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Comment: Re:I don't even... (Score 2, Insightful) 323

by timholman (#48653329) Attached to: Putting Time Out In Time Out: The Science of Discipline

What else am I supposed to do?

The same thing my generation did: ignore the self-styled "experts" who tell you you're doing it all wrong, and trust your own best judgment instead.

The world is chock full of wonderful theories about child-rearing and education that might provide better outcomes if we all had infinite time, infinite patience, and infinite resources to try them out. But we don't, so we do the best we can with what we have. That is particularly true when you are a parent of a young child.

This reminds me of the current fuss over "flipped classrooms". Yes, it seems like an interesting idea, and it might provide better outcomes, but it requires several outstanding teaching assistants who understand the concepts well enough to provide one-on-one instruction during class time.

In the real world most of my teaching assistants don't understand the material any better than my students. So unless my employer can figure out how to clone me, I'm going to stick with what works, rather than lose sleep over what is impractical to even attempt.

Comment: Re:Hoax (Score 5, Insightful) 986

Everyone that says they have a box that makes energy from nothing, I say, phase match your box to the line current from the local utility, roll your meter backwards, and cash the ensuing checks. Then talk to me.

This, a thousand times over. Having a "free energy" machine, if it existed, would be like owning a machine that printed money.

Rossi claims he has constructed 1 MW reactors. Assuming this was true, and assuming Rossi could sell that power for just $0.10 USD per kW-hr, then he has a machine that effectively generates income at the rate of $100 / hour. Use half of that income for operating costs and personal expenses, and Rossi makes a net profit of $36,000 a month if the machine runs 24/7.

In a year Rossi has $432,000. Long before then, he would be able to build a second generator, doubling his income. Assuming one generator could "double" itself every six months, in five years he has a profit of $18.4M USD each month. In less than a decade, he is the wealthiest man on the planet.

So why isn't Rossi doing that, instead of trying to get investors to write checks? Because he can't, of course. Like all frauds and pseudoscientists, he is utterly incapable of actually doing anything useful with his so-called "invention".

Comment: Re:Why wouldn't they? (Score 1) 67

by timholman (#47797327) Attached to: The Apache Software Foundation Now Accepting BitCoin For Donations

Bonkers like Newegg, and Dish Network? Both of which accept bit coin.

No, they accept USD, or whatever fiat currency they specify, with a transaction processor like Bitpay converting BTC to fiat on the spot.

Lots of companies "accept" BTC that way, but they're really getting paid in some national currency. It is rather disingenuous of people to claim otherwise.

And yes, a company would be bonkers to accept, and keep, anything as volatile as BTC.

Comment: Re:Is there an counter to this? (Score 5, Informative) 251

by timholman (#47709765) Attached to: Comcast Training Materials Leaked

For example, if you want to disconnect.
Comcast: Thanks for calling in... long nonsense fill speech later... How can I help you?
You: I would like to disconnect my service effective immediately, if you waste my time and/or do anything other than disconnect me immediately, I will request a supervisor, I will accept nothing less than a supervisor, I will not allow you to put me on hold, and I will make this call miserable for the both of us until my service has been satisfactorily disconnected.
*at this point 90% of agents will just do it and take the hit on their stats to not deal with you, but if they wont, read on*
Comcast: I'm sorry to hear that sir, but I will have to transfer you to our disconnect department...
You: *cut them off* Please get your supervisor, do not put me on hold. Thank you.
Comcast: But my supervisor can't...
You:You're wasting both of our time, call your supervisor over, I'd like to speak to them immediately. Inform them that if THEY can't disconnect my service, I'll be asking for their manager as well. This will continue until my service is disconnected, I will not be put on hold.

This is way too much effort, unless you happen to enjoy yanking some chains over the phone.

Here's how you quit Comcast:

(1) Disconnect every piece of Comcast equipment in your home.
(2) Load it in a box, and put the box in your car.
(3) Drive to the nearest Comcast customer center.
(4) Dump the box on the counter and tell the rep: "I wish to terminate my service immediately."

No one will argue with you. You have completely bypassed Comcast's customer retention process by doing this. Pay the amount due on your bill, get a receipt with a complete list of the equipment you've turned in, then go home.

Comment: Re:I must be the outlier (Score 4, Informative) 234

by timholman (#47564963) Attached to: Comcast Confessions

I cancelled my Comcast cable service last week. Walked into the office, handed them my equipment and told them I wanted to cancel my account. The person behind the counter checked in the equipment, had me sign a form indicating I had returned all the equipment and pay the prorated amount I owed.

I was in and out in just over a minute. I waited in line significantly longer than that.

You're not an outlier, but you did do exactly the right thing. You cancelled in person, instead of over the phone.

The people you call on the phone are highly incentivized to keep you as a customer. The ones working behind the counter are not.

If you want to quit ANY cable service, then disconnect all the equipment, load it in your car, take it down to their local office, and tell them that you wish to drop their service immediately. No one will argue with you; at that point you have bypassed their normal customer retention script.

Comment: Re:Hardly surprising.. (Score 1) 291

by timholman (#47479963) Attached to: Australia Repeals Carbon Tax

Barring a total miracle like Rossi's unicorn reactor it seems we've already passed the point of no return.

If there are any miracles to be had, I can assure you they won't be coming from a pseudoscientific scam artist like Rossi.

It's not like we don't have the technology to tackle AGW. We know how to build nuclear power plants right now, and we also know how to deal with the waste. All we lack is the political will to do it. We don't need "miracles" from snake-oil salesmen like Rossi.

Comment: Re:what a waste of money (Score 4, Funny) 190

by timholman (#47349375) Attached to: NASA Launching Satellite To Track Carbon

We must go even further than that. We must entirely eliminate all carbon and carbon-containing compounds from the earth's biosphere. Otherwise, oxidation of organic compounds will once again result in the release of CO2.

As a side effect, doing so will eliminate all danger of young children dying due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Think of the children!

Comment: Re:Well, in all fairness... (Score 1) 104

by timholman (#47332553) Attached to: Funding for iFind Kickstarter Suspended

If you do some Googling for a Paul McArthur locator patent, you get two patents. That doesn't say he exist, but if he doesn't, somebody's gone to an awful lot of trouble to pretend he does, as one of these patents were filed 12 years ago (not Bluetooth at the time, obviously.)

Yes, that could be the same Paul McArthur. I also notice he is last on the list of inventors, which probably indicates he had the least contribution. But with a name like "Paul McArthur", who can be sure?

So maybe his name really is Paul McArthur ... or maybe not. But in any case, "Dr. Paul McArthur", the man with the B.S. in "Electronics and Microprocessor Design", the man who earned a Ph.D. and M.D. by the age of 28 while working full-time as an RF design engineer, yet has no presence on the web and don't bother to list the details that would allow anyone to verify his expertise ... that man is definitely a fake.

Comment: An obvious pseudoscientific scam (Score 4, Interesting) 104

by timholman (#47328347) Attached to: Funding for iFind Kickstarter Suspended

The iFind project stunk of a pseudoscientific scam from the outset. Ignoring WeTag's laughable claims of the iFind being able to harvest any usable amount of energy from a device that small (RF harvesting circuits either need big antennas or to have RF energy beamed right at them), consider the biography of the so-called "Dr. Paul McArthur":

Currently I am working out of Plano, TX. I have been involved in this industry since 1984. After I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Electronics and Microprocessor Design, I continued my education and obtained my two graduate degrees while I was also working full time as a senior RF design engineer in MRI, at the ripe old age of 28. My Ph.D. also included bipolar IC design at that point, but was more system level, concentrating on RF interactions with the body from consumer product sources. My other degree was medical.

A bachelor of science degree in "Electronics and Microprocessor Design"? That's like earning a degree in "Computer Programming and Windows Apps". Pseudoscientists love to claim academic credentials, but always seem to screw up the details, because they want their credentials to sound as impressive as possible. And on the flip side, they'll never tell you where their degrees supposedly came from.

Then there's the matter of the Ph.D. and the M.D. degrees, both earned by the age of 28 while he was working full-time as an RF design engineer. Really? So did he start when he was 12 years old? And I guess he never slept? And of course you could ask the obvious questions, such as:

(1) "Dr. McArthur, what schools did you earn your graduate degrees at? And what years did you earn them?"
(2) "Dr. McArthur, can you point us to the references for the journal articles that you published as part of your Ph.D. degree?"

Not that you would ever get an answer, because "Dr. McArthur" is a fake. He was clever enough to pick a name that was less obvious than "John Smith", but still essentially impossible to track down using web searches.

If you look into "free energy" scams, you'll find people like "Dr. McArthur" everywhere. Some of them buy fake degrees from diploma mills, and others just make up their educational credentials wholesale. If you ever find yourself dealing with someone who touts his credentials but won't give you a straight answer where and when he got them, then you can be certain you're dealing with a fraud or a pseudoscientist.

Comment: Re:The real question in my mind (Score 2) 119

Seems odd to me though that they can't provide easily verified sample problem spaces where their device works better than a conventional PC as the problem gets 'bigger'.

This "failure to do the obvious thing", i.e. the designers not providing their own sample problem spaces to validate their own design, is one of the warning signs of pseudoscience.

It is equally troubling if they state "Hey, you didn't run the right test" as a post hoc excuse, while failing to specify just what the right test was beforehand. They are shifting the burden of proof to others - another warning sign of pseudoscience.

There are many, many historical cases of otherwise reputable scientists and engineers falling into a pseudoscientific mindset. It should not be ruled out here.

Comment: Re:Too bad about evolution (Score 2) 161

by timholman (#47197177) Attached to: Interviews: Forrest Mims Answers Your Questions

I really liked Mims's electronics books, but I can't respect him as a scientist when he misrepresents the theory of evolution and proposes (essentially) intelligent design instead.

Personally, I have no problem respecting Mims' contributions as a scientist. There isn't a single scientist or engineer on earth who doesn't have some blind spots in his philosophical and political worldview. No matter how smart or accomplished someone may be, I guarantee that if you talk to them long enough, he or she will reveal something about his or her personal beliefs that will leave you scratching your head and saying, "WTF?"

I may not agree with Mims' views on evolution, but keep in mind that no one reading this Slashdot article knew what those views were until they read his answers. Mims has never used his books as a platform to proselytize his religious viewpoints. Furthermore, those books have inspired many, many people to learn about electronics, and that is a net gain for the world.

In the long run, scientific facts will stand on their own. They will not go away, regardless of how many people refuse to believe in them. As long as Mr. Mims doesn't try to force his ideas on others, then I choose to appreciate him for the good he has done, and ignore the rest.

Comment: Re:Kind of a problem ... (Score 1) 626

by timholman (#47050139) Attached to: Driverless Cars Could Cripple Law Enforcement Budgets

This to me has always been the point at which driverless cars kind of fall apart, determining who is really in charge, and defining what that means.

The only thing that really falls apart is how we assign blame if an accident occurs. You are right, it is silly to pretend that people will be expected to take control of an autonomous car in a split second. They will sleep, read, play games, eat, whatever ... but they will not pay attention to the road. The car will be in charge, and with every passing year fewer people will even know how to drive, much less want to.

So ... who pays if a driverless car has an accident? Easy enough; every owner pays into an annual fund managed by the government that is used to pay for any injuries. In effect, the government indemnifies everyone, because the benefits of driverless cars (far fewer deaths and injuries overall) far outweigh the potential risk of death and injury to a few.

The model is already used by the U.S. government for vaccines. A very small percentage of children who get vaccinated have a very bad reaction to them. Their injuries are paid for by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. That way, vaccine manufacturers don't get sued out of business, and we don't have thousands of children dying each year from communicable childhood diseases.

I would assume a similar model will be adopted for driverless cars. Instead of having human drivers kill 35,000 people a year, we would have autonomous cars killing orders of magnitude fewer: a tremendous net gain for society as a whole.

Comment: Re:single biggest threat to STEM education (Score 3, Interesting) 264

by timholman (#46895667) Attached to: An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

Yes. THIS.

The single biggest thing that renders useless an otherwise-great STEM education is the lack of ability to write well.

Legion are the devs who string together many words, but forget to have a verb or period at the end. Innumerable are the IT wonks who can't scrape together a coherent and concise summary of 1000-page compliance reports. I swear, the collective plural noun for some of the security analysts at work is "a shimmer of tin foil hats" or "a fuckery of subjectivism" ...and they don't even understand the nature of the criticism.

Can I *PLEASE* have a critical thinker and good writer in the house???? Anyone??

You are absolutely correct. Most people with STEM backgrounds cannot write a coherent paragraph or make a coherent presentation. But guess what? The same is true with most humanities majors.

I used to serve on a faculty committee that evaluated essays for the entire university. As a group, we would read a short essay, grade it, and determine if the student needed to take remedial composition courses before graduation.

I never saw any significant correlation between a particular major and writing skill. The good, mediocre, and bad writers were pretty much spread across the entire student body.

The one correlation I've observed in my career is this: good writers universally tend to be good readers. They read for pleasure, and read a wide variety of books. Those also tend to be exactly the people who have good critical thinking skills, because they've had the voices of hundreds or thousands of different authors in their heads all their lives. That exposure to so many different viewpoints is absolutely critical.

If you want to make people better writers, then make them better readers. That is the hard part, and there is no simple solution.

Comment: I've heard this before (Score 5, Insightful) 264

by timholman (#46894067) Attached to: An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

I'm not quite sure where Dean Fitzgerald is coming from with this editorial. It's not as if every accredited ABET school doesn't already teach humanities as part of its engineering curriculum. In fact, the ABET 2000 accreditation process requires every engineering school to demonstrate that its undergraduate students are exposed to cultural, ethical, and economic concepts.

As someone who works at a university and teaches engineering courses, I've heard similar remarks from faculty members in the humanities throughout my career. To me this is just another example of the old "engineers aren't fully rounded human beings, because they haven't majored in the humanities" spiel.

"So our students also need an in-depth understanding of human complexities - the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence - as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social sciences."

I agree completely. But where are they going to get that understanding? From my experience, probably not in a humanities classroom.

In too many humanities courses, it's not about critical thinking, it's about figuring out the personal beliefs of the professor, because in many cases your grade depends on not offending those beliefs. I saw it when I was a student, and I still see it as a faculty member today. Too much of the grading in the humanities curriculum is entirely subjective, and in that sense I mean that it's the professor's opinion that counts the most ... and the students know it.

When I give an exam problem, the student's political and religious beliefs are completely irrelevant to their grades. The answer is either right or wrong, with partial credit assigned according to a standard rubric. My personal prejudices are meaningless. I wouldn't have it any other way, and neither would my colleagues.

A good engineering course teaches the essence of critical thinking: look at a problem, analyze it, write down a system of relevant equations, and solve it. What passes for critical thinking in many humanities courses is: "Repeat back my personal viewpoint verbatim, or else suffer the consequences with your grade."

So I think I'll take this latest editorial from Dean Fitzgerald with a very, very large shaker of salt. This strikes me as yet another in a very long series of not-so-subtle digs at STEM curriculums.

Comment: Re:If you can learn to put a beer down while drivi (Score 4, Insightful) 184

by timholman (#46737805) Attached to: The Case For a Safer Smartphone

we need are smarter drivers on the road who fucking know better.

Here's the problem: we've tried to make people into better drivers since the automobile was invented. It hasn't worked. You can't change human nature.

People still drive drunk, they still drive distracted. The main reason fatalities have dropped is only because cars are safer.

We don't need smarter drivers. We need smarter cars ... or specifically, self-driving cars. Take the human entirely out of the equation, and only then will you see a real difference.

We'll have self-driving cars on the road long before anyone invents a smartphone that "knows what's good for you". And when that happens, the problem of distracted driving will become completely moot.

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.

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