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Comment Not Bakelite (Score 2, Insightful) 405

I paid for part of my degree by working as a custodian in a school district near my home in New Jersey. I'm not quite sure what their newer desks are made of, but it's certainly not Bakelite - it doesn't have the characteristic smell.

The problem with putting even low-to-moderately nice-ish things in a school is two-fold:

First, kids from middle school and up (even kids in a decently well to do area) seem to love destroying stuff. There's two basic types of desks in this district, the kind with a particle board desktop with some kind of 'tough' plastic outer coating, and the kind with a solid hard/resilient plastic desktop. The main mode of failure of the first kind is some wise-ass will start to use a mechanical pencil or similar to start etching something asinine into the top of the desk. Then someone will start to pull at the scar and will eventually peel back and rip off the whole outer plastic coating. With the second kind, it's apparently far more entertaining to just break off the whole top of the desk since it's brittle and will fracture nicely.

Second is that every summer, the whole school gets cleaned with some rather interesting commercial cleaners. In order to get off all the pencil/pen/marker marks, there's an even harsher cleaner that's used. So if you try to use some kind of fabric or softer material, they simply won't get cleaned. It's hard enough to get a school full of hard surfaces cleaned in a summer without having to clean fabric furniture and worrying about mold/mildew/stains/etc. With parents being what they are, they won't stand for their little precious snowflakes having to park their asses on dirty furniture - so that's out.

Think about it like this... why do you suppose that there's no nice stuff available in public parks? Some people (not everyone, but enough to be a problem) just like breaking other people's stuff. It's not theirs, why should they worry? Take what you see in just about any publicly available restroom and now apply that to furniture. It's a problem of attitude and personal responsibility.

Comment There Are No Magical Boxes (Score 1) 462

There are no magical boxes, but there's a useful point on the knowledge spectrum to start with for just about every kind of tech there is out there. I'd never expect my mother to have to belt out something in assembly just to be able to edit the photos of the grandkids and mail them out to the family. But I would expect her to be able to understand that the computer is just another tool people will use to help them do work, and that will do what you tell it, no more and no less (assuming that it isn't broken.)

For my mom and most other people, I liken it to cooking (hey - I don't care who you are or what you're interests are, we all eat and most of us can't afford to have someone else cook for us our whole lives.) You don't have to know the laws of thermodynamics and chemistry and be able to calculate all the heat transfer properties and intermediate chemical reactions of the ingredients just to be able to bake a cake (or cookies if you think the cake is a lie.) Nor can you just shove the ingredients in the oven and expect to get a cake out of it. You should be able to know and identify what some basic ingredients are, and that there are some good and bad combinations to them, and a few recipes to start out with. It's too bad that this is a rather personal journey and that there is no general guidance other than to pose a few statements, maybe a problem or two that has some current relevance, and to have some resources on hand to point to for questions

The OP has the same work cut out for them that every other teacher in history has had. They want to share their wonder and inquisition of a specific, but broad topic to others and may not even realize that their audience might not give a damn. Not everyone who plays with wires gives a damn about power generation and electrical theory, some of them just want to get paid money to hook up the wires in someone's house to everyone else's wires.

- Their other problem is that they posed the question to slashdot, and are probably overwhelmed with the answers they got. It's like a thirsty stranger wandering in and asking for a drink at a beverage trade show - all they wanted was a cup of something wet to quench their thirst and what they got was a discussion on whether or not a particular seltzer was too much at first, or if milk counted as a drink, or some inflaming comments about those zealots who drink of the Kool-Aid. -

What I would like to see in the curriculum is a note that all of this software is only an example of a certain class of tool, and explain that there is a whole class of tool that each belongs to. They should give everyone the basic understanding of how some of the stuff works and a few examples that mean something to them. With every step of the way, remembering that you still need to reinforce the basics such as proper grammar and having your communications be a complete thought.

That way, you're not just teaching them to be end users, but helping them to be creators. Any fool can push the power button on a mixer if told the specifics of model such-and-such; most people can surpass that and go on to cook something that passes for a meal; only a select few ever go on to find their calling as a chef. I'd guess that this class should be the equivalent of being able to make most students a passable electronic cook. In the end they should be given the tools (which are free), and some examples with limitations of what can be done easily and what is unrealistic - how a spreadsheet can help you manage details in your budget, but can't magically manage the budget for you - how to pull the red eye out of a photo so you're not making a poster of someone look possessed, but not be able to fix the motion blur from a shaky camera - how a shell script can help you rename a bunch of pictures in a directory, but it can't sort them by content. Once given the basics, the ones with the interest will pursue it on their own.

Unfortunately there are lessons that can't be taught by citing a specific piece of software, reasonable backup/restoration (or any kind of security for that matter) is one. I wouldn't want to imagine the outcry from cutting off the power to a room full of computers while people are in the middle of their work. Yet I don't see how you can explain the importance of such practices without having some event with great impact like destroying their work.

One thing that I can think of adding (perhaps as an advanced topic) is basic networking, where wired networks are like passing a note to a friend whereas wireless is like shouting to them across a room. You can sometimes pass along what you need to tell them more quickly by sending them off a note than you can by shouting across a room. And when you start having everyone around you shouting it can get busy and overwhelming enough to the point where you notice that the things that are being said are now said more slowly because of all of the shouting. And everyone can overhear them (or potentially intercept the note) so don't shout stuff that's private unless you have a way of saying it that nobody else can understand.

Everyone crying for teaching them 'programming' has to recognize that everyone whoever creates a program has to be in the middle of two fields - computing (to be able to make a program in the first place), and whatever field the program is to be used for. I wouldn't expect to be able to take a CS graduate and have them just jump into modeling CFD simulations without having them first learn something about fluids.

Comment Re:Does not make any sense?? (Score 1) 198

Cool your combustion stream too much and you get things like condensation of nasty stuff on your equipment, visible smoke, etc. Many times they will actually keep the stream hotter than they'd really like just to ensure that it will throw the products of combustion up and away from the surrounding area. How many people are really qualified to know the difference between smoke and steam and any other stuff in the exhaust stream without having been taught before seeing it?

Besides, the power companies don't like to waste heat because heat is money. The industry doesn't go by efficency, they go by heat rate (how much heat it costs to make so much electricity). Any excess heat wasted is just about literally like throwing money away. On top of that, whatever system you implement has to be a money maker. The tech has existed for a long time to reduce the environmental impact that power generation has, but for the most part it doesn't make money sense to use it all. Unfortunately we're going to have to legislate these changes into effect, but when we do don't be surprised when your energy costs go up. It's like when people trade in their old gas car for a new diesel or hybrid... how many take the time to crunch the financial numbers to see if it makes fiscal sense? I'd bet it's not many. These companies won't make that mistake because they're not driven by that do-good feeling many consumers have.

Comment Re:Yep (Score 1) 408

Even engineering grads suck sometimes. I have a friend who does the computing support for part of the ME department of a large uni, and he's got some problem cases. He was asked to build some good computers to do CFD work and went and spent about $4k putting together two computers for these grad students that work under the department head. The computers get put together, tested, and sent off. Maybe three weeks go by and the guys say that they don't work, and one won't even power on any more. They went and put on cracked versions of chinese windows, were loaded with malware, and both got infected with BIOS viruses. Well, one got working again after a half a month of work, and the other is apparently a really expensive doorstop - the bios virus bricked the machine... everything except the power supply seems to be shot.

Comment Re:Methanol is toxic and reacts with metals... (Score 1) 116

Hey, someone who might be able to answer this... My question is how do you think the waste heat from the fuel cell reaction will affect the life and performance of the Li-poly battery? I'm not all that up on battery tech, but I was under the strong impression that heat is always bad for batteries, i.e. heat causes material degradation, reduces battery functionality over time, messes with chemical kenetics, and increases electron leakage due to the higher amount of energy around. Isn't that why there are limitations to recharge rates on batteries for laptops, etc? I've read that fuel cells operate ideally within a fairly narrow temperature range and while I suppose that the evaporation of the fuel within the tank attached to the side of the thing would help to act to remove some heat from the system, I can't imagine that it would be all that much. Also, if it does cause it to run at reduced temperatures, wouldn't condensation of product cause problems?

Comment Re:wishful thinking (Score 1) 743

Gee it's funny, I don't have to remind people to buckle up when I drive. Sometimes they even have the seatbelt on before they close the door. I wonder why. Sometimes they start praying too... Some folks are just kooky I guess.

Joking aside, I've driven over a million miles in my short lifetime so far. I've seen too many goofy and careless and otherwise avoidable accidents to not insist on everyone in every vehicle that I'm ever in to wear a seatbelt. And to wear it properly. A seatbelt across the abdomen and not up against your hips isn't going to do any more than just keep your body from becoming a projectile in the passenger compartment and potentially tear up your intestines (how strong are your abdominal muscles - can they take a crash?)


Submission + - Free Linux based home anti-virus/spy/adware proxy? 1

JaBob writes: Would anyone know how would to go about setting up a linux distro as a home firewall/antivirus/antispyware/ad blocking proxy? I have been wanting to play with a linux box more and more, and I'm sick and tired of fixing my family's windows boxes from the crap that they download. Is there some kind of free proxy solution that will also scan incoming files and extensions for malware and other garbage? I know I can't get them to switch to linux, because some of the apps we depend on don't work on linux, even under wine. A simple Google search yields quite a bit on using Squid to filter ads , but I have yet to find any information on using it as a filter for other things. I have played with MS ISA server 2004 and would love it if there was something similar or better. I'm a bit of a techie (mechanical engineering student that used to major in CS), and don't mind having to learn a bit to get it set up and working properly, but I don't want to have to think about it and write it from scratch myself (no time, insufficient skills). I could really use a bit of help from people who are a bit wiser and more experienced in this than I am. Thanks.

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