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  • Pat 3:53 am on 11 September 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    No, there’s a perfectly valid reason that only cops should have guns. Civilian gun owners tend to learn how to use their guns effectively, so if one of them draws and fires at you, you’re likely to suffer some serious damage. You’re much safer if cops fire at you, as demonstrated by a recent incident in which eight New York City police officers fired 73 shots at a suspect and only managed to hit him twice. (Unfortunately, they also seem to have shot and killed an innocent bystander. But the cops weren’t aiming at her, so she doesn’t count.)

    • Hober Short 7:47 pm on 11 September 2011 Permalink | Reply

      From the article: “It was doubtful whether the source of the shot that killed Ms. Gay would definitively be determined, even by comparing the slug to those from the Glocks fired by two officers, the police said, because of the generic markings the lead slug picked up as it passed through the gun’s barrel.”

      So, wait, ballistic fingerprinting suddenly stops working when it could point to an officer negligently killing a fellow civilian? Riiiiiiight.

  • Pat 12:04 am on 22 August 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Well, I’m uncomfortable with what the Santa Rosa police did, but not for the reason Nagy cites. I can’t endorse “allowing children to touch and handle unloaded SWAT firearms”, because there is no such thing as an unloaded gun.

    Children should become familiar with guns, yes — by being taught gun safety and learning to shoot. Just letting kids handle guns while remaining ignorant about them is not useful or wise.

    And if the cops would like for citizens to be less intimidated by them, perhaps they should stop doing things like this and this.

  • Pat 6:13 pm on 11 August 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    One of the designers of the original IBM PC says in a blog post that the day of the personal computer is over, and we are entering the post-PC era. Is he right? I have trouble believing that desktops and laptops will fade away and that we’ll do all our computing on tablets and smartphones. But I was wrong about the Apple iPad, so what do I know?


    • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 10:15 am on 12 August 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I keep hearing that kind of thing — that the smartphone has killed the PC, or whatever. It’s nonsense.

      To the people making such claims, I would point out that the PC didn’t kill the mainframe (despite some people claiming it would). Yes, people started using PCs for a lot of stuff that they used to use mainframes for, but there are still computing tasks for which a mainframe is what you want.

      The same is true for the PC. Obviously, many people are starting to use smartphones and tablets instead of PCs for certain tasks (I’m one of those people), and if those tasks are all you need to do, then maybe you won’t need a PC anymore. But is anyone really going to write a novel on a phone, or edit home movies on a tablet?

      The only way I can imagine that sort of thing happening is if we see high-powered tablets that can accommodate peripherals like hardware keyboards and large displays. But once you have something like that, I’m not sure there’s any meaningful distinction between “tablet” and “PC.”

  • Pat 3:52 pm on 7 August 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Slashdot recently linked to an article (co-authored by a mathematician) about the most efficient method for mowing grass. I have no mathematical degrees to my credit, but I don’t find the method described by Polster & Ross to be useful. Go read it first, then come back and read why I think my method is better.

    The problem with the Polster & Ross article is that it conflates two very different tasks: mowing a lawn and mowing a golf course. The illustrations all depict a golf course, and one with a very irregular shape. Most people interested in this topic are mowing lawns, which tend to be more or less rectangular. The method described by Polster & Ross may be very efficient for golf courses, but it’s useless for lawns. It also may be intended for riding mowers, but I use a push mower, and that makes a big difference.

    The article gets one thing right: you want to mow in long straight lines as much as possible. Why? Because turns are inefficient. They slow you down, and they also require more effort, tiring you out sooner. So turns should be as infrequent as you can make them.

    The best way to accomplish this is to break the lawn into rectangular blocks. Why rectangles? Well, you’re essentially tiling a plane, and there are only three polygons you can use to do that: triangles, squares, and hexagons.  Hexes are the worst choice because they have the most vertices, which means too many turns. Squares are better, and triangles would be even better, but you can’t use them because you’re trying to tile a rectangular area, and triangles aren’t ideal for that. So you use squares.  And in practice, you’ll end up with groups of squares that form a rectangle, and that’s what you mow.

    Your property may be perfectly rectangular, but it gets chopped into more uneven shapes by your house, your driveway, trees and bushes, flowerbeds, and so on. Integral calculus tells us that we can fill irregular areas if we use progressively smaller rectangles, but this quickly becomes impractical for mowing.  If a rectangle is narrower or shorter than about three times the length of your mower, you can’t really mow around its edges, and are forced to use back-and-forth strokes. This means that you end up with several large and medium-sized rectangular blocks, and some small, irregular shapes in various corners.

    End result: You mow around the edges of the rectangular blocks, and then finish off the leftover bits with back-and-forth patterns.

    Looking at the golf course in Polster & Ross’s illustrations, I think I might still try my method on it. I would break it into one big rectangle in the center, one smaller rectangle in the lower right portion, and a bunch of irregularly shaped leftover pieces. However, Polster & Ross give no indication of how big that golf course is, and I’m not sure my method would scale well. What do you guys think?

    • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 11:15 am on 8 August 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Well, the authors do acknowledge that most lawns are rectangular and that “a little trial and error usually suffices” before turning to golf courses — which I interpret as saying “this is only an interesting problem with a large and complex shape.” For a smaller and mostly rectangular lawn, I think the approach you describe is the only one that makes sense — assuming you care about efficiency (more on that in a moment).

      My front lawn is actually quite irregular as lawns go (since most of our land is wooded); the front is roughly triangular, but with strips along the driveway and frontage. I mow most of the main section as a series of long strips, each shorter than the one before, but there are irregular spots all along where I use lots of back-and-forth motions. This is one reason why a riding mower, or even a self-propelled push mower, would be impractical for me to use; there just aren’t enough long straight sections.

      But efficiency is far from my top priority. For one thing, the total area I have to mow is rather small, so any time saved by using an optimally efficient method would be negligible. More importantly, mowing stands in for my daily walk on days that I mow, and when you’re exercising, efficiency is exactly what you want to avoid.

    • Pat 1:16 pm on 8 August 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Efficiency matters to me because most of my mowing takes place during the months when North Carolina is unbearably hot. To avoid the worst of the heat, I mow as late in the evening as possible. The faster I mow, the later I can start and the lower the temperature I have to endure.

  • Pat 2:02 pm on 21 July 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Did you know there is a North Carolina Peace Prize? I had no idea.

    I guess it makes sense to honor the people who are preventing wars in NC. They must be doing a good job; we haven’t had a war here since 1865.

  • Pat 3:44 pm on 15 June 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Some discussion fodder for tonight’s symposium:

    Duke Nukem Forever: barely playable, not funny, rampantly offensive

    • Hober Short 4:58 pm on 15 June 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I’ve pre-ordered it, but haven’t had a chance to play it. I’m looking forward to it, if only to make the comparisons that the inestimable Ben Kuchera makes in this article: compare the original game to the new one. In particular, I fear the graphic about the map design will likely be true. But that’s just the way that FPSs are these days, unfortunately.

  • Pat 4:03 pm on 1 December 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    A picture is worth a thousand words.

    • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 12:14 pm on 2 December 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Just yesterday I was listening to the Ricochet podcast in which Pat Sajak was talking about this phenomenon. Specifically, he was comparing the cesspool of typical blog comments to the civil discourse on Ricochet. As Sajak pointed out, while Ricochet does have conduct guidelines for its commenters, the real difference is that the commenters pay for the privilege of participation.

      I think anonymity, strictly speaking, isn’t the real problem. The problem is a lack of consequences. If you’re an anonymous, drive-by commenter, you don’t have to care what effect your nasty trolling will have on the conversation. If you actually care about the community, though, you’ll behave differently — even if your identity is still hidden.

      The key is to make sure your commenters care. Stripping away anonymity is one way to do that (because then one’s reputation is at stake); but it’s not the only way.

  • Pat 3:48 pm on 1 December 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Because my parents drive a Prius, this article at Autoblog Green concerns me: Toyota to repair 650,000 Prius models globally over coolant risk

    Key quote: “According to Reuters, a glitch in the vehicle’s coolant pump could cause the vehicle to overheat and lose power, though no accidents or injuries have been reported in association with the problem to date.” I am not reassured. Any fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation knows that a coolant leak means a warp core breach is imminent. Such an event is not survivable unless you immediately eject the warp core or initiate emergency saucer separation. As far as I know, the Prius is not capable of doing either of these things.

    For the record: I do not wish to be orphaned by a matter/antimatter explosion.

    • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 4:05 pm on 1 December 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Even if the Prius does have a core-ejection mechanism, I would worry about the design flaw that plagued the Galaxy-class starships: every time there was the threat of a core breach, the core-ejection system also went offline. The Enterprise was destroyed more than once because of that problem.

      • Pat 6:18 pm on 1 December 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Yamato and Odyssey, both Galaxy-class ships, were also destroyed by core breaches. We know that Yamato attempted a core ejection, which failed. In the case of Odyssey, we don’t know for sure, but it’s hard to believe she didn’t try it. So you’re almost certainly right about this problem afflicting all ships of the Galaxy class.

  • Pat 9:43 am on 28 November 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    In a recent conversation about Peter F. Hamilton, I mentioned that I had been nosing about on the Web, trying to find out what his next project is. I said I had learned only that it was a new series called Great North Road, and that nobody seemed to know any details about it. That turns out not to be entirely accurate. It’s a stand-alone novel, not a series. And Hamilton has dropped a few hints about it in his blog, which I was avoiding (for fear of encountering spoilers) until yesterday, when I finished the Void Trilogy.

    In his December 2009 blog entry, Hamilton wrote:

    Then it’s onward to the next book. Hopefully (I say that because nothing is signed yet) it will be a stand-alone in a new and different universe. There’s a lot of reading/research I have to do, but the basic outline is already there. The central theme is about an expedition who are trying to find evidence of an alien on a planet where evolution apparently never produced animal life, except for someone who decades before tried to use  “the monster did it” as an excuse to explain away a murder she was found guilty of. This is of course a huge simplification, but I have high hopes that I can add some complexity to that situation. I normally do.

    In April 2010, he provided some more details:

    Following that, in 2012, it will be a stand-alone SF novel, Great North Road, which is set in a completely new and different universe, so not the Commonwealth, Confederation, Mandel, or even the Fallen Dragon one. I’m looking forward to that. There are a lot of notes already written, and I’ve even got a map. I’ve started calling it my monster in the dark novel, which is almost accurate.

    So here’s the scene. You’re a taxi driver taking four blokes to the airport, driving down the motorway. They are going on a weekend golf break together, so there’s a lot of cheerful banter. Then one of them suddenly, and in a perfectly serious tone, announces: Oh yeah, I need to visit Newcastle to find a good location to murder someone. Do you a) remain calm and wait until they’re out of your cab before frantically calling the police? b) swerve over several [of] the lanes on the motorway in shock?

    The correct answer was: b. However, happy ending, one of the other blokes in the cab leans over and quietly says to you: it’s all right, he’s a writer, he’s talking about research.

    [. . .] Great North Road . . .  has a planet with an equatorial zone where all planes are in danger from dust which falls out of the planet’s ring system.

    And in June, he added:

    I’m back working on the notes for Great North Road. A process which started last week with that trip to Newcastle where I stayed overnight. So I now know where the murder is going to be, and where the body’s going to get dumped in the river. And for those who read my last blog: this time, when I was in the taxi between the train station and the hotel, I managed to keep my mouth shut as to why I was visiting the city.

    Hamilton also mentioned a couple of other projects in the works:

    • “Next year, 2011, Macmillan will be bringing out a collection of short stories that I’ve written over the last eight or so years. . . . The provisional title is Manhattan in Reverse.”
    • “The three Mandel books should also be re-released in America by Del Rey next year. The plan at the moment is for an omnibus edition.”
    • “I have to write an essay on Aliens (yes, the Cameron film) for Mark Morris who’s editing Cinema Futura which . . . features a whole batch of SF writers reviewing their favourite SF film. . . . Once that’s done I’m going to write a couple of short stories. . . . The first will feature Paula Myo working out an alien biology puzzle. And then a story set after the singularity, which is something which has been churning round my subconscious for a while.”
  • Pat 10:57 am on 7 October 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    BXO Jr. has pointed out that it would have made more sense for the D&D Character Builder to be a Web application rather than software that you have to download and install. Well, if I’m interpreting this announcement correctly, the folks at WotC agree, and they’re working on it.

    We are currently in the process of developing a new web-based tools system for D&D Insider which has factored into recent content update delays. We will continue to provide D&D Insider members with additional information as our progress develops.

    • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 4:03 pm on 7 October 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Sounds like a step in the right direction, but it’s only part of the approach I advocated. They also need to provide a more meaningful set of free features, with “a la carte” add-ons (like content from supplemental books) available for a one-time fee rather than under a subscription model. They should also decouple the Character Builder from the rest of D&D Insider.

      Still, I suppose it’s an encouraging development.

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