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Submission + - Open Hardware, Laser-Cut Trebuchets - For Children (

zacronos writes: Evan Murphy and Michael Woods of want children to have a proper science education. Including trebuchets made using lasers. Who wouldn't?

In order to appeal to as many science teachers as possible, they want to produce kits that can be assembled without glue, at a cost of $20 per kit; a snap assembly kits high pretty tight tolerances though, and the best way to achieve those seemed to be a laser cutter. Unfortunately, hiring laser-cut services would push the price up beyond what could appeal to most middle school science classroom budgets.

So, they're running a pledge drive; if enough people pledge to donate money (or just pledge to purchase a trebuchet from them at $30/kit), they'll be able to purchase a laser cutter and start producing snap-assembly trebuchet kits to sell to schools at $20/kit. (The drive ends Friday, April 22.)

The svg design files have been made available at under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license, making this an Open Hardware project too.


Submission + - Office Warfare Gets Medieval (

An anonymous reader writes: I can't exactly afford to spend much money on random toys these days, but these desktop trebuchets aren't just any random toy, they're a life essential. Chipping in thirty bucks to these guys' Kickstarter project gets you an adorable miniature snap-together trebuchet with which to torment your officemates (once the project gets off the ground). Each kit comes complete with ammunition, and fancier kits include stand-up targets and other extras. Whether you're conquering Lilliput or just hassling the annoying person in the next cube, this is one toy no nerd can live without!

Comment Re:Go is not a game (Score 2) 175

Go is not a game because it does not have rules that are clearly interpretable, except the new Tromp/Taylor rules.
When it is not even possible to analyze parts of games then true optimal play regresses to quarreling about it
So Go is riddled with quarrels and pretense. Not a game in practice. More like politics, or Zen.

So are you saying anything that has any ambiguities or regional variations in the rules (even if just in edge cases) cannot qualify as a game? Or that only games where the concept of "optimal play" is valid can qualify as games? I would disagree strongly with either of those positions.

I have played PLENTY of board games where not-so-uncommon edge cases are not adequately handled. That doesn't stop me from playing, and it doesn't stop me from having fun. Every time I sit down with a new group of people to play, say, Hearts or Euchre, I preemptively ask how we're going to handle certain situations. Different people play slightly different ways, and that's fine with me.

There is also such a thing as games which are played for the enjoyable experience of playing them, and so "optimal play" makes no sense. The children's game "patty-cake" is a pretty clear example, or any number of children's games, especially the ones that children make up on the spot. What about improv games such as on the TV show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" My friends and I sometimes have improv parties, where we exclusively play games like that. Or what about pencil-and-paper RPGs? Optimal play is often not the most enjoyable way to play, if it is even a concept that can be defined for a given game.

Maybe more importantly, I'd like to point out that quarrels, pretense, and politics are central tenets upon which many games are built -- I would argue that those things are likely the most prolific inspirations for games that one could find. Formal game theory is very useful for analyzing politics and quarrels, and has also been used to study the effects of pretense and lying. Aren't chess and Go both likely inspired by war?

The only way I can make sense of your post is if I conclude that when you use the word "game", you mean something very much more specific than the rest of us, containing only a tiny subset of what is generally referred to as a game in common language.

Comment Re:First sale doctrine (Score 1) 775

What reference is the Constitution permitted people to be sold as property?

If you can ask that question with a straight face, you've got a backwards understanding of the way our founding fathers envisioned things. The ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States:

  • "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
  • "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people"

Or in other words, unless the Constitution expressly prohibits something, it is implicitly permitted by the Constitution. (Other laws may of course prohibit things which are not mentioned by the Constitution, but that is immaterial as to what the Constitution does or does not permit.) The Constitution was founded on the idea that all things are permitted unless they are forbidden, most certainly not the other way around.

I do not fault you for misunderstanding, as we've (somehow) managed to swing really far to the other side in actual practice. However, it seems clear to me what was intended originally. My understanding is that the first significant steps toward this reversal occurred after the Civil War, which means that when the Dred Scott decision was handed down, it was still thoroughly understood that the Constitution need not expressly permit something for it to be allowed.

Comment Re:Ah, Trespassing (Score 1) 225

Do you bring this up to support the notion that these people gave up all rights to privacy, forever, and categorically, simply because those photos were up on a real estate website?

No, I brought it up to call you out for being confrontational in calling the judge stupid, while assuming things yourself which could in fact be entirely untrue. You are assuming that the homeowners did not provide informed consent, and/or that if they did the judge did not bother to determine whether they had provided informed consent. You then formed an opinion about the judge based on that. I am constantly amazed by how often people assume that judges, scientists, etc don't take into account various considerations, and then base their opinions on that assumption (which then becomes a rather circular, self-reinforcing opinion). If you have evidence (say, from the article, or the judge's words) that the judge did not bother to find this out, please point me to them and I will apologize for my mischaracterization of how you went about forming your argument.

Instead of being confrontational, try being productive.


I use stupid, not as a character assassination, but to reference their state of being. It is stupid.

To be as generous as possible, your post would have been at least as productive, and definitely less confrontational, had you simply omitted the part about stupidity. You claim it wasn't character assassination, but simply an objective description of how things are. In reality though, it wasn't a fact, it was an opinion; the fact that you can't see it as an opinion illustrates further your confrontational arrogance which led to you calling the judge stupid. And yet when I did the same thing to you (pointed out some things you may not have known and/or may have gotten wrong in an aggressive, confrontational way), suddenly you could very easily see that I was being confrontational rather than productive. I admit that freely, as it was intentional; nothing provokes me to being confrontational like someone who is being confrontational/arrogant/insulting without provocation -- it makes me want to give them a taste of their own medicine. You, on the other hand, can't seem to see that it was a taste of your own medicine. For a final ironic stroke, please allow me to call that a stupid way of being.

Comment Re:Ah, Trespassing (Score 4, Informative) 225

What's frustrating is the stupidity of the judge. Quite frankly, a portion of Slashdot as well.

[...] Well first off, not everybody would instantly assume that putting their home up for sale would result in pictures being on a website, [...]

[...]A real estate agent exposing pictures, for the purpose of a sale, on a website that might never be seen and the pictures would be removed once the house was sold.[...]

You say those things and then have the arrogance to call the judge, as well as a portion of Slashdot, stupid? No, of course not everyone would assume that putting their home up for sale would result in pictures on a website... that's because it's not automatic. If your realtor does that without your express permission, that realtor is asking for a lawsuit of their own. If pictures of their house were on a real estate website, it's not because the owners didn't know about them, it's because they said "heck yeah, let's put some pictures with the online listing!".

Furthermore, in my experience, the pictures are not removed once the house is sold. Why do you assume (and state authoritatively) that they would be? For example, take a look at this listing. There's a picture, and if you scroll down to the red-highlighted stuff at the bottom, you'll see the selling price, as well as the closing date... oh look, the date's in 1998, over 10 years ago! And yet the picture is still on the real estate website!

Well, at least you were right about a portion of Slashdot being stupid... methinks you weren't looking at the right part though...

Comment Re:That long ago? (Score 1) 721

Why was this modded troll? It is a perfectly good rebuttal to the GP's off-the-shelf Slashdot whine.

Probably because it was a clear false dichotomy -- essentially claiming "well if you don't like the idea of some people being born into privilege, then you must be for a 100%, no-deductible Death Tax!" isn't a perfectly good rebuttal. Granted, it's flamebait, not trolling, but it's still not an attempt at reasonable discussion.

A non-flamebait version of that comment could have been:

So do you support Estate Taxes? What percent, and with what deductions?

Comment Re:So... (Score 1) 1018

Or are you now trying to claim that both of those internal dialogs would lead to the same votes and other actions taken in the future?

Absolutely. When one believes that their own actions are inherently the best, even if it just the best of the worst, they come up with all sorts of rationalizations for not doing a good job. The debate on Abu Ghraib is full of people making exactly those sorts of justifications - just look at how it all played out - scapegoating of the rank and file and no significant consequences for the people responsible for the policies that enabled it.

To be clear, I am not trying to defend the "the US is the best country out there!" belief -- I am just saying that I think it is preferable to the "the US is perfect" belief, and that the two are not the same. You can tell me how things went down, and say "it would have been the same either way", but when your axiom is that they result in the same choices, it's just conjecture and circular logic, and thus doesn't prove anything. Similarly, I could tell you how it might have gone differently if more people had believed the US is perfect, or how it might have gone differently if more people had believed the US is not perfect -- it would be just as much conjecture.

The bottom line is that I don't see how those 2 lines of thought could be 100% functionally equivalent. I have never disputed that they are both arrogant, and I have freely admitted that both will lead to a defensive "don't criticize us" response in the face of external criticism. I have never tried to say they will not yield similar results. But to say the results will always be 100% the same... [tongue-in-cheek-irony]I'm sorry, that's the sort of absolute statement I can never, ever agree with.[/tongue-in-cheek-irony] Might the differences in results be subtle? Sure! To ignore them altogether though is the exact same sort of black-and-white, dogmatic take on the world which, IMHO, is the source of the sorry state of US politics. We need people to be more pragmatic and less dogmatic in politics or else these problems will never go away -- at best we'll do a half-hearted job of cleaning up one mess, only to find another mess has snuck up on us.

Comment Re:So... (Score 1) 1018

Or are you seriously going to try to tell me that both of those things represent an equivalent level of arrogance?

What counts is actions, not the internal dialog, and in either of your scenarios, Abu Grhaib still happened.

Wow. You really, really don't want those two scenarios to be different, do you? You said the resulting arrogance was the same, and I pointed out that it is not.

Of course Abu Ghraib happened in both scenarios, I'm talking about how someone would react to its having happened, so Abu Ghraib happening is axiomatic. I could talk about someone with the belief that everything the US does is wrong, or someone who takes a thoughtful and sincerely objective look at everything, and (when talking about how they would react to hearing about Abu Ghraib) it would still be a given that Abu Ghraib happened.

The difference in actions is how they would react to the situation. Or are you now trying to claim that both of those internal dialogs would lead to the same votes and other actions taken in the future?

Comment Re:So... (Score 1) 1018

It may not be the best outcome, but no one else could be expected to do better [...]

The difference is that whether or not anyone else could be expected to do better, one of the beliefs allows for self-improvement. Saying "we're better than the rest" does not imply "we can't realistically improve" or "it is unreasonable to think we could ever do better". On the other hand, saying "we're perfect" doesn't even allow for acknowledging that mistakes can be and have been made.

To illustrate more concretely, believing the US is perfect would lead someone to claim that what occurred at Abu Ghraib was surely justified and necessary. Believing the US is merely better than every other country out there, while still an arrogant stance, would allow someone to feel regret that it happened (even if it is accompanied by a defensive statement that anyone would have done the same or worse in our place). Is the difference clear now? Or are you seriously going to try to tell me that both of those things represent an equivalent level of arrogance?

Comment Re:So... (Score 1) 1018

American Exceptionalism is the sadly more and more common belief that America, by its very nature, can do no wrong.

No. It is the belief that the US is better than other countries. Not perfect, just better.

I fail to see a meaningful distinction between your definition and the OPs. Mainly because such a belief inevitably leads to exactly the same consequences - ruthless arrogance.

Incorrect. One belief ("the US is perfect") would lead the believer never to question anything the US ever does, and to assume that anything the US does much by definition be the best or most correct option. The other belief ("the US is better than other countries") would not lead to those conclusions. Although ruthless arrogance may result in both cases, saying "exactly the same consequences" isn't even close to accurate. For you to say otherwise indicates that you are hearing what you want to hear, rather than hearing what is being said.

Comment Re:Nothing new here (Score 1) 693

I'm not trying to troll, but you're comparing teaching an Intro to Computing course, which is presumably for underclassmen, to teaching a Strategic Management capstone course?!?

Not at all -- I was responding directly to this comment, where the poster complained about teachers being boring "especially for courses that are just there as a filler and that 95% of the students won't use in their professional life". That poster seems to be talking about lower-lever courses as well, nothing like a capstone course.

As an aside, I do agree that if I were given the chance to teach higher-level for-major courses, I would very likely find it more enjoyable and my students would likely appreciate my efforts more. However, even to be given that chance generally requires a PhD, which in turn requires research. I did not like the high-pressure publish-or-perish environment which surrounded research, and so I stopped early in the program and graduated with a Master's. It was the combination of those things (if you want to teach students who want to learn, you have to teach higher-level courses; plus if you want to teach higher-level courses, you must first pass through the mostly unrelated trial-by-fire of research) which led me to bow out of teaching and instead pursue a career in software development.

Comment Re:Nothing new here (Score 5, Interesting) 693

If the schools realized that it's 2010, not 1810, and if teachers actually were a bit more passionated about learning than a corpse i'm certain cheating would drop a fair bit.

Hah, you say that like it's easy! I highly doubt you've ever been in that position yourself -- it's easy to say "all they have to do is..." when you have no first-hand idea what that means. Let me share a bit of my experience with you.

As a CS grad student, I paid for my education working as a Teaching Assistant. After my first two semesters, the TA coordinator assigned me to be the primary instructor for a night section of CS101: Introduction to Computing. I had control over what material to teach, I made the tests, I created the assignments, etc. I thought this would be great, as it would give me the opportunity to design some creating, engaging, interesting assignments and even participatory activities to take place during lecture. (i.e. I was very passionate about my students' learning.) I went into the first class very excited -- and it didn't take me long to see I was totally failing to excite my students even slightly. Still, I kept at it, hoping that it just wasn't what they were expecting, and that it might take a bit to sink in. Toward the end of the class, a student made a comment that made me realize what was going on. This class was required for all business majors; it had the potential to be a very useful class for many of them (it covered how to use both Excel and Access, among other things), but they didn't care how useful it could be. They also had no interest in being interested in the class. It was just a class they had to take, and they were hoping ideally for an easy A, or if not that then at least for the course not to bring down their GPA too much if they only exerted the minimal energy required to coast through the semester and cram for the exams. Let me repeat that, in case that didn't sink it -- they had no desire for the class to be interesting. They were not there to have fun, or even really to learn. They were there to get a grade because it was required for their major, and they wanted to do that by expending the least amount of time and energy that would yield a reasonable grade. So tell me: how many semesters in a row could you stay passionate about what you are teaching under those circumstances?

I lost a lot of my passion and motivation for teaching the course that day. It was very disheartening to discover that 95% of my students didn't care if I spent an extra 6 hours a week to make the course interesting -- why should I spend that extra time and effort myself if it wouldn't make any difference for more than maybe 2 or 3 of my students? In the end, I still made an effort to keep things interesting, and I'd like to think my section was more interesting than the day sections which had 300+ student lectures, but I didn't put nearly as much of myself into it as I could have.

Comment Re:Cynical Me (Score 1) 223

Angry, even violent, does not necessarily mean homicidal. Also, I said it isn't a typical reaction to alcohol, I didn't say it never happens. If it were typical, why doesn't every popular bar/pub in the world have at least one attempted killing every weekend? There are plenty of people drinking, and there may even be fights (or potential fights) on that sort of regular basis, but I don't typically see homicidal rage result from alcohol consumption. (Maybe you see that, but I'm guessing your "completely alcoholic family" isn't typical.)

Comment Re:Cynical Me (Score 1) 223

Saying "made legal" or "legalized" implies it's use is advocated, rather than merely allowed.

I thoroughly disagree. To me, the word "legal" means "allowed" or "not prohibited". This follows directly from the philosophy that things are allowed/legal by default, and things should not be made illegal unless there is a compelling reason; thus the category of "legal" covers everything from "required" to "encouraged" to "we don't care" to "prohibition is too impractical/costly/problematic to implement".

The government can, and often does, provide incentives for certain things, and that I would call "advocating" or "promoting" (such as the current tax credits for replacing old windows and doors with energy-efficient ones). Merely making something legal is not the same as encouraging, and to take the mindset that things which are legal are encouraged shifts the default from "legal unless the government chooses to prohibit it" to "illegal unless the government chooses to encourage it". Let's not go there, please.

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