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Comment: Summary of what ESR is doing (Score 5, Informative) 235

by steveha (#48190645) Attached to: Help ESR Stamp Out CVS and SVN In Our Lifetime

ESR has already helped several free software projects convert from CVS to Git using his existing computer. The bigger the project, the longer it takes. (Each attempt to convert the Emacs repos takes 8 hours with his current computer.) He has studied the C code for doing the conversion, and determined that the best sort of computer for doing these conversions would be as fast as possible (doesn't matter how many cores; this is a single-thread process) and would have as much RAM as possible. Graphics card? Whatever, who cares. Keyboard, mouse? Not going to buy those, he already has those. Oh, and he would prefer it not sound like a leaf blower so he is looking for quiet power supply and a case with large quiet fans.

He says that several people spontaneously donated money to help him buy a better computer. So he opened up a discussion for how to best spend the money.

Several people urged him to only use ECC RAM, which means either an AMD chip or a Xeon. Someone just donated $1000 (!!!) so he has pretty much settled on the Xeon.

Once he has this, he will go around to free software projects and offer to do the conversion for them. His plan is to grab a copy of the CVS repo, run the conversion to make sure there are no surprises, then ask the project maintainers to stop modifying the CVS repo while he runs the final conversion.

This seems like a reasonable service for him to be offering. Instead of each project figuring out the conversion process, he will become an expert on CVS to Git conversions (with more experience than anyone else) and he will have the purpose-built computer to do the conversions as quickly as possible. So he really will be saving time and hassle for the various projects.

P.S. He converted the NetHack repos, and stirred up a hornets' nest. Read about it here:

Comment: Re:I still don't see what's wrong with X (Score 1, Informative) 224

by steveha (#48171777) Attached to: Lead Mir Developer: 'Mir More Relevant Than Wayland In Two Years'

Seriously, what's so broken about X? Is it just a pain in the ass for developers to work with?

You might seek out some of the tech talks given by Wayland developers. They lay it out pretty clearly.

Here's a good one:

From memory, X11 is full of cruft that no longer makes sense. Everyone wants beautifully rendered, anti-aliased fonts, but X11 not only doesn't give you that, if you comply with X11 you can't do that.

Wayland took a look at how X11 is actually used, today, and throws away the cruft that nobody uses anymore. Also Wayland adds a sane API versioning system.

Wayland is exactly as network-transparent as X11 is in actual use these days: not very but you can make it work. Everyone is pretty much asking X11 for a drawing canvas, drawing on it, then giving it to a compositor to display. See above comments about beautifully anti-aliased fonts.

My favorite comment: "Everybody says the UNIX way is small programs that do one thing well. What is the 'one thing' that X11 does well?" He pointed out that at one point X11 had a print server embedded in it (it wasn't a good idea).

TL;DR Several of the top X11 developers think Wayland is a very good idea.

+ - Scientists Find Rats Aren't Smarter Than Mice - and Why That's Important

Submitted by (3830033) writes "There has long been a clear hierarchy of intelligence in the psychology lab with monkeys are at the top, then rats, and finally mice at the bottom, "cute and fluffy but not all that bright." For at least a hundred years researchers have used rats in their psychology experiments, assuming that they were the smarter of the two lab rodents but now Rose Eveleth reports at The Atlantic that new research shows that that might not be true and that mice can perform decision-making tasks in the lab just as well as rats can. "Anything we could train a rat to do we could train a mouse to do as well," says Tony Zador. This finding is important because using mice in experiments instead of rats could open up all kinds of new research options. For one thing, scientists have been able to manipulate a mouse’s genome in really useful ways, silencing certain genes to figure out what role they play. There are mouse models for everything from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s. Being able to put those mice through the paces of a psychology experiment could help researchers connect diseases with the behaviors they impact.

So where did this idea that rats are smarter than mice come from, anyway? Zador says it’s a historical bias. “There was 100 years of practice in training rats. And basically when people tried to treat the mice in exactly the way they treated the rats, the rats seemed smarter," says Zador. In other words, "over the course of 100 years people had figured out how to train rats, and that mice aren’t rats.” You might think that mice and rats would be basically the same when it comes to these kinds of things, but Zador points out that mice and rats diverged somewhere between 12 and 24 million years ago. For comparison, humans and chimpanzees split somewhere between 5 and 7 million years ago. So it's no surprise that mice behave differently than rats, and that that difference impacts their training in the lab. "The mouse is uniquely placed at the interface between experimental access and behavioral complexity, making it an ideal model for the study of adaptive decision-making. Successful behavioral paradigms, however, rely on targeting designs to the idiosyncrasies of the mouse from the outset, rather than simply assuming that mice are little rats.""

Comment: What is Docker and why should you care? (Score 4, Informative) 104

by steveha (#48155305) Attached to: Microsoft Partners With Docker

Docker is sort of an extremely lightweight virtual machines system.

Docker organizes software into "containers". Each container has a complete set of libraries and files, and each container is isolated from the rest of the system. Thus if you need a specific and touchy set of libraries to run Software X, and you need a different specific and touchy set of libraries to run Software Y, you can simply make two containers and run them side by side.

As I understand it, Docker container images use a "snapshots" system to store changes; so the two containers for Software X and Software Y will together be much smaller than two VM images would be.

Using Docker, if developers make a server-side application, they can then hand a container over to production for deployment, and everyone can be confident that the application will run the same in production as it ran in development. (Of course it would still be possible to break things, for example by having different data in the production database compared to the dev test database.) Or, developers could run containers on their laptops and expect them to run the same as on the servers in the office.

Unlike VMs, the Docker containers don't run their own kernels. So you can't run a Linux server with Docker that in turn runs OpenBSD in a container.

As I understand it, many people use Docker to run a single process per container. The web server in one container, the email server in another, the SSH server in another, etc. One use case: if you have a web site hosted in the cloud, and the Slashdot effect starts slamming on the web site, the cloud hosting service could spin up another 500 instances of the web site (500 fresh instances of the Docker container, each container running a single process, the web server).

I talked to an expert sysadmin, and he told me "This is the future." I'm going to set up a Docker server at home and learn my way around it.

My reading of the press release is that Microsoft is going to (a) implement the Docker APIs for Windows, so that Windows server applications can be container-ized; and (b) add the ability to run Linux containers. The latter is not implausible; Windows NT has always had so-called "personalities" and Posix has been available as a personality for decades.

Comment: Article ignores variability (Score 4, Insightful) 608

by steveha (#48136097) Attached to: Wind Power Is Cheaper Than Coal, Leaked Report Shows

The article discusses wind power vs. coal and other types of power purely on the basis of cost, with absolutely no discussion of reliability.

If wind power is as cheap as he claims, then with a reliable storage technology wind would be a total no-brainer. But as it is, wind can only be part of a strategy. You can't count on wind for base load, and when wind varies you need to have other types of power (such as natural gas) ready to pick up the slack.

I'm hoping that the Ambri liquid metal batteries will do everything that Professor Sadoway claims. If so, they will change everything, and I will be cheering for more wind and solar. Until then, wind power only can serve as a niche producer.

Comment: Article ignores variability (Score 1) 4

by steveha (#48135065) Attached to: Wind Power is Cheaper than Coal, Leaked Report Shows

The article discusses wind power vs. coal and other types of power purely on the basis of cost, with absolutely no discussion of reliability.

If wind power is as cheap as he claims, then with a reliable storage technology wind would be a total no-brainer. But as it is, wind can only be part of a strategy. You can't count on wind for base load, and when wind varies you need to have other types of power (such as natural gas) ready to pick up the slack.

I'm hoping that the Ambri liquid metal batteries will do everything that Professor Sadoway claims. If so, they will change everything, and I will be cheering for more wind and solar. Until then, wind power only can serve as a niche producer.

+ - Air Force to take over two ex-shuttle hangers in Florida for its X-37B program

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 (797399) writes "In an effort to find tenants for its facilities, the Kennedy Space Center is going to rent two former shuttle processing hangers to Boeing for the Air Force’s X-37B program.

NASA built three Orbiter Processing Facilities, or OPFs, to service its space shuttle fleet between missions. All three are located next to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Florida spaceport where Apollo Saturn 5 moon rockets and space shuttles were “stacked” for launch. Under an agreement with NASA, Boeing will modify OPF bays 1 and 2 for the X-37B program, completing upgrades by the end of the year.

The company already has an agreement with NASA to use OPF-3 and the shuttle engine shop in the VAB to assemble its CST-100 commercial crew craft being built to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The company says up to six capsules can be processed in the facility at the same time.

The most important take-away from this news is that it strongly suggests the Air Force now intends to expand the X-37B program. They will not only be flying both X37B’s again, they might even planning to increase the fleet’s size from two ships."

Comment: Recycling of old brands (Score 1) 193

by steveha (#48106477) Attached to: A Critical Look At Walter "Scorpion" O'Brien

Hollywood has an idea shortage.

True, but there is another point you might want to consider: media fragmentation.

It used to be that there were only three TV networks, and most people could only see a movie by going to the theatre (which didn't have 12 different screens in those days either). For music, there were a limited number of radio stations.

Now, there are many different cable channels, plus YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Rhapsody, and DVD rentals or purchases. For consumers this is great, because you can watch what you like, when you like it.

But Hollywood is unhappy because it's much harder now to build a new franchise. As a result, Hollywood is recycling old franchises, even if the end product has very little to do with the original.

For a bonus, many people who have purchasing power now have fond memories of things they watched as kids.

Thus, you have crazy stuff like the Battleship movie; I'm pretty sure they literally started with the brand name, and ginned up a movie project to put on it. I submit to you that Battleship isn't an example of scraping the barrel for ideas, but rather an example of jump-starting the marketing for a movie by building off a well-known pre-existing brand. It's gotta be the same thing with Tetris: we have this brand, how can we leverage it to sell movies?

Many of the reboots and sequels have little to do with the original source material; and I think in many cases Hollywood just took some script and said "we can shoehorn this into a pre-existing franchise" and did it.

Also, in my opinion the reason Guardians of the Galaxy was so successful was that it was made with love, and well-made at that; the third-tier Marvel characters are so obscure that they didn't really bring much to the marketing. I, for one, saw it because the previews made it look fun and because I read some really favorable reviews.

Comment: Re:Desktop use and DVD playback (Score 1) 302

by steveha (#48103969) Attached to: What's Been the Best Linux Distro of 2014?

This is a little bit tricky because it is, in theory, a violation of the DMCA to play DVDs without a properly licensed DVD player program. (Specifically, a program that has licensed the dread secret of CSS.)

Both Ubuntu and Mint have packages you can install to play DVDs.

If you don't mind paying some money, you can get a properly licensed DVD player from Fluendo. I bought this, and it Just Works.

I wish Fluendo would also offer a Blu-Ray player, but as far as I know the only legal-in-the-USA way to play Blu-Ray on Linux would be to install Windows in VirtualBox or some other VM, and then install a Windows Blu-Ray player.

Comment: Re:Scripting language du jour (Score 5, Insightful) 547

by steveha (#48103809) Attached to: Goodbye, World? 5 Languages That Might Not Be Long For This World

...I don't waste my time with Python. There will always be a latest and greatest scripting language to come along and replace the previous one.

Maybe so, but Python is getting more popular and widely-used rather than dying out.

IMHO Python hits the sweet spot: it's powerful and expressive, yet the code is readable and maintainable. The worst thing about Python is that it's pretty slow, but it has a vast library of extensions (written in C or even FORTRAN) and the extensions aren't slow. (Like, if you wrote your own FFT in Python it would be glacially slow, but you don't need to write your own FFT because fast ones are available... and if your program is mostly doing FFTs it will be nearly as fast as a C program, because the slow Python glue code isn't where the program spends most of its time.)

In the world of science, everyone is converging on Python because of SciPy (which rocks). As people get fed up with legacy systems, they adopt Python as the replacement. I attended a keynote lecture at the SciPy conference a few years back, and a senior guy from the Hubble Space Telescope project talked about how they were leaving a language called IDL and switching to Python, and how much happier they were with Python.

I have heard that the Ruby guys had a project to make a "SciRuby" but (a) progress was slow and (b) the science guys are already using SciPy and won't switch unless some really compelling advantage appears.

Python is a clean, well-designed language that can have anything you need put in as an extension. So you can replace Matlab with Python and it's mostly a win. You can replace R with Python (and I think it's probably mostly a win, but I'm biased toward Python and have never seriously used R so feel free to ignore my opinion).

Python can be used by sysadmins, web site developers, cloud app developers, scientific researchers... really almost everyone can do their work in Python, and they can talk to each other about it if they are all using the same language. That's not a trivial benefit.

So, IMHO you would not be "wasting your time" to try actually using Python.

Comment: Re:Nevertheless, Microsoft is doomed (Score 2) 93

by steveha (#48066355) Attached to: Samsung Paid Microsoft $1 Billion Last Year In Android Royalties

Google/Motorola trying to extract four billion dollars out of Microsoft for some .mp3 patents?

Nope. You are thinking of Alcatel/Lucent. And technically Alcatel/Lucent couldn't ask for a specific amount of money; the award was 1.5 billion dollars but could have been 4.5 billion dollars had the jury decided it was willful infringement.

Microsoft isn't an angel, but they do pay license fees on patents, and they were paid up on MP3.

Samsung being told by the EU that they could face a fine up to $17 billion unless they stop trying to use their patents in anti-competitive ways?

Yep. Actually up to $18.3 billion per this article:

Comment: Re:Inverse Wi-fi law (Score 2) 278

by steveha (#48059377) Attached to: Marriott Fined $600,000 For Jamming Guest Hotspots

Has anyone else noticed this- that overall the cheaper and sleazier the motel, the better the wi-fi?

I wouldn't go that far.

I once stayed in a really bargain hotel, which advertised free WiFi. I think they had a single consumer wireless router in the office, and my room was not close to the office... I couldn't get a usable signal. So no, definitely not "the cheaper... the better the WiFi".

But middle-of-the-road hotels generally have perfectly usable WiFi. I wouldn't try to stream Netflix on it but it's fine for reading Slashdot or whatever. (I would rate Motel 6 as middle-of-the-road for motels.)

As others have noted on this thread, expensive hotels also try to hit you with extra charges for phone use and anything else they can get away with. And, I have seen them charging by MAC address... your daily Internet fee is intended to allow you to run just one device.

Comment: Desalinisation (Score 4, Interesting) 268

by steveha (#47989505) Attached to: IBM Solar Concentrator Can Produce12kW/day, Clean Water, and AC

The article is pretty terrible on the details. It seems that this CPV device is intended to be built near the ocean, and use salt water for cooling; the water can then be run through a desalinization system.

The hot water can then be used in an attached desalination system that creates drinkable water by passing itwater[sic] through a Gortex-like membrane.

According to Wikipedia there are several desalinization processes available that use heated water and a membrane.

The article is vague on how the CPV system provides cooling, but the CPV system produces heat as a byproduct, and it is possible to use extra heat for cooling. There are refrigerators that run on propane, with no motors. (There is a sort of pumping of coolant that relies on gravity.

There are a lot of places in the world that get lots of sunlight, are near salt water, and could use more fresh water. So this sounds like a good idea, but it isn't going to be installed everywhere.

Comment: Re:Who cares about succinctness .... (Score 2) 165

by steveha (#47989331) Attached to: Rosetta Code Study Weighs In On the Programming Language Debate

I was surprised at how many instructions that developers previously spread out over multiple lines are now packed into highly idiomatic one-liners.

As with many things, Python one-liners can be good or bad. When done correctly they are awesome.

Consider this code:

bad = any(is_bad_word(word) for word in words_in(message))

If words_in() is a generator that yields up one word at a time from the message, and is_bad_word() is a function that detects profanity or other banned words, then this one-liner checks to see if any word in a message is a bad word.

I love the any() and all() built-in functions in Python.

You can take this too far. Instead of defining a function is_bad_word() you could put the code inline as part of the on-liner. And instead of defining a generator that yields up one word at a time, you could add the splitting code to the one-liner. Then you would get:

bad = any(word in bad_words_list for line in message for word in line.split())

Or let's say the definition of a bad word is that any substring in the word is from the bad list (thus "frakking" is a bad word if "frak" is in the bad list), with it inline you get:

bad = any(any(bad_word in word for bad word in bad_words_list) for line in message for word in line.split())

I think we can all agree that the above is horrible, but I hope you will agree that the first one was pretty nice.

Comment: HP MicroServer (Score 1) 287

by steveha (#47975671) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: What's In Your Home Datacenter?

I have an HP MicroServer running Debian Stable, with several VMs running under Xen.

I love the MicroServer. Quiet, easy to work on, and inexpensive enough that I'm going to just buy a second one as a hot spare.

It doesn't support hot swapping of hard drives, but for my home use I don't need four nines reliability; powering down to swap drives is just fine for me.

I run an email server with a small number of users (family and a few friends). This makes me appreciate sysadmins more.

I am planning to switch from using Xen VMs to using Docker containers.

"Our vision is to speed up time, eventually eliminating it." -- Alex Schure