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Comment Re:Reading skills (Score 1) 208

Ok, I'll give you an example. At one point characters climb into a large faux rock in an environment that is described as containing many similar rocks. They transit a large distance by making this rock mobile, according to the narrative, hiding from satellites, etc.

The problem: technology we've had for many decades would catch them the first day out. Simple image subtraction. Imagine an image of a scene of any particular complexity represented as a series of numbers (pixel values.) Move something in the scene overnight. A day later, take a new image. In the context of the whole scene, you, with your human eyes faced with significant complexity (many rocks in this case) might not be able to pick out the movement.

Now subtract each pixel from image one from the pixel in the same location in image two and take the absolute value of the result. In all places where image 1 is the same as image 2, the values are the same, so the result is zero (which generally we treat as black.) But in the location where the object moved, the pixel values are not the same, so the image resulting from all these subtractions shows a spot of brightness (values above zero) in two locations: One, where the object was, and two, where it is now. From the perspective of the Red Mars storyline: address both spots, characters trivially eliminated or captured, storyline demolished.

This is one of the most basic (and effective) types of satellite detection of movement and change, and believe me, it's no secret.

The consequence: No such travel would hide them; the storyline is therefore borked.

From my POV, while these kinds of flaws will get past a certain percentage of the audience, they're not forgivable WRT the author (or the agent, or an editor familiar with the genre); if you're going to write SF, particularly SF that uses technology to actually inform the storyline, you had better make sure that at *least* your postulated idea hasn't been obsolete for a quarter of a century. It takes research. You can't just sit down and write about this stuff, you should know it first, or if you don't, you need to fix that. Or your support team needs to catch it -- and that's still your responsibility. In this case, the premise was hiding from satellite surveillance; even a cursory check of the public subject matter would have found that the method described would not work.

Not to just beat up on KSR; Sometimes it's simple anachronism; for instance, in a future written about by Anne McCaffrey where we've been in space for a while, and the characters are at a new planet discovering dragons, mentioning the "floppy drives" in the spaceship simply shows a failure of the ability to think ahead -- it's just not reasonable. James Blish, in Welcome to Mars, had his character use a "power tube" to build a technical transport widget critical to the storyline; in a future far removed from vacuum tube technology. Said tube breaks on landing, and so the characters are stranded, and on this premise the majority of the adventure is based. This is slightly more forgivable, given that at the time, tubes actually were the tech at hand, but I still rather think it was some weak writing from an otherwise capable author. I had the chance to call him on it, and was rewarded with kind of a hangdog look and a nod.

SF authors -- if they're serious -- need to find people who can do this kind of checking. It's important, particularly if you're going to be (or hope to be) hanging with the big dogs. Because eventually, someone will call you on your errors, and on such things reputations and careers can rise and fall. It's just that simple.

I recently had the distinct pleasure of working with an author, a new one, who not only did a good job out of the gate, but was amenable to having flaws such as the above pointed out, corrections made, references provided and checked, etc. I think the work is top notch; we're doing all we can to get it published, but alas, right now the term "new author" is another way to say "not getting published" by any of the major houses. They all seem to be running off backlists and the lack of foresight of many agents to reserve electronic rights, allowing them to produce e-book titles at little cost. I think we'll get him published one day, simply because the work is truly excellent and because I (fervently) hope that these conditions will not persist forever. As long as his patience holds out, anyway. He could at any time throw up his hands and go straight to e-book, which might indeed get him launched, but carries many downsides that would be particularly galling to see afflict a work like this. It's a frustrating time to be in the business, I assure you of that.

Comment Re:How is this legal? (Score 1) 1103

2 is 100% true. For instance; buy some furniture on time. Fail to pay. Court implements judgement against you. Creditor gets to take $$$ from your account. Scenario 2: Run a credit card up. Can't pay. Collection agency, etc., gets judgement. They can hit your bank account, they can even take your tax return.

I understand that those of us who don't live like this don't tend to run into these situations, but they're real, they do happen, and they are certainly motivation to keep one's money elsewhere.

Note that I am not justifying any particular behavior; just pointing out sequences of events that have certain results.


Firefox 23 Makes JavaScript Obligatory 778

mikejuk writes "It seems that Firefox 23, currently in beta, has removed the option to disable JavaScript. Is this good for programmers and web apps? Why has Mozilla decided that this is the right thing to do? The simple answer is that there is a growing movement to reduce user options that can break applications. The idea is that if you provide lots of user options then users will click them in ways that aren't particularly logical. The result is that users break the browser and then complain that it is broken. For example, there are websites that not only don't work without JavaScript, but they fail in complex ways — ways that worry the end user. Hence, once you remove the disable JavaScript option Firefox suddenly works on a lot of websites. Today there are a lot of programmers of the opinion that if the user has JavaScript off then its their own fault and consuming the page without JavaScript is as silly as trying to consume it without HTML."

Comment Re:How is this legal? (Score 5, Interesting) 1103

I don't understand why so many low-income people don't have bank accounts.

1, if they've written bad checks, the bank simply won't give them an account. 2, when your money is in the bank, it can be easily taken without your consent - various kinds of debt, credit agencies, lawyers, even the feds. Cash money in hand (or hidden wherever), much harder for third parties to access, hence, you can live easier when in trouble. 3, banks keep shitty hours: when you need your money in the evening and you can't get it, that can be a problem when the issue at hand is diapers, etc. 4, even when "free", make an error (common with low income types), and the bank will hose you with a huge fee (or fees... they can be pretty tricky about things like the order they cash/bounce when you overdraw. 5, location can be an issue if you're not mobile. There's probably more than this too; these were just off the top of my head.

Comment Because everybody is a spam recipient (Score 1) 65

Yes, SEO is a business term. The technical term for it is "lying to search engine robots so they'll tell people your page is more interesting than it actually is."

There are other people who can help make your web site more interesting, or make it more accessible to search engine robots. Most of those people call themselves web designers or editors or content specialists or people who've spent 15 minutes reading Google's advice.

Comment Blackface minstrels (Score 1) 334

There are some variants on Morris dancing that are traditionally done in blackface. It's not African blackface, it's English coal-miner blackface.

On the other hand, I also play old-timey American music. There's a really good group called the Carolina Chocolate Drops who talk about the African-American roots of much of that style of music (obviously banjos, but other aspects as well), and they've said that they're probably the first generation of African-Americans who could play that style of music without their parents smacking them for doing something related to the old minstrel shows. Stephen Foster wrote some really good tunes, but you just have to play many of them as instrumentals and not try to fix the lyrics...

Comment Interop is still around? (Score 1) 334

I last went to one of those 20 years ago. It had stopped being an actual interoperability demo a few years earlier, but there were still some techies there as well as marketers in suits. It was the smaller Atlanta version of the show, and I was in town for a class. I ended up having dinner with the folks from a small East Coast software company that I knew a few of from Usenet, and they appreciated being able to refer to something that had happened at Pennsic without having to explain what Pennsic was (I hadn't actually been to it, but SCA was part of common techie culture.)

Comment Re:Unprofessional reverse-sexism (Score 1) 334

It's not whether they're physically attractive, it's whether they're dressed to be professional or attention-getting. The person in the booth-babe dress doesn't know your product, though neither does the guy doing the magic-show shill and giving out yet another iPod to the person who picks the card with the correct three buzzwords on it. (And neither does the restaurant worker running the espresso machine, but after dragging all over a trade-show floor I'll still appreciate your company for giving out coffee instead of making me go out and wait in line at the snack bar.)

Comment Re:Marketing, engineers, and trolls (Score 1) 334

Trolls are smelly cave dwellers. Most engineers have enough sense to wash ourselves, and if the marketers want us to do multiple shifts they'll provide multiple sets of whatever company-logo shirt they want us to wear this show, or tell us to wear basic blue shirts. (And the last time I was "unshaved" was decades ago; since then I've had a beard.)

How do you make your engineer or developer seem credible? Have booth staff who make sure that everybody at the booth knows everybody else, so if a visitor wants to talk to a sales person they get the right sales person and if they want an engineer they get the right engineer (either directly or brought over by the sales person.) And, y'know, make sure that the product you're trying to sell is appropriate for the convention you're trying to sell it at.

Comment Dr Who t-shirts are cool, ok? (Score 1) 334

(And I won't ask about fezzes.)

Ok, earlier today there probably were more men wearing dresses and high heels around here than women wearing Dr Who t-shirts. But that's because the gay pride parade was today and "here" is the San Francisco Bay Area. Normally, I'd guess there are more women wearing Dr Who shirts.

Comment Depends on the show (Score 1) 334

And sometimes the professionally dressed woman is the lead developer, not just a marketer. And sometimes the professionally dressed man is a professional booth shill, and he's surprisingly good at it.

I've worked trade shows also (usually when I've been a sales engineer, developer, or sometimes consultant; $DAYJOB's trade show people usually use some local employees, some headquarters marketing people, and some speakers from headquarters.) Some of the marketing people know the products, some are logistics folks who are good at getting the booth to the show, working with the local union to get it assembled, making sure that everybody who's scheduled to work the show knows what we're presenting, etc. There are shows where the target audience is C-levels, and shows where it's the technology people who are going to build your products into their products. I've seen more of the latter, but that's the kind of show I'm more likely to go to.

Comment Re:Not really sexist, just good psychology (Score 1) 334

Last time I bought a car there was one sales woman who was really attractive, but much more importantly she could talk about engines. Unfortunately for her, I didn't like the way the car handled (and next year's engine was going to be better, but I needed a car right then.) The dealer across the street had another car I was considering, basic fast-talking stereotype car sales guy, and while they didn't have the one I wanted in stock (they were trickling in randomly to dealers at that time of year), he gave me a price. Unfortunately for them, the next week when the one I wanted came in, the manager tried to jack up the price $500; I bought it from a different dealer.

Comment Why booth babes are counterproductive (Score 1) 334

>>Who cares?? > c) Female geeks at tech conferences.
And their friends and coworkers. And people who don't like being pandered to. And people who might have actually been interested in the product. And people who'd rather deal with companies that made an effort to understand who their customers are (unlike the company who had booth babes at the RSA trade show.) If you want an effective booth babe, have her be the lead developer for the interesting product you brought, not somebody in a tight dress.

If you want to sell me your product, you'll bring somebody who can tell me why it's interesting, and ideally somebody who can answer my technical questions about it or at least point me at the information. If you aren't doing that that, I may waste your time and seating space trying to win an iPad after I've seen the booths I care about at a show, but otherwise the best you'll do is get me to pick up a tchochke with your name on it.

I'm fine with booths that have people who are there for entertainment value, as long as you can also get me information, whether that's the noisy shill show or the technical celebrity (it was fun to see Ron Rivest at the RSA show some years ago, and Dan Kaminsky's always broken something important recently.) But if you've got professional booth staff, make sure they know at least a couple of sentences about your products and can point customers to the right people, whether that's the sales rep or the techie, and make sure your display has enough information that I can decide whether to find out more or move on without wasting your time. The kinds of companies that hire booth babes somehow never respect them enough to give them that much training.

Comment Knoppix? Obscure? (Score 1) 53

Get off my lawn, punk! I mean, if you're trolling, fine, have fun, and Ubuntu livecds have been good enough to use them instead of Knoppix for the last few years, but it was THE standard save-your-ass repair tool to keep around.

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