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Comment: It's the product, not the strategy. (Score 1) 1

by dpbsmith (#49263057) Attached to: Does Microsoft have trojan horse strategy with Cortana?

Right, typical marketing-driven idea.

Remember the ads for the (first incarnation of) iWon.com? A search engine with a great strategy--every search you made on it entered you, for free, into a sweepstakes with a $1,000,000 prize. (The original campaign featured an office worker whispering "If I win, does my boss get the money or do I get the money?" The announcer assures her that she will get the money). Surely a fantastic strategy. Surely every office worker will switch from Google to iWon.

The only problem was that iWon's search was mediocre, while Google's continued to be good. In the end, people use search to find things.

So, put aside the clever-clever strategizing. What will determine the outcome is how good the product is. Do their technology people have technology in Cortana and Bing that is meaningfully more helpful than Siri and Google? Not just a tie, not just a debatable slim edge.

If Microsoft can make Bing as much better than Google as Google was better than Altavista, then given competent marketing they will win.

If Bing isn't much better than Google, no amount of clever strategizing will help. Marketing could not save the Zune, or the Kin, or (way back when) Microsoft Bob, because the product itself was not compelling.

You can build all the Trojan Horses you want, but they won't do a thing unless they are just so cool that the Trojans can't resist bringing them inside the gates.

Comment: Robots and washers will co-evolve (Score 2) 161

by dpbsmith (#49207777) Attached to: Why It's Almost Impossible To Teach a Robot To Do Your Laundry

I suppose the article is vaguely interesting in pointing out how tasks simple for a human are complex for a robot, but if the point is doing laundry... file it under "ornithopters" (flying machines with flapping wings), pre-Singer sewing machines that tried to mimic the way a human being sews, and so forth.

If we really wanted robots to do laundry, the house, washing machine, and robots would coevolve in all sorts of ways--starting with variations on the laundry chute to deliver the clothing to a single station where they wouldn't need to be sorted out from other clutters. (A simple chute? A conveyor belt? A drone?) Washer doors would be modified to be robot-friendly, and so forth and so on.

When marketers wanted reel-to-reel tape technology to be more automated, engineers didn't built clever gadgets to sense and catch the free end of a piece of tape, they designed tape cassettes.

In the 1990s I remember seeing "Pronto" machines in a factory carrying parts and assemblies from place to place. They didn't need video and pattern recognition, they just followed a wire embedded in the concrete floor that emitted an RF signal.

It's just system thinking. Automating a process by dropping a robot into the middle of it without changing the rest of the process is a silly constraint to put on a solution. A robot clever enough to climb stairs and operate any kind of existing washer is going to cost a lot more than a dumb robot that operates a washer designed to be operated by a robot.

Comment: IE7 was supposed to be standards-compliant... (Score 2) 166

by dpbsmith (#49143969) Attached to: Microsoft's Goals For Their New Web Rendering Engine

...wasn't it? I've sort of lost track, but I think Microsoft has made precisely this claim for every browser. Yes, here we go:

" That's your vision for IE7, to definitely support Web standards?

Chris: Absolutely, in IE7 we really are trying to support Web standards. Even at the expense of more backwards compatibility..."

Then much the same thing was said of IE8,

and then we read that
"I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised to read this post on el reg that highlights that IE9 is currently the most standards compliant beta browser on the block. Iâ(TM)m really proud of the work the IE9 team is doing to nail the the things that were previously levelled at Internet Explorer for being a 'bad browser.'"

It's the same every time. They acknowledge that the previous browser wasn't standards-compliant after all, and promise the one they are now working on is.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Comment: It's the way it's always been and always will be. (Score 1) 133

Meeting the audience's expectation, and conforming to the cultural standards of drama at the time, whatever it is, always trumps literal truth.

I remember watching a dumb old black-and-white movie with my brother when I was a kid. I was the one who "knew about science." Someone was using a metal detector with a search coil, and it was dramatically "right" for them to find something. My brother says "Tick. Tick. Tick. Tickticktickticktick." I say, "Oh, no. That's a Geiger counter. This is a metal detector, and it does "Wheeeee-oooh, because the metal changes the resonant frequency of the coil and the oscillator--"

--and the metal detector goes "Tick. Tick. Tick. Tickticktickticktick."

Comment: They should honor the acceptances. (Score 1) 131

by dpbsmith (#49087605) Attached to: Carnegie-Mellon Sends Hundreds of Acceptance Letters By Mistake

If the applicant is seriously underqualified and likely to fail, they should say so, give the specific reasons, and advise them not to enter the program.

Nevertheless, if they've actually sent out an acceptance--if it wasn't a forgery--they should honor the acceptance.

It's the right thing to do.

Comment: Spinthariscopes and such (Score 1) 286

by dpbsmith (#49076981) Attached to: 1950s Toy That Included Actual Uranium Ore Goes On Display At Museum

I was born slightly too late to buy a "spinthariscope," a toy consisting of a zinc sulfide screen, a loupe-like magnifying glass, and a radiation source--quite possibly radium.

So, I made my own. We had a microscope, I had a Westclox Baby Ben with a luminous dial, I used a penknife to chip off a bit of the luminous paint, put it under the microscope, and turned out the light. Instead of a glowing dial, I could now see, clearly, individual flashes of lights.

I don't know where the Gilbert kit fits on the scale of danger, but I also had a geiger counter kit, and the instruction booklet had directions for how to keep records of background radiation and detect fallout from bomb tests. On the whole, I think we were subjected to more danger from bomb tests than from science kits.

Comment: A shame. Arduino kits and a better parts selection (Score 3, Insightful) 294

by dpbsmith (#48994637) Attached to: Radioshack Declares Bankruptcy

A shame. I was just starting to think it was making a modest return to its roots.

When I visited one a few months ago, they had quite a decent little display of Makershed Arduino kits and books about the Arduino, and they had a kind of dense metal cabinet with shallow drawers filled with individual parts, a much larger selection than they used to have hanging on pegs in blister packs.

I needed a new soldering iron and I bought one there.

Comment: It underwhelms BECAUSE people prepared. (Score 1) 397

by dpbsmith (#48918025) Attached to: "Mammoth Snow Storm" Underwhelms

Close to 2 feet here and still coming down.

I think people forget just how quickly a snowstorm can get serious if people don't stay off the road. If the plows can't keep up, you are driving first through a light dusting, then an inch, then a couple of inches. Sooner or later cars start to skid. Or, you will have a chunk of interstate that uphill and ONE car isn't able to make it up the hill, stops, cars behind it stop, etc.

Maybe it's not "historic" but it's a big serious snowstorm.

Comment: Re:Joke? (Score 1) 790

by dpbsmith (#48784195) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Sounds We Don't Hear Any More?

The joke is for most of the song the typewriter is making convincingly realistic noises, but in a few places it makes sequences of sounds and rhythms that are impossible for a real typewriter. For example, a bridge passage:

-- taptaptaptap ding! (zip) taptaptaptap, taptap
-- taptaptaptap ding! (zip) taptaptaptap, taptap
-- taptaptaptap dingding! (zip) taptaptaptap, taptap...

A real typewriter couldn't make two rapidfire Dings! in a row.

Near the end, there are several measures in which the bell rings after only three keystrokes, and without the carriage return sound, also impossible:

tapatap-ding! tapatap-ding! tapatap-ding!

To someone familiar with the sound of a typewriter, when you hear the music you think "ah, a typewriter--WHOA? WHAT WAS THAT?"

It's similar to the disruption of the tick-tock pattern in "The Syncopated Clock."

Comment: 60 Hz. hum in audio equipment (Score 2) 790

by dpbsmith (#48784091) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Sounds We Don't Hear Any More?

Up until perhaps about the year 2000, almost everything electronic with a speaker that plugged into the wall, except for really good audiophile equipment, had a faint 60 Hz. hum audible during periods of silence in the program material. One easily learned to ignore it, but it was there. (It was very hard to avoid it in phonograph cartridges, for example).

The ubiquity of 60-Hz hum (or 60-cycle hum as it was called then) was the basis of a plot point in Theodore Sturgeon's psychoanalytic SF story, "The Other Man," for example.

Comment: Movie projector. Reel-to-reel tape recorder. (Score 4, Interesting) 790

by dpbsmith (#48784027) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Sounds We Don't Hear Any More?

The very characteristic rattle of a motion picture projector--most familiar from 16 mm projectors in classrooms or 8 mm projectors showing home movies, but also faintly audible in many movie theatres. Probably around 1900 to 1980 or so.

The whine of a reel-to-reel tape recorder rewinding, rising in pitch as the diameter of the remaining tape decrees, followed by the dramatic snapping noise as the end of the tape comes off the reel. 1945 to 1990 maybe.

Comment: "Snap-ah-ah" (Score 4, Interesting) 790

by dpbsmith (#48784003) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Sounds We Don't Hear Any More?

"As he relaxed, he was pierced by the familiar and irritating rattle of some one cranking a Ford: snap-ah-ah, snap-ah-ah, snap-ah-ah. Himself a pious motorist, Babbitt cranked with the unseen driver, with him waited through taut hours for the roar of the starting engine, with him agonized as the roar ceased and again began the infernal patient snap-ah-ahâ"a round, flat sound, a shivering cold-morning sound, a sound infuriating and inescapable. Not till the rising voice of the motor told him that the Ford was moving was he released from the panting tension."--Sinclair Lewis, "Babbitt"

Comment: Unreliability of your perception of things you see (Score 3, Interesting) 197

by dpbsmith (#48701059) Attached to: CIA on UFO Sightings: 'It Was Us'

If you look at one of those Internet compilations of Photos you really need to look at to understand, it is very impressive just how confused you can be by chance juxtapositions of visual elements.

#18 is particularly interesting. It's not a precise juxtaposition. The shadow looks like the shadow of a flag; it's not shaped like the rug. You can understand intellectually what's happening in about five seconds. And yet it takes a real effort of will to perceive the rug is lying on the sand. Relax for an instant and it once again looks as if it is levitating.

+ - Ask Slashdot: Best Wireless LED Lights Setup?

Submitted by Anonymous Coward
An anonymous reader writes "I want to get a jump-start on next year's Christmas by wiring up my mother's gnome garden for a Christmas light show. I need a setup that can use wireless LED lights and speakers, the lights using a custom sequence set to music, that can be controlled remotely indoors to go off on a schedule, say every hour. Do any Slashdot readers know of an off-the-shelf setup that is cheap and works seamlessly, especially for someone with little to no coding or custom building experience?"

"I think Michael is like litmus paper - he's always trying to learn." -- Elizabeth Taylor, absurd non-sequitir about Michael Jackson

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