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Comment Re:Trend towards illegibility (Score 1) 147

This has actually been going on a long time and not just for websites. Magazines have been doing it for ages. For example, I remember when BYTE computer magazine (for those who remember it!) changed their font to a real lightweight font. A lot of people complained, but BYTE responded, like everyone does, that user testing had shown that readers preferred the lightweight fonts. My problem was that if the light was reflecting off the page at the wrong angle, the text was unreadable. (And most places you can't control the location of the lighting.) I agree with you, though, that the trend with websites is especially aggravating.

Comment Re:How about we treat the rest of the world better (Score 1) 343

"... voting in some guy advocating we cut our losses and run, before the Iraqis where able to defend themselves."

The withdrawal and its timeline were negotiated by the Bush Administration. The Iraqis wanted us out anyway and Obama, like Bush and all True-Blooded Americans®, wouldn't, in the event of an extension, consent to our troops being held accountable to Iraqi law enforcement and justice should they happen to break the law.

Besides, "cut our losses and run" reminds me of Reagan and Lebanon ...

Comment Re:Pascal (Score 1) 414

It *was* used in real life (and probably still is in its Delphi incarnation). Back in the 1980s, I worked on the building of the Landsat 4/5 image processing ground system for NASA. Part of that included integrating with a *large* geographical information system written in Pascal and running under VAX/VMS. Plus everyone and his/her brother used TurboPascal on PCs for real-world applications. My only use of Pascal was in college and I remember string processing in strict Pascal in our compiler course was a real pain in the neck. I imagine commercial versions of Pascal relaxed some of the restrictions.

Comment Re:Smalltalk (Score 1) 414

Yes. Maybe 15 years ago, I read some articles that gave me the impression that Smalltalk had found not insignificant use in financial institutions. Your example may indicate that that is still the case.

Comment Re:Older people who feel in love with basic on c64 (Score 1) 112

In the mid-1980s, I worked with a lady who had previously programmed a VIC-20 to replace a Telex machine. In the late 1990s, we were building a ground system for a communications satellite; the company building the satellite supplied us with test telemetry from the yet-to-be-launched satellite on a tape cassette along with a Commodore cassette storage device. (Not the earlier device I had for my VIC-20 that looked like a Kleenex box, but the later one that was about the size of a book and had rounded corners and edges.)

Comment Re:Or don't (Score 1) 148

I largely agree with your points except ... My eReader is an old, non-eInk Aluratek Libre that still works to my satisfaction. (The screen is like a monochrome Palm Pilot with smooth page transitions, unlike the eInk readers I looked at when I bought the Libre. The saleswoman at Borders tried to tell me that the seizure-inducing flashing between pages on the eInk readers was a feature intended to give me the experience of turning the page in a real book! I gave her credit for trying!) The Libre can read EPUB, PDF, and text files, but it doesn't handle hypertext links. When reading sequentially, the Libre is quick and smooth. Trying to go to "footnotes" or a glossary at the end of a book (or worse, at the end of a chapter)--and then returning back to the main text--is so painfully slow and awkward that it's not remotely feasible.

Are newer eReaders better/faster at this? I've looked at public-display-model NOOK readers at Barnes & Noble and, when reading pages sequentially, they weren't noticeably faster and were definitely less smooth than my Libre (in my subjective impressions). I don't remember the sample books on the display models having footnotes, so I didn't check that capability out.

(And, of course, real books are great for jumping back and locating a section you read earlier in order to refresh your memory, looking at appendices, skipping around in endnotes, looking up something in the index, etc.)

Comment "Corporations Became People You Can't Sue" (Score 1) 119

The following article describes the legal rise of arbitration eliminating class action suits.

Washington Monthly, June/July/August 2014
"Thrown Out of Court: How corporations became people you can't sue." by Lina Khan

Interestingly, a recent post at Washington Monthly reported that we have "Sharia" law in the U.S., as some companies require that arbitration be through religious mediators. (In the cases mentioned, Christian and Scientology arbitrators.)


Comment Re: Opera 12 (Score 2) 100

Yes. I was a long-time Opera user; used to pay for it on Windows (version 3?) and then, when it came out, I paid for the Linux version. I loved the bookmark system in the 12 and below versions. Like you, I had themes: folders and subfolders for certain topics. For example, a programming folder with different language/platform subfolders. Nearly everything was possible with just the mouse. To bookmark a page, you simply moused down to the desired sub-sub-folder, for instance, and clicked the bookmark-current-page-here entry. Ditto for locating and visiting a bookmarked page. I very rarely had to type anything: very rarely to search for a bookmark and just occasionally to rename the title of a page I was bookmarking.

I stayed on Opera 11.64 (there was some annoyance in 12) until about 6 months ago, when, because of an increasing number of page-rendering problems, I began trying out various browsers (including Vivaldi and Otter), and finally settled on Pale Moon (on Windows and Linux). I imported my Opera bookmarks and I can get close to the Opera bookmarking experience, but it's still not as smooth as the old Opera was.

Comment Re:Typing versus Reading (Score 1) 304

I feel compelled to defend grade-school teachers. I remember reading a small book by Alfred North Whitehead in which he said that mathematicians were notoriously bad at arithmetic (i.e., basic math). (If you aren't familiar with Whitehead, he and Bertrand Russell wrote Principia Mathematica, published beginning in 1910.) Teachers are obviously in good company. And, in my experience back in the 1960s and early 1970s, my grade-school teachers were quite good at their subject fields.

I'm reminded of a letter to the editor in the Communications of the ACM back in the 1980s when a computer person (who generally had and have remarkable salaries) complained (i) about the salaries teachers were getting paid and (ii) that some math teachers, for example, had the gall to describe functions as lenses. As a former avid photographer, I had come to view functions the same way--on my own, it was not something I had ever heard anyone else say, not even a teacher; i.e, a function focuses values from the domain onto values in the range. It's not an exact analogy, but I still picture it in my head that way.

(Of interest to photographers perhaps: back in the early 1970s, Popular Photography, I think, sliced a 35mm SLR in half, shone lasers into the multi-element lens, blew cigarette smoke into the SLR to make the lasers visible, and took a photograph of the laser beams being focused on the focal plane. Not exactly on the focal plane because the lens elements had been knocked slightly out of whack in the process of cutting the SLR in half. It was pretty cool!)

Comment Re:Well, why not? (Score 1) 75

When I got seriously interested in computers back in the late 1970s, among the first books I read were the late Daniel McCracken's books on Algol, Fortran, and his classic on COBOL. I actually used Algol (NU-ALGOL) in our file processing course at the University of Maryland (my fellow students used Fortran-66) and COBOL for our database course circa 1980 (to create and access network databases--Codasyl?). COBOL wasn't bad and certainly wasn't terrible (like Java, I'll agree!). Although my favorite languages are probably C and Scheme, I've got a healthy respect for other languages and will note, like Donald Knuth did in his response (Computing Surveys?) to Dijkstra's"Go To Statement Considered Harmful", that good programmers write good code in any language, even assembler.

I also remember a frequent poster/COBOL evangelist on one of the USENET groups (comp.lang.c or comp.lang.unix?) back in the late 1980s who posted a *portable* 4-line COBOL program to sort a file. The sections in a COBOL program are optional and, in fairness and perhaps to the point, standard COBOL has a SORT function. In C and other languages without a standard SORT-like function, you can't simply do a "system ("sort ...")" call, because system() and sort(1) aren't available on all platforms.

Years later, Donald Knuth wrote a literate Pascal program to do something and a couple of Unix legends famously responded with short shell scripts or whatever. I love Unix and often reach for awk(1) (which is ingrained in my brain despite having also used Python and Perl before). However, Knuth's Pascal program could be built and used on any platform with a Pascal compiler, while the respondents' scripts only worked on platforms that had the Unix tools available (GnuWin32 or Cygwin on Windows, for example)

Now, let me get back to replacing those mercury delay lines with bubble memory ...

Comment Re:Power usage? (Score 1) 94

Anything by Gannsle is a good read. If I remember correctly, he used to have a long-running column in the excellent, but now-defunct Embedded Systems Programming magazine, plus he used to be based a few miles up the road from me in Maryland. (The magazine in general--and Gannsle's other writings--were/are good reads for all programmers, not just for embedded systems programmers.)

Comment Re:Margaret Sanger DID Belive in Eugenics (Score 1) 328

Last year, I read An Image of God: The Catholic Struggle with Eugenics by Sharon M. Leon. The book presented eugenics as conventional wisdom at the time, generally a popular, non-controversial idea; who didn't want healthy smart kids. The Catholic Church supported the movement's goals and some Catholics were among the movement's movers and shakers. However, the Catholic Church eventually began to part way with the movement on the subject of contraception use and forced sterilization. In other words, Margaret Sanger was not out of the mainstream with respect to eugenics at that time.

Comment Re:The people who did this weren't idiots (Score 1) 618

But frankly I have a VERY hard time believing that the engineers involved did not know that what they were doing would violate the law.

I know you know engineers, so this question is rhetorical: Do you know engineers?

10 years ago, I worked on a project that adapted an existing codebase to use CORBA and, as a selling point, used wide-character strings in the interfaces for "internationization". One developer wrote an inline C++ function to convert a wide-character string to a normal C character string and everyone was forced to use it, including me. His "sophisticated"-looking code checked if the value of the wide character would fit in the target character width (which, while not explicitly specified in the code, was of course 8 bits). If not, an error exception was raised. If so, the wide character was simply truncated to the target character width. In other words, our whole system only handled Unicode values between 0 and 255.

Several times, I tried to raise the issue that this approach was wrong; the better approach was to convert wide-character strings to UTF-8, which our existing software could use without problems regardless of the wide-character values (except possibly in the GUI, which was done by another group). The managers and the other developers (who didn't know much about Unicode) took the side of the other developer, who insisted that his approach worked.

So, we had a whole bunch of developers using something they didn't understand that was wrong. And many of the developers were very smart. Hence I can imagine the engineers at VW implementing the emissions test without worrying about the legal implications and not thinking to get verification in writing of the requirement.

To make matters worse, the developers (not in our company, but who, I am sure, were reasonably smart) who wrote the TAO CORBA implementation we used didn't understand the (pretty straightforward) CORBA GIOP/IIOP specification of how to marshal/unmarshal wide-character strings over the network--and they got it wrong! This was a known problem on the TAO support forum for the version of TAO we were using; I had a parallel implementation of IIOP, became aware of the problem, and therefore looked for it on the forum. Our other developers probably didn't read the forum or weren't aware of the problem. Before I left the project (voluntarily), I warned that there might be trouble if this problem was ever fixed. (Our system controlled satellites. Before rolling out a new version of our system, a client company would run the new version for a while in parallel with the earlier version of our system that was in place, both versions communicating with each other, until they were confident there were no problems. With the wide-character string encoding fixed in TAO, our new and old system versions wouldn't be able to talk to each other; possibly there was a run-time configuration tweak to have the new version of TAO revert to the old broken protocol for wide-character strings.)

Comment Design vs. Coding (Score 1) 289

This is an old idea. Back in the 1980s, a headhunter was no longer interested in talking to me after I said I was a computer programmer--he wanted to talk to designers. Well, of course, at our company (GE), we did the whole shebang: requirements, design, coding, testing, and integration. Simply saying I was a programmer had negative connotations.

A few years later (c. 1990), at a smaller company, I worked as a subcontractor to a large defense contractor and I encountered people who preferred just designing programs, writing them in a high-level pseudo-design language and then passing the designs off to "programmers" to be coded and tested. The problem is that there was no feedback loop, so these designers never really learned from what they did right and what they did wrong (as well as not getting hands-on experience with the technologies we were using), precious experience for a software developer.

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At the source of every error which is blamed on the computer you will find at least two human errors, including the error of blaming it on the computer.