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Comment Circular Tables are Bad... (Score 2, Insightful) 520

I have been working with a team of 3-6 developers for quite some time. Recently we moved offices and ended up sitting around a big round table; and our productivity went to hell as a result. It didn't take very long before the team scattered, with many people working from coffee shops or home, and the remaining devs claiming vacant desks.

The problem is that development is done in two phases: You work with others to develop a plan, and then run off and get into "the zone" and get stuff done. The problem with "the zone" is that it is very fragile, and so all it takes is hearing two devs laughing about something through your headphones and now you aren't working either.

In other words, putting all the devs tightly packed together all day means that every time one dev is distracted for any little reason, suddenly they all become distracted.

If your dev team is important to your company's product and/or revenue, do everyone a favor and give them each an office with a window, as well as a common room to "hang out" in when they need to collaborate.

Comment Re:Looking back (Score 1) 107

A bunch of volunteers fixed a lot of the big bugs, but because there was no developer that could make the commitment to be the maintainer of the port, they decided to drop support. If you checkout the source and install two little C libraries into /usr/local, you can still compile and run it on OS X.

There are also a few people that are distributing their various OS X compilations. I seem to remember that near the end of the tt-forums thread on the dropping of Mac support, there is a link.

Comment Please, No Excel! (Score 1) 154

The one thing that stuck out to me about this post was your suggestion of using Excel to do scientific computations. As a physicist and a software developer, this idea sends (bad) chills up my spine. I have seen so many real-world engineers struggle to make Excel do what they need (rather for computation, data analysis, or data plotting), rather than spend a weekend learning how to use a much better tool.

Somehow, learning to use Excel to solve your problems ropes them in so that they just continue to use it to solve their problems, no matter how difficult it is for them to wrangle Excel into doing it. Excel is a *financial* program that MS had added some scientific functionality to in order to sell more units to naive individuals who were never taught that there was anything better.

You talk about calculation packages, so I'll start there: If you want a calculation package, you could look at finding a freeware alternative to one of the big computing programs like MatLab, Maple, or (for more symbolic kinds of math) Mathematica. There are a number of ones out there. Alternatively, you could just as easily teach them how to do calculations in a programming language like Ruby or Python, so that the knowledge they learn will set them up for using a real programming language later in life.

That all being said, I'm not sure that Chemistry class is the best place to be teaching a computer course. There is plenty to teach in Chemistry that can be made interesting via hands-on experiments. Additionally, it is important to build the paper and pencil skills for each empirical law, before one can write or understand any (even simple) program that will aid in their calculation.

However, there is one place where I do think a computer is helpful: processing experimental data and plotting. Again, Excel is a horrible choice for this! There are a number of ones that are useful for students, such as DataGraph for MacOSX. These need to be able to take a columns of data, create new columns that apply formulas using previous columns, and *scientifically* plot the data, complete with real regression curve fitting and even error bars. This may sound similar to Excel, but it is not! Excel's plotting engine is written for financial applications, and produces awful quality scientific output. (Indeed, I've had college professors that would not accept any chart formatted in Excel!)


Imagination In Games 94

In a recent article for Offworld, Jim Rossignol writes about how the experiences offered by games are broadening as they become more familiar and more popular among researchers and educators. He mentions Korsakovia, a Half-Life 2 mod which is an interpretation of Korsakoff's syndrome, a brain disorder characterized by confusion and severe memory problems, and makes the point that games (and game engines) can provide interesting and evocative experiences without the constraint of being "fun," much as books and movies can be appreciated without "fun" being an appropriate description. Quoting: "Is this collective imagining of games one of the reasons why they tend to focus on a narrow band of imagination? Do critics decry games because games need, more than any other media, to be something a group of people can all agree on? Isn't that why diversions from the standard templates are always met with such excitement or surprise? Getting a large number of creative people to head out into the same imaginative realm is a monumental task, and it's a reason why game directors like to riff off familiar films or activities you can see on TV to define their projects. A familiar movie gets everyone on the same page with great immediacy. 'Want to know what this game is going to be like? Go watch Aliens, you'll soon catch up.' We are pushed into familiar, well-explored areas of imagination. However, there are also teams who are both exploring strange annexes and also creating games that are very much about imaginative exploration. These idiosyncratic few do seem like Alan Moore's 'exporters,' giving us something genuinely new to investigate and explore. Once the team has figured out how to drag the thing back from their imaginations, so we get to examine its exotic experiences — like the kind we can't get at home."

Cooking May Have Made Us Human 253

SpaceGhost writes "Anthropologist Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human believes that the discovery of cooked food led to evolutionary changes resulting in a smaller and different digestive system based on a higher-quality diet, mainly relying on cooked meat. In an interview on NPR's Science Friday (text and audio), Professor Wrangham explores concepts such as the digestive costs of food, the benefits (or lack thereof) of raw diets, and a distinct preference in Great Apes for cooked food over raw."

Comment Re:Straight from the horse's mouth (Score 1) 782

Why was this posted on Slashdot anyway. They may call programmers rude, but this is clearly a case to RTFM before asking.

Probably because there are a *LOT* of people, many of them Slashdot readers, who don't understand what the GPL actually does, because they go off of all the weird touchy-feely "spirit of" misinterpretations rather than reading the text of it themselves.

This post serves as an excellent illustration of the surprises some naive developers can get when they make this mistake, and as a caution for other developers that have the same naÃve misunderstandings.

In other words, this is an education campaign for the readers of Slashdot. :)

Comment The funny thing about creativity... (Score 1) 601

Software is part creativity (e.g. design, architecture, misc problem solving) and part busy work (e.g. filling out methods and entering domain table data). Some people are better at one part or the other.

Personally, I find that the busy work part is straight forward and easy, requiring no brain thought, but is also boring and unmotivating. To do it, I just have to buckle down and start filling things out line by line, data point by data point, method by method, taking frequent 5 minute breaks of doing something fun to keep from getting burnt.

The creativity part can be tougher. When there are problems to be solved and the creativity stops, what do you do?

The first thing I do on *any* project is break it into a bunch of modules, and then break those modules into their components, and so on. I can then outline the behavior of each piece, and usually that is enough. Like I learned form "What About Bob?", baby steps often helps.

Sometimes, however, (or often, if you are me) a problem will need real thought. The problem is complex and the solution isn't a straight forward application of the design patterns you already know. It can take a lot of creativity to work through these. In cases where I feel stuck, there are a few things that often do the trick for me:

1. I find *someone* to talk it over with. The more they know how to code, the better. That being said, often just having to explain the problem to anyone that will listen will be enough to clarify what the problem really is, and the solution will dawn on you.

2. In the complete absence of a willing participant (and if you feel stupid describing it to a teddy bear), write out an outline of the *complete* problem, and a first stab of how you might be able to solve it. Then write what is wrong with it. Repeat.

3. Sometimes the issue is that you are in a stale environment. I've had times where I sit at my desk all day and can't get anywhere on a problem and cut out early from frustration, just to find that the solution comes to me while driving home listening to news radio. In other words, sometimes going for a drive or a walk--some place where you can change environment and relax and think about nothing--is enough to make you think. :)


Apple Eyeing EA? 151

yerktoader writes "There are rumors that Apple might buy EA, but some interesting counterpoints abound. File this one firmly under 'unconfirmed,' but it's nevertheless a tantalizing rumor. According to Fast Money's Guy Adami, Apple is 'eyeing Electronic Arts as a takeover target.' EA is currently the second-largest games publisher in the world and owner of the smash hit NFL-licensed series of football games. Could we be facing the possibility of an iMadden? Well, probably not. Apple has indeed been bolstering its games know-how, hiring a major Xbox strategist away from Microsoft in recent weeks. And EA is no stranger to Apple platforms: in the last year it's brought several of its major franchises to the iPhone (with more on the way), including Sim City, Tiger Woods, and Spore, with considerable success. But it's a far cry from there to a takeover, and that's putting it mildly. Video games analyst Michael Pachter seems to agree. Speaking to Gamasutra, he pointed out that if Apple was looking to make some entertainment acquisitions, it could buy Warner Music — which controls 20% of the music industry — for roughly half of EA's estimated price."

Sleep Mailing 195

Doctors have reported the first case of someone using the internet while asleep, when a sleeping woman sent emails to people asking them over for drinks and caviar. The 44-year-old woman found out what she had done after a would be guest phoned her about it the next day. While asleep the woman turned on her computer, logged on by typing her username and password then composed and sent three emails. Each mail was in a random mix of upper and lower cases, unformatted and written in strange language. One read: "Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4.pm,. Bring wine and caviar only." Another said simply, "What the......." If I had known that researchers were interested in unformatted, rambling email I would have let them read my inbox. They could start a whole new school of medicine.

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