (47 comments)

The world has moved on since the BBB was the game in town.

Now there are much better boards (though maybe not all with the BBB's size) that, unlike the BBB support audio in & out, have more RAM, dual-core processor and more flexible power options.

Some of the new generation boards also make the BBB look quite expensive - both for what you get and in absolute terms.

about a month ago

Raspberry Pi-Compatible Development Board Released

petes_PoV Re:Pi has poor flash file system (47 comments)

Well if you hardly ever reboot, then of course you won't have problems. (Just so long as you don't wear out the flash used for /tmp and /var/log

The whole point, as raised in the observation about crappy SD-card + power regulation is that when the board experiences power failures, then it is likely to corrupt its filesystem. Since your board doesn't suffer from outages, it's no surprise you don't have these issues.

about a month ago

Reglue: Opening Up the World To Deserving Kids With Linux Computers

petes_PoV It's the internet, not the computer that's needed (91 comments)

A household that can't afford $100 for a used PC isn't likely to be one that's paying for an internet connection.

Give them a computer and it's like giving a starving man a tin of beans - but no tin opener.

The computer is only the tool. The resource that stop children being underprivileged (in an extremely narrow, and not very practical sense) is internet access.

about a month ago

A Router-Based Dev Board That Isn't a Router

petes_PoV Re:Why flash and not microSD? (54 comments)

MicroSD required mechanical connectors to the device and is a great deal more expensive that flash - in a very price-sensitive market. Given that an IoT thing could find its way into any environment, the last thing you want is for its operation to be dependent on the correct operation of nasty, cheap (and they *would* have to be cheap for comparable production costs) connectors and uSD cards of variable quality - that are outside your control.

Far better to have everything firmly and permanently attached to the board. Why solder in a connector whan it's just as easy (and takes the same amount of board space) to solder in flash instead. That way you don't get the blame when an idiot user "recycles" an old uSD card and blabs all over the internet how crap and unreliable your product is, as their card keeps corrupting.

RPi got it completely wrong in this respect. You don't hear of corrupted software & kernels on all the cards that use flash. If it's more "difficult" for noobs to use, then that's no bad thing either as it discourages those who are lacking in the clue department. This is not meant to be a plaything for children.

about 1 month ago

A Router-Based Dev Board That Isn't a Router

petes_PoV Others available from $10 (54 comments)

There are other people out there making similar devices.

One I have heard of is Olimex who reckon their product (still in design, with an RT5350F) will be 10 USD in 1,000 off quantities. Over time and with better integration of future devices we can safely assume that will halve.

about 1 month ago

Soccer Superstar Plays With Very Low Brain Activity

petes_PoV Re:Science or anecdote? (160 comments)

Well it proves there is one footballer with a brain.

If you've ever seen them being interviewed on TV - either before or after a match, even that singular result will be a surprise.

about a month ago


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