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Comment Re: What Information? (Score 1) 256

As another user of this database, he's right, a lot of the size information for the farm dams appears to be estimates, gathered from state departments of environmental protection and such. Of course the data is better for the big hydropower and irrigation dams. You can create an account and get all that data yourself. The data that's not publically available, if I'm not mistaken, isn't blueprints of the dam facilities, just some quantifications of the dam's condition and maybe some short written details. Yes, it could help a terrorist select a target, but it's not as big of a deal as the article says. The database certainly doesn't have the passwords for SCADA systems or anything like that.

Comment As someone who just finished graduate school... (Score 1) 168

I hated this, and only encountered it once, in my Econ 102 class. We had to "buy" the online pass to view the online "textbook", which was really just a document wrapped in a flash applet, with "interactive" homeworks, that expired after 6 months. I asked the professor if he had another alternative, but he said I could always drop the class. Thankfully that was the only class I had to do that for.

Most other professors, especially within engineering were more than helpful with either giving out the ISBN so we didn't have to go through the bookstore, or in graduate school, had their own notes for the class, so a book wasn't even necessary. One class we were assigned two books that were available as PDFs from the authors, intentionally to be given away, which the professor pointed out. Thankfully in my engineering classes the professors have been helpful about allowing older editions of books or having a low cost alternative such as a compilation of notes. In my general education classes is where I've always encountered the incredibly expensive books that absolutely had to be the latest edition. I think it says something that the engineering books tended to hold up their value more than the books for those other classes, where a $130 english book ended up going back to the bookstore for $1.30. The engineering books were usually worth keeping too, once you got past the intro courses.

Oh, and the point I came here to make: Having a patent on an idea doesn't make it a good one.

Comment I don't see how NASA's name got attached to this. (Score 5, Informative) 90

It's based on their DEM (digital elevation model) dataset, specifically the Shuttle Radar Terrain Mapping project, but I doubt that they had anything to do with this. There's also an ad at the bottom for flood insurance. It also looks like the guy just went through and generated a blue overlay for land lower than the sea level rise you select, which wouldn't include any backwater effects from going up rivers. He's got a website about what he did here:

Comment Having tried to use OpenOffice... (Score 3, Informative) 480

I've tried OpenOffice* several times. I'm still running MS Office 2004 on my Mac, and I've used MS Office 2007 at work. While Outlook has some stability issues, and people really need to learn that Excel isn't a substitute for a well programmed GUI when it comes to FORTRAN frontends, Microsoft Office still beats the pants off of OpenOffice. Being cheap and trying to be legal, I decided to install Open Office rather than upgrade my copy at home. It's just not the same. Open Office feels clunky. I know they can't copy the look and feel of MS Office, but that's not an excuse for not making things intuitive. On top of that, the compatibility with MS Office documents is really bad if you try any sort of formatting. In a world where MS Office is still king, that's just not acceptable. On it's own OpenOffice is alright, but in an environment where people are switching between MS Office and OpenOffice or working with people who use MS Office, it's just not good enough. I've mostly switched to TeX for typed documents and but I still open Excel 2004 at home when I need a spread sheet program, not OpenOffice. Maybe this video mean's MS is scared of OpenOffice, but MS Office still has the momentum to keep the lead for a long time.

*I'm going to keep calling it that, as that's the name on the splash screen when I load it.

Comment Cell Phone Repeater (Score 4, Informative) 214

My dad lives in the shadow of a cell tower and gets no reception on his property, but does if he walks to the neighbors house (100 feet or so). I suggested he get a cell phone repeater. He now gets a bar or two, but not a good quality signal. This is the one he got (but not from Thinkgeek, I don't think). It should be noted, he also got a directional antenna that company sells to point at the nearest tower besides the one he lives under.

Comment While I disagree with the state requiring it... (Score 1, Interesting) 762

... I really would appreciate having this kind of glass in my car. If there is one thing I hate most about the summer, it's having my car being boiling hot inside when I return. I know this glass wouldn't be perfect at reducing the "greenhouse effect" in the car, but it's something I'd be willing to pay to put on my own car. Besides, I don't see what's so bad about not being able to use a cell phone in a car, or blocking GPS (people should learn to read maps more often).

Comment Re:Please stop mounting NEMA 5-15 upside down (Score 1) 711

I've heard this one before, it's a good point. Of course, when I travel to latin america and forget my trusty 3 to 2 adapter, I usually just buy a small power strip or extension cable and rip out the grounding pin. Not very safe, but on most cables I've seen, they're not mounted in there really well anyway.

Comment Re:What about software? (Score 1) 571

As a fellow civil engineering student, I suggest you check out They've got a bunch of their programs for free, if you are willing to put up with having a small watermark around the outside border of anything you print. It's quite nice.

I still agree, that it's really important to have a lab. I don't need to drag my laptop around with me to classes, and I can check email in a lab between classes or do work on the computers as need. Plus, it helps to be able to have a computer that is for lack of a better term, sterile. I don't have all the distractions of games, bookmarks I check daily, IM, etc. on a lab computer as I do on my own. It's easier to work on one of them than on mine.

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