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Comment Eval is a Beginners' Trap and a Huge Security Hole (Score 1) 600

Eval has been part of the Lisp programming language since the dawn of computing, but few experienced Lisp programmers ever used it outside of read-eval-print loops and software development tools (where its existence is a totally awesome gift). Eval is widely considered a beginner's trap. It is rarely "the right thing," typically because it is super inefficient. But my biggest concern is that it is a huge security hole, especially when the expression to be evaluated comes from the user. Think SQL injection attack. It is wise to require some sort of security credentials and/or filters to make sure the expression is within a "safe subset" of the language... at which point you might as well write the mini-interpreter you really need, instead of making the entire, underlying language and the application's entire data environment available for anyone to use or misuse.

Comment Look at McGill's tuition "menu." They already do! (Score 1) 537

This might be a new idea in the U.S., but at one of Canada's premier colleges, this is already old hat. Go look at McGill University's "menu" of tuition fees. You'll see that they charge radically lower rates to the art student, English major, or nursing student compared to the computer scientist or pre-med. I hadn't thought of the costs of running these programs, but up in Montreal they almost certainly did. What seemed striking to me is how compassionate this policy is for the student. Is it coincidental that these Canadian tuition rates happen to be scaled to the earning potential of the graduate? So no more crazy high debt for your "B.A. in Barista." But for super in-demand and high-paid software engineers? Sure, they think you can afford to pay off those big loans. Oh, but wait... if you are a Quebec resident, your tuition will be so low that you won't need any big loans! 20/20 hindsight: if only we had moved to Canada, my wife and teenagers would have been way less stressed.

Comment Re:Any still used? (Score 1) 74

The 4004 was used in the first electronic taximeter, the Argo Kiensle 1140, and these were in service for many decades, but have since been largely replaced. I'd speculate that there are still some traffic lights that have an Intel 4004 inside. The chip went out of production in 1986.

Submission + - The Intel 4004 Microprocessor Chip Turns 45 1

mcpublic writes: Today marks the 45th anniversary of the 4004, Intel’s first microprocessor chip, announced to the world in the November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News . It seems that everyone (except Intel) loves to argue whether it was truly the “first microprocessor.” Ken Sherriff's recent article in IEEE Spectrum tells the more complicated story. But what’s indisputable is that the 4004 was the computer chip that started Intel’s pivot from a tiny semiconductor memory company to the personal computing giant we know today. Federico Faggin, an Italian immigrant who invented the self-aligned, silicon gate MOS transistor and buried contacts technology, joined Intel in 1970. He needed both his inventions to squeeze the 4004's roughly 2,300 transistors into a single 3x4mm silicon die. He later went on to design the Intel 8080 and the Zilog Z80 with Masatoshi Shima, a Japanese engineer with a “steel trap mind,” the once-unsung hero of the 4004 team.

Comment Enough about us old farts. What about millennial? (Score 1) 515

I first learned to code by being a guinea pig at a Stanford University educational research lab and a volunteer at a Silicon Valley community computer center, then self-taught on "luggable" computers and programmable pocket calculators lent to me on weekends by a generous Hewlett Packard employee, and ultimately on my high school's PDP-8. I learned about computer science, again self-taught, while working as a "research specialist" (read: peon) at the MIT AI Lab.

Notice I didn't talk about my undergraduate education, which mostly involved placing out of CS classes, so not exactly a formal education. I learned more from independent projects than anything else. Professional programming I learned on the job--you almost have to, where else are you going to collaborate with other programmers and make things bulletproof? Absolutely, there's GitHub and open source projects. For me, that came about well after I earned my "sea legs."

But enough about us old farts (and there seem to be a lot of us on Slashdot). How did you millennials learn to program? Where did you find and figure out how to use programming tools/environments? What were your first projects about: The Web, Robotics, Games, something else?

Submission + - The Intel 4004 microprocessor turns 44

mcpublic writes: Today is the 44th anniversary of the Intel 4004, the pioneering 4-bit microprocessor that powered the first electronic taxi meters. According to the unaffiliated (and newly renamed) Intel 4004 45th Anniversary Project web site, they have just re-created the complete set of VLSI mask artwork for the 4004 using scalable vector graphics, and
updated their Busicom 141-PF calculator replica aimed at collectors and hobbyists. Included is some interesting historical perspective:
Back in the early 1970s, there was no electrical CAD software, design-rule checkers were people, and
VLSI lithographic masks were hand-crafted on giant light tables by unsung "rubylith cutters."

Comment Progressive lenses now exist for the computer age (Score 1) 464

You can all rest assured that this discussion is safe from the prying eyes of optometrists, otherwise one of them would have piped up that...

...there are a number of progressive lenses designed specifically for computer work. These have a larger center sweet spot focused at "monitor distance." My optometrist also taught me an additional trick: If you limit the focal range so infinity is not included, progressive lenses work even better for computer work. These are designed specifically for indoor "office" work. You'd wear another, less expensive, single prescription "distance" glasses for driving, etc. (keep them in your glove compartment).

Comment Visit on-line robot hardware parts vendors (Score 2) 166

There has never been a better time in history to dive into robotics from where you are coming from. There are a solid handful of really high quality, on-line vendors that sell individual parts and complete robot kits. For many items there is extensive documentation and a community of hobbyists who help each other get over the growing pains.

My three favorite "robot stores" are

  • Pololu Robotics and Electronics
  • SparkFun Electronics
  • RobotShop (based in Canada)

I don't work for any of these companies, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I did go to school with one of Pololu's founding partners.

Comment VCs don't respect NDAs, focus on your biz plan (Score 1) 205

When you are pitching to venture capitalists, it will be the rare exception where you can expect any sort of confidentiality. VCs will act in their own interests, and if they think that leaking/sharing something you told them will help make them money, they will do it. They don't care about the details of your algorithms. They probably won't understand what you say anyway. They only care about what your technology will do for them (i.e. make them piles money). More important than any technical details is the assurance that you can protect yourself from copycats. And of course they also want some assurance that you can be trusted to make money with their money, should they give it to you. Use your PowerPoint deck to tell them about your past successes, your credentials, your well researched business plan, how you are uniquely qualified to make their investors money, and how much interest you've been getting from competing sources of funding.

Comment Cached securityblog.verizonbusiness article (Score 1) 457

In case you are finding that securityblog.verizonbusiness.com is refusing your connections, here is a cached version of the source article: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://securityblog.verizonbusiness.com/2013/01/14/case-study-pro-active-log-review-might-be-a-good-idea/

Submission + - Computer History Museum gets the attention it deserves (nytimes.com) 1

mcpublic writes: "For years the Computer History Museum has been quietly collecting and displaying the computational relics of yesteryear. Now, finally the New York Times Arts Section shines the spotlight on this most nerdy of museums. Speak Steampunk? You can find a working replica of Babbages Difference Engine in the lobby of the Museum's Mountain View, California home. Of course the vast majority of the collection is electronic, and though 'big iron' is king, that hasn't stopped dedicated volunteers from bringing back to life pioneering 'mini' computers like the 1960 PDP-1 and the first video game software ever: Spacewar!"

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