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Comment Surprising results (Score 3, Interesting) 327

I looked back at my past year's worth of bills and saw that I used a total of 3648 kW-h. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, though each month my power company sends me a notice that states I'm using about 15-25% less energy than my energy efficient neighbors. I live alone in a house that's bigger than I need but not ludicrously so, and I don't tend to leave computers running. As 30-year old appliances fail I've been replacing them with more efficient models, and as they burn out I'm replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs (but dang, some of those daily-use incandescents are over 12 years old at this point, I'm beginning to think they'll never fail).

The big surprise for me, however, was my bill from last January; my electric energy use easily outstripped even my summertime air conditioning use, and was a fair bit higher than the months immediately before and after. The bill kindly informed me that the average temperature that month was 9 degrees colder than the year before, but I couldn't see that making such a huge difference. Could it be the air circulating fan in the furnace that I let run on low most hours of the day? Maybe, but why the anomalous month? I considered a incorrect meter reading, but realized that it's read remotely rather than by a guy walking around the neighborhood, and any mistake would have been offset the other direction the next month. Then I remembered.

For occasional use by my houseguests I have one of those oil-filled radiator-styled space heaters in my guest bedroom. I recall that sometime in that December-January timeframe the heater was used, and I forgot to check that it was turned off after a houseguest left. It sat there maintaining a comfy temperature in the otherwise unused bedroom for approximately a month before I happened to enter the room and noticed.

So now I know just what an energy pig that space heater is, and I'll be extra careful to check in on it after houseguests depart. Thanks Slashdot, you've probably saved me several tens of dollars over the next decade as I become more vigilant about the heater's use.

Comment Brighter whites? Really? (Score 1) 202

Am I the only one who doesn't want brighter whites, and would even go so far as to avoid them?

On my smartphone, computer monitors, laptops, and even my old CRT monitors and TV I keep the brightness turned down. When I have opportunity to see LED TVs at my parent's place or elsewhere they always seem eye-piercingly bright, to the point where I don't care to watch them. The same goes for any LED based TV in a store -- or basically anywhere. This was one of the main reasons I was looking forward to eventually purchasing a plasma TV (instead of an LED TV) to replace my CRT TV.

Truer whites I'm all for, but brighter whites do nothing at all for me.

Comment Re:Tracktion (Score 1) 223

Thank you for mentioning this! I purchased Tracktion 3 for the Mac a number of years ago because its workflow and interface mapped better onto my brain than any alternative I could find (well, at least those I could demo for free, which was quite a few). However I was disappointed when Tracktion appeared to become an abandoned and unmaintained product, and it kept losing bits of usefulness with each OS X release. To be honest I'd given up on it and considered it to be lost money. But if it's back I'm *definitely* going in for the new version -- particularly as even the non-upgrade price is now around 20-25% of what I paid for the previous version (and an even better ratio on the upgrade price).

I initially looked at it for the purpose of MIDI sequencing, and that's what I based my purchase decision on. However I never used it for that purpose but instead have done a small number of multitracked board recordings from my live sound-guy gigs. Back before the bit-rot it did an absolute bang-up job for those projects.

But, anyway, given there's a new version and it would appear that active development has resumed, I'll definitely recommend checking it out. I mean, there's free demos for Windows, Mac, and Linux -- with certainly enough going on in the demo to determine whether it fits your style of operating and is worth purchasing.

Direct links: and

Comment Re:As the saying goes... (Score 0) 999

Nothing was lost? All the work that the government workers could have been doing during the shutdown was lost.

You mean all that work that was so important that it was deemed non-essential?

All the revenue from the National Parks were lost.

Which amounts to what, maybe a grand total of a couple million, nationwide? Maybe? The federal government burns through that in seconds.

Two weeks food inspections, drug inspections, VA claims processing were lost.

And yet safe food and drugs were still being produced, shipped, and sold. The lost value-add was... umm...? And a few VA claims are paid out to drug companies and the like about two weeks late -- yawn.

Worldwide confidence in the US and the US dollar was lost. US credit rating was compromised with the possibility of higher interest rates on new deficit.

Wake me up when people stop loaning the U.S. federal government money, charge it higher rates, or stop keeping their wealth in dollars. If anything those first two effects can't come soon enough, to put the brakes on the spending spree that's selling out of every taxpayer, particularly the younger ones who will labor under the burden of paying that debt for most of their life. I say throw the retiring Baby Boomers to the wolves -- they spent their trust fund on federal baubles for decades, and now it's time to pay the piper. That fable about the ant and the grasshopper has more than a little merit.

Scientific tests will have to be thrown out and restarted.

So this was all a job creation program for scientists, you're saying? After all, they can look forward to redoing all that work. Sounds just about as effective as the previous economic stimuli to me!

Comment Re:I only go... (Score 1) 415

I used to do the same thing, due to most of the same reasoning. My thoughts had always run along the lines of "I'm have a pretty healthy and robust immune system, and I rarely get sick. It's no big deal if I catch a flu bug because I'll fight it off quick." Plus, it was just a hassle to go get vaccinated against the flu.

Then one year I picked up a nasty lingering cold, which of course there's not much I could do about other than treat symptoms. But it dawned on me partway through that if I were exposed to the flu while my system was already knocked down a few pegs by a cold or other infection, that I would be in a world of unnecessary self-inflicted hurt.

Since that time I've availed myself of flu vaccines. I really can't tell you if they've helped me avoid a bout of the flu, but I have recognized the trend of it being slightly harder to fight off colds and other infections as I age, so to me it seems to be a trivial and inexpensive betterment of the odds.

Comment I'm gonna' cry (Score 1) 172

This makes me terribly sad.

There is no doubt in my mind that my father will be unable to cope with this change and be completely frustrated trying to run his fantasy football team this year. This of course means "support" calls to me, who has no interest in sports, fantasy or otherwise.

"Wait, wait," you exclaim, "the fantasy football section hasn't changed. Well, much, at least." Maybe, but my father has trouble with concepts like drag-and-drop, and is one of the stereotypical older users with whom you can expect to have this type of conversation: "Q: Which web browser are you using?" "A: Google. Or maybe Yahoo? You know, the usual one.", "Q: Sorry, which program do you use to go to Google, or Yahoo?" "A: The Internet". Coping with user interface changes is definitely not among his aptitudes, and this redesign is going to make for a long year of confusion and grumbling.


Comment Yay for Star Control and Battlezone (Score 1) 121

I don't have much to add other than I'm hugely excited for both Star Control and Battlezone. SC1 and SC2 were bedrock mainstays of my college days, and the hover-tank Battlezone released in 1998 was phenomenal.

I've since moved on to play and enjoy The Ur-Quan Masters, but even shortly after SC2's heyday and before UQM was available, I remember paying for a legit download of the PC version of the game (late '98, early '99?). If we could get network mode Melee, I'd be tickled pink. If there were a persistent universe game (ala EVE) formed out of the Star Control franchise I'd lock myself away in a room and never see the light of day again.

However I've never found a comparable game to the '98 Battlezone. The gameplay was terrifically fun, fairly easy to get started, the copy protection was a reasonable compromise (need one disc present among all the computers playing on the LAN), and I cannot remember a single stability, usability, or gameplay bug. I could very much see wasting away many hours if that were updated and brought to market again.

Comment Who's being interviewed? (Score 3, Interesting) 79

Geez. Mr. Pegoraro barely gets a word in here and there. And on top of that the whole interview gets bogged down in uninteresting irrelevant crap about circumventing paywalls and AdBlock. What could have been an interesting interview with Mr. Pegoraro regarding the paper to phosphors transition of the news industry was squandered with Roblimo telling us how cool and smart he is.

I don't often complain about /., but this is the interview quality I'd expect coming from an average high school freshman. Completely not worth your time to watch.

Comment Re: Real-world examples = stealth aircraft (Score 2) 580

I learned more about how fields and waves really worked from building antennas from the ARRL handbook, and rewinding bicycle generators than I did from those two courses.

Same here, effectively. However it was some IEEE journal, I believe, that finally helped me make sense of what antennas are really doing and the principles behind designing them to radiate effectively. I saved that journal, though it's stuffed away in a box somewhere, because I thought it is exactly the sort of thing which should be in an ARRL publication somewhere.

Just today, some 15 years after I finished my masters in EE, a coworker filled me in on the basics of how vacuum tubes work. It was almost intuitive once he described their structure, and suddenly the terms "collector" and "emitter" as applied to transistors make much more sense and are much easier to remember. Now granted, there's a widespread demand for engineers who are familiar with designing vacuum tube circuits these days so I can understand why the technology isn't taught, but I think a basic understanding of how they work would go a long way toward helping students understand the operation of transistors.

Comment Real-world examples, shaky foundations (Score 5, Interesting) 580

While my intuition tells me that high school grads are, on the whole, not as well prepared as they should be, there is certainly some improvement that could be done at the college level.

One problem I faced on the path to my EE degree was that in mathematics classes and some engineering classes (particularly electromagnetic fields, communication systems theory, and stochastic signal analysis -- which of course are some of the most math/calculus heavy of the EE curriculum), was that I lacked an intellectual model of what the mathematics was accomplishing. While concepts like derivatives and integrals made a degree of sense because they could be related to velocity, acceleration, position, area, and volume, when I got to the point I was dealing with eigen-this and eigen-that and hermetian-something-or-others I had lost any real-world connection, and my understanding suffered as a result.

The most frustrating and poignant instance of this was the first day of my linear algebra class, which I was taking only as a pre-req for CS class on GUIs, which only needed it to the extent that rotation, translation, and scaling using matrices was involved, and I already knew that much. Anyway, the mathematics professor walks in and announces "I do not care, even one little bit, what this material is used for in the real world. I am here to instruct you in mathematics alone." I looked around the room. In a class of about 25, I believe there were 20 science/engineering students, 4 math students, and one photography major (she was one of those brilliant types who took upper level classes in sciences, math, philosophy, or anything else just for fun). I was somewhat incredulous at the professor's utter disregard for his students' background, abilities, and interests. And just as I expected the course was utterly miserable and tedious, and then there were the bad days.

I contrast that with the math classes I took for Calculus II-IV, and Numerical Systems Analysis. The professors (thank heavens I avoided graduate students) who taught those classes were totally on top of the situation, and made it very clear what we were trying to accomplish with real world examples, or at least didn't veer too incredibly far from intuitive models. I think it helped that in Calc II-IV I had the same professor all through, and he was teaching a pilot course that integrated calculators into the material, so there was a lot of approachable material throughout. This was a stark contrast from the previously mentioned Linear Algebra as well as the Differential Equations I courses.

To this day I hate Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, and I'm 100% convinced it's due to the terrible instructors I dealt with. Which is a shame, because I loved mathematics in high school, and would go beyond my coursework to explore what I could on my own without much additional help from my (incredible) high school teacher, and I had a blast doing it. If I hadn't developed a strong interest in aeronautics and computers I most likely would have pursued a math degree.

The biggest problem I faced throughout my mathematics education, as well as many engineering classes, is that as the course would progress it was building taller and taller upon a shaky foundation. While my arithmetic was bedrock, my algebra was concrete, and my trigonometry was 2x4 construction, the rest was a lot less solid. Calculus felt a lot like building with Tinker-toys, and by the time I got to anything past that it was toothpicks stuck together with Sticky-Tack. As more and more material was piled on top, a lot of it kept slipping off because the stuff underneath it was crumbling. I would have benefited greatly from either better construction (i.e. better instruction), or a lot more hands-on experience with those shaky bits such that they were strongly reinforced.

Comment Re:Speed based on heat is a feature? (Score 2) 126

I'm not sure if that was sarcasm. If it was, ignore the following.

Then turn off dynamic power/thermal management (e.g. Turbo Boost on Intel processors, I'm sure it has fancy marketing names on various GPUs/etc). You'll get consistent performance, at the expense of maximum possible speed.

Such systems typically have a nominal guaranteed rate, which is all you get if you turn off this feature, keeping the hardware within the acceptable maximum continuous-load power/thermal envelope, assuming that your power/thermal engineers abided by the product's design guides. With this you should be able to obtain a minimum guaranteed compute rate, but nothing more.

However when these features are turned on, the hardware is capable of detecting from moment to moment when there is some additional power or thermal margin, sometimes even between different areas of a chip. The hardware will temporarily adjust clock rates and the like to take advantage of that extra head room. With this a little extra performance beyond the guaranteed compute rate is obtained, at the expense of a predictable compute rate.

I'm sure this behavior drives professional benchmarkers batty. I'm not sure how they deal with it -- one setting gets you the best numbers, the other setting gets you reproducible numbers. Which set you use might depend on what marketing wants to sell to a particular customer.

Comment I like starting with data structures (Score 1) 254

If possible, I usually like to start by getting an overall understanding of the various data structures used to implement the program. Sometimes this can be very helpful, particularly if the code was written by someone who designed the code rather than hacked it together. Ever since I took my first data structures class I have maintained that if you can understand the structures, the algorithms become almost self-evident. However, it's not always tremendously helpful, particularly if the implementor just accreted functionality into the program, or who views a big struct or two full of every little thing the program needs as good engineering. It also tends to break rather badly if the code has had a succession of short-to-medium term caretakers rather than one person maintaining it all along. That seems to be a fairly typical situation in commercial code.

If following the data structures isn't helpful, then I tend to follow a top-down linear approach. That is I start with main(), get an overall sense for the flow of the program at that level, then start at the beginning again and work my way section by section or line by line through the code (or at least the parts of it that I think I care about). In other words at I first do a high-level read-through until I get the basic idea of what it's trying to do, and then fill in the details of how it does it. I repeat this at each level as I dig deeper into the code. It sort of ends up being a breadth-first summary scan followed by a depth-first extraction of details.

Others have suggested commenting or reformatting code as you go along. My opinion is that if you do so be fully prepared to throw all that work away unless you know you're about to become the head maintainer of the code in question. Original authors don't seem to be able to see how bad their code is because it often isn't bad to them -- their code reflects their mental processes and expertise. It's just not worth the struggle, usually, to even reformat the code underneath them. There's lots and lots of terribly ugly code out there in the world, and almost every time I start looking at something new I call down curses and damnation on the authors. However in the end I just learn to live with it. Unless it's so terribly abhorrent as to actually be broken because of how it's written, I play the code chameleon and modify code following the same nature of ugly as the pre-existing code.

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