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NASA's Giant Crawler-Transporter Is Getting an Upgrade

wfmcwalter Re:Rail System (135 comments)

Most Russian launchers are delivered just this, including Soyuz, Proton, Energia (including Energia/Buran). They're horizontally integrated (as opposed to the VAB's vertical integration) and placed on a cradle. The cradle is moved, on rails, to the launch facility, where the cradle boom tips the launcher vertical and it's integrated with the launch gantry equipment and (excepting at least Soyuz) the hold-down system. An exception to this is Soyuz operated from the ESA site, which are vertically integrated on the pad using a giant mobile building - once the integration is complete they open the huge doors on that and the building rolls backwards (I think on rails) and moves back far enough for it not to be damaged by the Soyuz' launch.

about 2 years ago
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Christmas Always On Sunday? Researchers Propose New Calendar

wfmcwalter The Shire Calendar (725 comments)

The most elegant solution to the calendar I've seen is JRR Tolkien's (yes, him) Shire Calendar:

  • It's fully conformant with the astronomical realities (no magical even-divisions or date fudging necessary)
  • There are still 12 months (so no weird decimal months, no 34th of Thermidor bollocks). You can stick with the familiar month names (rather than Tolkien's Hobbity ones)
  • Each month is 30 days long (simplifying accounting, pay calculations, holiday accrual etc.). No pointless variation, no mnemonics.
  • Year on year, a given month always begins with the same day of the week. Even for leap years. So if you were born on a Tuesday, your birthday will always be Tuesday.
  • The clever part (which allows all the other stuff to happen) is there is a winter festival holiday (2 days) and a summer festival holiday (3 days normally, 4 in leap years). These aren't week days and aren't in a month - they're special. So e.g. Christmas doesn't change between sometimes being in the weekend, or adjacent to the weekend, or midweek - Christmas is always in the same place. I know I always get disoriented around Christmas - Christmas already seems like a special day which doesn't resemble a Thursday or a Sunday or whatever - the Shire Calendar is just a realistic expression that it's not a weekday, and that it shouldn't be regarded as one. And the first day back at work after Christmas is always a Monday.
  • The winter and summer festivals are pretty consonant with common practice in many countries anyway. Move Christmas into the yule holiday (Jesus wasn't born in December anyway, so it's no less Biblically correct than current practice). Many countries have a midsummer festival or summer bank holiday and US independence day can be celebrated then.
  • You only need one printed calendar (not the 14 different types we currently need) - you just score off the leap year or not.
  • Its easy to fix the locations of other festivals, like Thanksgiving, and then you get a perfectly consistent gap between e.g. Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • From a software perspective it's a wash - 2 more mini-months need to be handled, but less bother with differently lengthed months and much easier day-of-the-week calculations.

more than 2 years ago
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Bethesda Tells Minecraft Creator: Cease and Desist

wfmcwalter hello lawyers, meet internet (200 comments)

Technology companies are pretty good about properly integrating their marketing and public relations efforts into the business proper. So if they need to do a safety recall the PR people are involved in the process; a decent PR guy can turn "the XYZ-5000 sprays customers with burning acid" recall into "XYZ really cares about its customers, and as a lovely fluffy precaution we're fixing all our XYZ-5000s, even though most of them are perfectly super and don't experience moderate thermal variances". Engineering, QA, customer relations, finance - every department doesn't get to communicate with the public (or do anything that's obviously going to end up being public) without someone in PR there to make sure the message is put out right.

Legal departments, by dint of (often broken) corporate org-trees are a notable exception to this. When they see a problem, they fix it the lawyer way, and the rest of the company never knows until after the fact. In olden times of yore stuff like this was trivia between one legal office and another, and only the most nebbish of corporate historian ever know why a product changed its name or wasn't orange coloured any more. So the lawyers behaved as they always did, striking as quickly and as hard as they could, writing letters as outlandishly vitriolic and court pleadings as wildly exaggerated as they felt they could get away with, knowing that things would stay on the downlow and whatever happened only the outcome would matter to anyone.

They didn't consider that, if you sent someone a demand letter, the first thing they'd do is tweet about it to their entire customer base (which turns out to be a big proportion of your customer base too), and post the letter (with all its wild and crazy claims) on the internet, for everyone to point and laugh at. If it's the all-too-common shot across the bows (rather than a serious attempt) you risk looking like a rather unhinged bully.

Like it or not (and the lawyers don't like it, and decorate their broadsides with all kinds of "if you publish this letter we'll sue to for that too" stuff) everything anyone in the corporation does reflects on the whole outfit. The PR folks should be in on the ground floor with anything like this. They don't get to veto every lawsuit or every letter, but they can put a choke-hold on the stupid. Right now Zenimax's PR guy has his head in his hands; I'll bet the first thing he knew about the whole affair was when he read it online, and he'll spend next week fighting fires and soothing angry faces. Notch probably won't change the name, but if he does that's just another news cycle of bad PR for Zenimax.

about 3 years ago
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Apple Proposes Smaller SIM Card Design

wfmcwalter cellular ubiquity (198 comments)

They're not thinking about this for what we're currently call a "phone". They're looking at very small form factor devices which keep their data in the cloud, are configured by another (arbitrary) device which talks to the same cloud, and which make either sporadic or continual data connections with whatever available networks they find, to keep up to date. Imagine very small devices (wristwatches, eyeglasses, earplugs) with 802.11/UMTS/WiMAX radios (which use a mini-sim to identify themselves to whichever network they encounter). And they're thinking about these things as universal identifiers and payment tokens.

Right now you go running with an iPod. Instead you'll have a iPlug, a pair of little in-ear headphones, but with no cable and nothing strapped to your arm. You set up your music program on a tablet, and it seamlessly syncs. You run further than you'd expected, so the iPlug connects to the network and downloads more music. Miles from home your knee gives out. You touch the iPlug and say "taxi". A taxi comes (sent by Apple to the location the iPlug knew; Apple gets a dollar from the taxi fare, which you pay using the iPlug).

You have a iSim unit in your iWatch. You're thirsty, so you touch the watch and say "coffee shop". The watch face shows an arrow to a nearby one, and the distance, and walks you there. Apple gets a dollar. You buy a drink with the iSIM as a payment token (Apple gets 30 cents) and sit down at a table. The table's surface is an active display; it talks to your iWatch and opens a connection to your account in the iCloud. Your personal news appears, your emails, your documents. You do some work, browse some stuff, and when you're done you stand up and the table blinks off. Things will be as you left them when you next peer with an active display - at home, in the car, on the train, at the office, on the beach.

All of this stuff has been done, in various disconnected ways, already. You can pay for stuff with your phone, in some places. Most Europeans (well, Brits at least) have smart cards in their credit cards. You could hotdesk 10 years ago with a Sunray (kinda). You can unlock doors with a Dallas button token. Having super-cheap super-light totally ubiquitous networking makes the whole thing join up into a compelling, powerful, system.

You'll never be alone again.

more than 3 years ago
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Digital Photocopiers Loaded With Secrets

wfmcwalter that's an interesting bank statement, mr salesman (204 comments)

My company recently bought a used copier/scanner/printer, which had supposedly been reconditioned and cleaned. It included a "document server" feature, whereby jobs could be scanned to its internal disk (or print jobs could be stored in the printer for later printing). The salesman who sold it to us had helpfully left scans of his current account statement in the document server, together with some placating letters to other customers. After thinking about what uses we'd actually have, I decided just to turn the document server feature off for everyone. I did leave the deferred-jobs part on (as it's useful when someone is printing on weird stock or printing something confidential) - thus ensuring that anything left on the copier (the company is now defunct, the copier presumably resold) is guaranteed to be juicy.

more than 4 years ago
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Polite Cell Phones

wfmcwalter Re:Why can't the movie theatre _tell_ the phone (292 comments)

[urgh, should have previewed] Rather than guessing we're in a movie theatre (which is what this amounts to) or places using cell-phone blockers, why can't someone implement a simple scheme to _tell_ the phone not to ring?

Of those phones which do ring in an inappropriate place, the owners of the great majority have simply forgotten to turn their phone off (they're forgetful, not sociopathic). Movie theatres, concert halls, libraries and other please-keep-quiet places could have short-range radio equipment inside which sent a "this is a quiet zone" signal. You'd program your phone (and it would come programmed by default) that when it was receiving that signal it would go onto the vibrate-only ring preference. When the signal was lost, it would revert to your default. So when you entered, and when you left, there would be no need to remember to set the phone correctly (the nagging ads always remind me to turn my phone off, but very often I forget at the end and leave my phone off for the remainder of the day). Similarly noisy places like train stations and airport concourses could broadcast a "this is a noisy environment", which your phone would typically interpret to mean that it should use a loud, shrill ringtone.

There are people who legitimately (and quite reasonably) should have working cellphones in quiet places - doctors on homecall, standby emergency workers, out-of-hours plumbers, parents who've left their kids with a teenage sitter. Enabling these people to use their phones sensibly while largely preventing accidental annoyances would be a great (and surely hot difficult) idea.

Phones should, incidentally, have an "answer with hold" button. So a doctor in the movies whose phone rang (silently) could take it out, notice that it's the hospital's number, and push "answer with hold". The caller would get a short recorded message saying "this person is aware of your call, and will be with you shortly - please hold" - that way the doctor can take the call, but doesn't have to talk into the phone until they've walked into the theatre lobby, where they can take the phone off hold and talk.

more than 8 years ago

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