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Comment Re:Small Orion reflector (Score 1) 187

From personal experience, our son was able to learn and use a Starblast 4.5" pretty easily in 4th grade. My wife and I are both members of our local astronomy club, and have been into astronomy a long time, so we were able to give him help when needed, but also we took him to some of the public events for the club, and let him go to it. He enjoyed one project in particular where he tracked the galilean moons of Jupiter over several nights, sketching out their positions in a notebook, and he still likes using it to show planets to other kids at these sorts of events a couple of years later.

Binoculars are a good starting place for adults, but harder to work with kids with, in my opinion, because you can't point them at something and then show it to the child, nor can they really get your help interpreting what they're seeing.

Comment Time and progress more than gullibility (Score 1) 469

I remember this discussion when I was playing violin in high school and college (quite a while back), but it seemed like professors and violin teachers talked about surpassing Strads as a goal that might be reached someday, and that people were working toward. It never seemed to me like something the music community thought could never be achieved, like there was something mystical about it. So I'd chalk it up to time, not gullibility.

Since at least the 80s, modern instrument makers have been trying to duplicate and reverse engineer the Strads and try and make a modern instrument that's equally good. And there were tests like this, but when they were performed, the Strads would win out consistently. But now it looks like they finally succeeded. And we're entering the age where even outside blind tests, performers are starting to recognize this, like Yo Yo Ma and his professed affinity for carbon fiber cellos (I think he appeared on "How it's Made" a couple of years ago when they were demonstrating their construction).

I think you're right that it's not amazing that we'd get here eventually. In any theoretically achievable goal, where you're not trying to break fundamental physical laws, time, effort, and innovation win out. It's just like building better computers and programming them to beat chessmasters. At first, the technology and the programming just wasn't there, and computers lost. Now it is, and they win.

What this test doesn't say, however, is that the best of the modern violins are cheap. They aren't. They may not be the historical artifacts that Strads are, but they aren't something your average highly ranked college student performer could afford to perform on. I remember how prices ran, even for decently good modern instruments. This may bring the cost down from the tens of millions to the tens or hundreds of thousands, but the instruments they're comparing with are still astronomically priced, from most people's perspectives. They're the product of decades of research and mastery of the craft by modern luthiers, where the work is one part art and one part science. Good progress, and a big milestone, but they're still probably decades from making the same kind of qualities common and affordable.

Comment NASA's attempt at Case Modding (Score 1) 127

Kind of sad that NASA's suit R&D rollout to the public seems to be focused on case modding the exterior.

That said, they clearly need a "retro" cover. First look at the NASA design reminded me of a book I read as a kid, "Tom Swift and his Jetmarine," where he built escape suits for his submarine in the shape of giant eggs, like Humpty-Dumpty.

Comment Battery chemistry and safety (Score 1) 476

Depends on battery chemistry. Most electric/hybrid cars seem to be congregating around Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries, which generally shouldn't be charged in the cold... it can cause lithium plating to accumulate on the anodes and if done repeatedly can eventually compromise the safety of the battery packs. Discharging (using) them below freezing is OK, but charging is not.

Comment Like HST (but not in a good way) (Score 1) 101

It's an impressive amateur engineering feat, but its performance as a telescope might not be anything to write home about. It probably shares one quality with the hubble that you wouldn't want: a problem with gravity.

Remember how when it first went up, the hubble had problems focusing clearly? The designers forgot that its mirrors would be deformed/reshaped by the lack of gravity. Essentially, the hubble's primary mirror was optically designed to work as a telescope mirror on earth, not in space. It wasn't until the later mission to fix it with some corrective optics that it really achieved its best capabilities.

Now, since the surplus 70" mirror this guy used was designed to work on a satellite, it would very likely have the same problem but in reverse. If the mirror was designed to be shaped properly in a microgravity environment, it would also be deformed when on earth (as it is when used in the amateur telescope.) That might make the images from it quite a bit worse than one might hope for from a 70" instrument.

Comment High school is too late (Score 4, Interesting) 138

I took AP computer science in high school, myself, and it really wasn't programming, it was pretty much the same as a college data structures class (arrays, linked lists, trees, sparse matrices, searching and sorting, etc.) Going straight into that without some earlier programming foundation doesn't really work so well. We need to start kids earlier to really get proficient.

The logic skills needed to code can be developed, too, but it needs support much earlier, including in elementary school math. I remember in 2nd-4th grade, our textbook was called "sets and numbers," and we did a lot with set theory, which my son's school hasn't. There are tradeoffs: he was into algebraic equations in 4th grade, which I never did until at least middle school. But overall it seems like he's had less emphasis on logic and discrete math and more on general/continuous math. My wife and I have tried to supplement it, but it isn't really standard anymore, where we live.

Anyway, if kids get enough practice with sets and set operations in elementary school, then logic operations a bit later (which and teach them how it's really the same, AND = intersection, OR = union, etc.) and throw in a few other concepts like variables, then they should be ready to start getting some early programming classes in middle school, which will stick with them a long time.

Comment Re:that money (Score 1) 364

That's too much like saying it re-enforces a simplistic worldview that there is such a thing as reality, whereas nothing is actually "real." After all, isn't "reality" just a stand-in for perception?

In an even more complex construct, it is equally simplistic to assume good and evil are not real as it is to assume they are. It all depends on how many levels of non-reality you want to contemplate, and how superior you want to consider yourself to those who adhere to "simplistic" world views.

Comment Unusual software and hardware (Score 1) 1215

Along similar lines, if you're dependent on a handful of apps most people have never heard of, because they drive something specific (like scientific equipment, or in my case, telescopes and cameras for amateur astrophotography) your chances of moving to Linux are poor. There's a lot of good open source effort devoted to making equivalents for things most people need, but when there aren't that many users, the community of potential open source developers is small.

My own list of boat anchors keeping me in the Windows pool includes MaximDL, PHD Guiding, PemPRO, FocusMax, and a bunch of drivers for things like telescope mounts, focusers, a CCD camera, etc.

And yes, there's virtualization, and such, but some of these programs and pieces of equipment are finicky enough to get to work together to start with, without that added level of complexity.

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