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Feynman Lectures Released Free Online

rknop don't they understand the Internet? (69 comments)

The front-page warning says "However, we want to be clear that this edition is only free to read online, and this posting does not transfer any right to download all or any portion of The Feynman Lectures on Physics for any purpose. "

I wonder how they expect people to read it in their browsers without the text of the document being transferred down to the computer on which the browser is running...?

yesterday
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Nostalgic For the ZX Spectrum? Soon You Can Play With a New One

rknop overheat (91 comments)

I remember getting one of those when I was 10 or 11. First generation. All excited to finally have a computer. But I couldn't leave it on for more than an hour or two before it would just crash because it had overheated. Too frustrating to use. We sent it back before the necessary 10 days had passed.

I was sad.

Later (within the year? I don't remember) I got a Vic-20; a couple of years later, a Commodore 64. Then, in college, a Commodore 128. Those guys worked much better for me than the Sinclair ZX ever did.

about 6 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Planks Would You Want In a Platform of a Political Party?

rknop Re:Mandatory gun ownership (694 comments)

You don't have health insurance, eh? Do you also have legal documents signed that the system does not need to help you and pay for the care you'll need if an unexpected condition or accident arises? Or are you assuming that if something like that happens that no non-ultra-rich person could handle, the system will back you up?

If you don' t have all the "let me suffer" documents signed, by not having health insurance you're a worse freeloader than any smoker.

about a year ago
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Ask Slashdot: Dealing With Unwanted But Official Security Probes?

rknop ignore it (238 comments)

Is it actively causing trouble? Or do you just notice if?

If it's not DOSing you, I'd just ignore it.

about a year ago
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Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Make You Into a Horrible Person

rknop Re:Worst Summary Ever? (489 comments)

It that you will *think* you're a horrible person. If you can't get a job in an academic tenure-track position, you'll think that you're worthless, a failure, that you haven't lived up to your own expectations of yourself and everybody else's expectations of you.

You won't *be* horrible, but you'll *think* you're horrible.

I've been there. Right now, I'm one of the EXCEPTIONALLY LUCKY in that I'm a 40-something who's in a Unviersity job. (We don't have tenure where I am, but it's a small teaching-oriented liberal arts college of exactly the sort I always wanted to teach at.) But, I've been in the position of trying to find a job and not being able to, and of being on the tenure track with certainty that I was going to get turned down because I couldn't get money out of highly overtaxed funding agencies. And I felt like a complete, worthless failure, somebody who's life didn't add up to a damn thing, somebody who couldn't do anything. THAT is how a PhD (mine is in Physics) turns you into a horrible person.

about a year ago
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Dark Matter Found? $2 Billion Orbital Experiment Detects Hints

rknop Re:But what is it? (173 comments)

Dark Matter is not like the luminiferous aether. That was the title of a podcast I made three years ago -- here it is: http://cosmoquest.org/blog/365daysofastronomy/2010/06/26/june-26th-dark-matter-not-like-the-luminiferous-ether/

The luminiferous aether was a theory developed to explain a discrepancy... as was dark matter. The difference is, there are LOTS of different lines of evidence to point towards dark matter. With the luminiferous aether, the theory was tested, and it didn't stand up. With Dark Matter, the theory has been tested, and it DID stand up.

about a year ago
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Startup Offers Pay-Per-Page E-Books

rknop Micropayments taken to the extreme (81 comments)

Holy cow... like most people, I already don't like micropayments in most circumstances-- it leads to stress because you're watching what you do at all times knowing that every little thing leads to more money being charged, rather than the comfort of knowing that you've got what you got. This, however, is the concept metastasized.

This is the kind of headline I'd expect to read on April 1.

about a year and a half ago
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Dozens Suspended In Harvard University Cheat Scandal

rknop Their real error (264 comments)

Getting caught!

Our colleges are supposed to train our students to succeed in society. That means, we need to wee out the ones who are going to get caught when they cheat. The truly successful in our society are the ones who cheat without getting caught.

I feel so cynical today.

about a year ago
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Ask Slashdot: Best Free and Open Source Apps For Android?

rknop Re:It seems arrogant (134 comments)

Free, open-source program repositories are littered with abandonware. That is one of the real hurdles for open-source adoption in enterprises

While strictly true, there is a difference. If something is proprietary, and the developer either goes out of business or decides not to update it any more, and if the developer doesn't sell or otherwise give away the rights, that's it. You're done. The app cannot legally be updated any more, and often can't even legally be available.

With free software, however, there's no guarantee that it will continue to be updated. However, it's at least possible. This is a huge difference. This is why it was so great that Blender went Free Software when it's company gave up on it; there would be no Blender now if it weren't for the fact that it went free.

about a year and a half ago
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How Corruption Is Strangling US Innovation

rknop Re:just make your own character (391 comments)

There is a WIDE gulf between completely lack of copyright,and the never-ending copyright terms that we have in the USA today. (And don't tell me that copyrights are finite, because they DO get extended every time things are about to start to enter the public domain again.)

Arguing against infinite copyrights doesn't necessarily mean arguing for absolutely no copyright at all.

about a year and a half ago
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Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Expected

rknop Re:After a cursory read of article (sucker) (339 comments)

That's more or less it.

I don't think we've yet found enough carbon for the positive feedback loop to take Earth all the way to being like Venus, however.... On the other hand, there's lots of room to be screwed long before you get to Venus status.

about a year and a half ago
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Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Expected

rknop Re:Global warming is politics, not science. (339 comments)

You confuse "global warming proponents" (by which I assume you mean lobbyist and such who are trying to convince the world that global warming is real) with "climate researchers".

The latter have reached an overwhelming consensus that anthrogenic global warming is real, and to deny that that is a "reasoned scienctific view" is right up there with denying evolution or the germ theory of disease, saying they're all just political movements.

It is true that there are some in the political area who have cried wolf or who have oversold things. But to deny the utter and overwhelming reality of the results of vast quantities of climate scientists (including some who came in skeptical when they started, but realized that, hey, the data say what the data say) is simply wrong.

about a year and a half ago
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Ask Slashdot: Mathematical Fiction?

rknop Anathem (278 comments)

Also read "Anathem" by Stephenson. Mathematics plays a prominent role, although it's not as explicitly explored as it is in "Cryptonomicon". There are also passing references to things from general relativity (or, at least, a common formalism for tensor analysis) that you will not realize are there unless you've done some advanced undergraduate (or even graduate) Physics courses....

about 2 years ago
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Ask Slashdot: Explaining Version Control To Non-Technical People?

rknop Re:Why are you asking permission? (383 comments)

Exactly -- just do it. Download, install. Start doing "releases" of the tools for the social science researchers to use-- they can download tarballs (or whatever) and install them. You can also write a quick instruction web page for "how to get the latest version" that tells them how to svn (or hg or whatever) checkout the source, just in case anybody cares. But you'll have the version control for what you need. Only demand that the others learn it if they're banging on the code themselves.

Eventually, that's how I got the astrophysics group I was working with back in the late 1990's to move from a craptastic flat-file database (read once when the data analysis environment *started*, never updated even if other people saved changes until you restarted your environment) into a real-time updated combination of PostGreSQL and flat files. I realized pretty quickly that having meetings and getting permission would just involve a lot of discussion and no action. I was in a position where I was the one running things, so I must made the change. There were a few bumps in the road, but eventually things worked much better.

(One side effect, though, was that whenever anybody had any trouble with anything, "the database" got blamed and they came to me. I would get frantic calls that the database was broken when people who make typoes in simple commands.)

about 2 years ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Many of You Actually Use Math?

rknop You're already "advanced" (1086 comments)

You say you've used trigonometry. if so, then you're already "advanced" beyond the level that Hacker was talking about in his article where he said that Math Is Too Hard For Our High School Students. He was advocating dumbing things down past algebra and trigonometry.

Now, mind you, I think of even trigonometry as high school math myself. But if you use it and know how to use it, you're already in the top half of the distribution of students in college.

Will you ever *need* Calculus in computer programming? Probably night. I might recommend taking a class in linear algebra if you're interested in computer graphics, because some of that applies. You may not use it, but the underlying engines rely on it. And, yeah, the underlying engines rely on numerical approximations to calculus for things like physics engines. Linear Algebra doesn't require calculus as a prerequisite.

However, Calculus is interesting and stimulating, and will stretch your mind to think in new ways. If all you're interested in is training for the job you want to do, then, no, you don't need it, but truthfully, except to match resume requirements to get through the door, you don't need most of college. If, on the other hand, you want to be broadly educated about the world and human intellectual achievements, then calculus is a good thing. Not necessary, but well worth the time.

about 2 years ago
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Teaching Natural Sciences To Social Science Students?

rknop Prepare for some remediality (265 comments)

The main thing you need to be aware of is that there are students in college -- decent numbers of them -- who cannot comprehend 7th grade math.

Not all social science majors are like this by any means. But there are some. They tend not to end up in the hard sciences, because they just won't survive there. But they can survive in other fields. What's more, they have the idea that it's OK not to understand math, and that it's "unfair" to demand that they have any kind of grasp of 7th grade math. I suspect that this latter attitude comes from the fact that there is a non trivial population of college *professors* who can't do 7th grade math.

What's most frustrating about the whole thing is that if you try to teach the remedial stuff to the ones who need it, you will bore the living daylights out of the ones who don't need it. They will rightfully wonder why they need to sit through so much review of very early high-school mathematical concepts such as basic algebra.

more than 2 years ago
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Researchers Feel Pressure To Cite Superfluous Papers

rknop Metrics (107 comments)

This is what happens when you have metrics. You create a metric like "impact factor", and before long people will figure out ways to maximize "impact factor" that have nothing to do what the metric was originally supposed to measure. Hyperfocusing on metrics like that ends up undermining the things you really value in favor of increasing your scores.

This happens all over the place. Games in every game find ways to increase their score in ways that the game designers wouldn't really consider valid. Universities do things simply to make their "US News" ratings go up, not because they will make themselves better. Students figure out ways to raise their grades that have nothing to do with mastering the material of the course. Heck, the entire US (and world?) economy suffers from this; the most reliably rich people are the ones who manipulate money transactions, and do absolutely nothing with the underlying reality that money is supposed to be an abstract representation of.

People strive to improve the things that they are rewarded for and that they are evaluated on. When you focus too much on the wrong thing, people will do the wrong things in response.

more than 2 years ago
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CERN Physicist Says Dark Matter May Be an Illusion

rknop Re:If you can't handle the concept of dark matter (379 comments)

Well, there's also a lot of:
You're assuming that 90% of the universe is invisible on the basis of *what* evidence? I'd like a bit of better evidence, please, before I swallow something like that.

There is lots of evidence. Look up "Bullet Cluster" on the net for the closest thing to a single "smoking gun". Or, for a mention of the Bullet Cluster and lots of other evidence (and not even all of it), watch this: http://vimeo.com/4559703

about 3 years ago
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CERN Physicist Says Dark Matter May Be an Illusion

rknop Re:Can't see the quantum vacuum for the dark matte (379 comments)

First it's "90%" of the mass of the universe, then it's "70%", then we're back to "98%", then there's dark energy, then the fractions change again, and again, and again.

This is not a correct characterization of the history of Dark Matter.

First of all, if you really studied Physics in university, then you ought to know something about uncertainties. If not, then, shame on the people who gave you your degree.

The history of dark matter includes observations on different scales that include different amounts of "missing mass". On some of those scales, we have accounted for some of the "missing mass" with different things-- e.g. some (smallish) fraction of the missing mass in galaxy clusters turned out to be in very hot intracluster plasma (which can be seen in X-rays) (and, even though it's a smallish fractoin, it's more mass than all the stars in the galaxies!). Something like 2/3 of the "missing mass" from cosmology-- which, incidentally, was always considered one of the weakest constraints on dark matter, since the uncertainties on the most basic parameters like the Hubble Constant were HUGE until the end of the 20th century -- turned out to be Dark Energy (which in fact might not be a thing, but a pointer to a flaw in our physics).

The numbers changed, yes. But uncertainties were huge to start with, so there's no surprise that the numbers changed. Trying to claim that the changing of the numbers indicates that the theory isn't making sense is a standard rhetorical technique that somebody who claims to know something about science should be ashamed to use.

Until some physicist demonstrates that dark matter is still required to explain measurements when the theory used is the full general relativistic model with speed of light delay included, I'm just going to automatically assume that dark matter is bullshit.

Go look up the Bullet Cluster.

The gravitational lensing values used in the calculations of where the mass is in that cluster come out of General Relativity.

about 3 years ago
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CERN Physicist Says Dark Matter May Be an Illusion

rknop Dark Matter is *not* like the luminiferous aether (379 comments)

Dark Matter is not like the luminiferous aether.

The luminiferous aether is a substance that was invented to explain something that seemed missing from our theories (specifically, what it is that the speed of electromagnetic waves given by Maxwell's Equations is relative to). It made predictions, those predictions were tested, and so the idea was tossed out.

Dark Matter is a substance that was explained something that seemed missing from galaxies and clusters of galaxies (specifically, there wasn't enough mass there to explain why they held together given how fast things were moving). The idea of Dark Matter made predictions, those predictions were tested, and they *confirmed* Dark Matter.

There's nothing magic about Dark Matter. And the lines of evidence are more than just some equations that don't balance out.

More here: http://365daysofastronomy.org/2010/06/26/june-26th-dark-matter-not-like-the-luminiferous-ether/

about 3 years ago

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