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Comment: Re:Great for free software (Score 1) 212

You may find this interesting reading.

In old versions of UNIX (not open source, but only because there was no such distinction at the time - the source was very much available) the compiler would add code to any program you tried to compile named 'login'. You could look at the source for the login program all you want and never see the backdoor. You also would have a hard time finding the code in the C compiler.

And this was just something Ken Thompson did to prove that he could. Imagine what the NSA would be capable of.

Comment: Re:What a wonderful unit! (Score 1) 332

by spauldo (#49458765) Attached to: California Looks To the Sea For a Drink of Water

Umm... Perhaps metric never evolved a common unit there (e.g. decimeters) because it's really unnecessary? Just like you don't need specific units between inches and thousandths of an inch (3 orders of magnitude), metric folks somehow manage to deal with 2 orders of magnitude quite easily without an intermediate unit.

I don't need to convert thousandths of an inch to anything because I'm effectively not measuring the same things with them.

For instance, I would measure a table leg in inches, but never need to convert that to thousandths. I might measure the amount I need to trim off a tenon to fit into a mortise in thousandths (I generally don't - I hit it with a plane or chisel a few times and test the fit again - but that's down to style) - but again, I don't need to convert that anywhere.

That's kind of the point - metric units are a "one size fits all" solution. For a woodworker, it makes sense to have units around the size of feet and inches. For a farmer, yards, acres, etc. make a lot more sense. You use the units that most closely match the areas you need. I could certainly do all my woodworking using fractions of a yard, or a farmer could measure his field in square feet, but it'd be silly when there are much more appropriate units available.

I'm certainly not suggesting that it's impossible to do common tasks in the metric system. What I am suggesting is that they're not using units tailored for the purpose they are being applied to.

What possible reason do you have to laugh at the metric system, other than the rather arbitrary feeling that you specifically want a measurement unit equal to about 1/3 of a meter?

What's funny (only marginally, but still) is what I've stated above; they're using units that are inappropriate for their purpose. Measuring lake volume in acre-feet makes a lot of sense for the people that use that unit; using cubic meters seems downright silly. It's like seeing someone climb mountains in ballet slippers.

Comment: Re:They are going at it wrong (Score 1) 44

by spauldo (#49458673) Attached to: Google Battles For Better Batteries


Since when is Google primarily a power utility?

What Google products (other than datacenters, which it builds where power is already available) would benefit from gen IV reactors? Hint: you're never going to get a phone with a thorium reactor built into it.

I'm certainly not against development of smaller reactors - lead-cooled fast reactors have a lot of promise for powering remote areas, for instance - but why would it make sense for Google to invest in them rather than technology that directly impacts its business?

Comment: Re:What a wonderful unit! (Score 1) 332

by spauldo (#49458395) Attached to: California Looks To the Sea For a Drink of Water

It makes a lot of sense when you consider what it's meant to measure.

Lakes (and more importantly, reservoirs) are measured in acre-feet. We measure the land in acres. When a reservoir fills up, we can see how much land is covered for every foot the water rises. You create a table for that and you can tell the volume of water based on the depth.

Acre-inches is also commonly used, especially when figuring things like water release from a dam. It's generally not used for things like water in a river, unless an upstream dam is discussing water release with a downstream dam. For water in a river, we do cubic feet per minute.

Yeah, I know, it's not base 10, but we've been using these measurements for a long time and it's not like conversion is terribly hard when necessary - and it's generally not necessary. Ease of conversion is overrated. For example, I do woodworking as a hobby - I have very handy units of feet, inches, and thousandths of an inch (which I rarely use myself, but some woodworkers do). I can convert between inches and feet easily, but I have no need to convert any of my measurements to yards or miles. With metric, I could do these conversions easily, but I'm stuck with a measurement system that gives me no widely-used unit between something a bit less than half an inch and something a bit longer than a yard.

It's the same with most things. How often do you actually need to convert units in daily life? Unless you're an engineer or something similar, you probably don't*.

So you continue to laugh at our measurement system, and we'll continue to laugh at yours.

* obvious exception of cooking inserted here. The metric recipes tend to use measurements of mass rather than volume for many ingredients, mostly because you don't have a very good selection of volume units. Still, anyone that's been cooking for a while knows how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon, and how many tablespoons are in an ounce - and cup->pint->quart->gallon isn't very difficult, either.

Comment: Re:Energy use (Score 2) 332

by spauldo (#49458095) Attached to: California Looks To the Sea For a Drink of Water

The Russians have designed an interesting nuclear-powered desalination setup using floating nuclear plants set off the coast. Here's the wikipedia article on it.

It might be a good option for California, depending on how deep the ocean is off the coast. If placed in deep enough water (and assuming the shoreline isn't shaped wrong), it's almost immune to earthquakes and tsunamis.

I'm sure the US could come up with a similar setup (we did, in the 60s), but the Russians have done most of the legwork already and could have it deployed in a much shorter timeframe.

Comment: Re:Double tassel ... (Score 1) 216

I learned to code before algebra, although there's the caveat - I couldn't code well before I learned algebra.

A lot of that is because I started programming BASIC around 7. A 7 year old can learn how to do linear instructions and even the idea of functions and subroutines, but the brain doesn't develop the abstract thinking required for anything more complex until a bit before puberty. In the US, algebra is introduced somewhere around the ages of 13-14.

As an example - I played a lot of Zork when I was a kid. I wrote several text adventure games. But I wrote them in a linear fashion - each "room" had its own parser and whatnot. It wasn't until around 12 (and even then, only with help from a book) that I realized that I could use parallel arrays and create an engine with the rooms each as their own data for that engine. It's fairly obvious to older coders, but to a kid... well, kids don't think that way.

I haven't read the article, so this is just off the top of my head: I would suggest starting kids with some basic (not BASIC) programming in elementary school - something that gives you instant, viewable results. Logo or something similar would be good - you enter a command, you see what it does. You write a loop, you see your commands repeated. That sort of thing. That might help stimulate logical thinking in children. Then perhaps require a course around the 14 year old level that would use a more advanced (but still relatively easy to learn) language that could teach more advanced concepts (maybe lua would be good for this). Then offer, but don't require, classes in more structured languages. Maybe python would be a good choice there.

Comment: Re:Water Schmater (Score 1) 72

by spauldo (#49433849) Attached to: The Solar System Is Awash In Water

Gold: certain types of asteroids contain a decent amount of gold (and platinum group metals). After all, that's where all the gold in the Earth's crust came from.

Diamonds: There was a theory that Jupiter and Saturn had diamond cores. Hard to get to, though. It was a plot point in the book 2069: A Space Odyssey.

Oil: Methane is common (Uranus and Neptune have a shitload of it) and we're pretty sure Titan has lakes of ethane, methane, and propane. It rains methane there. I'm not a geochemist, but I imagine that given the abundance of hydrocarbons on the surface, there probably is something similar to crude oil underneath formed by pressure and time. I could be talking out my ass about the last one though.

Comment: Re:Curiously (Score 2) 49

by spauldo (#49433127) Attached to: Greenwald Criticizes Universities' Funding-Driven Collaboration With NSA

Methinks you misunderstand what the left's trying to do.

The idea behind the left, at least in America, is for the government to provide services to the citizens in liu of corporations where it makes sense to do so. The argument within the left is "where does it make sense to do so." They tend to favor regulation more than the right, especially when it will create what they think of as a "level playing field."

The left believes that things like health care will never be properly provided by the free market, and want the government to provide it instead.

The left, in general, are not after government control of the populace. That's actually more associated with the right - specifically the religious right. The leftist politicians that support government control everywhere do so not because they're left, but because they're politicians - they wouldn't be politicians if they didn't want power over people.

People tend to get the "American left" confused with "global left", which is another thing entirely (communism, welfare states, etc.). There are some lefties in America that do believe in those, of course - just like some Americans believe in the extreme right - but they're very much in the minority. What we have here is the problem you get with a two-party system - everything tends to fall into one or the other party and gets associated with it. Gun control is a perfect example - Americans tend to think of it as a "left" issue, but it's really not - it's just associated with the Democratic party.

Then there's "California left," which wants to control what color of paint you can have on your car. Sometimes I think the whole state over there is one big overgrown neighborhood association.

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