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NASA Video Shows What It's Like To Reenter the Earth's Atmosphere

werepants Re:Makes me want to play some KSP (64 comments)

Right, because all tasks are of equivalent difficulty. No achievement is harder than any other. The differences are just marketing.

40 minutes ago
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NASA Video Shows What It's Like To Reenter the Earth's Atmosphere

werepants Re:Makes me want to play some KSP (64 comments)

Well, the velocities and accelerations involved are higher by an order of magnitude or two. The consequences for failure are more immediate and severe. And while the first cars and planes were essentially hacked together in garages, the first space capsules required the resources of entire nations to build, and even then failure was frequent.

Again, go play some goddamn Kerbal Space Program and then tell me that spaceflight is no harder than anything else. There's a good chance that you won't be able to reach a stable orbit without tutorials, because most people don't understand shit about how and why spacecraft actually stay up there in the sky. First hint: it involves going at least 17000 mph - so fast that you fall towards the ground and miss.

46 minutes ago
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NASA Video Shows What It's Like To Reenter the Earth's Atmosphere

werepants Makes me want to play some KSP (64 comments)

You can't really appreciate what NASA does until you build your own rocket, load it up with little green men, and crash it dozens of times while you try to learn how to orbit. Kerbal Space Program taught me how impressive this achievement really is.

yesterday
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Ask Slashdot: Resources For Kids Who Want To Make Games?

werepants Re:Tabletop gaming? (99 comments)

As a followup, playing tabletop games will get any sufficiently motivated youth to start designing tabletop games. There are very few barriers to entry here - using existing boards, figures, dice, cards, etc can make it very quick and easy to play around with some inventive game concepts.

yesterday
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Ask Slashdot: Resources For Kids Who Want To Make Games?

werepants Tabletop gaming? (99 comments)

If you want a really pure and direct interaction with the mechanics that govern gameplay, D&D and related game systems are hard to beat. Humans are literally interpreting and implementing the rules of gameplay, and anybody who is literate can impose structure on an imaginary universe by understanding (and eventually writing their own) rulesets.

There are lots of different systems out there. Just getting him thinking about the rules of Risk vs Settlers of Catan (both arguably about conquest of a region, military or economic, respectively) would be a good way to start. D&D is obviously a standard (and 5th edition, which just came out, is excellent), but there are free and open source games out there (D&D 3.5 edition has all the rules available on the web, open-source style, and there are interesting derivatives like Legend from Rule of Cool) and they expose how games really work, and would help establish the kind of thinking that would be invaluable to someone looking to program game mechanics.

If you want something simple in that vein to start with, Settlers of Catan (as previously mentioned) is a great study for RTS-type game mechanics, and Mouse Guard is supposedly a simplified, kid-focused tabletop RPG.

yesterday
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Kepler Makes First Exoplanet Discovery After Mission Reboot

werepants Re:Why do these reaction wheels keep failing? (27 comments)

Of course, but you can't design for infinite lifespan. You design for the mission, add margin as required, and if it lasts longer, great. Almost always, it does, but this is a probability thing - there's every chance that you could get a 1 in a million, mission ending event on day one - there's no such thing as zero chance of failure. If you design for longer than required, you are spending more money/mass/time than you have to.

The real question is up to the principal investigator and his/her science team in a mission like this. I would expect that the scientific return over time of most missions trends towards zero - not to say that it is useless to keep a long-lived system limping along, but just to say that many of the biggest questions are answered in the first days, and there's an inherent balance with increasing longevity - what's better, a 10 yr design with meager instrumentation, or a 1 yr mission with more sensing/data collection? These are the trades you have to make, since budgets, schedules, and basic physical laws mean you can't always have everything you want, when you want it, for the price you are willing to pay.

For the record, I work in the industry and these questions directly impact the work that I do - designing towards a 2 year lifespan vs a 10 year lifespan can easily change the cost of a mission by orders of magnitude, and it is ignorant to act as though a failure AFTER the design life is a fault of engineering. That would be like criticizing a car rated for 20mpg for only getting 30mpg - it isn't a faulty design, it is faulty expectations.

I also highly recommend reading something like Roving Mars, by Steven Squyres - he was the PI on Spirit and Opportunity, and you get a look at the tough choices and gambles they had to make as part of that mission. It turns out that they made some pretty good choices, and the dice rolled their way in a lot of cases. It is easy to figure out where you would have put more resources once the mission has flown and you know what failed - it's another matter entirely to figure out where to invest your time and risk management up front. Hindsight and all that.

yesterday
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Kepler Makes First Exoplanet Discovery After Mission Reboot

werepants Re:Why do these reaction wheels keep failing? (27 comments)

Here's the thing. Imagine that you are a mechanical engineer, told to build a reaction wheel system that will have something like a 99% chance of lasting 3.5 years, and do it as cheaply, quickly, and lightly as possible. Are you going to pick an unproven, brand new bearing design that introduces lots of extra complexity, would probably involve a lot of new ($$$) and custom design work, and which require all the testing and validation that is involved to qualify a new technology for spaceflight? For starters - prove that any EM fields wouldn't impact the rest of the system, show it can tolerate any failure without having a detrimental impact on the rest of the system, characterize its failure signatures for diagnostics, figure out precisely how far it can be driven, for how long. While you are at it make sure that it can do all of this in any temperature and pressure. And cycle it through several lifetimes of use to make sure you understand how it will fatigue.

This is essentially the scenario the engineer on this project faced. 3.5 years isn't an atrocious design life, there are certainly tried and proven reaction wheel designs that have met that requirement in other spacecraft. Kepler wasn't a technology demonstrator - it was a science mission with a specified design life (that it satisfied) and using a simple reaction wheel was the right choice here.

If you think it should have been more reliable, blame the principal investigator or NASA administration or Congress, who all played their own parts in determining the design life (and hence budget) for this program. If you think it should use something newfangled for its own sake, well, it wasn't that kind of mission to begin with. If you think new, fancy technologies should be used to improve reliability, well, you don't understand reliability very well - you don't build a reliable system by using unproven designs, you use things that are tested and understood and try to minimize the big, risky unknowns.

For the record, the space industry IS working on replacements for reaction wheels, but it is doing it first on inexpensive satellites and technology demonstrators, so that it can later become commonplace. Reaction wheels themselves are probably going to become obsolete for many LEO and MEO applications before magnetic bearings even come into wide use, because electromagnetic torqueing tech can react against the Earth's magnetic field for orientation, and uses no moving parts, and never has to bleed built-up velocity off the reaction wheels (which costs propellant).

yesterday
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Kepler Makes First Exoplanet Discovery After Mission Reboot

werepants Re:Why do these reaction wheels keep failing? (27 comments)

It wasn't 4 years, it is closer to 6. Launched in March '09. Secondly, there was a 3.5 year mission life, which Kepler satisfied. Now, even after sustaining some part failures, it continues to do valuable science. So, in fact, it looks like we've got a system that met all objectives and is working far past its design life - if that is pathetic, what would qualify as a success in your eyes?

yesterday
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Kepler Makes First Exoplanet Discovery After Mission Reboot

werepants Re:Why do these reaction wheels keep failing? (27 comments)

Kepler was designed with a 3.5 yr mission life. It is now going on its 6th year in space. So it met what it needed to do and is STILL producing science. If they had blown time/money/mass on a fancier reaction wheel system, they might've had to sacrifice science payload, or power margin, or had the project go over schedule and over budget and get cancelled altogether. Not to mention that some other, more critical part could've failed because they would have had to sacrifice margin elsewhere.

Perfect is the enemy of good. I swear, if NASA shoots for all the capabilities and tries to make sure nothing can go wrong, ever, we get things like the JWST which is years behind schedule and severely over budget. If they do a sensible, focused mission that makes sure to be Good Enough while staying on time and affordable, people complain that it doesn't last forever (even though it has already almost doubled its design life).

Do you really think that in the 30 seconds it took you to read that summary and write your comment, you managed to come up with something that entire teams of NASA engineers who do this for a living didn't think of? Or maybe your job is easy enough that random slashdotters who scarcely understand it can offer you meaningful advice on how to do it.

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

werepants Re:Space has its own problems (279 comments)

Interesting to know. I'm on the beginning end of such a career, it was a hard adaptation at first because of some of the reasons you and the parent poster mentioned, but thankfully I work for an aerospace company that is small, new (relatively speaking), and not yet crippled by risk aversion. I'm even in product assurance of all places, but we get interesting problems flowed down from time to time, and we get to do some pretty fun testing. I have noticed, though, that some of my favorite days are the ones I get to spend writing scripts to automate different analysis tasks, which has made me wonder whether I'd enjoy a position in software development.

On the other hand, programmers as a whole don't seem terribly pleased with their careers either, at least judging by the slashdot crowd.

2 days ago
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Programmer Father Asks: What Gets Little Girls Interested In Science?

werepants Re:Yeesh (584 comments)

If you think you can reason your way out of primal urges, inclinations, and desires--well, good luck with that.

That's not at all the point I'm making. There are lots of good reasons to let men go do dangerous things and keep women at home in a tribal environment, regardless of any sort of primal urge. Men are more disposable and more physically capable, and women are biologically equipped for child rearing in some important ways. Those reasons are complete garbage in the environment that you and I live in, though, but many stereotypes are still based on them.

I get that the urge to have sex/kids/social status are all primal and we'll never be done with that, but that's a fundamentally different thing than the urge to have a career outside the house or not. It takes quite a bit of mental gymnastics to see how a male instinct to hunt and protect translates to sitting in a cubicle staring at spreadsheets all day, just as it is far-fetched to imagine that a female instinct to care for children translates to wanting to sit around and watch daytime TV. These stereotypes are weird translations of our old gender roles to a modern landscape, and I see little reason to defend them other than tradition.

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

werepants Re:Indoctrinating children... (584 comments)

No mod points, but this is insightful and refreshingly honest.

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

werepants Re:Yeesh (584 comments)

Clearly the idea that toy selection in children is all down to social pressure is complete and total nonsense.

Nobody is claiming that, but surely you would admit that the idea that toy selection in children is immune to social pressure is also complete and total nonsense.

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

werepants Re:Yeesh (584 comments)

Nurturing and homemaking in a tribal environment has absolutely nothing to do with pink princess outfits. All you've pointed out is what we've all known since forever - early human societies had gender roles based on physical attributes that made them more fit for certain things. The question now is whether the gender roles and stereotypes we have, which evolved from those beginnings, make any sense at all. Since very few jobs are physical today in the way that spear hunting would be, and since many women have children late or never, it's fair to suppose that many of the gender roles that now exist are mostly arbitrary and based on convention.

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

werepants Re:Yeesh (584 comments)

Don't know why I'm bothering replying to an AC, but that whole "spend time around little kids" argument is bullshit. All kids get conditioned to fit into gender roles, from the very earliest age, so we really don't know what "girl things" and "guy things" are, unless you've done a controlled experiment raising a child without any biased social interaction whatsoever.

The biggest thing, though, is that this whole argument that there are girl things and boy things is used to justify exposing children to only things that will make them comply with existing norms. If my parents get a gift for my daughter, for instance, have only ever gotten my daughter dolls, tutus, dress-up clothes, and basically those "girl things" that reinforce the idea that girls are primarily supposed to be pretty to look at and learn how to raise offspring. Her favorite toy lately? Legos. She would not have had those (or any toys that go against girl stereotypes) unless I had gone out of my way to make sure she had them.

So the point is, when you see a young girl playing with dolls, many times those are the only kinds of toys she has ever had. She won't play with trucks because she never has before, and has probably been discouraged in subtle or not-so-subtle ways from doing so. We should allow people to be who they want to be to the greatest degree possible. Which means we ought to give children varied experiences and let them go whichever way they will (and that might mean wanting to be a princess).

Ultimately this whole argument though amounts to victim-blaming, and using the "nature" side of nature-vs-nurture to absolve society from any blame for treating children unequally. If we accept that girls naturally tend to avoid computers, engineering, and science, it means we don't have to acknowledge any pesky problem that might exist, much less the solutions which might be costly or difficult to deal with.

about two weeks ago
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Supreme Court To Decide Whether Rap Lyric Threats Are Free Speech

werepants Re:And this is how perverted our system has gotten (436 comments)

If speech can incite violence (it doesn't ), then provocative clothing can incite rape (it doesn't), and we have to cover our women head to toe.. Let's all try to be a bit consistent here. Otherwise you're inciting the imposition of Islamic law.

This is entirely stupid. As long as you believe that words can influence the actions of people (and the entire advertising industry is based on this belief) then it follows that the right kind of speech can incite violence - stirring up a group of protesters, telling a drunk husband about a cheating wife, racist propaganda to ensure that soldiers kill the opposition, etc, etc. Of course, it doesn't absolve the violent offenders of guilt. But it can add a guilty party as a contributor.

Clothing is usually not speech (although you could think of examples where it ought to qualify). A person dressing provocatively is no more "inciting rape" than a person without a bulletproof vest is "inciting a bullet wound". There are situations where the respective choices might be risky because of the unfortunate reality that there are people out there prone to violent behavior, but people are not required to choose the less risky option.

The thing is, people act like this rape thing is complicated, but there really isn't any question about it. If someone says they don't want to have sex, regardless of what prior signs they have given to the contrary, you don't have sex with them. Even if you are actively having sex, you still must stop if they ask you to, otherwise it is rape.

It's like the difference between boxing and assault. The only difference between the two is that both parties have provided consent. As soon as consent is revoked, it becomes assault. Is that so difficult?

about three weeks ago
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LHC's 'Heart' Starts Pumping Protons Before Restart

werepants Re:Heart starts pumping.. (50 comments)

Hey, OP is a nationalistic idiot, but responding with more nonsense generalization doesn't fix things.

I happen to be an American, under 35, with a degree in physics, who occasionally works at particle collider facilities. The average state of scienctific literacy might not be fantastic here, but there's no denying that many of the best minds in physics today are from the U.S.

about three weeks ago
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LHC's 'Heart' Starts Pumping Protons Before Restart

werepants Re:Heart starts pumping.. (50 comments)

Most particle accelerators spend a good portion of their time in maintenance, perpetually, and that includes American ones. The cyclotron at Texas A&M, for instance, is closed for the first quarter of the year, every year. And that isn't even a facility that is new and still gearing up - it has been running that way for many decades, yet it still requires that much downtime.

So stop being a nationalistic douchebag. But who am I kidding, I'm responding to an AC here.

about three weeks ago
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Russia May Be Planning National Space Station To Replace ISS

werepants Re:What do you mean "may be"? (236 comments)

The ATV has boosted the ISS numerous times.

And it is not an American vehicle. The point still stands - there is no way to "separate the two halves" and have a functioning station as you suggested. Even supposing we could get by entirely without Zvezda and Russian boosts, the Russian-owned docking module is the only place that another ship can mate for reboost. Interdependence is inherent to the design, and that is intentional.

about three weeks ago
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Russia May Be Planning National Space Station To Replace ISS

werepants Re:What do you mean "may be"? (236 comments)

How do you boost it then? It needs periodic orbit boosts to compensate for orbit degradation from drag. The only permanent module capable of this is Russian owned (Zvezda), and although there are two vehicles capable of providing some boost capability, neither one is American. For that matter, almost all the docking capability belongs to the Russians as well. So your claims are entirely false.

about three weeks ago

Submissions

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$99 iPad rival NoteSlate

werepants werepants writes  |  more than 3 years ago

werepants (1912634) writes "NoteSlate — a digital drawing pad, or at least the idea of one — is burning a hole in the blogosphere. A few weeks ago, descriptions and mockups appeared online at NoteSlate.com. Since then, hundreds of technology news and gossip sites around the globe have written about it in at least half a dozen languages, heralding the imminent arrival of a $99 e-ink digital tablet that mimics the simplicity of old-fashioned pen and paper."
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