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Comment Re:Impact printers and thermal printers (Score 1) 108

I don't know what doctor's offices you were visiting, but I was setting up EDI systems inside little hick doctor's offices in the early 1990s to exchange medical records with insurance companies. These were running on DOS machines - and there were probably DOS machines on the other end. Other, bigger offices were more sophisticated, and had Unix systems with multiple terminals. I still have a TI Unix box that came from a doctor's office and was used for medical billing and insurance transactions with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and others. It was decommissioned in 1999 because of Y2K (someone who had bought the right to maintain TI Unix was charging an extortionist's fee for a yearly license for patches to fix the issues - it was cheaper to replace the entire system). Our daughter's pediatrician before we moved four years ago didn't even *have* a fax machine - she probably still doesn't.

I would agree with the OKI printer suggestion - other than power. Maybe there are lower-power versions now. The old ones had a motor that ran constantly, fans, and the print heads would get extremely hot when the printer was busy. I can also say that, while they are heavy and well-built, they are not necessarily rugged - my wife's cat once managed to knock one off a counter and it did not survive (the printer that is - the cat survived; he was just lucky I'm not the violent type - the printer was about $350 to replace).

Cloth printer ribbons can be easily re-inked. Dried out ribbons can be rejuvenated by popping the top open and spritzing the enclosed ribbon lightly with WD-40. When the ribbon has reached the end, it can be popped open, the contained ribbon flipped upside down, and then be re-used when put back together - generally, the print head does not print down the center of the ribbon, so you can get two passes along it without physically using the same strip of ribbon this way, reducing wear. Once you've done that a time or two and the ink starts to dim, the WD-40 trick also works to re-distribute the ink inside the ribbon material. I could usually get around six passes through an OKI ribbon before it needed to be re-inked.

I gave away my last two OKI printers to a school about six years ago. They were probably at least 15 years old then, and are probably still going.


Comment Re:I'll get right on that (Score 1) 245

Well, it has been a while anyway. I think they did the right thing back when color television was introduced. They accepted multiple proposals, and for the longest time the CBS proposal was leading the race...but the RCA proposal had the potential to be made compatible with existing black-and-white receivers. Some details were changed to allow interoperability and the FCC mandated that this modified RCA method would be adopted so that consumers would not need to purchase all new equipment. I have a 1951 "Sergeant" black-and-white television that still received off-the-air broadcasts just fine up until the digital switchover. I never bothered to get one of the converter boxes or else it would still work.

Comment Re:I'll get right on that (Score 1) 245

It is much more likely to be a roundabout way to clear the field for carriers to roll out and profit from small-cell technology. (from January's IEEE Spectrum)

I could see that some of these older cell repeaters might interfere with the newer micro/femto-cell technology that is rapidly becoming the darling answer to cell carriers' problems with expanding data demand. Their existence would certainly interfere with the intention many carriers have of selling private small-cell devices which do their cellular backhaul over the customer's own broadband connection. Most of the carriers are in a position to profit from greater broadband adoption as well - either through owning core network switches, or selling broadband as well as cell service to the same consumers. I pay AT&T for five cell phones, with data on most of them, as well as my U-verse broadband connection at home. I'm sure they would love it if I had to pay for a private microcell as well as move to a higher-speed broadband account to deal with the backhaul capacity requirements.

Comment Re:I propose... (Score 5, Insightful) 526

When my mother was dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), she volunteered for a double-blind trial, knowing that there was an even chance she would get the placebo. This did not bother her in the least - she was hoping that it would ultimately result in some benefit for someone else later on. Unfortunately, her disease had already progressed too rapidly and she was not accepted into the test cohort.

I don't think there is anything unethical or inhumane about making a valid statistical trial. Many of these substances have serious side-effects and very prohibitive costs - it is better to make an informed and valid comparison of the pros and cons of any treatment.

Comment Re:I started on one of those (Score 5, Interesting) 173

I was able to get a standing pass out of art class as a sophomore in high school to go work on art projects in the Apple II lab for a couple of months. Our art teacher was on maternity leave. I decided I did not like the substitute teacher, and luckily for me she had been given the explicit instruction to let me do whatever the heck I wanted to. So I elected to spend my time elsewhere.

The graphics available from BASIC on the Apple ][+ were crude, but better IMHO than the programmable-character "graphics" available on the early Commodore and TI machines. I wrote code for all of them -- including a program that let you use a joystick or paddle for an on-screen "Etch-A-Sketch" style drawing program that would let you save and restore your drawings. Doing that by re-defining characters on the fly in BASIC was not much fun. It did have an advantage over the "real" Etch-A-Sketch in that you had to hold down a joystick button in order to draw, otherwise the single-pixel cursor would just be moved around. I wrote that same program in Commodore Basic for my best friend's PET (at his house while he spent the time playing Intellivision), TI-Basic, and AppleSoft Basic.

That was the level I was at when I started trying to do "art" on the computer. While playing with things and reading magazines from the stack in the corner of the lab, I learned about how the Apple colors were actually pulled off, and realized that White 1/White 2 and Black 1/Black 2 were a half-pixel offset from each other. This allowed you to draw a white line and then draw a pixel-shifted black line on top of it to get thinner lines, which worked great for crosshatching and other fill effects. That got me interested in the fact that the fonts exploited this feature to get smoother curves on-screen, and I began exploring writing my own fonts and doing graphics from inside the assembler/monitor. As a result, I taught myself 6502 assembler and wrote fast "vector" graphics routines that I could call from BASIC, as well as routines that let me draw my own text on-screen as well, not constrained to the rectangular grid of normal characters.

I had to demo how I had been spending my time to my real art teacher when she returned. She appreciated what I had accomplished artistically (including various "vector" animations), but understood little of it. Her eyes glazed over when I began explaining assembly language routines. I got an "A" for my self-directed art study though, which consisted mostly of learning 6502 assembler :-)

Comment Re:via Facebook only? (Score 1) 328

I realize someone has modded you as a troll, but on the off-chance that you were serious...

No he is not "retarded". And he is not alone.

I also read terms-of-service, and if I agree to them, I follow them. If I am not willing to follow them, I do not agree to them.

You might call it retarded. I call it being principled. It is important to me to be trustworthy. If my agreement to terms is going to have any value it must *always* have value. Even if I am the only one who will ever know the difference. Especially so. I do not believe in situational ethics.

The grandfather post claims that "everyone" on Slashdot laughs at shrink wrap licenses because they are "unenforceable". So what? What does enforceability have to do with it? I may not like them, and I might think that there is no possibility that I would ever be caught violating the agreement, but I follow them anyway, and if I won't, I do without. I have no music that I do not have the actual CD or vinyl for, save for 2 albums I bought off iTunes, no movies that I have not purchased, and no commercial software that I do not have the actual license and serial number for. I may boot my VM of Windows XP Pro only once or twice a year, but the copy I have installed there is bought and paid for. My kids know they are not allowed to download music or anime without paying for it. A friend of my eldest loaned her a ripped 'Ween' CD last week -- she liked a few of the songs, so she *bought* them. When she gave the CD back, he told her he had meant for her to keep it -- she told him no, but thanks.

I also do not have a Facebook account. No one in my immediate family does. I would gladly have taken a few minutes to share a couple of TSA stories otherwise. Interestingly, one has to do with a trip to Washington, D.C. a few years ago with my daughter, at the invitation of our Congressman. This was before the backscatter scanners came online, but they were being installed at both airports we passed through. My daughter, 14 at the time and very shy about her body, asked about them. I explained the concept. I could have predicted her reaction. She was totally freaked out by the idea. If they would have been online, I am 100% sure we would not have made the trip, because there is not a chance she would have walked through that line knowing there was a possibility of being sent through that machine or having a pat-down as an alternative, and I would not have made her do it, either.

The airport wasn't the only theater, though. We went through so many checkpoints at government buildings and museums while we were there. In many cases, the security holes were very obvious, while all the while I had to repeatedly take off my shoes, belt, empty my pockets, put my keys, coins, camera, wallet, and phone in a bucket, and then step through scanners only to repeat the process again a few minutes later -- just to be part of the show of security. At one point, our Congress-critter was taking us on a short-cut beneath the Capitol building, and he and his assistant had to stand and wait each time we had to go through a checkpoint. It really ended up not being much of a short-cut in terms of time -- for him and his assistant, it would normally have been -- because they got to walk around the scanners without going through that ordeal (which is part of the problem, if you want my opinion).

Unrelated but noteworthy: at one point, while standing on the Capitol steps, our Congressman gave my daughter his business card and told her it was her "get-out-of-jail-free card", and that she should call him if she ever needed him to pull any strings. I thought it was a totally inappropriate comment, particularly for a Congressman to make to a 14-year-old girl. When he saw the sour look on my face, he quickly tried to recover by turning to me and saying, "but I am sure she'll never need it." Meanwhile, my daughter was rolling her eyes while his back was turned. I am not sure how much good the card would be now, since he's no longer in Congress. He retired later that year, ostensibly for personal reasons, though at the time there was a lot of noise starting to be made back home about some of his ethically-questionable financial dealings.

Comment Re:So says the religious guy. (Score 1) 1237

Apart from any other argument, you do a fair job of deifying the Scientific Method.

I have great faith in it myself; it has been demonstrably useful during recent history, and I expect it to continue to be. However -- the view that all truth can be mechanistically derived by following this particular philosophy is fundamentally an act of "faith". Empirically, it is a useful and reasonable faith -- but that doesn't change what it is. Kurt Godel did everyone a favor by rigorously proving that truths exist in any system which cannot be proven within that system -- that there are unprovable truths. They might even be expressible, and recognizable to us as true -- but ultimately require going "outside the system" to prove them. What is most interesting to me is what this means for the human mind -- we (often easily) recognize certain things as true which cannot be mechanically proven to be -- a fact which many mathematicians and philosophical sorts have argued to be a demonstration that our minds are not mechanisms.

I don't find "faith", as a concept, incompatible with science. In fact, I find it necessary -- the mathematics demonstrates that my mind cannot prove itself to be consistent, if it is a mechanism. I still have faith that it is suited to its purpose, though, and use it anyway. I cannot prove that the Scientific Method can distinguish every truth and every falsehood under the right conditions -- in fact, I would suspect it cannot. I still have faith it will be a useful tool tomorrow, and I cannot suggest a better alternative at present. I can't even prove that the real number system is completely characterized and described, but it suits my purposes to believe that to be the case.

I consider agnosticism to be a reasonable position, but don't have major problems with people believing something to be true rather than saying "I don't know". To me, it isn't something that science even enters into -- it is the wrong tool for the job. Religion isn't the only area that this applies to, either; most of sociology, law, philosophy, art, music -- heck, even the experience of taking a hike in the woods (for me) -- all of these things that make up "the human experience" are not reducible to science. We can theorize, but we cannot produce fully deterministic models of these things and the individuals involved. Even the science of understanding and applying these things seems fundamentally different ( ). One might easily argue that this distinction means these things are "not science". I'm OK with that point of view -- but it does not follow that they are "incompatible with the philosophy that underlies science". They're just something that science is not intended to address.

Comment What Rules Apply? The Ones in Effect Then or Now? (Score 1) 326

With this "first to file" silliness vs. "first to invent" -- does prior art still apply? I worked for a company around that time that remoted their entire GUI over the network, including distributed interactive applications and a hypertext system called "HyperWeb".

I also remember a service available to "Agri-Business" in the mid 1980's that used a specialized set-top terminal to provide services to farmers. You could get weather reports and look at market values, etc., and interact with several other utilities that I don't remember. It supposedly had more success in Canada than in the U.S. I only knew about it because a friend of mine was the originator of the "Agri-Business" style morning news program, which was a big deal at the time. His program sold these things. He gave me his terminal as a novelty when the service died due to the internet. It had a built-in 1200-baud modem and reasonably functional terminal software, in addition to the specialized firmware.

It also seems that several of the Prodigy patents would apply. Some were filed as early as 1988. This one:,347,632.PN.&OS=PN/5,347,632&RS=PN/5,347,632 , which got broken apart, with this one: being the one I was remembering as being applicable.

Comment Re:So, (Score 5, Insightful) 271

Seems that times have changed. My wife's grandfather was a lawyer and one of the first juvenile court judges in the country, among other claims to fame. He died in the 1950's, fairly young, following an accident. Among the memorabilia passed down in the family are cards and letters from concerned kids that had been through his courtroom. I even read an interview with a now famous author that credited him by name for turning his life around. By all accounts, he was a good man. Reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote:

"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."

...greed seems to be the ingredient that ruins that recipe.

Comment Re:breach database? (Score 2) 122

I hope you are trying to be humorous. AIX is one of the buggiest UNIX implementations I know of, and that includes security bugs. A really simple example -- one that was fixed years ago in other OS's (like Solaris) -- using the Berkley variant of 'ps', you can easily access the environment of any process on the system. On AIX you access the Berkley version by leaving off the hyphens in front of command-line options (nice feature that, I like it better than Sun's completely separate binary). Try 'ps geww'. Not too dangerous if everyone keeps sensitive things out of their environment, but I can guarantee that is not always the case. CGI scripts tend to put interesting things there as a matter of course.

Comment Re:Logo (Score 1) 356

If you are really interested in understanding how LOGO might apply to subjects outside of teaching turtles to draw pictures, find or borrow a copy of Seymour Papert's Mindstorms Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas [ ISBN: 0-465-04629-0 ]. The book is a quick read, and covers the work that went into developing the language at MIT as part of an experiment in finding better ways to teach children, starting in the late 1960's through the early 1980's when the book was written. The first several chapters do contain lots of images of turtle drawings, or more accurately, Turtle Geometry, but starting about midway through the book, Papert introduces the concept of MicroWorlds, specialized environments for modelling and experimenting with other formal systems. In the Geometry MicroWorld, the turtle is an analogue to a "point", for the most part -- in other 2D drawing languages there is generally the concept of a "current point" with some associated state. In other MicroWorlds, the turtle becomes an analogue for other abstract concepts -- in the Newtonian Physics MicroWorld, for example, the turtle might represent a particle. In addition to position in space it has other associated state such as current velocity and heading. The turtle concept is extended to allow kids to experiment with different aspects of formal systems. More elaborate concepts are added over time, new turtle types are derived (velocity turtle, acceleration turtle, etc.,), and richer state is provided, along with allowing the turtle objects to interact with each other and other objects in these environments.

I guess a way of summarizing it is to say that LOGO is/was about building environments that encapsulate the rules of a formal system, and allowing individuals to interact with the objects in those environments to modify their state according to the rules -- and observe the results. The intended goal was to allow children to have environments in which they can discover the rules for themselves, and develop an intuitive understanding of the system and how to go about solving problems according to the rules they have discovered. This was applied in experiments covering mathematics, physics, and even poetry. Papert was not proposing LOGO as the tool to be used for these purposes, however -- he considered it too primitive, limited by the capabilities and availability of computers in the 1970s. What he was proposing was that the concept of modelling specialized environments with computers had merit by making abstract concepts into something that learners could "play" with, but predicted that such a revolution would not come until the machines were cheap and ubiquitous. I know that most of my daughter's AP Physics lessons last year had associated Java applets available to demonstrate concepts -- but most of it was utter, buggy crap. There were several times where I had to tell her what the applet *should* have done, if it had worked -- but even when things did work none of it really let her "play" with concepts very much. I had to keep working with her throughout the year to help her develop better and more intuitive understanding of concepts. Papert's revolution hasn't arrived yet.

Comment Re:A Natural Consequence of Change (Score 2) 317

I've deleted heaps of code too, but I seldom remove a still-functional API, even if nothing is currently using it. Generally add a comment to that effect, though. I've been grateful in the past when someone prior to me decided to keep something that was no longer in use but still potentially useful: . If the code has unit test stubs I try to keep unused API functional and testable as well. It generally takes little effort to do so.

Agree as well about revision control, but I also know that code tends to get moved from one revision control system to another, and often enough some or all of the revision history is dropped -- whether for expedience or simply due to impedance mismatch.

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