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Comment You should learn MORE THAN ONE. (Score 1) 3

I think it is very important to get exposed to several different computer languages, fairly early in the game. And I don't mean different like C and C++ and C#. I mean really different, languages that drive in the richness of ways you can express algorithms.

Few things are as tedious as the language snob who thinks that whatever language his comp sci course used is best, or the one that has the largest number of job openings is best.

I don't know what would be a good set to suggest, and I am most familiar with antiques; but if we assume that one of them is going to have C-like syntax, then I would suggest, as mind-stretchers: assembly language--of course; some language in which "loops" are not central to the language, examples being APL or FORTH or PostScript; some language in which symbols rather than numbers are paramount, such as LISP or SNOBOL; some language in which indentation is significant, such as MUMPS or Python.

Comment And you don't need a one-way mirror... (Score 4, Interesting) 161

At one now-defunct Fortune 500 company I worked for, they were sort of reluctant to apply any informal techniques like watching users try to use software (without instructions or coaching), because they had a nascent Human Factors group that wanted to build a facility with one-way mirrors and video cameras, and they kept telling everyone that you needed to have a facility like that in order to learn anything.

On numerous occasions at numerous companies I've simply corralled someone, anyone, who had not yet used the software, and asked them to try to accomplish basic tasks with it. "Please forgive me for not helping, I just want to see how far you can get without help. I'll help you if you really get stuck." And then I've watched them as they tried to use my software.

I always learned a lot from this, and I learned it very quickly, and a lot of what I learned was really trivially easy to implement. You can so easily miss the blindingly obvious when you are familiar with the software yourself.

The worst advice--well, maybe not the worst, but bad advice--tended to come from people giving advice that they imagined was on someone else's behalf. You really do NOT know what things people are going to find easy or difficult until you actually watch them try.

Comment Reminiscent of Titanic's "watertight" compartments (Score 2) 76

Vanguely reminiscent of Titanic's "watertight" compartments, which were watertight at the SIDES, but open at the TOP. I believe it was "unsinkable" in some technical understanding of the word. That is, a localized hull breach that filled only one compartment would not have sunk the ship. But water could spill from one compartment to another when the ship was tilted, and thus the entry of water was not confined to the compartments where the leak was. Or something like that...

Comment PDP-11 is easy--they must not be paying enough (Score 2) 5

The official job posting doesn't mention a salary; neither does the informal posting. It acknowledges "Yes I know this is a hard-to-find (existing) skill." It doesn't say whether the compensation is commensurate. When pointy-haired bosses say that workers with certain skills are not available, what they often mean is that they are not available for the salary they feel like paying.

The PDP-11 was an extremely popular machine and remained so up to at least the mid-1980s. I remember the RSX people at DECUS griping about being high-hatted by the VAX people, and a slightly bitter funny song, "He's got the whole world on his VAX." Someone who was in their twenties at the height of the PDP-11's popularity would be in their fifties today.

And it's not an arcane architecture, it is crystal-clear, logical, and symmetrical; it set the pattern for a number of popular microprocessors, including the Motorola 68000, and the posting says plainly "We will also consider programming experience with other assembly language." Frankly, anyone with ANY experience in assembly language programming could pick it up in a couple of weeks.

I'm in my late sixties, retired, not interested in working full time or moving, but I can't believe their problem would be difficult to solve IF they offered appropriate compensation.

Comment "The RT noise is distracting people..." (Score 2) 381

And whose fault would that be, exactly? For five months, Surface MEANT "Surface RT." Did someone hold a gun to Microsoft's head and say "Release Surface RT first?" Did someone hold a gun to Microsoft's head and say "Do Surface RT in the first place?"

Remember that portability was supposed to be one of the primary design goals for Windows NT, and it originally ran on, IIRC, Digital Alpha, IBM PowerPC, SPARC promised (but never delivered), etc. etc. If they'd stuck to their design goals, every Windows application could have been offered for Windows RT. Did someone hold a gun to their head and say "Forget portability, break your promises, ditch every platform but Intel?"

And then, having deliberately burned their bridges to everything but Intel, did someone hold a gun to their heads and say "Now release a product that isn't viable now that those bridges are burned?"

Comment Re:Lawyers (Score -1, Troll) 234

The yellow color was intended to evoke Mongolia--racism in the most literal sense--because Mongolia was the site then famous as the site where a lode of the highest-quality graphite had been discovered.

So yellow pencils could not have been patented--I hope--but whoever made them first might very well have had a legitimate claim to trademark protection as "trade dress."

Submission + - Apple's Gamble On Fingerprint Scanners May Take A While To Pay Off (

An anonymous reader writes: In reality, fingerprint scanning can be unreliable and difficult to use. The problem with biometric technology is that it is hard to know how it will perform outside of controlled conditions. Fingerprint scanners often wear out over time, and when they come into contact with water, sweat, and dirt, they don’t perform nearly as well. The elderly, which makes up some of Apple’s most dedicated fans, and those who do manual labor are known to have worn-down prints that are difficult for machines to read. The problem then isn’t that Touch ID will let others in, but will keep you out.

Comment The "fragility" posts seem a little off to me... (Score 1) 201

...because of surface-to-volume and scaling considerations, the smaller these things get, the less fragile they get. I dropped my iPod Mini (rotating drive) at least as often as I dropped my current flash-memory iPod and never had a problem. Yes, battery life is an issue. Quite possibly, service life might be an issue (bearing wear).

Seagate is claiming 400 Gs maximum operating shock. I, um, gee, well truthfully I have no idea what that means in practical terms but it seems like a big number to me. They are claiming 80 Gs for the first desktop drive I looked at.

Comment But DRM isn't about piracy... (Score 4, Insightful) 61

Amusing, of course, but irrelevant, because DRM isn't about piracy, and it certainly isn't about rewarding content creators, it's about preventing competition.

As long as you can't read an Amazon Kindle on a Nook, DRM is doing its job. If Nooks and Barnes and Noble are getting driven out of business, DRM is doing its job well.

An automated eBook scanner doesn't do anything to make the eBook business more competitive.

Comment H. G. Wells, World Brain (Score 1) 2

Another fascinating package of hits and misses was H. G. Wells' 1938 book--actually a collection of articles--"World Brain." In some ways it anticipates the Internet in general and Wikipedia in particular. It describes a network of scholars, producing a gigantic encyclopedia, using desktop terminals capable of calling up vast quantities of information. Well, that's the "prophetic" spin. Where he got it ludicrously wrong was that the technology involved microfilm, reels of microfilm be mailed around the world, and, of course, it was a dignified, high-minded community of certified academic scholars. No articles on Pokemon characters, Miley Cyrus, or striptease!

I've occasionally wondered whether Isaac Asimov's "Encyclopedia Foundation" was directly inspired by Diderot or whether he was also thinking of "World Brain."

Comment Google and Multivac: closer than I ever expected.. (Score 1) 277

It all may be so, but nevertheless Google is an awful lot closer to Isaac Asimov's Multivac than I ever expected to see in my lifetime.

In the 1960s, when I would tell people that I was working with computers, a very common response is "What does that mean? Do you ask it questions?" At the time, I always thought it was a laughably naÃve question.

Google DOESN'T understand English, and that it takes a lot of lateral-thinking and adventure-game knowhow to formulate a question well. (For example: if you want the text of a poem or a song lyric, don't search on the title or the first line, search on the most obscure line or phrase from the poem you can think of because that's what's most likely to get you the full text).

Nevertheless, I just used Google to find me the ext of Isaac Asimov's The FInal Question.

Comment New York Times mismanaged the Globe (Score 4, Insightful) 178

After saying how much they respected and admired the Globe, the New York Times made it clear that they regarded Boston as the sticks and just wanted to milk the cash cow.

I was a subscriber for decades and might still be if they had basically not driven me away.

They gradually cut out all my favorite columnists and started to use wire services for national stories they would once have covered themselves.

Royal Ford, their auto writer, always talked about things like how the tested car did during a snowy ski trip to New Hampshire. So one day I open the paper to find that he's been replaced by a syndicated column written by someone in California.

The last straw was billing. They screwed up the billing. We were on quarterly billing, and when the New York Times took over, we continued to receive quarterly bills--but EVERY bill we got was accompanied with a 90-day late notice and threats to send it to collection.

We got that straightened out--went to automatic monthly payments by credit card--and THEN someone at the Globe decided it would be cool to wrap all of their newspaper bundles in computer printouts of customer credit card information.

My wife says to me, "Well, I hate the work of mailing a check every month, but should we do that?" And I say "Honey, didn't you read the rest of the story? They wrapped the Globe in credit card printouts, but they were wrapping the Worcester Telegram in customer checking account information printouts!

What can you say to a company that does a thing like that? Except "goodbye."

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