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Comment: Re:Sentimental claptrap (Score 1) 91

by Fortran IV (#48524703) Attached to: Why Pluto Still Matters
There's some justification for considering the Earth-Moon system just that: a binary planet. The Moon wouldn't have to be a great deal larger for the barycenter of the Earth-Moon system to be above the Earth's surface. Mercury's only about four times more massive than the Moon, and nobody disputes that it's a planet.

Comment: Re:The Oracle (Score 5, Informative) 226

by Fortran IV (#44409667) Attached to: Signs Point To XKCD's Time Ending
Actually, "Time" appears to have been set in the remote future, about 11 millenia from today, after Gibraltar Strait has already been closed up again for a thousand years or more (no back story for that was ever given). At one point the comic presented nearly a hundred frames of night sky, with recognizable planets and constellations. Readers versed in astronomy were able to find a date 11,000 years ahead, with consistent displacements for nearby stars (within the limits of a 553x395 image resolution). Also, the castle of the "oracle" (nicknamed Rosetta in the forum thread, after her role as a translator) appeared to be the Chateau d'If of Count of Monte Cristo fame, in Marseilles harbor.

Comment: What the chirp is wrong with people? (Score 5, Insightful) 226

by Fortran IV (#44409607) Attached to: Signs Point To XKCD's Time Ending

It's a comic, guys. I don't read Cathy, but I don't feel obliged to mustard all over Cathy Guisewite because her comic doesn't amuse me. Why do people dump so hard on xkcd and Randall Munroe? If you don't like the comic, don't read it, and don't read Slashdot articles about it—and shut the chirp up and let the rest of us enjoy it in peace.

I found it fun. That's all. It was fun. It was original, and intriguing, and a little challenging, and a nice change of mood when I got home from work (or when I needed a break at work).

And it was something I don't believe any webcomic had ever done before. When I submitted the original Slashdot story about "Time", I thought that aspect might interest people. Instead, the story got the same sort of molpy-chirping geek-elitist hate posts that this one is gathering.

For the record: "Time" was followed by college students and septuagenarians (I'm in my 50s, and xkcd regularly makes me laugh). Musicians, math teachers, writers, and astronomers contributed to the forum thread. The last figure we saw was that over 2 million words of original material had been posted to the thread. We weren't doing it for geek cred; we were doing it because we enjoyed ourselves.

Grow up a little, guys, OK?

+ - Milk Consumption is falling in the US every year now

Submitted by Jacob Freer-Balko
Jacob Freer-Balko (2914983) writes "Despite 20 years of “Got Milk?” mustache ads, milk consumption in the US falls more every year. The National Dairy Promotion and Research Program and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Program cite competition from calcium-fortied and vitamin-enhanced beverages, milk’s lack of availability “in many eating establishments” (You can’t find milk anywhere!) and a growing percentage of African Americans and Latinos in the US population who are not traditionally big milk consumers."

+ - xkcd's long-running "Time" comic: Work of art or nerd sniping?

Submitted by Fortran IV
Fortran IV (737299) writes "Randall Munroe's xkcd webcomic has done some odd things before, but #1190, "Time," is something special. It's a time-lapse movie of two people building a sandcastle that's been updating just once an hour (twice an hour in the beginning) for well over a month (since March 25th), and after over a thousand frames shows no sign of ending; in a few days the number of frames will surpass the total number of xkcd comics. It's been mentioned in The Economist. Some of its readers have called it the One True Comic; others have called it a MMONS (Massively Multiplayer Online Nerd Sniping). It's sparked its own wiki, its own jargon (Timewaiters, newpix, Blitzgirling), and a thread on the xkcd user forum that runs to over 20,000 posts from 1100 distinct posters. Is "Time" a fascinating work of art, a deep sociological experiment—or the longest-running shaggy-dog joke in history? Randall Munroe's not saying."

Comment: Before Smith there was Murray Leinster (Score 1) 1244

by Fortran IV (#39280713) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Good, Forgotten Fantasy & Science Fiction Novels?

Murray Leinster (pen name of Will Jenkins) is probably the most overlooked hard science fiction writer of the 20th century. His stories featured both deeply human characters and hard technical edges. His stories seem pretty sexist by today's standards: women exist largely as motivations for the male heroes. But in his case I think that was more a product of the market than of his personal attitudes—he sold his first story in 1919, at the height of the pulps, the year before Doc Smith finished Skylark of Space. Unlike many early pulp writers, Leinster survived the advent of John W. Campbell, and thrived into the late Sixties. He did it by being incredibly imaginative, yet painstakingly realistic and technically accurate.

In Proxima Centauri, Leinster described an attack on a human ship by aliens. They used intense 30cm microwave beams to try kill the human crew; when that attack was unexpectedly blocked by the human ship's metal hull (the aliens used cellulose), they switched to heating the metal hull by hysteresis effects from focused radio waves. He vividly (and fairly accurately, as far as I can judge today) described the effects of a molten hull rupturing in vacuum from the pressure of heated air inside. The ship itself was powered by disintegration of matter into pure energy, and had traveled from Earth to Proxima Centauri by seven years of constant acceleration and deceleration at 1 gravity. Proxima Centauri was published in 1935, four years before Lise Meitner made the first correct analysis of nuclear fission—and four years before Robert Heinlein sold his first story.

I think it was in 1952's Space Ferry, a decade before the Mercury program, that one of Leinster's characters correctly forecast the image that the government would want for its astronauts: Big, heroic men. The character himself was a midget, who pointed out how midgets would make much more practical astronauts, because they required less space, consumed less food, water, and oxygen, and—most importantly—massed less and thus required less thrust to lift. NASA still hasn't taken the hint.

Operation: Outer Space was a semi-comic, semi-satirical novel in which the exploration of deep space is led by a television executive, because it's easier to pay the expense of space exploration if it sells a lot of advertising time. That one came out in 1954.

Leinster practically invented some of the sub-genres of SF. He wrote about alternate-history parallel time-lines in 1934, over a decade before H. Beam Piper. He wrote a benchmark first-contact story—named First Contact—in 1945: If you meet an alien in deep space, where neither of you knows the other's home planet, how can both of you get safely home without revealing where you came from? In A Logic Named Joe from 1946, one of the very few early computer stories that doesn't describe a massive computer running the entire world, he described something very like the modern internet for consumers—especially Wikipedia. He wrote a lengthy series of medical SF stories, a subgenre that he and Michael Crichton still have practically to themselves.

In short, Murray Leinster wrote a hell of a lot of entertaining and imaginative fiction, much of it years or even decades ahead of its time. He's worth digging up.

(By the way: If you want others, check out George Willick's Spacelight website, a listing of all the best dead SF authors.)

Comment: No Google account, but what ELSE have I had? (Score 4, Interesting) 238

by Fortran IV (#39129845) Attached to: Last Day To Tell Google To Forget You

I've read a dozen different articles about this, and I still can't tell: If I have a YouTube account but I've never had a "Google account," does this affect me at all?

One article mentioned "57 services" run by Google, but nobody's listed them. How do I know that I don't have an account at a site (like YouTube) Google owns but doesn't explicitly brand? I'd practically forgotten that YouTube was Google's...

Comment: Re:Who still pays for antivirus? (Score 1) 391

by Fortran IV (#38680286) Attached to: Symantec Sued For Running Fake "Scareware" Scans

It's all about which sites one visits.

So you never visit sites like Yahoo, Google,, Monster, Fox, US News, or the New York Times? All of these have been reported as serving up tainted ads at one time or another in the last couple of years.

There's much more to keeping secure than not visiting porn sites or clicking random links. Even CNET has been installing unwanted toolbars lately.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl