michael_cain writes: "One of the plot elements implicit in much speculative fiction is the size of the population required to support a given level of tech. Generation ships, colonies on new planets, Earth after some sort of semi-collapse. In many cases, small groups maintain a level of tech beyond what we have today: assume self-repairing self-programming super-computer AIs and it doesn't take a whole lot of humans. For today's tech, it couldn't just be eggheads; there would need to be doctors and farmers and police officers and bricklayers and... you get the idea. How big/small a "closed" society would it take to support — and be supported by — today's tech?"
michael_cain writes: "I've been asked (by family, friends) to consider several small embedded controller projects. A good starting point for all of them would be a backlit LCD graphics module with touch screen pre-mounted in a plastic enclosure with enough room behind the display for a custom circuit board. 320-by-240 pixels, 3.5 to 4.5 inch diagonal measure, monochrome is sufficient (but color is always cool), easily driven by an AVR or PIC type microcontroller. And priced at a reasonable point for a hobbyist! Anyone seen anything like this? Anyone else interested in such a widget?"
michael_cain writes: For the last 30 years, I've organized my life in a little black three-ring binder stuffed full of 8.5 x 5.5" paper: calendars, phone numbers, lists of this and that, things I'm supposed to do, etc. I'm thinking that I'd like to replace it with a tablet computer. Most of the stuff in there can no doubt be handled by one app or another. The thing I really don't want to give up is the ability to take fairly voluminous notes at various sorts of meetings, in my crabbed little handwriting and including some complicated math, graphs, sketches, and line-and-box system drawings. Is there anything out there that can handle it all? Anything on the horizon?
michael_cain writes: A friend in her mid-50s, a public policy specialist, recently told me that she felt her education had been short-changed, and asked me to make a list of the ten science and/or engineering things that "every educated person" should understand. After a little more conversation, it was clear that "Where does electricity come from?" should probably be on her list, but "What is the math behind general relativity?" shouldn't. What would Slashdot readers put on such a list, and why? There was a sort of implied "and then write the book explaining them for me" in her request; any suggestions for a book that does the job already?
michael_cain writes: We have a whole-house fan that is our principle source of summertime cooling (high dry climate, cools off quickly when the sun goes down). On-off and fan speed are controlled by connecting the "hot" lead to one of two terminals on the electric motor. The current manual controls are a simple spring-driven timer in series with a SPDT switch that controls high and low speeds — only the "hot" lead goes to the switches. My wife would like an electronic control that can be given a sequence of times and speeds — high for two hours, low for three hours, high for one hour, etc. Any suggestions for commercial or DIY approaches to the problem? And safety issues to look out for in the case of DIY? I'm experienced with microcontroller programming and can fabricate simple circuit boards, but have never done anything that was hooked directly into 120 VAC.
michael_cain writes: "I'm starting a couple of projects that will involve taking quite a lot of notes "in the field." That puts me in the market for a netbook that can run my note-taking software: a personal app written in Perl/Tk. The app currently runs — except for OS-specific things like images on the clipboard — on ActivePerl for Windows, on the standard Perl on OS X (once Tk was added), and on every flavor of Linux I've tried. I'm looking for small, light, inexpensive, passable keyboard, and long battery life. I'm OS agnostic. I don't need a lot of storage, so would prefer to go without a hard disk. Can anyone make recommendations for a netbook known to provide a good Perl/Tk platform?"