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Comment: Re:And the US could turn Russia into vapor (Score 3, Informative) 878

by xeno (#46511017) Attached to: Russian State TV Anchor: Russia Could Turn US To "Radioactive Ash"


All common loans (mortgage, credit card, signature loan, auto loan, etc) in the US are fixed principal. E.g. Say you borrow $200,000 for a house, and you get fees tacked on, plus the cost of financing ata fixed rate... you could pay ~3x the original loan but only as a result of compounding. The loan terms never change even if the value of the dollar completely tanks or shoots up. It is a common option to have a variable interest rate, making it possible to have the interest rate tied to the prime rate and have that skyrocket.. which could get me into trouble over the long term of I cannot afford adjusted monthly payments. But otherwise it's the same story: the principal amount is *never* adjusted for the value of the dollar. I'm quite sure that would be illegal (but IANAfinance lawyer), and if it's not, any creditor exercising that kind of option would find their buildings burned down by morning, Venezuela style.

If the value of my work stays steady, a strong dollar actually makes it harder for me to pay my mortgage, but a weak dollar lets me pay off my loans faster. Imho this sort of relationship has a stabilizing effect on the US economy and dollar.

Comment: the androidness of it all (Score 5, Interesting) 303

by xeno (#46074901) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Life After N900?

Congratulations, you made it far longer than I did. My N900 started to show hardware problems about a year ago, and radio problems/disconnects were the last straw. I loved the versatility and control, but ultimately I needed the damn thing to make calls and browse. I nabbed a Nexus 4 when they got cheap, and have adjusted reasonably well. I had a fair look at the iDevices, but wanted something faster and with a bigger screen. I coveted the Galaxy Note series, and might have been happier that way, but I wanted something closer to the N900 size. Recently got my kid a Moto G -- and currently it seems to be the best deal reminiscent of the size/screen of the N900. But still there is the lack of a hardware keyboard... there's just no substitute for input-intensive apps. Maybe Jolla will solve that.

If you do head in the direction of Android, these might make it easier:
- Have a look at Cyanogenmod, and see if you can find a sweet spot with hardware you like and a recent version.
- Read up on App Ops, the utility that allows one to have granular permissions for applications, and restore a modicum of privacy control.
- Don't be afraid to disable all the default apps/Google+/hangouts/crap. Android works just fine with the processes disabled.
- Have a look at bare android/Samsung's overlays/cyanogenmod before you commit to them, there are significant differences.
- Try getting an older phone and experimenting with it before you jump. I obtained a Galaxy S1/Vibrant, learned all about the boot loaders, firmware, and OS installation, and tried out various roms before settling back on Cyanogenmod. (Then I taught the kids how to do it, and gave the phone to my 10yo -- never too early for mobile hacking.) All of the features aside, the process restored some of the sense of control that I had with the N900. Some of it real, some of it not, but at least I knew were I stood wrt the device I was using most frequently.

Comment: Re:I'm about to give up on Gmail... (Score 3, Insightful) 339

by xeno (#45914367) Attached to: Google Begins To Merge Google+, Gmail Contacts


I have my own domain and a small rack in the basement, with mail I haven't used much in a while.. but this G+ stupidity might just roust me out of my slumber. I've stayed with Gmail out of inertia mostly; the handy features just barely outweigh the irritation. But it's really, really close. The Gmail interface changes from a year ago still suck. Badly. Google+ is an irritating solution to a problem I don't have, and becoming terribly intrusive. Youtube integration is actively conterproductive, a constant intrusion of personal browsing into potential business activity. When I log into gmail and open up a youtube tab, it constatntly pops up a link to some warplane videos I watched a year ago. So... I can't browse youtube because if I use gmail to communicate with clients for moonlighting gigs, because those who use g+ might see that and think I'm a nut? No thanks.)

Gmail is a handy web interface to email functions I had thru IMAP a decade ago, nothing more. I could easily switch back. Better yet, I could update the whole mess and run it in a couple of VMs at AWS for pennies a day.

I hesitate because Google docs is handy for helping my kids on their school reports, annotating, correcting, making suggestions as they work on it.. but really it's a nice-to-have. I would miss it, but if the price for docs is forced use of Google+, it's not worth the hassle.

Comment: Re:onenote... is a ripoff of 1990's lotus organize (Score 1) 133

by xeno (#45833037) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Life Organization With Free Software?


Iirc running Org 97 thru 6.1 (on Wine on Mint 14-15) there were a few artifacts -- maybe once every 15 minutes a border would render a pixel off, or something like that -- but no functional or data handling problems. Because it's so small, it'll also run ok under some iffy win32 emulators -- just for giggles I once got it running on my N900 phone. Let me know if you try it on Android.

Comment: onenote... is a ripoff of 1990's lotus organizer (Score 2) 133

by xeno (#45832375) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Life Organization With Free Software?

It's funny to see comments praising OneNote as the best thing since sliced bread...

Don't get me wrong, I like OneNote, and use it at work. But in a moment of snark I dug up a copy of Lotus Organizer 6 (from 1999) and installed it on my Win8 work machine. Lo and behold, I can keep notes in a multi-tabbed interface. I can format them all kinds of ways, add pictures, embed doc and ppt files, share the org file with other users, and generally do anything OneNote can do. I can keep a full calendar, manage contacts, track tasks, and keep linked notes. .. And then there are the things Organizer does that OneNote couldn't do... until v2013. In OneNote 2010, if you pasted in a table, you couldn't even select a column to format it -- OneNote mishandles it as line text. Track changes (which Organizer doesn't have at all) broke all the time in 2010 and doesn't survive more than a couple users in 2013; OneNote still totally trashes style data from other Office products, so you can't roundtrip text from a mildly complex word doc back into that doc without hosing the final. Embedding a ppt or xls table into OneNote would consistently get corrupted from editing collisions on a shared .one file. But Organizer would defer to the linked file and survive multi-user editing. Hah, funny.

Everything old is new again, with Redmond's fresh coat of pastels and waaaaay too much whitespace in the UI. Then again, these products are sinkholes for data -- from the latest .ONE file format back to the decade-plus-old .ORG-.OR6 file formats -- it's difficult to extract your stuff in usable ways when the format dies. Not that Microsoft, Google, IBM/Lotus, or other big companies would do that. Repeatedly. Predictably. Dependably. (E.g. Microsoft Office has trouble importing ... Microsoft Office files from 15 years ago, produced while working *at* Microsoft, FFS.) Tho it's much more limited to notes, Zim is really attractive in that regard: everything is saved in an open/documented non-binary format that'll be readable/recoverable when there's time to dig thru this crap when I'm old/near death.

Meanwhile in the real world, for just making notes and getting crap done quickly and effectively, the ubiquitous lab/moleskine/black notebook is the way to go.

Comment: Seattle bike lanes=10%use, cyclists=90% douchebags (Score 1) 947

by xeno (#45228021) Attached to: How Safe Is Cycling?

The soon-to-be-ex-mayor of Seattle is pushing hard for bike lanes everywhere, but it's probably the single issue that will cause him to be thrown out of office.
Seattle'c cyclists have an overwhelming culture of disregard for traffic laws, disdain for pedestrians, and no respect for other vehicular traffic. For example, on one of the major arterials I commute through, fewer than 1 in 5 cyclists stop for ANY red light over the busiest 2-3 miles. If traffic is busy, around 1 in 4 will just ride on the sidewalk thru groups of pedestrians (which is illegal) without signaling (which is illegal) without following traffic OR pedestrian signals (which is illegal). No one knows what the green bike lanes mean to vehicle traffic (there's no clear law), and the "sharows" (chevrons + bike icon painted on the road) are intended to encourage lane sharing... but there's no public guidance or traffic law specific to them, and they've been plunked down all over the place with little planning (e.g. on narrow high-speed roads for which NO slow vehicle is appropriate) -- which leads to confusion from motor vehicles and even more reckless behavior by cyclists. And to compound the whole mess, cycling is very seasonal here (it rains some in Seattle, and the city is only slightly less hilly than SanFran)... so most lanes are very lightly used (zero to maybe a couple dozen riders a day) outside of summer months. It's funny how the mayor's cycling lobby is really loud about how many miles of bike lanes implemented (i.e. motor vehicle capacity reduced, and idling/pollution increased), but dead silent on usage metrics (which isn't a little low, it's a lot low... like an order of magnitude low WRT justifying removal of MV capacity).

I have a decent bike, and I ride. My adult-size kids commute to school by bike+bus. I *like* cycling. But ironically Seattle's inane and badly-planned bike-lane implementation, combined with the reckless/arrogant road behavior encouraged by the likes of the nutbag Cascade Bicycle Club*** has created such confusion and hostility on the road that I don't feel safe riding anymore.

(***Just because I ride does not mean that these arrogant idiots represent me. If you live around Seattle, think about that next time you see my kid riding home from school, after you've been stuck behind a Cascade-sponsored rolling roadblock. And think about your vote for Mayor, as you sit idling on Greenwood Ave, recently cut down to one single lane, in a 3-block backup ... and no cyclist in the bike lane as far as the eye can see. )

Comment: Re:Headphones (Score 1) 274

by xeno (#45125875) Attached to: Grocery Store "Smart Shelves" Will Identify Customers, Show Targeted Ads

I did this last weekend for the first time. I'd resisted being that-obnoxious-dude-with-the-headphones-on-in-a-public-space but the experience was pure joy. I walked in, and you know what? No audible adverts. I could read my shopping list and get thru it in half the time. No impulse buys. And one other curious thing -- when I took the earbuds out at the cashier line (if they make me self-checkout, i'll just buy from amazon), I noticed that the music is truncated to maximize advert time. 30sec of a song... 15sec announcement.... 45sec song.... 15sec advert.... 30sec song....
Yeah. Headphones back in.

Comment: thinkgeek's holster (tho it sucked for me) (Score 1) 296

by xeno (#44562241) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Is There a Good Device Holster?

Thinkgeek has a totally geeky side-holster that has potential. It's about as subtle as a black toolbelt can be, but it's not as bad looking as a fanny pack, it fits common devices, and it's relatively ergonomic (moves with you and doesn't bounce around). It also has the advanatage of NOT looking like a shoulder holster under a jacket and getting you shot by a mall cop when you have the urge for Angry Birds. The downside is Thinkgeek's sizing for the holster is complete nonsense; it says it fits up to a 43in waist, but fully extended it just barely fits my kid with a 32in waist. And I STILL had to buy extra nylon webbing and clips to make an extension to get the thigh strap to work (so your iplop or phablet don't go flying out). So if you're no bigger than a US men's medium, this is a pretty nice option.


Comment: Re:Linux needs more desktop forks (Score 1) 185

by xeno (#43878921) Attached to: Linux Mint 15 'Olivia' Is Out

“there are two things that would make Linux much more attractive. First, a Linux equivalent to InstallShield, one which detects and installs dependencies, allows configuration customizations, shows you what it's going to do, asks your approval, and then lets you know what it's doing as proceeding and gives you usable error messages. “

Done. And fully mature for many years. One of the nice contributions Ubuntu made was to take the .deb repository system and put a friendly face on it with nice graphical tools (Synaptic) to browse and manage software in the appropriate repositories. One or two clicks (select+install) will check all dependencies for the package you selected, retrieve the most current version, download all dependencies, cryptographically verify the software integrity against the repository’s codesigning, install them in proper order, update any associated config files you may have modified in a previous install (with “usable error messages” and choices to reconcile the conflicts), and record the details of the whole process in the APT database so that you can cleanly uninstall anything in any order you choose. The Mint team made an even simpler version (Software Catalog) that “just works” for the end-user; they just click-to-run and the software magically appears.

BTW, this is the same magic that lets me take a bootable USB drive with Mint, and run the entire install process (full OS, office suite, internet, graphics, media+codecs, etc) from bare metal to fully installed in under 6 minutes, and then to bring the whole system fully up to date over a typical home cable connection in another 8-10. The install process is astonishingly dependable, and literally 10-20x faster than Win8. With a modern Debian-based distro, the entire operating system is one big “InstallShield.”

“The second would be a file manager which gives a new user 1) some idea where is an appropriate location to save user files, and 2) some system that shows users what is an executable file, a config file, a library, etc. as easily as a user can tell from the Windows file extensions.”

Done. Also a long time ago. Grab a live iso image from mint’s website, and boot from that image on a USB stick. Documents, music, videos, pictures, downloads are immediately visible in a simple file manager, organized in a simple folder by username. Of course, you can change the file explorer view to “/home/joebob/Documents” instead of “Home>Documents” but the default is the simple view. It’s far simpler than the alias/link mess that is Windows’ “Explorer>Desktop>Libraries>Documents>MyDocuments” and “Explorer>JoeBob>MyDocuments” and “Explorer>Computer>C:\>Users>JoeBob>MyDocuments” all pointing to the same place while visible at the same time (augh!). It is *far* simpler and more usable than Windows 7 or 8.

“The idea of repositories is nice, but having to figure out what to do with the tarball, rpm, whathaveyou, file, wandering about”

You haven’t had to do any of this for years, or someone gave you ancient distributions to try out. Here’s the deal: The point of a Debian repository is to avoid all the “wandering” and automate the entire process you describe. A typical usage scenario is this: You click on “Software Catalog” or “Synaptic” in the start menu. You browse to the “Graphics” software category and click on “GIMP” (Or type “Photoshop” in the search bar, and it links to GIMP with a short blurb about it’s comparison to Photoshop.) When you click “Install” the Synaptic program on your computer looks up the program on its list of online code-signed repositories, finds an up-to-date precompiled version of the software, checks compatibility, downloads it, autoselects and downloads dependent “dll” libraries, places all the files in standard directories, and adds the appropriate menu item on the start menu. And you’re done. You can click the icon on the menu, and run your program.
Now if you’re a hardcore masochist, you CAN manually browse a repository as if it were a web directory, download code, muck about endlessly, and end up with a mess, but you have to work hard to make that mess.
In this regard, I’m much like you. I use Mint because it just works, and I don’t have time to mess around with weird unsigned drivers from vendors that have compatibility issues with various versions of windows The thing that tipped it over for me about 5 years ago was dealing with a document scanner. After many hours of hassle with Windows drivers to a modern supposedly-twain-compliant scanner, I tried it on Ubuntu (now Mint), and was amazed to have a Matrix-like “there is no spoon” moment. I plugged the USB cable in and it just worked. Seriously, it was a no-click install. SimpleScan and SANE and everything else said “oh, you have scanner available now, what would you like to do” Give it a try.

Comment: Re:Windows 8 Sold 100 Million Copies (Score 1) 155

by xeno (#43745957) Attached to: Apache OpenOffice Downloaded 50 Million Times In a Year

No. Microsoft reports that they have SHIPPED 100 million copies of Windows 8. Only if every single retail outlet and wholesale PC manufacturer sold 100% of all current stock, and zero inventory remained worldwide, THEN we would say "sold over 100 million copies" but not until then.

Windows 8 has "sold over 100 million copies" as much as I have lived to my 100th birthday. Don't mistake potential for achievement.

Comment: could be a great improvement, especially in math (Score 2) 42

by xeno (#43603539) Attached to: Coursera To Offer K-12 Teacher Development Courses

Open online courses in educational methods are a great step in the right direction. My big concern is math education in the US: I have 2 kids in middle & high school, and one of the huge peeves has been that many parents have been driven to home education for basic math thru algebra, out of frustration with poor performance of "Discovery" and "Connected" math programs (aka Chicago Univ methods). I'm not a hater of the programs per se, just the results. Apparently these programs are pretty good at keeping low-performing and low-aptitude students involved and learning, and are quite popular with school systems facing NCLB cut-offs. But for kids with a high aptitude and good applied sense of math? The results are terrible: Kids consistently describe the program content as repetitive and boring (because moving ahead out-of-pace creates great difficulty for the teacher) while the structure is confusing (kids who are adept at the math still find the topic progression confusing). It's as if they decided to teach math topics like a 'round' in music class, and anyone out of phase gets squashed. As a result math teachers routinely use high-performers to tutor others or send them off to do unrelated schoolwork rather than skip ahead. This yet-another-new-math is a hot mess, but it's financially attractive for struggling districts.

What to do? Personally we've been collaborating locally with other parents to supplement the math course with better materials and homegrown syllabi with a more linear progression through math and algebra topics. We've also leaned heavily on crowdsourced materials, Khan Academy being the largest. Not only does this make it easier for kids to progress logically and smoothly through the material, but also gives kids a sense of control/ownership and interest in the material. (Nothing so pissed me off as how much the Chicago program kills enthusiasm for learning: "I'm good at this, but screw this homework - it's the third time we've done this topic.") But tutoring and homegrown programs are a *lot* of work, and inevitably fall down in some areas. I wish the public educational system could improve to handle it, but most teachers don't have good methods or support to improve from within.

Open coursework for educators can help in two ways:
1. Teach the teachers better. If US schools are going to continue to adopt a mediocre math program, at least the teachers should teach it right. Causes of the woes above, after the lousy program itself, include poor education of teachers on how to deliver the program. Without firm understanding, even good teachers can't deliver the material well, and excellent teachers are not prepared to bend and adapt the material to fit their students. To wit: If an apprentice needs a 28oz framing hammer and you give him a Fubar(tm), he'll probably keep bashing nails in but you've got so show him which part was intended as a hammer. If you tell the journeyman that part of the tool was hardened for use as a hammer, he'll probably use it correctly and might even reach good performance (even if making a 48oz do-10-jobs-but-none-of-them-well tool made additional work for him)
2. Give teachers more tools to contribute to open courseware content. This is a good step in the direction to support open course content, and an environment where curriculum can live and die by its performance -- not by the quixotic whims of the biggest textbook buyer. This has far wider reach than just my personal math concerns. The potential is really great.

Comment: They x-rayed my burrito (Score 4, Funny) 427

by xeno (#43360491) Attached to: TSA Log Shows Passengers Say the Darndest Things

A few years ago I made the mistake of grabbing something to eat outside the SeaTac security theater zone when I was in a hurry. There was no line (very late at night) but the flight was leaving soon, so I asked "Does my burrito constitute a 'tube of gel' or can I take it through to the boarding area?" Three luggage monkeys wearing aviator glasses at night and a harrumphing silverback later, they came to a conclusion.

They x-rayed my burrito.

How is it possible for me to take them seriously? I do risk management for a living, and -- while my jackass question and their retarded response was funny at the time -- there's no way to examine the situation that doesn't indicate heightened overall risk due to bewildered agents looking for irrelevant indicators. Sure, morons joking about a bomb and the forgetful gun-toter need to be weeded out, but neither is a material risk to the lives of anyone on a flight. A good revamp of the TSA would start from undesirable risk outcomes and work its way back to a determination of effective controls... nah. Not gonna happen.

Comment: Better local/cloud with Libreoffice+GoogDrv (Score 1) 241

by xeno (#42732225) Attached to: Office 2013: Microsoft Cloud Era Begins In Earnest

What's old is new again. A decade+ ago, Documentum and OpenText Livelink both had plugins that let MS Office open and save documents directly into top-notch version-controlled repositories. Then along came Microsoft with some badly-written Frontpage extensions called Sharepoint, lacking any real version control...years too late, claiming they invented the idea. Same pattern for online doc editing: Google built/acquired years of prior work to put together Google Docs/Drive, refined over multiple iterations and actually quite usable.... Along comes Office365: a pale imitation of desktop Office, yet positioned as the next big thing.

So I find the Office2013 pitch about local+cloud kind of funny, as LibreOffice/OpenOffice and Google Docs already do this... better.. cross platform... with more features...and has for years. In addition to the usual stuff at .... Check this out:
The extension is old, but it still works like a charm on the latest LibreOffice, and provides relatively bulletproof editing and storage of documents locally/cloud and keeps them under version control. If you've seen that Google commercial where people repeatedly do a few seconds of work on each device before it's shut off or destroyed, and the work is all saved and available.... Yeah. it's like that, and it works across desktops, phones and tablets running Google Drive, and anything with a decent browser. Even my kids can't break it. Sweet.

Comment: experience (Score 2) 354

by xeno (#42651971) Attached to: Why Ray Kurzweil's Google Project May Be Doomed To Fail

Ah, but what is experience but information in context? If i read a book, then I receive the essence of someone else's experience purely through words that I associate with/affects my own experience. So an enormous brain in a vat with internet access might end up with a bookish personality, but there's a good chance that its experience -- based on combinations of others' experiences over time and in response to each other -- might be a significant advancement toward 'building a mind.'

Comment: Re:I don't understand the version control complain (Score 2) 346

by xeno (#42402673) Attached to: Google Docs Vs. Microsoft Word: an Even Matchup?

Mod parent up. Seriously. Loudly: TRACK-CHANGES IS NOT VERSION CONTROL.

"Version" implies, well, a version of a document, a stopping point, a revision of the whole. Tracking a version of a document is a point construct; not at all the same thing as tracking the flow of changes over the course of a period of work. One is a node, the other's an edge. One's a pixel, the other's a vector. Not the same thing.

Both are really useful, but they're different tools for different purposes. As the parent posted, if anyone in a workgroup hits "accept all changes" the tracking is gone. Anyone using track-changes as version control -- expecting never to accept changes, and worse, puttering along with the idea that rolling back through tens of thousands of incremental changes is a remotely practicable rollback function -- is a moron.

On the other hand, true version control is analgous to an audit function. Writers in a workgroup should not be able to defeat version control adopted by that workgroup. Seriously, it should not be easy to lose track of versions or toast the ability to roll back to an earlier version, which in the current state of word processing software (local or in the cloud) means version control has to be external to the document itself. Google Docs' record of explicit saves is pretty close. Wikipedia's history of change commits is dead on. Track-changes is something else entirely.

Nothing is rich but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson