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Comment Re:Why not ditch the schooling entirely? (Score 3, Interesting) 241

There is (among others) a specific reason that HR departments have come to demand a degree: labor regulations under Fair Labor Standards Act, that set the criteria for exempt vs. non-exempt positions. Regulations have evolved so that a gating criterion for an engineering or technical occupation, to qualify as exempt, is an engineering or science degree.

One division of the regulations provides an exception for computer-related occupations. One reading of this appears to exempt most programmers from the degree requirement, but I have heard of conflicting interpretations (e.g. this exemption is intended to apply to IT work, but not to more engineer-like embedded systems work).

The alternative is the learned professional exemption. The criteria here appear to allow some latitude, but the black letter statement is that a degree in one of the sciences, engineering, theology (!), etc. qualifies a person under this exemption.

As FLSA regulations evolved, a number of companies went through job reclassifications, taking non-degreed exempt engineers to non-exempt technician titles.

I was an embedded systems developer, no degree, for 30+ years. My company shut the division that I worked for. I went back to university for a degree in physics, because I wanted something intellectually disparate from my field of work. I qualify under FLSA, but perhaps an HR department would still discount my degree as not being in CS. That said, I went back into embedded systems immediately after graduating.

As a returned adult student, I had the opportunity to observe the university as well as to attend it. There are several reasons that students are taking closer to 5 years to graduate. First, uneven preparation coming from high school. Second, a more liberal policy toward retaking failed or D-grade courses than existed in in the early 1970s. Third, especially after the economic shock of 2008+, a positive surge in enrollment coinciding with a negative surge in funding. It can be difficult to get a seat in required courses. This can turn a 1-semester wait for a course, into a 3-semester delay in degree progress.

Evidence on preparation gaps: 40% of the seats in my first semester main-sequence freshman chemistry class, went to students who dropped or failed the class. The most frequent deficiency was in basic high school algebra skills. Second might have been too much attention to alcohol and modern high-THC weed. Make that third; I think second was rapt attention to text messaging rather than to the lecture. One aspect of being a returned adult student who is doing the work, is being pulled aside to hear the professors' woes; that is where I got the 40% number.

Comment Re: What is a pocket heater anyway? (Score 3, Informative) 113

It is a device that creates thin films by vacuum deposition in specific ways that work especially well for research into the superconductive material MgB2. Arxiv has a paper co-authored by Ward Ruby that describes this. There must be at least dozens of materials scientists at national labs who could have demolished this travesty in 20 minutes.

Comment Trash toys (Score 1) 206

Someone gave me a Jawbone (competitor to Fitbit) as a gift. I refuse to use it, because it an functionally opaque piece of garbage that requires that I sign up for an online service. This nearly always means that someone plans to sell my data.

These punk-ass little toys would not survive my principal physical activity, which requires seawater immersion tolerance to at least 3 meters, and occasional water impacts at upwards of 40km/hr. The other is yoga, and I am not wearing any encumbrances during that.

I also detest wearing anything on my wrists or arms. I wear a wristwatch only during travel, or if I have an appointment, or occasionally if I need to gauge time to renew sunblock. Two of my wristwatches, ripped away by impacts, are now somewhere on the bottom of San Francisco Bay or inside some bottom-feeder.

Speaking of bottom-feeders, I have something for you, Mr. Tech CEO. The only "tracking" that I support is the tying people who propose it, onto active railroad tracks.

Comment Molecularly interesting, applications not so much (Score 2) 64

It's an interesting curiosity in a molecular sense, but is it really justified for application? Why not let room lighting be done with something optimized for luminous efficiency and subjective color, and data transfer be done in the infrared where we have cheap emitters and optical filters? Why burden a bulk illumination power supply with also being a modulator in the 10^8Hz realm?

Comment Re:the good old days... (Score 1) 784

At age 10 I would walk maybe 3 miles with a 13 year old friend, with one or the other of us openly carrying an actual firearm (.22 rifle) toward a local hill to go plinking. This was in Southern California. I once bought (at a liquor store) ammunition as a birthday gift for my friend. The clerk phoned my parents to see if it was OK. They told him that they knew about it and it was OK, and he sold me the ammo.

Today this would bring a couple of helicopters, a SWAT team, and news crews.

Comment Re:Math author dies rich... (Score 2) 170

Stewart might have been a singular phenomenon. How many textbook authors even do well, much less become wealthy?

In some sense his book evolved not to be his book, but a brand name and industry. It exists in numerous editions, some functionally variant ("Early Transcendentals"), and some specifically formulated for one institution, in addition to the arisen phenomenon of annual editions that seem cynically designed to kill the used textbook market.

Price and physical weight (clay coated paper) aside, as a returned adult undergrad I found Stewart to be a good calculus text. So, though was Hughes-Hallett, and she probably does not live in an exceptional custom house/concert hall. And there are ways in which 1970s editions of e.g. Thomas present and illuminate the subject, that were greatly helpful.

Comment Re:I don't think it's 1% (Score 1) 40

The emission is fluorescence. Some fraction of the incoming photons that get captured by the chlorophyll antenna system are absorbed, but have that energy re-radiated (at a somewhat longer wavelength after some energy loss) rather than having the energy used in photosynthesis or just absorbed and dissipated thermally. When the incident light stops, the fluorescence stops. The photosynthetic system can also emit a small amount of light after incident light stops (essentially run backwards, converting stored chemical energy back to photons), but that is not what is being measured here.

Comment Re:Helium is non renewable (Score 1) 296

In second semester undergrad physics, one of our homework problems was to examine the tail of the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution for helium at ordinary temperatures, relative to Earth escape velocity.

Nothing can replace helium, and once released to the atmosphere, it will 1) become too dilute to economically recover from the atmosphere, and 2) eventually escape into space.

Nothing especially (apart perhaps from magnetic and optical manipulations in very limited circumstances) can replace 3He as an ultimate refrigerant. Some 3He comes from natural He reservoirs, but most comes from 3H (tritium) production and decay. The decline of tritium production for nuclear weapons, has brought a corresponding decline in availability of 3He. One of my professors was in a dispute with his former institution over who owned a small cylinder of 3He from his former lab. It was at the time valued at around $16000, and was languishing uselessly in some provost's office.

Comment Not the first helium fillled drive (Score 5, Interesting) 296

In the late 1960s, DDC of San Diego made head-per-track disk drives that operated with a helium atmosphere. These units had a cylinder of helium fastened to the baseplate (the units were 19" rack mount), and the documentation included procedures for replacing the cylinder and for purging from a full-sized cylinder if it was ever necessary to open the unit for repairs.

I had driven down to San Diego circa 1978 to buy a cylinder of refill helium from DDC for one of these in a hand-me-down system, but never got around to replacing the cylinder on the drive. The cylinder sat in my garage for years. Thirty years later I was a returned adult physics student. My professor was using a similar helium cylinder to purge a cryostat for a superconducting magnet. He ran out of helium, and the department had no other helium. I told him "wait 20 minutes, I'll be back." I retrieved the cylinder from my garage, and the professor was both delighted and baffled. When connected to the regulator, the cylinder proved to have maintained a remarkable fraction of its original pressure, and the professor was able to complete his procedure. Sadly, another part of the magnet failed and suffered a gas pressure explosion as it was being cooled.

In a remarkable coincidence, I noted that the department's helium cylinder and mine were identical, all the way down to a part number stenciled on them.

I like work; it fascinates me; I can sit and look at it for hours.