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+ - Book Review: Lauren Ipsum

Submitted by MassDosage
MassDosage (1967508) writes "Lauren Ipsum (A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things) Book Review by Mass Dosage

As the full title to Lauren Ipsum (A story about Computer Science and Other Improbable Things) indicates, this is a book about Computer Science but what’s surprising about it is that it manages to be about Computer Science without actually ever directly referring to the subject or even to computers at all. It is in fact a fictional story about a young girl called Lauren who gets lost after wandering into a forest near her house after an argument with her mother. She stumbles into a world populated with all kinds of strange creatures and colourful characters some of whom she befriends in order to figure out how to get back to her home. The “figuring out” part of the plot is where things get interesting as she has many attempts at solving this problem with different characters giving her often contradictory advice and Lauren then has to decide what exactly she’s trying to do and which of the various possible solutions is the best. This involves a fair amount of trial and error, learning from certain mistakes and trying different approaches. If this is starting to sound familiar to those who have written software then that’s the whole point. Lauren Ipsum is cunningly littered with references to Computer Science and in particular to things like algorithms, logic puzzles and many other of the theoretical underpinnings of the subject.

In the course of her adventures Lauren encounters characters like Xor the chameleon, Hugh Rustic the shop owner, a flock of round Robins and a Wandering Salesman. Anyone who knows a bit about computer science will be aware of the topics that are being alluded to here. This is also evident in some of the places she visits — a forest made up of red and black trees, the Island of Byzantium and a Garden of Forking Paths. All these insider references are obviously more enjoyable if you know the subject but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t get them as the story itself is separate from all the in-jokes. It’s also almost certainly the intention of the authors to stimulate people to look up some of the things they refer to and thus learn more about computer science. Lauren Ipsum can thus be read on two levels — one as a straightforward adventure story and the other as a “find and research the hidden references” book. The title of the book is itself a play on words of “Lorem Ipsum” which I’ll leave you to read up on on your own.

The chapter I enjoyed the most was one that covered building up a solution to a problem by breaking it down into smaller pieces and then combining these to come up with the final answer. In the book Lauren first learns how to draw a line and then that she can then draw and connect four of these to make a square. Even better is the discussion of the seemingly simple task of how to draw a circle which demonstrates that there are different ways of doing this, each having their own pros and cons. The solutions can be easily described as a set of steps and the question of how to control the size of the circle can be specified separately from the steps themselves. This is done without referring to any of the technical terms directly (one of the first chapters in the book is all about avoiding jargon) however what is actually being described will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has written some code — namely algorithms,algorithmic complexity, variables and parameter passing. This is quite a different way of illustrating programming concepts instead of the usual manner which involves lots of theory and code examples. Lauren Ipsum’s approach offers a much lower learning curve with simple story driven metaphors that can then be applied practically later.

The target audience of the book is probably children from around the age of 8 and up with the intention being to spark an interest in computers without the intimidation and possible connotations of boredom that a textbook might evoke. The story is entertaining but relatively simple and most of the more serious subject matter is just touched on in passing. There is an Appendix at the end which covers a few of the topics in more technical and mathematical detail but there is plenty that isn’t covered and it is up to the reader whether they want to find out more in their own way.

I found Lauren Ipsum an entertaining read, even though some of the computer science references are a bit forced. I ended up looking up a few things I wasn’t entirely sure about and learnt something new in the process and I can imagine this being even more the case for someone new to the subject. Even if the reader isn’t an aspiring geek-to-be there should be enough in the story here for them to enjoy and maybe help convince them that Computer Science can actually be fun or at the very least give them a taste for why problem solving is interesting and useful.

Full disclosure: I was given a copy of this book free of charge by the publisher for review purposes. They placed no restrictions on what I could say and left me to be as critical as I wanted so the above review is my own honest opinion."

Comment: single payer yes, but baby steps... (Score 0) 211

by Ionized (#49096115) Attached to: 800,000 Using Were Sent Incorrect Tax Data

I surely hope that we make it to a single payer system in my lifetime, but there is no way in hell that you could have gotten something like that passed out of the blue.

think of obamacare as a road towards single payer. a shitty road perhaps, one filled with potholes, but one that i am happy to take nonetheless.

+ - Nuclear plants delayed in China, watched closely by US firms->

Submitted by mdsolar
mdsolar (1045926) writes "U.S. power companies struggling with the escalating costs of building nuclear plants are closely watching similar efforts in China, where officials are expecting delays.

Two plants under construction in Sanmen and Haiyang, China, are the first-ever built using Westinghouse Electric Co.'s AP1000 reactor design. Utility companies in Georgia and South Carolina are building two similar plants in the United States using a very similar design. Since the project in China is father along, U.S. executives and safety regulators watch it closely.

Officials at China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. blame the delays on the late delivery of equipment from the United States. Westinghouse Electric Co. and project manufacturers are working to redesign a coolant pump for the plant.

Chinese officials are building a fleet of nuclear plants as they aim to produce a fifth of their country's electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

"Because it is the first of this kind in the world, it is normal to have some delay," said Guo Hongbo, director of the firm's general office. He was vague on how long the delays may last. "It is not a problem whether the delay is one year or two years. The technological breakthrough will be utterly valuable to the development of ... world nuclear power."

The projects in the United States are already under cost pressure. Westinghouse Electric Co. and Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. expect construction of two new AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia will go three years beyond the approved schedule, according to financial filings. Southern Co., which owns a 46 percent stake in the plant, and the plant's other owners have not accepted that timeline.

Regulators in Georgia estimate the latest delays could push Southern Co.'s share of spending on the plant from $6.1 billion to more than $8 billion.

A sister plant owned by SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper in South Carolina has run into similar delays and cost overruns."

Link to Original Source

Comment: Re: Fraudulent herbal supplements? (Score 1) 412

by Ionized (#48974759) Attached to: Major Retailers Accused of Selling Fraudulent Herbal Supplements

So you would support a measure requiring all foods packaged by black folks be labeled as such? So those who don't want to eat such foods could avoid them? Oh, you don't? How is it different?

As for passing horse meat off as beef, well that's flat out lying, and clearly different. If they want to sell it as 'meat' without specifying the animal, that's fine by me.

Comment: Re:Fraud is ok as long as you are honest about it (Score 1) 412

by Ionized (#48974349) Attached to: Major Retailers Accused of Selling Fraudulent Herbal Supplements

Anyway, my point is, don't be so quick to dismiss homeopathic remedies.

i do not think that word means what you think it means. we should all HEARTILY dismiss homeopathic remedies, because they are quite literally selling you filtered water. a 13C homeopathic solution means whatever active ingredient used to be in the original solution has been diluted 1:10^26. (Avogadro's number is on the order of 10^23). homepathic companies should all be lined up and shot in a ditch for being horribly evil - those who purposely give false hope.

elderberry extract, ginseng, valerian root, etc etc are natural herbal remedies, which is NOT the same as homeopathy. herbal remedies are a mixed bag, because anyone can slap something in a bottle and call it an herbal remedy - and many companies do just that. certainly, SOME herbs do have beneficial effects on the body.

Comment: Re:Fraudulent herbal supplements? (Score 2) 412

by Ionized (#48974131) Attached to: Major Retailers Accused of Selling Fraudulent Herbal Supplements

The concern is that people would avoid GMO products based on fear and prejudice rather than any actual science behind it.

What if we required labels that said 'this product was packaged by black people' ? I mean, what's the harm in putting a label that factually describes an item?

If there is no factual relevance to the labeling, then there is no reason to require it on the packaging.

Whether GMO falls into this camp or not is a separate debate, but if you accept that GMO foods are just as safe as anything else (signs point to yes in most cases), then labels should not be required.

Comment: Re:Rubbish, and reversed (Score 4, Informative) 154

by Ionized (#48834847) Attached to: The Anthropocene Epoch Began With 1945 Atomic Bomb Test, Scientists Say

the detonation of the atomic bomb is a perfectly reasonable way to mark the beginning of a new epoch, because there is a very real and easily identifiable geologic marker for that event (radioactive isotopes & plastic in the topsoil.) if millions of years from now aliens discovered our planet and looked through geological data, and wanted to classify periods based on that data, it's a safe bet that the sudden proliferation of radioactive isotopes and appearance of an entirely new substance (plastic) would be something that they noticed.

as for the necessity of defining a new epoch - would you deny that humans have profoundly changed the planet? no value judgements being made here, just straight facts, the planet is WAY FUCKING DIFFERENT than it was 1000 years ago due to human population explosions and human construction. also, lots of newly-extinct species.

but, i at least agree with you about nuclear power being the solution to a lot of our problems, if we would stop being such pussies about it. that has nothing to do with the topic at hand, though.

Comment: Re:Real world results? (Score 1) 340

by Ionized (#48834065) Attached to: Researchers "Solve" Texas Hold'Em, Create Perfect Robotic Player

that's because humans are terribly bad at sticking to a gameplan or making 'random' decisions.

the correct play in many situations is going to be something like "based on the current size of the pot, and that it costs $X to call, i should raise 20% of the time, call 40% of the time, fold 40% of the time" because that is what a simple lookup table will tell you. math doesn't lie and can't be bluffed or intimidated.

a computer is shockingly effective at sticking to a gameplan like that and otherwise completely ignoring the opponent's actions. humans, not so much. the computer simply cannot be exploited and you cannot out-strategize it. the best you can do is break even.

note that perfect-play only means 'dont ever lose' which is totally different from 'win the most you can.' a really good human poker player is going to be much better at fleecing noobs than this bot, but this bot will always slowly beat anyone, even the best of the best, unless they also play perfectly (and thus tie.)

Comment: Re:Yes, but... (Score 1) 340

by Ionized (#48833935) Attached to: Researchers "Solve" Texas Hold'Em, Create Perfect Robotic Player

you will be bled dry before you hit a big hand. we are talking heads up short stack. you can only afford like 10 - 20 blinds total before you are out! good luck waiting on AK!

the ironic thing is, you will probably hit your AK after you have been bled down to like 2x the big blind. congrats, you just doubled up! your opponent is still sitting on a stack 10x your size. better hope your next two hands are AK too!

Comment: Re:Bets (Score 1) 340

by Ionized (#48833785) Attached to: Researchers "Solve" Texas Hold'Em, Create Perfect Robotic Player

if hand = [2, 7] {
            int x = Math.random();
            if (x > 0.97) {
            elseif (x > 0.9) {
            else {

there, you just got bluffed by a robot. easy peasy!

Comment: Re: Bets (Score 1) 340

by Ionized (#48833699) Attached to: Researchers "Solve" Texas Hold'Em, Create Perfect Robotic Player

the robot is actually far better at making rational decisions than you are. the robot is not intimidated, cannot be bluffed. it does not care what you do, it just makes the best play in every situation.

the best play will not be 'if my hand is X and the table is Y, always fold'. you are correct that you could potentially exploit completely predictable behavior. that would not be a perfectly-playing robot.

the best play will be 'if my hand is X and the table is Y, fold 75% of the time, call 15% of the time, raise 10% of the time'

you cannot outsmart that strategy, you cannot trick it, you cannot even 'read' it - the best you can do is also play the odds perfectly.

otherwise you will slowly lose all your money.

+ - A Cheap, Durable Robot Hand With An Adaptable Grip

Submitted by Anonymous Coward
An anonymous reader writes "Building robot hands that mimic human ones may not be doing robotic grasping any favors. Authors from iRobot, Harvard and Yale describe the success they've had with an underactuated, three fingered hand. It doesn't look human, but thanks to a design that prioritizes flexibility and adaptability, it can do a lot of the same jobs with a lot less programming than previous models."

"Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!" -- Looney Tunes, "What's Opera Doc?" (1957, Chuck Jones)