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Comment: Re:Carbon is Not the Problem (Score 1) 301

Wat? Last time I checked, Nebraska didn't have a rain forest. Aside from the climate alarmists worried about emissions, the real environmental concern that people in the Midwest have about the pipeline is that it will be laid directly over the Ogalalla aquifer which provides fresh drinking water and irrigation for a large portion of the country. As well, there is little to no direct or indirect economic benefit to the states through which the pipeline will flow - and as many others have mentioned here, will likely result in the increased price of domestic oil.

While it's debatable how far reaching the effects of multiple nearly guaranteed leaks and spills will have on the aquifer over the years, local communities will have to deal with wells and irrigation contaminated by such leaks and spills, and as we've seen with BP, getting the companies involved to provide recompense is no easy matter.

Comment: Re:Does SteamOS count as a desktop? (Score 1) 281

by shastamonk (#46106593) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Is Linux Set To Be PC Gaming's Number Two Platform?
Not sure how true that is. I remember reading something about Steam Runtime acting as a library abstraction layer developers could target for, and assumedly Valve will handle all of the dirty details of video, sound, input and networking libraries. I might be confused here. I would imagine an enterprising hacker could provide a third party implementation of it that would run SteamOS games on any distrubtion. I'm not finding much discussion of this anywhere and I'd like to know more.

Comment: The real next generation (Score 3, Interesting) 296

Think about up the next generation of game developers - kids growing up right now. If they're gaming on a console and using a tablet or smart phone for their other computing need, they have no real exposure to programming, 3D modeling, audio software or any of the other things that go in to designing games. If Windows and MacOS are moving towards closed software ecosystems and a mobile interface type of simplified UI that hides everything but Twitter and a browser from the user as they both seem to be, Linux is going to have to play a larger part in gaming development in the future. The more devices and distributions tailored for different purposes and specific hardware while still allowing users to peel back the curtains to access everything available on the OS, the better off we'll all be. Kids are curious and will do what they've always done since the advent of personal computing; making cool stuff for fun and to impress people, and unless some change like this takes place, fewer and fewer people will ever be exposed to these tools.

I know my nephew got his parents to buy an iPad just so he could play Minecraft. While the mobile versions of Minecraft make it hard (impossible?) to use addons and mods, I'm sure more than a few kids have been pushed in to building a PC or getting a gaming laptop to really take advantage of what that game has to offer. It'll just take one killer app that allows people to be creative and do things on a Steambox(/Windows/MacOS/Linux) that can't be done on a closed platform to start moving these things.

And in the meantime, Valve will be taking things slow and steady like they always have and building partnerships with hardware and software developers to get SteamOS ready to take over when the inevitable decline of support from MS and Apple for desktop users pushes the hardcore audience over where the games will necessarily follow. Totally agree with the article's author, Valve isn't trying to win a war but positioning itself for a future that's seeming pretty likely if not certain. The Steam machines that are launching now are a low risk investment from everyone involved. Free advertising for Valve, and a simple rebranding of exisiting hardware for the manufacturers. The real test will be how seamlessly and well the streaming works to entice hardcore gamers into putting a HTPC or steam box in their living room, and so far we haven't seen anything there.

Comment: Ignorance on Both Sides (Score 2) 1010

by shastamonk (#45825343) Attached to: New Study Shows One-Third of Americans Don't Believe In Evolution

Perhaps it might be worth reflecting on the probability that the majority of people on either side of the debate have no real justification for their belief for or against evolution than that they identify with a social group who holds a particular stance on the issue. It's just as easy to fall in to the trap of thinking you're more intelligent and learned by looking down on creationists - while never having applied any kind of personal critical analysis on evolution except to think that God doesn't exist therefore the theory of evolution must be true - as it is for creationists to accept a thousands of years old interpretation of creation - without sharing the cultural context in which it was written and understood - from the book of Genesis.

We see the same thing with politics. Very few people have any real idea what the Republican and Democratic parties really believe, except for lazy mischaracterizations of the opposing party fueled by whatever echo chamber a person tends to consume their news and media from. Meanwhile we're completely distracted from the abuses of both parties in nearly every single newly passed piece of legislation pandering to lobbyists and campaign donors.

The obvious solution is to raise citizens who are able to critically think for themselves, but we're only getting worse in this regard the more we see the government intervening in public education, and things aren't looking much better in the private education sector.

Comment: Fragmented Markets (Score 1) 272

by shastamonk (#45183679) Attached to: The Battle For the Game Industry's Soul

It's a bit silly to compare game sales to more traditional mediums like music, television and film. Just on the PC side, we don't even have educated guestimations on the kind of money and sales that are really taking place. WoW alone still must gross around $2 billion a year when taking in to account micro-transactions and unit sales along with subscription fees, and AFAIK we have no real idea how much money (other than obscene truckloads) the big MOBAs are pulling in. Steam, GoG, Desura, GMG, Humble Store and scores of smaller digital distributors further obscure how many sales are actually taking place, though if Valve were to open up their numbers that would help account for the majority of PC sales across most distributors who usually provide Steam keys. In the east, tens of millions of players are throwing billions at F2P games that people in the west have never even heard of. Then you have the attendant industries that are growing up around gaming (PC in particular) like Youtube and Twitch streamers and esports, indie merchandising, conventions, etc.

The numbers articles like this pull up tend to rely almost entirely on physical boxed sales which at this point must only account for a tiny fraction of actual PC game sales, though they do tend to fairly accurately reflect the health of each individual console. The gaming market is so fluid right now that the only safe conclusions we can make are that gamers are increasingly less interested in the same old fare from AAA developers, and that they need to start taking more risks with their games or lower their development and marketing budgets to account for the decline. The mass exodus of talent from AAA developers to the indie scene is a good thing, and a natural response to the current market trend. When games like Binding of Isaac that can be developed by a handful of people over a few months and sell millions of copies and provide a far more interesting and compelling experience than nearly any AAA game released in years, you have to wonder who but your average console dude-bro really would care if every last AAA publisher and developer were to go under.

Comment: Re:Better plots? (Score 1) 1029

its just that the movies being produced today are unappealing garbage compared to what they were 25 years ago

No they're not. They're about at the same level of quality as they were 25 years ago. You just remember the really good ones, you forget the stinkers that came out to the theaters every weekend. Good movies stuck around longer too, these days a movie has a month or two to earn almost everything, but 25 years ago a good movie could stick around for 6+ months. So they were more "present."

The summers of 1982 and 1984 were spectacular years for movies, but otherwise I think the movie quality is about the same. Production values are way way up though, which is part of the problem. No way should The Lone Ranger have had that high a budget. I know they were trying to recapture the Pirates magic, but still... Sounds like it had the same problems as John Carter -- decent movie that was budgeted way too high for it to be able to break even on modest returns.

I don't go to the movies often anymore, but I still rent them more than I should - and there have only been a few of them that I want to watch again or even remember much about, like the first LotR, Anchorman or Lincoln. And only one out of those relied on big budget special effects. Quality in Hollywood's eyes nowadays is determined by how much money is thrown at CGI explosions and annoying post-processing effects, while the original Star Wars movies (pre Special Edition) still manage to look more realistic and visually interesting than anything made since, while telling an original story with incredibly unique and memorable characters. It's almost an analagous state of affairs to the current video game industry, where big budget studios keep churning out repetitive sequels or clones of existing titles with ever increasing budgets for graphical improvements, at the same time ignoring to focus at all on new and interesting game mechanics and stories. There have only been a few AAA titles in the last ten years that anyone will still want to - or more sadly even be able to - play another ten years from now. Thankfully for gaming, indie games lately are proving to be much more interesting than indie movies, which in my possibly limited experience rarely manage to avoid being pretentious art-house productions.

Comment: Re:Free Windows 8.1? (Score 2) 608

by shastamonk (#44222197) Attached to: The Black Underbelly of Windows 8.1 'Blue'
They've been playing ads on XBox Live Gold ($5/mo) for years now and will continue to do so on the XBox One, and they've openly admitted they've made integrating advertising technology a priority in developing the XBox One. Windows 8.2 will probably require us to buy a Kinect that has to be running and connected to the internet for the OS to work.

Comment: Re:It's been dropping for a long time (Score 1) 605

by shastamonk (#42917569) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Is the Bar Being Lowered At Universities?

It's a common enough sentiment that we fail to emphasize an ability to critically think in our education, yet I rarely encounter any meaningful discussion on how critical thinking can be taught or learned. I would argue that in the past, while a quality education was certainly the province of the upper class much more so than now, that also ensured a much higher standard of excellence and colleges were able to assume a more broad and deeper intellectual ability in their incoming classes, which has been watered down more and more so in the last hundred years or so due to the far greater number of students expected to reach a level of preparation for and participation in post high school education. Instead of exposing students to the great works of the western intellectual tradition, text books became central in attempting to distill subject mater into easily presentable and digestible chunks, with a host of consequences for modern students, one of which I think is the fostering of an inability to critically think.

I attended a classical liberal arts program whose purported mission was to enable its graduates to be critical thinkers, and as a by-product providing the tools to answer most of the questions on that old Harvard entrance exam. It became clear early on that the majority of the material in the first few years was remedial, as we struggled to master basic Latin grammar and vocab and elementary geometry (Euclid/Apollonius) that previously (150+ years ago) would have been old hat to children barely in their teens. By the end though, we were all more or less able to work through Ptolemy/Galileo/Newton/Leibniz/Descartes on our own. We never read from text books (except a Latin grammar), instead focusing on reading original or translated versions of the great works while discussing them in class with a professor guiding the discussion. In the hard science courses, students were required to present proofs or propositions from different works, citing which ancillary proofs were used, which principles and axioms were in play, and presenting a deductive argument at the blackboard for the conclusion. If you weren't able to comprehend the material, or weren't keeping up with the material, it was very obvious and those who didn't were weeded out quickly.

Obviously there's not a lot of utility in terms of real world job preparation in such an education, which sadly has become the commonly held valuation of most education, yet I think when done well, it produces well-rounded adults with a broad intellectual experience and a well-honed ability to critically think and to approach modern intellectual subject matter. The value of which I would hope I wouldn't have to argue for. So to ranton, I would claim that previous generations of incoming freshmen to Harvard weren't simply taught to the test, but were far more intellectually developed than an incoming Ivy league freshman of today.

Comment: Stepheson the Philospher (Score 2) 448

by shastamonk (#39742273) Attached to: Neal Stephenson Takes Blame For Innovation Failure

I'm always curious about what audience Stephenson thinks he's writing for. Snow Crash and Diamond Age are pretty accessible and obviously have had a large influence, but starting with Crytopnomicon, into the Baroque Cycle and culminating in Anathem, his books seem to have become more and more an obscure fusion of modern sci-fi and western philosophy that I can't imagine caring about without a background in ancient Greek through renaissance period natural philosophy and mathematics, and there are very few schools catering to this kind of education anymore. I hope he has inspired other geeks like myself with an interest in these subjects. His books have interested me in reading the classics like Aristotle, Apollonius and Euclid, Newton, Galileo, Huygenz, Leibniz, Descartes etc.

I can't speak to his ability to inspire or dissuade young people from an interest in engineering and science, but they engendered in me a love for classic western thought that I probably would never have even been aware of otherwise.

Comment: Seed Monopoly (Score 1) 617

by shastamonk (#39052043) Attached to: 300k Organic Farmers To Sue Monsanto For Seed Patent Claims

Just doing a casual bit of research into this topic, and Monsanto seems to be the dominant force in the farming seed market and has faced lots of scrutiny over anti-competitive practices, and is currently under investigation by the DOJ.

A large portion of a farmers annual budget goes towards seed purchasing. Traditionally, farmers would save a portion of their harvest as seed for their next crop (I have no citation for this, but have heard this number is traditionally around 25-30%). Monsanto forces its buyers to sign an agreement to not reuse any of their seed from harvesting, and must buy entirely new seed each year. Traditional farmers using their own seed are having trouble with neighboring farmers GE strains infecting their own through cross pollenization, resulting in their being forced by Monsanto to purchase entirely new seed or face lawsuit, etc.

Vanity fair has a good article about the history of the company, their current influence on the farming economy and some of their more questionable practices.

Comment: Re:My seventh grade teacher (Score 1) 317

by shastamonk (#38931299) Attached to: How long until the (first-world) classroom education model is obsolete?
This has more to do with climbing a pay schedule than anything else. For example, the average starting salary for a teach with a Masters degree is about 10k higher than only a Bachelors. Most of the teachers I know who have gotten their Masters on the job have done it online and claim to have learned little to nothing useful for their occupation - it's a cheap, fairly non-time consuming approach to a massive pay bump.

Comment: Khan Academy (Score 2) 317

by shastamonk (#38931227) Attached to: How long until the (first-world) classroom education model is obsolete?

As others have said, the question is too ambiguous even by normal /. poll standards. I'm interpreting it to mean a traditional 20-25:1 student to teacher ratio K-12 classroom (although we obviously have many broken districts where an insane ratio of as high as 60-70:1 exists).

At the moment, most teachers who are provided with laptops, electronic whiteboards, digital projectors and document cameras tend to use them as analogous replacements for - or supplemental to - traditional teaching methods.

The standardized curriculum enforced in most public school districts according to state and federal guidelines haven't changed much in the last fifty years, except to become more restrictive in the material that has to be covered and the manner in which it is covered. When teachers are forced to cover all of this material in preparation for the multitude of standardized tests their students have to take each year, they have little time to learn new technology or how to employ it in creative and fruitful ways. Exceptional teachers can always shine, even under the current system, but from my experience they see these curriculum guidelines and all of the attendant bullshit as obstacles to overcome in teaching their students.

I'm fascinated by the Khan Academy's approach, as in the example of the Los Altos, CA district that is experimenting with using the KA website and software (http://www.khanacademy.org/video/the-gates-notes--teachers-in-los-altos?topic=talks-and-interviews). Their idea was to have the students be given accounts on the website, and to largely replace in class instruction by the teacher with assigned videos as homework. The students would then be able to perform practice problems on the website in the classroom with the aid and supervision of a teacher, and learn new concepts at home. In this way, every student becomes more directly responsible for their own education, working at their own pace. In a more traditional teaching model, students who fell behind remained behind, as the teacher could not hold up the pace of instruction for them, and the students who easily grasped the material would be bored with nothing to do. Under this system, the teacher can easily see where each student is, helping the ones with problems on certain concepts while everyone else moves ahead according to their own abilities.

To my mind, this solves two of the major problems under the current system. It removes the pandering to the lowest common denominator, where instruction is aimed at a fairly low level for every student in the classroom, still missing those who really need help and holding back the rest who are easily capable of more challenging material. It also allows for extremely detailed analysis of where each student's capabilities currently lie, which is largely the function standardized testing purports to serve, but grossly fails at. A teacher can look on the classroom reporting suite, and see at a glance where the trouble spots are, how far the advanced students have gotten, and detailed breakdowns of practice sessions, such as how many minutes were spent on which videos, how many practice problems were answered correctly or incorrectly, how many times the student asked for hints, etc. With standardized testing, you only get a hazy snapshot of a students abilities at a given moment, influenced by how alert they are at the time they took the test (are they well fed and rested?) and how seriously they take the test (which is hard to do when they take as many as 20-30 a year). With the Khan Academy, the badges, points and awards offer an almost MMO achievement/leveling feel of entertainment and addiction, and a report at any given time exactly reflects a student's participation,

The problems are obvious.

Not all students have ready access to devices for viewing the videos outside of school, though many districts have adopted the one laptop per child initiative, and I think in the near future we'll easily be able to provide each child with a cheap tablet type computer such as the Rasberry Pi that can easily handle youtube videos.

Unmotivated students will possibly remain equally as unmotivated. But I think Salman Khan's opinion on the true nature of unmotivated students is largely correct. Once a student falls behind, and is unable to catch up on previous concepts, he loses any desire or motivation to pay attention. In Los Altos, he claims they saw that most of the students who started out struggling and behind the rest of their class eventually caught up or even passed the average by the end of term. It seems to me that there are few legitimate excuses for students failing in this setting, and little else that can reasonably be done for them - save holding them back a grade, which is now almost unheard of under No Child Left Behind.

This method of instruction is helpful for the hard sciences, but seems harder to implement with subjects like English/Grammar, History, Art, Music, which I feel are equally important for an educated citizen, but unfortunately seem to be viewed more and more as non-essential to preparing students for "entering the workforce".

Heisenberg may have been here.

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