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+ - US Customs destroys Virtuoso's Flutes because they were "agricultural items"-> 2

Submitted by McGruber
McGruber (1417641) writes "Flute virtuoso Boujemaa Razgui performed on a variety of flutes of varying ethnicity, each made by himself over years for specific types of ancient and modern performance. Razgui has performed with many US ensembles and is a regular guest with the diverse and enterprising Boston Camerata (http://www.bostoncamerata.com/index.html).

Last week, Razgui flew from Morocco to Boston, with stops in Madrid and New York. In New York, he says, a US Customs official opened his luggage and found the 13 flutelike instruments — 11 nays and two kawalas. Razgui says he had made all of the instruments using hard-to-find reeds. “They said this is an agriculture item,” said Razgui, who was not present when his bag was opened. “I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem. This is my life.” When his baggage arrived in Boston, the instruments were gone. He was instead given a number to call. “They told me they were destroyed,” he says. “Nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. This is horrible. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never written letters to people.” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/names/2014/01/01/customs-officials-destroys-flute-virtuoso-instruments/HRnFgh1FwIqY5n2FdoKlMN/story.html)

Novelist Norman Lebrecht was the first to report the story. One ensemble director told him that 'I can’t think of an uglier, stupider thing for the U.S. government to do than to deprive this man of the tools of his art and a big piece of his livelihood.’ (http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/12/outrage-at-jfk-as-customs-men-smash-flutes.html)"

Link to Original Source

+ - Are High MOOC Failure Rates a Bug or a Feature?

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "In The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports that 2013 might be dubbed the year that online education fell back to earth. Westervelt joins others in citing the higher failure rate of online students as evidence that MOOCs aren't all they're cracked up to be. But viewed another way, the ability to try and fail without dire debt or academic consequences that's afforded by MOOCs could be viewed as a feature and not a bug. Being able to learn at one's own pace is what Dr. Yung Tae Kim has long argued is something STEM education sorely lacks, and MOOCs make it feasible to allow students to try-try-again if at first they don't succeed. By the way, if you couldn't scrape together $65,000 to take CS50 in-person at Harvard this year, today's the first day of look-Ma-no-tuition CS50x (review), kids!"

Comment: Re:Carpet (Score 2) 95

by rxmd (#41827167) Attached to: Irked By Cyberspying, Georgia Outs Russia-based Hacker

It's not carpet, they're styrofoam plates to imitate embossed plaster. You see that quite often in flats in Soviet-era prefab apartment blocks.

People used that sort of thing as part of low-to-medium-end remodels to individualize their flats a little bit, in particular in the 1990s, together with closing their balconies with masonry to get a little bit of extra (super-small) floor space, partly removing the inner wall sections to get a more individual layout, and moving the kitchens to the balcony to use the former kitchen as an extra room.

Comment: Re:What would happen to the birds? (Score 1) 387

by rxmd (#35814290) Attached to: Google Invests In World's Largest Solar Power Tower Plant

If we look at the basic pattern behind your arguments, we find the following:

  • Plant X is a very old design - with modern designs that couldn't happen
  • The number of deaths is exaggerated anyway
  • Other death sources are much more prominent, but are ignored

You use them for wind power (Altamont Pass is old anyway, there aren't really that many bird deaths anyway, more birds get killed by cars than by windmills). However, interestingly enough they're exactly the same kinds of arguments a nuke defender would use (Fukushima is old anyway, not that many human deaths can be directly attributed to it anyway, more humans get killed by cars than by nuke plants).

I'm not saying either is right or wrong, but it's just very interesting to note just how similar the line of argument gets as soon as people are on the defensive.

Comment: Re:Comment from the article... ? (Score 1) 577

by rxmd (#34743198) Attached to: Thousands of Blackbirds Fall From Sky Dead

My friend descended from a Siberian tribe. His grandmother died in Siberia because she happened to go out wearing just two or three layers less than you "should". See, it's cold enough over there in my friend's ancestral village that the windows are plastic. Glass would shatter.

I think your friend never lived in his "ancestral Siberian village" or is making a joke at your expense. I've been to Siberia, and I work in Central Asia. We regularly get -40 C in the winter and +40 in the summer. Glass doesn't shatter from cold temperatures, it shatters from rapid changes in temperature gradients. You don't get that from the weather. Glass does just fine in the cold. Ask your friend whether in his ancestral Siberia they use special trucks, train cars and helicopters with all-plastic windshields. Hint: they don't.

People do use plastic on their windows, but they don't replace windowpanes with it. They just tape an extra layer of plastic foil on the existing glass window, the idea being that it creates an air pocket which provides extra thermal insulation. Throughout the winter, a roll of Scotch tape is one of the more important household implements to have around.

I've never heard of Siberian microtornadoes either all the time I spent in the region. You can freeze to death in the cold. At -40 or so it happens quite easily but it doesn't take a microtornado to do it. You can also be assured that people in Siberia have had a practical enough attitude towards the weather for a few hundred years that if people actually died from microtornadoes, as opposed to plain old hypothermia, "research grant award futures versus college loan payment rates" (assuming such a thing even made sense in the Soviet or post-Soviet Russian system) would be of little concern.

Comment: Re:Summary is incorrect (Score 2, Informative) 345

by rxmd (#34343324) Attached to: Sony Adopts Objective-C and GNUstep Frameworks

Apple has always been one of the driving forces behind Unicode.

For selected values of "always". Apple has supported Unicode well since OS X, that is since 2001 or so, or in other words, ten years after the Unicode standard was published. Even Windows was earlier - Unicode support in Windows NT 3.x was there on the API level, in NT 4 it would work well if your programmers had been halfway diligent, and in Windows 2000 it would work well out of the box. With Apple systems before 2001, it was a pain to get Unicode working properly on MacOS 9 - it was technically supported in 9.x, but it didn't really work all that well.

With OS X, Apple finally had the opportunity (that Plan 9 had had something like a decade earlier) to design a new API that used Unicode for all strings. Prior to OS X, the Apple device that supported Unicode best was the Newton, and even there you didn't have proper input methods and rather limited font support.

Comment: Kinesis Maxim, wristbands, workplace ergonomics (Score 1) 310

by rxmd (#34021488) Attached to: Ergonomic Mechanical-Switch Keyboard?

I developed major wrist problems when writing my PhD dissertation, which involved coding (some 20,000 lines of Python) and writing lots of text. I had started off on an IBM Thinkpad X60 keyboard, which while good as laptop keyboards go, is not ideal for coding.

What made the problem go away for me was four things:

  1. A Fujitsu-Siemens KBPC-E USB split keyboard. an adjustable keyboard that can be raised in the middle and has built-in adjustable wrist rests. The keyboard is a rebranded version of the Kinesis Maxim, with different keycaps. Normally they sell for somewhere between 60 and 100 EUR over here, I got lucky that there was an eBay seller who sold a bulk lot of them for 10 EUR each. I bought four.

    In addition I used a keyboard remapper to assign extra functions to the Windows keys (there is an extra set of Windows keys in the key column left of the keyboard). I remapped them into extra Enter and Backspace keys to be used with the left hand.

  2. A small traveller's mouse, with the pointer set to high acceleration. I can rest my hand on the table and push it around with small movements.
  3. A set of Rehband Manu ComforT wrist guards with built-in carbon fiber support (now made and sold by Otto Bock Healthcare. Not cheap at about 100 EUR each, but they did a good job.
  4. Taking care of overall ergonomics of the workplace. Sitting with a straight back, getting a low table so my elbows would remain at a 90 angle, that sort of thing. It's worth talking it over with an orthopedist, some of the tips you get may seem counterintuitive but it works.

With the combination of the four, I went from having constant pain in the wrist to writing 140,000 words within six months without major issues, Your mileage may vary, but in my case it has definitely worked.

Comment: Re:Now, (Score 2, Interesting) 148

by rxmd (#33695432) Attached to: Bing Crosby, Television Sports Preservationist

Bing Crosby deserves recognition for his place in history as the investor that stepped in with a $50,000 investment in Ampex Corporation for development of the reel to reel tape recorder. Ampex was a small company with six employees prior to that. During WWII Germany developed wire recorders with improved quality as a result of a high frequency (above audio range) signal added to the record current. That overcame non-linear magnetic behavior greatly reducing distortion.
Ampex used the same A.C. bias current technique with magnetic tape, and Bing Crosby was a major influence in the quick adoption by broadcasters.

Actually the Germans had been using magnetic tape recorders since about 1935. The AC bias technique you mentioned was developed for the AEG Magnetophon, which was a series of tape recorders, not wire recorders.

Towards 1943 or so it was pretty much a high-end system, with stereo and everything. There are a few surviving recordings that were later reissued in LP and CD form.

Earth

Ban On Photographing Near Gulf Oil Booms 435

Posted by kdawson
from the oiled-seabirds-are-camera-shy dept.
boombaard writes "The day before yesterday CNN's Anderson Cooper reported that, from now on, there is a new rule in effect, which de facto bars photographers from coming within 65 feet of any deployed boom or response vessel around Deepwater Horizon (official announcement). The rule, announced by the US Coast Guard, forbids 'photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches. In order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans,' while 'violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. What's even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet, before scaling it back to 65 feet.'" Read below for the Coast Guard's statement on the new rule.

Comment: Re:simple math (Score 1) 973

by rxmd (#32795454) Attached to: A Composer's-Eye View of the Copyright Wars

3.99 for sheet music to song....
0.99 for mp3 of song...

hrmm

Well, what are you actually trying to say?

If you can take the $0.99 MP3 and use that to perform a song yourself, go ahead. I'm sure the composer won't mind.

As for the price difference, the target market for sheet music is much smaller than that for MP3s, so it's not really surprising that the price is higher, as there are fewer buyers to offset whatever initial investment there was.

Then again, I'm not sure if a $3 price difference between completely different products entitles anyone to anything. But that's already a question of ethics, not one of "simple math".

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.

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