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Comment Re:Great fodder for the pro-lifers (Score 1) 307

I believe I've read of tribes in some locations (the Amazon?), in which it is common practice for men to immerse their testes in very hot water one (or more?) times a day as a contraceptive method. By itself, I imagine it's not tremendously effective, and I wonder what the failure rate is. Anybody want to dig through pubmed?

Comment Re:Typical RV park (Score 5, Insightful) 237

I don't think "communing with nature" is the point. I think cheap accommodation is. People like to be able to travel around the country in a moving "house." I once met, for instance, a guy who drove around the US for a year with his wife, with a camper hitched to the back of a small pickup, in order to see the country and, among other things, decide where they'd want eventually to settle down. I get the impression that many retirees, likewise, buy campers and go touring. It seems like a reasonable enough thing to do. I'd be curious to know what would be cheaper: that, or traveling in a fuel-efficient sedan and staying at Motel 8s.

Comment Re:Software distribution culture, and Open Source (Score 1) 1880

Part of my problem has been that I've been using fink instead of Macports. Rookie mistake, I guess.

At the time I was writing my earlier post, I was compiling a program (IPE, a drawing tool) from source, which is available both in the Ubuntu repositories and as a Windows binary. I'm a little new to Mac OS, but I'd heard of fink, so I searched for IPE in its repositories, had no luck, and consequently compiled the source tarball instead, which took some fiddling. What I really should have done is check MacPorts as you suggested; it does have an IPE package, which, although not quite as up-to-date as the tarball, is new enough, and the same version as is available for Windows.

Comment Re:AOLTV all over again (Score 5, Insightful) 195

that nobody wanted, anyway.

I have mixed feelings about this. The status quo for television is kind of a screwed up experience. I don't think Google TV was going to improve the situation -- it would have been just-another-set-top-box -- but it'd be nice if something were done to make TV-watching more seamless, especially for older people.

For instance, how many people can't work their own DVD player? "THIS needs to be ON, and set to THIS input, and then the TV needs to be a Channel X, but it isn't really Channel X, because THAT is set to 'DVD,' and..." I've had to explain things too many times to older family members, and still they forget. They're afraid they'll "break" the TV. I've even met people young enough that you'd think they'd know better who were unable to play DVDs in their own house ("Oh, my husband knows how that works."). In the year 2011, it's ridiculous. A setting gets changed and then the TV is "broken" for six months until I come visit.

Somebody needs to make a good, consistent, universal user interface for this stuff. Sometimes I wonder if the thing I should do is set up a super-simple media center PC for my parents, running something like Windows Media Center, that handles absolutely everything, so they don't need to understand three remotes and related input settings. You can imagine it being very simple. But I'm not so naive. Sadly, I think it'd end in tears.

It's also possible that the emergence of HDMI commands will fix things -- turning DVD players and the like into extensions of the television, operated by the same remote. But somehow I don't see the kind of strong interoperability needed to make this happen actually occurring either.

Comment Re:Software distribution culture, and Open Source (Score 1) 1880

However, don't forget the downside of this system - software updates are a pain with each vendor adding their own software update daemon that nags you about updates. Or (for better or worse) no update system at all.

Very true... In principle, this is something that Windows Update should take over, but it'd take some time for the community to fully get behind that.

Tied to this is simply the way in which the directory structure is set up and files are organized. I found this blog post interesting reading, and like the sound of how gobo-linux does things.

Comment Re:Windows??? Are they still around? (Score 1) 1880

Is it possible that the reason you see no reason to go back is that the last Windows you used was Windows 98?

Of course, if whatever you're using now works for you, then by all means stick with it. I have no interest in selling Windows! But I can't help but notice a pattern, which is that the people who are surest of Windows' inferiority seem to be those who haven't used it in a while.

I find the situation a little depressing actually. Windows has improved a great deal, and the Linux desktop has, if anything, gotten worse over the past few years. I think it peaked with KDE 3.5, at which point it was tantalizingly close to providing the most usable desktop of the big three -- Linux, OSX, Windows -- but now everything is, as far as I can tell, less usable.

Don't worry though. While Microsoft got Windows 7 right, its successor, Windows 8, looks very likely to be godawful.

Comment Software distribution culture, and Open Source (Score 5, Interesting) 1880

Windows is the only platform for which one can reliably download binaries directly from software authors.

On Linux, if you want software, you use apt-get, yum, etc. If the package you want exists in the repository, great. If not, things get tricky. Enter building from source, tracking down dependencies, and praying you get through ./configure and make.

Some Mac software is available in binary form in nice DMG images, and when it is, installation is a snap. But these images are still much less ubiquitous than Windows installers, and when they are not available, you're left typing "./configure; make" just like on Linux -- only now with less support.

An advantage to the Windows culture of software distribution is that you can have a relatively unchanging operating system running underneath everything without lagging behind in terms of individual programs. Contrast this with the unpleasant choice you face if you want to run Linux: Choose e.g. Debian Stable, and get new software years after it comes out; or choose e.g. Ubuntu and jump through a distro upgrade (which breaks everything) every year. Ironically, the issue is that, culturally, it's Linux distros that are centralized and Windows that's distributed.

Much of Windows' usability also comes, again perhaps with a bit of irony, from Open Source programs. Right now, I'm running Firefox, Thunderbird, and SMPlayer. For instant messaging, I use Pidgin. For LaTeX, I use MiKTeX (which is the most complete LaTeX distribution I've seen on any platform) and TeXStudio (which is just as good as Kile). I even get bash and ssh from Cygwin. Why do I need Linux when all the best open source programs have easy-to-install Windows binaries?

Comment Re:Groundbreaking? (Score 1) 195

This is especially true in an area like robotics (my field) where terms like innovative and groundbreaking get thrown around a lot. When really, it's just a rehash of an idea used in another discipline applied to robotics.

Yeah, I know the feeling.

Even great, celebrated, actually-(somewhat)-useful ideas turn out to be simple applications of other ones. Take the Kalman Filter. If you come at it from a least-squares point of view and focus on the word "optimal" -- as it was first explained -- it sounds extremely impressive. But if you explain what a Bayes Filter is (after which people say, "ok, that's simple enough"), and then specialize it to Gaussian noise and linear systems (again to the reaction "ok, that's easy"), you've just got a straightforward homework problem you can solve by completing a square, at which point you've arrived at the same filter by a process that makes it look a great deal less earth-shattering.

I just feel bad for the poor undergrads, who've been fed so much hype they don't know what's real and what's not. They come in saying they want to study robotics and going on about "emergent behaviors" and "neural networks" as I slowly shake my head and try to undo the damage wrought by a thousand assistant professors of the 1990s scrambling for grant money and tenure.

Comment Re:so what? (Score 2) 195

So, I'm the first to call out academic research as pointless. But I don't think this is.

Imagine two methods of moving an object back and forth.

The first is a playground swing. It can't power itself, but, by kicking it occasionally, you can get it to start swinging, and, once you do, you only need to put in a little extra power to keep that going.

The second is a little cart with powered wheels. It can drive forwards and backwards, and there's nothing to stop you from just driving it rapidly forwards and backwards over and over.

Which is more efficient?

The idea, making an analogy, is that a leg design like this is to walking, as a playground swing is to moving an object back and forth. One way to pump in energy is to make it walk downhill. But another would be to start adding some self-powering capability. I agree with you insofar as I would like to see that happen. Where we disagree, I think, is just in that I'm not dismissing the passive, mechanical side of the work, because I think it's an important part of making that happen.

I'll also acknowledge that passive walkers are not themselves new. But this is one of the better-executed ones I've seen.

Comment Re:Groundbreaking? (Score 1) 195

While I respect their accomplishment, I agree, I wouldn't call it "groundbreaking." Of course, very little academic research actually is.

The same goes for other areas of society. Gutenberg wasn't the first to use movable type; Columbus wasn't the first European to make it to the New World; Taylor and MacLaurin weren't the first to use their eponymous expansions; Jacobi, it turns out, scooped the Hungarian Algorithm (but his manuscript was lost until recently); the Ming dynasty had clocks with mechanical escapements;...

It's not just about being first. It's also about timing and execution. Just look at the iPod.

All of which is to say, that incrementalism is OK. Are passive walkers fundamentally new? No. But I'll give these guys a little credit anyway.

Comment Re:so what? (Score 1) 195

You're missing the point. The idea is that, because it walks passively, you only need to pump in a little extra energy to make it keep walking. Compare this with systems like the Honda Asimo, which don't really walk dynamically, never really build up any momentum, and need to expend a lot of energy just to continue taking steps.

Passive walkers are not entirely new. A tinker-toy passive walker was famous in the robotics community in the early '00s. But this one looks more refined.

Next, I want to see more effort going into powering these things in a way that meshes nicely with the idea of them walking passively. The closest stuff I've seen to that would be Boston Dynamics and MABEL.

Comment Don't waste your youth. (Score 4, Insightful) 283


Sure, you need to work hard in college. But it's also a once-in-a-lifetime to do things that, once you leave, it becomes much, much harder to do. You say the male/female ratio is unimportant? You say you don't care about social aspects? I suggest you reconsider.

I'm not saying you need to become a binge drinker or a man-slut. But there's only one time in your life when you'll be able to date college-age girls respectably, and you don't want to waste it. If that sounds superficial, it's not entirely. As you get older, you'll find that people close up; they build walls; they get harder and harder to connect with. (Plus, college, unlike the real world, has admissions criteria.) You will never get closer to people than during college, and that's worth a lot. It's a learning experience for both of you, and without it you'll have lived quite a bit less.

It's not unusual for students to travel, learn languages, see the world. For adults, this is discouraged. Once you get a job, you will get two or three weeks vacation annually. That's it. And time off on your resume is hard to explain. Don't waste your youth. You won't have the same socially-acceptable opportunities for exploration. Ever again.

Sometimes I think that the purpose of life is to collect stories. How many stories will you have by the time you graduate?

Connect with people. Travel. Learn a second language (You like engineering. German? Chinese?). Join organizations (Formula SAE, which builds racecars, is a good one) Become a well-rounded person. Don't waste opportunities, and don't fear failure. Just go out and do a bunch of stuff. Your 25-year-old self will have fewer regrets.

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