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Comment About the same as 1980 in real terms (Score 4, Interesting) 430

In real dollars, i.e. corrected for inflation, it's about the same as in 1979-1980.

It's interesting, without shortages and lines at the pump, how much less threatening it seems. I remember visiting my aunt that Christmas and being quite concerned because our tank wasn't big enough to hold gas for the whole round trip, and in addition to lines, many, many gas stations had short hours--there was no certainty of being able to find a gas station open on Christmas day.

Comment Falsification of history (Score 3, Insightful) 149

I listened to the event live, and I and everyone in the room heard it as "one small step for man." And I remember at the time hearing a comment, "shouldn't he have said one small step for a man?" The audio recording is perfectly clear. There's no squelch, no gap, and nothing half-buried under static. The New York Times reported it as it was.

Neil Armstrong originally insisted he had said "a" but later acknowledged that he could not have said so. Wikipedia cites sources.

Yet some encyclopedias and history books include the "a." It is a kindly falsification of history, made out of misguided respect for Neil Armstrong's feelings.

And I find it shocking.

It is a trivial distortion, but it is a distortion of an event that was witnessed in live broadcast by half a billion people and electronically recorded.

If such a thing can be distorted simply to spare one man's feelings about a completely inconsequential mistake, what does that tell us about the trustworthiness of basic, prosaic factual details of historical events with few eyewitnesses, no electronic records, and money, politics, or national pride hanging in the balance?

Comment Re:WEIRD NOT WIERD (Score 1) 117

I before E, except after C
Or when sounded like "A"
As in "neighbor" and "weigh"
Except seize, inveigle, either,
Weird, leisure, neither.

(Also science, conscience, sheik, ancient, being, caffeine, feisty, forfeit, protein, species, and several dozen others, including "Einstein"--twice! The amazing thing about the rule is that it works at all. It seems as if it all the exceptions are words whose spelling is so familiar that you never stop to ask...)

Comment "Conquest of Space" (Score 2) 41

Christmas on Mars forms the climax of the 1955 George Pal movie, "Conquest of Space." The crew of the first ship to Mars has been debating whether God gave Mars to humankind to exploit, or just Earth. They all agree that according to the Bible God gave "the four corners of the Earth" to humankind. The question is whether God's domain extends to Mars.

If God exists on Mars, then Mars belongs to humankind as well.

Due to plot complications, the ship is forced to remain on Mars for a year, and their water supply isn't going to last that long. On Christmas Day, they are glumly playing carols on the harmonica while contemplating the prospect of their demise, when it begins to snow, providing the water they need and proving that God exists on Mars. Ergo Mars belongs to humankind, it's OK to conquer space, and the music is allowed to build to a crescendo behind the words "THE END."

The special effects aren't too good, either.

Comment Polyploid vegetables (Score 1) 204

As a kid reading about how they used colchicine, a toxic compound that interferes with cell division--to create polyploid varieties of fruits and vegetables that are much larger than those with the natural chromosome complement. And I realized that surely does qualify as "genetic engineering" of a sort.

That's just a stray synaptic firing. Please don't read any subtext into that. I'm not saying today's GM is the same thing. I'm not saying frankensalmon are safe. I'm not even saying polyploid vegetables are safe. And I happen to think there's a totally legitimate concern about allowing commercial interests to rush new technology into widespread use too quickly.

All I'm saying is that I suddenly realized that they've been doing genetic engineering all my life.

Comment Guilford's "Structure of Intellect"--1960s (Score 3, Interesting) 530

The original idea wasn't vacuous. The researchers who coined the term, particularly Spearman, honestly thought they had found statistical evidence for a single common factor that could be called "intelligence." But I thought that had all been thoroughly exploded by the 1950s.

There was a guy way back in the 1960s who worked out a sort of abstract block diagram, 6 by 6 by 6, of 216 different "thingies" that represented some aspect of intellectual performance. What was it called? "Structure of Intellect." Google, click click, J. P. Guilford. So he spent a chunk of his career devising psychological tests that ought to detect each of those 216 intellectual abilities and then doing the correlations to show that each of the tests was really, truly measuring something different from the others. When I encountered his stuff, he had successfully demonstrated the existence of about 150 of those 216 skill or talents. In other words, intelligence isn't one thing, it's at least 150 different, independent, things.

And that was in the 1960s. I'd have hoped that by now IQ was lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Spearman. Whatever was keeping it alive? Racism? The standardized testing industry?

I don't quite see how this goes much beyond what was known a half-century ago, though it's helpful to see it confirmed. But if the officials want to test intelligence, they will just go on testing intelligence, whatever the science says.

Comment Having read Mary Roach's "Packing for Mars..." (Score 2) 453

I highly recommend it. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach, really tells you everything you wanted to know about space travel but were afraid to ask. In fact it tells you things you never even thought to ask about. Like "What really does happen to clothing that is kept in contact with skin without being changed, for weeks?" Like "When they see a turd floating through the cabin, due to someone's carelessness, how do astronauts handle the situation?"

After reading that book, I asked myself the question, "Well, if you won a free all-expenses-paid monthlong trip to the International Space Station, would you accept?" And my honest answer is... I... am... not... sure.

So, my hat's off to those who volunteered, and I hope they have thought it through. Not just the suicide part, but what comes before. Because it sounds like being homeless and living in a car, only not as comfortable.

Comment Why not offer a bigger preinstalled battery? (Score 1) 442

I don't get it. Virtually every laptop or tablet has a choice of preconfigured, built-in amounts of RAM, flash memory, hard drive space. I realize the combinatorial issue, but why isn't a double-sized battery a user-configurable choice at purchase time? You can of course find all sorts of add-on third-party products but in general if you want 32 GB of flash memory in a tablet, you buy a tablet with 32 GB of flash memory preinstalled. You don't walk around with a USB stick or a compact flash card permanently poking out the side. Furthermore, how to say this except that users are willing to overpay for the convenience and security-blanket of preinstalled RAM and flash memory, so it could be a source of additional profit margin.

Why the reluctance to offer bigger batteries? Let the users who need longer runtimes buy longer runtimes, let the users who need lighter weight buy lighter weight. Is it fear that reviewers comparing competitive products would insist on citing the weight for comparable runtime instead of weight of the lightest unit?

Comment So that's why I once had 15 minutes of fame... (Score 1) 67

There was a period of a couple of years when a web page hosted on my ISP's freebie 15 megabytes of web space was the top hit for a particular Google search. It was a good page--a lay discussion of a technical topic--and I enjoyed the ego boost, but I always wondered why since I was not aware of it's being linked from anywhere, let alone any high-traffic or high-creditibility page. Now I think I know.

(I have since contributed that page's content to Wikipedia. The article has evolved with contributions from others but is still very recognizably mine... and I recently received a the left-handed compliment of an angry email from someone who'd stumbled across my own web page and complained that I had plagiarized it from Wikipedia!)

Comment Only from one viewpoint! (Score 1) 96

"the cloak is unidirectional (it only provides invisibility from one very specific direction)."

This is reminiscent of the 1930s Hollywood special effect called the "glass shot," which looks perfect from the point of view of the camera, but not from anywhere else.

"It is now just a matter of time before visible-light, omnidirectional invisibility cloaks are created." That's about like saying that if David Copperfield can make the Statue of Liberty vanish... as a magic trick... seen under special conditions from an audience confined to a special viewpoint... it is only a matter of time before he can do it for real.

Comment Maybe Apple is doing something that isn't easy (Score 1) 300

They all starting with pretty much the same technology, suppliers, engineering competence. So if Apple can manage to put together a product with all of the elements on your wishlist, and nobody else can... maybe it's not actually obvious what should be done, maybe doing it is actually not that easy, and maybe Apple is actually good at it.

Steve Jobs called it "taste."

I once worked at a Fortune 500 company that seemed to be completely unable to identify good ideas on their merits. Every idea had to be validated, basically by seeing that the competition was already doing it. When their customers would start clamoring for the features and products their competition had, they would suddenly get very busy and whip out something, under pressure and in a rush. Their motto seemed to be "we'll do whatever IBM does, two years later and poorly." There's a lot of that in the computer industry.

Comment Yes, need, really. (Score 1) 199

I am glad that it works "like a charm" for you on "the majority" of documents. Could you tell us what, exactly, it does for you on the minority?

I downloaded the no-cost XML converter from Microsoft for my Mac some years ago, for the excellent reason that they hadn't produced a version of Word that supported .docx yet. My experience was that at least half the time, it would run for many minutes trying to convert a document and then crash. These were not long documents, and I was never able to characterize what things about a document caused the crash. The conversions were always slow, like minutes, even when successful. And when the documents did convert, I often found that there were unacceptable formatting problems.

I found that NeoOffice--then the most appropriate Mac version of OpenOffice, was faster and more reliable at opening .docx files--and then saving them in .doc format--but it, too, often had formatting compatibility issues.

Comment Explains why no custom wallpaper on Kindle Fire? (Score 1) 383

Well, that sort of explains something that had been puzzling me. My wife and I just recently bought the (original) Kindle Fires, and one minor detail that puzzled and bugged me is that there is no easy way to change the wallpaper on the screens it displays. Mind you, I rather like the pictures Amazon provides... a tasteful rotation of pictures of nostalgic old technology like pens and pencils.

But I'd rather have a picture of my grandson. And for about a quarter of a century, every high-tech device with a screen has invited me to set the default background wallpaper to anything I like.

There is apparently no way to set custom wallpaper on a Kindle Fire jailbreaking or hacking it.

Obviously, even on the Kindle Fire, Amazon feels that they, not the purchaser, "own" the screen.

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