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Ask Slashdot: Remote Support For Disconnected, Computer-Illiterate Relatives

vtcodger Re:Dial up can still access gmail (334 comments)

However, I should probably add that using a web oriented computer like Chromebook in a place with only dialup might encounter a few problems.

about two weeks ago
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Ask Slashdot: Remote Support For Disconnected, Computer-Illiterate Relatives

vtcodger Re:Dial up can still access gmail (334 comments)

All I know about Chromebooks is what I just read at Wikipedia. But they seem to have USB ports. There certainly are USB fax modems out there and they are cheap. I just set one up on a netbook so we can ditch the ancient fax machine pushed back in a corner of the bedroom. I don't know for sure that the Trendnet USB modem we bought works with Linux/ChromeOS, but it certainly runs well enough with Windows XP to get a login prompt from a local Netzero node.

about two weeks ago
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3 Recent Flights Make Unscheduled Landings, After Disputes Over Knee Room

vtcodger Re:How would we know? (819 comments)

My proposal is that airlines add a new seating class to be known as Midget Class (colloquially "Sardine Class"). MC will be available only to passengers under 160cm (5ft 3 in for Americans) and 50kg(110lb). It will be priced the same as Economy and Economy will be redesignated as DeLuxe and priced at 1.4 times MC. MC seats will be smaller and stacked vertically and horizontally using a sophisticated packing algorithm. The legroom in Deluxe will be reduced by 2.5cm (one inch) from the current Economy.

BTW, between the steadily shrinking seats, nutty security theater, inability to maintain published schedules and third world chaos of airport operations, I quit flying a decade ago. I realize that not everyone has that option. But I would ask those that do, why they pay money to be subjected to modern airtravel? Buses, trains (even US trains), cars, and ships are far less aggravation. I'm far from sure that Hitchhiking isn't about as comfortable and reliable.

about three weeks ago
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The Frustrations of Supporting Users In Remote Offices

vtcodger Re:Show Users some love! (129 comments)

Maybe you're both correct to some extent. Rebooting certainly doesn't solve all problems. But the software architecture used in Windows/Unix does have the unfortunate characteristic that it sometimes manages to transition into states that no one anticipated and that do undesirable things. Rebooting restores a more desirable state. At least for a while.

There is also a problem that few modern PCs use memory capable of detecting memory errors Thus it's possible for values defining system state to change spontaneously without being detected. That's an interesting case of shifting costs from visible hardware costs to less visible support costs -- largely Microsoft's (bad) idea BTW. Long story there. Anyway rebooting will help if important bits somewhere in memory have reset themselves.

There is some credible evidence that flaky PC memory is more common than most people assume. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R...

OTOH, if the problem is a logic error in code, or bad documentation, or an atrocious user interface, or the user -- rebooting can't fix it.

about a month ago
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Choose Your Side On the Linux Divide

vtcodger Re:My opinion on the matter. (826 comments)

Translation: "Why should I learn from the mistakes made in the past? I'll just make them all over again.

I doubt you'll manage to repeat ALL of the mistakes of the past. You'd have to be pretty clever to do that. But with sufficient effort and diligence, you can probably manage to repeat most of them. And maybe even come up with one or two truly innovative cock-ups that we old timers overlooked.

about a month ago
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Google Wants To Test Driverless Cars In a Simulation

vtcodger Re:so what is the problem? (173 comments)

Personally, I'm not fond of replacing real world testing completely with simulations.

Exactly. A broad battery of simulations makes sense for regression testing to prove that the 2027 model year software handles all the situations that the 2026 did. But real world testing is required to verify that the system doesn't do nutty things when confronted with unusual conditions -- dust clouds, ice coated wall to wall potholes, a trackless rural road or rarely used off ramp covered with four inches of snow with whiteout conditions (where is the edge of this damn road?)..

Keep in mind that we treat human misjudgments in extreme conditions as unavoidable accidents. But unless I misjudge Homo lawyerensis (a species that regretably perhaps does not appear to be endangered), every significant accident involving a self-driving vehicle is probably going to be the manufacturer's fault.

about a month ago
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Microsoft's CEO Says He Wants to Unify Windows

vtcodger Re:Best Wishes ! (322 comments)

MSDOS certainly was simple: it was 16-bit, it lacked preemptive multitasking, and each program was limited to 64kB of memory (that other processes were not prevented from overwriting)!

MSDOS also worked perfectly adequately as the centerpiece of Windows 95 and 98. Of course working is important only to users. And who gives a damn about THEM? (Unless they get fed up enough to leave)

Oddly enough Microsoft's stock price stopped rising about the time that NT started to replace Windows 9. And the rather widespread dislike of Microsoft started about that time.

Just coincidence, I'm sure

BTW, the overly complex OS (relative to current low end device capabilities) is only one of the problems MS faces. And probably not the largest. The multitude of poorly documented and idiosyncratic APIs is probably a bigger issue since the principle reason for selecting Windows is likely in many cases to be compatibility with old applications. If Windows 2016 can't support the software some dude wrote for you in 1996 to control your packaging machinery or deal with your peculiar audit requirements, you probably aren't going to buy Windows 2016.

about 2 months ago
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Microsoft's CEO Says He Wants to Unify Windows

vtcodger Re:Best Wishes ! (322 comments)

Having about computers BEFORE there was such a thing as computer science, I have to confess, that I have never been able to appreciate the vast benefits of patterning operating systems on those used by 1970s mainframes. Truth be told, they often didn't actually work all that well in the 1970s. Sometimes still don't if you ask me.

Some "advances" in computing really have made things better/easier. Higher level languages with exception handing? Absolutely. File systems vs rigidly allocated mass storage? Terrific. NT vs MSDOS? No Hum. Not in the same class with meaningful advances in computing.

All other things being equal, I would probably go with NT. But all other things don't seem to be so equal. MSDOS was simple and ran well on minimal hardware. NT isn't simple and doesn't seem to run all that well on slow CPUs. We have a couple of EEE PCs around the house running XT and Windows 7. They are both terminally slow. That's not entirely an OS architecture issue I think. Unix often seems to do much better on lightweight hardware (as long as you aren't trying to print). But the NT architecture probably doesn't help and it's always been unclear to me exactly what NT brings to the party on a lightweight personal computer -- which is, after all, what all those itsy devices whose marketplace Microsoft is having trouble selling into are.

about 2 months ago
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Microsoft's CEO Says He Wants to Unify Windows

vtcodger Re:Best Wishes ! (322 comments)

Now that hardware has advanced they have a much better shot at architectural unification

Trouble is that the hardware has been marching off in directions often orthagonal (or worse) to the direction software and applications have taken. Hardware now includes many slow, limited CPUs that allow reasonable battery life in very small, compact devices. Software OTOH is written, as much as is possible, with no concern whatsoever for resource usage. The result is huge, impossibly complex (and therefore not very secure), OSes with often agonizingly slow UIs.

I personally doubt anybody or any group of anybodies is/are clever enough to "fix"/unify Windows.

Maybe if Microsoft had made different decisions in the mid-1990s when they had a compact real mode OS with a usable GUI running atop it, they could have ended up with something unified or unifiable. But that was then and this is now and the intervening two decades are water under the bridge or over the dam or something.

I'd like to be wrong about this, but I doubt I am.

about 2 months ago
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Selectively Reusing Bad Passwords Is Not a Bad Idea, Researchers Say

vtcodger Re:This makes sense. (280 comments)

My intuition says that most people do this. Though, I could be wrong.

Well, some of us try to do it. We are, regrettably, impeded by whacked out sysadmins who insist we must use THEIR idea of a strong password -- which always seems to be different from anyone else's idea of a strong password, and/or that we need to change passwords periodically, and/or that we can't reuse passwords.

I sometimes seems that there is an inverse relationship between the actual need for security and the system administrator's perception of the need for security.

But other than the fact that users often have to contend with the idosyncracies of sociopaths who feel that anything that is easy to use is clearly flawed, this seems a pretty good idea. If it gets the attention it deserves, perhaps it might be one small first step toward straightening out the incredible mess that is computer security.

about 2 months ago
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Blueprints For Taming the Climate Crisis

vtcodger Re:Climate Change on Slashdot? Bring on the fun! (389 comments)

Actually, as a climate skeptic, I've been saying for years that we should all focus on innovative nuclear technologies.

In fairness, some true believers in catastrophic warming warming do support nuclear. In particular NASA's James Hansen -- whatever one may think of his analytic skills -- is an outspoken supporter of replacing fossil fuels with nuclear. However we do need to keep in mind that even a well designed nuclear plant is likely to be managed at times by incompetents -- political appointees, fools, risk takers, or the just plain crazed.. We need nuclear power plant designs that even TEPCO couldn't turn into a regional or global disaster. While such designs are conceivable -- e.g. pebble beds -- they do not currently exist in proven form. And without fail safe designs, large areas of the planet are -- and probably should be -- pretty much off limits to nuclear power.

Is that a solvable problem? Probably. Is anyone trying very hard to solve it? Not that I can see.

about 3 months ago
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Blueprints For Taming the Climate Crisis

vtcodger Re:Climate Change on Slashdot? Bring on the fun! (389 comments)

A reasonable debate between groups of airheads who have not the slightest idea what they are talking about? That'll be interesting.

Consider that on the one side we have a revealed religion that depends on global climate models that embody all they think they know about climate. The GCMs really do not seem to work. They clearly run way too hot. So that causes a frantic effort to identify what is wrong with the models and fix it? Of course not. The response is to make stuff up, throw excrement, and yell insults at anyone who suggests that maybe there is a need to put a foundation under the "climate science" superstructure.

And there are skeptics who really don't have a theory of their own other than the obvious, and perhaps trivial contention that climate alarmists are ignorant, ill behaved, whack jobs. Never mind that their own behavior frequently is less than exemplary.

And neither side seems to have any conception of the problems entailed in delivering an adequate supply of essentials and luxuries to 10 billion human beings later in this century. Much less any willingness to work at developing realistic solutions to the numerous problems that will be encountered. On the one hand we have a bunch of "green" deus ex machina solutions that probably are going to work poorly when they work at all. On the other there is a belief in the improbable theory that God and an unregulated free market will provide abundance for all without any effort or planning.

Anybody seen any signs of adult behavior in this circus?

about 3 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Replacing Paper With Tablets For Design Meetings?

vtcodger Re:Use Paper (143 comments)

Dead on. I haven't used such. My first two questions would be.

1. How easy are they to use for someone whose usage is only an hour or two every few weeks? There's a lot of stuff out there that's great if you use it all the time but are somewhere between annoying and hateful for the casual user.

2. Can you easily mix in and edit text -- including, and especially. code or pseudo-code fragments? This seems to software design tooling, not storyboarding or conventional artwork production.

about 2 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Replacing Paper With Tablets For Design Meetings?

vtcodger Re:Use Paper (143 comments)

You'll waste the whole meeting fiddling with the technology and getting used to the UI.

I'm old and retired and far past meeting age (thank god). But my take is.

You'll not only waste the first meeting. Probably much of the first six meetings. And significant chunks of later meetings. And probably you'll need to spend time training any new participants in later meetings.

And ... you probably want computers with real keyboards so people can type notes and make corrections and not have to worry about spurious touches doing stupid things.

I've never encountered any sort of computer drawing tool that wasn't excrutiatingly painful when compared to paper and something pencil-like. Doesn't mean one or more don't exist. But usability for graphics in a free wheeling environment really is something you should consider.

Not that what the poster wants isn't desirable. But what is really wanted is probably a process that can be "imported" and adopted to local needs, not a technology you can order 8 of from your hardware monger. In particular one should view any off-the-shelf commercial solution with the same attitude you'd take toward a large dog who is growling at you and foaming a bit around the mouth.

Would salesmen lie to you? You betcha. It is what salesmen do.

about 2 months ago
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How Often Do Economists Commit Misconduct?

vtcodger Re:What does it matter? (305 comments)

Who needs astrologers when we have computer models?

We probably need some sort of government program to retrain astrologers faced with technical obsolesence as network administrators of C++ programmers.

about 3 months ago
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Meet Carla Shroder's New Favorite GUI-Textmode Hybrid Shell, Xiki

vtcodger Re:Not convinced (176 comments)

Solution: use natural language

Interesting idea. ten to one, you would get a great lesson in how ambiguous "natural language" is. A language that does not distinguish between inclusive and exclusive OR, has no rules for resolving the order/priority of ANDs and ORs when both occur in a clause, and which has a rather cavalier approach to NOT ("Isn't the door open?" is likely to mean "I think the door is open" rather than "Is the door closed?") may not be the ideal medium for communicating your wishes to a box.

about 3 months ago
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US Navy Develops World's Worst E-reader

vtcodger Re:In the navy (249 comments)

Not that I know anything at all about this specific eReader, but I do know that the military in general tends to prefer old, proven technology for electronics. That's because they can assess the reliability of stuff that has been around a while. Newer stuff is probably better/more capable, cheaper. But you'd prefer not to find out that x component is an exception in a situation where replacing x component is going to be impossible.. On top of that, they tend to prefer stuff that is known to work in gawdawful environments -- high or low humidity, high or low temperature, lots of salt water, etc. Bottom line: the rom in these things is probably old and small capacity.

Note, for example, that the kid's iPad failed when onlookers were dousing runners with water during a marathon on a dreadfully hot and humid day. Doesn't mean the iPad is a poorly designed box. But it would not be the kind of box the military would prefer.

about 5 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: What Software Can You Not Live Without?

vtcodger Re:You lost me at vim (531 comments)

Emacs and Vim are both terribly unproductive text editors.

I don't know if I'd go that far, but I've loathed vi since before many of the folks posting here were born and I've never really warmed to emacs although I did give it a serious try once. Look (dammit), I have to learn a set of keystroke conventions (CUA pretty much) to use my web browsers. What possible reason would I have to learn a different set conventions for code editing? I use kwrite in x-windows and jed on the rare occasions that X isn't available. When I used Windows, I used some enhanced Notepad or other that doesn't work right under Wine. I've long since forgotten its name. I use Windows as infrequently as possible, and in the one or two hours a year I have to work in Windows, Notepad seems to be adequate.

IMHO, vi was a crummy text editor -- only a slight improvement over ed -- in 1980 and although modern vi-s are vastly improved, they really aren't anything special. I think I see the point to emacs, but I think you either love it or you don't. I don't.

about 7 months ago
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Government To Require Vehicle-to-vehicle Communication

vtcodger Re:To require? (390 comments)

Of course it'll help sometimes. "Restricted Visibility" isn't just for people. It'll surely apply to vehicle on-board sensors also. The ability to "see" potential hazards obscured by terrain, vegetation, traffic, looking directly into the rising or setting sun, etc isn't going to solve all or even most problems. But it'll help.

And frankly, self driving cars are going to need all the help they can get -- especially once one gets down off the freeways onto roads shared with pedestrians, bicycles, skateboards, joggers, drunks, wildlife, livestock, tree limbs, etc,etc, etc.

about 8 months ago
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Record Wind Power Levels Trigger Energy Price Fall Across Europe

vtcodger Re: 3rd world (226 comments)

Pumped storage is great in theory. In practice, it's got some problems -- including, but not limited to -- inefficiency, lack of suitable sites, and evironmental issues from constantly fluctuating water levels. But the BIG problem is the huge amount of water that has to be moved to buffer energy to meet the electricity needs a modern industrial society on low wind days.

about 9 months ago

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