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Comment: Glyn Moody hit and missed the point simultaneously (Score 3, Interesting) 911

by Mark Programmer (#26966231) Attached to: EU Says MS Must Offer Other Browsers; Now What?

I think the most significant line in the slashdot article is this:

"But having the option to install Firefox, say, is useless unless people know what it is."

But Glyn then goes on to suggest some kind of publicity campaign, which misses the point of this entire inane EU process. Because if a publicity campaign were useful, it should be done regardless of this ruling.

The average user does not, and continues to not, care. For those of us who do care, we know how to install Firefox and don't need Microsoft or the European governments to hand-hold us through the process. This EU process been one big, fat waste of time.

Even if Microsoft offers a version of Windows that lets users choose explicitly to install IE or Firefox (and I guess, what, Opera as well? Safari? Chrome?), I bet you good money that most users will choose "Microsoft Internet Explorer" because it has Microsoft in the title. As in, faced with this bogus non-option, an ignorant user will choose the program that was written by the operating system vendor.

And I mean this bet literally, because when I write web browser plugins I make sure they support IE first. It's the browser most people have because most people don't care. Until and unless the EU makes Microsoft bundle Firefox to the exclusion of IE---a move that hardly seems fair by any rational metric---most users will still use the most convenient option, because most users simply don't care. End of story.

An advertising campaign that would sell Firefox needs to begin by making people care about their web browser as an application, then explain why Firefox is a better application for browsing the web. History suggests it's an uphill battle.

Incidentally, the fortune file entry at the bottom of my article listing right now is "bureaucracy, n: A method for transforming energy into solid waste." How appropriate.

Comment: Simulate the Geiger-Marsden experiment (Score 1) 249

by Mark Programmer (#26890955) Attached to: Physics Experiments To Inspire Undergraduates?

I had a pair of very good professors for freshman physics in college. They were heavily into using computers to simulate the classic experiments; we had several labs where we would build computer simulations using VPython (http://vpython.org/) and then compare the results generated by the simulation with the data generated in the original laboratory experiments.

Of these projects, my favorite was the Rutherford gold-foil experiment, a.k.a. Geigerâ"Marsden experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geiger-Marsden_experiment). The simulation basically involved floating an "atomic nucleus" in space and then firing "alpha particles" at the nucleus with a uniformly-distributed random offset in the y-axis. Running a thousand alpha particles past the nucleus and then plotting their vertical displacement when the horizontal displacement exceeded a meter gave a stiatistical distribution matching the original experiment.

But the interesting trick to the whole simulation: running it slowly made it easy to see the alpha particles deflect as they interacted with the electric field of the gold nucleus. But cranking the rate of simulation up until several alpha particles were created and deflected per second created an interesting visual effect: the particles were no longer bending away from the nucleus, they were bouncing off of an invisible "surface" of average minimum distance. For me, this was the first time I gained an intuitive grasp of the relationship between electric fields and the reason I can't pass my hand through a table's surface.

These sorts of experiments are subtle and difficult to reproduce with real instruments, but their results are profound. I highly recommend computer simulation to iron out the complexities of real-world hardware.

Comment: Re:Actually it is exactly like that (Score 2, Insightful) 713

by Mark Programmer (#26271627) Attached to: Oregon Governor Proposes Vehicle Mileage Tax

That is a very good point. My original question disregarded non-essential travel, imagining fuel as a fixed-consumption good. This is what I meant when I referred to it as a 'staple;' I'm unfortunately failing to recall the term for a good with an inflexible rate of consumption.

However, even though fuel is not fixed-consumption, it seems that this policy would also depress travel; taxing the mileage should discourage people from traveling in a similar way to taxing the fuel.

  A better question would be "Wouldn't taxing miles instead of fuel also bend the market and depress travel? If it would, why not just keep taxing fuel, since we already have a system in place to do so?"

Comment: Why not raise the tax on gas? (Score 3, Insightful) 713

by Mark Programmer (#26271369) Attached to: Oregon Governor Proposes Vehicle Mileage Tax

It seems to me that if you tax a staple good, and people will be consuming less of that staple good due to an increase in efficiency... meaning you'll bring in less money from those taxes...

Then you raise the tax. What's the downside? It's not like people are going to consume less gas if the tax goes up.

Arguably, cranking the tax could also lead to people holding onto junker cars for sentimental reasons replacing them or repairing their engines. So really, it's win-win.

Remember the good old days, when CPU was singular?

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