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Comment Re:Fake info generation to stop intrusive phone ap (Score 1) 106

I do lots of similar work when generating test data. It's pretty common to have libraries for things like "make up a plausible address" or "randomly generate a credit card number." Extreme cases can generate whole narratives, even intentionally injecting spelling and grammar errors at varying rates in order to fool packages that use lexical analysis to detect robot text.

The work that spammers have done attempting to fool email filters is probably directly applicable to this effort.

Comment Evolution vs Intelligent Design=Texas HS Football (Score 4, Insightful) 1293

It hasn't been about whether evolution is true or false for a very long time. It's about whose team you're on and how many points they're up by in the third quarter. Texans can't help themselves. They have to pick a side, and when they do they support it all the way.

Go to any small town in East Texas on a Friday night in September. Around 7PM, folks start streaming out of their houses and heading to stadiums whose size rivals that of some colleges' playing fields. They're there to rally their team on, violently if necessary.

Texans choose sides in ALL aspects of their lives. Ford vs. Chevy. Big Mac vs. the Whopper. Citizens vs. Illegals. Cattlemen vs. Farmers. Evolution vs. Creationism. Whatever the issue, no matter how weighty or how trivial, Texans can figure out a way to polarize it and turn it into a contest. And if it has team jerseys, all the better.

In some ways, this is Texas' greatest strength - that its citizens are willing to stake everything on the team they support, win, lose, or draw. In other ways, the stubborn unwillingness to give up, even in the face of overwhelming strength or indisputable argument can lead to, well I think we all remember the Alamo.

People tend to think of the idea of "teaching the controversy" as an insidious effort to get religion's foot in the door. In fact, it's one of the most amazing things that Team Texas Religion has ever done- offer a compromise. For a Texan to even admit that the other side's point of view EXISTS is jaw-droppingly astounding. To offer to teach it alongside their own is nothing short of miraculous.

The only way to resolve this conflict is to understand Texas and embrace its stubborn, contentious, headstrong culture. Ignoring it will only make the issue worse. The sooner people realize this, the better off we'll all be. Texas, as much as we hate to admit it East of the Mississippi, isn't all that different from the rest of the country.

Comment Long-term project (Score 1) 265

Pick a fun and innovative project for the whole group to participate in. That way, people will have a reason to come back every week.

The project should be:
1. Fun - but not necessarily a game. Fun to compy geeks means "has interesting puzzles to solve"
2. Innovative - do something new. Invent something that nobody has done before.
3. Important - do something that matters.
4. Focused. Don't try to create the Ultimate Framework of Everything. It will take too long, and people will become bored and leave.
5. Achievable - Target a ten-to-sixteen week completion time, with no more than an hour to an hour and a half contribution per member per week.
6. Easily chunk-able. Pick something that can be planned together, then dealt out to members to investigate/design/create individual pieces.
7. Lends itself to collaboration. Pair programming, get-togethers to investigate alternatives, etc. Anything to keep members connected and engaged.
8. Has clearly defined roles that can be assigned team-wise. Bob and Jeff, you'll be the web team. Julie and Frank, you'll be the architecture team. And so on.

If you pick the right project, people will be engaged and excited, and they can take pride in contributing something to the global community.

Comment When are they going to realize it's not the UI? (Score 5, Interesting) 536

Metro Metro Metro! That's what the media is focusing on, but it's not the real reason Windows 8 failed.

W-8 failed because Microsoft thought they'd be able to screw their developers the way that Apple's been screwing iOS developers since day one. Going full walled-garden for the Metro UI while at the same time effectively forcing developers to abandon Silverlight and Flash due to concerns about long-term viability meant there really was no compelling reason for a developer to bother with Windows 8. My company, a manufacturer of population-based analytical software that runs on a massively-parallel database, basically abandoned Windows as a development platform. In the middle of a product cycle.

Those MSDN/Visual Studio/Team Foundation/etc. licenses will never happen. Now, at great expense and risk, we've decided to go down the HTML5+Javascript path for the front end. It sucks. It sucks so badly that there's not a person in the shop who doesn't want to abandon the project altogether. But at least it will be portable if it ever gets built. It'll take two years longer than it would have if Microsoft hadn't screwed us over, but that's the price of doing business I guess. (The JBOSS backend is painful too, but not to the degree that an HTML5/Javascript front-end is.)

Yet, all that could have been avoided if Microsoft hadn't hit the Greed button and tried to force the Metro UI down its developers' throats. We have no confidence in Microsoft EVER being a viable development platform again. Not when key components could be pulled out from under us just because they want to impose a UI tax.

And I know I'm not alone. I've heard the same story, read the same story, watched the same story unfold all over the internet.

Microsoft used to field the best damn development and application platform in the industry, hands down. It still does, actually. But unfortunately, I can't risk using it. And because of that fact, there's very little chance that I'll ever bother considering it in future efforts.

And THAT's why Windows 8 failed and any attempt to revive it will fail as well.

Comment Stick with it! (Score 1) 347

Seriously, a general-purpose computer science degree will serve you well. You just won't see it right away. I just finished writing an interpreter- something I had only done in college 25 years ago. I constantly bump into subjects that I took in college and would be utterly unfamiliar with had I not taken the "rip out the guts and figure out how these compu-thingies really work" courses. You might not learn exactly the thing you need right out of school, but what you will gain is a deep insight into what computers do and how they do it. And that will help immensely if you make them your career.

Comment No more lucrative DUI prosecutions = driver req'd. (Score 1) 337

The average payment to the state from a DUI prosecution is something around $10K when all the fines and such are tallied up. There's the initial fine, court fee, mandatory driver re-education course fee, court-mandated counselling fees, fees that allow first-time offenders to be "rehabilitated" (woo-hoo! just $2,500 for total absolution!), fees for un-suspending a license, fees for re-taking a drivers' license road test ($250 to drunk drivers, $30 for everybody else), rental of a mandatory in-vehicle breathalyzer, installation charge for mandatory in-vehicle breathalyzer, de-installation charge for mandatory in-vehicle breathalyzer, fees for complaining about fees, fees for posting about fees on slashdot, and the list goes on.

If you allow driverless cars to ferry drunks home, the state loses all of that tasty munchable sweet sweet cash. Which is why you will certainly be able to be cited for DUI even when the UI is doing the D'ing.

Comment Well, they DO own the hardware you bought. (Score 2) 87

The only good thing about this story is that maybe non-techie people will realize that when you let the OS vendor dictate what you can do with the hardware you bought to run their product on, they will ALWAYS use that ability against you.

Consoles, Apple, and now Windows- how many times do we have to learn the same lesson?

Comment Worth it to employers? Dunno. To me? Definitely. (Score 1) 630

I was self-taught. I started out in jr. high school on 30cps clacky terminals dialed into M.E.C.C. (anybody else in here know what that acronym expands to?)

But then I went on to get a CS degree with EE "concentration" (kinda like a minor but not as much work). The EE work was not trivial- I took 4-level courses on things like signal processing, vsld, semi-conductors, etc. etc.

As a result, I graduated knowing three things:
1. What a computer can DO
2. HOW it does what it can do
3. How to MAKE it do what it can do.
In other words, I understood computers soup to nuts (or thought I did- I still had a lot to learn). When diagnosing a problem or architecting a solution, I think holistically. The phrase I've been frequently accused of over-using is "Silicon to Glass," meaning from the silicon in the chips all the way to the glass screen of the computer monitor and everything in between.

To an employer, this probably doesn't mean squat. They're looking for Skill XYZ. And when they hire you for Skill XYZ, they really have no intention of using you for anything else for the entire time you are with them.

To me, it means everything because while I'm working for an employer and utilizing Skill XYZ, I'm also looking for opportunities to learn Skill ABC and apply it to my current responsibilities. And then Skill ABC goes on my resume.

As a result, my resume looks impossibly broad, with real, working, got-paid-for experience in a diverse range of disciplines, from large-scale (many thousands of nodes) network design, telecommunications, database architecture and application design (I've designed systems that earn $100M/year). Not only that, I've spread out vertically as well, working in as many industries as technologies.

The thing I ALWAYS credit is my CS degree. Without that intimate understanding of what's going on inside the systems and software that I create and use, I would be simply (as another poster put it) responding to interfaces, not utilizing skills.

What freaks me out is how a large majority of my co-workers are one-trick ponies. They know how to code Informatica data integration mappings. Or they know how to write Perl scripts. Or they know how to create SQL Server databases and monitor their performance. Maybe they have a minor secondary skill, but that's usually it. I always ask that type of person if they have a CS degree- I've never had one reply "yes." Turn that around, and when I find that a co-worker has a CS degree, it doesn't really matter what we originally hired him or her for- if a job needs doing, that person will either apply existing knowledge to the problem or immediately go about acquiring the required knowledge from whatever sources are available- and if nothing exists at the time, they will CREATE the tool that solves the problem. Because a CS degree is just that: a set of "tools in the tool belt" that can be taken out at need- and some of those tools are designed specifically to create other tools. Self-taught folk are fine, but I've never found one with the breadth and depth of understanding that you get even from a newly-minted CS grad.

When I'm hiring, I'll take a CS grad with diploma still dripping ink over a "expert" in some tool or technology ANY day. Because the former has demonstrated the capability of picking up any tool and applying it (or making his own), but the latter has only shown the ability to use one.

Comment Walter Jon Williams, sort of. (Score 1) 1130

"Under-appreciated" is a hard word. Most of what I've seen posted above are authors who were pretty well appreciated.

I think Walter Jon Williams' book "Aristoi" counts as under-appreciated because it was in the running for a Hugo award- but wasn't selected. The ideas and concepts put forth in that novel, and the clarity and believability of the universe/society that he created made it one of the best sci-fi books I have ever read. I understand that that year had a lot of other good candidates for the award, but I've always felt his was still head and shoulders above the rest of the field. He really should have won.

I can't promote him as an under-appreciated author, though. His other books, while mildly entertaining, simply did not reach the level that Aristoi did. If that had been his only novel, he'd have been on my list of "shoulda-beens." As it stands, he's a one-hit wonder. But WHAT a wonder. Man, if his other stuff had been even half as good as Aristoi, I'd have cleared him a whole shelf in my library. Good author. Great book.

(I've often wondered if he feels the same way about the comparative merit of his other works)

Comment This is exactly what Apple wanted. (Score 4, Interesting) 240

Apple's formula for success under iOS:
1. Control the hardware
2. Control the software
3. Make others do the work and because (1) and (2), you get to take a BIG cut of their business. No, not BIG... HUGE.

Part of (2) is to not allow any development that might result in GOOD write-once/run-anywhere software. Backing HTML5 is a perfect example. The amount of effort required to produce a decent product is just plain insane. Even big companies like Facebook can't do it. Little companies don't even try. In the end, damn near everybody who tries to deploy an application that runs on an iOS device comes to the same sad realization: cough up the dough or go home.

Products that actually worked, and worked well (e.g. Flash, Silverlight, etc.) were killed with feeble excuses like battery consumption and quality control. How the DoJ didn't launch an investigation into anti-competitive practices is a mystery to me. The "browser included in OS" investigation of Microsoft seems a pale shadow of the "you don't run software on iOS devices- despite the fact that their OWNERS want you to- unless you pay us a shiatload of money." /Bitter? You betcha.

Comment Re:Varley, Steakly, Zelazny, and Brust (Score 1) 1244

The Phoenix Guard, 500 Years After, and The Viscount of Adrilankha (series) are a homage to Alexandre Dumas' d'Artangan romances: (Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After. Viscount of Bragelonne) but set in the Dragaera "universe." They also set the stage and provide a rich backstory for the Jhereg novels.

I love that the Phoenix Guard/Adrilankha books are completely separate in tone and style from the Jhereg novels. The former is very much in Dumas' style. When I first started reading it, I got a few pages in and started laughing as I realized that Brust had "rebooted" The Three Musketeers- but in pre-interregnum Dragaera.

Comment Re:Many Many options (Score 2) 1244

Caveat on the Pern books: be careful when selecting them. You are right to recommend the earlier ones. Some of the later ones are NOT written by Ms. MacCaffery and/or are products of one-sided collaborations (i.e. prop gramma up in her hospice bed and if she complains about the jello try to turn it into a Pern novel). Her grandson Todd went on to butcher the series with authorization from the estate and (sadly) her permission.

Comment A few I cherish (Score 4, Informative) 1244

Mervyn Peake - Gormenghast (and sequels). HARD to get into, but rewarding if you understand that they are very experimental.

F.M.Busby - The Demu Trilogy. Nothing ground-breaking, but it is well written escapist fiction.

James Blish - Cities in Flight. Ditto the previous.

John Crowley - Little, Big. Please please please DO read this. It is the single best book in the English language. Each chapter is like a gem. Another of his books "Engine Summer" is also jaw-droppingly lovely and has a "reveal" at the end that makes M.Night Shamylam seem like a moron. You WILL weep unashamedly. His later stuff is hard to digest, but worth the read if you stick with it.

Lin Carter - The Martian books (The Valley Where Time Stood Still, The City Outside the World, Down to a Sunless Sea, and The Man Who Loved Mars). Thinking man's pulp fiction.

James H. Schmitz - The Witches of Karres. So fun to read. It's a novelization of a series of short stories (or it reads that way, anyway) concerning a trio of underage witches and the space captain they "adopt" and whose life they make miserable but in a good way.

Apologies for spelling/grammar/mispronunciation/

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