Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Polls on the front page of Slashdot? Is the world coming to an end?! Nope; read more about it. ×

Comment: Re:The one question (Score 2) 107

Look at the wheelbase length and wheelbase-length-to-cabin-length ratio. Our perceptions of "cool" with cars is long, low, and sleek. Considering that most electric cars are aiming at inner-city driving, a short wheelbase and overall reduction in size would be key design metrics. Also, the long front we have got used to with internal combustion engines is totally unnecessary in an electric car really (except that you do need to put the batteries somewhere, and to provide a crumple zone in the event of a crash). Bring all that together, and the ideal vehicle shape (from a purely engineering standpoint) is short, squat, and kind of boxy (to maximise interior space while minimising overall spatial footprint). Also, for inner-city driving, aerodynamics is kind of a moot point - considering that drag is a function of the square of speed, at low speeds it makes no difference.

So, the reality is probably that they look kind of ugly because the design is being dictated by the engineers not the marketers, which surely the /. crowd could applaud? (Too many things are designed with form ahead of function - including a lot of parts of cars).

The exceptions (long, sleek, "cool") like Tesla's offering are because that's designed to be a performance car, so the aerodynamic (and form) components of the design become more important.

One thing I have found interesting is that electric cars haven't gone for anything (yet) which is dramatically different to "normal" car designs, considering other forms become quite possible with the dramatically smaller drivetrain and quite alternative energy storage shapes (batteries don't need to be shaped like a fuel tank). Most likely this comes down to compliance with safety and other regulations - and the fact that probably no one would buy it if it looked too different - but it could be interesting to see what variation we see in future vehicle forms.

Comment: Floating mountains (Score 4, Interesting) 95

It's interesting the implications of this: we think of mountains as these giant, immovable things, culturally and linguistically used as a reference point of something solid and immutable. And yet, the reality is that they are comparably the soft fluffy marshmallows floating on top of a dense, thick liquid. I don't think it detracts from their majestic nature any, but I won't look at mountains the same, knowing they are in fact the "lighter" parts of the Earth - and the reminder that they float!

Science is fun, especially when it comes up with things that to the casual, uninformed observer are so counter-intuitive. This paints a beautiful picture.

Also, it goes to show that mountain-climbing is a great way to lose weight!

Comment: "Pandemic" is a great board game... no, wait. (Score 2) 57

by BevanFindlay (#49723425) Attached to: Forecasting the Next Pandemic
Actually got to play the board game "Pandemic" recently. It's a great game, but one relevant learning from it was that we had to lose three times before we worked out how to actually contain diseases. I am hoping that our society has had enough experience with disease outbreak control that we actually handle such an event successfully. The recent Ebola situation seems to suggest that we're not bad (though could be better). But, if we had something start in a big city in a Western, developed country, and it was multiple-drug-resistant, we could be in for some serious trouble, and I don't think we as a populace are quite smart enough to do the right thing (report early, self-quarantine, shut down transport systems etc early enough, and so on). We could be, but the reality is the only way we are going to know is by seeing how we do when one actually happens - and unlike the board game, we only really get one attempt.

Comment: Re:Wouldn't it be more useful if... (Score 1) 57

by BevanFindlay (#49723397) Attached to: Forecasting the Next Pandemic

Just because it wasn't really a problem in the USA doesn't mean it wasn't a problem. It is one nasty disease (death rate of upwards of 50%? No thanks!) Similar to the Y2K bug, Ebola was contained exactly because people reacted.

Also, seriously, go to Africa sometime. Just because it didn't happen in your home town doesn't make it any less devastating.

Comment: How dumb can you be and still breathe? (Score 3, Insightful) 244

Yep, real smart. "Oh no, people are discovering new music for free, let's stop them."

Users: "Oh, my free streaming service went away. You suck! How do I get music now?" Googles for 'free music download', or asks friends, eventually ends up at the Pirate Bay or something. "Cool, all this stuff is free and I can even keep it without some service disappearing from underneath me!"

When will these people realise that they cannot support their old business model because technology has made it redundant. The longer they try and abuse their customer base, the more of their customer base they are going to lose. Eventually technology will steamroll them into obsolescence, but it's mainly because they never thought to give people want they want soon enough (if, back in the Napster days, they had provided an easy way to purchase any MP3 online, DRM-free, for a low price, everyone would have done that instead of finding more and more ways to avoid paying at all. Now, it's too late and the market has left them behind).

It's the horse-feed sellers complaining that everyone is using jet aircraft - and then trying to force them not to by suing? I have for quite some time been saying that they need to wake up and adapt to the technology, but I honestly think it's too late for that. The recording agencies have dug their own grave by being so backward. P2P tech and other options have left them irrelevant, and their trying to beat people up with legislation changes just makes the rational people who don't mind paying a fair price angry.

Sorry, but if I'm looking for new music, I'm still going to look at places like YouTube. If the big businesses are too stupid to put their stuff there, then it won't be their content I'm seeing - it'll be indy artists, and I'm more than happy to pay an artist directly if I think their stuff is good enough, and if I can get it without DRM (or other vendor lock-in like iTunes).

Of course, most of the big-label stuff is rubbish anyway, so I guess I'm not losing much. Perhaps YouTube will stop suggesting crap pop songs now - yay!

Comment: Re:Planning for poor quality of life? (Score 1) 420

by BevanFindlay (#49661247) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Moving To an Offshore-Proof Career?

There are different types of personality, some who welcome change, and some who resist it. Apparently the "keep things the same" (stable) types make up around 80% of the population... which is probably a good thing. Too many of us "let's go change everything, and make it better, and keep altering things, and change it because we can", and your society would break itself (of course, too few, and nothing would change, which would be as bad or worse). Some people don't want variety and don't mind repetition. Although, your last two points (work for others, live a fulfilling life outside of the rat race) are still valid for everyone, I think.

I think the world does need people happy to stay the same - it gives our society stability. Of course, the reality of modern life is that "staying the same" is becoming less and less of an option for anyone, and not just because of outsourcing.

Comment: Browsing habits over time (Score 1) 240

by BevanFindlay (#49607951) Attached to: Chrome Passes 25% Market Share, IE and Firefox Slip

Firefox still remains my browser of choice: it has it's problems, yes, but for me, configurability is king. (Chrome, what do you mean I can't - even with an extension - mousewheel to change tabs or set up a mouse gesture to minimise the window?) And IE is a total non-starter on that front: it's rubbish defaults are pretty much all you are going to get. Things like Adblock (and now, Noscript) are essentials as far as I'm concerned, and (since Opera, see below), so is the ability to configure tabs and set up mouse gestures - it's just so much faster having proper control and the ability to configure things. This is also why Safari will never be an option: a while back, when we had a weird proxy issue, Safari was the only browser that didn't let you into the proxy config enough to fix it - the stock answer for Mac users then was "You'll have to use Firefox".

Over time, it has been something like: Netscape (for the tiny bit of my internet-accessing days where that was relevant), then Internet Explorer (because there was no choice when Netscape imploded), then Opera (this was a good decade ahead of the others in terms of features for quite some time), then Firefox (when I finally gave up on having to keep switching to IE for all those sites that didn't support Opera - at the time, Firefox was more supported in more places). And Firefox it has stayed, for a long time. Chrome has never sat well with me: too much memory hogging, not enough ability to configure it (and not as good on the extensions front); minimalism is fine for some, but I want to be able to put exactly what I want, where I want (and yes, this means I have no less than 6 buttons on my toolbar for extensions - and I use all of them).

Also, Firefox is one of the only browsers that still separates the search and URL bars. If I want to search, I will use the search bar - I do not want you trying to hit up Google Search just because the slightly unusual URL I typed doesn't look like a URL to you.

Having said this, browser use in recent times has become more heterogeneous. There are times at work that I can't avoid IE (e.g. intranet; also, specifying that IE is the only browser we should be using is an utterly retarded decision on the part of our IT department - but thankfully Portable Apps exist). Chrome tends to get used for times when we don't want to reload a session of 10+ tabs for one thing, or for video streaming, when we don't need to be multitasking. At times, it's now "whichever browser is closest", although Firefox to me is still the best, as it's one of the few that actually still lets me make decisions for myself on how the browser should behave.

This idea of Chrome-only apps that's starting to emerge is horrid. Please do not do that. (I have an Android app that I would use on the desktop as well, if it had a version for anything other than a Chrome version - it's not worth another browser just for that).

Another reason I want to keep using Firefox is that it keeps a third rendering engine in the game (although I am getting concerned that this is starting to be lost): Firefox was a hero back when it finally managed to eke out just enough market share that "Designed for Internet Explorer" ceased to be valid, and we finally saw innovation return to the browser scene (arguably, this paved the way for things like Chrome to exist). The three-way Trident/Webkit/Gecko* scene we have had has seen more browser innovation than ever, but I worry that if we drop back to only two, we might see a duopoly that stifles innovation. Oddly enough, Microsoft's decision to revamp but not go Webkit was actually worth applause I think (not that I'm going to use it) - they apparently did this because they wanted to avoid a single-browser-engine world (though the irony of that shouldn't be lost on the audience here).

*Sorry Opera, you were great, but never quite big enough to make the difference you deserved; RIP Presto.

Comment: Re:All of them (Score 1) 240

by BevanFindlay (#49607829) Attached to: Chrome Passes 25% Market Share, IE and Firefox Slip

This is actually quite a good point. As someone with more than one Gmail account (personal, business, and one through my university), having tabs with different sessions would be a really, really useful feature (Gmail's built-in ability to link accounts and switch between them is fine - if you only want one open at a time; for those of us that want a different account in each tab, useable at the same time, it doesn't work well at all).

We also use persistent sessions as it's extremely useful, but sometimes when you just want to quickly check that one thing, you don't want to wait for a browser to load 10 - 20 tabs... As a consequence of all of this, we end up with 2 (or in my wife's case) 3 browsers open. An ability to say "this tab is to be an isolated session" (isolated, not private browsing, although that can be useful for this sort of thing as well), and an ability to have a "quick-load the browser without messing with my normal session and loading everything I had open" would be two excellent solutions - unless someone knows how to do either of these?

Comment: Re:But why? (Score 1) 634

by BevanFindlay (#49572957) Attached to: How To Increase the Number of Female Engineers

The issue is that high school grades are now skewing to see girls doing much better than guys, but those "most competent" students aren't taking up the STEM jobs (arguably the most useful ones for our high-tech society). So, the logical conclusion is to try and get skilled engineers by tapping into those skilled students - who just happen to be female. The whole point of this is to increase the number of skilled engineers.

Also, from what I have seen, the more diverse a team or industry is (and this goes far beyond gender), the better it is, especially when that discipline has to deal with high complexity - which is absolutely the case with the modern tech/engineering industries. We need a wider range of types of thinking in engineering.

As for the school teachers one, there is some evidence that a mixture of male and female teachers is good for students (in particular, boys need good male role models at that age), so gender diversity specifically does have benefit.

Comment: Re:But why? (Score 1) 634

by BevanFindlay (#49572907) Attached to: How To Increase the Number of Female Engineers

This is also a problem, although one that probably isn't quite as easy to solve, as it's more socially complex. The "females in STEM" one is generally based on two factors, (a) it hasn't been advertised/understood as something they would like (which TFA is addressing), and (b) a tendency for the industry to be a bit hostile to females once they graduate. The "less males are graduating high school" problem is one that I don't think we have as many answers to, although I do know of a bunch of candidate social reasons that could be causing it. A simple one is probably that young boys are more geared to want to go out and do something than sit and comply with academic requirements (which have only got more demanding), and we have pulled back on the old-school harsh discipline that forced them to learn that, but that's far from the only factor.

We need to address both, and I think you are right that our current focus is perhaps skewed more to one than the other. But, let's encourage both, not discourage either.

Comment: Re:But why? (Score 1) 634

by BevanFindlay (#49572805) Attached to: How To Increase the Number of Female Engineers

Yes, you can have an actual citation (publication from the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand; PDF warning).

And, on the anecdotal side, as someone who has a number of female engineers as friends and who works as an engineer myself, I can say that it can be pretty sexist - sometimes not intentionally; it can be just that it's a bunch of old guys who have been working with the same bunch of old guys for the last 40 years, and so end up being a little impenetrable to outsiders, and young guys tend to be more pushy so get a better chance of getting in to those clubs. Of course, at other times, there are baby boomer engineers who don't trust female engineers because they have never worked with them, so it can get a bit more actively stifling. A female engineer has more to prove to be accepted, even if she is equally (or more) competent.

Comment: Re:But why? (Score 1) 634

by BevanFindlay (#49572729) Attached to: How To Increase the Number of Female Engineers

Here's a question though: how many people actually know what an engineer is or does? If you ask the average high school student, you will probably find that most really don't have any idea. I knew quite a few (female) classmates who really enjoyed engineering, but almost all of them had some "Aha" moment (that could easily have been missed) where they found out what engineering actually was. I know someone now who wishes she had done engineering, but didn't know what it was when she was choosing what to study.

Engineering is extremely diverse and has so many possible applications, but the general understanding of what an engineer does is really narrow, and I can understand why someone (female or not) would find that narrow idea really boring and unattractive. It wasn't until I (through a relative) realised what engineering can do for the world that I developed any interest in it - and now, I find myself wishing I had known all this earlier.

Engineering has been a pretty poorly-advertised discipline. This is starting to change (here in New Zealand, we have a bit of an advantage with the Christchurch earthquakes bringing the importance of civil engineering to the fore, but also the work of excellent people like Michelle Dickinson, aka "Nanogirl", who are working to change that). If more people knew what you could do with it, they'd be more interested. Engineering has had a very "uncool" and "boy's drinking club" look, and that needs to change.

Comment: Re:But why? (Score 1) 634

by BevanFindlay (#49572621) Attached to: How To Increase the Number of Female Engineers

I would agree with this, although it goes beyond just "males catering to males" to "what has usually been a particularly type of personality and thinking type creating courses catering to that type". The prototypical engineer has been a sequential thinker, ordered, focused more on minute details than the big picture, and used to order and predictability, and without much need of being a people person. Of course, the reality is that the world now needs engineers with management and other soft skills, and who can deal with complexity, incomplete information, and are able to be more flexible in their thinking, creative, and adaptable.

I'm completely at the other end of the sequential/globalist thinker scale to the "average" for engineers, and I really felt it with certain lecturers (feeling completely lost for an hour of derivations to only finally understand at the end of the lecture what we were aiming for - at which point I could have gone back and actually started to understand it; all it would have taken is a couple of minutes to give an outline at the start, but because of the lecturer's thinking style, they didn't cater to anyone different). On the other hand, the faculty trying to introduce subjects that tackled more management-focused topics with vaguely-defined goals ("What do you mean we have to work out what we think the assignment means?") were subjects that I enjoyed far more than most of my classmates.

I think it's good for the discipline. Engineering no longer exists as a back-room theoretical discipline now; the world has become more complex than that, and so widening to include a range of people types is good (whether that be different thinking/learning styles, or other genders, or whatever). I had female classmates who I would easily hire ahead of the guys, because they added more than just competency (they had that too; some even left me feeling a little stupid, and I'm no intellectual slouch).

Comment: Re:But why? (Score 1) 634

by BevanFindlay (#49572489) Attached to: How To Increase the Number of Female Engineers

However (and I can literally talk from first-hand experience here), if you have a goal in what you are doing, it gives a lot more motivation to slog through the stuff you don't like. I have kind of come to an uneasy peace with calculus, but hated it when I started my engineering degree (and still wouldn't describe myself as good at it). But, because I had a purpose in doing the degree (my goal with it from the start has been to get into humanitarian work), I had the motivation to do the uninteresting bits because I could see why they were important.

You are right though that the interesting stuff comes at the end though. Doesn't stop you getting through necessarily though - everyone I knew who had a purpose in it did ok on that front.

Also, was "build all the foundations" intentionally a civil engineering pun? :-)

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."